November 5, 2008

November Morning

Conversation with the husband this morning:

Me: Yikes, it's cold upstairs this morning.

Him: You should have seen this sky earlier -- it was a really pretty pink.

Me: That's because it's the dawn of a new day, my friend.

*Image from the NY Times
*Design week around here will resume tomorrow. I'm sure y'all understand.

November 3, 2008

Nesting Week

Besides falling way behind on posting in general, I'm also sorely lacking in nesting posts here. (I've also been sketchy on the "reading" part of my blog name, too, but that's another subject.)I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone by posting every day this week about some design element or decision in my house.

Fall finally (finally!) has arrived here, at least for today. It's breezy (but not a hot wind) and a little cloudy, and when the clouds cover up the sun, I could almost pretend it's November in some other state or county where the average daytime temperature in October was not 94 degrees. So what a perfect time to nest, or focus on it. Also, tomorrow's election has me so nervous and sketchy, I think I might need to go buy a pack of cigarettes or something. Depending on how it goes, I may just have to turn my home into My Own Private Canada -- another good excuse to focus on the interior.

For today, above is a shot of my entryway table, as stylized for Halloween. It was fun for the kids to look at, but not too childish, either.

Enjoy, and come back tomorrow for another nesting post -- since I can't post video of me chewing on my fingernails and flipping around the news channels for early results.

October 22, 2008

Fall Is Here (It's In My Hair)

It's fall here in Southern California. I can tell by the arrival of the Santa Ana winds, the hot dry days, the crystalline-clear air. And the smell of fall is here, which for me, during a Santa Ana event, is not the smell of apple cider or fallen leaves, but the smell of my own hair.

For years and years I've noticed that when the Santa Ana's come whipping in from the desert east, my hair gets a very specific scent -- not unlike the creosote of the desert, mixed with a flat, metallic tang that lasts for the duration of the wind. I think I've read that something funny goes on with the ozone level of the air during the windy days, and perhaps that's what I smell in my hair. (I should point out that I have extremely thick, curly hair, that easily traps strong smells anyway. I need to tie it back when flipping pancakes or bacon, or risk smelling like a Denny's all day.)

Like any good little bookish L.A. girl, raised on Joan Didion and The Doors and Dr. George Fishbeck hopping up and down with glee over the weather, I can't help but get excited during a Santa Ana. Well, excited isn't quite the word. Restless, is more like it. I'm always about 2 heartbeats away from "restless" most days anyhow, but during a Santa Ana, it's more urgent, and irritating, too.

Dig it:

Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. (Raymond Chandler)
Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.

Thank you, Joan.

Perhaps that's why I've been feeling that bitter mix of wanderlust and trapped-out-here-in-the-godforsaken-Inland-Empire discontent so keenly this month. Growing up so close to the heart of Los Angeles, I sometimes miss it terribly. I miss feeling part of the action, part of that "scene." I'm a born and bred L.A. county native, and it's home that I miss right now.

I've leave off with Mr. Mojo Risin' himself. It always felt like he was singing this part straight to me, as I cranked up the radio and sped down the freeway in my primer-gray little Nissan, a cigarette clenched in my left hand:

I see your hair is burnin' /
Hills are filled with fire/
If they say I never loved you /
You know they are a liar.

Oh, it's all such a cliche! And yet, that doesn't make it hit any less close to home.

October 1, 2008

Ding Dong, September's Dead

October 1st. And my first blog post in well over a month. Shame on me, you say? Where was I?
I was deep in the mire of September, a month long bad spell that literally started on the first day of the month, with a fever and chills and bad things going on in the plumbing department, and literally ended yesterday, the 30th, with a doctor's follow-up visit with good blood test results and the assurance that I would likely live for at least another few months. Kidding on that very last part, but you know what? Not by all that much, when the blood work was for a CEA level test...also known as a tumor-marker test, tumor as yes, in cancer, and, well fuck.

That was September. All bloody month long of it. Now, on October 1st, I exhale: breeeaaaathe. In. Out. Slowly. Repeat.

Somewhere in September on an afternoon while trying to distract myself from dark thoughts, I tuned in to "Oprah." Oprah was featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, long lean and blonde Mrs. Chris Martin herself. In between talking about how much she just loved to eat and scarf and eat some more, Gwyneth talked about her mild post-partum depression after her second child (Pear? Kumquat?) was born and how a long, wine-soaked dinner with Madonna helped her to get better. Madonna says (and you know how I myself love to just throw that phrase around in mixed company: "Madonna says..."), anyway she believes that when this sort of psychic or emotional break occurs for whatever reason, the universe is trying to tell you something. (That Madonna! She's a wise one. And we should listen to her, because of, y'know, that cabalah stuff, and also the dedication shown in those very, very lean and sinewy upper arms.)

Which of course gots me to thinking...what the hell, universe? WTF? What do you want me to do? I've already had enough illness and hospitals and death and grief over the last couple of years to teach me the whole "every day is a gift," thing. Universe, I am SO down with that part. I get that.

But no, it turned out, over the course of several days of deep thought, that this time the universe is whispering a different message. And you know what that message is? The Universe says....

