Monday, January 31, 2011

Notes From A House Frau X

The World Is Constantly In Motion

The most surprising part of the last week or so is how magical the transformation is from "newborn" to "baby." RRBB's so much more active, especially when he's sleeping -- slurping and sucking on his hands, snorting, kicking off his covers, and somewhat trying to teach himself how to soothe himself, if not to sleep, then back to sleep, which I'll take at the moment.

And like he's constantly in motion, I, too, am in flux: up and down and up and down go the test results, which simply signals the need for more blood work, and more peeing into jugs. It's so undignified. No one likes peeing in jugs, I swear, and the things that doctors need are never the things that the patients need. In fact, we're more like babies than anything -- we need comfort, hugs, calm words, patient hands. The other day in the doctor's office, my SFDD took off my boots for me while I was on the examining table, just like a father would do to a five-year-old, and it was oddly comforting. And then, we saw my SFDD in the market the other day when we were grocery shopping. He's such a very kind and gentle man -- he stopped to talk to us quickly and cooed at the baby, commenting, like so many people do who know me better than they know my RRHB, that he looks the perfect picture of me.

So funny, people who know us both can't stop talking about how he's the spitting image of my RRHB, which is what I think; people who know me better all say the baby looks so much like me. In a sense, you see what you're familiar with, making the baby different in the eyes of each that see him. I like that -- different people seeing different things in my son (my son!) in terms of how they know me and his father, it's nice.

The prednisone seems to be charging ahead with some obsessive/compulsive side effects these days. While I'm definitely sleeping more, thanks to an older baby and a very supportive RRHB, strange things are occupying my mind: a never-ending to do list that has items like "back closet books" and "file 2010 paperwork." Longstanding, rolling items that are not remotely practical when you have a 15-week old baby. But the boxes and boxes of books in my house are no longer the sentimental mementos they once were -- they are out of order, out of space, and lost in a time when words didn't necessarily mean more to me, they just had more permanence.

I don't need to keep every single book I read any longer. I am more mature as a reader -- I know certain things about myself: I don't reread; I like to get through a book every couple of days; I work in publishing and see A LOT of books; I can remember a lot even though I read quickly but passionately (slow reading, pffft); and I'd much rather pass along the book to someone else who might enjoy it than have to dust it for the next twenty years. That's not to say I don't keep certain books, I do, like On the Road and other books that I'd consider my favourites; lovely coffee table books, cookbooks, but we only have so much space, and it seems that all the words are weighing heavily on my mind these days. Maybe it's because I have such limited time to string my own words together and maybe it's because I have lost so many words too.

I find myself unable to finish so many thoughts. I'll start to say something and drift right off. It's impossible to do two things at once. I've been playing loads of Scrabble just to make sure my brain still works at a basic level. You take words for granted when you use them in a social situation every day. Sometimes, I even forget to talk to the baby, I just think he knows what I'm thinking by some magical baby-mother osmosis. And then I'll snap out of it and start rhyming, making up silly songs, thinking that I've got a children's book in me (doesn't every mother think that? aren't we all just so very wrong?): "I love you like the air loves the trees; I love you like the flowers love the bees; I love you..." you get the idea, right? More often than not, my RRHB has to say, "Use your words," when I trail off yet again inexplicably in the middle of a thought, "can you pass me the, um, thing..."

We are going out this Friday night for the first time as couple since the baby was born WITHOUT the baby. My cousins are babysitting. I love the fact that our RRBB has a cousin who is about three weeks older than he is, my mind is full of all the fun the pair of them will have at the cottage, maybe not this summer because they'll still be a bit too young to explore the forest or find salamanders in the swamps, but in the upcoming years, they'll grow up as we did, and despite all of the truly tragic things that happened to me in my youth: my mother's accident, my disease, all the family troubles, we, my two cousins, brother and I, had an idyllic childhood at the cottage. For now, they'll have to be satisfied with knowing each other as baby friends, sleeping in the same crib and going to Stars and Strollers together.

Seeing, actively seeing and raising, the next generation forces you to come to terms with a lot of things that you maybe forgot. When I was out at my dad's the other day going through all my old childrens books, I found Rupert. The first thing I did was open it up and smell it -- the scent of the book as strong in its memories for me as the story. The idea that portions of my childhood have lasted so very long with me resonates in how I want to raise our boy. But it also resonates with me how little of his memories I'll be able to control -- what he remembers, how he remembers, what he holds with him into adulthood. I guess all we can hope is that we don't screw him up too badly. And on that note, he's fussing, and needs a cuddle.

Don't we all?

#11 - The Very Thought Of You

When I got the British/Irish/Scottish section of my shelves, the book that came up first was Rosie Alison's The Very Thought of You. At the time, I couldn't remember a) why I had this book in the first place or b) where it came from. Most of the books on my shelves are from various jobs I've had, things I've traded with friends at other publishers, blogger review copies, you get the idea. But this novel was a rarity, something I actually bought. I think I was trying to read all of the Orange Prize novels for some challenge I had invented for myself, or something.

Annnywaay, I was ultimately disappointed in this book, and found myself, more often than not, rolling my eyes at her prose and complaining, loudly, to my husband about how melodramatic and often nonsensical the book was as I was reading it yesterday while we were playing Scrabble on the iPad as the RRBB slept (you get a pattern here... a LOT of reading goes on while the RRBB sleeps these last few days). The story of a young girl evacuated from London at the start of the Second World War, The Very Thought of You simply tries too hard to capture the essence of the time and place. The novel opens promisingly -- echoes of The Remains of the Day float through the book as it describes the fall of the house of Ashton, whose last remaining heir, Thomas, had just died leaving the house to the National Trust and its inevitable treasures up for auction.

Thomas, and his wife Elizabeth, opened their home to 80-odd boys and girls during the war. With his body destroyed by polio, and the remaining members of his family dead, Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth, who is, natch, beautiful but damaged, find solace in children roaming the halls and playing outside while the war rages around them. Anna Sands, a quiet, contemplative child, misses her mother desperately but finds her way at Ashton Park. The girl gets drawn into the complex adult relationships between the Ashtons and the various other people embroiled in their unhappiness.

There are way, way too many characters in this book, and much of the narrative consists of awkward, cliched prose that melodramatically describes not only the failing relationship between the main characters, but also the multiple extra-marital affairs that seem to happen all over the place. No one is happily married in Alison's novel, and it gets a bit tiresome after a while. The story could have been simpler, the prose more direct, and then I could actually understand its inclusion on the Orange Prize longlist last year.

