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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

 

Liveblogging for Team Apheresis

[Update: I survived the apheresis procedure. Who knew that free Interweb access and an opportunity to blog would be another perk? Cool. The drawbacks were that my arm started getting a little sore after having a needle in it for over an hour. Also, typing with one hand became annoying. But these are minor issues. I am glad that I joined TEAM APHERESIS and yes, I do feel like a better person for having done it. Unlike whole blood donation, apheresis can be performed every two weeks although I'll probably shoot for doing it once a month because of the time commitment. If you qualify to be a blood donor, consider it, please.]

What if somebody offered you an opportunity to hang out in a recliner for two hours, relax, and watch a movie? Would you do it?

But there's a catch. While you're kicking back watching Jennifer Garner in Thirteen Going on Thirty, you also are having your blood drawn from your arm in a process known as apheresis.

The process of apheresis involves removal of whole blood from a patient or donor. Within an instrument that is essentially designed as a centrifuge, the components of whole blood are separated. One of the separated portions is then withdrawn and the remaining components are retransfused into the patient or donor.

I have a long and self-centered history of donating blood. It started in college when the lure of free food brought me and my dorm mate to the college blood drive. She fainted halfway through the donation process, but I filled that bag no problem and was rewarded with all the orange juice and cookies I could manage. Free food is the best way to attract starving students.

Free food is always good, but I now am attracted to the lure of childfree moments and that is what the kind folks at my local blood center told me about when they called to ask me to join TEAM APHERESIS. Really, how could I resist?

And that's how I ended up here, liveblogging for Team Apheresis.

Here's a link to more information about apheresis. If you've got the time, don't mind needles, and want to do more to help cancer patients, check out the procedure at your local blood bank. I did it for the free candy bar, two hours sans kids, and bad movies starring Mrs. Ben Affleck, but you can do it because you're an awesome person.

I wish I had brought my camera.

***
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Monday, February 27, 2006

 

Self Portrait Tuesday: Faces of Mary

It's Self Portrait Tuesday and the theme/challenge is All of me. Embrace your mistakes. Love the ugly bits.

I was inspired to do a Faces of Mary collage by the great one that Christina over at my typography did of herself.

Like so many people, I have my standard camera-ready smile and I rarely post--or like--photos that show any other face. People remark that I look the same in every photo. Friends who are photographers hate how I "Smile for the camera!" What can I say? I was taught the "Say Cheese!" method from an early age. Weren't we all? In fact, I'm attempting to teach my own kids the "Say Cheese!" method right now, but they seem to be much more enlightened than I am and are not falling prey to this well-worn custom of the matriarchy.

***
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Sunday, February 26, 2006

 

Wretchedly funny: A review of 4 Adverbs by Daniel Handler

"I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs."
-Stephen King, On Writing

"Love is hell."
-Ryan Adams

"Why do supposedly sensible people fall in love with the ones who are so clearly going to make them miserable, and why, when these people try to answer this question, do they invariably use the phrase my mother?"
-Daniel Handler

I am not thirteen. I have never read a Lemony Snicket novel. I imagine that if I were thirteen, I would be spending all night devouring Lemony Snicket novels and spending all day discussing Lemony Snicket and his novels at fan club meetings and parties. But I am not thirteen.

I am thirty seven and as a thirty-seven-year-old, I often wonder--esoterically speaking--just what is the magic behind this Lemony Snicket character? Last night I found out. The magic is Daniel Handler.

Daniel Handler, known as the "legal, literary, and social representative of Lemony Snicket" also writes books geared for adults. Adults who no longer should be considering that four letter word "love" and its consequences. Adults that spend their nights reading novels and their days blogging about them. Adults who would be jumping up and down right now if only their knees would let them.

Love. Misery. Humor. Loss. The connections between these ideas are explored by Daniel Handler in his upcoming novel Adverbs. Word for Word Performing Arts Company in conjunction with The Z Space Studio has put together a wonderful performance featuring excerpts from this work titled 4 Adverbs. The four pieces: "Arguably," "Particularly," "Naturally," and "Wrongly" explore misery, humor, money, and the reasons why love is hell. Honestly, I enjoyed the performance immensely.

In Arguably, the audience is introduced to Helena, a British transplant in New York, whose first novel Glee Club has not "caught fire," according to her editor at St. Martins Press. We see her alternating between drowning her sorrows in a bottle of cheap red wine and pitching her editor her new book idea that she has written on two index cards when her husband David urges her to get practical and take a job in San Francisco. Really, where is the love?

Particulary, the second excerpt, gives us the life of the couple after they move to San Francisco. Helena now is working at the school where David's ex-girlfriend Andrea works. Andrea is the one who got Helena the job and--according to David--her intent is purely one of kindness. But watching Andrea, a skinny, terse, unhappy woman, be so unkind to Helena, we have to wonder. And it is because Andrea is so unlikable that we are only slightly surprised when Helena snoops in her purse and takes the wad of cash she finds inside. In both Arguably and Particularly, the themes of money and the role of money in relationships is explored in funny and stark yet humorous ways. We understand and agree that love and death are natural, but in the meantime we have the problem of money to solve.

Naturally, the third excerpt, takes us away from the stale tale of Helena, her word weary husband, and his snit of an ex and into the land of the dead. There we meet Hank Hayride, who is newly dead and having an awkward first couple of moments "on the job." Things start looking up when he runs into Eddie. She's an old high school crush and they pick up where they actually never left off, since she has no memory of him from high school. The relationship starts out tentative but quickly swells then peaks before crashing and burning before our eyes in a breakup that could only take place at such an impersonal place as the corner greasy spoon. At the end we are left wondering if Hank really was dead or if he only was dead to Eddie because she had no interest in giving him life. The story line brings the exploration of love and money to the crossroads of loss and breakup. Whether they are dead or just dead to us, old flames can haunt for eternity.

Wrongly, the fourth excerpt, explores the world of two individuals who may never have had a relationship or whose relationship was present only in memory. This excerpt brings us the lives of two people are in graduate school and who meet at a library orientation. Steven is a disgruntled male going nowhere but doing so with a cigarette and an attitude. Allison is a woman with an untold story weighing on her conscience and she needs somebody to tell her how to get where she is going. For a brief journey through time, Allison thinks that Steven might be going to the same place she is: South San Francisco. For a brief and believable few moments, we witness her making poor relationship decisions but then we heave a collective sigh of relief as things change. In the end we see the opening of a door and we understand how destiny has taken Allison her separate way. Love might be somewhere for Steven and for Allison as individuals, but it is not here for them as a couple.

Word for word takes literary works and replays them--well--word for word. They include the "he said" and the "she said" and all narration present in the original text. It was difficult to comprehend at first, but I quickly realized that it is a truly inspired way to experience the written word. Because Handler's book is yet to be released, seeing the words acted out on stage now was a true treat for a bibliophile like myself. In the future, I would love to compare how I read the book to how the directors (Sheila Balter and Mei Ann Teo) of Word for Word read--and then presented--the book. Would there be a difference?

The entire cast of 4 Adverbs did a commendable job. The stage direction, choreography, blocking, and acting by the Word for Word company was amazing. They are professionals who take their work seriously. I was impressed and I urge those of you who live in the Bay Area to check out this company and this performance. Handler's words are dry, dark, and witty. His exploration of the themes of love, money, and happiness under the umbrella of first the New York publishing and then the San Francisco grad school scene are a joy to experience in a theatrical performance as intimate and warm as this one. And I say that knowingly.

***
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Fear not the other

Jeffrey M. Anderson does a special column every week for the weekend edition of the San Francisco Examiner/Independent. I love his column, which is titled "Why I Write." Each week he interviews another writer and asks them the question, "Why do you write?"

