Monday, March 29, 2010

Ann Patchett and I Could've Been Friends...

“A friend of mine wrote on Facebook that he was suicidal and thinking about jumping off a bridge. So I poked him.” Tom Rhodes.

This is my way of saying I’m feeling pretty good lately. I’ve been exercising, I’ve been getting out some, and I’m hopeful about the sunny, warm weather promised later this week. If it rains on Easter, I know a meteorologist who will never see Christmas.

In other news, my blog seems to be dying a slow and natural type of death. This is me trying to revive it:

So, Ann Patchett was in town on Friday. Who is Ann Patchett? She’s just about the eighth to tenth greatest American female writer writing today! (If you have not read the novel Bel Canto, please do so yesterday.) I picked up John at work and we ventured to the local community college to hear her speak. I was so excited! I put on lipstick for her.

Ms. Patchett is obviously brilliant. She was funny and thoughtful and seemingly gracious. She name-dropped (I was talking with John Irving…), talked about her hatred of technology (she will never be on Facebook-sigh), and gave us some insight into what it was like to write her most famous novel (that’s an awful day when you kill your characters.)

As I sat listening to her speak, I was pretty sure that Ann was going to by next best friend. It was all so obviously meant to be. I would go up to her and say: Hey… I know a great little bistro. Let’s grab a panini and discuss Thomas Mann.

She would reply: That’d be great! I have such trouble getting people to discuss Thomas Mann with me!

I would say: Why would anyone not want to discuss Thomas Mann?

And she’d say: I know, right? I like you!

This never occurred, mainly because she floored me with her thoughts on a particular subject of interest to me.

I will set the scene for you. A student asked Ms. Patchett what she would have been if she had not been a writer. Ms. Patchett replied that if she could be reincarnated, she would be reincarnated as a woman with eight kids, just to see what that experience would be like. She admitted she has never cared for children.

“I have no interest in children. Not mine, not others,” she said. “Children take up all your time and don’t go away.”

Now, she said this all casually, in a lighthearted manner. She went on to explain that the things she enjoys most, listening to music, reading, and writing, could not be done with a two-year old running around. For her, the choice was obvious: books or children. Since she cared little for children, she chose books.

After she finished speaking on this topic, I turned to John.

“I am floored!” I said. “Simply floored.”

I have no problem with Ann Patchett’s disinterest in childbearing. It doesn’t offend me in the slightest. Two-year olds are noisy. And distracting. And they leave snot all over your cushions.

But I submit that most anything ANY adult enjoys doing best cannot be enjoyed with kids about. If everyone took this into great consideration before acquiring a child, we would have a lot fewer people in the world today.

My problem was her either/or attitude. Instead of saying “children or books” she could have just said, “I just never had an interest in having children.”

Yes, having children makes writing more challenging. When they are awake, I can’t read a page in a book without someone asking me for a cheese stick. (They love cheese sticks.) And no, I can’t run off to the Amazon to research my latest book. I mean, if I had a latest book, which would suggest I had an earlier book, which I don’t. I suppose I’m proving Ms. Patchett’s point here.

I was bewildered by her comments. Her dream was to become a writer. What happens if someone has two dreams, say have children AND be a writer? And what if that person is by nature, quiet? What if her personality is a lot like Ann Patchett’s?

I did a little bit of research. I looked up well-regarded (living) female writers to see how many children they had. Here’s what I found out:

Margaret Atwood-1 daughter
Anne Tyler- 2 daughters
Ann Patchett- 0 children
Anne Lamott- 1 son
Alice Munro- 3 children
Barbara Kingsolver- 2 daughters
Jhumpa Lahiri- 2 daughters
Joyce Carol Oates- 0 children
A.S. Byatt- 4 children
Toni Morrison- 2 kids

Average: 1.5 kids.

My conclusion: If AS Byatt ever comes to town, I’m totally going to hear HER speak.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Glamour. Intrigue. Fruit.

