Wednesday, October 31, 2007

WFMW: Library Elf

This is my first Works for Me Wednesday, in which I share something that...well, works for me to make life a little easier. I've enjoyed reading others' posts on previous weeks and have picked up some clever tips, so I thought I'd participate.

I never used to have problems turning my library books in on time, or renewing them as the case might be. Until I had kids (well, one child who checks books out) and then I lost the ability to remember since we go once a week and that means the books are due on different dates. We have stacks of books and the due date cards always seem to get lost. I did have an online account, but if I forgot to check it…you can guess what would happen. Those library fines can really add up (especially the $1 per day for movies!)

Then I took the advice of the librarian and went to Library Elf. If your library is connected to their site, they will email you a few days before your books are due (they are affiliated with libraries all over the US and Canada, and some international ones as well). You can see what books you have checked out (I count to make sure in case one is hiding under the couch) and connect to your library’s database to renew. They will also email you when you have a hold ready, if you use interlibrary loan like I do.

I don’t think we’ve had one overdue book since using Library Elf. And that works for me!

For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, head over to Shannon's site Rocks In My Dryer.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random Bits

There is a new book review here. It's time for me to write another one and I'm not sure what to write about this time. Such creativity I have.

Mr. Blue is in that amazing state of toddlerhood where new words pop out of his mouth all the time, at the rate of two or three per day. Some of his favorites are "root beer" (which actually sounds nothing like root beer, but I understand him), "balloon," "Booya!" and "mine," (which sounds exactly like mine, and which he says about as often as you'd expect.) He can have conversations with you now, as long as you want to talk about cereal, a ball, blocks, a puppy--basically anything he wants to call "mine."

My favorite thing he says? When I've been gone and he runs into the kitchen to see me, stops abruptly, and says in his deep voice, "Hi Mama."

Miss Pink is learning to read simple words (as opposed to memorizing books and using context clues like pictures to guess the words, which she's been doing for a while now.) It thrills me to hear her sound out words and see how excited and proud she is for herself. I don't actually remember learning to read, so this is a lot of fun for me. I've always been careful not to push her--early reading doesn't actually predict future school success--but right now I can honestly say that my children love books and being read to, and that is something I'm very proud of.

Okay, I will stop bragging now.

It is bothering me, how much candy corn I can eat, even when I don't actually want any more. I didn't even like the stuff as a kid, and's addictive. And please tell me you eat it one color at a time!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Somebody's Got My Number

My son is very observant for a toddler. Case in point: last night while a commercial was on, he studied the woman with long brown hair sighing ecstatically while savoring her Dove chocolate.

Then he pointed at me and said plainly: "Mama chocklik."

Does the kid know me or what?

Monday, October 15, 2007


My father is in his hometown, visiting my grandmother, who is in the hospital after a massive stroke.

My grandmother is 89. My grandfather died about a year and a half ago. I knew she would go downhill fast after we lost him. It’s strange, because they seemed so old to me when I was a child, and for years after that they seemed exactly the same. Only in the last few years—since I became a parent, I realize as I’m writing this—they got noticeably slower and feebler, but they still managed to take care of themselves. Until they couldn’t take care of him, and now it looks like she can’t be independent any more, either.

Independence is a trait I associate with both of them. (Along with neatness and stubbornness.) Taking that away is like taking away the person I know.

My relationship with my grandmother is not a typical grandmother-granddaughter relationship. She is just not a grandmotherly type. (I don’t remember her ever cuddling with me or holding me on her lap, for example.) The most typical grandma-type thing she does is to try to convince you to eat more. It was always tempting, since she and my grandfather were both excellent cooks.

She loves to argue, to analyze, to settle the issue, to win. My father says she could argue with a fencepost. If she were a young woman today, she would probably become a lawyer. She would have been good at it. Nothing gets past her. I am guessing, but it seems that from a young age she burned with ambition to get an education, to be somebody more than a country bumpkin. She has a lot of pride. Since she was a young woman—a religious young woman—in the 1930s, she didn’t go to the big city to make her mark. She became a schoolteacher, married a man who was a country preacher like her father, started a family, and later held a county office which I can’t remember the name of, a job she loved and resented leaving when her husband took a church in a bigger town. She must have felt stifled and thwarted. All that ambition and energy tied up in being a homemaker and a pastor’s wife. It’s a wonder any of the people she bent her will on survived.

But they did. My father and my uncle became successful in their professions. They did not disappoint her or become estranged from her. They love her but in a different way than they loved their father. I love her the same way. I admire her, respect her for her goodness—for she is a good woman—but she is not restful. As I said to my mother today, my grandmother is complicated.

My grandmother’s story is one I will never fully understand. Not least because she is determined not to look at the past or herself in any way that would conflict with the way she has decided things have to be.