The author does an exceptional job of getting into the mind of Anna as a child, but then falls down by dragging the reader through the rest of her life in a Titanic-like moment that feels very put upon as an ending. There's no doubt that Alison has talent, but the novel suffers from a lack of true perspective, it tries too hard, which ends up meaning a lot of it just isn't believable. There's a point where too much tragedy between the pages simply becomes too much tragedy. I felt something similar when watching The Company Men last week at Stars and Strollers. Sometimes, the reader just needs a break from all awful things humans can do to one another, they need to actually love their partners, and someone, somewhere needs to find a bit of happiness, even if it's only for a moment. I'm not saying that Alison's characters don't -- I'm just saying that it's all a bit overdone.

London during the war is a fascinating subject for me. One of my favourites to read about, and the idea of the novel works, as does its basic plot -- but there were two secondary characters, Norton, a diplomat with whom Thomas Ashton worked, and his wife Peter, whose lives would have made for a far more interesting novel than the sappy "love gone wrong" and then "love lost forever" storyline occupied by the Ashtons, the two main adult characters. It's a shame when one gets to the end of a book and all one has to say for it is, "well, I'm glad that's done." And considering the other Orange Prize nominees, including Barbara Kingsolver's exceptional The Lacuna, I'm surprised that the panel included this book at all. However, despite Alison's first novel jitters (overwritten sentences, the tendency to say something, then repeat it just in case the reader didn't get it the first time, introducing bucketloads of characters that never appear again, the need to tell the WHOLE story), I'm curious to see how she matures as a writer. I'm sure her next novel will straighten out some of the above and what great exposure for an up-and-coming writer regardless of how I ended up feeling about the book.

#10 - The Reserve

Well, let me be honest, Russell Banks' The Reserve totally surprised me. The only other novel by Banks that I've read was The Sweet Hereafter and, while I enjoyed it at the time, the only reason I had for reading it was to compare it to the film, which was excellent. I tried and abandoned Cloudsplitter, and never went back to Banks. But, I've got my new reading approach, and B is for Banks in my American fiction section, and hence, The Reserve.

Not unlike Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife, The Reserve has a totally unreliable and somewhat wicked female protagonist. Beautiful, charming, and terrifically disturbed, Vanessa Cole has returned to her parents' summer home after her second divorce. It's 1936, and her behaviour remains scandalous throughout the novel. And when artist Jordan Groves flies in to see her father's art collection, he's lured into a dangerous relationship with the woman that has far reaching consequences for both of them, and for their families.

There's a Gatsby meets Hemingway feeling to this novel. The Coles are of the upper classes, and it's not just money that separates them from the locals. But the fact that they own a section of an exclusive property in the Adirondacks called The Reserve. The locals work there; the summer people only vacation, and this dichotomy is explored throughout the novel, especially when Vanessa turns to the guide Hubert St. Germain to help her with the tragic situation that becomes the pinnacle moment in the book. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, Vanessa's demons, whether real or imagined (the novel only hints at the truth), are unleashed. And her actions are shocking.

Banks excels at plotting and the novel simply draws you in from start to finish. His descriptions of the setting are incredible and do much to add to the atmosphere that surrounds Vanessa's questionable actions. The fog that lies low over the lake echoes her state of mind kind of thing, and while it might sound sound cheesy when I write it here, I'm not doing Banks' exceptional prose justice. There's not a hint of melodrama, and there could be, and even though you feel you know these characters -- the flighty socialite, the rugged outdoorsman, the unhappy wife, the "artist" as "man" (aka Jackson Pollack), Banks has a way of twisting them just slightly to the left or the right, whether it's by their dialogue, or the actions that ultimately unhinge them, that casts them away from type.

I roared through this book. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I left the RRBB sleeping on me for hours so as not to disturb either his napping (I should have put him in his bed as we're trying to do more of these days) or my reading time. At one point, he was curled up on the bed beside me as I dove through the final thirty pages or so, with me rubbing his tummy so he would sleep just that little bit longer and I could finish. I was that engrossed. Sure, there are loose ends. Sure, there were things that could have been tidier, but on the whole The Reserve is damn fine novel, and it makes me actually want to read more Russell Banks. Thankfully, I've still got a copy of Cloudsplitter, as it's a 1001 Books book, which means it's now in alphabetical order -- and once I've finished my International "A" selection (Purple Hibiscus), I'm on to 1001 Books titles. But it'll be a while before I get to the "Bs". I've got three Austen novels to get through first.

Sigh. My life is rough, isn't it?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

#9 - Weight

So, before I hit upon my latest reading strategy, I was at a loss for what to read next. I was in the bedroom with the baby and said to my RRHB, "just get me a book, any book." He picked Jeanette Winterson's Weight. As part of The Myths series, I'm not sure how to categorize this book -- part fiction, part philosophy and part mythology, Weight re-tells the story of Heracles, a scoundrel of a god, and Atlas, the man charged with holding up the world.

Again, this was a short book, so it took me merely an evening to read (including breastfeeding bouts throughout the night). Overall, I enjoyed Winterson's re-telling, and while I have read very little mythology in my lifetime and have only the cursory understanding of these stories in the first place, I liked the moral underpinning she employs here -- that we all have our own burdens, and like Atlas, we can choose or not choose to hold them up or simply let them go. Winterson relates everything back to her own life throughout the telling, and there are chapters where she explains her history, and how and why she came to write as she does. The personal element adds a little something to the tale and there are whimsical elements (like Atlas finally getting some company in the form of a pet; I won't spoil it, it is very cute) that I also enjoyed.

After reading The City Man, it's interesting that I got through another book so quickly -- and pleased to have read something slightly different than pure fiction. I have one more book from the series on my shelves, Karen Armstrong's, and will probably get to that shortly as well. For now, I'm moving on to American fiction and have started Russel Banks' The Reserve. Lots to get through!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#8 - The City Man

When trying to figure out what to read next from my shelves, I have come upon a master plan. I am going to alphabetize my books in somewhat of a Deanna-inspired Dewey system. Canadian books are gathered together, as are Nonfiction, American, British, International, 1001 Books titles, and Lifestyle. I know "nonfiction" covers a wide, wide, wide selection of titles, it's just easier than subdividing them even further. I'm also going to start a new section called "Writing" (books about writing, dictionaries, etc but I've already read all of those -- and unless people give me more of them, that section won't increase). This might take me a while but I bought the baby an activity mat yesterday (Baby Einstein's 'Baby Neptune') and he played on it for 45 minutes last night when he was exhausted, which means I might get even more time when he's awake and active! Hello more writing time! Then I think I'll start reading one from each section in their alphabetical order and go from there. I've been having a hard time choosing books, standing in front of my shelves for hours, baby on my shoulder, and I need to be quick and decisive these days. My brain is mushy enough.

