Duh . . . sorry!

I forgot to give links to the recipients. Mrsd's blog is here, Sharon's is here, Guusje's is here, Suzanne's is here, and Steve, aka Anonymous, doesn't have one. They are all fabulous bloggers, and I am honored that they came here and subjected themselves to this, uh, thingy.

Next post topic: home birth.

Five questions

Hi, y'all. Sorry it took me so long to come up with these. I hope you like 'em. You're supposed to answer these on your own blog, and then give five questions to your first five commenters (commentators?). Have fun!

Oh, and by the way, "Anonymous" turned out to be my best friend! He 'fessed up last night while we were snuggling in bed. (Honey, since you don't have a blog of your own, you can answer your questions in a comment here.)

  1. Why especially Isaiah?
  2. Why did you choose that particular picture for your profile?
  3. How do you find all these weird and funny news stories (Jewish chewing gum rules; giant lobsters; elephant potty training)?
  4. When you get a "smattering" of attention from a telemarketer, how do you respond?
  5. What was the last meal you prepared (you, who hates to cook)?
  1. Why did you first get involved in local politics? Do you think you might run for mayor in the future? (Sorry, that's actually two questions, but I'm really eager to know. My sister-in-law is a former mayor, and her whole experience was fascinating.)
  2. How did you become interested in handwriting analysis?
  3. You are an AMAZING artist. Do you just toss these off in your spare time, or do you have a studio? Do you take commissions? (Sorry, two questions again.)
  4. What's the best and worst thing about living in the town you grew up in?
  5. So, what's on top of your fridge right now?
  1. Your motorcycle ride through Europe sounded awesome; what's the worst trip you ever took?
  2. How did you decide to become a school librarian -- I mean, school media specialist?
  3. Why do you love the Betsy Tacy books so much?
  4. And speaking of books, what are the next few titles on your must-read list?
  5. If you could go backwards in time, what year would you like to visit?
  1. As an editor, what are some of your biggest pet peeves?
  2. What are your plans for your first day as a stay-at-home mom?
  3. How would you describe your parenting style?
  4. Why is your blog called Mimilou?
  5. If you could get a babysitter for an entire weekend, what would you do?
  1. What celebrity (alive or dead) would you want to meet, and what would you say to that person?
  2. What's your favorite historical time period?
  3. What's the first thing you're going to do when we win the lottery?
  4. What's your favorite memory from our honeymoon trip to England (keep it clean)?
  5. Tell about a happy memory from your childhood.


Ok, I'm working on the questions. Hopefully, Anonymous will come back and give me a blog address. If not, I'll give five questions to the next person who comes along. And after that my next post will be about home birth, but it might take me a while to formulate my thoughts on that topic. Meanwhile, we can all listen to scratchy old Kingston Trio records and think about what celebrity we'd like to meet.

I didn't mean to

I was surfing along on BlogExplosion when I came across this blog with the five questions interview chain-letter thingy. I didn't mean to be one of the first five comments, but when I saw that the author had met PETE TOWNSHEND in real life, I had to say something! So, she sent me five great questions. Here they are:

1. How many books are in your "to be read" stack, and what are they?

Well, my "to be read" list (let's not call it a stack because I don't have them all yet) stretches into misty infinity. I will never be done reading all the books I want to read. However, very next on the list is this month's book club selection, Oryx & Crake, by Margaret Atwood. I'm also in the middle of re-reading The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. And contrary to what I said earlier, I haven't completely given up on Vanity Fair. Other random books I'd like to read some day: Master & Margarita, The Magic Mountain, that new series by Neil Stephenson, and the newest Stephanie Plum book, the moment it hits the bookstore shelves, heh heh.

You mention an interest in "human evolution." Assuming we survive the next hundred thousand years, how do you imagine our species will have turned out by then?

