One last thing

I can't leave you all without passing on this treat.

Blog withdrawal

I have been suffering from blog withdrawal these last few days. I've been working hard on a project that I had to get done before we go away tomorrow, and I've not had a minute to spare for blogdom.

Yes, we're going away tomorrow, for a week at family camp. Guess what one of the activities for the grownups is going to be? A book discussion group. The book? Heh, heh, it's Kite Runner.

See you on August 6!

Kite Runner and that other book, too

I'm having a little trouble with Kite Runner. Did anyone else find the writing style, well, undistinguished? Clunky?

For example, he says that spikes of pain battered his knees. I'm sorry, but spikes don't batter. Spikes could stab, though. Or the pain could batter.

I'm also finding the characters one-dimensional and unrealistic.

This is in sad contrast to Atonement, which coincidentally has the identical premise: weak, cowardly young adolescent makes an unfortunate decision that changes the lives of the people around him as well as his own. I'm wondering if Kite Runner got all this hype merely because it takes place in that hot spot, Afghanistan. Because I don't see a whole lot of literary merit in it. (Caveat: I'm about halfway through the book right now. I do intend to finish it.)

I read that other book, you know, the one everyone is reading right now? It was terrific. Every bit as good as The Prisoner of Azkaban, my favorite of the series. Unlike the other long ones, this one was absolutely taut, and very suspenseful. Laugh-out-loud funny in a couple of places, too.


My son Joey, age 9, professes to love "dark humor."

Sometimes, he gives us an unintentional dose of it. The other day we were driving through a construction zone and all of a sudden he exclaimed, "Oh my GOD! Who would want to kill a worker?"

He thought the warning sign was an offer.

A rambling post about books . . .

but not that one!

The Kite Runner is listed in my sidebar as being on my bedside table. It's been languishing there since last May (Mothers' Day, to be precise) but I just haven't been able to get myself to start it. It's getting down to the wire now, because we're going away to a family camp (doesn't that sound dorky? I keep picturing the one from Tommy: "I'm your uncle Ernie and I welcome you to Tommy's 'oliday camp! The camp with a difference, never mind the weathah, when you come to Tommy's, the 'oliday's forevaaaah, ha ha!") in a couple of weeks and one of the things happening there is a Kite Runner discussion. Of course, not attending a book discussion group is not an option for Bookworm.

The problem is, Kite Runner has been talked up way too much. I always have a hard time reading books that have been too highly recommended. I feel under pressure to like it. That's why I've never been able to finish The Magic Mountain, among others. And to make things worse, get a load of this:

My old pal Leslie has an interesting theory. Based on data gathered from conversations with a variety of people, she believes that people who liked Life of Pi don't like Kite Runner, and vice versa. She has no explanation for this phenomenon, but it's something she's definitely observed, and she can list a bunch of people who go one way or the other. No one she knows seems to like or dislike both.

Well, I loved Life of Pi. Absolutely loved it. It has all the ingredients for a Julie's favorite: natural history, religion, boats, a surprise twist at the end, and above all, different versions of the same event. I am such a sucker for books that describe the same event from different characters' points of view (for example, Atonement).

So I'm really afraid I'm going to hate Kite Runner. I think I'll try to set up one of those polls in my sidebar to test her theory.

The goops


It's been a while since I posted a photo. They do lead disgusting lives, don't they!


This may come as a shock to those of you who know me well, but I have uncovered new evidence regarding Intelligent Design, which I now believe in wholeheartedly. I can't believe I ever thought we evolved through random chance.

Read all about it right here.

My sheltered life

So, last night hubby and I decided that after the kids were in bed we'd watch a video for about half an hour while the kids settled down and then, ahem, we'd, you know, go to bed early.

So, the video we decided to watch for half an hour? Fahrenheit 9/11, which somehow we'd managed to avoid up until now. Frankly, I didn't want to watch it before the election. Back then, I was already terrified at the prospect of the shrub (as Guusje calls him) winning the election, and I knew this movie would only make me feel worse. After the election, well, we were too depressed. Didn't want to make it worse. But then Steve brought it home from the library, so we watched it.

And I do feel worse.

Not because of the facts, most of which we already knew. No, it was the visual images that freaked me out pretty badly. The Iraqi civilians, the American soldiers. Not to mention, at the very beginning, the scenes at Ground Zero. Whoa!

