Don't know what possessed us, but we told Joey he could invite three friends over for a slumber party. Here they are. Joey's on the far left.

Can you tell what they're eating? No? Here's a close up:

It's a disposable diaper with a Snickers bar melted into it.

Oh, to be nine years old!

Book club, and a dirty little secret

Last night I finished this month's book club selection, Loitering with Intent, by Muriel Spark. I feel like I shouldn't say anything about it yet because our meeting is still a week and a half away. However, I found it very entertaining and charming (I mean this in the best possible way). I'm mentioning it now in case you want to read along with us. It was a quick read, and very much set in a particular time and place (London, 1949-50).

I like books that are very much set in a particular time and place. This is one of the problems I have with Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice—the only one of hers I've ever been able to finish, and it took me three tries—seems like it's floating in the middle of nowhere/nowhen. There. I've probably alienated a bunch of you by confessing my dirty little secret: I don't like Jane Austen.

Little Bookworm

Guusje's post about her daughters graduating from college had me so teary that I couldn't even leave a comment. "Motherhood is never really over," Guusje said, "but I can definitely close the volume one. I wonder how volume two will read?" It moved me so much because my own little daughter, age 6, is just starting to open volume one. Sure, her physical life started six years ago, but her real life is just starting now. She is discovering the joy of reading. Last September when she started kindergarten, she was still a little shaky on which letters went with which sounds. Just the other day (the same day, in fact, that I read Guusje's post) she declared, "Mom, I want to read some chapter books." I don't think I have words to express how much this means to me. So here's a picture of my precious little bookworm.

Little Bookworm

What if meme

Rhodent tagged me. Here goes:

The general rules are as follows: from the list of occupations below, select five (5), and write a post on your blog, on how you would perform each, if they were your job. When you are done, add a couple of occupations to the bottom, and ambush five other fellow bloggers to prepare a list.

What if I could be a—

llama-rider? (Ogre)
bonnie pirate? (Teach)
service member? (Jeremy)
business owner? (Blue 944)
actor? (Blue 944)
agent? (KelBel)
video game designer? (KelBel)
comic book artist? (Stoli)
hooker? (Pollo Loco)
crack addict? (Elizabeth)
porn star? (Elizabeth)
mime? (Garrison)
domestic engineer? (Rick)
chimney sweep? (laine)
masseuse? (laine)
taxi driver? (Brian)
priest? (Brian)
fighter pilot? (Sara)
homeless person? (Sara)
biker? (Walker)
mortician? (Walker)
marine biologist? (DB)
garbageman? (DB)
art critic? (Rhodent)
furniture designer? (Rhodent)
fashion designer? (Rhodent)
high school principal? (Rhodent)
Anthropologist (Julie)
President of the United States (Julie)

1. Librarian. In my public library there would be no internet filters anywhere, not even in the youth department, and I'd have banned and censored books prominently displayed. I'd have a strict privacy policy with respect to records of who checked out what, even for minors. Food would be allowed in the library; in fact, it would have a cafe. I'd run a monthly book discussion group, open to the public. I'd have a huge adult literacy program. And I'd self-indulgently write up readers' advisory lists: "If you liked x book, you might like these, too."

2. Lawyer. My area would be intellectual property; I would rewrite the whole of copyright law. There would be no such thing as a work for hire (that's where you write something at your employer's behest and they own the copyright). You create it, you own it, for as long as you're alive. When you die, your work goes into the public domain. Furthermore, copyright would be inalienable: you can't transfer it to someone else. However, anyone who wants to use your work can. But they must pay you (mandatory licensing).

3. Musician. I'd sing in a choir. We would perform Bach motets. Sigh.

4. Bonnie pirate. Oh, ho ho! Doncha know, a pirate's life is great-so! I wouldn't take baths and I wouldn't take naps and I wouldn't clean my plate-so! Arrrrr!

5. Physical anthropologist/evolutionary biologist. I'd go out in the Kalahari Desert and dig for humanoid fossils. I would find the so-called missing link and shut down those "creationist" and "intelligent design" people for good. Pah!

Ok, there are my five. I think I'm not going to tag five more people, though, 'cause I can't remember who's already done this. If you haven't already, please do!

Two more cool dudes

St. Dunstan
Well, first of all, before I get off the topic of saints, I should mention that yesterday, May 19, was the Feast Day of my favorite one: St. Dunstan. I learned about him from my literary hero Robertson Davies, who writes about St. Dunstan in the Deptford trilogy. Which you should all go out and buy right now. Normally I'd say check it out of the library, but I know you will want to read this fifty times so you might as well buy it. Anyway, Saint Dunstan, a 10th century British monk, is famous for having tweaked the Devil's nose with a pair of tongs. Because of the tongs—tongs!—he is the patron saint of smiths and jewellers. Oh, the mental image! And it's played out very nicely in the third book of the trilogy, which is World of Wonders. And while you're in the Robertson Davies section of the bookstore, you might as well get yourself copies of the Salterton and Cornish trilogies.