Annnywaaay. Long, rambling digression aside, this is why when In the Company of Cheerful Ladies fell behind the couch and I seriously DID NOT have the energy to get it before bed, I picked up Howard Akler's completely riveting The City Man before bed the other day. It was one of those nights where I didn't sleep either so it meant I read the whole book in pretty much one sitting -- it's a swift, stylized 150-odd pages, so conducive to a night where your meds are keeping you up and you have to feed the baby anyway.

The novel is told in vignettes, or what I'd call micro fiction, short paragraphs that create the sense of a novel because they are all ultimately related but that could be read almost separately because of their coherence and beauty. Akler's created a world within these pages of Depression-era Toronto where pickpockets embroil themselves in the "whiz", grift at Union Station, smoke like fiends, and where one post-treatment (for "exhaustion" as we'd say in this day and age) reporter named Eli chases and then breaks the story. Of course, there's a love story, and pool halls, and a great Dame of a housemother -- in all the book feels like a great period film, complete with humour and heightened vocabulary.

Akler must have done a tonne of research, but that's not what I liked the most about the book. I mean, sure, the atmosphere is effective, the story sharp, but he writes clean, clean, clean prose -- and I admire that among all else. In a way, this book felt a little like that terrifically underrated George Clooney movie, Leatherheads . In full disclosure mode, Akler is a friend of one my closest girlfriends, and I've met him socially over the last few years, I'm just sorry that it took me this long to read his novel. I know he's working on another, and the moment it's out -- I'll be on it.

Another for the 2011 Off the Shelf Challenge.

Monday, January 24, 2011

O Stands For Opulence

I've been embracing my stay-at-home mom status by watching (via PVR, natch) episodes of Oprah, The Farewell Season. I've been skipping a lot of the more morbid episodes, preferring instead to wile away the hours on the more energetic episodes, you know, the "favourite" things, stars promoting their latest films, J-Franz's book club appearance (how uncomfortable was THAT?). Most of the time I can ignore the overt marketing crap because I do think it's honourable to encourage people to read, to write, to live their "best" life, whatever that means. But never before has the sheer marketing value, the desperateness of various different high-profile brands been more apparent than when I was watching the Australian episodes.

Cue sappy, inspirational music as we come upon a very thin man with a beautiful wife and two gorgeous children. He's suffering from Australian cancer, which isn't much different from cancer in any other part of the world. But somehow, these people are special, they are undergoing tragedy. And I'm not belittling their suffering. My grandmother and uncle died of bowel cancer; it's an awful way to spend your last days. My point, though, is that the saints of Oprah-land deemed this particular couple worthy, and found a corporate sponsor, XBox Australia, to underwrite their suffering or, rather, to give them $250k so they can spend a year "enjoying" their lives instead of having to work so hard keeping everything together in the face of tragedy.

This got me thinking. Maybe that's what I need. A corporate suffering sponsor. I could blog about my trials and tribulations having an awful disease like Wegener's Granulomatosis (because, seriously, haven't we all heard enough about cancer, why not let some of the other diseases have the spotlight and the cash influx from companies looking to reformat their image in the age of social responsibility?). I could stand to cash a cheque for hundreds of thousands of dollars and spend the year recovering in the south of France or somewhere equally indulgent to my inner most and wildest dreams. I mean, who wouldn't?

But the whole idea is so repugnant, in a way. That some suffering is worthy of corporate sponsorship, simply because Oprah came to town and wanted to do some good (I'm not criticizing the intentions). What I'm more curious about is how the idea came about in the first place -- did XBox Australia sit down with Oprah's people and say, "we need to revamp our image and we'll do anything to get in bed with you, because you are the queen of all media and our time is running out, with this being the "farewell" season and all." Because it doesn't seem like a likely fit -- video games and cancer. Well, maybe I'm wrong. I guess I could have used some XBox while I spent three weeks in the hospital almost dying, then giving birth, and then almost dying again.

Maybe it's just sour grapes. Maybe deep down I'd love it if Stella McCartney or Jo Malone or Mac or Apple or some other giant brand that I actually respect and admire came calling to highlight my suffering for their own corporate greed. Wait, greed isn't the right word -- and marketing doesn't quite fit either, it's a strange combination of altruism for the sake of selling shit, and I know it's as old as dirt, the idea of companies giving back so that their brands are vital and necessary, and, well, front of mind, but I can't help but feel that it's tawdry to capitalize on someone's suffering regardless of how it must have felt to that family -- like winning the lottery. They are deserved of such a gift, that much is true, but I would love to see a lot more transparency -- it's not Oprah giving these gifts, she's simply allowing big, fat companies to ride on her coattails and allowing them to pat themselves on the back by doing "good" in her name.

And why is corporate generosity such a boon these days? You can't watch a single one of these daytime shows without the audience members receiving diamonds and computers and a whole host of other crap. And I'm not saying we don't do it either, gosh, we give away a lot of books, it's a good marketing ploy, but my company has never underwritten suffering the way XBox has -- they've never sponsored a tragedy in the name of "fun."

So, any company out there looking for a family undergoing some serious tragedy, we're here. We could use a little fun. We could use a little corporate social responsibility. And I promise I won't even mention the fact that my disease was ultimately discovered by a nasty Nazi doctor. Ooops. Maybe that's what's holding everyone back.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

#7 - The Empty Family

Colm Tóibín's excellent book of short stories, The Empty Family, cements his presence as one of the writers working today whose prose I covet, envy, and ultimately am awed by. The title, as his interview in the National Post points out, reflects the idea that there's a dichotomy to family, in all its inclusiveness, there's also a separateness for those who move beyond the traditional, who haven't got family to depend upon, or who choose to abandon and/or create families from non-blood ties. All of the protagonists in these stories leave home, leave their families, leave the relative safety of their immediate lives for change whether it's necessary (in one story, a young Spanish girl who is involved with the communists goes abroad after being arrested) or simply for an adventure (another character lives and loves with abandon in Spain in 1975). And the results, are terrifically life altering.