This is how writer Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi : A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America answered the question:

"On a personal level, I write because I find it immensely rewarding. A well-crafted sentence makes me beam every time. But I also write because there has always been a part of me that wants to make the world a kinder place. By sharing our first-person stories, we shed the light on our shared humanity and we take away the fear of the "other." I am acutely aware of being the "other" right now.

What an answer. I hope I can think of something as powerful and poignant when I am interviewed by Jeffrey M. Anderson.

What would you say? How would you answer the question, "Why do you write?"

***
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Saturday, February 25, 2006

 

Hopefully

I'm attending a performance tonight by San Francisco performance group Word for Word at Project Artaud Theatre. They will be reading four stories from Daniel Handler's (AKA Lemony Snicket) soon to be released novel Adverbs. The four stories are set in San Francisco and are called "Arguably," "Particularly," "Naturally," and "Wrongly."

Hopefully I will like the show. Unfortunately you will have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

***
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Friday, February 24, 2006

 

Taking the shun out of abortion

I am pro-choice.

Thanks to Badgerbag's post yesterday, I took my suburban head out of my suburban sand pit long enough to realize that I need to dredge up unpleasant memories from my past and make them part of what I believe in the present. I am angry and this is what I am angry about:

"South Dakota lawmakers approved a ban on nearly all abortions Friday, setting up a deliberate frontal assault on Roe v. Wade at a time when some activists see the U.S. Supreme Court as more willing than ever to overturn the 33-year-old decision."

If I told you that I had ten abortions would you be shocked? Probably. If I told you that I have never had an abortion would you be surprised? Probably. The reason why is because many women--women that you know--have had some number between zero and ten abortions. If I told you that I've had one abortion, you most likely would not be shocked. You might, however, be surprised that I told you. And that's a problem.

In our society, we don't talk about our abortions. We do take advantage of the fact that they are available to us. We scurry into clinics on Saturday mornings scared, sad, and pregnant, and come out on Saturday afternoons relieved, sad, and no longer pregnant. But the rule of Fight Club most certainly applies to health centers and doctor's offices across the nation: What happens at the abortion clinic, stays at the abortion clinic.

And that's okay. I certainly am not going to break that code of silence in this public arena. But what I don't want to forget about my past is how supremely happy I was that I lived in a country that allowed me the opportunity to right my wrong when I decided that I did not want to bring an unwanted child into this world. My past: a time in my life when I wasn't able to care for a kitten let alone another human being. My past: a time in my life when I barely was able to care for myself. And I want other women--young, old, black, white, rich, poor--to have the choice to experience that same sense of relief that I felt once upon a time in my past, when I left that clinic on that sunny Saturday afternoon.

I don't care what circumstances brings a woman into an abortion clinic. I don't care if she was raped, or if she threw caution and condoms to the wind during a night of wild abandon, or if she is using abortion as a means of birth control. I do care that she have access to a safe and decent, well-lit clinic filled with kind, caring, non-judgemental people and a copy or two of Our Bodies Ourselves.

I am pro-choice.

***
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

 

Giving up, getting high, and googling you

Full-time blogger Jason Kottke throws in the towel!

Heather Armstrong admits to inhaling!

And Mary Tsao met yet another grueling deadline for production of her Mothers Club's monthly newsletter. The newsletter is at the printer and the wine is chilling in the fridge -- woo hoo!

What exciting thing are you blogging about today? Leave me a link and let me know.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

 

Book Review: Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined

Andrea Buchanan, managing editor of literarymama.com and author of Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It and editor of It's a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons, and Amy Hudock, editor in chief of literarymama.com and coeditor of American Women Prose Writers 1820 - 1870, have compiled a powerful collection of essays, poems, and short stories written by mothers in Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined (Seal Press, 2006).

Literary Mama features writing that first appeared in the online literary magazine literarymama.com. Judging the book by its title, one might think that Literary Mama contains works solely by mothers about mothering, but the anthology also presents writing that deals with other issues affecting women in their roles as nurturers, whether they are nurturing themselves, their children, or their elderly parents. The book's introduction is helpful in understanding the intent of the book as well as the larger implications of the role of the Internet on the works of women writers (including women bloggers) and the role of women writers in the preserving of women's histories.

The book is comprised of seven sections. The first section is titled "Creative Acts," and features writers whose work puts forth the idea that "creativity is creativity, whether it comes from the physical body or the mind." The second section is titled "Mothers Raising Women, Defining Mothering." The third section is titled "Mothers Raising Men, Exploring Mothering." The fourth section is titled "Sex, Fertility, and the Body," and presents works by writers "challeng[ing] the duality between the virgin and the sex goddess, the angel and the whore." The fifth section is titled "Mothers, Fathers, Parents" and gives us writers who are exploring the role of their childhood in their parenting. The sixth section is titled "Surviving Illness and Loss." The seventh section is titled "Healing the Past to live in the Present" and presents "stories [that] celebrate the heroic internal work that must be done to overcome the past and fully embrace the present."

I couldn’t wait to feast my eyes on this book because reading the words of other mothers is a necessary part of my daily existence. If you are familiar with the writing on literarymama.com, you will recognize many of the pieces in the Literary Mama anthology. I was delighted to see that Barbara Crooker's poem "The Blue Snake Lies Curled in My Bowl Like Oatmeal" and Rebecca Kaminsky's essay "Down Will Come Baby" made it into the book. Both of these pieces spoke to me when I first read them. Crooker's poem explores the creative process involved with raising a child and how the letting go of your work—the work that is your writing and the work that is your child—is inevitable yet painful; Kaminsky's essay is the result of a literal letting go. In it, she dissects her emotions and postpartum depression after she accidentally drops her newborn baby boy. While reading each piece of work, I felt a strong sense of recognition as well as confirmation that the work of a mother is a selfless and a creative act, yet one that often is wrought with worry, with guilt, and sometimes with regret.

The mother as well as the daughter in me was deeply drawn to the section titled "Mothers, Fathers, Parents." So much of whom I am as a mother is based on my experiences of being a daughter. What fascinates me is the circle of nurturing present in the lives of most women. My childhood experiences affect my parenting experiences, which in turn will affect my experiences of being a daughter who nurtures a parent. Even though I am not yet in the position of providing care for an elder, I assume one day I will be, and I feel a keen sense of understanding when I read Sybil Lockhart’s work "Gray." She writes:

"As mother to five-year-old Zoe and one-year-old Cleo, I am so used to being able to fix things, to nourish. I kiss the boo-boos. I serve the food. I gave them my breast when they cried in the night. And I see them heal, grow, learn, flourish. But no matter how much I give to Ma, she only becomes smaller. My children rise up into the light, gathering knowledge, insight, and wisdom. As they play and think and create, becoming clearer and brighter, I can almost see the myriad intricate synaptic connections being sculpted, refined. Simultaneously, Ma’s wiring runs amok; sticky protein oozes into her synapses, and the fibers that structure her neurons begin to crimp and tangle. Ever so slowly she loses comprehension of the world, and as she does, she loses pieces of the person she once was to me. That is how it works, that is how she incites my empathy and my rage in equal parts. I should be able to fix it. I can't."

I have been a reader of literarymama.com since it’s inception in 2003. I find it a happy coincidence that the site launched just weeks before I quit my job to stay home with my then six-month-old daughter. In those early weeks at home alone with a small child, I hungered for words to describe my feelings. I first devoured anything I could find in print or online, including literarymama.com. My hunger to read words quickly turned into a desire to write words and I now consider myself a literary mama. I am a mother and I am a writer, and—because of sites like literarymama.com and anthologies such as Literary Mama—I know that I am not alone.

