Books of the Year

Best Fiction
Room by Emma Donoghue
Jack is 5 and the room he was born in is his whole world; it’s a soundproof, escape-proof garden shed in which he and his mother are held captive. Jack narrates the book, and although he’s definitely precocious his thoughts and views are spot-on five. And the relationship between Jack and his mom is wonderfully drawn; it captures perfectly how a mother can love her child beyond measure (and go to extraordinary lengths to keep him safe and nurtured in spite of difficult circumstances) but still be irritated and worn down by the never-ending demands of motherhood. As soon as I finished this book the first time I immediately started reading it again from the beginning.

More really good fiction:
Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato
Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Guilty Pleasure
Faithful Place by Tana French
This doesn’t quite fit into the category of “well-written literary fiction” like the above books; it’s more of a “can’t put down” kind of book. This is French’s third novel about detectives in Dublin. In each of the novels, there comes a point where you have to decide to suspend your disbelief in order to stick with the story; I suppose that’s a flaw, but she’s good enough at drawing characters and building suspense that it doesn’t matter in the end.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
This is a collection of essays (many of which, I realized after buying the book, I’d already read in The New Yorker) about murder, madness, and obsession. The best one is about a man who was executed in Texas for a crime he almost certainly did not commit. My second-favorite one, weirdly enough, is about the series of tunnels and mains that supply water to New York City (one stretches all the way from the city to Albany – did you know that?) and the looming crisis that the city faces if these tunnels aren’t repaired.

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
I generally dislike apocalyptic/dystopian fiction, but it’s hard not to care about Katniss Everdeen and her struggle to survive as a tribute in the Hunger Games.

Favorite re-reads
Harry Potter
Just finished re-reading this series and love it as much as ever.

Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
Probably the funniest books I’ve ever read. The savages and demons of the titles are Jackson’s four children, and she writes about being a mother with a perfect blend of exasperation and bewilderment and affection.

Worst book of the year
Honestly, I feel like I read a bunch of stinkers this year. The worst among the worst was Mr Peanut by Adam Ross. It starts out okay – a man is arrested on suspicion of force-feeding peanuts to his highly allergic wife, resulting in her death – but no, typing that out, I see it didn’t really start out okay at all. The problem with this book – and what some call its “genius” – is that you never really know what “actually” happened and what is the projection of the main character, who is himself writing a book about things that happened to him. And then in the middle there’s a long, long, long side story about Sam Shepherd (you know, from The Fugitive), which honestly might have been all right had it been a completely separate book, but which I couldn’t enjoy because I kept thinking, wait, was does this have to do with the peanut guy? I hated this book, but I kept plugging along because I wanted to figure out “what happened” – and the final straw was that, about ten pages toward the end, there’s another digression about the films of Hitchcock. WTH? Oh, the agony. Hated this book.

Worst re-read of the year
Last week I suddenly felt the urge to re-visit The Witching Hour by Anne Rice, which I remember loving beyond reason when I was in college. I couldn’t find my original copy, so I downloaded it onto my nook (for cheap!) and dove in. And good grief – let’s just put it this way – the book is 1074 pages and I think she could’ve gotten the job done in 350. She never uses one sentence when three paragraphs would suffice. The story itself is not terrible, but I don’t know if I’m going to have the fortitude to make it all the way to the end. I guess it’s good to know that my tastes have matured a bit in 20 years.

What are the best and worst books you read this year?


Aunt Fran

Chris's great aunt Fran lives in Indiana and has never met our kids. But not a single birthday or holiday (major or minor) goes by without the girls receiving a card from Fran, and each card has a dollar bill inside, folded to look like a bowtie. Mallory and Phoebe get so excited when they see Aunt Fran's handwriting on an envelope (on Halloween she makes her letters squiggly, to spooky effect). Thanks, Aunt Fran, for thinking of them.

Mallory herself almost never lets a day go by without drawing a picture or writing a letter to someone, so I think she's preparing herself to step into Aunt Fran's shoes in a few decades' time. That thought makes me smile.


Christmas Past

I don't know what I miss more tonight -- the people in this picture, or being young enough to be on the receiving end of all the work that goes into Christmas.

Hope yours is merry and bright.


Santa Claus came to town

Last night I took the girls to the Chamber of Commerce to see Santa Claus. (Santa had originally planned to come to the park gazebo, but it hasn't hit 50 degrees here since December 1, so the town decided that the Chamber office would be more comfortable.) He was a very nice Santa and spent a long time with each child; which was nice for the child of the moment but not so nice for those standing in line. However, we were the the third family to show up so we didn't really have to wait that long.

He and Mrs. Claus, who was sitting beside him in a gingham bonnet, were both a bit judgey when it came to wish lists, though. The girl ahead of us asked for a cell phone. "A cell phone? How old are you?" Santa asked. The girl said she was 10. "I'll have to think hard about that one," Santa said. Mrs. Claus interjected: "Honey, you don't need a cell phone until you start to drive." The girl looked a bit upset. Mrs. Claus leaned over and said to her mom in a loud whisper: "She really doesn't need a cell phone, you know!"