Of the stories, my favourite would have to be "Two Women," where Frances Rossiter, an aging, successful art director who returns to Ireland to dress a film and has a chance encounter with the widow of her most enduring lover. The scene, set so simply, has so many underlying emotions that evoked, for me, Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" where the real action remains in what's not being said instead of the actual conversation between the two characters. In fact, this is a particular stylistic affectation of Tóibín's writing, that there is so much left unsaid, awkward pauses melting between beautiful prose that illuminates the characters in ways that lesser writers would leave hanging. He can infer, and that's a talent that doesn't go unnoticed by me.

The stories are all vastly different; however, the ones where he uses "I", I couldn't help but imagine them linked in some way, the narrative giving voice to a protagonist that seems always to be at odds with the story itself in a way, like a literal interpretation of the book's title. As in the opposite of what "I" usually means: strong, individual, like Bob Marley's Rastafarian reinterpretation, his refusal to use anything but "I" -- these characters are not lacking but they are separate, outside in a way, alone, but not necessarily lonely, yet still feeling an ache. Funny, I can relate, in a way, it's kind of how I'm feeling these days, a distinct loss of "I" with the creation of my family. I am not, yet, in anyway empty, though.

My other favourite story from the collection would have to be "Silence." Lady Gregory fills up her life, a relatively happy life as a widow, with stories she tells, in secret, in code, to Henry James hoping that he'll turn them into prose. It's fascinating how she absorbs her guilt over an act of betrayal by slowly leaking the truth out in pieces that are overt lies to the writer. As if his written words will absolve her of her sins, should she actually think of them that way. But more so, to bring her feelings to the surface, to have them talked about in real society would be impossible, and so she makes up interesting ways for them to bubble to the surface that only she knows. The power of society, the impregnable rules for women, and the idea that marriage is simply a contract, regardless of how rich and/or happy it makes you, are all fascinating themes within.

In the National Post article that I linked to above, Tóibín mentions that there's a sentence from "The New Spain" that he's been holding on to for 23 years, that it took him that long to find the right place for those words. In a way, I find this so freeing -- as a writer who holds on to sentences for ages and consistently goes back to old notebooks for new inspiration, I can understand how it might feel to wait for just the right place for just the right words. And I am glad that Tóibín takes his time with these sentences, because the end result is nothing short of remarkable.

#6 - Blue Shoes and Happiness

My Zombie Survival Guide daily calendar tells me that a motorcycle is the best way to flee an infested area, which could be problematic for me as I have never driven a motorcycle in my life. Oh well. That has absolutely nothing to do with Alexander McCall Smith's Blue Shoes and Happiness, which is the seventh book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series with Mma Ramotswe and her cast of likable characters. The calendar makes me laugh, that's all.

It's a breezy, delightful series, and I'm actually reading In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (#8) at the moment and expect to be finished it today, they're such quick books to get through. I had three of the series on my shelves, one I had already read, and so I decided just to power through the other two. I love how Mma Ramotswe isn't a traditional detective, while she may be traditionally built, and how the cases do not involve bloody murder of the Mo Hayder kind (although I do adore Ms. Hayder) but are instead more like moral lessons. Sure, there are mysteries to be solved but they are generally addressed through common sense and communication, traditional Botswana (I think?) values, and the essence of good for the sake of being good, no ulterior motives:
Most problems could be diminished by the drinking of tea and the thinking through of things that could be done while tea was being drunk. And even if that did not solve problems, at least it could put them off for a little while, which we sometimes needed to do, we really did.
My thoughts exactly. A good cup of tea, a warm muffin, and a comfy chair and most problems can at least be mulled over, if not completely solved. In Mma Ramotswe's case, she drinks her beloved bush tea, in my case, it's decaf earl grey with the milk poured in first (and I couldn't give a toss what Christopher Hitchens would say about that -- it was the way my British grandmother taught me to drink tea and it tastes the best when the hot water scalds the milk, it just does). The point being that it is in the drinking of the tea that humanity comes together, not the making of the tea, although I would agree with Hitchens that finding a decent cup of tea in America isn't easy.

Annnywaaay, I'm off topic, entirely with this post, rambling on about zombies and Christopher Hitchens. There's not a lot to say about these novels, just that I adore them, adore the characters and can't wait for the TV show to come back on, because it's delightful too. What's also nice is that McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe, which puts him on the map in terms of my Around the World in 52 Books, and the African settings of these books always make me want to travel to that continent, just to experience life in a different way. So I've knocked off a couple of challenges with two short novels, and haven't quite decided what my shelves will bring forth next in terms of what I'm in the mood to read.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Notes From A House Frau IX

The Magic Marker?

Our RRBB turned three months on Saturday, the magic marker, everyone told me, to when things would start to improve. There's just one caveat, he was born a month early so I'm thinking he'll start sleeping more, and the fussiness will calm down somewhere closer to 16 weeks or four months. I didn't think we'd make it this far, let alone still be sane, but he's been so terrific lately, and crying for only about a half-hour every day at different times in the day, that we all feel a bit calmer in the house. He's also doing an awesome job with tummy time as represented in this hilarious photo.

And calm is what I need. My creatinine went back up, and so the SFDD is still back and forth about whether or not to change our treatment. I am so freaked out right now by the disease and by the fact that, while nothing has really changed (the levels are high but not AS high as they were), the disease still seems to be stubbornly trying to kill me. Yet, I feel so much better. That could be accounted by the fact that I'm getting much more sleep these days, though. It's a silent killer, this Wegener's Granulomatosis, and I wish that it would just go away.

It's funny how being home turns your life upside down in a way. I have never figured myself to be a particularly active person -- I like to sit around, watch TV, read, watch movies. But all of that comes from working full time and needing, I suppose, the down time. I never figured that a 50-odd hour work week, plus commute, was really all that much, it was just what you did. And now, I'm not saying that staying home with an infant is easy, far from it, it's the hardest job I've ever had, but it's also boring. The baby isn't boring. He's a fascinating little thing and watching him evolve is one hell of an interesting perspective, a blessing, I know. But your brain, your own brain, kind of goes on hold, and instead of filling up your day with work, with actual things that make a contribution to the world (in my case, it's books, and I love my job), you fill up your day with errands. With all of the things that you had to cram into the weekend because by Monday morning at 730AM, it was up and go back into the routine again.