I’ve never forgotten that when I was reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time, she railed against the “immorality” in the book and the way the preacher was portrayed. “It was lies, all lies,” she complained. And I’ve never forgotten the way my father, by asking seemingly innocuous questions, extracted the truth from her: that her own family had lived like the Joads, as migrant farm workers who picked fruit and slept in empty chicken coops, and that her shame about these things was the real source of her indignation about the book. She disliked it not because Steinbeck had lied about the Dust Bowl experience, but because he had told the truth and she couldn’t admit it to herself.

At this point in the relationship, I can’t grieve what I didn’t have from my grandmother. I suppose in some ways I am more like her than I want to admit. (It was a revelation to me when my dad told me during my postpartum depression that my grandmother had had panic attacks for several years and took Valium during that time.) She did not have the resources that I have. She did the best she could—she took being a parent seriously, she believed that what she taught her children would impact them for eternity. Her world was black and white and she lived accordingly.

And now my prayer is that she will find peace, if not in this life, then in the next.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I Just Can't Resist Those Darn Book Memes

I got this from Mary.

The below listed books are the top 106 books most often marked as being “unread” by LibraryThing users.

The instructions are simple:
Bold those you’ve read.
Italicize books you have started but couldn’t finish.
Add an asterisk* to those you have read more than once.
Underline those on your TBR list.
Like Mary, I used two asterisks for those I’m sure I’ve read three times or more.
And because I can't do anything without commenting, I commented in parentheses here and there.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment (will try again when I have a little more time, like when my children are in school or maybe when I'm 80)
Catch-22 (I have no idea why I have never read this; it's on all the classics lists but doesn't appeal to me at all)
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights*
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: A Novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick (I REFUSE to even try)
Ulysses (once was enough, thanks)
Madame Bovary*
The Odyssey*
Pride and Prejudice**
Jane Eyre**
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies
War and Peace* (seriously, I read it twice when I was in high school)
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin**
The Kite Runner (if you've read this, do you recommend it?)
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged (never read Ayn Rand either. The characters sound so self-important!)
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (I know it's beloved by many, but it bored me silly)
The Canterbury Tales (read excerpts, not the whole thing)
The Historian
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (I want to reread it)
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
Middlemarch (thought about doing a master's thesis on this; thankful I didn't)
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange (I'm intending to read this, but it sounds hard to understand)
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King**
The Grapes of Wrath*
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility**
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park*
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Hardy is SOOOOO depressing. Ick.)
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections*
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time*
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury*
Angela’s Ashes*
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-Present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (read it in college, can't even remember what it's about)
The Scarlet Letter (just read, finally)
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon* (I might have read this more than twice in my Arthurian obsession)
Oryx and Crake
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey (unlike the rest of Austen, have only read once)
The Catcher in the Rye**
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down*
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit**
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers (I read an abridged kids' version; does that count?)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Battle of the Nerds

I may have to turn in my nerd card.

Because: my husband beat me at computer Scrabble last night.

People. This is HUGE. We both went into it thinking that I had a substantial advantage, since I am the English teacher, avid reader, and all around word nerd. So when he had sat there for fifteen minutes pondering the screen, I kindly pointed out to him the word "BENCH." Because otherwise the game would have taken seventeen hours, and I don't have that kind of time.

That put him up 16 points and he never looked back.

How did he win? Well, on the computer version we downloaded from Yahoo! Games, there is an official Scrabble dictionary that lets you test words to see if they are acceptable. My sweet darling would start typing random letters that didn't even sound like words, as long as they contained the most high-scoring letters. And lo and behold, some of them WERE words. In other languages.

That's how he came up with "QOPH." 26 points or something close to it.

It's a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, if you were wondering. (The one person who is still reading. I mean, Scrabble? Who freaking cares, right?)

I don't want to play that way, because I get bored typing all possible combinations of my tiles in AND because it should be against the rules. You couldn't do that with regular Scrabble!

Don't even get me started on the Hint feature. It gives you the letters you need to make crazy-high scores and all you have to do is figure out the word with the computer's help. (GAZABO was 41 points. GAZEBO I know, GAZABO just sounds WRONG.)

He's not allowed to use the Hint anymore. I almost caught up with him using only my amazing brain so next time I may have to play it his way just to keep my superior nerd status intact.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment to play against the computer.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

My One Recurring Dream

I have a rule about dreams, which is: do not discuss them. No one cares what nonsensical thing you dreamed. (The corollary to this rule is: do not use them in a short story. Just don’t.) Of course, I violate this rule all the time, but only with my husband, and only if I dreamed something really weird. But I have to write about this, because I don’t understand why I am having a particular recurring dream. Maybe someone reading this will understand me better than I understand myself (it could happen!)