(Let me say that in theory I agree with the Clauses about the cell phone business, but you're supposed to be able to ask Santa for anything! That's the point of Santa!)

So when Mallory asked Santa for an ipod, he frowned a little bit. "I'd also like a webkinz," she said hastily. "Now that I can do!" he said.

Santa had no reservations about Phoebe's wishes: Girl legos and Polly Pockets. Mrs. Claus told me that she loved Phoebe's name.

I think both my good little girls will be satisfied on Christmas morning.


Missed Manners

Both of my Girl Scout troops celebrated the holidays with a gift exchange, so I picked up two packs of Squinkies for Mallory and Phoebe's contributions. "What if the person who gets this already has Squinkies?" Mallory asked.

"Well, that's what gift receipts are for," I said; but then I saw the opportunity for a Teachable Moment. "Actually, though, what DO you do when someone gives you a gift you already have?"

"You say, 'I have this at home!'" Phoebe said.

"Well, no. You should just smile and say 'Thank you!' The person doesn't need to know that you already have it; that might make them feel bad."

"Oh, and then you can take it back to the store and get something else?" Mallory said.

"Yes, you could do that," I said. "But you shouldn't tell the person you're going to do that."

"Yeah, but remember last year? When I got that High School Musical doll from Sarah at my party?" Mallory said. "And I don't like High School Musical so you let me take it back to Target?"


"That wasn't because I already had it, that was because I just didn't LIKE it. So that's okay too, right?"

"Yes, but the important thing is that you're not rude about it. As long as you said thank you to Sarah for the doll, and she didn't KNOW you didn't like it--"

"So as long as you don't tell the truth, right?" Phoebe said.

"Well." I had the distinct feeling that my Teachable Moment was getting away from me. "You should always tell the truth, of course. It's just that sometimes it's more important to be polite."

"Being polite is more important than not lying? Is that what you're saying?" Mallory demanded.

"There's a kind of lie called a little white lie," I said. "And yes, it's something you say when you don't want someone's feelings to be hurt. Like if someone gives you a present you don't like, you should go ahead and say thank you and that you like it very much. That's not a bad lie."

"But what if you go to a priest, and you have to confess your sins, do you have to confess that lie?" Mallory said. "Or do you say that you did tell a lie, but it was a good kind of lie, will the priest understand that?"

"God will understand, and that's all that matters," I said, a bit desperately.

"But what if the person comes to your house after you take the gift back," Phoebe said, "and they want to know where it is? And you don't have it anymore?"

"Yeah," Mallory said, "then you'll have to tell another lie to cover up for the fact that you took it back."

"The point is," I said, "that it's very important to say thank you when you receive a gift. Because when someone gives you a gift, it's because they like you and want you to be happy, and that matters much more than what the gift actually is."

"Okay, Mom, we get it," Mallory said. "You don't have to have that face on."

"What face?"

"Your leader face. Right now you're just our mom."


You would've thought, after the disastrous turn this conversation took, that I would've learned my lesson. But no -- when my Daisy troop met for our Christmas party, and I could legitimately wear my leader face, which I did not even know I had, by the way, I tried again. "What do we say when someone gives us a present?" I asked the girls before we passed out the gifts.

"Thank you!" the girls chorused.

"Right! But what if someone gives you a gift you don't really like? What do you say then?"

"No thank you!" they said.

"Well, that's not quite --" I began. And then I stopped. And let it go.


Have yourself a marshmallowy Christmas

If loving this ornament -- Baby Jesus and his parents, as marshmallows, on a graham cracker -- is wrong, I don't want to be right.


Nothing is ever easy

Last night I sang the extended lyric version of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer to the girls -- they'd never heard it that way, amazingly; although I admit they were more perplexed than amused. "Like Monopoly? What does that mean?" Mallory asked halfway through. I soldiered on and gave it the big finish: "You'll go down in history! Like Columbus!"

Phoebe said: "What's a klumpus?"

"Yeah," Mallory said, "I've never heard of a klumpus at Christmas time."

"Columbus," I said. "Like Columbus, like Christopher Columbus."

"Who's that?" Phoebe asked.

"You know," Mallory said. "He was with the Mayflower, and all that."


The rest of the story

So we called lights out at 12:30; Mallory and one friend went right to sleep in the guest room, but the three other girls had to be gently reminded at 1:15 to stay in bed; reprimanded at 2:15 for playing a board game on the bunk bed; and yelled at at 3:10 for doing heaven knows what but it was making a lot of noise. Finally all were asleep; they woke up at 8:00 asking to make friendship bracelets. I fed them doughnuts and went to Phoebe's Daisy Scout meeting at 9:30, for which I felt totally unprepared (Phoebe had spent the night at my in-laws, btw). Got home around 12:30 to Mallory asking me to help her with her new Easy Bake oven and Phoebe asking me to set up the Christmas tree.

All I wanted to do was take a nap.

But I didn't. Chris helped Mallory easy-bake; I got down the tree. And then we got a freak snowstorm. All in all, it was a pretty exciting weekend for my birthday girl.

Now the birthday has been celebrated, the tree has been trimmed, and the snow has melted (although it's still extremely cold here). And I'm still in need of a nap.