Grasshopper, it is time to write.

To which I responded, "ah, shit, Universe. Not that. Nope. Can't. Do. That."

And the universe retorted, "Can't? Or don't want to?"

And I was all like, "No, really. Can't. How I think increased flexibility and stamina as I turn 40 would be very beneficial. Yes?"

The universe only crossed its arms and gave me that look.

"But, but, but..." said I, and I admit, it came out a little whiny.

This is what you are meant to do, the Universe intoned, and walked away. Discussion over.

Aw, man. I hate losing an argument. And don't think I still don't have my stockpile of excuses and protests at the ready. Still. I'm giving it some thought. I have some ideas, some thoughts, that have been kicking around up there for a long time. There is a lot of ice to break up with my ax, to steal the phrase that writing should work as "an ax to break the frozen sea within us."

But where to start, and how, and lord, most especially, when?

And the universe pops around the corner where he was probably hovering, to reply, and not a little smugly, "please, how many times have you read that book? You remember what the lady says:

Bird by bird, sister. Bird by bird.

(And a quote from the same lady, which seems particularly apropos in this dicey, freighted political climate: "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.")

August 19, 2008

Palm Springs Print

Once again, I've fallen behind on the "nesting"-type posts. Although, really, when I think about it, the kitchen overhaul was such a major, major thing that maybe that makes up for all nesting posts through the next year or so.

Speaking of the kitchen, we're right now in the midst of tiling the back splash with our aqua glass tiles from Susan Jablon. Hoo-boy. It's a job, and I'm sorry to say that it's hardly been "my" project at all, like it was supposed to be. No way could I be doing this without Myk's help -- the measuring, the scoring & cutting the glass tiles -- but it looks good so far, and I'm proud that at least we didn't have to pay a contractor to come and do it. Pictures to follow soon.

Anyway, back to the P.S. print -- I bought this straightaway the moment I found it after following a link to Jason Hill Designs on Etsy. Love it -- love the colors, which really pop, especially that orange. It's going to look really good when that wall below the cabinet also gets tiled.

Also, those blinds? Hate 'em. I meant to buy the lighter-colored, slightly patterned bamboo matchstick kind that you see everywhere in design mags. But Myk made a bit of a face at them, and swayed my mind -- and also, I was a bit desperate to throw up any blinds on the bare windows. These need to be gone though, and soon. They're almost completely transparent at night, too. Luckily, they didn't cost much at all.

So many things always on the ever-shifting design to-do list!

August 17, 2008

Less Than 2 Hours

One of the things that I like about living here in southwest Riverside County is that we're so close to many other locales and getaways. In just about over an hour (depending on traffic), I can get back to Orange County or out to my family in Whittier, or down to San Diego. This helps to make life a little more interesting, for as nice as it can be here, it still often seems that there's precious little to do on the weekend. (I've been told a good fix for this problem is to get the children very involved in a sport, and then my weekends will be claimed and accounted for through the next 10 years. )

Add another hour to the trip, and things can get truly interesting -- for in just about 2 hours or less, we could be in Palm Springs, or up in the San Bernardino mountains, or out to the apple orchards of Julian, or even, I suppose, down south into Mexico.

2 of our getaways this summer were to Palm Springs, and up to Crestline/Arrowhead, in the S.B. mountains. The Palm Springs trip was a rare adult getaway, to celebrate our 11th anniversary. The mountain trip was just last weekend, and we camped with 3 other families at the Dogwood campground, between Crestline & Arrowhead.

This is where we stayed in Palm Springs:
The photos above were taken when my camera was accidentally set to this 1-color mode, and so half of our P.S. pictures look like this. Sort of cool and artsy, I think. But here's a shot of the true colors of the desert, and of our stay:

And this is half of me & Lily, up in the mountains:
This is actually part of a nice family shot, but I wanted to focus on the scenery itself -- here, we're up about 8,000 feet in elevation, at Keller Peak. There's a fire-lookout tower there that we climbed, and at the top, in addition to the awesome views, was a flock of very active hummingbirds, darting and diving for the feeders hanging way out there on the edge of the world.

Tomorrow begins the first day of the school year here in our district. I can't believe I'm the mom of a first grader. The summer flew -- well, summer itself will technically still be here for a good while -- but you know what I mean. We did parks and beaches and Las Vegas and tent camping and a sleep-over or two, board games and computer games and even a trip to the dreaded Chuck E. Cheese.

Busy days. But sometimes it was nicest to stay and play in our own little plot of backyard.
Despite everything I've written here, I'm still a might confused as to how we've blown through half of August already. I'm hoping to post a wee bit more often -- I'll have 2 days a week nearly completely to myself, what with Tucker in preschool -- and somewhere in between all the bon-bons and afternoon trysts and soap operas, you'd think I could squeeze in the blog now and then.

We'll just have to see.

July 28, 2008

Shadow Dads

Look, it's me. Where the heck did I disappear to, you may (or not) be wondering? I meant to do a little vacation slide-show here first as my welcome-back, but all my pictures aren't uploaded yet.