Excellent question! This is something I have actually thought a lot about. There is a series by Orson Scott Card about a human culture that's 40 million years old, and I'm just a little bit obsessed with this idea. (Query: 40 million years from now, what, if anything, will they believe about our 21st century culture?) But to answer the question, frankly, I don't think we're going to last that long, but let's assume. I HOPE for a centralized planetary government, intergalactic travel, peaceful relations with alien species. If we evolve physically, hopefully it will be to adapt to the rigors of space travel and life on other planets. If I had to choose a sci-fi author whose future world I'd like to live in, well, maybe it would be Larry Niven.

And, will the "Kingston Trio" genetic mutation have run its course?

I can't help it about the Kingston Trio. In my defense, I have to say that I know quite a few other people my age, with parents the same age as mine, who were similarly corrupted as small children. And ok, this is NOTHING compared to meeting Pete Townshend, but I've seen the Kingston Trio live in concert twice, and I got to say hi to Bob Shane. I'm working on perpetuating the mutation: my kids love 'em too.

Were any of your children born at home?

Yes. I had the first in the hospital. As soon as I walked in the hospital door I realized my mistake, and I had my second and third at home with lay midwives. Let me know if you want the gory but predictable details of the hospital birth, or the beautiful and empowering stories of my home births.

What are you currently writing?

Besides this post, you mean? : ) Actually, I do more editing than writing. Right now I'm in the thick of the April issue of our elementary school newsletter. I'm also editing and desktop publishing my late father-in-law's memoirs, a project that I'm very excited about. At some point in the near future I'm planning to start a desktop publishing business.

Chenoah, thanks for the great questions. I have bookmarked your blog, and especially could relate to your "thank God that's over" comment, 'cause I used to be a paralegal. Yeah, thank God that's over!

Ok, first five people to comment (if I get that many!) get five questions from me.

Why toddlers shouldn't be allowed to feed the dog

Originally uploaded by Julie H.
Now we have a bungee cord over the lid of the dog food container. I can barely get it open, let alone the toddler.

“A vale of tears and no mistake”

Well, this book isn't exactly esoteric, but it has limited appeal: Knitting Without Tears, by Elizabeth Zimmermann. I just discovered it. The only reason I mention it here is because it's written in such a charming, engaging style. Here are some quotes (I'll leave out the technical stuff):
  • Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.
  • This is a vale of tears and no mistake. Things are not perfect, and we wouldn't appreciate it if they were.
  • Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit either.
  • For people allergic to wool, one's heart can only bleed.
  • All knitting books may now sue me, but I am convinced that the injunction to twist yarns is totally redundant.
Even the title cracks me up. Who would cry about knitting? For me, the process, not the product, is the thing. If I happen to end up with a wearable garment at the end, hey, what a bonus! As a matter of fact, I just finished a little vest for Daniel. I'm really pleased because
  • I used up some yarn left over from another project that I never finished. You can't tell very well in the photo, but the colors are amazing. I didn't choose them. The original project was a Kaffe Fassett pattern. I bought exactly the colors he used. I would never have thought of combining these colors.
  • I met my goal of making a sweater that required no sewing of pieces. I did the lower part in the round, then went back and forth starting at the armholes. I used short row shaping for the shoulders instead of a sloped cast-off so that I'd have "live" stitches at the end, which I then cast off double (no sewing).
Here's the vest. I haven't blocked it yet.


More on the Mind Fair

The ingenuity of these kids is mind-boggling. There were so many great projects. The coolest one, I thought, was one by a second-grader. Did you know that if you fold your paper properly, just one straight cut across the folds will yield any shape you want? A mathematical prodigy proved this, and this kid found out about it and turned it into a Mind Fair project. Another cool one: a 3rd grader did a photo essay documenting how to set up a fish tank, including testing the water, choosing compatible fish, etc. Other topics: African American Astronauts; All About Cheese (including samples); Dolphins; Volcanoes; Anatomy of a Ferret; What is the Fastest Bird/Mammal/Fish; and of course . . . Ladybugs! As promised, here's the photo:


