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Location: Northern California

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Random bits from me to you

Which ones art though, toxins?
Join MOMS in Sacramento on March 29 at 1:30 (tomorrow!) for a Senate Health Committee hearing on Biomonitoring.

MOMS say:
The Healthy Californians Biomonitoring bill (SB 1379), co-sponsored by our allies at Commonweal and the Breast Cancer Fund, has been reintroduced this year, and we need to YOU to help support this bill. Let's send a message to those with the power to decide the fate of this important legislation: the people of California have a right to know what toxic chemicals are inside our bodies.

There will be a press conference before the hearing at 11:00AM on the west capitol steps. The hearing will be held in the capitol building at 1:30 (exact location TBD).

If you are able to join us in Sacramento, please send email to

Please forward this alert to anyone you know who may be interested in attending, especially folks in the Sacramento area.

Ain't no disinfectant good enough
I got a Flylady email last week looking for a germaphobe cleanaholic mom with toddlers who wants to appear on CNN.

If that's you, contact flylady at flylady dot net. Put CLEAN in the subject line of your email.

Kids terror it up on television
A casting producer working with The Learning Channel found my blog and asked that I post the following announcement.
CALLING ALL STRESSED OUT PARENTS!!! Britain’s hit parenting series is coming to the States! TLC and Outline Productions are working on the first American season of "The House of Tiny Terrors." We would like to hear from all families and single parents with children between the ages of 18 months and 8 years old who wish to take part.

Whatever your parenting dilemmas or problems – we may be able to help! If you would like some more information, contact us at: tinyterrors at optomenusa dot com or 646.216.4348.

No commitment is needed at this stage and all calls will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Boy who hates milk now loves yogurt
Thomas, the kid who will not drink milk from any cup or in any flavor, now loves yogurt. Go figure.

Click on the photo for more.


MWTR Blog Tour: The White Rose by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I am participating in a new Blog Tour sponsored by Mom Writer's Talk Radio. Mom Writer's Talk Radio is an internet talk show that you can either listen to online or download as an mp3. Hosts and mom writers Paula Schmitt and Alana Morales talk weekly with various authors, hold contests, produce a newsletter, and do a lot to help spread the word about women who have written books while juggling their busy lives as mothers.

As a stop on their blog tour, I'll blog once or twice a month about a new book. Sometimes I'll write reviews, sometimes I'll interview authors, and sometimes I'll just give you some tantalizing bits. In any case, I hope you feel compelled to buy the books and to support these mom writers.

The White Rose
By Jean Hanff Korelitz (Miramax Books, 2006; $13.95)

Jean Hanff Korelitz is a novelist who lives in Princeton, N.J., with her husband, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, and their children.

The White Rose is set in Manhattan, where Marian Kahn has a full and comfortable life. At 48, she is long married, living on Park Avenue, and a tenured professor of history at Columbia, not to mention a very successful author (with boxes of reader fan mail to prove it). Yet she risks everything when she falls passionately in love with Oliver, the 20-something son of her oldest friend and the owner of a chic flower shop in the Village – The White Rose. Their affair is crazy, and Marian knows it, but she can’t seem to find her way out of it, and she isn’t sure she wants to.

Enter Barton, Marian’s snobbish cousin, and Sophie, an heiress and a student in Marian’s department, whom he is engaged to marry. It’s a truly unlikely match and one that Sophie begins to question when she meets Oliver, who personally delivers flowers to her door (ordered by Barton). As the relationships between these four become increasingly entangled, the effects are both comic and tender, and the lesson – that love is seldom straightforward, but always a gift – is applicable to all.

Ever since she first saw Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier, Korelitz has ruminated on its themes of love and the passage of time, themes which, she admits, only resonate more as she ages. With The White Rose she has cleverly carried the opera’s preoccupations forward to a modern day setting, and produced a provocative, gratifying, and entertaining novel for our times.

"Korelitz is alert both to New York's social geometry and to the melancholy that underlies the glittering surface of her novel." --The New Yorker

"The White Rose engages the imagination and delivers a satisfying tale about the subtleties of love and what it means to follow one's heart." --USA Today

"Incisive and harks back to the gender confusions of Shakespeare's comedies while adding some surprising contemporary twists...Korelitz's characters - charming, idealistic and contradictory-are what make The White Rose so appealing...This novel represents a significant step forward." --The New York Times Book Review

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Monday, March 27, 2006


Monterey: Been there, done that

We're back. Can somebody remind me that traveling with a 2.75-year-old is never a good idea? Oh, the spontaneous tantrums, the Jekyll and Hyde behavior, the I DO MYSELF.

It must be hard to be that age. It's hard to be this age being with that age, too.

I am finding this period of her childhood challenging. Does life ever get easier? Please advise.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


House of poker and paper

Grammie Martha is in the house!

Emily and I left WoolfCamplet early and went to pick up my mom (Grammie Martha) from the airport. She's staying with us all this week. Tomorrow the kids, Grammie Martha, and I are going down to Monterey for the night, leaving Mike so that he can get some alone time. Tomorrow we'll hang out in downtown Monterey and Monday we'll go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium before returning home.

I just told my mother for the third time that the reason my paper towels aren't perforated in the middle like hers is because they don't sell that kind at my Costco. Mike just came in here and told me that he did his first "four tabling" online poker game (playing four games at once) tonight and he won all four. His proclamation confirms my status as an online poker widow. One who is felling entire forests with her excessive use of large paper towels.

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Live from WoolfCamplet

We're gathered today at Squid's house for a mini WoolfCamp to write, blog, and be merry with Jo Spanglemonkey, who was not able to attend WolfCamp I.

