May 31, 2012

The Books. The Rug. The Drapes.

We live in a newer tract home, where the front room is meant to be split into a living area/dining room. Except that a formal dining area is the last thing our family would use, and I have a real pet peeve for opening the front door and immediately seeing the typical dining table/china hutch combo. I've always decorated this room as one big space.  The living room acts as my library and sitting room, and it's a little more formal than the family room.  This is where we retreat to read, nap or get some quiet, away from the TV/stereo/kitchen chaos in the family room.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself. Let's back up and, as Maria Von Trapp would say, start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). 

So, it was high time to finally clean out my books and the closed cabinets on our bookshelf unit. (Ikea, natch, purchased eight years ago.)  Like a lot of people who read design blogs and magazines, I decided at one point to get all cutesy and arrange my books by color. (Even if, deep in my English-major soul, I knew it was so, so wrong. For me, anyway.)


Spoiler alert: Post-purge, not all of the books seen here made it back into my collection.  The jumbled, cluttered insides behind just one set of doors:
 Books, ceramics, and so many candles, for someone who rarely burns them.

Well, it ALL came out, onto my living room floor.
It was a lot of books. It took a lot of time to sort through them (and read them, and greet some long lost friends, and scold myself for the ones purchased and still unread.) Plus, I sorted through picture frames, candles, candle holders, vases, etc. etc.

Finally, days and days and four boxes of donated books later,  I put it all back together.
Cleaner, organized shelves. Now one space hold candles and candle holders only, not a mad jumble of crap. One door holds all Christmas: books, candles, frames. All in one place.
After the Purge: Books are sorted by theme or subject, not colors. Whew.  The suitcase on the left column is a Crosby record player, and on the shelf above are a few albums from our large collection. 

So this is where things stood, post-purge. Everything in the room was cleaned up, dusted, and returned to normal.

Except that I couldn't stand it.  All of the elements that bother me about the room felt overwhelming and embarrassing.  The big expanse of wall-to-wall carpet, the blue, high-water drapes, the very specific pattern on our furniture set (a set! Ugh!), the kitschy, retro silver legs on the chair & sofa...I was over it, all of it. DONE. Somebody call in a bulldozer, or the Salvation Army, and let's move on and go shopping for some new furniture.  And put in new hardwood flooring, while we're at it.

HA. HA. HA. Aren't I funny?  Nothing, and nobody, was going anywhere.  Time to re-arrange.
I moved the couch back over to the window wall (it's spent time there before), and brought the chairs in closer, for a more intimate seating area. Then I took the 5x8 brown rug out of our family room, and used it here to further define the space, and break up all that beige carpet. (Bonus: this will also force the issue of needing a bigger, 8x10 rug in the family room.) 

It was an improvement, but it could be better. I stared at the blue drapes. There are white sheers behind them.  How very JC Penney's of me!  My future plans for this room include deep blue paint on the white wall, and textured, white linen curtains against that, with bamboo shades to block the intense sunlight.   But until that happens, I assumed the drapes had to stay, like permanent fixtures.  Or not.  What if I took them down now?
Hmmm. Not bad, not bad at all. In fact, I was pretty excited by all the light, and how open and younger the room suddenly felt.  And just like that, those drapes that have been there since we moved in and I first decorated this room, came down.  Along with lots of dust, spiders and cobwebs. 

Let there be light!  What a relief to be rid of those drapes.  Now the sheers can flutter and waft when our late-afternoon breezes kick up:
(Look in that back corner by the narrow window, and you'll spy the latest update in the lampshade dance.) 

So the moral of this episode is: sometimes (most times) you have to live and work with what you've got, and sometimes, you've gotta work hard to wrestle a space that you love out of pieces you've evolved away from.

The other side of the room:
Summer is bearing down, and I'll have to buy those bamboo/matchstick shades  soon, to keep the room and my family from roasting. (Those windows face south/southwest.)  But I'm so relieved the room is done (for now) and I can rest, read, and chat in a space that once, again, I love (again, for now).
Thanks for coming along. 

I'm linking up with Jules at Pancakes and French Fries every Thursday as part of her 2012 William Morris Project.

