Monday, December 31, 2007

Music Monday - Imagine by John Lennon

I have some stories about the Beatles and John Lennon, in particular. They're for another day, though. For today, I just want to wish you all a Happy New Year and leave you with one of the sweetest songs I know.

I hope we have a 2008 that will find the world in a more peaceful mood than it has been during the past several years. May there be change for the better.

Join Soccer Mom in Denial for more musical tales to start off the new year.

Lennon - Imagine live at Apollo Theatre-NYC(Dec 17, 1971)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Luxuries of Winter

Many of us seem to be settling in during this break between holidays. Anno speaks of the joys of finger sandwiches and reading on the couch; Greg has time for books, walks downtown, and introspection.

I thought I'd share my ultimate luxury scenario, which I've been enjoying this afternoon:

1 Sunday New York Times and the leisure to read the whole darned thing if I want to.
1 enormous cup of Celestial Seasonings Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride tea
1 slice of lemon-blueberry buckle bread defrosted from the height of summer blueberry season and infusing my senses with the taste of summer
1 roaring fire
1 happy family engaged in other activities

Tomorrow craziness will ensue, but more on that tomorrow.

I hope all my blogging friends are having similarly delightful year-end events.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Mom Thing

I'm on a weight loss/health site called sparkpeople. I really love it, because it offers amazing tools (calculators, recipe programs, exercise videos, strength training exercises), wonderful support, and it's free. On the side bar there are current topics of conversation through the message boards. This morning, one of those topics was "What is your biggest accomplishment of 2007?"

I wrote without hesitation: finally shopping my YA novel and getting a good start on my mystery series.

And then I paused.

Wasn't it a bigger accomplishment that my ds is back in a regular public school setting and doing well?

But that's his accomplishment, isn't it?

And then I thought, well, yes, it's his accomplishment, but I also gave six years of my life to help him get to that point. So, yes, it's my accomplishment, too.

But, you know, it isn't. And then I felt guilty, selfish, that I put my writing before what was a huge step for the family. That I was looking at ME in terms of my accomplishment rather than at my son's accomplishment or those of my students.

Because isn't that the nature of being a mom? That we subjugate? Especially if we're home full time? Because that's what our lives end up being about - our kids. Yes, our kids, and our spouses, and our parents, and our volunteer or part time positions out of the home, but really, we end up being all about our kids.

Or do we?

I'd love to hear from other moms on this subject. Or non-moms. Where do we, as moms, end, and where do we, as women, begin? And my comments above are in NO WAY a reflection that working moms are any less identified as moms than stay at home moms (just that you may get out of the house more often). ;-)

Okay... so why on earth would I feel guilty for posting about my own accomplishments rather than those of my son? What do you all think?

And now for a little book talk in honor of Day to Read, January 10, 2008:

It's vacation week, so I've been reading vacation-type books. I'm not finished with the second one, but I'm going to recommend both anyway, because they're both a lot of light fun.

The first is The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. This is a first in a series about Isabel "Izzy" Spellman and her wacky family of detectives. This is really a character driven book - the mystery aspects were almost non-existent, but I'd definitely pick up more by Lutz, as she had me on the floor laughing. And sadly, my younger self can relate to Izzy. (To find out why this is sad, you just have to read the book!)

The second book is apparently the third in a series, and it's called Foul Play: A Sophie Metropolis novel by Toni Carrington, a pseudonym for a husband/wife writing team. This one was billed as a mix between Janet Evanovich and My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, and I think that about sums it up. It's about a P.I. from Astoria, Queens, Sophie Metropolis, and the ins and outs of her neighborhood, family and her search for romance in the not-so-big city. It, too, is very funny. Happy Reading!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Love and sweet wishes for a Happy Holiday (for those who celebrate) and a happy year (for everyone) from our family to yours. Thank you all for making my life that much sweeter! See you in a few days - we're off to celebrate.

M (my Swedish daughter), C, my mom and my nephew N, when we were in New York in March visiting M and my Mom and about to see Spamalot, which
was a hoot!

D and C at Coit Tower in San Francisco in May

S (our German daughter) and C making Jack-O-Lanterns in October.