Literary Mama touched me as a mother, as a daughter, as a reader of literature, and as a writer. The book provides a strong message of hope—from the powerful act of mothers writing, to the power of the words themselves, to the powerful tenacity of the two women who brought the book into fruition for us to enjoy. Thank you to Andrea Buchanan and Amy Hudock in their role as midwives to literary mamas, present and future.

I will leave you with the words of Buchanan, whose essay "The Plant" is the last in the book, its position appropriate and its message powerful for mothers and mother-writers:

"But standing there, watching her dance with excitement as she rushes to the windowsill to check on her plant, seeing her carefully hold it under a stream of water, making sure to saturate the clumps of soil surrounding her sprouts, I feel something. And this time, when I invite that feeling in to consider its purpose, it doesn’t frighten me with its intensity. Instead, I find myself feeling cautiously optimistic, with a strange and surprising confidence that it’s safe to trust whatever might happen next.

It feels a little bit like hope."

***
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

 

San Francisco podcast alert: Sparkletack

Do you like San Francisco and San Francisco history? If so, check out my friend Richard Miller's weekly podcasts about San Francisco. He and his podcasting site Sparkletack have been getting a lot of press. Chris Smith over at San Francisco magazine gave Sparkletack an A- and writes:

"Discussing the iconic (Golden Gate Bridge as suicide magnet) as well as the obscure (Black Bart, prospector turned bandit and bad poet), the posts are infused with Miller's quirky personal musings.

Miller's irreverence and good humor give even dry subjects an appealing intimacy."

I find the fact that my friend has a fairly well known podcasting site particularly interesting because until today he didn't know that I was a mommyblogging diva and I didn't know that he was a San Francisco podcasting master. The situation begs the question, "What would happen if you came out to your friends as a blogger...?" You just might be surprised (as I was) at what you find out.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

 

What is WoolfCamp?

Renee asked: What is WoolfCamp? Good question. With a nod to Bill Humphries and his Three Thoughts on WoolfCamp, I give you my answer in the form of a three part Q & A.

What is WoolfCamp?
WoolfCamp is a gathering of like-minded individuals; a weekend think tank filled with side notes of wine, women, and song; an opportunity to mingle with others who think blogging is (pick one or all): interesting; art for the masses; powerful; a hot topic of discussion; a revolutionary web-based social networking tool; a tool of the patriarchy that needs to be reclaimed, that thing that changed their lives, pretty in pink.

WoolfCamp came together as the brain child of two blogging divas, Grace Davis and Liz Henry, both of whom I certainly would be stalking with silly little love emails if I wasn't happily married. Grace describes WoolfCamp as a "do-it-yourself literary/writing/blogging retreat" based "on the barcamp and brainjam innovative models of conferencing- cooperative, participatory, zero bureaucracy, zero power tripping, total immersion, big fun."

Check out the WoolfCamp Wiki: http://www.socialtext.net/woolfcamp/index.cgi

Read more bits on the WoolfCamp blog: http://woolfcamp2006.blogspot.com/

Why should you care?
Oh, that's an easy one and can best be answered by the study of symmetry, broken-symmetry and the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics.

Done studying?

WoolfCamp is all that, but better. Why I think others might care about a group of Bay Area bloggers who gathered in Santa Cruz under the eucalyptus trees is the concept of energy. Here's the ball, now run! If Flat Stanley can travel the world, WoolfCamp can, too.

Why does Mary Tsao care?
Sometimes after a long day of bellying up to the juice bar and being an on-demand short order cook, I would give anything (especially my kids) for a long uninterrupted conversation about how writing is as important to me as air and water and how blogging saves my sanity. Unfortunately, my kids could give a hoot about all of that, my playground mommy friends don't blog, and my husband prefers to relax by playing online poker rather than by listening to me rant. To me, WoolfCamp was like a loofah to my brain. I feel pink, shiny, and new today, and it's a good feeling.

Also, I am growing increasingly interested in this new social medium of blogging as well as ideas of blogging as literary genre, blogging as a way to record women's histories, blogging as a tool of the matriarchy, blogging as a tool for social change and grass-roots politics, oh, and blogging as a way to pay for Emily's preschool.

***
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Sunday, February 19, 2006

 

Home from WoolfCamp

WoolfCamp 2006
Photo by Chris Heuer


I left the lovely home of Miss Grace D. and the lovely company of many strong-minded female bloggers (and a couple of bravehearted male bloggers, too) and arrived home at 5:00. Mr. T was sitting in his highchair and smiling the world's biggest smile, Emily was sitting at the table looking ten years older than she did when I left yesterday, and the world's best husband was playing online poker. My life!

Since then I've been cleaning up, changing diapers, folding laundry, giving baths, kissing soft cheeks, and hugging little bodies. The best thing that happened tonight is when Emily tenderly touched my face and pointed out my features ("mama's eyes, mama's nose, mama's cheeks..."), then said, "Mama, I missed you sooo much!" That was cool.

I'll be back tomorrow with details, details, details. For now, check out the photos by Liz, photos by Elke, photos by Chris, photos by Kristie, and photos by Squid.

***
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Saturday, February 18, 2006

 

Live from WoolfCamp 2006

I dashed around this morning making my curry chicken salad and my sour cream and onion soup dip mix with spinach and gathering my things: laptop, power squid, Santa Cruz-appropriate clothing (I don't know what this means), etc., etc., ETC.

I finally got out of the house and hit Highway 17 enroute to... WolfCamp 2006!

And now I'm here. And it's warm and welcoming and feels good. Here I am:


And here is our wonderful un-hostess Grace Davis:



More later...

Friday, February 17, 2006

 

All Fred up

I have XM radio in my car and lately I've been listening to a lot of Fred. Fred is the modern day equivalent to an oldies station. Here is how the folks over at XM Satellite Radio describe Fred:

Fred is where you'll find the music long ago banished from regular radio.

They also refer to Fred as the station with the "massive library of forgotten music."

To give you an idea of which artists belong in the "massive library of forgotten music," on a typical drive across town I might hear Erasure, New Order, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, The The, XTC, Joy Division, and Ministry.

In fact, just today the kids and I were rocking out to Ministry's "Everyday Is Halloween". That song and Al Jourgensen kick some serious goth rock ass. It's got a strong beat; dark thought-provoking lyrics: Why can’t I live a life for me? Why should I take the abuse that’s served? Why can’t they see they’re just like me? I’m not the one that’s* so absurd...; and last but not least, it has scratching along with howling. It's quite a treat and I like it a lot. I like it so much I crank it up when it comes on. I don't believe in filling my kids' heads with whatever happy kid-friendly garbage music the other kids are listening to. Oh no. My kids listen to Ministry and they LIKE IT!

Listening to these bands and songs are bringing back my own library of forgotten memories. Memories of other times in my life when I hung out with other people and did other things. But I'll save those thoughts for when I write my Diane di Prima-esque autobiography.

I'm glad that I now have new memories to go along with these old tunes. Next time I hear "Everyday Is Halloween", I'm going to think about dancing in the car with Emily and Thomas and how Emily kept laughing and saying, "Dance, Mama! Dance, Thomas!" and how Thomas looked when he wiggled in his car seat in time with the music and how both of them thought that the sight of me bouncing and doing my patented industrial goth moves while driving down Highway 92 was pretty damn funny.

Thank you, Fred.

*We can forgive Al for using "that's" instead of "whose" in this sentence, can't we?

***
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Thursday, February 16, 2006

 

Stunner #1 superstar

It was Spring semester, 1988. I was a sophomore at Chico State. I was going to be a sophomore the Fall semester, too. School was going that well. I did okay in the classes I liked, did poorly in the ones I didn't like, and drank my weight in beer Thursday through Tuesday nights.