The RRBB sat in his bouncy chair for over an hour yesterday while I went through his clothes. Consistently amused by a toy giraffe, we read two books, and listened to music. Then, we danced, a little three-month celebration, I suppose. But that's a lot of stimulation for one wee one and that was only one hour. What do you do with the other 23? He sleeps, I read. He eats, I read. He cries, I cuddle. My RRHB cleans the entire house, I manage to vacuum the upstairs and clean the bathroom sink. Because baby fusses, baby sleeps, baby eats, and I read.

Don't get me wrong, I love reading, but I also need a day that's not filled up specifically with errands. And most of them are made up because if we just don't get out of the house, we start to lose our minds. It's funny, compartmentalizing your life into little hour-long blocks (will he sleep longer than an hour this time?) is not conducive to a lot of activities. And the weather isn't helping. We try to take him for a walk every day, despite the bitter cold, despite the fact that people don't shovel, despite the fact that it's mid-January in Toronto, Canada, simply because we are not the homebodies we claim to be. I will do anything to get out of the house these days, healthy or not, and I'm hoping that it's good for the RRBB, because his parents are errand-crazy.

I'm bleary-eyed this morning, cramming blogging into today. I'm trying a new tactic and putting the RRBB right back into his crib the minute he falls asleep if we are home. The sleep book says that he'll sleep better that way but I'm just trying to wean him from the human-couch aspect of our relationship. It doesn't always work. We had a semi-rough night last night, the first in weeks, so one can't really complain, and I've never seen a baby smile so much in my entire life. He's truly a happy little guy, which means, I hope, we're doing something right. Now if only that happiness could calm me down so I'm not always freaking out about my test results and what the doctors are going to say and whether or not I'll have to change medications and whether or not my kidneys will survive and whether or not the preeclampsia will ever go away and whether or not the prednisone crazies will kick in and whether or not my blood pressure will stablize and whether or not I'll be able to fill up another week with errands. And I feel like I'm wasting this time, which makes me resent the disease even more, it's holding me back from all kinds of things. I can't see the positives today, perhaps that's what boredom does to you, in a way, it pulls you down in ways that you don't want to go, makes you imagine the worst, refuses to give into the calm that you need to badly to get better.

So, errands, made up stuff that isn't remotely necessary to your life, but gets you through the days, pushes you forward without actually accomplishing anything major. I suppose, if you had enough errands, and the ability to focus for longer than a half-hour because of sheer exhaustion, you could manage a to-do list or two. Maybe that's the solution. Putting the errands on a master list just so I feel like I'm spending days living instead of dying (sic, The Shawshank Redemption).

Yesterday, I just had to dance with the RRBB to The Pogues' song A Rainy Night in Soho. I'm not going to lie, I had his little hand in mind and we were waltzing around his room, singing these words in particular: "You're the measure of my dreams, the measure of my dreams." I cried, which is something I do a lot, and then remembered what my RRHB said when I told him about the test results bumping back up -- that it's not getting worse so why freak out just yet, everything is exactly the same, even if it's not terrific, at least it's not as bad as it could be, and the RRBB is certainly the measure of my dreams these errand-filled days.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

#5 - Abide with Me

Elizabeth Strout is the kind of writer whose novels have such a solid moral core that you don't even realize their depth until you're at the end, teary-eyed, and wondering how she managed to be so subtle in her prose, yet so overwhelmingly apparent in her themes both at the same time. But wait, let me back up a little. There's a subset of American fiction, primarily written by literary writers, people like Strout and Marilynne Robinson, that I would equate to the "old woman on her deathbed" narrative that sometimes defines our Canadian canon, and that's the "pastor going through crisis" trope (would we call it a trope? Do I even remember what that word means?) that you find in novels like Home or Gilead. So, when I first started Abide with Me, I thought, 'oh, here we go, Strout's just putting in her two cents worth in terms of that American tradition.'

But what a rich tradition it is, and what a rich novel Abide with Me turned out to be. The story of a widower who is the minister of a small town in New England where the rustic setting not only traps its inhabitants during the long, cold winter, it turns them, often, against one another through fits of gossip, jealousy and petty indiscriminations. Tyler Caskey arrives young, bright-eyed and newly married. His wife, Lauren, is almost too big for the town with her bushels of red hair and big city ways. She spends too much money and isn't all that interested in being a minister's wife. Not to mention the fact that the town isn't all that crazy about her, either. But then, she dies a horrible, tragic death (and I'm not spoiling anything here), and Tyler's lost his way, and the novel turns -- it becomes about grieving, about loss, about life after tragedy, and the subtle ways Strout moves through Tyler's experience don't even become readily apparent until the end of the novel, when you fully understand how hard it must have been for him to lose the woman he loved, but also the life he expected to lead.

Not only is Tyler suffering from the loss of his wife, but it seems everyone else in town has undergone some sort of trouble. From adultery to actual crimes, Strout's novel pits the concept of grief up against some very real problems that exist within the human condition, perhaps to explore how grief affects people in many different ways, that it comes in many different forms. By the end, the book moves into a separate stage, and it is through the idea of healing, whether it's by telling the truth finally, by allowing yourself to be forgiven, or by respecting the fact that sometimes you simply can't continue, the entire town can't help but move through Tyler's grief with him, and it has a very poignant impact on everyone.

I adored this novel. I was so taken by the character of Katherine, Tyler's five-year-old daughter, who so vicerally experiences her mother's death that my heart broke on every page, and the sheer inability for the people around her to see how and why she's suffering (with the exception of her father who, while baffled by his daughter's behaviour, clearly loves her more than life itself) or to give her the hand she needs felt so real to me, primarily because I too lost my mother, but not at such a young age. All in all, the novel, set in the 1950s, explores gender roles, explores the banality of small-town life, the suffication of spending so much time indoors when the snow is piled high and all the women can do is make beds and polish floors to keep themselves sane, and it also explores the idea of faith, how it can stretch and bend, but also break, just at the very moment when you need it the most -- and this is a theme for which I am quite familiar with in my own life these days.

I'm amazed that I had these novels just sitting collecting dust for so long. But I am a true believer in fate when it comes to reading. You pick up a book at the right time for you to be reading that book -- if you don't finish, it's not always the book's fault, it's just perhaps not the right moment to be reading. I needed both Amy and Isabelle and Abide with Me this month. They have enriched my life in ways that I find hard to express -- and given me something to aspire to, Strout's writing is simple exquisite.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Notes From A House Frau VIII

I realize this photo is sideways, but that's kind of how I'm feeling these days. Not upside down any longer, which is a good thing, but not wholly myself either. We've had an exciting couple of weeks -- we've been getting out a whole lot, we've started to see the world from the squished up view of the Baby Bjorn, which is far, far easier in this weather than the stroller, we've gone skating two Sundays in a row, and out for dinner a whole bunch. We've still got a wee bit of the Witching Hour (last night he cried for a record ten minutes) but we've collapsed entirely into "Accidental Parenting" as The Baby Whisperer (suck it) would say.