So for now, I'll just say that earlier in the month, we were here.

And then just yesterday, I returned from an anniversary weekend here, with the hubby of eleven years.

In between that, there have been trips to the pool, various local parks and the beach:

That's my little guy, jumping for joy at being back at the ocean again. He tells me he wants to be a surfer, "when he's big." He's already getting so big. But I digress.

What I really came to talk about tonight was the last good book I read, a really terrific read called The Shadow Catcher, by Marianne Wiggins. I picked it up in the bookstore at the Mandalay Bay shopping mall in Vegas, which surprisingly has more good literary books and lit-vibe packed into its small walls than the big, Christian-heavy B&N here in my town.

So there was a lot to choose from, and several books that I picked up and put down again. But I came back to this one in the end. One of my favorite subjects to think about as a writer is the West, the mythical west of imagination and dreams, the one that Sam Shepard is also a native of. And this book is about that west, the west as a created, fictional place that was sold to Easterners way, way back before Hollywood was even a thought.

Again, in my very brief, non-book report way, I'll give a quick run-down.....

The novel is a twin narrative, first with the narrator, whose name just happens to also be Marianne Wiggins, who just happens to be a writer living here in So.California (the "real" Wiggins lives here and teaches at USC). In the opening chapters, we learn that the Wiggins character has written a novel about the life of the very real Western photographer, Edward S. Curtis. Curtis set out to document the West that was dying (or was perhaps even already dead) and the Native Americans who were disappearing from the landscape. Curtis was and remains a controversial figure, as it's up for debate as to whether he was truly honoring the Natives, or merely exploiting and romanticizing them.

The second narrative is a historical fiction, with the main character of Clara, the name of the woman who became Curtis' wife in real life. We get to know Clara, from an educated, artistic family, and how she travels west to the wilds of Puget Sound in the late 1800s and meets and marries Curtis, a poor and uneducated young man with big ambitions, who believes that Clara's role is to teach him all she knows, so that he can learn and travel forth in the world to explore the new art form of photography.

So the 2 narratives weave back and forth, with occasional black & white photos, many that are actually Curtis' works, interspersed throughout the text. But the real text, or subtext, of this book for me is the subject of fatherhood, and masculinity, and just how some men can behave like such rakes, and yet are revered and worshiped -- while the mother, back at home, takes the blame for all the faults and flaws of the marriage and family. I might know a thing or two about this, myself.

For Curtis left Clara and their children, to explore his mythical West, and to mythologize his own self within that West, as he hobnobbed with Teddy Roosevelt and the railroad barons who plowed down the landscape and the people for their own gains. Curtis took off, first for weeks, then months, and in the end for years at a time -- and yet it is he who is the revered one in the family lore. I might have a thought or two on that subject, myself.

To quote:
He became, by disappearing from their daily lives, not a father, but the myth of one, a myth they needed to believe in to survive. And despite his actions, despite all contrary evidence, they needed to sustain that system of belief, even if it meant altering their memory, creating a false memory, a false identity, of who their father really was.
Ah, yes. Again, something I might have a thought or two about. In addition to the shadowy dad of Curtis, Wiggins also writes about her own father (fictional or not) and how he disappeared one day, and was found years later, a suicide hanging from a tree in a state park. This part of the novel, and the mysterious man dying in a Vegas hospital with her father's ID and newspaper clippings about his daughter "Marianne Wiggins" found in his wallet, is probably the weakest (and most preposterous, in the end) but I still enjoyed the ride.

I also found it funny, a day or two after we'd returned from our own Las Vegas road trip, to be reading Wiggin's accounts of taking the same Vegas back-street shortcuts that we had, and describing Barstow and Baker (including a pit stop at the iconic Mad Greek cafe), as we'd just blown through, ourselves.

I should also mention that a large part of my connection and affection for the book stems from the fact that my dad, when alive, was an avid collector of many Western photographers, and spent quite a bit of money on old books, bought on Ebay, that he would show off to me when I'd be over for a visit. I feel a bit ashamed to admit that I can't quite remember if Curtis was one of the photographers he collected, although I'm 90% positive that he did. Next time I'm visiting my mom, I need to poke around in my dad's dusty closet and see what I can find.

In any case, I found the book a rich and layered read, one of the best of my year -- (again, a starred review in Publisher's Weekly) and it also made me miss my own shadow-dad terribly. I would have loved to talk about this book, and his books, with him. And, hello -- stop the freakin' presses, too: I just went to Wikipedia to include a link to Curtis' bio, and what do I learn, right there in the sidebar, but that Curtis, who was down on his luck in later years, went and died right in my hometown of Whittier in 1952! Just as my own dad did, not two years ago. Oh, it's all connected, you see?

Now for a mini-rant: I was appalled to learn as I read this Sunday's Los Angeles Times that they are eliminating all future editions of the Opinion pages, and the Book Review, and the Real Estate section -- all favorites to read with a cup of coffee and my peanut butter toast, and major reasons why I subscribe in the first place. God know what other small blurbs I missed, informing me of which other sections will be leaving. Is the much-shifting, ever-tweaked Magazine out of commission yet again, too?