Since this is the blog you turn to for both religion and politics, I know that you have been waiting for me to go ahead and explain the new health care bill that was passed yesterday. Unfortunately, the thing is longer than War and Peace, and I got bored after page 2. (No disrespect to Tolstoy. I’m sure War and Peace is riveting.) I’ll let you know when I figure out what’s going on, which may be a while, because I heard President Obama doesn’t even know what’s going on.

Instead, I would like to tell a tale of New York State politics: one full of glamour, attempted illegal enticement, and a strange but happy ending.

My husband, as I have mentioned, is a lawyer/lobbyist, a combination of words that is considered a cuss in the blue states. As a lawyer/lobbyist (pardon my French), he has to go to a lot of political events: fundraisers, galas, balls, meetings, and a various number of other synonyms for “get-togethers.”

I may have also mentioned my recent gloomy mood. John has been traveling Mon-Wed every week, which is cool (no one to tease me about watching Dancing with the Stars later on) but mostly not cool. The “not cool” part has been especially exacerbated by our recent viewing of the movie Paranormal Activity. I remain convinced that something evil is lurking in our house. Last night, the paranormal activity turned out to be our ice-maker, but DEAR GOD WHAT ABOUT NEXT TIME????

who will protect me?

John, cognizant of my desire for him to return quickly to our beloved homestead, was detained by two “events” after work the other evening. The first event ended at 6:30. He hoped the second event, a dinner held by a local association, clients of his, would require but a quick appearance by him so that he could be home a little after 7:00.

But then the worst thing happened. People were NICE to him. He was invited to sit at the head table. The executive officer of the association spotted John, insisted he stay for dinner, and gave him a long lecture on the importance of eating vegetables. Every day. (This is the "glamour" section of the story.) John acquiesced to eating some green beans, believing he could quickly duck out afterward.

This is the sort of event where people make speeches , which is a cruel practice and should probably be outlawed. It is why I never go to these things. While John was polishing off his green beans, the keynote speaker, a NYS political official, went ahead and did something dumb. He THANKED my lawyer/lobbyist husband for the work he’d done for the association. (John said he would have felt like a boob eating green beans and running after a public display of gratitude.)

So he stayed. And he was privy to a shocking scene.

His client tried to give the NYS political official a token of appreciation for speaking at the event. And not just any token of appreciation. An $80.00 fruit basket.

I’m sure you are aware of Public Officers Law 73 5(a)

5. No statewide elected official, state officer or employee, individual whose name has been submitted by the governor to the senate for confirmation to become a state officer or employee, member of the legislature or legislative employee shall, directly or indirectly:

(a) solicit, accept or receive any gift having more than a nominal value, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, lodging, meals, refreshments, entertainment, discount, forbearance or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him, or could reasonably be expected to influence him, in the performance of his official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his part. No person shall, directly or indirectly, offer or make any such gift to a statewide elected official, or any state officer or employee, member of the legislature or legislative employee under such circumstances.

This includes fruit baskets.

You will be relieved to know that the NYS political official refused to take the gift. The client kept insisting. The Senator kept refusing, but didn't explain why. And this little dance seemed destined to continue until John stepped in.

“He really can’t accept it. He would be breaking the law if he did.” The client, seemingly astonished that it is illegal to give your keynote speaker fruit if they are serving in government, backed off immediately.

Later that evening, John went over to the same client to say goodnight, weary from another day in the sewer that is NYS politics. Then a wondrous thing happened. The client said,

“Y’know what, John? Why don’t you take this fruit basket home to your wife. I know you really wanted to get home to her this evening.”

Is that not the most heartwarming story you’ve ever read?

And it’s an awesome fruit basket, too. It has, or did have, cheese and sausage and Lindt candies and crackers and gourmet mustard and a lot of fruit. Including kiwi.

I’ve never received a fruit basket before. If this was what life was like for politicians BEFORE Public Officers Law 73 5(a), well, then. I totally understand the allure.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What is Wrong With the School System (in general)

There are so many things wrong with the public school system these days. Today, I’d like discuss a major concern of mine, that of the school district’s adamant insistence on celebrating of every single holiday known to man, big or small.