T minus 39 minutes...

11:22 p.m.

Mallory announced halfway through the movie that she was tired and going straight to bed when it was finished. "That means everyone she has to go to bed," she announced. I was foolish enough to hope this would come to fruition. Instead, she got the dreaded second wind. They played a game; they danced and sang to Miranda Cosgrove. Just now they demanded that Chris draw portraits of all of them. Alternately, they'd like to make friendship bracelets. I heard one girl tell Mallory to set her alarm for 3 a.m. so they can sneak downstairs and watch our Elf on the Shelf change positions. (I'll explain that one later.)

Mallory's happy and having a good time and I'm glad about that. But man, I'd really like to go to bed now.

Just heard ominous crashing noise from upstairs. Not sure if I really want to investigate. So tired.

9:25 p.m.

Four girls arrived on time. There was much screaming and giggling and attempting cartwheeling. Pizza, cake, pinata dispatched. Young girls are very noisy. Fifth girl arrives late; said parents got lost. Feel guilty; forgot to notify parents of road construction around neighborhood. Presents opened, goody bags distributed. One girl has to go home early, not allowed to stay all night because has whooping cough. (No longer contagious.) Fingernails painted, pillowcases decorated. I (brilliantly) try to plan tomorrow's Girl Scout meeting around the chaos. Mallory stubs toe, has headache (not related). Popped popcorn. Girls now in living room watching Coraline. Requested total darkness. Hoping it makes them sleepy.

5:21 p.m.

Mallory's sleepover guests will arrive any minute now. The house is clean, the juice boxes are chilled, the candles are on the cake, the pinata is filled. On the agenda: pillowcase decorating, pizza eating, pinata smashing, present opening, game playing, friendship bracelet making, and, apparently, staying up until at least 2 a.m. I'm sure there will also be a lot of high-pitched screaming and discussions of iCarly episodes.

If I have the chance I'll live blog the experience for you. Why shouldn't you suffer right along with me?

Wish me luck.









Happy birthday to one of the two most beautiful girls in the world. I love you!


Upping the Santa Ante

Two years ago, Mallory's wish list to Santa included "a bell from your slay."

Last year, her list included "a note from you and a pawprint from one of your raindeer."

This year, her list includes "a picture of your house at the North Pole and the area around your house."

I think she's trying to catch somebody ... and it's not Santa.


Some elves need to be fired over this

You know what's annoying? When you go online to compare prices for the one item that your kid really, really wants for Christmas, and find that previous buyers of this particular product have given it abysmal reviews. It's poor quality, it falls apart, it doesn't do what it's supposed to do, it's a complete waste of money (and it's a lot of money, for a toy).

So what do you do? Do you go ahead and buy the thing and hope for the best -- when the worst, in this situation, is a waste of $80 and a kid who's disappointed on Christmas morning? Or do you try to convince your kid to change her mind and go for something else?

And the real question is -- why don't the toy companies do any kind of quality control? Do they not have testers, in their factories in China? Or are they just hoping for the best themselves (the best, in this situation, being that people won't go to the trouble of returning their crappy toy once they've gone to the trouble of assembling it?).

It really makes me mad.


I blame the metric system

I don't think I'll be running in my race next week. I'm sure no one really cares, or needs to hear my long rambling justification as to why not, but I'm sharing anyway. I started the Couch to 5K running program this summer, which is supposed to take a person from "I can't run three steps" to running 5K in just nine weeks. So in the first week you have 8 repetitions of 60 seconds of running with 3 minutes of walking; the second week you have 6 repetitions of 90 seconds of running with 2 minutes of walking; and so on. I downloaded some a podcast series to listen to as I ran/walked, which gave cues as to when to speed up and slow down. All the podcasts are 30 minutes long (with 5 minutes of warm up and cool down tacked on either side), so I just kind of assumed that 30 minutes of running, when I got there, would be equal to 5K of distance.

The first time I ran 20 minutes, I only made it about a mile and a quarter. Aha, I thought, 5K must be equal to about 2 miles. I can do this! And about a week later, I DID run about 2 miles -- or twice around my neighborhood, which I double-checked with my car odometer. I was pleased with myself. Then I went online and looked at the map of the race I'd entered. It looked longer than the path around my neighborhood. I grew suspicious. I googled "how long is 5K?" and was alarmed to find out that 5K is, in fact, THREE miles. Three miles! That's a long way. That's much farther than two miles. Stupid metric system.

I don't think I can do it. I can run two miles -- I've done it twice now -- but it's a struggle. I'm very slow, and it kind of hurts. I don't think I can make that extra mile.

I feel like a loser for not going to the race. Chris told me that's silly; that the important thing is that I'm exercising at all, that I've made it as far as I have. I know that's true, but I wish I'd worked a little harder. I'm going to keep at it, though. Running is kind of awful when you're doing it -- except for those brief moments when it's not. I don't know if I've ever really felt a "runner's high," but when I run I feel strong, and I like that. I like knowing that I can do something today that I couldn't six months ago.

So maybe in another six months, I'll find another race to enter, and I'll actually show up for it.