For I probably would not have picked up Shadow Catchers, if I hadn't already read Wiggins' earlier novel, Evidence of Things Unseen, about an average Joe and his major love, set against the backdrop of the Atomic Era. And the reason I read and bought "Evidence," is that I'd been intrigued and inspired to pick it up, owing to the 2-page glowing review of it that appeared in the Time's Book Review a few years back.

You see how these things work, people? It's all connected, we're all connected, but how can it work if a major force and proponent of the literature of California and the West, as the Book Review has striven to be, is yanked from beneath our feet? For shame, for shame. Shall I tender my notice of cancellation? I can't decide if that would help, or hurt the cause of us blue-stockings, out West here in our flip-flops and denim shorts.

July 3, 2008

Easy to Please

OH, happy day.....
So this morning I'm making breakfast and watching the morning news on local L.A. station KTLA when they run a commercial for the


I immediately started jumping up and down and pumping my fist, like my team just won the Superbowl or something. Well, yeah --- we kinda did, now that I think about it. The kids looked amused, and then a little alarmed, when I kept on jumping after the commercial was over. Then I grabbed the remote, and thanks to Tivo, watched it one more time.

C'mon man...Gidget! Gidget used to run on syndication in the late mornings some time back when I was either a senior in high school, or had just graduated and hadn't yet found a job. Gidget reminds me of warm summer days in our apartment as I watched with my little sister, nine years my junior.

We both loved the clothes, the sets, the silly escapades that Gidget always tumbled into each episode -- and oh, how we loved LaRue, her best friend. Gangly, awkward, nerdy LaRue, always scowling and sporting a huge, floppy hat against the summer sun as they sat on the beach, plotting their next move.

Gidget is quinessential California, starring Pasadena-born Sally Fields, and though this native Calif girl has never surfed (or wanted to) , Gidget is just way up there on my list of Favorite Things Ever.

Kudos to brilliant KTLA for knowing exactly what I needed to kick off the holiday and our summer getaway.

Have a happy 4th, and as Gidget says each time she hangs up her Princess phone: "Toodles!"

June 30, 2008

Where I've Been

I'd say I have no idea where the time has gone since the last post a whole month (and then some) ago, but that would be a fib. I know where the time's gone -- thinking about and living around the constant fact that we were re-doing the kitchen. The kitchen, the kitchen, the kitchen.

I love the kitchen, am in awe of the kitchen and, when I stop to think about it, can't quite believe that I get to co-exist with the gorgeous Ikea kitchen that we (read: awesome hubby) pulled off. Still. I want to stop talking about the kitchen for a while. I'm sure my patient friends & family are ready to stop listening to kitchen-update speak, too. For the long version and some before & after shots of how it all went down, I'll direct you again to my blog over at the very helpful IkeaFans site...."New Kitchen In the 'Burbs." (Update: sorry, that link no longer works, and my page over there is now defunct.)

Up above is a close-up shot of the open stainless shelving in the kitchen. Featuring, on the bottom shelf: Frankoma salt & pepper shakers, a Fiesta plate, an old bottle from a dairy in my hometown of Whittier, CA., and my cooking bible, The Joy of Cooking, and cute drinking glasses from..where else? Second shelf has a Bauer-like vintage pottery bowl in front of a Thomas Paul melamine tray, and a cute vintage bowl that looks very Catherine Holms-esque, but is really just plastic. Oh, and also a shot of "The Taste of Home" cookbook, that everyone here in town seems to own. I joked to someone a while ago that when you buy a house here, the realtor is required to give you your own copy. I know I'll be changing and fiddling with that display on a monthly basis for the rest of my time in this house. Even now, I get little shivers anticipating the fun I'll have with it at Christmas. It's a sickness, I know.

So anyway --- yes, mad nesting has been going on over here for the past month and change.

In the meantime, these 2 have been enjoying the summer, now that Lily is out of school and they're both over the nasty fevers of 2 weeks ago. During that first depressing week of vacation,I wasn't sure if it was June or January -- we were locked indoors, in pj's for most of the day, with near-constant TV and regularly scheduled doses of antibiotics, ibuprofen, and juice. Thank goodness that's over, and we can eliminate the doses of meds and now just focus on hanging out in our pj's and watching TV all day while feeling totally fine.

I look forward to hanging out here a little more often. I've re-feathered the blog nest too, didja notice? I've got a new banner photo & color scheme. Once again, all thanks to Awesome Hubby, aka the "Tek Nynja." (I said he was awesome -- which is so NOT a synonym for "cool" around these parts.)

May 30, 2008

Book By Its Cover

After perusing the shelves of many libraries and bookstores for over 30 years, I'm here to tell you, that yes, one can indeed judge a book by it's cover. And I don't just mean obvious covers, like those with spaceships or damsels in ripped bodices on their fronts. (Also be wary of books with full-color photos of the author on the entire back cover, especially if said author is named "Judith" or "Danielle.")