The Mind Fair

Oops, forgot about the school function I was going to tell you about. It's called The Mind Fair, and it's sort of like a science fair, but much expanded. More like a "poster session" where you learn about something, and present it on a poster. It's open to the whole elementary school. Some teachers require their students to do projects, though most don't. It's run entirely by parents, with PTO funds. Here are some projects kids have done in the past, to give you an idea. One kid did one all about pasta. She glued different shapes of dried pasta to the poster, explained the meaning of the different Italian names, wrote about the origin, and included a recipe. Another kid did a chemical analysis of cigarettes. Another one tested the theory that if you don't prick a potato before you bake it, it will explode. My son's project last year was all about the different substances people have used for currency (wampum, seashells, big rocks, etc.).

For two days all these projects are on display in the auditorium. Every classroom has time allotted to go down and check out the projects; parent volunteers are on hand to "interview" the students who have created projects. The evening of the second day is a big open house where the families come and see what the kids have done. This is my all-time favorite school event of the whole year. It beats the ice cream social, pancake supper, Spring Sings -- no question! The kids are all so creative and incredible, and it is so fun to mill around and praise them all. Everyone who enters gets a ribbon, and it's just an all-around great feel-good experience.

Ok, can I brag now? My little daughter produced a terrific project. It's all about ladybugs. The reason I'm so very proud of her is because she didn't just read about ladybugs. She also observed them all year long, and remembered what she saw. Here are her observations:
  • They have teeny-tiny heads.
  • Once they land after they've been flying for a while, their back wings stick out.
  • The shape of their bodies is completely round.
  • There are lots of ladybugs hibernating in my house!
  • They can swim.
  • They can walk on the walls and ceiling without falling off.
Is that just the cutest, sweetest thing? She also had facts about aphids, larva, life span, etc., from a book. But I just love her observations. And, if you are wondering, she knows they can swim because she once saw one swimming (not just floating, but actually propelling itself) in the dog's water bowl.

Another book review

I'm feeling a lot better now. In fact, I'm feeling so good that I think I could do ANYTHING. But I can't. I still have lots of pox and the doctor said I really shouldn't go out much because I could still be contagious. (This contradicts the pediatrician, who told us that once the pox have crusted over -- is that a disgusting image or what? -- once the pox have crusted over you're not contagious any more.) Grocery store is okay, provided I don't get too close to anyone, but anything closer, like, say the PTO meeting that was this evening, or a school function later this week which I will describe in detail in a minute, or a toddler playgroup . . . nope. Not allowed.

The other thing that's getting on my nerves is that I have tons of pox (WARNING: here comes some more "too much information") clustered under my arms and around my ribs. You know how you're not supposed to apply deodorant to "broken skin"? Yeah, that's right. It's been eight days since I've worn deodorant. I'm not walking around with rings, thank goodness, because I don't sweat that much, but I can definitely smell myself by around midday. But it sure is nice not to be feverish and in pain.

I read A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell, while I was sick. A few years ago I read one other book by her, The Sparrow, and I had the same reaction to both books: terrific idea, but not very well executed. In case you're not familiar, Sparrow is about Jesuit missionaries in space! What a great idea -- of course Jesuits would want to make first contact with aliens! When I first heard about that plotline I couldn't wait to read it. And Thread has a totally cool plot, too. It's about Catholic Italian peasants helping to hide Jews during the Holocaust. Russell spent five years researching this, and the "fiction" is very much based in fact. But, alas, her prose is, shall I say, undistinguished? She writes like a mediocre romance novelist, full of boring cliches and characters that all sound the same, regardless of whether they're a teenage Jewish girl, an elderly nun, or a fat, middle-aged beaurocrat. Bummer. It could have been so good! And I still think it's worth reading (Thread, I mean). It's a story that deserves to be more widely known.

From the sickbed

Thanks for all your good wishes (and clerihews)! I still feel like c**p — in fact today's been the worst day so far — but it sure helps to know people out there are sending sympathy. Thanks!

