Sunday Salon, November 6, 2010

What?  Activity on my blog??  Shocking, I know.

Also shocking- my oldest became a teenager this week.  I am the mother of a teenager. This is.. unsettling.  Moreso because she was doing teenager-ish things all weekend.  On Friday night her junior high band played with the high school band at the high school’s football game.  She tried to leave the house wearing eyeliner- I made her take some of it off (the black line under her eyes) because I just can’t stand her looking older than she is.  Naturally she got mad, talked back, stomped around and ranted about how “everyone wears it,” but then finally took it off.  Her “friend who is a boy” (NOT a boyfriend!!) wanted to go to the game, too, but didn’t have a ride, so she begged me to pick him up and I finally agreed.  (My husband said, ‘What the heck is this, a date?”)  On Saturday night she went out to a movie (PG-13, of course!) with a group of kids (all teenagers) and stayed out past 11 pm.  Today she’ll be competing in a swim meet.  Right now she is sleeping until the last possible minute- typical teenage behavior and NOT typical of her as she has been an early riser since birth.

My head is swimming with the fact of my kids growing up so quickly.  I swear they were just babies, recently, but by December 2011 I will be the mother of TWO teenagers, yikes.  It feels like they got old overnight.  I know there are many parenting joys still ahead, but I am mourning the end of their childhoods.  I’m sure there is a silver lining someplace (more reading time for me as my kids need me less??) but it is certainly bittersweet.

Speaking of reading.. I’ve been doing some here and there in between running the newly minted teenager and her ‘tween sister to all their various social engagements and activities.  I finished ROOM by Emma Donoghue this week; I loved it and immediately passed it on to my mother.  It would make such a great book for discussion with my book club but alas, we only read paperbacks, cheapskates that we are, so that will have to wait a year or so.  But at least if my mother reads it we can talk about it right away.  It’s one of those books that begs to be discussed.  I also finished Dear Mrs. Kennedy for my TLC Book Tour stop tomorrow and  Dracula, My Love by Syrie James for our book club discussion next week, and started reading our December selection, People of the Book by Geraldine March.  The teenager is reading The Miles Between by Mary Pearson and my ‘tween is reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini.

I hope you all enjoyed your extra hour of sleep last night.. have a wonderful, relaxing Sunday and a great week!

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Friday Blabber

Hello out there..  I felt like doing a Sunday Salon style post, but since it’s only Friday I’ll have to call it something else.  Friday F F F F.. ok, no “F” word is leaping out at me..  we’ll just call it Friday Blabber.

Life has been so crazy around here.  My mother in law was hospitalized a week ago and my husband flew across the country to be by her side.  She’s still in the hospital but is doing much better, thankfully, and is expected to go home this weekend.  Hub will stay until Sunday (such a mama’s boy :-o)

My 12 year old has been a total pill this week, fighting with me about EVERYthing.  She got braces Wednesday and her mouth is sore.  Apparently this has heightened her emotions to new highs.  Every stray thought and feeling is magnified, everything is SO unfair.  It’s exhausting for me!

My youngest has been whiny and clingy, complaining relentlessly about Daddy being out of town.  WHEN is he coming home?  WHY does he have to be there?  He’s been gone since Sunday.  Last night she was so unhappy about it and mad at him that she refused to talk to him on the phone, and then sobbed about how other daddies are home every night.  It’s not fair!

Calgon, take me away!

I love the Olympics but they have seriously cut into my reading (and sleeping) time.  I got so caught up watching Shawn White and the other snowboarders last night that I never looked at the book in my lap.  And the skaters!  Wow!  I’ve been staying up so late, and falling asleep with the TV on.  Why is it on so late??

I’ve been reading Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott.  Totally terrifying if you are the mother of soon-to-be teens.  They have this whole secret world full of lies and deception and risk taking..  drugs, boys, drugs, sneaking out, more drugs.. and yet it all looks so pretty on the outside.. good grades, part time jobs, polite to adults, keeping up appearances.  I vow, right now, to be the nosiest mom of teens ever, up in my kids’ “bizness” at all times.  I will read diaries, I will search pockets, I will have internet controls, I will read their text messages and Facebook pages, I will give drug tests, I will call teachers, I will know the parents of their friends, will constantly ask questions and keep tabs on them.  I will not be their BFF, I will not look the other way, I will not make excuses, I will give consequences, I will not believe their lies or buy their BS.  How else can you protect them?  See, I remember high school, and I remember what I was like.  My mother didn’t have a clue.  I will not be clueless.

