Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cats and Guns

Ok, I have to admit that I first thought How to Talk To Your Cats About Gun Safety would be more of a coffee table book, like "Why Cats Paint" or something. Though what I thought the pictures would be of I am not sure.

It turns out to be a funny little book that apparently stems out of an original zine of the same name. It's kind of grungy and cute and an amusing enough read.

This is where I have to warn you that if you are really talking to your cats about gun safety and teaching them to use firearms, it's more than a little weird....

(as usual, book provided free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


When I was about six months pregnant, I commented "I think we should have a doula."

Ever-practical Patrick was like "Why would we need a doula? I'll be there." (This is the same man who when I said "If I have a c-section would you go with the baby or stay with me?" said "What, is this one of those Cosmo quizzes?")

Eventually he agreed, though, that having an extra person around for Beatrix's birth would be a good thing. And the first time we met Vanessa, when we walked into Dunn Brothers to meet her and she was curled up with a 450-page book, we knew she was the right person for us. One of the best decisions we ever made).

Over the next several weeks, we spent a lot of time together as we tried different techniques to turn stubborn Beatrix around from breech (it worked!) and come up with a birth plan that we felt good about and Abbott would not pooh-pooh.

When we went in to one of our last pre-natal appointments, and they decided to admit me, Patrick called Vanessa who remarked casually "I'm already packed up. I figured it would be the case."

And I don't know that we would have made it through the next 30 hours without her. She helped me live through pitocin, being hooked to a monitor and unable to move much, 2 epidurals (the first one failed), and a totally stalled labor. She hit McDonald's (the only place to eat) in the middle of the night with Patrick. She talked her way into the delivery room for the c-section. She stayed with me for the hours after, while Patrick was with Beatrix to be checked for her heart murmur (guess he passed that Cosmo quiz).

For the next few months, she would come over and help me learn to nurse. She cooked, teaching Patrick an awesome curry. She carried Beatrix around in a wrap so I could get some sleep. She cleaned. Westley fell into our pond. She knew more about our early life as family of three than anyone else.

And after that, we got to be friends with Vanessa. We got to see her (far too rarely), and talk, and Facebook message. We got to share joys and sorrows with each other. Vanessa was so prevalent in both — so much joy and sometimes, so much pain. The joy made me feel better about the world. The pain made me want to fix it, somehow, but I never know how. I just knew it was wrong for someone so vibrant to be feeling it.

I'm never going to get another chance to know. Vanessa lost that battle with that pain on Sunday. The ripples of shock, and pain, and sadness throughout so many people I know are deep. I'm surprised, honestly, at how deep they are — and how many people are so deeply and strongly affected. It's nice to know that the love I felt for Vanessa was not at all unusual, and to realize how much she touched and so many.

I really wish she had known that. I really wish it could have helped.

(it's kind of a bad picture, but one from that night in labor)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Cashmere Cardigan

In the airport as we left London, I bought a soft, cozy cashmere cardigan that I have worn constantly since being home, wrapping in the memories of London.

Paris is a city you visit; London is a city you live in. While we spent a week in Paris being tourists and seeing things, we spent a week in London simply being. We shopped in all the High Street stores in St. John's Wood near our flat. Beatrix visited Hamley's Toy Store, and was in heaven. We met friends in pubs, my friend Ben took us around the new building at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Patrick's friend Matt flew down from Paisley for the day to join us.

We did to tourist-y things too. We did a bus tour, and a Thames River boat ride (so many changes in that area — and I hate to say it, but the Shard is beautiful!) We spent the morning at the Tower, where Beatrix told us about ghosts and we had a fantastic Beefeater guide. We drank tea at Kensington Palace. We went to several museums: the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the (new) Tate. We saw Matilda on the West End (in great seats!), and went on a fantastic ghost tour (Beatrix's high point of the trip).

We went to 2 Christmas markets, including spending a day in wonderful company in the Hyde Park one, which is hands-down the most American thing I've ever seen in London. We had lots of delicious fish-and-chips. We went to markets. I drank not-enough cider, and ate pounds of HobNobs and a few Lion bars (still not enough of either). We walked down Fawley Road to look at my old flat. Beatrix became a pro at the Tube. We found the Darlings' house (from Peter Pan) and had a delicious Italian dinner at Polpo in Noting Hill. We enjoyed mussels at Belgo Centraal, noodles at Wagamama, and sushi at Yo Sushi. We stumbled around with a 25 year old A to Zed and got lost only a few times.