Happy Birthday Mom!

In response to my dad's comment on my "being a mom is hard" post -- if you are just now realizing that you were being juggled, then she must have been doing a good job of it.

And it's comforting to know that my mom felt the same way I do now, because part of my frustration sometimes stems from the fact that, looking back, she made it seem easy and I wonder what's wrong with me that I can't do the same.

Good job, Mom! Hope you're having a great day.

(Also, your comment about getting a "rabid" made me laugh.)


Maybe she should put it in the dumster

So there's this busybody woman right down our street who set up a neighborhood email list and is constantly reminding us all to be sure to keep our gutters clean and paint our front stoops, the better to keep everyone's property values up. She organizes Neighborhood Beautification Days, she collects money for tulip bulbs for the front entrances, she complains about people who don't come to a complete stop at the stop sign right by her house.

I studiously ignore all her emails because we chose our neighborhood specifically because it did not have a Home Owners Association. No one's gonna tell us how short to keep our grass, thank you very much. I stay on the email list, however, because sometimes other people send out useful information (black dog found on this street; car broken into Thursday night; etc.).

I was, however, really irritated when she sent out an email at the end of October saying how crazy it was that our town had officially announced that Trick or Treating was to take place on Sunday, October 31. "Trick or treating on Sunday doesn't make sense!?!" she said. "Doesn't everyone agree that it we should do it on Saturday instead?!?"

It was all the trebled punctuation that did me in, and although I am generally content to live and let live, this time I shot back an email without thinking twice: "Can you tell me why exactly you think it's crazy to go trick or treating on October 31, which is the actual day of Halloween?" I said. For a few days there was no response; then she sent another email that said: "The votes are in! Trick or treating on Sunday!" which really set me off again because it wasn't a vote, you don't vote on something that's already on the calendar.

And tonight, well, tonight she sent out an email that said:

"My sons hampster died last week; if anyone needs hampster bedding come and get it!"

I think we need to move.


A time to have no time

In the past four weeks, I've been to five Girl Scout events, not including regular troop meetings AND leaders' meetings. When I'm not at a Girl Scout event, I'm preparing for the next one. I'm sending emails to parents, collecting money for field trips, buying craft supplies, and researching service projects.

When I'm not dealing with Girl Scouts, I'm dealing with school. I'm at PTO meetings, or organizing teacher's breakfasts, or buying canned goods for the Thanksgiving food drive. Or I'm helping with homework, or signing homework agendas or behavior charts, or sorting through the piles and piles of paper that come home every week.

When I'm not dealing with school, I'm taking the kids to the pool, or the park, or trying to arrange playdates or slumber parties. Or I'm making muffins for the week's breakfast, or cookies for the week's desserts, or endlessly washing the little plastic containers I send back and forth each day full of goldfish or pretzels for snacks.

When I want to buy a new pair of shoes, or contribute to the NPR pledge drive, or go to the eye doctor for a new pair of glasses, I remember that this month Phoebe has to have some cavities filled, and that money is due for the school fundraiser, and Mallory has outgrown her PE uniform (again).

I'm not doing any of these things because I particularly enjoy them. I'm not doing them so people will think I'm mom of the year, either, although a couple of people have said they don't know how I do what I do AND work full time too. The fact is I think I'm doing a pretty half-assed job most of the time, which just kind of adds to the stress level.

What helps me -- when I reflect that really, all I want out of life is to be left alone and allowed to sit on the couch and read, with a Diet Coke close to hand -- is to remember that this is not forever. For every thing there is a season, and this happens to be my season right now: Having young children, being involved in what matters to them, spending time (and money) on things that will, I hope, help them grow into good people. In ten or twelve years, my season will change, and my priorities can shift. I'm not sure I'll miss all this, once it's over. My hope is that I'll be able to look back without regret.

And if my kids ever tell me that I never did anything for them, well, I'll know that they're wrong.


You mean...?

After picking up pizza for dinner, we drove by a Taco Bell, which inspired this conversation:

Mallory: I'm glad we're eating pizza instead of Taco Bell. Gross.

Phoebe: Well Daddy likes Taco Bell.

Me: I don't think he does. He'll eat there, but it's not his favorite.

Phoebe: Do you like it?

Me: No, not really. There was a restaurant like it in Texas, though, called Taco Villa. They had apple burritos which were very good.

Mallory: Mommy, stop trying to make me think that Texas is some kind of wonderland.

Me: Pardon?

Mallory: I mean, I do like going to Texas, but you know I hate to fly, so why bring it up?

Me: Well --

Mallory: Next Christmas can we drive to Grandmom's house?

Me: No.

Phoebe: It would take forever! Plus there's that lake, you know.

Mallory: What lake?

Phoebe: That lake. You know. That big lake. We saw it last year on the way to Great Wolf Lodge.

Me: You mean the Mississippi River?

Phoebe: Yeah, that.

Mallory: But that's a river. There's not a big lake. I mean, not a lake that's too big to cross over in a car, right, Mommy? There's not a really big lake like the one that's at the beach, right?

Me: You mean the ocean?