We just did a tagging exercise led by Badger. What is tagging? Do you know? I tag almost every post with Technorati tags. What does this all mean? More later, but based on the tagging exercise we just did, this is how people would tag me:

Bad girl in high school
Able to interview and write in a single bound

Updated to add even more tags:
Trained assasin
Defining lines-straddler

I'm here with Emily and we have to leave soon to go pick up Grammie Martha. More later!

Friday, March 24, 2006


Dad Writes: How to get your infant to sleep through the night

This is a guest blog post by my husband Mike. Mike originally wrote this for a company email list, in response to a co-worker who is having a hard time getting his 8.5 month old to sleep through the night. Mike emailed me a copy of his response and I was quite impressed. I don't always give him the credit he deserves, but he's a wonderful dad who is very hands-on. I can't take any credit for getting Thomas to sleep through the night; Mike was in charge and he did a great job. If it had been up to me, I'd still be nursing Thomas every two hours all night long and complaining about how little sleep I get.

How to get your infant to sleep through the night

Dear sleepless parent,

I would like to look at this sentence:

Unfortunately she's quite mobile now, and when we come back in 10 minutes she's usually on all fours crawling around crying or sitting and crying.

She's your child so I'm sure she's very smart, and she's learned to rely on the "and when we come back in 10 minutes" part of this routine. I think this is encouraging her sleeplessness.

Try changing 10 minutes to 6 hours. After a week I bet she'll sleep through the night. That week will be difficult and heartbreaking for all of you, but remember the following:

- She is safe in her crib.

- You both love her, and she loves you, and teaching her to sleep like a big girl is a loving thing to do.

- She won't hurt herself by crying for two hours straight.

- She knows what's best for herself. She's young, but she's an intelligent, normal kid, and eventually she'll figure out that when you put her in her crib at night, that means it's time to sleep.

We did this for my son Thomas when he was about 11 months old. Thomas had gotten into the habit of waking up a couple hours after we put him to sleep and wanting to nurse until he fell asleep again. We couldn't get him to sleep unless he was nursing as he drifted off. Two hours later the same cycle repeated.

We had let this continue for a couple months prior, figuring he'd grow out of it, but it actually got more and more regular (why is that surprising? It shouldn't have been; we unwittingly trained him to do it.)

One night last November we decided that this was the end of it. We weaned him and adjusted his sleep schedule from that point on, simply by putting him to bed at 7:00 p.m., leaving the room promptly, checking him once to make sure he was still alive around midnight, and coming in to get him at 6:00 a.m. The first two nights were hard; Thomas cried for a long time, and we felt like horrible, horrible, mean parents. But the third night he slept all the way through -- 11 hours! Except for nights when he's teething and understandably cranky, he's been a great sleeper in the nearly five months since then. (And so have we.) He still seems to love us, and I've noticed since about mid-February that he's smiling as he snuggles into his favorite blanket in his crib every night.

Other things that might help or just be coincidental:

- We have one blanket and one stuffed animal in Thomas's crib. It's always the same blanket and animal (actually we have two identical blankets so we can wash one). The reasoning is that it's comforting for him to see the same things every night, yet it's also boring enough that he won't try to sit up and play with the new Toy of the Week.

- Every night at 6:15 is Bath Time. I yell out "What time is it?" My daughter Emily responds "Bath!," and they both run to the tub. They soak for a good half hour, then I put on their pajamas, the three of us sing songs in Thomas's dark room, and then Thomas goes into his crib. (Emily is 2 1/2 years old and gets to stay up a little later.) It's like clockwork, every night, almost down to the minute. Amazingly, if I lose track of time, then around 6:20, Thomas toddles over to me and says, "Baf?"

Kids will adjust to anything you want them to adjust to. You just need to decide what you want, and then be ruthlessly consistent about it.

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Why my nickname in fourth grade was bald eagle

Friends, I finished the newsletter and got it to the printer in time to enjoy Bad Mamas Coffee with Squid and the gang. In my absence, did you take the quick survey that I politely asked you to take? I hope so. If not, won't you reconsider? Please? In exchange for your participation, I will offer you a story. The story of how I once had the nickname bald eagle.

I remember class picture day in third grade well. Here is my third grade class portrait:

I am in the first row, third from left. Do you see my knee high green socks and my long brown hair? I remember waiting in line to get that picture taken. While waiting in line, I borrowed somebody's comb. I think I remember whose comb it was but I will not point her out. This girl's comb had friends on it; little bitty friends. Those friends grew and multiplied and laid eggs and hatched and caused my head to itch very badly.

And I told no one.

Until one night we were at a Geological Society slide show of some kind. (My mom couldn't afford babysitters.) That night my head felt like it was ON FIRE. I could not stop itching. I do not remember how much time had passed since that fateful picture day, but it was long enough for horrible things to happen on my head, for entire colonies of lice to infest my tender scalp.

Does your head itch yet?

It was at that meeting that I borrowed my mom's comb and proceeded to spend the entire night frantically combing my hair in a vain attempt to relieve the itching. That night my mom figured out what was going on. And freaked out.

Because of my long hair, the fact we lived in humid Houston, and because I had hid my itchy head for so long, the head lice were out of control. We tried the horrible shampoos and the combing, but it was hopeless. There was nothing my mom could do except chop of all my hair.

And that is how I ended up looking like this:

Going back to school with no hair was difficult. I wore a kerchief, but there was no mistaking the fact that something horrible had happened to me. The kids were cruel. Kids are cruel anyway, but when you have no hair they are particularly cruel. The kid sitting behind me ripped off my kerchief and I started crying. It was the last day of school and my mom had given me a note for the teacher advising her that I had head lice and that she should inform the class so that they could be alerted to the possibility that they, too, might have head lice.