Aren’t you glad you’re not my kid???

On my nightstand are A Reliable Wife for my March book club meeting, and Give Me, Get Me, Buy Me (non fiction about demanding children- who better to review that??).  Also I’ve got two books on their way to me- HarperCollins is sending the new Lionel Shriver called So Much For That (I still can’t get We Need to Talk About Kevin out of my mind years later!).  Then there’s a historical fiction novel about the Donner Party called Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton (from the author).  I’m really looking forward to that one.

On Monday 2/22 we will be discussing Keeping the Feast with author Paula Butturini for our Winter Reading Series here at Books on the Brain.  Paula will join us ‘live’ for an hour (5pm PST) to answer questions and talk about her book.  Please drop by if you’ve read the book, or if you’re thinking about it!  Oh, and my giveaway of American Rust will run through Sunday at midnight.. leave a comment for a chance to win.

This weekend will have us delivering girl scout cookies to the neighbors on Saturday, and then my book club will meet to discuss The Weight of Silence on Sunday.  And then Daddy comes home (woo hoo! cue the angels!). Maybe I’ll leave town for a day or two so he and the kids can become reacquainted :-).

Hope you have a lovely weekend!

Winter Reading Series: KEEPING THE FEAST Discussion Questions

Hello Winter Readers!

This month we’re reading Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini, a beautiful and inspiring memoir of food, depression, marriage, and family that took us on a journey from the dinner table in her childhood home in Connecticut all the way to the open air markets in sun-drenched Italy.  We are so excited to have Paula here in real time answering any questions you might have on Monday, February 22, at 5 pm PST (which is my time zone- she lives overseas but will be in Washington, DC, on the day of our discussion).  If you’ve read Keeping the Feast, or are curious about it, please mark your calendars and join us as we discuss the book with Paula!

Here is a synopsis of the book, followed by a few discussion questions:

Keeping the Feast is a story of love, trauma, and the personal and marital healing that can come from a beautiful place and its simple traditions. It’s a memoir about what happens when tragedy and its psychological aftershocks strike a previously happy marriage and a couple must stubbornly fight to find its bearings. Most significantly, it is a book about the power of one of the most fundamental rituals – the daily sharing of food around a family table. Food — the growing, shopping, preparing, cooking, eating, talking, sharing and memory of it — becomes the symbol of a family’s innate desire to survive, to accept and even celebrate what falls its way.

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to add your own questions, and respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book?  Did you enjoy it?  Was it what you expected?

2.  Were there parts of this book that were difficult to read?

3.  What aspect of the book did you enjoy most?

4.  John and Paula’s marriage was brand new when tragedy struck.  It might have been easier to leave than stay, yet they got through it.  Would you have had the strength to stay, given the circumstances?

5.  What role do you think Rome and rituals played in their recovery?

6.  What role does food play in your family?  Do you live to eat or eat to live?

7.  While reading Keeping the Feast, did you ever get frustrated with Paula?  With John?

8.  Paula had firsthand experience with depression through her relationship with her mother before it overtook her husband.  Were you surprised that she handled her husband’s bouts with depression the way she did, given her history?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Keeping the Feast. Thanks for reading along with us.  And don’t forget to join us on February 22nd for our discussion with Paula!

Twelve

IMG_4534My baby turns 12 today.  I can’t quite believe it.  We had birthday cake for breakfast and she opened her presents before school.

I tried to cram all my feelings about her into her birthday card.  I told her how much I love her, how she means the world to me, how much my life has changed because of her, how she has made me a better person, how proud I am of the person she is and the young lady she is becoming.

No card is big enough to hold it all but I think she knows how much she’s loved.  And if during those moments when we’re not getting along she forgets a little bit, well, she can re-read the card.

She got a few books for her birthday.  I think she was happy about that.

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She’s growing up, but she’ll always be my baby.

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Goodbye, eleven.  Hello, twelve!

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A Mom’s Guilty Secret: I Don’t Miss My Daughter

imagesIt’s confession time. 

My 11 year old daughter’s been at camp, 100 miles away, for nearly a week, and I DON’T MISS HER. 

Well, maybe I should rephrase that.  I miss HER.  But I don’t miss the drama she creates on a daily basis.  I don’t miss the way she fights with her sister.  I don’t miss the backtalk, the disrespect, the stomping and door slamming, the defiance.  It’s been downright peaceful around here since last Monday. 