For instance, recently Caleb celebrated his 100th day of the first grade. Some of the blame for the ridiculous celebration of 100 days of school can definitely be put on children’s books (like Miss Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th Day of Kindergarten by Joseph Slate- if your last name is Bindergarten, I think you are doomed to teach kindergarten, by the way), but mostly I blame the teachers. They come up with the most outlandish celebration ideas. This is the second year that Caleb has been required to glue 100 pieces of macaroni to a piece of paper. Guess who did most of the work? Mommy. Why? Because Mommy didn’t like how Caleb was not gluing his macaroni in even, perpendicular lines, that’s why.

Today, as you probably are aware, is St. Patrick’s Day. I know a little bit about my heritage, though not a ton because my mom is adopted, but I’m guessing (based on my excessively pale skin and my daughter’s temper) that there’s a bit of Irish blood in there. Like any good Irish girl celebrating her heritage, I should have spent last night eating potatoes and watching Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People (which features a young, delectable Sean Connery) while milking a Guinness. You know what I did instead? I printed off shamrock coloring sheets and meticulously colored them in, and then posted them throughout the kitchen. I also made a primitive looking “Welcome Leprechaun” banner. Then, I searched high and low and eventually found my glitter stash so I could leave green “Leprechaun” trails in obvious places, including leading up to the leprechaun trap that Caleb had devised.

Why? Because Caleb’s teacher told them story upon story about how to go about catching leprechauns. And guess what else she said? Leprechauns WILL NOT come if you do not decorate the house appropriately. Also, they would like to eat Irish soda bread. (This is where I put my foot down. I did not make Irish soda bread.)

Caleb became obsessed. He would not shut up about leprechauns. He spent a good hour developing a “leprechaun trap” and making fake gold coins out of paper to lure the leprechaun in. After that, he didn’t have time to make the necessary decorations, so he made me promise to do it. I tried to brush the whole thing off.

He started crying.

Apparently, this whole thing is very, very important to him.

This morning, he rushed downstairs and was thrilled to find evidence that a leprechaun had visited. He was disappointed he hadn’t caught the leprechaun, and descended into the basement to see if it had hidden down there. I have no idea why that thought occurred to him, but I let him search.

Needless to say, this whole thing has been a tremendous hassle. And I blame the school district entirely.

On a somewhat related note, I just mailed in our census form. The information about the six of us took up the front side of the form. Apparently, if you have more than four children, numbers five, six, etc. just aren’t as important as the government does not require as much information to be filled out about them. In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I considered adding our friend the leprechaun to the census form, informing the government that the little rapscallion had apparently taken up residence in our basement. Then, I thought better of it. In my experience, people who count for a living don’t have terrific senses of humor.

Having recently counted 100 pieces of elbow macaroni, I completely understand why.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pray more, eat less, sleep well...

I'm not one who is prone to being overly dramatic, so you will know that I am being completely serious when I tell you that my children are ruining my life.

My life, right now, is all about sleep.

This is a sudden, strange switch. Two weeks ago, I rarely got to sleep before 2am. Now, I could sleep 12-14 hours a day, if my kids would allow me to do so. They won't, however, because they are mean.

I noticed that my sleep habits were changing last weekend. I took a rather long nap Saturday afternoon. I fell asleep promptly after my head hit the pillow later that night, and I did not want to get up the next morning. I spent Sunday afternoon snoozing and Sunday night in a dead coma.

As I type this, it is 9:30 and I am so ready to call it a day. You're probably thinking that the time change has messed me up (as it probably has you), and that is true... but I am generally a night owl who has to be forced to go to bed like a six-year old. Right now, I'm not a night owl or a day owl. (Yes, there are such things as day owls. One example is the burrowing owl, a rather small, long-legged bird found throughout North and South America.) I'm a sloth. I'm in full-fledged hibernation mode.

I discussed the sleepiness with my doctor.

Holly: I'm depressed. All I want to do is sleep.