Stetson Kennedy
I came across another very interesting guy while reading Freakonomics. This guy is Stetson Kennedy. I can't believe I'd never heard of him before. This story is so cool. Stetson Kennedy was born in the deep South to a very old, established deep South family. Stetson hats and Stetson University came from his family. Unlike his family, Stetson was hard-core liberal. He hung out with people like Woody Guthrie. One day he decided to infiltrate the KKK and write an exposé. At that time, not much was known about the inner workings of the KKK. So he joined, and very quickly learned all the secret handshakes and passwords, the real identities of the guys, their plans, everything. The next question for Stetson was what to do with the information. He wanted to Bring. Them. Down. Well, he had a stroke of genius. He leaked the information to the producers of the Superman radio show. Yes, you read it right. The Superman radio show. Superman had already fought Hitler and Mussolini; now he would take on the KKK. Within days every kid in the country was playing Superman vs. KKK, doing the goofy handshakes, etc. The KKK became an object of ridicule, and according to the author of the book, it has never really recovered from this, uh, setback.

A prayer to Saint Jude

Well, okay, I didn't actually pray to Saint Jude (I'm Jewish). But if I could have, I would have.

For those of you who -- like me -- aren't Catholic, and -- unlike me -- aren't slightly obsessed with Catholic saints, Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost things. Mainly lost causes, but I bet he wouldn't balk at lost cordless phones.

I had a really hectic Mommy day. Joey was home sick, but he wasn't too sick. He was well enough to bug me with constant requests for videos, art supplies, attention. Daniel, the toddler, was crabby, too. One of those days where you count the minutes until your husband gets home. And where was Steve? He was late, and he always calls to let me know. Finally -- desperately -- I pick up the desk phone to call him, only to be greeted by the busy signal. At that moment I suddenly remember that earlier in the day I had -- desperately -- handed over the cordless phone to the toddler to play with. He must have turned it on. So I go upstairs to turn it off . . . and I can't find it anywhere.

When a cordless phone is off the hook you can't page it from the base. Did you know that? Did you?? You can't. So here we were, with a desperate Mommy, Daddy nowhere in sight, and no way to call in or out. That d--n phone could have been stashed away anywhere. Daniel is funny that way. We're always finding pennies in our shoes, forks and spoons in the bathtub, dominoes in the flower pot, toy cars in the linen closet.

To cut a long story short, when Steve got home (we were still looking; he had tried to call) he had a flash of inspiration. "Did you check the laundry tub?" he said. I rushed down to the basement.

There it was.

Steve, honey, you are the answer to my prayers!

My inner librarian

Yeah, I've always been obsessed with libraries and librarians. I actually went to library school, but only got about halfway through. I took time off when Lena was born, and never went back. It was a tough commute, and the classes were so tedious. Not like law school (which I did finish), where I was never bored, not even in a class called "Secured Transactions."

Anyway, besides the fact that public libraries are what makes democracy great (free dissemination of information, more or less), there is also the endlessly fascinating question of how to organize information. One thing I have learned the hard way, based on my own various collections, is this: once you make a classification decision, do not change your mind later. If you're organizing your books and you decide that an anthology of science fiction short stories should go with other science fiction rather than other anthologies, do not change your mind later. If you're organizing your kitchen and you decide that the pie server goes in with "miscellaneous" rather than "spatulas" because you're not likely to use the pie server while frying onions, do not change your mind later. Because you will never remember which decision came first.

My inner librarian got a good workout recently. I reorganized our entire CD collection. We made the bold move, dictated by space considerations, to get rid of all the plastic cases and put the CDs and booklets in big binders. I bought three of them, thinking: one for classical, one for jazz, one for rock/pop. I deliberated long and hard over whether to create a separate section for movie soundtracks. (I did.) I pondered deeply whether to create a separate section just for my beloved Kingston Trio. (I did.) I debated with myself for a good long time over where to put Steve's CD of Sousa marches. (Final decision: International section.)

I had to decide what to do about 2-CD sets, which threatened to spoil my plan of having booklets always on the left and CDs always on the right. And then there's the question of how to alphabetize CDs that had more than one artist or composer on them. Example: Before the Flood. File under Bob Dylan, or The Band? Another example: I have a CD with one piece by Lalo and one by Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns is listed first on the cover, but Lalo is listed first on the spine. Hmmmm . . .

Oh, man! My inner librarian was in heaven!


One of my Mothers' Day presents was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I got it Sunday morning, and by Monday night I'd finished it.

Without giving anything away, I'll just say it's told from the point of view of a 15-year-old autistic boy. (You probably knew that already; this book is on everyone's list.) Anyway, this boy does not seem to be as high-functioning as, say, Temple Grandin or Dawn Prince-Hughes, whom I wrote about a couple of months ago. He goes to a special school. He has a lot of trouble filtering out irrelevant stimuli. He has no sense of humor. He has obsessive-compulsive disorder. When overwhelmed he rocks back and forth, puts his hands over his ears, and "does groaning." He's also very bright; he's a math prodigy.

The author gets this boy's voice perfectly, and he never falters. If someone told me this was a true autobiography instead of a novel I would have no trouble believing it. It felt absolutely authentic -- every single sentence. What a feat! How did he do it???