The cover up there is one of the loveliest I've seen in a long time. How did the author, Lauren Groff, score that one? I've known a few writers in my day, and have learned that beginning, first-time authors usually get precious little say over how their covers end up looking. Of course, Ms. Groff also scored a blurb from Stephen King. So...I'm thinking she may have a connection or two.

Regardless, I enjoyed The Monsters of Templeton muchly. It had historical bits, magical realism, and a very engaging narrator in Ms. Willie Upton. It took a while to truly get its hooks in me, but I'm thinking that's mostly my fault, as I'm been so distracted these days by the kitchen remodel, and my nightly mouse-surfing, and also the sheer chaos of my desk area, which is reaching tipping-point level these days. But once I got about a 1/3 into it, I was quite interested and had a lot of fun flipping back and forth to the various family trees printed throughout, trying to keep track of all those people as Willie tries to uncover the mystery of who her real father is. Another "Starred Review" in Publisher's Weekly. So you see? I know what I'm talking about when it comes to that cover-judging business.

Speaking of the kitchen remodel: it's looking sweet, to steal the lingo of all the 30-and 40-something husbands I know (including mine). Goodness....can't wait to share some pics of that here. In the meantime, there's still my Ikea blog, which I've updated more often that I have this one. It's looking good, but whew...5 weeks without a real sink and garbage disposal and dishwasher: Ugh. I'm over that.

Finally, in a bit of internet synchronicity, here's a painting revealed this week by the lovely and ever-more famous Emily of the Black Apple Etsy store and blog. For there is a very similar white (and gentle) sea monster in "Monsters," (even thought "Glimmy," as it's called, for it's home of Lake Glimmerglass, dies in the very first sentence of the novel). I thought I'd be clever and leave a comment on Emily's post about the similarity, but somebody else, who'd also read the novel, beat me to it. Such is the Internet...such is the world: If you think it, chances are somebody has beaten you to it, first.

May 16, 2008

Candy Store

Look at these beauties. They arrived last Friday in a padded envelope and as soon as I opened it and removed the contents, I got goosebumps. Chill blains. And also, a little teary-eyed. In case I needed any confirmation about what a closet interior designer I've become, simply witness my reaction to 2-inch squares of glass tiles.

The tiles are from Susan Jablon Mosaics, in New York. She's been on my radar for a while, since I looked her up from an ad in the back of Atomic Ranch magazine, admiring her mid-century mosaic line. My plan for the new kitchen is to install her subway tiles as a backsplash -- they are smaller than the average subway tile, at 1x3, but they come in sheets.

For all of last week, I'd pretty much abandoned the plan to go with the tile. I'm in charge of doing the installation myself (er, just as soon as I figure out how) and it all suddenly seemed overwhelming and too taste-specific for a tract-house kitchen and just too damn much all around, taking into account the whole kitchen-gut project.

And then my samples arrived. I ordered a bag containing every color in the glass tile line, since I wasn't sure which exact one I wanted and sample sheets of the subway tiles run about $15 each. (Which is also their price per square foot, fyi.)

This changes everything, I thought, as soon as I opened the bag and took out the first tile. They are beautiful. They are slick and cold and lovely to the touch. They are the Platonic ideal of color. Okay, maybe that's a bit much.

But still. I want to eat them, or lick them. The website didn't do them justice, and my pictures really don't, either.

SO. Tile backsplash project is back on. Pretty sure I'm going with 1906 up there, the pale aqua.

You are all so lovely though, my lovelies. I wish I could pick you all.

May 9, 2008

Now THIS Is Nesting

Well, actually, is it really nesting when you tear down extremely integral parts of the nest? Maybe the term is more like...."re-feathering."

Anway. I haven't written an actual "nesting" themed post yet over here on the The Reading Nest, but how's this for a first...the total demolition of my existing kitchen, to be replaced by Ikea cabinets, in a style called Nexus Yellow Brown.

Here is a picture of my kitchen, back when I had one, a whole week ago today:

Current Kitchen

And here's kinda what that same wall looks like now, except that the gash where the ceramic tile came out has been replaced with new drywall:

It's very exciting, and frightening, too. What if the end result sucks? (It won't, but the possibility exists.) The new cabinets will be slightly darker, still with a wood grain. They'll be much more modern, with stainless hardware. Here's a mock up of what we have planned, using the Incredibly Frustrating and Evil Ikea Kitchen Planning Software (its real name, no lie):
Kitchen rendering

If you're here reading this and you're not my husband, chances are you've typed in a Google search for my cabinet style, because you're anxiously trolling the web at 2am, hoping for pictures or comments from real-life people who are installing it. So let's just cut to the chase and send you over to my blog on IkeaFans, titled "New Kitchen in the 'Burbs." (Update 2012: Sorry, that link and blog are now quite defunct.)

Hope you find something helpful. Enjoy.