Mallory: Yeah, the ocean. There's no ocean on the way to Texas, right?

Me: No, of course not.

Phoebe: But there is the Mississippi Lake!

Mallory: Yeah, but you can drive across that on one of those things. You know, a road track trail thing.

Me: You mean a bridge?

Mallory: No, of course I don't mean a bridge. Bridges are made of wood.

Phoebe: The pizza smells so good, I wish I could eat it right now. I wish I could eat pizza all the time.

Mallory: I wish I had pizza shoes.

Phoebe: Ewww! A pizza hat would be better.

Mallory: Ewww! What if your hair was dirty?

Phoebe: Okay, the best would be pizza mins.

Mallory: Mins? What's a mins?

Phoebe: Mins. Mih. Ens. That you wear on your hands.

Mallory: What do you mean, mins?

Me: You mean mittens?

Phoebe: Yes! That's what I mean.


What the...?*

Sometimes I learn something and am instantly dumbfounded that I hadn't know that thing before. For example -- I was 23 years old and in graduate school before I realized the difference between Calvary and Cavalry (I guess before I thought there was only one such word). Now I can only remember which word means which by thinking of the French word "chevalier."

I was equally blown away the first time I learned about Robert Falcon Scott's doomed voyage to the South Pole. Five men died! Why didn't they teach me that in school! AND when I realized, only last year, that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just one week after General Lee surrendered. Just one week! Wow! Obviously that wasn't covered in Gone with the Wind.

The same sense of wonder came upon me when I discovered the existence of this:

It's an opaki. I'm 38 years old and I've never heard of such a creature. What else am I missing, I wonder?

(It reminds me, in fact, of one of my very favorite blog posts.)

*My kids say "What the...?" all the time. They've both been reprimanded for this by their teachers. Mallory was instructed to say "What the pickle?" Maybe I'll suggest "What the opaki?" -- it has a nice ring.


Homework Hijinks

Proving once more that children are completely unpredictable, Mallory finished up her weekly spelling and writing assignments ahead of time and without complaint. But as I was leafing through her homework journal, checking her work, I found this note to her teacher:

Dear Mrs. T:
Thank you for being such an awesome teacher. You teached me science. You teached me math. You teached me about the Catholic faith. You teached me spelling. I love third grade!
From Mallory

It seems quite obvious that Mrs T has not yet teached the class about irregular verb forms. What's less clear is how Mrs T is going to take this note. Is she going to think that Mallory is sucking up? Will she think it's an attempt to distract her from the fact that Mallory only included three detail sentences in her assigned paragraph, rather than four? Or will she see it as a genuine expression of enthusiasm and affection, which is honestly how I think Mallory intended it? Time will tell, I suppose.


Phoebe, meanwhile, was writing the alphabet, and having a difficult time of it. She kept, charmingly, asking me to help her "un-rase" her work -- rather than erase, and doesn't unrase sound more fitting anyway? At one point she said: "Mommy, you need to unrase this E! I need to write it differently. See, I writed it wrongly!"

Unrase it -- I writed it wrongly. Someday she will be teached the right way to say that. I'm in no hurry for that day.


Procrastination and its discontents

Every week, Mallory has to do four spelling activities in her homework journal (Write a poem with ten of your spelling words! Write a letter with six of your spelling words! Write your spelling words in different colored pencils!). I always recommend that she do one activity every day, Monday through Thursday; she always puts them off until Wednesday or Thursday night. This week, she has to do spelling PLUS a writing activity every night. "I'll just wait until tomorrow to get started with that," she said. I asked her what about spelling. "That can wait too," she said, unconcerned. I reminded her that she has a Brownie meeting Thursday night and won't have much time for homework. "So I'll do it Wednesday," she said. "Can I play on the computer?"

It's hard to see your own worst qualities in your child. I am a terrible procrastinator. Every paper I wrote in college was written the night before it was due. (The fact that I mostly got A's anyway did nothing to deter me from this practice.) I plan my girl scout meetings a few hours before they start. I pay bills the day they're due. This 5K I'm supposed to be running in two weeks? I've only tonight gotten to the point where I can run almost three-quarters of that distance -- I keep thinking that oh, I have plenty of time to prepare for this. No problem! One more night of sitting idly by won't make much difference. I work best under pressure anyway! (I think I may find that that works for matters cerebral, but not so much for matters, uh, muscular.)

So I'm not quite sure how to handle my daughter's impulse to procrastinate. Do I try to force good study habits upon her (making her resentful and crabby)? Or do I let her suffer the natural consequences of putting things off to the last minute (making her resentful and crabby)? Does it even matter, since she's going to be resentful and crabby anyway?

This week, I'm going for natural consequences. If things get ugly Thursday night -- if she's up late after Brownies turning her spelling words into a haiku, or whatever -- then I guess I'll have ammunition for next Monday, when this all starts over again. And if she gets it done without much fuss, then she'll know what she can get away with...and it'll all start over again.



Phoebe: Mommy, what does "devoted" mean?

Mallory: Oh, oh, I know! It's like when you're in an election, and no one chooses you, that means you're "devoted".