Confession here: we use our tv only as a monitor for the dvd player. We don't have cable. We don't have an antenna. Not even rabbit ears. We couldn't watch the news if we wanted to. We get our news via NPR, CBC Radio Two, the Atlantic Monthly and Mother Jones, and our local paper. To this day, I have never seen the actual footage of the hijacked planes. Photos, yes, but not the video.

I read lots of gory stuff, though, and so does my husband. Unlike some of the people in my book club who try to avoid reading about war, I've read quite a bit, including such classics as All Quiet on the Western Front and Johnny Got His Gun. My husband is not only a social studies teacher, but also a military history buff, and I have also read a fair amount of the stuff he leaves lying around. Most recently, and in quick succession, I read the separate Viet Nam memoirs of 1) an army doctor; 2) women; and 3) a corporal. All shocking, not only in their descriptions of the carnage and bad policy, but also in their poignant attempts to readjust to life back home afterwards.

Fahrenheit 9/11 really brought home to me the difference between reading about something and seeing it. Lord knows, my imagination is vivid enough that you'd think just reading would be enough.

We are NEVER getting cable.

* * *

And, as you probably predicted: the romantic interlude did not happen that night. We sat riveted in front of the tv until midnight, and then we were too raw and tired to do anything but sleep.

Off my chest

Ok, I know I always seem to get into trouble when I rant blog about birth, but I just have to get this off my chest.

Our neighbor around the corner just had a baby, her first, earlier this week. (Aside: I don't know when I've ever been happier to hear of a pregnancy; they'd been trying for years, and had actually started adoption proceedings when she finally conceived.) I haven't seen her or the baby yet, but I did get the birth story from the father, who stopped by a little neighborhood shindig last night. He said they scheduled her for a c-section because it was the day before her due date and the baby hadn't dropped yet.

They scheduled her for a c-section because it was the day before her due date and the baby hadn't dropped yet.

The baby was so high up that one of the doctors had to push down on the mother's abdomen to get the baby closer to the site of the incision. They had to use forceps to get her out. The baby was 8lbs 7oz.

Why couldn't they just wait?

* * *

At this same little neighborhood shindig there was another woman there with a month-old baby girl, her fourth child. (Baby's name: Poppy. Is that the cutest?) We were talking with the aforementioned new dad about how hard it is to get used to the idea of oneself as a parent, even when you've been trying for a baby for five years. We assured him that subsequent children are a piece of cake. (Ha ha, I know, but in many ways I think this is true.) Then the other mom talked about how Poppy was born just a few days before our school's annual ice cream social. She went to the social, she said, and laughingly described how weepy she'd been then. And that was with her fourth! Those hormones! She turned to me and asked whether I'd been weepy after my births.

Well of COURSE I was weepy. Who wouldn't be? And must we blame it all on hormones? This is a major life change we're talking about here. Everything is different when you're a parent. Once you were young, strong, independent, and nothing fazed you. Now you are tied to this helpless creature with every fiber of your being. Nine years later and I'm still weepy! Things I wouldn't have batted an eyelash at, pre-kids, make me break down in great, howling sobs. It just doesn't get any more vulnerable than this.

P.S. I don't mean to suggest that hormones don't play a part in mood swings; I know that they do. And also, I'm not talking about postpartum depression-type weepiness, which is a whole nother kettle of fish. Nevertheless.

88 keys to happiness

**Warning! If you're feeling grumpy or cynical you'll probably want to skip this mushy, sentimental post!**

My mom is a piano teacher. She taught the neighborhood kids for thirty years. I had just one piano lesson—from her—when I was a child. One lesson, and then I shook my head and said, “No thanks, Mom!” I don’t remember why I said that, but I’m so glad I did. I learned to play the piano anyway, after my own fashion. I can play lots of those sonatinas by Kuhlau and Clementi, and most of the pieces in Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook. And because I never studied “formally,” I don’t stress out about proper fingerings and keeping ’em nicely curved, and so forth. All I do is enjoy it to my heart’s content.

My mom and I play duets together. This is one of the great joys of my life. If you’ve never played music in an ensemble, well, you have my deepest pity. There is nothing like it. Nothing like being a part of something greater than yourself, at one with the group, creating beauty. I played the clarinet for many years—including lots of lessons, this time—in quite a variety of bands, orchestras, and chamber music groups. There is nothing like it. I miss it. Playing duets fills a void in my soul.