The nicest thing my teacher in that photo ever did for me was decide not to share the note with the class.

The rest of the day I sat on the chair by her desk. I cried and hung my head; it was the worst day of my grade school life and I think she sensed that. She let me leave early so I could get a head start walking home so the kids wouldn't follow me and pick on me. I don't know if I've ever said thank you, Mrs. Gaston. So. Thank you.

That's probably all you need to know at this time about my tortured childhood, but I will add that fourth grade was a tough year. My hair was still short and the kids on the bus called me bald eagle. Hey, I just chuckled! After 27 years I'm finally able to laugh about it! See, this story is funny after all!

Anyway, if you don't mind taking this survey, I'd appreciate it.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Survey says!

Just a quick note as I'm still procrastinating doing my newsletter and the clock is ticking...

Have you got a few minutes? I would love it if you would take this BlogHer Reader Survey. It's only fifteen questions and you can disregard any that you find objectionable.

Thanks! Just click on the graphic to begin.

Designed by Troll Baby Graphics

Graphic by Karen of Troll Baby. Thanks, Karen!

The procrastinating mother, her son, and his purse

I've admitted before that I am the newsletter editor for my Mothers Club's newsletter. In practical terms, this means that once a month for three days I am pretty busy alternating between procrastinating working on the newsletter and actually working on the newsletter.

Guess what I'm doing right now.

Have you ever noticed that when you have something important to do--it doesn't matter what it is--everything else you have to do gets done along with about a million other little things? For example, today I have made breakfast, cleaned both bathrooms, vacuumed, done laundry, checked email, taken some pictures, made lunch, trimmed and cleaned two houseplants, made tea (three times), organized some books, and played with kids.

I have not worked on the newsletter.

But I will! Sometime after I finish this blog post, I will panic and begin to work on the newsletter. That should be right around the time that Thomas wakes up from his nap. But have no fear! Before I go to bed tonight, the newsletter will be done and burned onto a CD. I will drop it off at the printer tomorrow and life will get immediately less stressful. Until then, I am using this low-grade constant stress to catch up on a month's worth of chores.

To keep you amused while I slave over a hot keyboard and curse Microsoft Publisher, I present you with my son, who can hold a purse like nobody's business. Actually, he holds it a lot like my grandma did.

And lest you think my husband does nothing but play online poker when he's not at work, here's a snap of the roses he bought me yesterday "just because." Awww... I tell ya, absence and flowers do make the heart grow fonder.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Proof that Gap might care about my odd-sized feet

Last night we enjoyed a brief respite from the rain. When it hailed. The pedicure I got in January has been seen by nobody except my kids. Yet today I made one of those "It's the second day of Spring! And Gap just emailed me! And their email has a click here to go straight to flip flops link! And those flip flops are cute! Soon it will be flip flop weather!" based decisions.

It's a tad optimistic to buy flip flops in March even if you do live in California, however hope springs eternal and it is the second day of spring and all. So being the eternal optimist that I am, I put my faith in the idea that my feet have shrunk since weaning Thomas (don't laugh) as well as in the idea that if the flip flops don't fit I will return them to my nearest Gap store and they will not sit in my car for six months (I said don't laugh), and I ordered two pairs of flip flops in size 9.

I wear a 9 1/2.

But who could resist these? Cross rubber flip flops in basic black. Sure to be a hit at the playground or the pool.

Or these? Daring yet suitable for any occasion including lunch at the White House.

I made my impulse purchase while I sipped my morning coffee and then I fell victim to one of those silly online marketing surveys. I dutifully clicked to let them know how satisfied I was with my online shopping experience (fairly), how satisfied I was with the available shipping options (somewhat), and how satisfied I was with their selection (so-so). In the comments field, I typed, "I wish you had size 9.5 in the flip flops." I finished the survey and I've been waiting for the email telling me I won $20 ever since.

Which is why I got so excited when I saw that I had an email from Customer Service. The Gap! Emailing me! Here is what they wrote:

Dear Ms. Tsao,

We appreciate your comments to BizRate and wanted to reply to you. We are sorry to learn of your disappointment with the current size selection in the flip flops at Gap. However, we definitely appreciate feedback from our customers - both positive and negative - and your message will be shared with our Merchandising team. Customer feedback is the most important consideration when our merchants are planning what our merchandise selection will look like in the future.

We hope you will continue to visit to view our latest fashions.

If we may be of further assistance, please contact us via e-mail at or by calling 1-800-GAP-STYLE. Our Customer Service Consultants are available 24 hours a day for your convenience.


(Name withheld to protect the innocent)
Customer Service Consultant

I don't know what is more sad, the fact that this is the most personal--as well as the most caring--email I've gotten in weeks or the fact that I wear size 9 1/2 and the size 9 flip flops that will be here in 4-6 days probably won't fit me.


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Photos courtesy of

Monday, March 20, 2006


Wine not Whine

This past weekend I ditched the husband and kids once again and went on another Mom's Weekend Away, this one put together by my local Mothers Club. I joined two dozen other stressed out moms in need of some R & R and headed north to wine country, California's beautiful Napa Valley.

My friend Jennie picked me up Friday afternoon at 2. I left my mother-in-law and sister-in-law with a pot of corned beef and cabbage and my two little ones and headed off to freedom. Jennie is one of my few offline friends who actually reads my blog and admits to it. And she still likes me! We had a great time talking on the way to Sonoma. We had such a great time that we missed our turn off to Sonoma and ended up in Napa. But we figured out our mistake, turned around, and made it to The Lodge at Sonoma with plenty of time to relax, unpack, and dress for dinner.