Instead of doing our sleep training, which equals us going upstairs and having a bath at seven and then spending two-to-three hours trying to get the RRBB to sleep, we're watching movies with him sleeping on us until he's almost blacked out, and then depositing him in bed. The result? He sleeps for almost four hours at first, then three, then three, and I feel like a human being in the morning. Also, he doesn't wail for the entire time we're trying to get him down. My thoughts? He's just not ready yet. And I'm okay with that. So far we've watched: The Fighter, True Grit, Black Swan and tonight's The Social Network. Please don't ask how we're seeing these films. It's not pretty.

It's funny how much I hate taking pictures of myself when I'm in the throws of the disease. I don't feel like myself and I don't look like myself. The prednisone makes you puffy, it makes your skin all mottled, and bucket loads of your hair falls out. I don't know if I've written this before but way back when I was first diagnosed with the disease, my family doctor said, "What a shame it had to happen to such a pretty girl." As if forever setting up the dichotomy between a healthy, attractive me and an ugly, diseased me. The distinction exists so clearly in my mind that it's hard sometimes to forget about it -- you can avoid mirrors, you can put on some makeup, you can cut your hair (or, in my case, keep saying you're going to cut your hair and never make an appointment because, well, that's a long three hours to spend away from the RRBB), but you can't avoid the side effects.

In a way, side effects are like so much in life, something you need to get through before life gets better, like the Witching Hour. But the manifestation of looking so terrible, the very real implications of the disease, well, those are harder to reconcile when you've been undergoing treatment for so long. And, truly, I haven't even been recovering for that long -- just 14 weeks, like I keep saying, I was the sickest I've ever been in my life, and it's going to take longer than 3 months to get better. Getting better isn't the point, either, staying better is, making sure that I am calm and collected, and truly healed, to get to healthy like I was before I got pregnant. One of the things that's helping is getting out of the house. You start to go completely stir crazy even though it's wonderful to have the RRBB, sometimes you just need to strap him into something and put one foot in front of the other. There's an amazing rail path by our house that we've been walking lately. Lots of wild grasses, snow, and birds, plenty of people walking their dogs as well, and we can walk and talk, and walk and talk, it's very therapeutic.

In addition to walking, I've signed up for Restorative Yoga once a week. It's so expensive but so necessary. I feel so much better after I am done, and it's just an hour, but I also experience how completely broken my body is too. My breathing especially -- the disease has tuckered me out this time, and even though I can barely do anything, and feel like I'm starting from scratch with my practice, bawling each time I'm there, I know it's doing me a world of good. I am consistently amazed at how much pure trauma the body holds separate from the mind, again with the dichotomies, and pulling them both together, like balancing what I'd like to look like with the necessity of the side effects, is an ongoing process. Sometimes you just need to give in to the moment, perhaps that's my lesson for the week, you need to abandon what the books say and just do what instinctively feels right, what works, accidental or not.

Sometimes accidents, biology, sperm meeting egg on a snowy day in February in New York City, are just about the best things to happen in your life. We should remember that lesson always and not define yourself by the tragedy that sometimes accompanies the figurative car crash but what the end result might be -- a brand new life that comes with its own way of expanding your heart in ways that you never thought possible. It's not like I can't teach myself to breath again, it's not like I'm going to forget how, I just need a bit more practice. Luckily, I've got a year to figure it all out, moment by moment, and minute by minute, and as long as I can keep my fingers moving, everything will be okay. For the first time in a long time, I feel positive that I'm actually going to get better, that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but I don't want to jinx it -- for now, I'm just going to say that even if I don't look like myself, there's a tiny glimmer of feeling like myself, which, in my mind, might actually be better.

#4 - The Keep

For the most part, I enjoyed Jennifer Egan's The Keep. While I found her writing to be a little commonplace for lack of a better word, I did enjoy the story. In a lot of ways, this novel reminded me of The Ruins, only with stranger characters. The book opens up with a fairly typical urbanite, Danny (an overgrown connected club kid, right down to the earrings and pointy boots), making the pilgrimage to his cousin's castle. Howard, said cousin, has bought the entire German estate, including an ancient keep with its resident, an equally ancient member of the originating family who refuses to leave, and intends to renovate it as a resort -- one free of all modern communication, a place to reflect and unwind, only it's in ruins at the moment. Howard has asked Danny to come and help, and as a 36-year-old with no prospects, he comes as called.

Only there's a history between them. An incident. One that has rocked their relationship, and one that they need to work out as the story progresses. I am not going to spoil that here. What I will say is that alternating between the chapters where Danny finds himself in increasingly dangerous and injurious situations, you discover the novel's actual narrator, Ray. He's a prison inmate taking a creative writing class, and the story of the castle, of the keep, and of Howard and Danny, is actually his project. Teaching the class is Ann, and a strange, Shawshank-like relationship rears up between the two.

For a while, you wonder how it all relates: where does Ray's story come from, how does it all tie in together, and then Egan pulls out the twist, and the book changes perspectives. We're now looking at things from Ann's point of view, and this was the part of the book that I actually found the most intriguing. A former crystal meth addict, whose husband is still addicted, Ann is trying desperately to be a good mother to her two daughters, both of whom were subjected to their parents' awful behaviour.

Many of the characters feel cookie-cutter, like you could have pulled them from a bag of stereotypical characters from pop culture -- even Ann, "drug addicted mother" and Ray "far-too smart criminal," are a little too cookie cutter for my taste. But as far as a good commercial read goes, you don't get better than The Keep. It's creepy in all the right places but, like The Ruins, the true terror factor doesn't leap off the page as one would hope. There's one absolutely terrifying situation but I was constantly questioning the believability of the whole story throughout. Yet, I did find myself drawn to Ann, and to her vulnerability, and that's probably why I wished there were more from her perspective than just the last section of the novel. But I'm a sucker for hard-luck addict stories, hell, that's why I loved Lullabies for Little Criminals so much.