Playing duets with my mom does something else for me, too. Whatever ups and downs she and I have had, and I admit there have been maybe one or two, they are out the door when we're playing together. And we have that mother-child ESP thing going, too. Our ensemble is uncannily, effortlessly perfect. Sometimes, as we finish the last chord of the piece together, perfectly together, we look at each other in amazement. True, I do have all that other ensemble-playing experience. True, my mom accompanies lots of soloists and has played in chamber groups, too. However, we prefer to believe it’s the mother-child bond that let’s us play together perfectly.

My son just had his second lesson with Grandma. I am so glad.

Food, glorious food

Book group last night was food for the soul indeed.

It was so nice to get together with friends that I hadn't seen for quite a while. It was almost an hour before we even started talking about the book.

Everyone loved Atonement, despite the gruesome World War II section. Oh, it's very hard to relate our discussion without getting into particulars of the plot. Let's see. We discussed the motivations of the various characters. We discussed whether the house was ugly or not. We discussed what parts of the story were "true" (if you've read it, you know what I mean). We discussed the proper pronunciation of the name Briony. We discussed WWII-era hospital procedures. We compared the two sex scenes. We noted some themes in common with last month's book, Loitering with Intent. And on and on and on!

I just have to say again, this book Blew Me Away. A couple of days ago my parents were discussing their upcoming trip to Europe and I came thisclose to saying, "Oh yeah, I was just there." That's how immediate this book is. I found myself totally identifying with characters that (I hope) I have nothing in common with. HOW did this 60ish male author get so perfectly into the mind of a 13-year-old-girl???

Food for the body, too. Our hostess, who lurks here but so far has never left a comment (hint hint, Gillis!), made lemon-limeade using my recipe, but with a little less sugar. It was super-pulpy and sooooo good! She also served this fabulous creamy, soft, Brie-ish, bleu-ish cheese, and this amazing dip/spread/chutney thing from Trader Joe's.


Hmm, not exactly what I would have chosen, but

You're The Giver!

by Lois Lowry

While you grew up with a sheltered childhood, you're pretty sure everyone around you is even more sheltered. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, you were tapped on the shoulder and transported to the real world. This made you horrified by your prior upbringing and now you're tormented by how to reconcile these two lives. Ultimately, the struggle comes down to that old free will issue. Choose wisely.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Coincidentally, I wrote a post about this book not too long ago. It's somewhere in my archives.


On Friday mornings Daniel and I have a standing playdate with Elijah and his mom Sarah. We met at a playground last fall and within about 5 minutes of conversation became instant friends. Our little boys are less than two weeks apart in age, and they're similar physical types (chunky, with heads like little bowling balls). Together, adorable.

Here are just a few of the highlights of our conversation this Friday:

We pored over a photo of the inside of her church. Earnestly, and in great detail, we discussed its design flaws (rose window clashing with alleluia tapestry; placement of cross interrupting visual flow; another design element that resembled an upside-down cross; etc.).

Marketing ideas for my business.

Typography: the world's most conservative art form.

The sublime beauty of classical Greek architecture. Order = beauty.

What we didn't talk about: parenting.

Bookworm reviews a movie

We went to see the new Star Wars movie in the theater!

Two thumbs down. It was awful. Even aside from the ridiculously bad acting (I'm pretty sure Anakin had a fake English accent in the first few scenes, but it quickly evaporated) and the fight scenes that were waaaaay too long (this movie did not need to be 2.5 hours long), I have a major gripe about the way Natalie Portman's character is treated.

It seems that this woman, who had been elected queen of an entire planet, and now is a member of the galactic senate, suddenly becomes nothing the moment she gets pregnant. If the senate finds out she's preggo, she'll have to resign. Huh? And this isn't even debated; everyone, including her, takes it as a given. And the birth? A robot delivers her babies. There's not even a human being present, let alone someone who loves and supports her.

I would just love to see a major mainstream movie that portrays a home birth birthing as an intimate, beautiful event.