1. Phoebe was named Kindergarten Citizen of the Week. "What does that mean, exactly?" Chris asked. She said: "It means I'm very good at being nice."

She said it was her best day ever. We're very proud.

2. The girls and I went to the Girl Scout Harvest Hoedown dance tonight, yee-haw. We received a handful of raffle tickets for donating some blankets for a service project. Mallory proceeded to win one of the raffles -- which is all the more amazing because she also won two raffle drawings at a Girl Scout event we went to a few weeks ago. Clearly, I need to let the girl buy lottery tickets.

3. I started reading The Sneetches to the kids at bedtime. After a few sentences, Mallory said, "Oh, I get it. It's like that Martin Luther King dude. See Phoebe, it doesn't matter what you look like, you should be nice to everyone. Right, Mommy?"



Stars upon Thars

When I was four or five, I received this set of Dr Seuss stories for Christmas:

Jana got a set of Little House books, and I remember thinking that she definitely got the short end of the stick. My books were so much more colorful! So zany! So full of rhymes! To make it even better, after Christmas dinner my second cousin Jim Bob sat down and read from the books to me. At the time Jim Bob was my favorite adult relative -- I thought he was fun and zany too.

I read those books to shreds. I don't think they survived the move from my childhood home to my parent's current home. So for my birthday, Chris found the set for me on ebay. Now they're all mine again.

And I still love them. Everyone loves Dr Seuss, of course, this set goes far beyond The Cat in the Hat and The Lorax and The Grinch. The Sneetches are represented here, and Thidwick, and Yertle the Turtle. But there are also little-known classics such as "King Looie Katz" and "Gertrude McFuzz," and "The Yax" -- all these stories, I just realized, about creatures getting too big for their britches. There's "Scrambled Eggs Super!" and "I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew" and "McElligot's Pool." There's "The Sleep Book" and "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?"

And there's my absolute favorite, "Too Many Daves":

Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons, and she named them all Dave?

Well, she did. And that wasn't a smart thing to do.
You see, when she wants one, and calls out "Yoo-Hoo!
Come into the house, Dave!" she doesn't get one.
All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!

This makes things quite difficult at the McCaves'
As you can imagine, with so many Daves.
And often she wishes that, when they were born,
She had named one of them Bodkin Van Horn.
And one of them Hoos-Foos. And one of them Snimm.
And one of them Hot-Shot. And one Sunny Jim.
And one of them Shadrack. And one of them Blinkey.
And one of them Stuffy. And one of them Stinkey.
Another one Putt-Putt. Another one Moon Face.
Another one Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face.
And one of them Ziggy. And one Soggy Muff.
One Buffalo Bill. And one Biffalo Buff.
And one of them Sneepy. And one Weepy Weed.
And one Paris Garters. And one Harris Tweed.
And one of them Sir Michael Carmichael Zutt.
And one of them Oliver Boliver Butt.
And one of them Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate...

But she didn't do it. And now it's too late.

I was hoping my kids would be as entranced by my Dr Seuss set as I was, but so far that hasn't happened. On the one hand that makes me sad, and makes me question their taste. On the other hand, the less they read these books, the better chance they have to survive intact unto the next generation. Because when my grandkids come over, these are the books I'm going to read them.
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Apples and witches

My inlaws always come over on Halloween - his parents pass out candy at our house while Chris, Amy and I take the girls trick-or-treating. This year Mallory wanted to turn it into a whole Halloween party, and she grew annoyed with me when I wouldn't buy a pinata or make cupcakes. "Can we at least bob for apples?" she asked, having just discovered that there is such a thing as bobbing for apples. I said we could. So she wrote this Party Schedule and hung it on our front door:

4:30 - 4:35 Bob for Apples
4:35 - 6:35 Eat dinner
6:40 - 8:00 Trick or treat

I found the sign both amusing and profoundly sad.

Anyway, here are the girls bobbing for apples:

Here is the Witches' Coven -- Amy as Elphaba, Mallory as a Candy Corn Witch, and Phoebe in the witch's costume Amy wore when she was little:

Mallory's skirt kept popping up (it had a kind of springy thing in the hem, oddly) and her tights were too small; the costume turned into a total wardrobe malfunction and cut her trick-or-treating short.

Phoebe made it all the way around the neighborhood; her most exciting acquisition was a tiny bag of Goldfish crackers. "Mommy, promise I can eat my goldfish as soon as I get home," she kept saying.

Batman dropped by too:

Scary pumpkin!

As for me, I went as a mom...the only thing I've ever wanted to be.

(Yes, I used that line last year too.)

(Yes, my kids think I'm totally lame.)


An Election Day Memory

November 7, 2000

After voting, Chris and I went out for Chinese food with some friends. We ate and strolled around Target for a while. We got back in the car; the radio came on, and an announcer said: "We are now calling Florida for Al Gore. I repeat, Al Gore has won Florida."

"Did he say Florida?" I said, amazed. "Wow, he's certain to win now!"

This was the end, the end of innocence.