May 30, 2012


Scenes from the long Memorial Day weekend.  On Saturday, Lily participated in a mud run/Foam Fest with members of her Girl Scout troop.  (The girls did the "Rugrat" race, for kids 12 and under.) The actual race for adults looked arduous, as folks ran over hill and dale, through obstacles in mud, foam, and cold lake water.  I don't know that the lake water was cold, but I had to wear my hoodie just standing there, arduously watching them in the breezy morning air. These people (most looked under thirty) paid good money to do all this.  Go figure!

The girls were unanimous in their opinion that the most fun part of the race was getting all muddy and dirty and foamy without being scolded or told "Stop that!" by their moms.

On Sunday, my sister and nephew were set to come out and spend a couple of nights with us.  While at Target, I texted back & forth with her over what type of beer and snacks she wanted (for the record: Tecate and Spicy Jalapeno Cheetos) and all was fine, until she texted me while I shopped for my own snacks at the gourmet grocery (cheese-stuffed green olives and salami) that her car was packed, she was ready to go, but her car wouldn't start. 


Long story short, I made a quick tour of Southern California -- picking her & my nephew up from my aunt's in Huntington Beach, bringing them back here for a fun 24 hours of snacks, beer, cousin rough-housing, and a viewing of Jaws. Then, late Monday, the whole lot of us packed into our car and took them back to Whittier, my hometown.  So maybe it was a lot of bother (and gasoline) just to sit around and stuff our faces and gab and gossip. But I missed my sister. I miss having family around. I grew up seeing my grandparents and aunts just about every single weekend, and that routine lasted for years and years.  Everybody lived less than 10 miles from each other, except for my aunt, who moved all the way down the 605 freeway to Huntington Beach when she got married. The nerve!
The home exit
And now there's me, who moved nearly 100 miles away. Even though it's less than 90 minutes from my front door to my mom's, she pretty much acts like I've moved to Arizona.  "How's the weather there?" she inquires each time on the phone. (A little colder in the winter, a little hotter in the summer.)  Then she'll tell me what the local L.A. weathermen are predicting -- the same L.A. weathermen that I watch on the very same stations, way out here in Riverside county.
That big brown pole is an air-raid siren

Old trees and overhead power lines: two things I miss.
Sometimes I miss my old town: the history, the pretty college, the cute Craftsmen cottages, the great walking up into the steep, hilly neighborhoods.  My kids love to visit their grandma and aunt, and don't ever want to leave.  Sometimes I feel a little traitorous, living so far from roots and family and our history.  But it isn't all that far, really.  And sometimes, it feels good to drive away, and put a little distance between me and all that history. Sometimes.  

*All photos are from my camera phone, and the last are through my dirty car window.

May 25, 2012

L.A. Music: Skrillex, and That Song

I don't even know what I'm doing writing this. Clearly, my expertise in L.A. music lies in decades past. So far, my most "current" artist has been Beck, and that post featured a song that came out five years ago.

Which isn't to say that I don't like or listen to current music. Granted, not a lot floats my musical boat these days. I don't like all the overwrought pop crap that's so popular: all the American Idol and spin-off talent shows, the Glee thing, etc. etc.  I don't care.  I think "Moves Like Jagger" is a catchy little song that my grade-schooler loves, and granted it gets stuck in my head pretty quick, but that doesn't mean I "like" it, either. 

So just because I'm writing about Skrillex doesn't mean I "like" him that much, either.  Except that in my house lately, it's like that old beef slogan.  "Dub-Step: It's What's For Dinner."  And breakfast and lunch and in-between snacks, too.

Maybe it's a boy thing, because the biggest fans in our house are my husband, followed closely behind by Tucker.  Trailing way back there in the outer reaches of tolerance is me.

I don't get it. And it's not even because I'm not young enough in the young way.

I get that my husband loves electronica and computer-generated music. Being the hard-core computer geek that he is, the hardware love carries over to the audio world. It goes way back, to the Moog-generated classical music of William/Wendy Carlos to the "Popcorn" song from the '70s, on to Kraftwerk and Devo and '80s alternative and etc.. You get the idea. The boy likes his synthesizers.

But this! O, this.

I think I've mentioned before the my husband works from home (which is great) and most days, he has a pretty consistent soundtrack going, to keep him company and provide some background noise besides the click-clacking of his keyboard.  And on lots and lots of days lately (roughly the last three months), he keeps playing THAT SONG over & over.