That night we met up with four other friends at a local Brazilian restaurant. I had risotto with prawns. Yum. It was spicy and good and very kid-unfriendly. In fact, the restaurant didn't even have a kid's menu. No mac-n-cheese, no chicken strips, no balloons, no crayons. Oh, but it did have an extensive wine list and we enjoyed a nice bottle of red. And creme brulee for dessert. Again, yum.

I slept great Friday night. My bed was big and fluffy and--best of all--devoid of children! I got to sleep in the middle of the bed; it was heaven. Our room had one of those cool gas fireplaces that turn on with the flick of a light switch. I want one of those in my post-children dream house.

The next morning our damn internal alarm clocks woke us up at the unholy hour of 6:50. We decided to hit the hotel gym before showering and sharing a breakfast of pancakes and smoked salmon on bagels. It's always good to start off a day of drinking with some light exercise and a heavy breakfast.

The moms met in the hotel lobby at 10:30 AM and there was much noticing that we looked better when we were wearing clean clothes and had no children or diaper bags with us. I took photos of happy moms with big smiles. We were free! And about to board a bus that would take us on a tour of three wineries: Gundlach Bundschu, Viansa, and Artesa. Plus, the sun was shining after what has seemed like weeks of winter rain. The day was full of possibilities.

Our first stop was Gundlach Bundschu. We enjoyed a tour of their barrel cellar and got to gaze upon a beautiful table made partially out of redwood. A couple of us tried to eat some cheese that was attractively laid out but were immediately reprimanded. Apparently, the cheese was for some other more important group. Harumph. More important than the Mothers Club?! We drank our wine and felt the service and pouring was a smidge miserly. Double harumph. I bought two bottles of some exceptional Chardonnay (2003 Sangiacomo Ranch) and a gold dipped grape leaf for my nanny and then it was time to go.

Our next stop was the Viansa winery. Viansa stands for Vicky and Sam. Clever, huh? Sam's last name is Sebastiani, a name synonymous with Napa Valley wine. Viansa is all about the Tuscan influence and the pairing of wine and food. Our tour guide was funny and informative and didn't drone. After a tour of the grounds and a tasting of three (or was it four?) wines, we sat down and had sandwiches and pasta salad and biscotti. Each table had a bottle of red and a bottle of white and all I have to say is Vicky and Sam are right: food is better with wine! Or vice versa. Or whatever. After lunch I bought two bottles of a red wine that has hints of strawberry and raspberry (2004 Pacomio). At this point I was feeling no pain and when the talk turned to the topic of why $900 bed sheets are the best, it was probably good I did not have access to a computer with the Internet and its easy online shopping.

Our final stop was at the artsy fartsy Artesa winery. We were very excited to see our name on a welcome sign when we walked in the door. See! It wasn't so hard to make us feel welcome! Besides the sign, they had champagne flutes filled to the brim with Codorniu Reserva Raventos sparkling wine. Yes, we definitely liked this place. Our tour guide poured herself a nice glass, too, and then proceeded to give us the longest tour in wine touring history. By the end our glasses were drained and so were we. Luckily, there were two more wines for us to taste, a red and a white. I don't know any more than that, except I bought two bottles of the sparkling stuff.

When we got back to the hotel I realized that I had purchased more wine than I could carry, but with Jennie's help I managed to get it to our room. We didn't have long before we were supposed to report to the lobby for dinner, but we hit the town for some locally-made lattes. Back in the room, we re-did our lipstick, changed into dinner clothes, and joined the rest of our group. We took the hotel shuttle to our dinner spot, the Sonoma Meritage Restaurant. More wine, delicious appetizers, an entree of salmon and mashed potatoes and wilted spinach, and a medley of desserts including more creme brulee: it was a feast. The food was good and the company was excellent. No high chairs! No whining! No food on my lap! No reminding people to say "please" and "thank you!" It was quite a night.

After dinner I resisted the urge to continue my binge drinking and instead went back to the room with Jennie. We read in bed before lights out and when we woke up we read in bed some more. Remember when you used to do that? I do. The vacation was worth it just for the opportunity to read in bed in the morning and not have to get up to go fix somebody named Thomas a juice cup and a breakfast of banana, waffles, and scrambled eggs. I had two days of respite from my life as a short order cook.

Jennie and I didn't book any spa appointments (she has sensitive skin and I'm just lazy) so we hit the road after a leisurely morning and stopped at Marie Callender's for all-you-can-eat brunch. Nothing beats a breakfast of pancakes, waffles, chocolate cake, and sausage. After breakfast, we perused the outlet mall in Napa and managed to find a bargain or two. Or three. But who's counting?

My lovely chauffeur dropped me off at home at 3:00 and my dream weekend came crashing to a close. Re-entry was a little rough, but I managed to pull through. Dinner at Chevy's and a beer helped. Mike was glad that I came back (he's never sure I will) and the kids were, too. This morning while I fixed a four course breakfast of cinnamon toast and juice and yogurt and apple sauce, I remembered my two adult breakfasts. And while I cleaned up spilled applesauce, I remembered leaving my towel on the hotel room floor and how it was magically replaced. And when I ate my ravioli lunch over the sink, I remembered the two small squares of chocolate left each night on my pillow by the person who turned down my bed.

And as I gaze upon my six bottle of over-priced wine, I'm remembering my Mom's Weekend Away and I'm looking forward to next year's.

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Childcare at BlogHer '06

If you are going to attend the BlogHer conference this July in San Jose (even if you have not yet registered) and you think you might need childcare for the conference, please take a few moments to fill out the BlogHer Conference '06 Childcare Survey.

Spearheaded by the energetic and resourceful Grace Davis, the BlogHer Childcare Committee is Grace, myself, Jenn from Three Kid Circus, Jenifer from Not Calm (dot com), and Jeneane Sessum from Allied.