D and me snapped by M in May.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Strange Week

This has been one strange week.

First off, my beloved little "guy" Starlight, guinea pig extraordinaire, had a heart attack and died Monday morning while getting a wound cleaning at the vet. He deserves a full tribute, but I'm not ready to write about him yet. He was by my side from his birth to his death, and he was my greeter in the morning and my snuggler in the evening. He was a good pig, and I miss him terribly.

This event came on the heels of friends staying with us from Saturday evening through Monday morning, as we were snowed in, and they lived over an hour away. It was lovely to have them and gave me an excuse to avoid all of my Christmas tasks. But, strangely enough, those tasks were still there when they left, and since Starlight died within two hours, I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of catching up.

But then I learned about two of my blogger friends who are having hard times with health issues affecting their children, and much as I loved my little piggy, it's nothing compared to a crisis with a child. And that gave me some great perspective. And my thoughts and prayers are with them.

Then my 83-year-old mother decided that she couldn't join us for Christmas. We're all going to a big family celebration and there are to be lots and lots of people who want to see her there. So that was very sad and disappointing. On the other hand, I understand her need to feel secure. She's made the decision that she feels comfortable with, and we all just need to love and support her. And she's selfless enough that she wants C to be with his cousins, aunts and uncles, so we're sticking with the original plan. So, again, I felt a great deal of sorrow.

But then there was this amazing news report of the father and children of the Dominguez family, who were rescued after being missing for two days in frigid weather. And the report showed the mother getting the call that the family was okay. And I burst into tears for joy.

And I guess when all is said and done, this is a season when the cycles of life are brought to mind. We miss our loved ones who are gone, and we feel thankful for those whom we still have.

It's easy to get caught up in shopping and baking and decorating, but we all need to remember that it's only about the people. Really, that's all that matters.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bookish Meme

I was tagged by Wholly Burble to do an "8 random things about me" meme. In honor of Day to Read, January 10, 2008, I decided to choose 8 random books/authors that mean something to me, instead:

1. Age 4: The Little Engine That Could. I loved the old-fashioned illustrations from this book and even thought that milk might not be evil after seeing the happy children getting their bottles of milk. I also took the message to heart, and during various times in my life, thought of that little engine. I've been a lifelong fan of underdogs, and I think that started here.

2. Age 9: Harriet the Spy. She wrote everything down in a notebook. (So did I). She lived in New York City. (So did I). She spied on people from dumb waiters (I didn't, but I wished I could). She had social issues at school. (So did I). I loved Harriet for her flaws and her strengths, and I sympathized with her sometimes bizarre family life. And growing up in NYC can, indeed, be weird sometimes. And it was good to remember that writing can get you in trouble.

3. Ages 14 - 17: The Godfather and anything by Judith Krantz or Sidney Sheldon. They taught me about sex. (Or so I thought). Who needs bad info from friends when you can get it from 70s trash authors? 'Nuff said.

4. Age 15 - 18: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, D.H. Lawrence, Emile Zola, James Joyce, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I discovered classics and fell deeply, deeply in love. While junk may have fed my loins, these writers (and others of their ilk) fed my heart and mind and soul.

5. Age 17: On the Road by Jack Kerouac. And, of course, I had to take a road trip myself. Which I did, crossing the country at age 19 to see what there was to see.

6. Age 33: ALL of Jane Austen. I became pregnant. I apparently craved Regency England. I read her books over and over through the pregnancy.

7. Age 33: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. After giving birth, I took care of C and read this wonderful, tender book. And cried throughout both experiences with the joy and wonder and tragedy of life.

8. Age 37 (?): Discovering the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling brought sheer anticipation back to my reading. I was able to gobble up each and every book. And I still wonder whether she'll be seen as ground breaking 200 years from now.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Music Monday - My Favorite Latke Music

Okay, so I know that Hanukkah is already past. But it's typical of my very mixed upbringing that at the height of my connection to Judaism, my favorite Hanukkah holiday music was Christmas music.