Propping myself in his office doorframe, I'll harass him and inquire, "don't you get tired of listening to that song all day?"  And this is a joke, of course, because it's not just one Skrillex or dub-step song that's he's got turned up, but many, many different songs.

Many, many different songs, and they all sound about the same to me. 

He tells me that the similar sound or effect that runs through all this noise music is The Drop.  It's all about The Drop.
Photo from here.
In the current Rolling Stone, there's a small article about The Drop, and it features a quote from Skrillex:  "It's like you're revving your engines and the fucking motorcycle just wants to take off, and as soon as you  fucking throw it into gear, it just starts to go."  Um, okay. I can see, or hear that.

Still, this sound doesn't move me.  It might make the art on our walls shake and vibrate with the bass, but it doesn't move me.  I don't even think you can dance to it. Which isn't the point, I get that too. You don't dance to Motorhead, either.

And as for Mr. Skrillex's L.A. music creds: born in east L.A., moved up north to somewhere cold & rainy for a while, but came back to the eastside as a teenager. So there you go.

And here you go. THAT SONG.  (Or one of them, anyway.)

Enjoy! Have yourself a good long, dub-steppin,' bass-shakin' Memorial Day weekend.

May 22, 2012

Twelve Days to Summer

Eclipse shadows
Tuesday, and twelve more days of school left before our summer break.  What?  I better make good use of my last dozen days of freedom. (Blogging: good use?)

What I'm looking forward to:  days without structure.  Not sitting down at 4:30 each afternoon to oversee homework.  (We've been blessed with minimal homework this year, which is not to say there hasn't been occasional tears and drama over 4th grade math.)  Days at the park.  Days at the pool.  Our big summer vacation: we're going on a cruise!  Lazy mornings and library afternoons.

What I'm sort of dreading:  days without structure. No breaks from the kids until bedtime, which gets pushed back later & later each year.  16 hours + 2 kids = 1 tense mama.  Sibling squabbles that erupt after too togetherness.  Whining for soda, cookies, and the near-constant snack grazing of Tucker. And also, and maybe most of all, the neighborhood kid thing.
Some background.  The women in my family don't do kids all that well.  I'm talking about both of my grandmother's, who were as different as two women can be, but alike in their distaste for small people.  I'm talking about my mom.

My maternal grandmother was famous for her vehemence in not wanting to entertain or even allow other children into her home.  My mother tells stories about her mom yelling at other kids, not allowing them to cross her threshold and basically having a reputation as an impatient, angry woman who had no qualms about screaming out the back door at somebody else's kids.  Of course, this was back in the late '40s and '50s, when parents could get away with that sort of thing.  Ah, the good old days.
My mom, who grew up feeling embarrassed at her own mother's total lack of hospitality or even tolerance toward her friends, tried to be different, but without any positive role model, she wasn't all that much better.  She tried to be warm toward my friends, and granted, never disallowed me from having friends in and out of the house, especially when I was in fourth grade and lived on a street packed with sisters.  She was a willing, encouraging audience to our near-constant performances from the Grease soundtrack.  Still, it didn't come easily, and I always sensed her feeling of strain, which got worse as I got older, and my friends and I just wanted to talk and be alone.  (She always seemed to be right outside the door, hovering, listening.)  Also, she flat-out refused to drive us anywhere, which was embarrassing and hard to explain. "Can your mom take us to the mall?"  Me: "Um, no."  "Why?"  Me:  ???

So now it's my turn.  I live in a town that's famous for being family-friendly. There are kids everywhere. In the last six months, Tucker has become good friends with a pair of young brothers on our street, and is also pals with many other little boys who live near us and play at the park next to our house.  Lily has a friend on the next block, hosts play dates and runs into school friends at the park.  Inevitably, all these children seem to end up at our front door.  And I'm okay with that. Or rather, like my mother before me: I try to be okay with that.   Is it DNA, or deeply ingrained family behaviors that make me tense up and want to boot those young, smiling faces from my front porch?
This Sunday afternoon was intensely kid-centric.  Including Lily, there were five girls in the house for half the day.  Tucker was back and forth on his bike and scooter.  Snacks were demanded required by all.  I was in a good mood. I wasn't tense or angry.  Still. Doors were slammed. Doors were left wide open! Juice was spilled. Popsicles stained the driveway.  It was a preview of many, many similar days to come this summer.