I really came into my own in London, almost 30 years ago. It's a city I know well, and love fiercely. It's the only other place I could really consider living (if I suddenly came into a LOT of money...), and it was wonderful to ignore Thanksgiving and to share that with my beautiful family.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016

London Food

I was excited to read The London Cookbook for two reasons:

1)  It prepared me for our Thanksgiving week trip to London, and all the top restaurants I should have on my radar, and;

2)  I could cook all the delicious foods when I got back!

This is a heavy, thick book full of wonderful looking recipes and beautiful photos (plus some fun line drawings).

London's food has really developed some diversity and high standards, and (even with not going to many of the high end places), I would say we ate better in London than we actually did in Paris.

Back to the book, though. It's well developed, with chapters on light fare, soups, pastas, vegetarian, seafood, fowl, and meat. TWO chapters on desserts (chilled and regular), and cocktails — I have a feeling I will be spending a lot of time at the back of the book...

This book is written with a great deal of love and affection for London, and that's exactly what I'm in the mood for right now. It's a beautiful tribute to a much-loved city.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Colors of Bowie

2016 has been a hard year, a year that's knocked us down in so many different ways, starting with the death of David Bowie. So when I knew I might need a little therapeutic coloring, I picked up the "David Bowie Retrospective and Coloring Book."

It's a little different than other adult coloring books I have worked on. Its small, square shape fits easily into a bag. The pictures are less about detailed pattern arrangement, and more about a specific look or costume. Each page has a facing page of big bubble lettering with a fact about Bowie or incident in his life. Though the costumes are effectively done, the illustrator has a hard time with his face — Bowie ends up looking more like a character in Jem and the Holograms than Ziggy Stardust — but to be fair, his very uniqueness makes him pretty hard to represent.

(as usual, book provided free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fun Run

Ok, I love arts and culture, but sometimes I am slow to come to an appreciation of other events. Case in point — I hated the Apex Fun Run when Beatrix's school started doing it. I didn't see the point, I didn't like the kids getting all worked up to get prizes, I worry about high overhead for fundraising activities, I was not crazy about school fundraisers in general — I only saw the "run," and not the fun.

I was categorically wrong.

Over the past 3 years, I have really come to see the value and come to appreciate Apex as an organization. Each year, they provide a leadership curriculum where they spend just a few minutes in the classroom each day with the leadership goals. They kids love it and respond to "Jazzy Jeff" and the other staff that come to their classrooms. The organization puts all this together with minimal parent involvement (well, except in the case of my awesome friend Peg who has been chairing the event and really knocking herself out on it) and a focus on the kids getting the most possible from the event. Yes, we could do something with lower overhead, but it would take a LOT more volunteer commitment, and I am not convinced we have the capacity. In our case, Beatrix likes asking for pledges but does not get too obsessed about the big prizes. There is a lot of community built.

And to be quite blunt about finances, Randolph Heights had over $100,000 cut from it's budget this year. The PTA budget is about $80,000 this year, allowing for small classroom grants to teachers, health and safety supplies, field trips for all grades, new books for the library and classroom materials, and to make up for the music programming that was cut. We need events like the Fun Run, much as I might wish we did not.

Today was the run itself, and it was a blast. The weather was beautiful, and there were two courses (one for each grade) set up at nearby Edgcumbe Rec, where the kids ran 36+ laps for about half an hour. It was great physical exercise, it was community building, it was a source of pride, and it was really fun for each kid. I saw kids trip and have their friends help each other up. I saw girls run holding hands. I saw my friend's son, new to the school, super-excited because he had raised enough pledges to put a pie in the face of "Jazzy Jeff." I saw one boy who ran 74 laps — double the 36 they were shooting for. I saw excitement and joy and fun.

So yes, I may have started off cynically. But now I can't support this enough. So I guess I have gained some leadership skills too.