For some reason I thought spending the summer in Berkeley taking a class on existential literature would be a good thing.

I moved into a student housing co-op in Berkeley, signed up for my class, got a job in San Francisco doing phone canvassing for an environmental PAC (the California League of Conservation Voters), and dyed my hair pink.


Little kids loved my hair. (Straight laced, conservative guys did, too, but that's another story.) The kids (and sometimes the guys) would come up to me on the Muni and want to touch it. I completely understood; my hair looked and felt like cotton candy. When I washed it--which wasn't very often--the entire tub would turn pink. My roommates didn't like that.

By the end of the summer my hair was so fried I had to cut most of it off. I had dropped out of my class on existential literature shortly after learning I had to read The Brothers Karamazov, although I often carried the book around with me to look, um, existential. I quit my job and went back to school at Chico State, where I lasted one more horrible semester before dropping out to move to San Francisco.

1988. Almost 20 years ago. I learned a lot about myself that summer; it was a pivotal time in my life. That was the last time I dyed my hair pink although I contemplated it when I quit my job/career/working life to stay home with my kids. I decided against it. Cleaning a pink bathtub just isn't what I want to be doing at this point in my life.

***
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

 

Juice box and the damage done

Today was a bad day. I made the mistake of thinking the kids and I would spend a relaxing, quiet day at home. This is what I wanted, but not what they wanted. They were irritable and bored from the moment they woke up, long before they came to understand that the door was never going to open to release them from this hell called home.

It was that bad.

Plus, we ran out of apple juice, which my son is addicted to like a junky to the junk. It's not a pretty sight when we've run out and mama hasn't gone down to the corner for more. Not a pretty sight at all. And the screaming! Mike said Thomas screams like a girl, which my feminist side would have taken great offense at if she hadn't ditched this place the minute those two pink lines appeared.

ANYWAY. The kids are in bed now and sleeping like the angels they are not. I've eaten dinner, done my exercises (25 minutes on the elliptical, 25 push ups, 150 crunches, 200 butt crunches, 1000 kegels), read my bloglines, and now I'm relaxing with a cup of hot cocoa. Things are looking up.

Yesterday I wasn't as foolish as I was today. I got those kids dressed and out of the house before they had time to finish watching Sesame Street. Then we drove into The City to check out the temporary digs of the Steinhart Aquarium.

The Steinhart Aquarium is part of the larger California Academy of Sciences. Their permanent home is in Golden Gate Park. While their building is being completely renovated, the Steinhart has moved to Howard Street, south of Market and close to the Sony Metreon and Moscone Center. And right next door to Buca di Beppo! A bonus for those of you who live to eat your weight in spaghetti!

We were lucky that there was only one school class sharing the Steinhart with us yesterday morning. And since they were unruly and undisciplined children, they were doing more running around and banging on glass than my own unruly kids were. Cool. They were making my kids look good!

After the kids ran around the main floor for 45 minutes, I realized that the second floor had an area called the Nature Nest, which is for kids five and under. When we got up there the Nest was empty except for my two little squawkers and me. I sat down on a vinyl and germ covered pillow and contemplated getting some shut eye while Thomas and Emily went about the business of putting everything in their mouth just to see if they could.

I had no sooner closed my eyes when Emily's cry of, "Poo!" filled my ears. She's no closer to being potty trained, but she's certainly getting picky about how she likes her diaper. She prefers clean and dry to warm and smushy; I hope that means we're making progress.

I'm glad nobody was in line behind us to use the family bathroom since Emily's poo triggered one of Thomas's. I hate changing one child's diaper while simultaneously craning my head and screaming at the other one, "Don't touch anything!" When we finally left the bathroom I was exhausted and definitely ready for a nap.

Unfortunately, the Nature's Nest had become overrun with elementary school kids in our absence. I knew they were too old for the space but it was obvious their teacher needed a nap more than I did. The kids were wild and I could see Emily and Thomas watching and learning. Both of them stood slack-jawed, staring at the older kids jumping from the tops of the play structures and throwing wooden puzzle pieces. Today Emily started saying, "Shut up!" Coincidence? I think not.

Eventually it was time to leave to go meet Auntie Jennie for lunch at the Thirsty Bear. Thomas was in the stroller and Emily was walking except that halfway to the restaurant she decided that walking was no longer her thing. I therefore had to carry her her while pushing Thomas in the stroller. Is it any wonder my back is killing me today?

Wait, I said yesterday was the good day, right? Oh ya, there was fried calamari for lunch and two big chocolate hearts from Auntie Jennie. Then Mike brought home dinner (steaks and mashed potatoes and more fried things!) and gave me a blue topaz and sterling silver bracelet for Valentine's Day.

Today got a lot better after I started remembering yesterday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

 

Way Back Wednesday: Fools in Love

The scanner is hooked up! I've got lots of frightening pictures in store for you, my pretty little Internet friends... *evil laughter* (Remembers frightening picture are all of self.) *sobbing*

But today I'm playing the Way Back Wednesday game. I've been meaning to do this for weeks. (Renee always remembers!) The Kept Woman has requested pictures of "the cheesiest boyfriend/girlfriend picture of the past... I'm hoping for some good 80s mullets and barely-there high school mustaches..."

Okay. How's this?



1986. High school graduation. I was not wearing shoes. I was wearing waterproof blue eye shadow. His nickname was tripper Dave.

His nickname just about sums it up, doesn't it?

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Happy Valentine's Day

May your day be filled with hugs, kisses, and manageable diapers!

Monday, February 13, 2006

 

Chatting with Suzanne Hansen

After I wrote and posted my review of Suzanne Hansen's book You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny, I realized that I had unanswered questions. Instead of making up the answers in my head and being satisfied with that, I decided to take my questions straight to the top and interview Ms. Hansen. Suzanne (yes, we are on a first name basis now; we're truly BFF) was nice enough to spend time she otherwise would have spent staying current on world events to provide me with some answers.

So without further ado, I bring you Q & A with author Suzanne Hansen!

Mary: Suzanne, you decided after high school to put college on hold and head out to Los Angeles to be a nanny. Have you ever regretted that decision?

Suzanne: I am glad I didn’t begin college straight out of high school because I was pretty unclear where my "career path" was headed. Taking the time to work as a nanny in Hollywood helped clarify for me that I wanted to go into nursing. I loved helping families welcome new babies into their life.

Mary: You were just a baby yourself (19!) when you were thrown to the lions, so to speak. What advice do you have for other young girls who are--or wish to be--in nanny positions such as the ones you were in?

Suzanne:
1. Be clear what your job description is.
2. Get a contract. Get a contract. Get a contract.

Mary: Good advice. Writers could benefit from it, too. I thought your book was well written and honest without being unbelievable. Why did you decide to tell your story?

Suzanne: After I became a mom I struggled with my lame attempt to be a perfect mom. Well, I wasn’t actually aspiring to be perfect, just extremely adequate. (I have long held the belief that the only "perfect women" are the ones described on Dateline. This is always after some unfortunate tragedy, involving the prime suspect being a family member that has been an upstanding member of the church choir. Therefore, I have never really aspired to have a picture perfect life, because I did not want to end up on Unsolved Mysteries.)

But, I did still try really hard to get motherhood "right". So, when I saw celebrity moms sharing about how they were just like the rest of us, I felt even worse about not measuring up. I thought other mothers might feel the same.

Sharing my story was my attempt to let other mothers know that the reason the rich and famous appear so put together during interviews is that they have an army of support personnel.

Mary: Well put. Writing a book is an amazing accomplishment. How long did it take you?