On the whole, I was terrifically creeped out by The Keep and found it a solid read, especially following The Guardians. Maybe January is the perfect month to read terrifically spooky books -- it's all dark, cold and snowy, and the nights seem to last forever, especially when you're up at odd hours like 2 AM, 4 AM, etc. But does this novel put me on a crash course to read every else Egan has ever written, not really. Certainly not like Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout, which is why I'm halfway through Abide With Me at the moment. I'm hoping to finish it today because I have so much to say about it already -- the blog post is active in my mind. Now finding time to read and then write it all up, well that's an entirely different story.

: Off the Shelf, of course. I'm getting tired of writing that sentence. I am not, however, getting tired of cleaning off my shelves. Now we just need more visitors who like to read so they can pick over my outgoing box of books so the novels can actually leave the house and be enjoyed by someone else!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

#2 - The Guardians & #3 - Making Light of Tragedy

A friend at Doubleday sent me a galley for Andrew Pyper's The Guardians way back in the way back, and then asked that I not post until closer to the book's pub date, which was the beginning of the month, I think. Regardless, I put the book on my shelf and forgot about it until one day last week when I was searching around for something BETTER to read than the Joyce Maynard I had just finished. I described the book on Twitter as such: "The Guardians = Stand By Me + River's Edge / Mystic River without the Boston setting."

And I stand by these comps. The book, about a group of hockey-playing young men, friends since grade school, who end up embroiled in a tragic situation involving their hockey coach, a young woman and a haunted house, was seriously not what I expected. As you know, I have little faith in "haunted" stories. Blame my reticence on Sarah Waters, I think The Little Stranger ruined it for me forever, and maybe it's because I don't think any book can do "haunting" better than that Alejandro Amenábar film, The Others, I've given up finding satisfaction in being scared in print. Also, I really hate being scared so why would I put myself through days of it versus 1.5 hours of a film.

Yet, I found myself inexplicably drawn into to Pyper's narrative. He has a cool way with character, they're masculine, very Lehane-esque, but that's not off putting to me as a female reader. The main character, Trevor, suffers from Parkinson's, which, while the disease isn't remotely the same as mine, I can kind of relate to -- simply the idea of your body not cooperating with itself. When his childhood friend commits suicide after years of protecting both the secret the group of four boys harbours and the house across the street (the haunted house), Trevor and Randy (the second of the foursome) head home for the funeral. The truth unravels from there, and I didn't even mind the "memory diary" device that Pyper uses (Trevor's therapist insists he keep it as a way of dealing with the disease; should my shrink ever do such a thing I would terminate treatment immediately; who wants to be constantly reminded of what the farking disease has taken away from you, seriously?). The narrative switches back and forth between Trevor's diary and the action in the present tense.

There are all kinds of interesting things that happen when someone goes home, especially someone who made the conscious choice, after the tragedy, that Trevor did to never go back. The small-town Ontario setting adds to the nuance of the novel -- things like this couldn't happen in a big city, someone would tear the house down, raze the trouble before it even started or simply not notice, walk on by. But in this town, a hockey town, the house stands for over forty (I think) years creating havoc for not only the four boys who are deliciously intertwined in its grasp, but a few other tragic souls as well. It's a terrific book, a perfect read for a snow day if there ever was one, and I'm glad that I read it in the deep, deep hours of the night, just for those extra chills.

The other title I read last week was Jessica Grant's Making Light of Tragedy for my book club. The cover sucks so I am refusing to put it up here on the blog, and Kerry's done a wonderful job of wrapping up our meeting. Everything she says about the book, well, that's what I think about the book too. I fell on the Grant's writing was a little bit too twee for my liking, and kept thinking of that old-school writing class line that if you're in love with your prose that's the stuff that should be cut right away, and there were many, many, many loved lines in these stories that could have been sliced to the benefit of the writing. However, there were also some amazing metaphors -- and this coming from a girl who actively removes every single metaphor from her own writing she finds them so distracting -- where I found my breath catching just a bit at her turn of phrase it was so beautiful. So, uneven, but enjoyable. The company, however, and our meeting, was a serious breath of fresh air. I even managed to feel like I was using a part of my brain that a) doesn't sing everything I'm doing, b) actually considers thoughts before they come out of my mouth, and c) had nothing to do with talking to or about the RRBB.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: I'm reading The Keep right now, as recommended by a few friends, but am actually spending far too much time playing iPad Scrabble during the late-night feedings. It's scrambling my brain a little so I am going to stick to just the book tonight, we'll see how that goes at 2 AM.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Notes From A House Frau VII

RRBB's First Toque: O, Sweet Child Of Mine.

I am a woman who loves a toque. I wear them all the time, who cares if I look like Jay of Jay and Silent Bob, I love them. And, I am instilling this very real, very Canadian love on my child. This toque is a present from his Grantie Judy. And it's awesome. Although I am afraid he'll out grow it before too long and then I might have to frame it. Along with his umbilical cord stump and my pregnancy test. Is that weird to want to frame all that stuff and put it on my walls? I don't think so, but someone might.

We aren't sure if we are through the rough patch yet. Starting on Christmas, as I said, RRBB went through a period of intense fussiness at bedtime. It was almost too much to stand. A friend said, "Oh, yes, you think it's done and then they break you." And she was right. On New Year's Eve, instead of starting at 830 or so, RRBB decided to start his fussing at 11 PM and go right until 4 AM. And we are now in week three or so of this phase. Everyone says that it'll calm down around three months, but counting from his due date, that's another five weeks or so. We can do it right? If people can climb Mount Everest, my RRHB and I can cope with a crying baby. The whole concept of The Witching Hour is fascinating -- that his little brain/body is working so hard to grow at such a furious pace that it simply can't contain itself -- that it almost makes up for how rough the few evening hours are.