My husband is writing up sub plans for the fourth day in a row, bless him. My kids have been great. I've been able to take plenty of oatmeal baths (yuk). Even better, in between naps today I discovered and greedily devoured every word of this blog.

Pride goeth before a fall

**Warning: this post probably contains "too much information!" Feel free to skip to the paragraph that starts with "However."**

I gloated.

I gloated, and now I'm paying for it. Ohhhh, am I paying for it.

I gloated because I thought I had twice beaten chicken pox; first, when I was little and my sister had it, and second, about two and a half weeks ago when my vaccinated son had it.

This is SO gross. I have a LOT on the top of my head. My scalp is constantly crawling, and when I run my fingers through my hair I can feel all these little bumps. This afternoon I found the first crusty one. And you should see my hair: I look like Jimmy Neutron. No, I'm not posting any photos!

There's a really large one about one inch south of my belly button that for some reason hurts like hell. It's bulbous, and you can tell there's liquid inside.

And, even worse, I don't know how to say this politely, but I have new sympathy for sufferers of venereal disease. Oh, how it burns!

However, I wouldn't be a true Bookworm if this situation didn't lead me to a book. Strange mental association, perhaps, but my painful scalp reminded me of the John Christopher science fiction trilogy about the Tripods. The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire. (Oh my! When I went to Amazon for the link, I discovered there's a prequel now. Okay, not a trilogy. But it used to be a trilogy.) Anyway, I still have my copies of the original trilogy so I spent some happy hours recuperating and reading while my dear hubby chased after the toddler. I got through the first two, and am partway through the third. Yes, I was skimming; I have read these books before, though it's been many years.

So the painful scalp association was as follows: these books take place in a future where aliens have taken over Earth. Humankind is kept under their subjection by means of metal mesh caps which are implanted onto the skull of every adolescent in a "coming-of-age" ceremony. The main character runs away from home before he is Capped and, along with a few others who managed not to get Capped, overthrows the evil aliens. The really cool gimmick about this series is the Tripods. The aliens cannot breathe our air, so they travel around in Tripods. They are tall as a skyscraper, with a little dome on top, and three long legs on the bottom. They walk across the countryside and can be seen from miles away. I wouldn't be at all surprised if these were inspired by Tripods. Another thing that has stuck with me all these years, aside from the mental image of these menacing Tripods stalking across the fields, is the writing style. It's very stilted and formal, not at all what you'd expect from a kids' book written in 1967. It's almost Jules Verne-y. Weird, but I like it.

Okay, time for another Aveeno oatmeal bath. Yuk. I don't even like to take baths when I'm well.

Some more clerihews would sure cheer me up, though.

For all you aspiring poets out there

Forget your sonnets, your haiku, your heroic couplets . . . .

Have you ever heard of a clerihew?

Clerihew was the middle name of E. C. Bentley, the classic mystery writer (Trent's Lase Case, and others). When he was in college, he and his friend G. K. Chesterton invented a new form of poetry. Here's how it works. A clerihew has only four lines. Rhyme scheme is AABB. Meter is whatever you want. But it has to be about a famous person, and that person's name must be mentioned somewhere in the first line. Oh, and the sillier the better. Here are a few examples.

It was a pity about Dickens'
Insane jealousy of chickens,
And one could really almost weep
At his morbid mistrust of sheep.

The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes:
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.

It only irritated Brahms
To tickle him under the arms.
What really helped him to compose
Was to be stroked on the nose.

When Alexander Pope
Accidentally trod on the soap
And came down on the back of his head—
Never mind what he said.

Aren't they great? But out of date. We need some more current clerihews. Anyone? Anyone? Well, ok, I'll start you off. But then it's your turn. How about, hmmm . . .

In high school Bill Gates
Had trouble finding dates.
All the girls had heard
He was a computer nerd.

Now it's your turn.