Suzanne: This has been a 4 year process that began with a not so great idea, to self publish.

Mary: Why did you initially decide to self publish?

Suzanne: I made the mistake of taking the advice of a published author. Looking back, my first clue [that it was a bad idea] should have been that he had not self published his own book. I have vowed not to take any further advice from well-meaning people about something they have not ever actually done.

Mary: Thanks for the advice. We can believe you because you actually did do it! After you self published, what steps did you take to get your book noticed by the major publishing houses?

Suzanne: I used a service that queries out to agents.

Mary: Congratulations on your deal with Crown! Did you have to make many changes to your book as a result of that partnership?

Suzanne: I had a wonderful editor at Crown. She and I worked together to hopefully make the book even better. The biggest change was probably that I added more experiences from other nannies.

Mary: I know you are a mom as well as a writer. Do you have any advice for other moms who aspire to be writers?

Suzanne: Oh my, that is a whole book in itself. The first thing I would like to debunk is the notion that "working from home" is a viable option for a mother with very young children. Whoever (or is it whomever, I wish spell check had more answers for me) set up the plan to work, finish a complete task, or even a sentence on the phone, while meeting the needs of a baby, has probably never actually had any children.

My advice would be to speak to as many published authors as possible about the time commitment involved. Also, the writing of the book is just the beginning; there also is the laborious task of editing. In my case, my editor, bless her heart, went through line by line by line by line, and it felt like about 3000 changes, including everything from adding more description, to a 15 minute conversation about where the comma or semi colon should go, to whether we should use the word beige or cream to describe a coffee pot. Then you have the publicity machine you need to fire up in order to sell the books. Not to be discouraging, but it is a wonderful, exhausting, thrilling, and frustrating process, just like motherhood.

Mary: Thank you for being the champion of regular mothers everywhere as well as an inspiration to moms who are crazy enough to want to be writers, which is an aspiration--much like motherhood--that has a kind of biological clock, a mind all its own. What's next for author Suzanne Hansen?

Suzanne:
I would love to do a column for moms on the challenges of finding the time to:

Take care of ourselves
Have romantic outings with our husband
Work out regularly
Eat nutritiously
Read to our children
Stay current on world events
Wear clothing that we love and feel good in
Volunteer at the kid’s school
Have an evening out with girlfriends
Take a Yoga class
Keep the house semi-clean
Etc. etc.

I have always gotten a kick out of headlines in the women’s magazines that recommend the items I mentioned above. Instead of making me feel better, it has often made me feel worse, because I am only accomplishing half of them, or in the case of today about one fourth.

Mary: Suzanne, everybody who reads this interview will know exactly what you're talking about. And since a fair number of my readers are moms who write, is there anything else you would like to tell them about your book or your career as a writer?

Suzanne: Just that I need my own "in house" editor. I want to get this off to you, but I want to make changes. It would be nice if it was grammatically correct, informative, and well, perfect. (There I go again, maybe I will end up on Dateline after all.) But my kids will be off the bus in 15 minutes and if I don’t send it off now, it could be three weeks before I get it done. So here it is, I know your mom readers will understand.

Mary: We certainly do understand. In fact, sometimes that's all we understand. Suzanne, thank you for spending the time to let us get to know you better.

***
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Sunday, February 12, 2006

 

Film Review: Nanny McPhee

Nanny McPhee (2005)

Production Company: Universal Pictures (and others)
Producer: Tim Bevan
Cast: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Angela Lansbury
Writers: Christianna Brand (Nurse Matilda books), Emma Thompson (screenplay)
Director: Kirk Jones
MPAA Rating: PG
Mom Rating: 5 out of 5
Kid Rating: 5 out of 5


Why would an otherwise sane mother take her two toddlers to a matinee showing of Nanny McPhee? To see Emma Thompson, of course! Because there are no animated movies out right now and because I just adore Emma Thompson, I picked PG-rated Nanny McPhee to help me and my kids pass ninety-seven wonderful minutes on a recent rainy afternoon.

Nanny McPhee is a colorful movie about a young widower Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) and his seven ill-mannered children. The movie opens with the scene of a frazzled nanny running screaming from a large country estate. When she reaches the mortuary where Mr. Brown works, she stops screaming long enough to quit her job and to gasp, "They've eaten the baby!"

"They" are Mr. Brown's six older children, who are on a mission to make sure that any nanny that comes in the house leaves just as quickly. They've already gone through sixteen nannies and this one is the seventeenth. Of course, they haven't eaten the baby, but Mr. Brown is unable to obtain another nanny from the agency in town. The owners of the agency lock their doors at his approach and declare themselves out of nannies. As a dejected Mr. Brown is leaving the nanny agency he hears a suggestion being whispered through the mail slot: "The person you need is Nanny McPhee." The voice is mysterious and Mr. Brown is unable to find out more, such as how to get in contact with this must-have nanny.

During an amazing scene in the kitchen where the children have tied up the cook and are using clever methods to destroy everything in sight, none other than mysterious and magical Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) knocks on the door, and thus begins the relationship between the world's ugliest nanny and the world's worst behaved children. I have to admit that I was unprepared for the sight of Nanny McPhee when Mr. Brown opened his door to her. She is hideously ugly, a snaggle-toothed creature with several large warts on her face. But that's just the kind of character young children are most attracted to, a fact that was confirmed by the giggles that erupted from the mostly school-aged audience.

We don't doubt that Mr. Brown's children need discipline; the kitchen scene proves as much. The question then becomes, can Nanny McPhee bring order to the chaos and make these children behave? As Nanny McPhee explains to the children, "When you need me, but do not want me, then I will stay. When you want me, but do not need me, then I have to go."

During the course of the movie, the children must learn how to behave more like adults when they realize that it's up to them to help their father find a new bride. If they don't, Great Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) will cut off his monthly allowance. Angela Lansbury makes a great tight-laced aunt and she also has the best line in the movie: "If there's one thing I won't stand for, it's loose vowels!" Maybe that line went over the head of the younger audience members, but it got a chuckle out of the adults.

The movie is simple in terms of plot and--except for Lansbury's line--humor. There's a potential horrible stepmother whom the children must deal with in a "buggy" kind of way. There's a sweet kind person who would make an excellent wife and stepmother, if only the parties involved would realize it. And there's Nanny McPhee, whose quiet, intense demeanor and large walking stick commands the respect of the children. Emma Thompson is wonderful in this movie and her character grows beautiful in spirit as she magically touches the lives of the large motherless brood.

The movie blends theatrics and slapstick with a touch of magic. The set design and costumes are sometimes gloomy and sometimes as colorful as candy. Most of the audience--my small children included--enjoyed the loud scenes the best, including the one that took place in the kitchen and another that features a food fight. The darker themes of the movie: death of a parent, loss of a loved one, the feelings of a child when he thinks a parent doesn't care, are necessary for the storyline, yet they aren't dwelled upon in great length. I never felt the material was too scary for a child and I didn't hear any crying from juvenile audience members.

This movie is perfect for a six-year-old and older audience. Except for during the most climactic noisy scenes, the movie couldn't always hold the interest of my younger kids. After the triumphant ending, the audience broke out into spontaneous applause, which is a sure sign that this flick is a winner for the young as well as for those of us who are young at heart.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

 

Please land, I'm feeling illt

One of the books we read with Emily before bed is Miss Spider's New Car. Emily has the book memorized, although she doesn't always pronounce the words right. Instead of saying, "Sha-Woosh! Please land, I'm feeling ill," she says, "Sha-woosh! Please land, I'm feeling illt." It's the cutest thing. (And, yes, I'm totally bragging about how my 32-month-old has entire books memorized.)