May 5, 2008


Finally, as in I'm finally back here with another post after almost a month. How did that happen? How are there only 6 weeks left in the school year? We've been so busy, and I've written many a post -- in my head. But I'm here now. Since I last checked in, I've been to Laguna Beach twice in the same week -- the first time was to spend the night in a too-cute-to-live 50s-era cottage overlooking the Pacific, a girls getaway to an insanely darling house, belonging to the father of a local friend. The second time, some days later, was to attend a reading and celebrate the publication of the first book by a writer-acquaintance. These were both fun and very different getaways. The first fed my need to soak in the sun, away from the kids for more than just two or three hours at a time. The second fed my need to soak up the presence of other writer-types, and be able to revel in the fact that I could refer to a book as a memoir, and not need to stop to explain that yes, "memoir" means it's a true story. (And yes, I AM a snooty, snotty book-bitch.)

Finally also refers to another recent event -- finally, finally, I found a book which fed my soul and was "that book" that I needed to read right now. I'm a firm believer in literary kismet, that sometimes the right book lands in your hands at just the right time and nourishes and enriches, and for me, also makes me learn something and prick up my little eager writer-ears as I take in both the language and the insight.

That book, pictured above, was, The Florist's Daughter, by Patricia Hampl. A quiet, nothing-much-happens kind of memoir, about Hampl's life in her role as a dutiful daughter to her much-beloved Midwestern parents. Beginning as Hampl sits holding her dying mother's hand in a hospital late at night with one hand (and writing the obituary on a yellow legal pad with the other, drawing judgmental looks from the nurse), it traces her parent's life stories, which, because of their very "smallness" and modesty, are just as rich and full of deep feelings as any life can be.

I don't think I would have appreciated the jewel-like words and images of Hampl's book quite as much if I hadn't first read The Glass Castle a couple of weeks earlier. Where The Florist's Daughter is full of much mulling and dwelling on motive and the interior life, Jeannette Walls' memoir is....action-packed, to say the least. It's the kind of shocking, tabloid sort of reveal that usually gets picked to be on Oprah, or made into a movie, or both. It's not that I didn't like the was definitely a page-turner, if only to see what those wacky, outrageously self-centered parents of hers would do or say next. It's the kind of book that you can describe to a friend like this: and then THIS happened, and then THIS happened, and oh my god, can you stand it...then they did THIS and said THAT, but she lived to tell it all and now is just dandy and very happily married and wrote this mega-bestseller and even got to be on The Colbert Report. The End. Whew. To be fair, I should note that, like Hampl's book, The Glass Castle also received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly. It's a good read -- just not "that" read, that I needed at this point in my life.

It's late and I'm getting tired and I can never find that happy balance between describing a book "in general" vs. doing a grad-studentesque literary review. So I'll let these 2 reviews for the Patricia Hampl book speak for me:

Debra Dean, author of The Madonnas of Leningrad:
"In this age of tabloid tell-alls and sloppy hyperbole, The Florist''s Daughter is a cool tonic: a memoir that sings the quiet anthem of good daughters everywhere. In Patricia Hampl's hands, supposedly ordinary people in allegedly ordinary lives are rendered with luminous grace and quiet beauty."

Kristin Ohlson, author of Stalking the Divine: "All of us eventually become orphans and lose not only our parents' physical presence but also the opportunity to keep asking, over and over, for their stories. Patricia Hampl''s lovely bruising book takes us to that final rupture between mother and daughter. Hampl offers the bloom of meditation on the mysteries between parents and children, between the past and the present, and between those old adversaries, beauty and truth."
Yeah. That's just what I was gonna say. Or, to quote Hampl herself: "Nothing is harder to grasp than the relentlessly modest life."

For me, this was THAT book that I was needing, longing for and I'm so glad it finally fell into my hands. I have a big interest in the memoir these days -- and am looking with great interest upon those books that tell a life the way I hope to (someday) tell my own -- quietly, thoughtfully, artfully sketching a life as a daughter, a person who has for the most part stayed in the same geography & landscape that shaped her, as someone hoping to tap into the mysteries of all those untold stories.

There is another book that's come my way recently which is also one of "those" special books. This one is so special I can hardly stand to turn the pages and is so remarkable that I can't bring myself to finish it yet. More on THAT very soon, I hope.

April 7, 2008

Just Wondering...

When the hell did pirates come along and co-opt renaissance faires? Aren't they in the wrong century, by like, a lot? This was the first renaissance faire I've been to since well before Lily was born. Back in my day (read: the early to mid '90s), the attendees in costume provided great people watching and musings (just who ARE these people? And what do the insides of their houses look like?), but now -- I dunno. I still enjoyed the people (freak) watching & musings, but if I want to see grown men & women dressed up like Captain Jack, I thought I just had to go to Disneyland.

Reading this over, I sound very anti-pirate. Totally, I'm so not. I just miss the bawdy costumes and vibe of the "real" Renaissance Faire, the one they used to hold up in Glen Helen in San Bernardino, and this year is in Irwindale. The faire we went to on Sunday down in Escondido was a smaller deal by a lot, but the kids, especially Lily, had a good time getting an eyeful of non-suburban fun & weirdness.

And by the way, the (literal) band of pirates above? They FELT it, man. Or should I say, these were some hearty damn hearties. My favorite part was when this dude whipped out a fake gun and demanded tips in his big pirate hat.
But still -- knights, jousting, jesters, the Virgin Queen -- and pirates? It ain't right, I'm tellin' ya.