It is the belief of the Childcare Committee that lack of childcare options may be preventing some bloggers from attending the BlogHer conference. We want to change that, but first we need your input. Do you need childcare? Let us know!

  • Grace's BlogHer posting about childcare

  • BlogHer Conference '06 Childcare Survey

  • Thanks!

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    Thursday, March 16, 2006


    Self Portrait Tuesday on a Thursday: Time with coffee

    This is another one of those Tuesday Self Portraits. Except that I'm posting this one on a Thursday. I'm different that way.

    The theme of the Self Portrait Tuesday for March is Self over Time. This is eight days of me before, during, and after my first sip of morning coffee. Ahhh. From tired to awake, from groggy to alert, from insane to sane. I cannot live without my morning coffee. I drank it when I was pregnant, too, and my kids are fine. Also, I have regular, healthy ... movements ... if you know what I mean.

    I'll drink to that.

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    It's Hard Out Here for a Mom: A review of The Mothers' Group by M. Elizabeth Clark

    The Mothers' Group
    By M. Elizabeth Clark
    (Hutton Electronic Publishing, 2006; $21.95)

    "With spit-up cascading down her sleeve, Molly Schafer, at 36 bid good-bye to life's ambition. She grabbed the nearest dishtowel, rubbed the white mess into her top then fastened Julia into her highchair. Molly glanced out her kitchen window at the stubby Sycamore trees. It was September but they were pruned bare. Somehow they looked bored too."

    And so begins M. Elizabeth Clark's book The Mothers' Group, a tale of four wealthy women who live in San Francisco and take mothering in the age of anxiety to extremes most of us can't even fathom. They are bored; they are anxious; and they are extremely wealthy.

    But are these mothers for real? As if to prove they are, just last week my local paper featured a full color photo spread of a charity event in San Francisco called the "Snuggly Soiree." As I checked out the photos and noted the descriptions that pointed out which designer made which outfit worn by the mothers and children in attendance, I was reminded that yes, people do live the way the mothers in Clark's book do. They have money, all the things money can buy, and children who pose nicely for pictures. And as I checked out the photos I wondered if the mothers pictured also were as unsettled and insecure as the women in Clark's book.

    Clark's four unsettled mothers--Molly, Jennifer, Claire, and Elise--are all wealthy but by different means. Molly and Claire have husbands who earn the big bucks while Jennifer and Elise were born into wealth. Three of the women had high powered careers of their own before quitting their jobs to stay home with their newborns. Of the four women, Jennifer is the only who decides to return to work as an architect after the birth of her son.

    Molly, Jennifer, Claire, and Elise also are members of an elite and exclusive San Francisco mothers' group. We see how they deal with spit-up, clothing choices, weight gain, preschool mania, and dads who are rarely home because they are either working or sleeping around, as well as how they deal with the politics and pressures of the mothers' group. The book is reminiscent of a soap opera in which the mundane lives of its characters are inflated in such a way as to be almost unrecognizable to those of us whose lives are filled with sweatpants and Happy Meals.

    However flamboyant the characters seem, I like how Clark chose uber-wealthy mothers to illustrate her point that women who "had it all" in the working world tend to take very seriously their new careers as mothers. I like being allowed a glimpse into the chaotic and bizarre world of the rich, too. It is so easy to poke fun at the characters in the book; their actions and reactions seem so outrageous.

    Yet once you strip away the trappings that make this story such a fun read, you begin to see the similarities between these four women and other women who have quit jobs to stay home with their kids or who are attempting to juggle work and parenting. The transition can be difficult for many women, regardless of wealth or status. As Judith Warner wrote in her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety:

    "I came to believe that all mothers in America, in differing ways and to different degrees, were caught up in The Mess. And that's because the climate in which we now mother is, in many ways, just plain crazy.

    ...It's us--this generation of mothers. And it's the way our culture has groomed and greeted us. Mixing promise with politics, feminism with "family values," science and sound bites and religion and, above all, fear into a combustible combination that is nothing less than perfect madness."

    The four women characters in The Mothers' Group could have been interview subjects of Warner's; they seem to uphold her hypothesis in a way that's both exaggerated and also understandably real.

    Clark spends a lot of time developing the characters in her book. I enjoyed knowing them so well, but I found myself wondering around page 300 if I would ever know the plot of the book. What was the point of telling the story of these four women's lives? Was there a point? But eventually connections are made, changes take place, stories are played out, and the meaning becomes clear: At some point every woman decides how she wants to reconcile her life as an ambitious goal-oriented career woman with her life as a mother. For some, more children and the development of a stronger family life make sense. For others, a return to the workforce gives them the happiness they found lacking as a stay at home mom.

    I won't tell you which of the characters in Clark's book does what, but I will say that Clark leaves you feeling hopeful, which is always a nice way to feel when you are reading a book that may have just a tiny bit of your own life in it. Because ultimately it doesn't matter if you drink venti drips with room for cream or espressos made for you by your housekeeper--if you are insanely bored or deliriously happy--once you become a mother you become a member of one big mothers' group. What Molly, Jennifer, Claire, and Elise figured out--as we all must--is how to make the most of that membership.

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    Wednesday, March 15, 2006


    Morning in an Eichler

    Morning in an Eichler
    Originally uploaded by marytsao.
    We live in an Eichler (pronounced I-cler), which is very much like living in a glass house.

    Joseph Eichler was a merchant builder who built houses in the 1950s through the 1970s in California. There are many Eichlers in Palo Alto, but we do not live in Palo Alto. We live a little farther North, in a community that's made up of about 800 Eichlers.