I'm never going to be the neighborhood "cool mom," who orders the pizzas that appear just before the kids realize they're hungry, who gives out the easy, laid-back invitations for sleepovers on the fly.  We won't be those parents who mysteriously seem to vanish and give the kids run of the house.  But: I have pretzels, and half a bowl of grapes! I have a fridge out in the garage stocked with juice boxes and waters and sodas and I'll share my last box of Thin Mints with giggling girls without getting too cranky about it. 
My maternal grandmother is still alive, but this weekend I felt watched by her, intensely aware of her presence.  For a difficult period in junior high, we lived with my grandparents, and I have a vivid memory of my grandma yelling at and frightening me and a friend, when I made the mistake of bringing the girl into her kitchen through the back door, for a glass of water.  Check me out, I said to myself, and to her.  Check me out, Grandma.  And maybe this is simply the way the past gets healed: one juice box, one smile at a time.

May 18, 2012

L.A. Music: Donna Summer & 1979

Keeping it short today. No need for a bio, or the facts.  Except we've lost too many artists this year, and this one came as a bit of a shock.  

As for Donna Summer's music coming from L.A., or being especially connected here, let's point to the huge, huge Bad Girls album. Recorded in L.A., produced by Giorgio Moroder, a man with mad engineering skills and an epic 'stache, who lived in L.A. by way of Italy. New York disco had Studio 54 and the West coast had Giorgio Moroder, and Casablanca records. 

I received the Bad Girls album for Christmas in '79, the year it was released.  Music, by way of albums and their cover art, was so much more tactile back then. I held that album cover, stared at it for so long.  I was 11 years old.  It was a long time ago.  It was a double album, and not all the songs were "hits," but what else did I have to do, during those long, endless hours of early adolescence, but listen to the whole thing?
 Summer, and Donna Summer:

Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, the big fat ones.

Love's Baby Soft, which always smelled like baby powder and onions to me, or maybe it was just the heavy corduroy jacket I wore a lot that year. 

Roller skates, and short shorts

Satin! Satin shorts, satin jackets.  I don't think I owned anything satin, but it seemed to be everywhere, in magazines and on T.V.

Reading and puzzling out Judy Blume's Forever, and singing aloud to the lyrics, "Dim all the lights, sweet darlin', 'cause tonight it's all the way."  Puzzling over all the photos of "bad girls" and cops in the inner sleeve of the album.  What was going on here? I think I knew.  I can't remember not knowing. Isn't there some space in every girls brain that intuits the whole gig, that it's all about the exchange? Money, fluids, Ralph, kisses, winks. Yeah, I understood.

Hey mister! Have you got a dime? Hey mister! Do you wanna spend some time? I got what you want, you got what I need. I'll be your baby, come and spend it on me." 

Sunset People: L.A. and Sunset Blvd., circa 1979. There are roller skaters in shorts. There are satin jackets. There are roller skaters in satin shorts!  Doin' it right, night after night:

Enjoy your Friday And...toot toot, EHHH, beep beep! 

May 17, 2012

My New Old Phone

If last week's William Morris post was my most boring yet, than this week's is definitely my easiest. All I had to do was open a Mother's Day gift and snap some photos. 

A big part of the whole William Morris project is living with intention: buying and displaying and living with only those items that you deem beautiful or necessary.  So along with that intention, I knew that my husband had been looking around for a vintage rotary phone to use in our home.  I've wanted one too, but of course wasn't about to settle for just any old boring black or beige thing. 

Mother's Day morning brought flowers and waffles and sweet hand-painted art, two new books, and some Charming Charlies' bling. And then, there was this:
Ohmygoodness.  My new vintage aqua rotary phone. It is so cool.  It is so loud. It is so heavy. I forgot how heavy old rotary phones were. And yes, it works.  Perfectly. (It was purchased on Ebay, and all I know is that my husband had to bide his time for months to find a phone that looked good, worked and wasn't too expensive.)

It was amusing to teach the kids how to dial, to insert their fingers into the holes and tug: "you mean, I have to go all the way around?" (And yes,  when you dial each number, you hear that...rotary sound.)  It was like showing them how to wind up a Victrola.

Our phone doesn't ring all that often, and it'll probably give us all heart attacks if it ever rings after midnight, but hearing this thing ring...LOUDLY, and answering it, and placing the handset back into the cradle, puts a stupid, happy smile on my face. Every time.
Ring-A-Ling...It's for youuuu.   