I was completely enamored of all things Judaica at the time: I happily poured through Jewish cookbooks of all types, searching for the heritage recipes that my Christian mother had not been able to pass on. I was at Temple most days, (in fact, for a while I even worked at Temple). I learned Hebrew. I had an adult Bat Mitzvah. I was determined that my son would have the clear identity that I never had as a child.

But, darn it, Hanukkah music sucked.

Now, to be fair, there is one wonderful CD called Festival of Light, by such diverse artists as Marc Cohn, Rebbe Soul, and The Klezmatics. And what's not to like about Adam Sandler's The Chanukah Song,(as Flower Child shared with us).

But, you know, that lovely experience of the snow falling all around you, and wonderful cooking smells, and writing cards or wrapping presents - that belongs to Christmas music.

And I have always, always loved Christmas music. So even while I was in this, my most Jewish of phases, I continued to add to my massive Christmas music collection. And listened to it whenever I had the chance. And since I had grown up listening to Christmas music while doing holiday cooking (which had been Christmas cooking for the most part, for our Jewish holidays, we usually went to our neighbors' or to other friends' houses), I listened to Christmas music during the eight days each year that we made pancakes of one type or another (which was our Hanukkah tradition, because you're supposed to have something with oil each night of Hanukkah). So I give you, my all-time Favorite Latke Music:

The Roches have put together a sublime Christmas collection, called We Three Kings , that contains beautiful harmonies, wit and both traditional and unusual arrangements. And now that we're back to Christmas traditions again in our household, it's my favorite Christmas music, too. The clips below really don't do them justice, but enjoy!

SMID, over at Soccer Mom in Denial started Music Monday in this post, reflecting on her sons' learning history lessons from "Prof." Cash. Please join her, and others, for Music Monday

Christmas Caroling with The Roches

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I do a lot of thinking in the shower. I'm not sure why, but I think it may have to do with the fact that I've always been attracted to, and soothed by, water. I loved swimming as a child and would brave the coldest waves if it meant I'd have my freedom in the ocean. As an adult I still enjoy swimming (although in much warmer temperatures), and I also love baths, showers, hot tubs, even drinking water (it's definitely my drink of choice). My favorite activity in the world, both as a child and now, has always been snorkeling.

So water provides me with fertile ground for thought. Sometimes I'm planning a scene for my novel or an entry for this blog, sometimes I'm creating a lesson plan, and sometimes I may just be having a philosophical discussion with myself.

This was a "philosophical discussion" morning. I'd just been working out, and I'd
been listening to the GooGoo Dolls' "Better Days". I'd gotten it mixed up with another song I have on my iPod, a different song that's terrific, but will probably be the "one-hit wonder". And I was reflecting on how many one-hit wonders there are these days, both in books and music.

We are speeding, hurtling through communications with incredible rapidity. We have so many choices in music, books, movies, TV, food, clothing that I think it's hard for anything to seem really special. I wonder what this says for our musicians and writers - how do they make something stand out? Of the masses and masses of "stuff" we have at our fingertips these days, what will we still want to retain 10 years from now? 20? And why, with the ever-increasing numbers of books and magazines in publication, do we see the same authors in the best seller lists? Are they really the best, or are we so tired of new choices that we grasp for anything familiar? And is this also true for music? How do songs or stories sift to the top?

So now, dear readers, I turn the question back to you - what do you think of all this? What makes something a classic, and why do you think our "top" lists in the arts contain the same names over and over?

And now for some BOOK TALK in advance of Day to Read, January 10, 2008:

Today's topic is author, scientist and producer, Kathy Reichs. I chose Kathy because when I wrote an earlier entry, several of you expressed similar joy in her books. I am just a huge fan. I love Tempe Brennan in her book series, and the very different Temperance Brennan of Bones. I love Andrew Ryan, the love interest of Tempe Brennan from the books, and Seely Booth, Temperance Brennan's partner (and maybe love interest?) from Bones. And I love the fact that Temperance Brennan of Bones writes a mystery series about a forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.