Today I felt illt. It started in the middle of the night when I woke up with a tummy ache. I wondered if it was because I was nervous about my post on Mommybloggers, but I decided no. Then I wondered if it was because I had eaten roughly three handfuls of Trader Joe's oreos last night before bed. Oh, and then washed their creamy and chocolate cookie goodness down with two or three glasses of cabernet sauvignon. Hmm, that might be it, but I do that kind of thing with alarming frequency and am rarely affected by it in such a manner as this. Perplexed, I decided that I wasn't going to puke and I managed to fall back into a disturbed sleep.

I woke up this morning at 7:00 with the kids and made it as far as the kitchen couch, where I stayed in a fetal position until Mike got up and said, "Okay, you can go back to bed now." So back to bed I went until 10:30, when I woke up to check my email and eat a bowl of cheerios. My stomach was still upset and like any woman who has two kids and who has sworn to have no more, I thought to myself, Is it possible that I'm pregnant? The thought made me illt. I remembered what our nanny Rosa told me just last Thursday: "When I found out I was pregnant with my third I cried for two weeks." I wondered if I should start my two week crying jag today.

I felt a little less illt when I remembered that I'm religiously taking my little white pills that prevent pregnancy. And then I remembered my friend's story. She was on the pill, too. And then she got into a minor car accident and the hospital gave her a pregnancy test before running some other tests, and I bet you can guess what I'm going to tell you now. Yep, she was pregnant. Ladies, never trust those low dose pills, unless you're okay with low meaning no.

Anyway, I don't mean to get you all startled and freaked out. It's highly unlikely I'm pregnant and much more likely that I shoveled too many cookies into my head. Mike thinks my illtness is psychosomatic and caused by yesterday's Oprah show. She had her fitness guru friend on it and they were chastising (but in a helpful, nice way) some puzzled women whose weight loss had plateaud even though they exercised all of the time. Of course, they were also eating like horses and that's the behavior that needed to stop. I was eating a box of cookies at the time, but that didn’t stop me from trash talking those clueless beyotches.

This afternoon after spending hours reading blogs I decided that it's possible I'm feeling illt because I'm doing too much and I need to take a break. So I went back to bed. This time I took Thomas with me and he slept on my chest. I was awash in the sweet smell of baby breath for a good eighty minutes. Of course, I was in a completely awkward position and didn't sleep at all, but it felt so good to hold him like that. I slept with Emily lots during the day, especially when I was pregnant with Thomas. But I don't do it much with him. It was nice.

After Thomas woke up and Mike took him, I went back to sleep until 4:00 PM. When I woke up I felt much better and much less illt. In fact, I felt so not illt that I went running with Thomas in the jogging stroller while Mike took Emily to get Japanese food. Because really, there's nothing like raw fish to soothe an unsettled stomach.
 

Mommybloggers Love Day Rumble

Jenny, Jenn and Meghan over at Mommybloggers are at it again! This time they're presenting for your Valentine's Day enjoyment one new entry about love EVERY HOUR for the next four days! Amazing. Mommyblogger Jenny Lauck writes:

We left the interpretation of "love" up to our guests. We left the interpretation of "short" up to them, too. When the entries started to pour in, we were stunned. We are thrilled to have over 40 wonderful entries to present over the next four days. We've got quick laughs, triumphant beating of the odds, explorations of loss, love interpreted simply and in very specific detail. Quite simply, this collection of words has taken our breath away.


My entry is titled Happy Valentine's Day, Foxy Lady and it's about treating the person you love the most (you) to a weekend away. I wrote this entry in my head during my own weekend away in January.

The entries over at Mommybloggers are interesting and varied. Go check them out. You'll be glad you did.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

 

Author Highlight: Carol Field

Carol Field

The third author featured at last Saturday's Festival of Women Authors was Carol Field.

Field has written six books about Italy and Italian food including In Nonna's Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions from Italy's Grandmothers. She recently published her first novel, Mangoes and Quince.

Field is an energetic and engaging speaker with an obvious love of all things Italian, especially the people and the food. She believes the study of food is a great way of looking at the history of the culture of a country. She said, as "it turns out, food is my muse in every way."

Field has made a career out of writing about Italy and Italian food-based traditions. Her first publication was a book about the breads of Italy. She wrote In Nonna's Kitchen after realizing that much of the time-honored traditions in Italian cooking are disappearing from modern kitchens. In part, this is because they are traditions based in poverty and more of the country now is middle class. She went looking for grandmothers (nonnas) in order to document the traditions and the history through the food--how they made it as well as the ingredients in it. She met many interesting women while traveling in Italy and gathering the material and recipes to put in her book.

Field describes herself as a commuter. She commutes between Italy and America as well as between non fiction and fiction. About writing a novel, Field suggests that a writer simply sit down, put pen to paper, and write. She also recommends firing your inner critic, advice I found reminiscent of Chris Baty’s.

While writing Mangoes and Quince, Field found that swimming helped her to think about the writing. Also, she didn't write the book with the idea that she would try and get it published, something which she thinks helped her to write unencumbered. During the Q & A, I asked her if she found it difficult now to work on her second novel. She agreed that it was more difficult than working on her first and for two reasons: One, because she is writing about a more familiar locale, which she finds to be more stifling than writing about a place she knows nothing about; two, because she now has the pressures that come with publication, including editorial and deadline.

Promoting the act of writing, Field said, "We all have so much inside us that we don't know is there." Field confessed that when she's in the middle of writing a novel, she doesn't discuss it. This way, she retains the energy of the book for the writing of it. She advised the writers in the audience: "Don't ever discuss what you're writing while you're writing it!"

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

 

Author Highlight: Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston was the most moving of the four speakers at last Saturday's Festival of Women Authors presented by the Berkeley YWCA.

Wakatsuki Houston is Japanese and lived in Southern California until 1942 when her family was sent to live in the Japanese internment camp Manzanar. She was seven years old at the time. She and her family were detained at Manzanar until their release in 1945.

Wakatsuki Houston told the crowd at the festival that after her family was released, they rarely talked about what had happened to them. She certainly didn’t until twenty five years later when her nephew asked her to share her feelings about her time there. Unable to tell him, she broke down and admitted that it was too painful for her to talk about. She promised him she would write down her experiences about the place where he and six of his cousins were born, the place that Wakatsuki Houston and her family preferred not to talk about.

Wakatsuki Houston then told her husband about her experiences at Manzanar. This was a man with whom she had been together for years, yet she never had shared with him this part of her life. Together they spoke with other family members, many of whom had never openly--or privately--grieved for the years they had taken from them by their internment and the damage done to their psyche because of it. Growing up, Wakatsuki Houston felt it was "not only bad to be Japanese, but criminal."

What came out of countless interviews besides "full bore psychotherapy and a lot of despair" was Wakatsuki Houston's book Farewell to Manzanar, an autobiographical account of her and her family's experiences at Manzanar. This book is now required reading in many California schools.

In 7th grade, my advanced English class read Hiroshima. We discussed how it felt to read a first-hand account of the suffering of people who survived the United State's atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

This was back in the early 1980s, when cold war tension in our country was particularly high. Who would hit the red button first!?! US or THEM!?! Looking back, I think our teacher was trying to present a humanistic side to the idea of nuclear war, although I don't remember her making direct (or indirect) comparisons of the two times in our history.

It wasn't until I was in my twenties, fifteen years later, that I found out about the internment of Japanese Americans here in our own country. This fact wouldn't surprise Wakatsuki Houston. She mentioned that she still gives lectures today to audiences that contain people unaware of the detainment of Japanese Americans on American soil.