I finished our bookclub book yesterday evening. I probably shouldn't talk about it much because we're not meeting until next week. So I won't go into great detail, but I will say THIS BOOK WAS REALLY GOOD! I just love McEwan's writing style. He's very detail-oriented, like moi, but not in a nitpicky or showoffy way, unlike moi. Maybe "nuanced" would be a better word. Perhaps I'd even use the word "luminous" if I wasn't boycotting it because of overuse in book reviews.

There were a couple of plot twists that I thought were just the teensiest bit contrived (okay, they were straight out of Gilbert & Sullivan), but when I got to the end I sort of changed my mind. I'm still puzzling it over. And even if this aspect of the plot borders on high melodrama or god forbid farce, it does not detract in any way from the beauty and clarity of his prose.

And the ending packs such a punch. If I just describe the very basic setting I don't think I'll spoil anything. After a 50-year gap in the plot, a 77-year-old woman returns to her childhood home for a family reunion. And you are right there. At least while I was reading, I felt like I understood what it was to be 77 years old. It was one of those "great cycle of life" or "wheel in the sky" moments. I made the mistake of reading the ending at my son's martial arts class. Any other setting and I'd have been bawling. But at To-Shin Do, well, I had to keep a stiff upper lip.


Usually I think of Ann Arbor as a fairly cosmopolitan place, given its size. We're the home of Borders Books (do NOT take this as an endorsement . . . I'll save my anti-Borders rant for another day . . . but please shop at an independently-owned bookstore if there are any left near you); the classical music scene is world-class; University of Michigan is one of the top-rated state universities in the country; and as if that's not enough, pretty soon we're going to have an Ikea only 20 minutes away.

However, on the Fourth of July, man, we are hick town.

Don't get me wrong: I love our annual parade. We get to see the mayor, state legislators, the drain commissioner, the county prosecutor, the sheriff. Police cars, fire trucks. Preschools. Girl and Boy Scouts. A dixieland band playing "Hold That Tiger." A fife and drum corps dressed in revolutionaryish garb playing "Yankee Doodle."A theatrical stunt group. Local issues: people on bicycles ("We don't block traffic; we are traffic!"), urban planning folks, peace activists. And the one that reduces me to a puddle of sentimental tears every year: Mothers of Multiples, with their double (or triple) strollers and identical toddlers in matching red-white-and-blue outfits.

They wave at us and throw candy; we wave and clap and scramble for the candy, and everyone's happy. Steve even waved at the Washtenaw County Republicans. "What are you doing?" I hissed. "Honey, this is America," he said. "But notice, I'm not clapping."

"Independence" day, ha ha!

Boy, if we had a nickel for every time we heard that one.

Today is our 12th wedding anniversary. We didn't set out to do it on the Fourth; it just sort of happened. Actually, it's a great day for an anniversary. We get parades, fireworks, a day off from work (well, okay, we have the whole summer off, but if we had regular jobs we'd have the day off). Before we had kids we used to celebrate with a day trip. We'd go drive a couple hours west on I-94 to Marshall, Michigan. We'd spend the day walking around and gawking at the beautiful old Victorian houses with their National Register plaques, then have dinner at Win Schuler's. If you ever read The House with a Clock in its Walls when you were a kid, that book was set in Marshall. We don't do that any more, though. Not since the time we took Joey when he was 18 months old . . . oh, never mind.

The best wedding gift we got was from my father's cousin, who lived in England. He sent us plane tickets. We spent our honeymoon bopping around England and Wales on BritRail passes, and of course we visited the cousin while we were there. I turned the house upside down looking for our photos, but couldn't find them anywhere. Otherwise you'd see us gawking at old castles, standing in front of the REAL James Herriot's REAL veterinary practice in Thirsk, having tea at the Pavilion in Brighton, etc., etc.

There were two things we saw in London that I remember like it was yesterday. If I only had one afternoon in London I'd see these same two things. The first was visiting the Cutty Sark. (Ohmigosh, so that's what a belaying pin looks like!) It was quite thrilling for a nautically-minded couple like us. The second thing we saw was the War Rooms, the underground complex where Churchill, etc., lived and worked during WWII. They moved out the day after the war ended. Everything is there exactly as they left it. None of it is "reproduction." You can see the real maps, the real phones, the real pencils. You would not believe how deeply moving this was.

* * *

Wow. Twelve years. Dear darling Steve, thanks for making me the happiest girl in the world. I wouldn't change a single day.