    Our Eichler is a single story and has some unique features including floor to ceiling glass windows with sliding doors in most of the rooms.

    Our Eichler has been bastardized (remodeled in a way that does not hold true to the original design), therefore, half of our house has French doors and standard eight pane windows. A true Eichler afficionado would cry if he saw our house. At the very least he would shake his head and mutter, "what a shame."

    Our home was bastardized before we bought it. Please know this.

    Another unique feature of our Eichler is the fact that our washer and dryer are in our hallway. That's right. They're located directly outside the bedrooms where the clothes live. Isn't that clever?

    In San Francisco I lived in Victorians and Edwardians and loved them. I loved crown molding and wainscotting and hardwood floors and art deco tile fireplaces; I still do.

    Our Eichler does not have these things.

    Our Eichler is what is known as "California Modern." It's made for easy breezy living and indoor/outdoor entertaining. It has clean lines, white space, utilitarian design, and makes a good backdrop for furniture from IKEA. I like my Eichler.

    One thing I never want to forget is how Mike told me we had won the bidding war for our Eichler. I came home from a board meeting of my Mothers Club and he presented me with a book about Eichlers. I think I may have cried.

    That is all. Oh, and Spanglemonkey lives in an Eichler, too, but not in our subdivision.

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    Tuesday, March 14, 2006


    Free Coffee Tomorrow at Starbucks

    Originally uploaded by a11sus.
    If you are like Jenn from Mommy Needs Coffee, then, well, you Need Your Coffee.

    And tomorrow you can get it for free at any US Starbucks between the hours of 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM. According to Business Wire:
    Starbucks will host its first-ever National Coffee Break, inviting customers in for a complimentary cup of freshly brewed coffee, on March 15 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. In more than 7,500 stores, partners (employees) will pour tall (12-ounce) cups of coffee for surprised customers and delighted commuters.

    Go on in. Be surprised. And delighted. And wired.

    And don't say I never gave you anything.

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    MotherTalk with Leslie Morgan Steiner

    Roving blogger Mary Tsao here, back with more frontline coverage of the mommy wars.

    Last night I went to my second local MotherTalk event. This one was at a beautiful home located in the hills of North Berkeley. A dozen women gathered with author Leslie Morgan Steiner and enjoyed an intimate discussion about her book Mommy Wars.

    Steiner's book is a collection of twenty six essays written mostly by mothers (a couple are written by women who do not have children) with an introduction and a conclusion written by Steiner. Some of the essays are by names you may have heard, such as Molly Jong-Fast (Erica Jong's daughter) and Jane Smiley. Some have great titles. I particulary like the title of Inda Schaenen's essay "On Being a Radical Feminist Stay-at-Home Mom." The essays in the book give voice to the lives of women; the title of the book gets the book sold and the voices heard.

    When asked, Steiner admitted to having nothing to do with the title of her book (as is often the case with an author), but she understands why the title is a good one. A good title will get you press coverage, interviews, a spot on the Today show, and sales. Ultimately, it will get people to read your book, and what good is a book if nobody reads it?

    Steiner started the discussion last night with the idea that it is a lack of self esteem within ourselves (as women) that causes us to look for external validation. During this process we judge ourselves and others based on what we do or do not do and on what they do or do not do. Breastfeeding is a good example of an issue that can pit mothers against each other. Working outside the home is another. She then went on to read part of the book's introduction, including this small section:

    "I went back to my job the Tuesday after Memorial Day. Max's three-month birthday. I was amazed to be paying another woman to do what I craved most in the world, to stay home with mylittle bird. While I drove out of the driveway, dressed in a black coatdress and full makeup for the first time in weeks, my heart lay beating on the changing table.

    I got through the day with a single vow: not to cry.

    ...Over the next five years, I worked as a variety of part-time and full-time jobs, my career progressed, and I had two more children. I have no doubt that my life, as well as my family's, is immeasurably richer due to my decision to combine work and motherhood."

    Of course, it's rarely easy."

    So are the mommy wars fact or fiction? We are the generation who was promised we could do anything, and many of us were raised with feminist mothers. But what if what we want to do is stay home with our kids? Is that okay? If we stay home are we compromising our feminist beliefs and being traitors to the revolution? What about if we work? Do we feel we have to justify our decision without admitting that we actually enjoy earning money? If we work part-time, how do we define ourselves: as a stay at home mom who works part-time or as a part-time worker who also stays home with the kids? It didn't take long for this group of women to come to the conclusion that the most heated mommy war often is the one that's battling inside our own minds.

    I am going to give Steiner's book a chance. I'll take off the book cover if I can't stand the title. The essays are written by a diverse group of women who have something to say. I've only read eight of the essays in the book so far and some I liked, some I didn't; with some I agreed, with some I didn't. Before I pass judgement on Mommy Wars the book, I want to finish reading it. And I don't want to pass judgement on what any individual author has to say about her own life and the decisions she has made. Our tendency to judge others is in part what brought us to the idea of a mommy war in the first place.

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    Monday, March 13, 2006


    Got a question for Leslie Morgan Steiner?

    The Blogosphere's been buzzing lately with talk about Leslie Morgan Steiner, her new book "Mommy Wars," and her new blog at the Washington Post "On Balance."

    Long story short blog entry, Steiner's decision to give her book such an incendiary title is annoying. Is it her point that stay at home moms and working moms have good reason to duke it out and should duke it out? I believe we should be working towards pooling our energies, making love not war. Better and more available childcare, more positive attitudes in the workplace towards working mothers in the form of career-oriented part time jobs: these things would benefit all women, all mothers, and all families. Can't we all just get along?