Wakatsuki Houston talked about what writers can do: "Speak for others who do not speak; give voice to others who came before us who have no voice." She mentioned that knowledge of what went on at Manzanar, which is now a National Park, is particularly crucial at this time in our history when we are again living in a time of hysteria. She recommends a visit to Manzanar as a sobering experience and a reminder to all of the danger of a barbaric mindset during times of fear.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

 

America's future drivers

We interrupt our previously scheduled blogging to show you two toddlers who will be seeing you on the road in 13.5 and 15 years. Gulp.

A natural. Notice the perfect positioning of the hands. Nevertheless, she will not be driving any car of mine.


Two hands on the wheel, mister! His relaxed attitude spells trouble. Girls will like him, there's no doubt in my mind. This kid will buy his own car, which will sit in our driveway until he's old enough to drive it.

[Photos taken at the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose.]

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

 

2006 Festival of Women Authors and Author Highlight: Linda Peterson

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the 2006 Festival of Women Authors, a fundraising event presented by the Berkeley YWCA. The Berkeley YWCA's goals are elimination of racism, empowerment of women, and leadership development. As an organization, it "has been providing programs and services for UC Berkeley students and the greater community for over 117 years."

This year's annual Festival of Women Authors was a well-attended event. Hundreds of women filled the banquet room at the Emeryville Holiday Inn, and the excitement in the room was palpable as lovers of literature—readers and writers—came together in an appreciation of the craft and those who craft it. I was invited to the all-day event by my friend Karen and I enjoyed myself immensely.

Featured at this year's festival were authors Linda Peterson, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Carol Field, and Karen Joy Fowler. Starting today, I will highlight each of these fantastic authors and personalities. Ready? Today, meet...

Linda Peterson

Linda Peterson is the author of Edited to Death, a mystery set in San Francisco. From the press release:

Edited to Death is a delicious whodunit packed with glitterati intrigue, crisp dialogue and quirky characters, set against the glamour and eccentricity of a wonderfully nuanced San Francisco. Deftly weaving the angst of modern motherhood and marital remorse with real insight into the fated workings of the human psyche, Edited to Death is an effervescent concoction of humor, regret, and deception.

Edited to Death is Peterson's first novel although she has written several non fiction books and has been a writer for most of her professional life.

At the festival, she explained that she learned three things after writing Edited and while promoting it:
1. Everybody loves San Francisco, whether they've lived there or not.
2. Libraries are an author's friend. She found this out after Library Journal gave her book a good review. In short, if the review in the journal is favorable—as hers was—library systems across the world will purchase the book.
3. You cannot outwit your readers.

Peterson is an energetic and engaging speaker, and she spoke to the room about the craft of writing fiction as the joy of rearranging the world the way you want it to be and the act of writing as an excuse to break rules and to transform lives. "How, as writers, we are witnesses to what goes on around us in the world," and how, from the struggle of writing and reading, comes the blessing.

At the request of an audience member, Peterson explained that she found her agent, Amy Rennert of the Amy Rennert Agency, through word of mouth. Friends of hers who knew that Rennert used to be co-editor of San Francisco Focus magazine thought Peterson's book would be a good fit because the heroine of Peterson's book is an editor of a San Francisco magazine. Peterson sent a query letter, plot summary, and sample chapter of her book to Rennert and Rennert "loved it."

As the author of a previous non fiction book, Chronicle Book's On Flowers, Peterson left us with the recipe for:

Nasturtium Pizza

1. Take a pizza shell. (Either one you made or Boboli, she won't tell.)
2. Spread pesto sauce on it. (Either sauce you made or you bought, she won't tell.)
3. Cook.
After removing from oven, sprinkle the top with nasturtium flowers and smaller leaves.

Note: Make sure you obtain your nasturtium flowers from a grocer and do not use ones you found growing on the highway median, which may have been sprayed with pesticides.


The next free weekend night I have, I'm going to bake me that pizza and settle myself into a cozy chair with Peterson's book, the pizza, and a goblet bottle of red wine. I can't wait!

***
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Monday, February 06, 2006

 

Four things meme

Tagged by the lovely Meghan from I'm ablogging.

4 Jobs I’ve had:
Office Services Clerk at big SF law firm (free pens! old soggy sandwiches from depositions!)
Receptionist at an insurance brokerage firm (Real! Live! Girls! used to answer phones back in the day.)
Executive Secretary at same insurance place (I got a 10,000/year raise and the chance to hate my job even more.)
Underwriter at same insurance place (One day I woke up and realized I had a career in insurance. AHHHHHH!)

4 Movies I Could Watch Over and Over:
Heavy Metal Parking Lot
Best in Show
Interview with the Vampire
When Harry Met Sally

4 Places I have lived (in San Francisco):
Baker Street
Haight Street
20th Street
5th Avenue

4 TV Shows I Love:
Law and Order
Battlestar Galactica
Blue's Clues
Dora the Explorer

4 Favorite Books:
The Secret Garden
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The New Basics Cookbook
Operating Instructions

4 Places I Have Vacationed:
Ojo Sarco, New Mexico
Las Vegas, Nevada
San Diego, California
New York, New York

4 Websites I Read Everyday:
Google News
My Bloglines feeds
Mommybloggers
BlogHer

4 Favorite Foods:
Fried chicken
Spicy tuna hand roll
Arugula salad with prosciutto
Platanos fritos con crema

4 People I’m Tagging:
Mike
Jennie
Jewel
Lisa

***

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

 

That might be Paul, but where is Paul's wife?

I'm using the fact that it's Superbowl Sunday to eat appetizers and drink champagne all day. I've decided to root toot toot for the Steelers, but that's because I once had the hots for a guy who liked them. You know how it is. If things had turned out differently, I might have been drinking beer with a bunch of Steelers fans and getting beat up tonight.

But whatever. What I'm here to rant about is the Fidelity Investments commercial feature Paul McCartney. Paul: beatle, poet, father, frontman, producer, business mogul, painter, and knight. What's missing from this list?

Boyfriend. Lover. Husband.

Mike suggested that they omitted mention of those roles because they're personal. Okay, then why include father? Isn't that personal? Also, who made him a father? Wasn't it his WIVES?

It's clear to me that the advertising folks decided to omit footage of either one of his wives in order to entirely skirt the issue that his first wife Linda McCartney is dead, as well as the issue that his second wife Heather Mills isn't much admired by those who thought Linda was Paul's "one" and should have been his "only."

Lame. I have more to say on this topic (the invisibility of women as wives) besides my rant on this single incident, but I have to return now to my champagne.

***

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Friday, February 03, 2006

 

The freakonomics of preschool

Have you read Freakonomics? It's an interesting book and one which I highly recommend. It is written by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Levitt is an economist, a "much heralded scholar who studies the stuff and riddles of everyday life." Dubner is a best selling author and journalist. The book takes a close look at the hidden side of life and attempts to explain seemingly random situations or to correct erroneously held public beliefs using analysis of available data. I am not an economist and my eyes tend to glaze over when sentences contain lots of numbers, so while I can't verify that the methods Levitt uses to analyze the data make any sense at all, I can say that Dubner is an excellent writer and explainer of technical jargon. Together, they make a good pair and the conclusions they come to in the book seem plausible to me.

In the chapter titled, "What Makes a Perfect Parent?" the authors explore the fearmongering that is rampant among so called parenting experts. They write, "Fear is in fact a major component of the act of parenting." I couldn't agree more; as a parent I'm scared out of my freaking mind on an almost daily basis. The authors explore various reasons why or why not a child does well in school using data from test scores and applying something they call regression analysis. Here's how they "overgeneralize" their findings:

Parents who are well educated, successful, and healthy tend to have children who test well in school; but it doesn't seem to much matter whether a child is trotted off to museums or spanked or sent to Head Start or frequently read to or plopped in front of the television."