Also: don't think I haven't been putting in my sweat this week. Because my bookshelves got the flu, and threw up their entire contents onto my living room floor.  It was helpful to type out the point of the WM project again at the start of this post, as it helps me remember not to keep something out of guilt, just because it was a wedding gift from nearly fifteen years ago.

So out go the dusty crystal vases and candle holders that never get used. In comes something old and funky and fun that'll be used every day, and will become part of the memories my children take when they leave our home. Maybe someday, they'll instruct their own kids on how to use an "antique" phone like this.  And they'll look like old pros.

Each Thursday I'm linking up with Jules at Pancakes and French Fries as part of her 2012 William Morris Project.  

May 15, 2012

Mother's Day: Irvine Regional Park

I love Mother's Day as a mom, because in my house, my little family pampers and spoils me -- this year, it was breakfast at home with fresh waffles and bacon and flowers and a big balloon. And sweet homemade cards and art and carefully chosen costume jewelry and a really awesome Ebay score from my husband that deserves its own post. 

On the other hand, I dread Mother's Day as a daughter.  It's never easy to figure out what to do with my mother, where to take her, what to buy her.  She has no hobbies and no overriding interests, beyond watching the Lakers, drinking wine, and reading paperback mysteries.  She doesn't like chocolate, even.  One year, I convinced her to come down to my house and we treated her (and me) to a big expensive buffet with free-flowing champagne and piles of shrimp and pastries. Last year, I didn't even spend the day with her, but invited her to join us at Disneyland, which she declined. She would've had to drive, park and meet up with us by herself -- and my mom is not good at jumping through those types of hoops on her own. (Note that she lives by herself, and continues to work full time, past retirement age -- but she just won't attempt that kind of solo feat.)

This year, my sister (a hard-working single mom who's most deserving of pampering) and I decided that we'd all spend the day together at Irvine Regional Park -- a wonderful park with over 800 acres of old oaks and trails and horses and a lake.  My sister and I were excited to spend the day together, excited to get our kids together for a picnic (Tucker and my nephew are only five months apart), to eat and soak up the sunshine. My mother was....okay with this plan.  I don't think the words "park" and "picnic" quite meshed with whatever vague ideal she had in mind.  But as I assured my sister last week: "She'll have a good time. She just doesn't know it yet."  And she did.

On the other hand, everyone else in Orange County had the same idea, to picnic at a great park on a beautiful day.  Go figure. What is normally about an hour drive for us took nearly twice that, counting the time spent in line to enter the park.  This is the photo I took of the long, long, line to get up to the toll booth and inside the gates.  The photo doesn't do justice to the crazy line; even the park ranger was standing out there snapping pics on his camera.  
Self-portrait of me appearing calm enough, but inside I was stressing hard, convinced they'd close the park to more cars & we wouldn't be able to meet up with my mom & sister:
But eventually we made it in, parked, lugged our coolers/chairs/gifts down the path to where my sister had already set up, and finally started enjoying ourselves.  You know it's a good day when you get watermelon, cupcakes, AND orange Fanta.
And you get to take a ride on a slow train:
And three generations get to walk under hundred-year-old oak trees, on a Sunday in the park:
My mom with Lily; sister and the two boys up ahead.

May 11, 2012

L.A. Music: Jackson Browne & The Moody Dudes

This is a post about Jackson Browne, but first, a word about James Taylor.  JT won't ever be featured here on my Friday series, because a) although I like a few songs, his music doesn't move me enough to dwell on it and b) he's an East Coast guy all the way.  When I got to meet the lovely Jenn a couple years ago, she started explaining where she lived, and I said, "oh...the James Taylor territory?" because that's the sum of my experience with the Berkshires.

Anyway. James Taylor is a famously mellow mellow sensitive dude, and from all his appearances on the early days of Saturday Night Live, it seems he's also got a good sense of humor.  But my husband and I have this running joke that JT is a total asshole.  I think it started when I was idly watching some PBS concert, and my husband said, "I don't know... he just looks really uptight and angry.  I bet he's a real asshole." And I protested, because, you know...JT! All of the above stuff, mellow mellow, "You've Got a Friend," "Sweet Baby James," etc. etc.   Nope, he asshole.   So now whenever we see James Taylor on TV, it's all "there's that ASSHOLE!!" And we giggle madly.   (Such is the stuff that keeps an almost 18 year relationship going.) 