Okay, it would be more effective if I just stopped writing, but I also remember Election Day 1992, when I was in England and couldn't vote. I also had no TV and no radio and (can you imagine) no internet (because Gore hadn't invented it yet). I was in my tiny dorm room writing a paper on Gulliver's Travels when I heard someone down the hall shouting: "Ralph Nader Ross Perot has won three states!"

I was relieved, the next morning, when I found a newspaper and found it wasn't so.


The Golf Course

There was a miniature golf course in my grandparent’s house.

There were, in fact, lots of cool-if-kitschy things in my grandparents’ house. There were swinging saloon doors between the kitchen and the master suite. There was a toilet seat made of transparent plastic, with ticket stubs from horse races embedded therein. There was a globe wine bar (pictured!). There was a mounted goat head (the goat was named Bucky) on whose antlers my granddad hung his golf caps. There was a stuffed pheasant whose chest feathers were smooth as silk. There was a kitchen bar of green marbled formica and swively kitchen chairs of red pleather. There was an automatic ice dispenser on the refrigerator, which was a rare and awe-inspiring thing in the 1970’s. There was a mirrored tray holding bejeweled perfume bottles with atomizers in the guest bathroom. There were two huge oil paintings – one of my aunt, with beautifully frosted hair, holding a Pug, one of my older sister as a toddler sitting on a John Deere tractor. The fact that these oil paintings came from Japan, where my uncle had them commissioned from photographs while he was stationed there during the War, made them hopelessly exotic. There was also a swimming pool with a cabana in the backyard, although the tragedy of my childhood was that its foundation was cracked and thus could not be used for swimming (it was a pretty great place to roller skate, though).

But the best thing was the golf course. It was a three-hole putt-putt course, complete with minor obstacles – a hill here, a curve there. The course took up about three-quarters of the room; on the fourth wall there was a rock waterfall that ended in a little pool, tinkling musically. The course was surrounded by plant bedding, mulch and gravel that hosted all kinds of growing things – ferns and flowers and spider plants and a huge rubber tree (which we called “the beanstalk”) that grew up to the ceiling and then curved back down toward the floor – really it was as much a greenhouse as a golf course; and in fact now that I think about it, my grandmother always referred to the room as “the flower garden” (am I right about that, Mom?). My grandmother had quite the green thumb, but I can’t imagine how much time it took to keep all those plants alive.

I’m not sure if I ever actually putted in this room, but it was the perfect place to hide, or to spy, or to enact elaborate “let’s pretend” scenarios with stuffed animals or Barbie dolls. It was fun to just poke around – there was always a surprise to be found: a ceramic frog with a crooked crown; an African violet; a fuzzy cactus. I still remember the earthy flowery smell of it; I still remember how it felt to run through the room in bare feet – the prickliness of the Astroturf of the course, the cold smoothness of the paving stones by the waterfall.

It was completely normal to me, this golf course in my grandparent’s house; I remember how gobsmacked Chris was when he first saw it. I don’t know – I’ve never asked – why my grandparents decided to build it, what the thought process was that led to its existence. Was it just the natural combination of Granddad’s love of golf and Grandma’s love of gardening? My grandparents moved out of this house a few years ago; from what I understand it’s now in a state of disrepair and not likely to be occupied any time soon. (Who would buy a house with a golf course in it?) I wonder what happened to all the plants; was the beanstalk chopped down and removed? It makes me sad that I’ll never see it again, that my kids will never play there, that I don’t even have a decent picture of it. What I wouldn’t give, to run through it one more time.

(I’d totally like a globe wine bar, too.)


Home sweet home

"What's a mansion?" Phoebe asked.

"It's a big house," I said. "A very big house." I groped about for an example that would be relevant. "It's like...like the house in Home Alone. A very big, fancy, nice house with lots of rooms."

"Is our house a mansion?" Phoebe asked.

Mallory scoffed. "Our house is NOT a mansion. Our house is the OPPOSITE of a mansion. Our house is IN EVERY WAY the opposite of mansion."

I think she needn't have been quite so emphatic about it.


What's in a name? Not much, I hope, because I can't think of a name for this post

A co-worker of mine has one of those names where his first name is a nickname of his last name. Vic Victor, for example, although that's not exactly it. Dave Davidson. Tom Thompson. Ben Benson. Every time I hear a name like this, I wonder about the thought process behind the choosing of the name. Did the parents think it was funny? Had the mother always dreamed of naming a son Edward, and couldn't give up that dream even though she married a man with the last name Edwards? Was it a family tradition, was it to honor a friend, was it a dare or a bet?

Or were the parents just idiots who gave their son an idiotic name?

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those days where I wondered if I might be pregnant. If you're a woman of childbearing age, you know what I mean. I had no particular reason to think I was pregnant, I'm certainly not trying to become pregnant -- but sometimes, you know, you just wonder. (It may have been because I had just heard of two people -- two! -- in my circle of acquaintances who are expecting triplets. Triplets! That's three -- three! -- babies at once!) So I'm sitting there in kind of a panic, thinking -- Oh no, what if I have another baby? And then, because that wasn't alarming enough, I thought, Oh no, what if it's twins? I was miserable, contemplating my fate as the mother of four. The sleepless nights! The crying! The diapers! The teething! Then I thought -- Wait, what about names? I love thinking about names. I spent a happy hour browsing baby name sites and made my decision. It made me feel so much better about these imaginary babies -- no matter what, they would have lovely names.