In other words,

"It isn't so much a matter of what you do as a parent; it's who you are."


This is the kind of data that my husband likes to remind me of when I start going on and on about finding a preschool for Emily. And I know he's right, but I still get caught up in the frothy hype that tends to permeate most playdates, playground visits, and social occasions that bring me into contact with other moms. I wish I could believe that just because I'm well educated, successful, and healthy, I don't have to worry about preschool; but fear--along with guilt--very much play a major role in almost all parenting decisions I make.

I realize a couple of things:
1. Emily would do fine in Kindergarten (and beyond) if she never goes to preschool.
2. I want Emily to go to preschool because it will give me more me time.
3. Certain preschools carry more cachet among local moms who care about cachet.

The questions are:
1. Will Emily (and then Thomas) go to preschool?
2. How much more me time do I need? Two mornings a week more? Three mornings a week more? Five mornings a week more? Will all the me time in the world ever be enough?
3. Do I care about cachet?

At this point, the answers are:
1. Yes, Emily will go to preschool. I am looking at preschools now; she will start one of them in the fall when she's three.
2. I don't know how much more me time is enough. I am struggling to find a happy balance between a life with my children as a stay at home mom and a life with my children as a stay at home mom who also wants to be a writer. Is now the right time to put the kids into preschool so that I have more time to write? Or should I wait until next year?

Right now, I'm leaning towards a preschool that can take her on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8:30 - 3:00. Since all of the full-time preschools have a naptime from 1 to 3, it seems ridiculous to pick her up at 12:30 when she's tired and needs sleep. (Lisa recently wrote about this, too.) But that means she'll be gone three days and the other two days the nanny will be here. That's assuming we keep the nanny, of course. But I like our nanny and I like getting two days all to myself. The alternative is putting Emily in preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but then we'll be paying the nanny to watch only Thomas while Emily will be in school. That seems kind of ridiculous.

3. Tough question. Do I care about cachet? If so, how much? Historically, I haven't cared much about designer jeans or fancy cars; I don't need fancy label things to get my boat to float and I went to a state-run university. Mike thinks that any licensed preschool or day care center would be fine for Emily's preschool. And yet I feel compelled to go to Preschool Preview Night held by my local Mothers Club; I feel compelled to call up half a dozen schools and talk with them about their curriculum; I feel compelled to make sure Emily is wearing clean clothes before taking her to Open Houses and tours of preschools that seem appropriate. I may not care about cachet, but I want to retain my right to care. Make sense?

I feel that much of my decision angst is more closely tied with item #2 rather than items #1 or #3. What Happens When The Children Go To School is a big milestone in the life of a stay at home mom. Now what? Do I go back to work? Do I get serious about The Novel? It’s both an exciting and a scary time that all of a sudden is looming in the not so distant future. And like with most child-related milestones, I’m not sure whether I want to rejoice or cry.

***

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

 

Call me Mishmael

Our lovable, furry old pal Grover taught Emily the first sentence from Moby Dick, "Call me Ishmael." (Sesame Street rocks!) This morning I woke up to her "reading" Mao Tse-Tung's The Little Red Book: "Call me Mishmael." Turn the page. "Call me Mishmael." Turn the page.

I swear that kid's already working on her Ph.D. dissertation. At the very least, her Master's thesis.

[Happy Birthday, Gramie.]

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

 

Book Review: You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again

You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny
By Suzanne Hansen (Crown Publishers, 2005)


With the exception of my recent afternoon get together with Andrew Shue, I don't get out much. As a suburban housewife with two toddlers, I've traded in late nights with hot dates for book readings with hot coffee. I get a kick out of dressing up and driving into The City for book readings. And by dressing up, I mean that I put on shoes that aren't caked with playground sand and I pass a tube of lipstick across my lips.

Me and my lipsticked lips and my clean shoes pranced into Books, Inc. a couple of weeks ago. The place was quiet except for the sound of tumbleweeds making their way across the fiction section. "Is there a book signing here tonight?" I asked the cute bookstore girl with the granny glasses and Audrey Hepburn haircut. "Yes, Suzanne Hansen is here signing copies of her book." And she pointed to the back of the store where twelve empty chairs were lined up in three rows. Another intimate evening with the author, I thought to myself as I made my way to the back of the store.

Don't get me wrong. If I had read Hansen's book before the reading, I would have enjoyed an intimate evening with her. Plus she's cute so I would have done the clean shoes and lipstick thing, too. But the problem with an intimate evening with an author when you haven't read her book is that you have no idea what to say to her. I was hoping the other person at the reading--the one Hansen kept calling "Mom"--would have a question or two for her and I could linger unnoticed in the back row.

Hansen's written a book called You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny and I am a huge fan of both nannies and Hollywood celebrity types. Without reading a word of her book, I guessed it was a soft core rant about the hard core life of an underappreciated Hollywood nanny. And wouldn't you know it, I was right.

Hansen grew up in a small Oregon town and decided against going to college after high shool. Instead, she graduated from a nanny prep school and moved to Los Angeles at the tender age of nineteen to become a nanny to the stars. She worked for powerhouse agent Michael Ovitz as well as for Debra Winger and for the family of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman.

In You'll Never Nanny, Hansen doesn't portray the life of a Hollywood nanny as glamorous. While working for the Ovitzs, she put up with mom and dad Ovitz, two dysfunctional over-emotional egomaniacs, as well as with their three children, who were particularly bratty because they had never had consistent loving care. Instead, they were used to fighting, parental neglect, and material wealth in unhealthy doses. Coming from a loving supportive family life herself, Hansen could never quite grasp why the Ovitzs and their friends even had children in the first place.

"What I couldn't have known was that many wealthy folks are never without hired help for their kids. They arrange their lives so there is a paid caregiver available to them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It had simply never occurred to me that there were people who really didn't want to spend as much time as possible with their children."


Besides being emotionally distant from their children, both Michael Ovitz and his wife also were emotionally abusive to the people who worked for them. They took Hansen for granted and never understood that her salary wasn't generous if they took into account the fact that she basically was on call 24/7, including waking up two to three times a night to feed the youngest of the three Ovitz children.

"I would soon find out that LA is one big ladder. Nannies are the people who sit on the bottom rung, entertaining the kids, while the parents climb."


In order to keep the content current, Hansen's careful in this book not to talk about the era during which she worked in Hollywood, but I'm guessing it was about fifteen years ago. She worked for recognizable celebrities, but I would have enjoyed reading about more recently-made stars. Fortunately for her, she must not have been required to sign a confidentiality agreement, which most nannies and other household help are required to sign today. That's why she can write a book which puts Ovitz and his wife in an unfavorable light and why it's highly unlikely I will ever read a book that reveals what's really going on in the Cruz-Holmes household. Oh well.

I was surprised that so few people were at Hansen's book signing, and I'm sorry that I wasn't better prepared to enjoy the intimate Q & A. We chatted a bit, mostly about selfish Hollywood types who never give their hardworking household help any credit when they're interviewed in People magazine. Her insider perspective was interesting, but now I wish that I had asked her about the process of getting her book published.

At her signing, Hansen casually mentioned that she and her sister had self-published the book. When I got home, I noticed that the book I bought is published by Crown but carries two copyright dates, therefore,she seems to have successfully self-published a book which then was picked up by a major publishing house. That's quite an accomplishment and one I would have liked to hear more about.

If you have a subscription to People or Us magazine or if you habitually pick the longest line in the supermarket so that you can casually glance at Star magazine, check out this book. It's got the big names, it's got the juicy gossip, and it's got a happy ending. It's Hollywood all the way, baby.

***


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