I'm not sure whether to blame Johnny Depp, Disney, or...Keith Richards.

April 3, 2008

First Meme Ever: Fours

So I've always wanted to do a meme, but sadly nobody has ever tagged me -- I suppose I'd actually require a reader with a blog for that. I know I've been free all along to tag myself with any interesting meme I've stumbled upon in the past, but the fact is that sometimes they seem to require an awful lot of thought and insight and energy that I typically just don't have in the evenings.

But this meme I found tonight on the blog of jewelry designer Lisa Leonard seems perfect. Fun, fast, not too hard, and yet revealing, too. I found Lisa's site many months ago and have been so fond of her personalized jewelry. I kept meaning to send Myk a link to her site as a hint for Christmas, but I never got around to it, and could never quite decide which design is my favorite. (Heads up, honey: I want one of these for Mother's Day. I'll let you know which one...maybe the Featured Design for April?) A friend of mine directed her husband there for Christmas, and her necklace turned out just lovely. Normally I'm decidedly not a fan of personalized, monogrammed, mom-specific jewelry, but these are really nice.

Besides which, Lisa seems like a very dear and funny and brave woman and mom, and also I have to hate her just a little bit for having my kind of hair: curly, thick, impossible: and yet she's able to wear it cut short and still look cute and perky --- not bloated and old, as I always seem to look with short hair.

Anyhoo --

Here's my foray into the meme:

Four jobs I have had in my life:
1. Music/Video store cashier (Remember The Warehouse?)
2. Assistant Bookkeeper for an old-money Pasadena family
3. Editorial Assistant at an automotive interest magazine house
4. English writing instructor at a four-year university

Four movies I've watched more than once:
1. Meet Me in St. Louis
2. Moonstruck
3. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
4. The Big Easy (Oh, Dennis Quaid...)

Four places I've lived:
1. Bakersfield, CA
2. Oxford, Mississippi
3. Orange, CA
4. Pico Rivera, CA

Four TV shows I watch:
1. House Hunters
2. Divine Design
3. Law & Order SVU (even though the creepy ones make it hard to sleep. But Christopher Meloni is pretty cute.)
4. Yo Gabba Gabba! ("There's a party in my tummy! So yummy, so yummy!")

Four places I have been:
1. Kona, Hawaii
2. New Orleans, LA
3. Kowloon, Hong Kong
4. Mt. Saint Helen's, WA

Four favorite foods:
1. Toast with peanut butter and bananas
2. Starbuck's Maple Oat Scones
3. Chicken Piccata with Pasta
4. Medium Rare steak with sautéed mushrooms, like only my dad could make

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1. In Palm Springs alone with Myk
2. Driving alone on a scenic backroad with the windows down, listening to Neko Case
3. Living in a neighborhood or city with 200% more charm and culture than my current one.
4. Then again, life with the kids here in the outer 'burbs is still pretty damn good.

Four things I'm looking forward to this year:
1. Palm Springs alone with Myk in the July heat
2. Working on our much-delayed, much-discussed Ikea kitchen
3. The summer, with Lily out of school: the park, the pool, friends, and hours to kill.
4. Lily starting 1st grade at the end of August and staying at school until 3:15!

Four places I love to shop:
1. Target
2. Macy's
3. Ebay
4. Gymboree

tag, you're it!!

April 2, 2008

Overheard Today (Or, Why We Refrain From Beating Them):

Lily (sounding exasperated): What are you trying to say, Tucker???

Tucker: Um, I love you.

Lily: Oh. I love you too, Tucker.

(Hello! Remember me? I had a blog here once, many many moon ago. I've been doing lots of reading. I've been doing some heavy feathering of the nest. So much of both, that somewhere along the way I got overwhelmed on where to start or how to remember it all. Plus, I've been a slacker on taking pictures of the changes and additions. But I'm back. Really. No, for reals. I pinky swear it.)

January 30, 2008

Almost, But --

Almost, but not quite. I finished The Almost Moon last week, and can't really say if I liked it or not. I'm leaning toward not, but I should point out that once the book hooked me, I found it (almost) compulsively readable. And I'm not saying "almost" parenthetically to be cute, but honestly -- I wanted to read it, and yet didn't, too.

I was hoping that I'd have a more clear-cut reaction to this book than I did to Sebold's blockbuster The Lovely Bones, another book that I whipped right through, yet also had pretty mixed feelings about (especially the end). The Lovely Bones is sort of my go-to book that I use as an example of why I don't join up with my MOMS book club: yes, it's dark, yes it's about a young girl who was murdered and who narrates the story from Up There, but really, is it that hard to take, or that hard a read? Yet time and again I hear murmurings from women I know who found it so bleak so disturbing, so hard to take, etc.

Please. And yeah, maybe it's my snobby bookworm with an MFA self coming through loud and clear here, but....puh-leeze. You want dark and disturbing, go read Denis Johnson's Angels and get back to me on whatcha think. Or how about some of that pervy drunkard Bukowski served up with the chardonnay and brie?