Doctor: Explain depressed.

Holly: I feel... numb. I have no energy. I don't want to get out of bed in the morning.

Doctor: Describe no energy.

Holly: A general feeling of inertia and a lack of a will to go on.

Doctor: Well, that sounds serious.

Holly: (Sniffling) I know! I don't make these trips out here for non-serious matters. Which reminds me- I'd like to discuss the parking situation later. Yes, it's serious. I think I need more sleep.

Doctor: It sounds like you're getting a lot of sleep. Look, there are several things we can do. Obviously, the medication you are on right now is not working for you. However, it's hard for me to tell whether or not just eliminating some of the stressors in your life will be enough to get you through this slump.

Holly: I can't eliminate my stressors. I took an oath.

Doctor: Well, obviously we can't eliminate THOSE stressors. But we can look into ways of making your life easier.

The conversation went on like this for a bit. And it's true- it's hard to tell if I'm feeling yucky because of external factors: i.e., work, demanding children, lack of exercise, daylight savings time, and my recent diet of Diet Dr. Pepper and jellybeans , or if my worsening depression is making me more prone to falling into bad habits and mismanaging my stress. It's a vicious cycle.

The doctor brought up the "p" word. I am now at the highest dosage of antidepressant he can prescribe me. He wants to send me to a psychiatrist. To which I say, "You go to a psychiatrist. I'm going to Wegmans to buy more jellybeans." Because I am an irrational depressed person.

My plan for the next couple of months: get through the next couple of months. Get a regular exercise routine going. Make contact with the outside world via telephone and occasional visits with friends. Pray more, eat less, sleep well. (That would be a great self-help title for a book.) Learn to be thankful for my little stressors. And for my big ones. Get outside more.

Ultimately, I'd like to get to the point where I don't think sleep is the best thing in my life, because quite frankly, that's no way to live.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

We are Gazelles

This morning, I found two eggs perched in the middle of the window-seat in the library/dining-room/ room where Holly folds her laundry and then leaves it in piles until the mood to put it away strikes. Which occurs maybe once a week.

As soon as I saw the eggs, I was sure it was going to be a good day. The eggs, which had obviously been retrieved and transported from the refrigerator to the window-seat by twin A or twin B, were fully in tact, not a crack in them. So there was that to be grateful for. Oh- and I was hit with profound inspiration: egg salad for lunch!

This is the way life has seemed, lately- just teetering on the border of total disaster. Like the day the hot-water heater went. I was using the microwave and the stove at the same time, which is a big no-no in our house, when I blew the fuse. After muttering, John went into the basement to switch the power back on and discovered an impending flood. If the fuse had not blown, John would probably not have ventured into the basement that night, and 25 gallons of water would have seeped out of the heater and totally ruined my gift bag collection, which is about eleven years old. It is an enviable gift bag collection, I might add.

The hot-water heater died just a few days after my vacuum went kaput. I knew the vacuum was getting old. It had begun to act ornery, only cleaning one room before it would refuse to work anymore. I would let it rest a half an hour before proceeding. Vacuuming turned into an all-day event. Then one day it wouldn’t start at all. I hope my calling it a petulant bi*%* isn’t the reason why.

Unfortunately, I did not run right out and buy a new vacuum. This is because I am a gazelle. (I'll explain that in a minute.) We decided to really research vacuums and get one that would last more than three years. (Not might be a good time to let you know that if I were you, I would not buy a Hoover.)

I reminded John after the water heater was replaced that we also needed to get a new vacuum. He gave me his “intense look” and said, “Let’s take one thing at a time now.”

Does he really think going without a vacuum is a viable option? And let me tell you what, my “intense looks” rival his any day.

John and I are doing a “Total Money Makeover.” This is based on a book of the same name. We have made a rather strict budget and are committed to getting out of debt. We’re in it for the long-haul, like gazelles, and do not plan to go fast at first only to peter out later, like a cheetah. This is a metaphor. It’s from the book.