In these dreams I am younger than I am now, and unmarried. But I want to get married. I want to find someone, fall in love with him, and spend the rest of my life with him. I am always, in the dream, desperately worried that this will not happen and I will end up dying alone and no one will notice. Usually there is some guy (either fictitious or someone from my past) who is a possibility, but there is always some obstacle preventing us from getting together. I always wake up without having “caught” the guy, and for a few seconds I feel completely bummed, until I realize that there is a man lying next to me with whom I have already fallen in love, married, and had babies with. An enormous sense of relief follows. Then I wake Justin up and inform him that he is not allowed to divorce me or die, so that I will never have to date again. (Just kidding, I would never wake him up to tell him that, but he knows how I feel about this.)

Why in heaven’s name would I be so agitated in a dream about finding a love I already have? I don’t think I have conveyed the depth of the anxiety I feel during these dreams. They certainly aren’t pleasant fantasies that explore the idea of “what might have happened if I hadn’t met Justin, would I have ended up with that guy?” No--in fact, I’m not even that interested in the “dream guy” for himself; it’s more like he’s a security blanket for me to say “I’m married.” Is that what I secretly think of marriage? I don’t think so—of course there’s the added benefit of never having to find a date for any event, but marriage is so much more than that for me. I do love spending time with my husband—he’s my best friend, and sometimes we still can’t stop talking after we turn the lights out even though we know we need to get some sleep—but I value my time alone, too. Still, I guess there’s a big difference between being alone and being alone.
And I guess on some level I’m afraid of being alone.

See, I didn’t mean to get all serious with this idea. It was supposed to be more of a “look how crazy my brain is” post. And to prove I can write a post that's not about my kids. Who knew I would end up blubbering about my “abandonment issues” or whatever.

Sorry about that.

In the end, I guess what matters is that I wake up happy to be in my life instead of the one my brain has conjured up while I sleep. I’m happy with the man I chose. I’m happy he’s the one who tells me, “I’m here. You’re not alone.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Dorks Need Love Too

My daughter has a little notebook with a picture of Tinkerbell on it in which she has decided to write the wisdom she has gathered in her four years of living, written in her shaky preschool printing (with a little spelling help when requested).


Some reflect her religious training: "i LOVE jESUS"; "THE LORD IS A SPECIAL HEART."

Some make her sound more like the Buddha: "LOVE ALL THINGS"; "EVERYTHING IS A WORLD."

There are Oprah-esque affirmations: "YOU CAN BE WHAT EVER YOU WANT"; "YOUR BODY IS BEAUTIFL"; "THINGS cAN BE AS GOOD AS YOU tHOUGHT" (has she been reading The Secret?)

But the absolute best one is near the beginning. It says simply: "DOORK LOVE."

She read it to me while I was brushing my teeth and asked me, "Mommy, what's a dork?"

I didn't want her to use it as an insult on the playground, so I told her it was somebody who acted silly all the time.

"Like Daddy!" she confidently proclaimed. I choked on my toothpaste; she didn't understand why I was laughing.

He may be a dork, but I am certainly a dork too, so together we do have DOORK LOVE 4-EVER.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Banned Books Week

Sickness update: It wasn't poison ivy. It was hives caused by the fever she had. We realized this when the red welps would disappear after Benadryl and others would show up in different places on her body. I was afraid she had developed some horrible allergy, but the nurse knew right away what it was. Luckily both kids are fine now.
Sept. 29-Oct. 6 is Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association, at least 42 of the Columbia Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the targets of challenges or bans. If these attacks had been successful, the top twenty-five of the list would've looked much different. (Challenged/banned books are italicized.)

1. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, James Joyce
7. Beloved, Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
9. 1984, George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
11. Lolita, Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
13. Charlotte's Web, E.B. White
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
15. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
21. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
22. Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne
23. Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

Trying to imagine the world without the italicized books on this list is, for me, like trying to imagine the sky without the sun. Yes, I know these books contain material that requires maturity to understand, but none of them are full of gratuituous sex, violence, and exploitation --they are works of art that grapple with the ugly, as well as the beautiful, parts of human nature. I don't want my ten-year-old reading Lolita. But neither do I want it unavailable for others to read and discuss.

Most of the books that are challenged right now seem to be books written for children or teens. Some of them deal with death or sex. And we as parents may not feel comfortable with the perspective found in some of these books. (As a Christian, I probably wouldn't let my child read Curses, Hexes, and Spells, for example, but would have no problem with Harry Potter.) But guess what? It's MY responsibility to be familiar with what my child brings home from the library or is reading for school. It's my responsibility to read the book for myself before I hit the ceiling (I mention this because of some friends I have who are totally anti-Harry but who've never cracked the cover of the books). It's my responsibility to decide if I should tell my child to save this book until she's older, or if a discussion is all that's needed to mitigate the book's values with my own.

As Judy Blume, author of many of the controversial books for teens, said, “[I]t's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it. Freedom of speech is a right I hold sacred.