Medical student's syndrome, I hope

So, the other day I went to visit a friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in quite a while. Surprise, surprise, we got to talking about books, and right away I mentioned Animals in Translation, which I thought she'd like not only for its own sake but also because her son is autistic. She in turn lent me her copy of Songs of the Gorilla Nation by Dawn Prince-Hughes. And as I mentioned before, two days later I'd finished it.

Unlike Animals in Translation, which is really a treatise, Gorilla Nation is the memoir of a woman who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 36. She has a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary anthropology, and she studies gorillas. Spending time with gorillas enabled her to come to terms with her own problems and even appreciate her different way of viewing the world. Similar to Temple Grandin, she felt a special empathy with the gorillas because of her autism. The thing is, Dawn is a poet. She writes so beautifully and vividly and honestly about herself that you really do see the world through her eyes.

Too vividly, perhaps. Now I'm worried that I have Asperger's Syndrome, too! That is to say, so much of what she described about herself reminded me of me, although to a much lesser degree. For me, too, even very small social interactions are somewhat stressful, especially if they involve me talking about myself. I am likely to obsess over what I said to the cashier at the grocery store for the rest of the day. I mostly don't know what to say, and I sometimes wish I could take notes on what other people say in certain situations so that next time I could do the same. Like Dawn, I am very bad at recognizing faces, though I'm great with names. Like Dawn, I have a one-track mind and it's very hard for me to switch gears when I'm in the middle of something. I easily get overstimulated by auditory stimuli, at least to the extent that I cannot listen to talk radio or books on tape, though I have music on all the time. I like being by myself; I'd probably make a pretty good hermit.

The main thing I share with Dawn, though, is her obsession with the gorillas. Well, I'm not specifically obsessed with gorillas, but I am absolutely obsessed with early humans. It's like a religion for me, the way the gorillas took on religious significance for Dawn. I guess it started when I read Clan of the Cave Bear as a teenager. (Let me hasten to add, it's not the soap opera aspect of the book that attracted me; it's the idyllic life and culture. Nasty, brutish and short? Au contraire!) Frequently in the course of a day I have imaginary conversations with a Stone Age cave-dweller who might as well be called Ayla. I think this is how I come to understand and cope with life: I try to explain things to Ayla. And, half-joking, I say to myself: WWAD? What would Ayla do? And again, I don't mean specifically Ayla from the books. I know what she'd do: she'd save someone's life or invent some new technology. But "Ayla" symbolizes for me precisely what the gorillas meant to Dawn: they are innocent, simple, honest, unaffected, dignfied, and nonjudgmental.

Honestly, I don't really think I have Asperger's Syndrome. I think I have Medical Student's Syndrome. (I had that once before, as an undergrad, when I took Abnormal Psych. It's a very unpleasant condition!) But it's a testament to the power of this woman's writing that she made me think I did.

Book Club

We had a very fun meeting last Tuesday. We did it a little differently this time. Instead of choosing one book, we all read whatever we wanted and then reported back. What a great variety! I think I will post the list of all the books that were mentioned.

Doulicia's titles:
Margaret Charles Smith. Listen to me good: the life story of an Alabama midwife.
Chris Turner. Planet Simpson: how a cartoon masterpiece defineed a generation.
Mary Kroeger. Impact of birthing practices on breastfeeding.
George Saunders. Civilwarland in bad decline: stories and a novella.
George Saunders. Pastoralia.

Dawn's titles:
Stephen Greenblatt. Will in the world: how Shakespeare became Shakespeare.
Mireille Guiliano. French women don't get fat: secrets for enjoying food, having fun, and being thin.
Karen Joy Fowler. The Jane Austen book club.
Amin Maalouf. Leo Africanus.

Erin's titles:
Susan Orlean. My kind of place.
Louisa May Alcott. Little women.
Lynne Truss. Eats, shoots & leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation.