Luckily, he's an utter delight during the day for the most part, and is a great napper. We take amazing walks along the rail path by our house, and he doesn't mind at all being in the stroller (once he's in and outside). We've even managed to go out for dinner twice, and tomorrow I think, if I am not so diseased, we might go to a Mommy and Me movie. Maybe. That might be pushing it. All in all, there's little bits of life coming back into my life these days -- I am clinging to them. He's smiling a tonne, is awake and alert more, and is starting to really recognize us. But what I've been thinking all along is how different the idea of parenthood has always been for me, for someone who always imagined it was out of reach because of the disease and other factors, from the reality. The emotions are so much more intense in both directions. I never imagined I'd miss myself so much. Hell, I spent x-number of years hating myself intensely, why would I miss myself? But I do, and just those little bits of me coming back, along with some better test results from my blood work lately, I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So, we might be a bit behind in terms of birth date/due date, and it might take a few more weeks of losing our evenings entirely to a wailing child, but by the summer, hell, by the spring, I think we'll be in a much better place. I'm even feeling confident they won't switch the drugs over... but we'll see about that because I'm still having disease symptoms three months into treatment. I wish I wasn't puffy. I wish my hair wasn't falling out. I wish I wasn't eating terrible predisone-induced food. I wish the baby wasn't fussy. I wish we weren't so broke. But I don't at all wish for anything to be different because I am content in a way that I never knew possible. Things are miserable with my health, worse than ever, but I made it through, and sometimes being tough is just the point. Maybe there's nothing else to it -- and that's what almost three weeks of fussy baby is pointing us too as well. You can battle it all with a good sense of humour, an awesome RRHB, and some really, really good drugs. But being tough, being strong, being someone who survives, these are not poor qualities to have, are they?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

#1 - The Good Daughters

Sometimes it's hard for me, professionally, even though I know this is a blog for which I am not getting paid, to separate my true feelings about a book from a more balanced approach in terms of reviewing. Joyce Maynard's The Good Daughters puts me once again within this dilemma. Other aspects conflicting my ability to write a non-biased review: I have met and interviewed the author, and was incredibly inspired by her; and I loved her previous novel, Labour Day.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that there is something definitively lacking within this book. If I had to put a finger on it -- and this may seem harsh -- it's story. Told from the alternating perspectives of two "birthday sisters" born on the same day in a small rural community in New Hampshire, the book feels more like a character study than a novel, and it lacks a certain polish. The writing is often redundant and repetitive, parts that could be interesting are told in shorthand in the rush, I suppose, to get through the entirety of each woman's life. The book skims the surface and uses cliche to describe key elements (no woman should ever be described as a rare fruit, like, ever) and the constant back and forth feels gimmicky.

It's obvious that there's more to the story than the fact that the two girls, Ruth Plank, a farmer's daughter, so inherently different from the rest of her family, not just physiologically but also emotionally, and Dana Dickerson, stuck with parents who never should have been so, awkward and incredibly different than her flighty family, were both born on the same day in the same hospital nine months after a terrible hurricane (yes, a hurricane, boy it does stir up some awful human emotions and some truly interesting mischief, yawn). And, not to brag, but I had figured out the "twist" by about page two and then had to read on until the big reveal -- Maynard parsing out little clues here and there throughout. What's most astonishing is that both Ruth and Dana, intelligent, well-adjusted women both, didn't give more thought to how different they are, to the real story, before just about everyone around them who knew the truth ended up dead.

There's a sweetness to the novels that you can't deny, and I think it would make a very good book for, forgive me, suburban mom book clubs. But it really wasn't a book for me -- a quick read, which I always appreciate, with a really great setting (I love the Plank farm; its history and its roots [been in the family for 10 generations]) and I can see what Maynard was trying to do but I always find that books that try to encompass so much, like entire lives instead of those pivotal moments, sometimes lack the depth that I crave in a more literary sense. Yet, the stereotypes and the coincidences are a little too much to take in places -- I appreciate Maynard's inclusive writing, international adoption, a truly beautiful lesbian partnership, are just two examples, but when it all comes together it feels forced, a little too Jodi Picoult movie-of-the-week for my tastes.

Overall, I was disappointed in this book, and I hate to start off a reading year on such a note, but there's always tonight for another try. I'm not sure where I'll go next. There are so many books to choose from. What I'd really like to know is what everyone else is reading and have some recommendations. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find one or two titles on my shelves.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Revolutions 2011

We had a bit of rocky start to the New Year. RRBB fussed until about 4 AM so there was a lot of up and down last night. I haven't given the same kind of thought to my New Year's Revolutions as I normally do -- I honestly take the week between Christmas and New Year to reflect on my year and to read as much as possible. At least I'm still accomplishing the latter.

To review: New Year's Revolutions 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010

I did really well compared to last year: I kept the weight off, exercised regularly, even during pregnancy (swimming at lunches at work), spent a lot of time at the cottage, and even managed to get my book out into the world (it was rejected; but that's okay). Instead of the more philosophical goals I generally set out to accomplish, I am taking a slightly different stance this year.

1. Be Well
This means doing everything I can to fight the disease whether it's taking my meds, adjusting to the new course of treatment, taking restorative yoga, going for walks with the RRBB, or simply accepting the fact that I am very sick right now and the most important thing is to get better. I have too much to lose otherwise. But it also means being well in my mind. I have a lot of work to do still in terms of accepting everything that happened over the last few months: I still haven't forgiven myself for letting the disease get so out of control. I know technically it's not my fault but I could have been more aggressive in letting the doctors know exactly how I was feeling or being more persistent in terms of my own care. I was just so happy to be having the baby -- I got cocky.

2. Write
Any words, in any place, in sentences or just in thoughts. I just need to keep going. Between the disease and the RRBB, I have lost myself entirely. This wasn't something I was expecting with motherhood. The sea shift in terms of where my attention needs to be. There's nothing wrong with an old fashioned pencil and paper in a cafe. That's something I can do during the week with the RRBB. He does love his walks. Winter be damned.

3. Be a Better Friend
People were so very, very good to us during our tragedy. Old friends, new friends, it was amazing the outpouring of goodness. I need to find small ways to give that back -- to let everyone know how much I appreciated it, how special it made us feel.

4. Enjoy Our New Life
This one's easy. It's the simplest thing to do right now. Even when the RRBB is screaming and bawling at 330AM we still love him to bits. He'll work it out. Just seeing my RRHB laugh at him when he's turning purple lightens the stress of the situation. Now, if I could only get some more sleep.

5. Stop Worrying About Money
We aren't going to make very much of it. We are probably going to go into debt. I have to let it go and get through the year. I need my RRHB's support during this time. We need to be together here for the RRBB. Everything else will work itself out.

So, only five -- of course, the usual revolutions are in there -- watch less TV (which I have done in spades, I have barely seen the TV since the RRBB was born), read more (which I've been doing exceptionally well with), make better choices when it comes to the internet (the iPad makes this easy; no more internet coma), and use what we've got, consume less (this might be hard as we are, of course, wanting to do so much with the house this year).

What are your New Year's Revolutions?

My Boy is Ten

My friend Heather took this photo a couple of weekends ago. We went for a walk in the woods. It was a bit cold at first, neither my boy nor ...