For those who are not familiar with Kathy Reichs and her work, she is one of the fifty or so forensic anthropologists in North America. She works for UNC as a Professor of Anthropology, for the state of North Carolina's Chief Medical Examiner's office and for the province of Quebec, and at these last two, in her capacity as a forensic anthropologist. Her book character, Tempe, shares those jobs, and I'm particularly partial to Reichs's books that are set in Montreal. She brings Montreal to life with great affection, and it has now become a dream of mine to go there. Tempe is also in her forties, separated from a wandering husband to whom she's still attracted, and has finally allowed herself to fall into a relationship with Det. Andrew Ryan of the Montreal Police. She also has a college-age daughter. Themes of family are front and center throughout the series, as are timely issues. Since this is book talk, and not TV talk, I'll leave you with information about Bones via this link.

Kathy Reichs has fun with her world and her projects and it shows. I'm grateful to her for the many, many hours of delightful recreation that she's given to me and so many others.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Music Monday - Born to be Wild

Like a true nature's child,
We were born, born to be wild,
We can climb so high,
I never wanna die

- Mars Bonfire

February 1973. I was in 8th grade and falling in love. This would cause major problems later that spring when I was a "guest of honor" (so to speak) at a particular Bar Mitzvah, which has been written about here.

I went to a very alternative school from preschool through 8th grade. In fact, it started out as John Dewey's original lab school.

We took off school for moratorium days during the Viet Nam War. We staged sit-ins. We could get science credit for petition drives. We transformed our 4th grade classroom into an African village. We created a speak-easy to show our parents what we'd learned about American history. And twice a week, we had electives.

We were on the trimester system, and so we got to choose three electives each year, from what I remember. Electives reflected our very diverse curriculum, and probably included such gems as basket weaving and the History of Basketball. But starting in February, one of the middle school electives was "Rock Band".

I have to backtrack here, and say that starting in sixth grade, I had fallen in love with the guitar. From the moment I learned "Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man" in school (during a guitar elective), I decided I had to have my own. And a year of babysitting jobs later, I proudly walked down to the myriad music stores on 54th St. and bought myself a simple yamaha, which served me well until about 10 years ago.

But to make Rock Band even better, M. was going to join it. And encouraged me to join, too. M. was a blue-eyed, blond drummer and the object of my very confused desires. A younger man (12, as opposed to my worldly 13) but more experienced in the ways of love than I, having already had a long-term girlfriend for 5th and 6th grades. M. and I were still just friends, but we managed to find time to run into each other at least 10 times per day and have short exchanges. Something was brewing, and I had no clue what was coming.

So I joined Rock Band to have more time with M. And the song we picked, was perfect for young, hormone-mad teens. In fact, there may be no more perfect song to express the pure exuberance that is youth on a natural high: "Born to Be Wild" as done originally by Steppenwolf, for that movie about youth insanity: Easy Rider.

No matter that I had an acoustic guitar and our bass player drowned me out. No matter that I'm not sure we ever got the beat, despite M.'s best efforts. No matter that our music teacher chugged aspirin through our rehearsals.

We were.... Born to be Wild!

Enjoy the mixed (movie and band) clip below and get the FULL-ON 60s experience.

SMID, over at Soccer Mom in Denial started Music Monday in this post, reflecting on her sons' learning history lessons from "Prof." Cash. Please join her, and others, for Music Monday

Steppenwolf Born to Be Wild - Easy Rider

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Book Talk: No Place Like Home by Barbara Samuel

Just some BOOK TALK in advance of Day to Read, January 10, 2008 today:

I just finished a truly remarkable book: No Place Like Home by Barbara Samuel. It's a small book, in a lot of ways. A simple story about families and generations and labels. There's a romance. In fact, there are several.

It's so much more than the sum of its parts, however. I happened onto this book because it fit a category of research that I'm doing for my mystery. It was on my list of "books to read for research." While I usually enjoy these, I don't tend to jump up and down, as I might for, say, the latest John Burdett or Kathy Reichs.

This book was just exceptional, however, and absolutely earth shaking for me. Ms. Samuel gets families on a very deep level - the good, the bad, the ugly. She writes a book that brings ultimate joy from tragedy, but her characters have rough roads to cross along the way. I was entangled not only with her marvelous, rich characters, but with my own musings about my family relationships, past and present.