And it’s been quite nice to spend a little one on one time with my 10 year old daughter.  We’ve been swimming, taking walks, reading together.  She’s happily showing me her magic tricks, with no one around to spoil the magic and say the trick is ‘stupid’.  I suspect she doesn’t miss her sister much either. 

When I’m trying to sleep at night, I worry about her.  I wish I could call to make sure she’s all right, but of course in this case, no news is good news.  But I still worry.  Is it chilly at night?  Does she have warm enough clothes?  Is she drinking enough water (last year she got dehydrated at camp)?  Wearing sunscreen and chapstick (last year her lips cracked and bled)?  Is she eating (she’s underweight and last year lost 5 lbs at camp)? 

And I can’t wait to see her in a few days.  I can’t wait to hear her stories, listen to all the songs she’s learned, hear about all her adventures.  I can’t wait to see her come off the bus, happy and smiling and missing me.  I hope she has a new appreciation for home and family, for clean clothes and warm beds and sleeping in, but most of all for the people who love her.  And I hope that appreciation lasts a little longer than the 20 minute ride home.

Guest Post: A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

Marisa sitting oneThe lovely Marisa de los Santos, author of the New York Times Bestseller Love Walked In and Belong to Me (review and giveaway HERE), is guest posting today about balancing work and family.  Thanks, Marisa, for this wonderful essay!

A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

I get the question a lot, usually from women and often during book group meetings:  “How do you balance writing and family?”         

The easy answer is that I write my books while my children are at school.  Technically, this is true.  Any writing I do happens somewhere between drop-off and pick-up.  Weekends and evenings, I get a little time at my desk, but mostly these parts of the week are given over to homework, ballet classes, piano lessons, swim practices, meets and games, family dancing in the living room, family singing in the car, family bike-rides, movie-watching of the G/PG variety, and general hanging out.  When the kids go to sleep at a reasonable hour, which doesn’t consistently happen, weeknights belong to my husband and, sometimes, a glass of wine.  Saturday nights are ours, too.  So I balance work and family by writing my books Monday through Friday, while the kids are at school. 

imagesBut this answer is really too easy.  In fact, I stopped giving it for the same reason that I am deeply attached to it:  it makes my life sound tidy, when my life is anything but tidy.  Plus, I didn’t usually get away with it.  Most of the time, before the answer was completely out of my mouth, people jumped in with:  What about groceries?  What about laundry?  What about reading and exercise and volunteer work and meetings and friendships and email and shopping and dealing with the plumber?

While I have some help with some of these tasks and obligations, both from my husband, a true partner, fellow writer, and prince among men, and from a highly capable and much-loved young woman who helps with the kids a handful of hours a week and does errands for me on Thursday afternoons, I end up attending to many of them myself, usually during the hours between drop-off and pick-up.  When I explain all of this to people, I’m sure they wonder how my books get written at all.  I wonder myself.

lovewalkedpaperbackBut the truth is that I do all of the things I do not only because I have to, but because I want to.  I want to sit in the choking heat of the indoor pool or in the lobby of the ballet school and watch my kids do what they love.  I am co-president of Home and School (our school’s version of PTA) because I want to be part of the place where my kids spend so much of their time.  I want to be the one who thumps the melons and picks the piece of salmon my family will eat.  I need exercise, friendships, and family dancing to keep me sane.  Still, sometimes I resent how little time I have to write.  On bad writing days, I beat myself up over the squandered hours.  I envy the lives I imagine other writers are leading.  I long for the peace and time and big trees of writers’ colonies, despite the fact that I have never been to one and, in my heart, don’t really want to go. 

Over time, I have developed a theory.  If people hear it and dismiss it as rationalization, well, I don’t blame them.  It probably started out as rationalization, my putting a positive spin on my frenetic days and limited writing time.  But no matter why I came up with the theory, I’ve come to believe in it.  Not just believe in it.  I’ve come to see that it’s more than just a theory.  It’s big and holistic, ill-defined and not terribly original, but I recognize it as one of the deep truths of my life.