    I am going to a MotherTalk event tonight where Steiner will be in attendance. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to attend, let me know and I'll forward you the evite. If you don't, but you have a question for Steiner that you would like me to pose, leave it in comments.

    Tonight's event is a discussion and not an opportunity to throw juice boxes at the woman, but I for one am curious to know if she truly believes we are at war or if she just understands that using incendiary language helps create PR and sell books.

    Tune in tomorrow for more live coverage from the frontline.

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    Sunday, March 12, 2006


    Quitting the shopping habit

    I've been bothered lately by this feeling I get about once or twice a week. It's a feeling of boredom accompanied by the burning desire to go shopping. When I feel this way, I think Is there anything that I need? The answer usually is no. I most often get the urge to shop for clothes, but one glance at the thirty plus pairs of pants in my closet confirms that I don't need more clothes. And yet, I seem to constantly be looking for that one really great pair of pants, that elusive pair of pants that will make my butt look both perky and small and will cause me to lose 15 pounds the minute I put them on. Ya, that pair. Elusive is right.

    They call it retail therapy and at the rate I indulge in it, you'd think I was doing my therapist. So I was intrigued tonight while watching the CBS Evening News. They highlighted a group based in Northern California called The Compact. The group's name is meant to evoke the revolutionary spirit of the Mayflower Compact and their goal is to buy nothing new in 2006 except for food and certain exception items (prescription drugs, underwear, pajamas for kids.)

    A quick web search brought up a bunch of information about this group. It turns out the original fifty members are in San Francisco and other cities in the Bay Area. They have a blog as well as a Yahoo Group that now has 608 members. As a group, they want to reduce clutter and simplify their lives.

    The Compact was highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle initially on February 13 of this year and again on February 17 after the press coverage put them "in the middle of an international furor over consumerism, ecology and middle-class hypocrisy." Apparently people get really pissed when you insinuate that our culture of consumerism is anything but 100% beneficial and necessary.

    I am intrigued by the idea of no more buying new items. One reason why is because The Compact doesn't exclude the idea of shopping, just the idea of buying new. Therefore, you can thrift shop, trade, beg, borrow, and FreeCycle to your heart's content, you just can't go to Nordstrom and buy yet another pair of black boots or pants to line the shelves in your closet.

    Amanda Kovattana: Closet Space has this take on why Americans shop 'til we drop:
    " order to continue to be invited to this party of American abundance, one had to buy things continually. It was your patriotic duty as an American to uphold this dream of the good life by shopping and then admire each other's new duds at social gatherings."

    I feel Amanda real hit my nail on the head with that remark. I often use the excuse of an event as a reason to buy a new outfit. Although I think I would get admiration from my peers even if I was wearing old clothes as long as they didn't have spit up on them. My crowd is easy to please; I'm the one obsessed with new jeans for every day of the week.

    FiftyRX3 - Perusing the Crossroads of Style and Sustainability gives this practical advice:
    "...the whole point of this exercise to raise your awareness about consumerism in general and maybe as an aside (as it is for me) its impact on the environment. Just actually thinking about your purchases is better than nothing. So maybe out of ten things, you buy one new, five reused and four environmentally or socially reponsible." has this straight up thought on The Compact and the fact that they find it okay to purchase their underwear new:
    While I think what The Compact’s actions are admirable, I also think that, when it comes to the underwear thing, they’re a bunch of pussies. I have skivvies from 1999 that I wear all the time. If your ass is so delicate that you need to swap out your undies every year, then suck it up, buy some quality underwear, and be happy.

    If I actually subscribed to The compact's beliefs and tried not buying anything new, the best time might be now, when my kids are little. I have a feeling that once they are old enough to realize that all of those things they see on TV are actually for purchase at Toys 'R Us, they may not feel so kindly to having to do all of their shopping at Goodwill. In the future, will pre-tween Emily be okay with no new clothes for the entire school year? I can hear the screaming and door slamming now. Perhaps I will join The Compact's Yahoo Group just to see how other families with children are coping as they approach the end of month three of their twelve-month journey.

    And maybe I'll start my own little mini compact after my Mother's Weekend Away trip to Sonoma next weekend. I want to wait; I'm not sure my friends will be keen on the idea of shopping at Salvation Army instead of the outlet mall. Luckily, wine falls under the category of food (and even if it didn't, it's surely medicinal) so at least I don't have to worry about that purchase.

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    Saturday, March 11, 2006


    Blogging for dollars

    To those of you who asked, I will not be applying for a job with ClubMom nor am I currently working for them. For some reason, I would rather blog for no pay and so I am using my "spare time" (ha!) to blog for BlogHer and to help promote the visibility of women who are blogging. I want to help raise awareness of the fact that women are in the blogosphere and that we are doing amazing and powerful things. But I encourage those of you interested to apply for one of the ClubMom jobs. If you can write an entry a day in an hour or two, it's not bad pay.

    I've been reading a lot of posts and comments lately about making money from blogging or how to make money from blogging. I have a lot of ideas about this and I was going to write up a list, but Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger has already put together a comprehensive list in his post titled How Bloggers Make Money from Blogs.

    If you are interested in learning how you can make money from blogging (on either your own or somebody else's blog), I encourage you to check out his post. It's not a mystery and it's not shameful. If you love to blog and you need the money, why not try and make money doing what you love. It makes sense to me.

    Darren points out that Merchandising is one way to make money. My post today over at BlogHer highlights several mommybloggers who are selling T-shirts. Go check it out. Some of the slogans on these T-shirts will make you want to pee your pants; they're that funny.

    Darren also writes about Business Blog Writing Opportunities. This is when you blog for somebody else, like BloggingBaby or ClubMom. Blogger Jobs is a website that posts blogging job opportunities.