Julie's titles:
Temple Grandin. Animals in translation.
William Makepiece Thackeray. Vanity fair.
Dorothy L. Sayers. Gaudy night.

Leslie's titles:
Patrick O'Brian. The fortune of war.

Tish's titles:
Monica Ali. Brick lane.
Jhumpa Lahiri. The namesake.
Haruki Murrakami. Kafka on the shore.
Lian Hearn. Tales of the Otori: Across the nightingale floor; Grass for his pillow; and Brilliance of the moon.
Ellis Peters. Brother Cadfael mysteries.
Mary Roach. Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers.
Ben Okri. The famished road.
Ben Okri. Songs of enchantment.

Yeah, I only actually managed to read one book in its entirety during the month of February. That's because I really was one fried mommy. The one book I managed to finish was the Temple Grandin, which my mom lent me. Vanity Fair, well, gee, what more can I say?

The book by Temple Grandin was fascinating. In case you haven't heard, she is the autistic woman who is an expert on animal husbandry. Among other things, she travels around the country to various slaughterhouses and advises them on how they can be more humane. She believes that animals think similarly to autistic people, and that is why she understands them so well. She has a lot of neurology and brain anatomy to back her up, as well as some terrific anecdotes. But the best part, I thought, was the autobiographical bits. Very, very interesting.

So, after a while we got to talking about mysteries and, gee, somehow I managed to bring up Lord Peter Wimsey, oh, be still my beating heart! Gaudy Night is The Best Book Ever. It's not a mystery. Oh, there's a mystery in it, but the crime is only vandalism. Really, it's a novel of ideas, and the ideas are totally relevant today even though it was written in, what, the 1920s? It's about women who struggle to balance academic careers with families and try to define their priorities, and what happens when their priorities go against the societal grain. Oh, and did I mention, too? It's a romance. I'm not big on romance novels, but Lord Peter and Harriet? Sigh.

A whole nother kettle of fish

Hmm, really interesting responses to my question. Thanks! You guys made me think about my question in a couple of different ways. Initially, I had been analyzing only my own reaction to Vanity Fair; that is, can you still appreciate the literary merits of something that also has objectionable ideas?

But when the discussion turns to children's books, it becomes a whole nother kettle of fish. Now we worry about what message our impressionable children might be internalizing. And the comment about book banning, well, that completely caught me by surprise. I am absolutely, categorically, unequivocally, FERVENTLY opposed to any form of censorship, and never, never, never meant to suggest otherwise. It's nobody's job but the parents' to decide what kids should be exposed to.

However, as a parent I've discovered that it's harder than you'd think to monitor your kids. I remember once when Joey was in preschool and Lena was a toddler, I grabbed a book off the library shelf because a quick flip-thru showed lovely illustrations. It turned out that it treated a subject I was not at all ready to introduce to Joey at that time. But there was no way I could have figured that out before we got it home, given the demands of keeping track of the two kids in the library. And more recently, Joey is pressuring his parents to be given internet access. At this point (he's 9) he's only allowed to go on-line if mom or dad is sitting next to him. And how much time do we have to spend sitting next to him while he hangs out here? Not a lot. But there was one time when he wanted to do a "science" project on alien abductions. Here's a little tip: don't google alien abductions unless you're prepared to see a lot of really sick stuff, especially if you don't put the phrase in quotation marks.

Anyway, to get back to Vanity Fair. It occurred to me later that when the author talks about women being like beasts of the field, etc., could that have been satire? I don't know. But I do think we are supposed to admire Becky Sharp. She is scheming, manipulative, and opportunistic, but she really has no choice. In that time and place, what else could she do but try to make a good match for herself? If her character were set in the present day, she'd be an object of scorn and pity -- certainly not admiration.

All this is now moot, anyway. I've completely lost interest in Vanity Fair. Two days ago a friend lent me Songs of the Gorilla Nation. I started it yesterday, finished it today. It was absolutely amazing, astounding, unbelievable. I have to digest it a little more before I tell you about it.