It goes something like this:  everything feeds everything else.  Writing time and family time are false distinctions.  Sweating it out at swim practice, watching my son’s arms arc and arc and arc; choosing one tomato over another; helping set up for the school book fair; listening to my daughter read an Ivy and Bean book aloud, her downward-cast eyes and chirping voice; watching Law and Order reruns with my husband; my obligations to the people I am honored to have in my life, the hours I spend with them:  all of these things make me–I almost wrote “a better writer,” but better than what?  Better than who?  All of these things make me a writer.  They impact directly the words I write in palpable and invisible ways.  Just as the hard-won hours I spend with language, story, and characters make me the friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother that I am.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Sunday Salon – 4/5/09

img_2438Good Morning!  I hope everyone is feeling refreshed and relaxed today!

We woke up to a whole lot of soggy toilet paper on our lawn this morning.  Even my car in the driveway was wrapped in TP.  This is the second night in a row.. paybacks, I suppose, for my kids’ antics of a couple of nights ago when they did the same thing to their friends.  They’re excited and are calling and texting their friends to see who did this.  No one is ‘fessing up.

img_2436We had a mid life-wake up call this week.  On Thursday, my husband, a big strong man who thinks he’s still in his 20s but is really twice that, had sudden chest pain.  He said it felt like a lightning bolt through his chest and into his back that lasted for 10-15 seconds, then after that what felt like a sore muscle in his back.  I was out doing my daily 4 mile walk with a friend when it happened, but when I came home he was standing there, pale and scared.  My first thought was ‘heart attack’.  I said- we better go to the hospital, and he said- I don’t have time!  I have too much to do! But I insisted, so off we went.  

At the hospital they took him immediately (now THAT was a first!), put him on oxygen, took all his vitals, drew blood, did an EKG.  They take chest pain very seriously.  Over the course of 6 hours in the ER he had 2 EKGs, a chest x-ray, 3 blood draws, and a stress test, and it was determined that he did not have a heart attack (whew!  dodged a bullet!).  They said the problem appears to be muscular-skeletal in nature- his heart and lungs are fine. I asked if it could be a muscle pull, because the day before he had been lifting and moving furniture into his new office.  I said to my husband (in front of the doctor), “Maybe you’re a little too old to be lifting heavy oak desks, what do you think?” and he just gave me a look, like- mind your bizness, woman.  

Seriously, though- he doesn’t get enough sleep, eats crappy food, doesn’t exercise, works long hours, and is constantly stressed.  That’s a recipe for disaster at his age. I do the best I can but I can’t force him to act like an adult and take care of himself. I hope this episode will be the catalyst for him to at least think about a healthier lifestyle.  I’m not sure, though, since he’s been working in San Diego all weekend.  I can’t monitor if he’s eating, sleeping, etc. when he’s not even here!  I do know that he and a couple of the guys went out for a big steak dinner at 8 pm last night, and I’m sure cocktails were included, so..  no major changes yet. Fingers crossed for next week.

So.. reading.  Let’s see.  I finished The Mechanics of Falling by Catherine Brady this week for an upcoming TLC tour stop.  It’s a top-notch short story collection.  Then I started Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.  I love her writing.  LOVE it.  I love being wrapped up in the little worlds her books create.  I can’t wait to see her at the LA Times Festival of Books.  She’s on a fiction panel on Saturday called Window on the World, along with authors Vanina Marsot, Muriel Barbery, and Jonathan Rabb.  

I’m also reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aloud to my youngest.  This child drives me crazy..  her AR reading level is the 2nd highest in her fourth grade class, yet she insists on reading the Magic Treehouse series and Katie Kazoo books.. way beneath her level.  She doesn’t like to read- to her it is a big chore, so she goes for whatever is easy.  Her teacher requires 20 minutes of reading a day as part of their homework and she wants the students to get 50 AR points by the end of the year, but the books my daughter reads are one and two points each, so she’s not even close to her 50 points.  The Harry Potter books are 12 points each but she didn’t think she’d like them- she thought they’d be too hard (almost anything is going to be harder than what she’s been reading).  I’m reading the first one to her in the hopes that she’ll get hooked, and so far it seems to be working.  I overheard her very animatedly telling my mother about the mail delivery system with the owls in HP so I guess she’s becoming interested.  

OH!  I have winners to announce!  I almost forgot!  The second winner of The Blue Notebook is Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania– congratulations!  And the (long overdue) winner of Hope’s Boy is Ti of Book Chatter and Other Stuff- congratulations!   (Ti’s in Palm Springs this weekend so she’s probably a little too busy to care about winning a book.)

Well that’s it for me.  What are you reading this week?