In the same way, I have a feeling that Jackson Browne might be an asshole, too.  For a guy who sings some mellow mellow songs and is all sensitive and liberal, it seems like maybe there's some underlying tension there.  I like a verbal, sensitive man, but there can only be one moody, touchy person in any relationship, and I call dibs.

But I don't have to live with him, I just get to enjoy the creative effects of all his moody, tortuous relationships.
Image from here.
Here's my Two Degrees of Separation from Jackson Browne story:  He grew up in a neighborhood called Sunny Hills, which is a tree-lined, rural-feeling area in the hills of Fullerton, in north Orange County.  (My husband has worked for a company in Fullerton for nearly his entire working life, and I got my B.A. from Cal State Fullerton.)  I have a friend here in town whose mom attended Sunny Hills High along with Jackson Browne, and briefly dated him.  In fact, one of his early songs is supposedly named after her, but I'm not going to name it here and open that can of worms.  My friend remembers Jackson calling her house and her mom laughing and reminiscing with him. How cool is that?

Okay.  So I'm sounding pretty jaunty here, but the reason I'm writing about Jackson Browne this week is that I'm feeling quite moody and touchy myself.  There's nothing at all for me to  be sad/mad/upset about, but tell that to my chemical imbalance. I've been suffering bouts of anxiety lately, the racing heart, short of breath, hand wringing sort.  Yesterday, doing some Mother's Day shopping in the aisles of Sephora, I felt like I might pass out.  Clearly I need a change of scenery, a shake-up in my routine.  Yoga? 'Ludes?

But it's Friday, and here I am.  The following is the last song off of Browne's third album, Late for the Sky.  Twenty years ago,  I listened to this album a lot  and the feelings it evoked back then, I still feel today.  This is dismaying, as supposedly we change and evolve, but some things, like my tendency toward ennui and sadness, remain just the same. On an optimistic note, I can now relate to the line about how having a real friend makes all the others so much easier to bear.

And I like to think that if my husband, he of the geeky/gadgets/binary code ilk, was actually of the sensitive songwriter/poet/guitar strumming ilk (he wouldn't be my husband),  he might be able to quote the last lines of this song to me, and remind me that I can just, you know, stop.

"Look: it's like you're standing in the window
of a house nobody lives in,
And I'm sitting in a car across the way.
Let's just say, it's an early model Chevrolet
Let's just say, it's a warm and windy day.
You go and pack your sorrow,
The trash man comes tomorrow,
Leave it at the curb, and
We'll just roll away."

As it is, he can make me giggle madly.  And breathe. And that's not something small. So I say to him:

"...While they scuffled through your weary smiles
I thought of all the empty miles
And the years that I'd spent
Looking for your eyes."

Enjoy! And here's to taking some deep breaths this Friday.

May 10, 2012

Closet Stuff

This is possibly my most boring post ever: I cleaned out the closets.   Well, at least mine and the kids.  I didn't touch the husband's side of our walk-in, but his stuff would have easily produced another bag for the donation pile.

My goal was to empty out my closet of old clothes, and then do a thorough cleaning: vacuum, dust, and rearrange my little vanity area on top of the long dresser.  Then I could play with all my pretty perfume bottles and vintage head-vases and show them off to you.  But no, the pile of cast-offs kept growing, and even though it's only been a couple of years since my last closet clean-out, there was a lot of stuff to go through. 

My take-away at the end of this week:  Tucker still has a pretty consistent, if slow, growth rate, Lily has exploded in the last year into a great big, tall girl (at 10, she's pushing the size limits of many kids stores/departments) and when it comes to myself, investing in "quality" pieces really does pay off in the long run.  I had a big pile of fun, "Saturday night" shirts, most costing under $20. Time for them to go.
Here they are, set out this morning for the veteran's donation truck.  (There are two black garbage bags hiding beneath & beside the white table.)

Next week: tackling all the stuff that I pulled out of our old, big media center that was sold on Craiglist, and that we replaced with the vintage credenza.  I was glad to see it go, but it was great for storage. Now I'm going to have to find new homes for all this, which has been stashed behind the living room couch for the last few weeks:
Needless to say, this pile doesn't excite or inspire me, but it has to get dealt with.  I've been dragging my feet, because I know the wood shelving unit that you glimpse here, full of open and closed shelf storage and packed with books and papers and a boutique's worth of random candles, is fairly screaming for attention. 