I ended up crying from about 3/4 of the way through the book until the very end. And I don't cry easily. And I didn't feel the least bit manipulated. This was just beautiful writing and beautiful characters and a perfect treatise on families and society and much more.

It's not for everyone who reads this blog. It's a quiet novel. There are no action sequences. No governments fall. But man, what a lovely, lovely story.

My best news of last night was that Ms. Samuel has several other books and I can now snap up. Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Annual Murphy's Law Week

Thanks so much for the well wishes! They are appreciated and I'm probably going to need them.

Because this is my third annual Murphy's Law Week.

Every first week in December, D leaves for a week to a conference. It is the perfect start to December, otherwise known around here as Hell Month.

The administrators for the project D works on, in their ultimate wisdom, schedule an increasingly longer conference every December just prior to the project's biggest software release. The release is usually scheduled for December 26th, which means that most Christmas holidays it is impossible for us to join relatives or see much of D at all. So, December consists of Dave being away for end-of-term school programs, most of Hanukkah (remember, we are a mixed family) and then returns to work 18 - 20 hour days, while I try to deal with finals, final grades, writing deadlines, Christmas prep, some sort of Hanukkah acknowledgment, and usually a visit from my mother.

I just love December.

But I love this week even more, because Murphy moves into my house while D is away, and he takes his boots off his stinky feet and sticks those feet up on my coffee table and refuses to budge from my favorite reading spot.

Two years ago, he visited us by blowing up our range top (think safety glass thrown ten feet) and my slicing off the tip of my thumb and being too pissed and stubborn to go to the doctor, so I walked around with bloody bandages for two days. (I know - TMI).

I can't even remember last year, but C seems to remember a trip to the ER. He's probably right.

This year Murphy moved in the moment D took off for his plane.

Murphy arrived and I got sick. This would have been okay, but:

I was hosting two teen events this past weekend.
We had a friend of C's staying with us from Saturday afternoon through Sunday evening.
There were two ice storms.
I had to go in to work to give exams.
My final grades are due.
C's interim grades are due at the end of this week and he's had masses of work.
I discovered a massive tumor on one of the piggies and another piggy was showing signs of a UTI.
First piggy has to go in for surgery tomorrow.
Both piggies were at the vet's today.

I'm still sick.

Did I mention how much I hate Murphy? He hasn't helped with any of this, and he hasn't even touched the dishes piled up in the sink, nor has he done the laundry that's accumulating downstairs.

He's not my favorite house guest.

So I'm going to kick Murphy out on his big, fat tuchus tomorrow. But in the meantime, I can sleep tonight with dreams of sugarplums dancing in my head, or dreidels singing "Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah". And I can talk about this:

BOOK TALK in advance of Day to Read, January 10, 2008:

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. I love Jane Eyre. It may be my favorite book of all time. And I love any kind of weird, funny contemporary fantasy. Jasper Fforde creates a parallel England where Romantic Poets are the equivalent of rock stars and an agent, Thursday Next, is pulled into Jane Eyre to fight against a villain who is kidnapping literary characters and wreaking havoc with the classics. It's funny, if sometimes juvenile and over the top (one enemy agent is named Jack Schitt, for example), but it's definitely a good light read for when you just want to laugh. This is the first in a whole series of Thursday Next books. They just get more and more off the wall, and after a while, they ran a little dry for me, although I'd certainly still read them. I enjoyed the second book just about as much as as I enjoyed the first one(which was a whole heck of a lot) because Miss Havisham is a major character, and it's a Miss Havisham that you've never seen before (among other things, she racks up speeding tickets like a Nascar driver). So for anyone who enjoys classics, and poking a bit of fun at British lit., find The Eyre Affair and have a grand old time.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sick - The Annual Murphy's Law Week

I'm off dealing with sick humans and sick animals. I'll explain the title later. I'll also provide a Music Monday story next Monday and more book reviews when I return.

Off to bed now.

I hope that all of you off in bloggyland are doing well!