In a year, we should be able to refinance our 30-year mortgage into a 15-year mortgage and start making major payments on the loan we took out for the modest house in the Hamptons that we can’t visit as it is inhabited by zombies. By “modest house in the Hamptons” I mean school loans, and by “zombies” I mean loan officers. This is also a metaphor. I made it up myself.

We remain vacuum-less. It’s pretty awful. My broom and I have been getting better acquainted. I guess we’re looking for a great vacuum sale or something because gazelles are smart shoppers.

Speaking of smart, last night my dad asked Caleb who he thought was smarter, his mommy or his daddy. You may think that this is kind of a sick question to ask a kid, which may be true, but we wanted to know.

Caleb, without pause, said, “Oh, my dad.”

“WHAT?” I shrieked. He looked frightened.

“I’m not mad,” I promised. “I just want to know why you think that.”

“Because lots of times I ask you questions and you always say, go ask dad…”

I wanted to tell them that it wasn’t because I’m not smart, but rather, because I am inherently lazy. And since about 80% of Caleb’s questions are either hockey or baseball related, I feel John has a slight edge on the “appearing smart” scale.

Signing off now. Laundry to fold in the library/dining-room/room where Holly folds laundry…

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Day I Ate Mold (Accidentally)

Yesterday, in a moment of solitude and extreme weakness, and in spite of the fact that I had burned off 450 calories at the gym only an hour before, I took it upon myself to consume the last sizable piece of vanilla cake from the twins' birthday party. (It was a corner piece with ample frosting.)

Three bites from the very end of the cake, I happened to pause and saw that there was a bit of green fuzz clinging to the bottom of the piece I was about to put in my mouth. In fact, all three remaining bites had green and grey fuzz. It is more than likely that the entire piece of cake had been decorated similarly.

This is the point where I ran upstairs and googled “I accidentally ate mold.” If google prompts and online forums are any indication, this is a common problem that should probably be discussed in town hall meetings.

Apparently, the type of mold that grows on cake is not generally toxic, so I was temporarily reassured and proceeded with my day. (Sadly, the remainder of the chocolate cake was similarly afflicted and needed to be discarded. Ella discovered the cake in the garbage and kept peering down at it, saying, “Birthday?”)

A little after 3:00pm, Caleb’s school nurse called me at home, which is always distressing. Caleb, she said, was covered in hives. He was not having any trouble breathing or swallowing, so we decided to allow him to come home on the bus since it was the end of school anyway.

He arrived home very itchy. The hives were large, white monstrosities that covered his arms, his legs, his back, and his stomach. One of his knees was swollen to the point where I felt mildly repulsed, so after giving him a dose of Benadryl, I called the pediatrician and talked to a friendly nurse:

Holly: Caleb is covered in hives.

Nurse: Is he having trouble breathing?

Holly: No… they’re very itchy and they look gross.

Nurse: Well, it’s probably just an allergic reaction. Is there anything different going on at school? Any new pets in the classroom?

Holly: Caleb- are there any new pets in your classroom?

Caleb (with serious expression on his face): The worms are gone now.

Holly: No pets. The worms are gone now.

Nurse: Well, people aren’t generally allergic to worms.

Holly: I suppose not.

Nurse: Has he eaten anything unusual? Anything different?

Holly: No…. everything’s the same…. Oh my gosh, he ate MOLD!

Nurse: He ate mold?!?

(I will now note that I have had very little sleep of late, thanks to persistent insomnia and some bed wetting. Not me, my kids.)

Holly: No, wait. Caleb didn’t eat mold. I ate mold.

Nurse: You ate mold?!?

Holly: Well, not on purpose. I didn’t know I was eating mold.

Nurse: You didn’t know you were eating mold?

Holly: Correct. But the point is, Caleb did not eat mold.

After we cleared the whole mold issue up, the nurse told me to give Caleb Benadryl before he went to bed and to just “watch the situation.” The hives were gone twenty minutes later and there has been no recurrence so far.

As for me- I feel fine. I think mold agrees with me.