But that can wait until next week. It's only Thursday, but I say Mother's Day should be an entire weekend, and it starts.....Now.

On Thursdays, I'm linking up with Jules at Pancakes and French Fries for her 2012 William Morris Project. 

May 8, 2012

Rip Roarin' & Snortin' Good Reads

It seems every woman around me is in the throes of the x-rated 50 Shades of Grey (I've read a few  Facebook comments that made me cringe and think TMI, girlfriend. T. M. freaking. I),   It's like the suburbs' new Wifey, for the 21st century.  Do you remember being a kid and seeing your mom and aunts exchanging "that smirk" over Wifey?  Meanwhile, over here I've been all chaste and keeping my hands above the covers, tearing through a couple of excellent reads.  (I sound like such a prude:  I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.)

First was Ann Patchett's State Of Wonder.  I have to hand it to Patchett, she really is such a solid, reliable writer of great lit-fiction novels.  State of Wonder was a page turner; from the first paragraph onward I was sucked into the world of research scientists, pharmaceutical intrigue, and a remote tribal village in the Amazon. I loved the protagonist, Marina Singh, and found her such an interesting, strong character. I suppose it's a sort of device to set up her as "conflicted," being a dark-skinned woman of Indian descent, who loves the chilly climate of her native Minnesota, but she was a great, complicated character.  This was a book with lots of interesting, strong women: Marina, her old mentor the mysterious Dr. Swenson, and even Karen, the wife of Marina's research partner, Anders, who has died on a fact-finding mission deep in the Brazilian Amazon.
The plot centers around Marina's journey, sent by her boss at the pharmaceutical company, to dig up the truth about what exactly happened to Anders in the Amazon.  Anders himself was originally sent to a remote village in the Amazon to check on the progress of the brilliant and difficult Dr. Annick Swenson, who is being funded by the drug company to develop a top-secret new drug.  So there's travel to an exotic locale, and intrigue as the reader learns only through Marina's eyes of the true nature of Dr. Swenson's long-term drug research. It's all very vivid: the terrible heat, the insects, the total pitch-blackness of the jungle at night. The last few chapters had me totally in thrall, and I slammed the book shut with satisfaction: that was rip-roaring! I said out loud.  I can't remember the last time I was so overall pleased by a book.

Next was the debut publication from blogger Kyran Pittman.  As I said before when I bought the book, I've been reading Kyran for several years now, and was thrilled when she won earned a book contract.  Let me say up front, I loved her memoir Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life but it took me a few chapters to get into the swing of things.  From reading Pittman's blog, I know she's a talented writer who thinks deep, and can go deep and illuminating in her writing.  So that's what I was expecting of the book: an involving, linear memoir of her life, from being the child of free-thinking, artistic Canadian parents, to a bit of wild party girl, to becoming a suburban mother of three boys in the American South.  But Planting Dandelions isn't a memoir in the standard narrative form, but a series of linked essays, that could easily stand alone as articles, rather than chapters building upon the previous events.
And that's fine -- it just took me a few chapters, or essays, for that to dawn on me, and to adjust my expectations.  The structure of the book may be women's magazine-article essays , but these essays are also damn funny and insightful.  I mean, really funny.   I may be a little odd in that I don't adore David Sedaris -- his books are amusing, but I rarely laugh out loud, and he's supposed to be "hysterical."  But I found myself snorting, chuckling, and laughing out loud numerous times reading Planting Dandelions.  Maybe it's a mom thing. 

There's a whole lot I can relate to in this book -- as a child of a non-traditional household, I also view the white-picket fence as exotic territory, and not necessarily the place I expected to land.  Like Kyran, I spent time in my 20s hanging out in seedy bars, wearing short-shorts, smoking cigarettes and playing a part -- and like her, I mourn and struggle with coming to terms that nobody wants to see an over-40 mom in Daisy Dukes.  (Even if they still fit.)

But even if you were raised in a "normal" household, even if you fit just fine into your adult role, whatever that may be, there's insight and illumination -- and depth, too -- in this witty, thoughtful book about marriage, motherhood, and overgrown lawns.  
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