The book reminds me of a certain piece of music. It's a trumpet thing they play fairly regularly on CBC Radio Two, a theme and variations. The theme is the melody "My Hat, It Has Three Corners," though I think it's called something else. The variations get harder and harder and faster and faster until by the end you can hardly believe that it's just one person playing. And you think, "Oh my god, that was amazing! What a feat! How did he do it???" But if you step back for a moment, you realize that the underlying theme is a simple nursery rhyme.

And I think that's the case with this book, too. The underlying plot is pretty simple. There's not a lot of depth or moral ambiguity. It's your typical "coming of age" -- or, ha ha, Someone Leaves Town -- story, but it's nothing that hasn't been said before. The author's technique is dazzling, but there's not a lot underneath.

Or is there? Have you read it? What did you think?

A happy camper

Yesterday afternoon I finally figured out how to do a thing with CSS that I've been working on for weeks. Yesss! And then, yesterday evening, Steve and I actually got to go out on a date. We haven't gone out on a date in literally months. My parents babysat, and when we got home they gave such a glowing report of how great the kids were -- even the toddler -- that I think I blushed. And we had a terrific date. We went out to dinner and a show. The show was a high school production of Hair. Not just any old high school, though: it's the one Steve and I both went to, where he now teaches. One of the advantages of being the largest school in the state is that they've got a lot of talented kids (bigger pool to draw from, you know). I don't think I've ever heard a better version of "Easy to be Hard," the one song from the show I never liked. She was terrific! So, anyway, I don't care if it rains all day tomorrow. I hope all you moms have a wonderful weekend too!

Back to books, now. Let me draw your attention to the changes in the sidebar. I've listed next month's book group selection, and I encourage anyone who wants (Sleeping Mommy?) to read along. Notice, too, the new book on my bedside table. Introductory Psychology through Science Fiction, published in 1974. This is not a joke. It's a real book, and I scanned the cover in case you didn't believe me. I just love the cover. Especially the title font. Isn't it so 1974?

And what a hilarious idea. This book is basically an anthology of sci-fi short stories, with prefaces describing how each story illuminates some aspect of psychology. The first section, which I'm still in, is Psychobiology. Some other sections are: The Learning Process, Sensation and Perception, Personality, etc. What's really charming about this book is that the stories are the real, old school, classic 1950's pulp magazine stuff. Stuff that seems embarrassingly simplistic and outdated now, especially if you're into "cyberpunk" writers like William Gibson and Neil Stephenson (I'm not). But I'm loving it. I read a lot of this kind of stuff in junior high. I still remember the day I discovered Isaac Asimov in 8th grade. These stories are chicken soup for my soul. But the idea that they can be used as an introductory psych text book, oh ha ha! Wish I'd had that class in college!

Sniffle sniffle

I'm on day 2 of a pretty bad cold, courtesy of Daniel. So here I am at home, using up whole boxes of Kleenex, instead of at book group.

Probably just as well, since I haven't finished the book yet. However, I will finish it in a day or two. Refuge is a woman's beautifully-written memoir about two things happening at the same time: her mother is dying of cancer, and her "refuge," a bird sanctuary in Utah, is being destroyed by the rising water level of Great Salt Lake. The rising water level is a natural occurrence; normally the birds would just move upstream, but they can't because of human population growth. Interspersed among the details of the cancer progression -- not so much medical details as emotional details -- are descriptions of the birds and the terrain. I wish I knew more about birds. I must confess that although the cancer aspect of the book is extremely moving and beautifully written, the bird stuff leaves me cold. I've never even heard of half the birds she talks about (phalarope? avocet? heck, they could be lizards, fish, even plants, for all I know), and I certainly have no mental pictures. Tanager? Could weigh 5 ounces, could weigh 5 pounds. Could be hot pink with a purple beak. I have no clue.

The cancer is not a normal occurrence; the mother is in her early 50s when she dies, and it seems that she probably got it, along with most of the other women in the author's family, as a result of being exposed to fallout from nuclear tests in the surrounding desert. So far she hasn't talked very much about that aspect, but I'm hoping that in the remaining pages she'll get more into that.

The dying mother is an amazing woman. She accepts her impending death more easily than her family does. She does go gently into that good night; it's the family that rages against the dying of the light, though in the end they are accepting, too. I sobbed at the death scene; I can't even imagine how someone who didn't have two extremely healthy (and cute) parents would react.

Doulicia, who's hosting tonight, asked us to think about what our own refuges are. I thought about it a lot. I don't think I have one. At least, not a physical place, the way the author of this book does. I retreat into books and daydreams and solitude. I can do that anywhere.

What's your refuge?


Daniel, age 22 months, is a big babbler but doesn't speak much English yet. We've been eagerly waiting for him to say his siblings' names. This weekend, finally, he did. Big brother Joey is now officially "Doo Doo."

Our whole family has pirate nicknames, too. Me: Black Bill. Hubby: Frankenberry. Joey: Dread Pirate Vane. Lena: Calico Jack McGurk. Daniel: Mad Ned the Executioner. Click here to get your own pirate name.

And now, back to Refuge, which I have to finish in time for my Tuesday evening book group meeting.