Well. Who thinks I'm crazy now? I know my husband will.

Oh, you want to know the names? Very well. Emily Rowan and Cora Madeleine. I don't care if you don't like them (and I know my husband would veto all four componenets), because guess what? Not actually pregnant. Whew.


The secret is: just don't stop

I ran for twenty solid minutes tonight without a break.

My legs hurt, but I feel good.



I am charmed by Phoebe's kindergarten homework, which came home in the form of a calendar with one activity per day. Today homework was discussing the family fire escape plan; tomorrow will be practicing zipping up her jacket; Wednesday is telling me the plot of her favorite story. So much more fun than the math problems Mallory had to do tonight. (Alaska has 18 National Parks. If you add zero to that number, you'll get the number of National Parks in Virginia. How many National Parks does Virginia have? Mallory's answer: 180?)

On the drive to a Brownie field trip yesterday, Mallory mentioned that she's getting an ipod for Christmas. (The truth is that she's asking for an ipod for Christmas.) All three other girls shouted in unison: "I already HAVE an ipod!" Mallory gave me one her her outraged See, Mommy? looks.

Driving to the field trip entailed forty-five minutes of listening to some variation of this joke, over and over and over: What's your name? [Krista] What color is the sky? [blue] What's the opposite of down? [up] Krista blew up! Ha ha ha! It's not funny even once, let alone fifty-seven times. Oh, to be eight again.

Speaking of antonyms, Phoebe declared today that the opposite of balloon was "Pop!" Upon being asked what the opposite of "pencil" was, Phoebe said, "Broken pencil?" while Mallory said "Eraser!" Chris said, "What's the opposite of quiet?" and then answered himself: "Mallory!" "What?" Mallory said, thinking he was talking to her. "Oh!" she continued, "it's loud!" Chris laughed. "What's the opposite of fast?" he said: "Mallory!" "What?" she said.

According to facebook, one of my high school classmates is a grandfather. I just don't know what to say about that.

It looks like all my siblings and nieces and nephews will be at my mom's house for Thanksgiving. I'm sad that I won't be there as well. Snif.

My kids would rather have Iced Animal Crackers (with sprinkles!) than a homemade chocolate chip cookie. What's wrong with them? Also, Mallory has recently discovered the deliciousness of ravioli; she asked to have ravioli in her lunch every day. "Wouldn't you get tired of it?" I asked, and she said, "What I get tired of is peanut butter sandwiches," which was a fair point. And tomato sauce is more of a vegetable than grape jelly is a fruit, if you see my meaning, so I guess it's not a bad trade-off.

That's it from me.



This weekend we watched the charming movie “Babies,” a film that follows four infants from the first breaths to their first steps, as the tagline explains. The babies are from all over the world – Nabmia, Mongolia, Tokyo, San Francisco – and the film confirms that no matter what, all babies are cute, and all babies like zerberts.

My girls were startled by some of the details – “Why aren’t those ladies wearing shirts?” Phoebe asked, hiding her eyes every time the film cut to the African village. “That’s inappropriate,” Mallory commented when the little Mongolian boy was shown without his pants. “It’s a different culture,” Chris and I kept explaining; “this is how other people live. It’s different, not wrong.” I’m hoping that the girls learned something from the movie other than “Wow, I’m glad I was born in North Carolina instead of Nambia.” You have to start somewhere, I guess.

The movie did make me feel vastly privileged, and even faintly ridiculous, when I recall my own daughters’ infancy – the carseats (three different kinds before the age of 5), the high chairs with buckles, the monitors (with flashing lights!), the wet wipes, the pureed food and the peeled and quartered grapes. The Nambian baby learned to crawl in the dirt; her toys were rocks and sticks; she was forever putting pebbles in her mouth, and no one seemed worried about her choking. The Mongolian boy (my favorite) was left in his open bed unattended, tethered with a string around his wrist; roosters and cats came to perch beside him while he napped. When he got older, he crawled around naked in a field with a herd of cows. I think that it’s all well and good to use technology to protect our children; I think in our society we may be costing our children a modicum of self-reliance and resilience as we do so.

This was brought home to me on Saturday, when I got roped in to supervising play at a Bouncy Slide at our church’s fall festival. “No more than four kids at once!” the coordinator told me. “Make sure the slide is clear before you send another one up! No shoes, and watch out for zippers!” I spent a tedious hour telling kids to wait, to hang on, okay, you can go now, no, stop, watch out for that little girl, yes, it’s your turn – and all I could think about was 9-month-old Ponijao playing in mud puddles with her not-much-older brother, and 1-year-old Bayar exploring alone in his yurt while his mother milked the cows. I am quite sure that, left unsupervised, the children at my church’s festival could have handled the Bouncy Slide by themselves. We let them climb and jump; why can’t we trust them to gauge distance and wait their turn? Why can’t we rely on them to monitor their own behavior, to enforce the rules, to solve problems and have fun without an adult nearby?

Is it because we have too many lawyers?