The Almost Moon is dark, too (much darker) and also has a death at the center of it's story. In this book, the first-person narrator, Helen Knightly, murders her elderly and infirm mother at the end of the first chapter, and the rest of the book is comprised of her actions over the next 24 hours, with lots of flashbacks so that the reader can piece together the past relationship between the disturbed, mentally ill mother and her only child.

The fact that Helen, and by extension the book itself, is brutal and dark and driven isn't really my gripe here, although, yes, it's hard to call Helen likable by any stretch, especially after she sleeps with her best friend's grown son (not even counting the actual murder and hauling of her mom's carcass down the basement steps to the meat freezer). Helen's voice is just so flat and without affect, it makes the book tough going. And I suppose this voice is supposed to reflect how she was beaten down and hurt by her mother's problems and rages over the years, but still, it did not make for a sympathetic heroine. Not that a a heroine necessarily must be sympathetic to make a novel work, but still -- eh. What I did relate to was Helen's sense of being an outsider, an Other, in the world at large, compared to the insanity and dysfunction (and the slick and smiling hiding of it from the neighbors) that lurked each day behind her parent's front door.

I'd like (hope) to write a post soon about a book that I'm just wild about, but I'm not sure when that will happen. I could go back to the very end of last year, and tell you how much I enjoyed Case Histories and the odd yet very appealing Origin, by Diane Abu-Jaber. (Now there was a page turner.) (And come to find out, the author was RIGHT here in town reading and discussing this novel at the our new library late last year, and I missed it! Damn. I need to take advantage of what little culture we get in this town.)

January 21, 2008

You Gotta Have Friends....

Sometimes I think I could write a whole book on the subject of friendship. I think about it a lot. More than the average person, I'm pretty sure. On the other hand -- what I don't know or understand about friendship could easily fill a book.

I felt a little bad today, thinking about my snarky "friends vs. acquaintances" comments in yesterday's post. First, I realized that one of my friends actually did call me when we were all sick. (I guess now isn't the time to bring up the fact that she just needed to pick up an item at my house and unwittingly got sucked into listening to me whine about how terrible and blah we all felt.) Second, while I could blather on for a lot more words here weighing the semantics of "friends" vs. "neighbors" vs. "thrown into this mess of motherhood together," the fact remains that right now, I have more "friends" that I've had in my entire adult life. Or, actually, in my whole life, ever. Huh. That makes me feel a little weird.

Let's change the subject. Sorta.

So the picture of Bette Midler is up there because often when I find myself ruminating on the subject of friendship, I end up singing her song, "You Got to Have Friends" in my head. That album (or was it an 8-track?) that this song is on was played a whole lot in my house growing up. Both of my parents were big Bette Midler fans, back when she was a raunchy showgirl with a big voice, and not the woman known for starring in Beaches and singing that groaner, "Wind Beneath My Wings."

"Standing at the end of the road, boys
Waiting for my new friends to come,
Oh, I don't care if I'm hungry or freezin' cold
I gotta get me some of them!
Cuz you gotta have frieeeeennnds....!"
This was one of the many, many songs that formed the soundtrack of my childhood. The funny thing is, my parents, or my mom specifically, never did, and never has, had any friends. Oh, she had plenty of work pals, or gals I should say (that's her word, and it still sorta makes me cringe with embarrassment to use it, just like I did when said it back then). When I was fifteen or sixteen, my mom had quite a few gals from her office that she would have drinks with on Fridays after work, and often during the middle of the week, too. None of these women were the type of friends that she could call upon the phone just to shoot the shit with, and none were ever invited to our house, unless you count a handful of quick potty breaks. As far I can recall, she never visited at their homes, either.

What I'm trying to say here is that I grew up in a household where it was perfectly normal to me that a grown woman did not have a single friend to call her own, outside of her two sisters, my aunts. My grandmother, my mom's mother, didn't have any friends either. And that was the way it should be. What my grandma did have was three daughters, my mother and two aunts, and the four of them seemed to (and still do) spend significant amounts of their lives calling each other on the phone and bitching about the other three. Bitch, bitch, bitch, gossip, gossip, gossip. This is all I've ever known, all I ever had to pattern myself after. Is it any wonder that I often feel so conflicted and confused about my own friendships, both past and present? For so many years growing up, I literally sat at my mother's feet of a Saturday morning and listened to endless variations on, "Oh really? I didn't know that! She didn't tell ME....Well you KNOW how she is. She'll never change." Etc., etc.

Holy crap. Really, I'm pretty lucky that anyone will talk to me at all, now that I think about it.

Like I said, I think about this stuff a lot. And I could go on and on and tell some pretty awful tales on myself and my friends, of past behaviors and lies told and trusts betrayed. However.

It's just about 11 o'clock at night -- time to go to bed and read more of the novel I'll write about soon. And it's another busy day tomorrow: after dropping Lily at school and coming home to clear the breakfast dishes, Tucker and I have a playgroup to attend, where I'll get to sit and share some hot coffee and conversation with some of my
(spit it out, spit it out...)

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