    Besides applying for posted blogging jobs, I would encourage those of you who are entrepreneurial in spirit to approach a company you admire and propose to them that they hire you as a blogger. Companies from McDonald's to Stonyfield Farm to WalMart have blogs, and more companies are thinking about it. Maybe your well-drafted letter along with three appropriate sample blog entries will force your favorite corporate entity to consider you as its corporate blogger. Just a thought.

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    Thursday, March 09, 2006


    Some buzz about spelling bees

    I'm more into spell checks than spelling bees, but Mike sent me a link to this footage of the most exuberant spelling bee winner ever.

    Which made me remember Spellbound, a movie we saw two years ago at the Parkway Theater in Oakland. It was a Monday night--Baby Brigade! I was working at the time and Mike was a part-time stay at home dad. I drove to the theatre after work and met up with Mike and 3-month-old Emily. She was so cute! Still is, actually... Oh, and the movie was funny and brilliant yet also sad and a little unnerving. To see a kid work that hard only to slip up and misspell a's heartwrenching entertainment. And yet, I recommend it!

    Last but not least, The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee is now playing at the Post Street Theatre in San Francisco. Elisa Camahort saw it and writes:
    "I'm glad the show was short and sweet (under 2 hours with no intermission.) And I enjoyed parts of it very much. But the musical numbers found me with my attention drifting and my interest waning. And for a musical, that's really not a good sign."

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    The newest BlogHer contributing editor

    Folks, it's official. Lisa Stone and gang finally gave in to my begging and pleading and today I am proud to announce that I have joined Tracey from Sweetney and Jenn from Mommy Needs Coffee and Mommybloggers as a Mommy & Family Contributing Editor on the BlogHer site. Neat!

    My first post is about children with autism and highlights three amazing women bloggers who each have a son diagnosed with this puzzling neurodevelopmental disorder. I urge you to read the post and check out the blogs I've highlighted. The daily life of a mom with a child with autism will blow you away. It's humbling and an honor to be allowed to share their insight.

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    Wednesday, March 08, 2006


    Mommybloggers making money

    Remember that hot date I had with Andrew Shue that had the Interweb buzzing? At the time, I couldn't reveal the real reason I was having clandestine meetings with Mr. Shue, but now I can. And it was only one meeting. And it was only a little clandestine.

    Basically, a bunch of us mommybloggers were part of a focus group that ClubMom (with the help of Halley Suitt) organized. See, ClubMom is a smart group of people and they know that bloggers provide the "authentic voice" of the Interweb. Therefore, they want to include blog-based content as part of what they offer their members, but they weren't sure exactly what they wanted to offer, what they should offer, or how they would go about doing it. That's why they called in the pros. Ahem.

    So for the price of a tote bag, a water bottle, and a photo op with Andrew Shue, I told the ClubMom folks everything I know or think I know about mommies and blogging.

    Then the ClubMom people met and brainstormed and procrastinated and scheduled another meeting and assigned somebody who already had enough to do something more to do, and in the end they came up with their grand blogging plan.

    And now they want to hire... YOU!

    ClubMom is looking to hire for two different positions. Here's what they say:
    1. We will start out launching a number of topical blogs on Initially, we’re aiming to have ten blogs but that number can change based on the quality of the applications that we receive. We are looking for diverse voices on diverse topics including blogs on pregnancy, homeschooling, single moms, starting a new diet, celebrity gossip, family finances, running for office, making a difference, and other topics.

    Compensation: $500 per month for each topical blog (5 posts per week will be expected); in addition, 10,000 ClubMom Points per month which can be redeemed for great rewards from the ClubMom Rewards Catalog including gift cards, spa services, movies, etc.; plus performance based bonus

    2. We will also launch The Best of Mom Blogs Editorial Round-Up. We are looking for someone to launch this blog who has a great and distinct voice and, hopefully, someone who has already developed a following for her existing blog. This round-up will describe and point to the most interesting and compelling Mom blogs – in and outside of ClubMom.

    Compensation: $1,000 per month; in addition, 20,000 ClubMom Points per month; plus performance based bonus.

    More information and applications can be found on the ClubMom Corporate Blog (another idea that came out of the focus group!) at

    If you are a mommyblogger and you are looking to make some extra money, consider applying for one of these positions. From what I've seen around the blogosphere, the compensation they're offering for the blogging positions is pretty good and works out to roughly $20 - $25 per post. It is much better than what is offering ($3 per post).

    Good luck!

    Blog Against Sexism Day

    Vegankid has suggested that we use today--International Women's Day--as a day to blog against sexism. Sounds good to me. This is what I know about sexism.

    I grew up in an all-female household. My mom was a single mom and we lived with my grandmother and my mom's two younger sisters. I grew up surrounded by women at a time when women were roaring. Women could bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan. They also could never ever let you forget you're a man, but I never understood that part of the commerical. What men? There were no men in our house. In many ways, I had the best of all possible worlds. I had my grandmother, who was the matriarch as well as the traditional caregiver. She cooked, cleaned, and cared for me while my mom was at work. And I had my mother, whom I saw go to work without complaint every day of my life from the time I could remember.

    My aunts were 13 and 15 when I was born. With my child eyes, I saw them grow up during the wild and crazy seventies. I remember tight bell bottom jeans, long hair, endless hours spent sewing patches, necklaces made out of Wrigley gum wrappers, peace signs on stickers, mind your Ps and Qs, vests, afros, granny afghans, Led Zeppelin, Carol King, roach clips, lids, and the smell of something funny. I remember my grandma banging on the door of their bedroom: "I smell something funny in there!" "It's only incense, Ma!" came the choked reply.

    I grew up surrounded by women. Strong, hard working, fun loving, smart women: my role models.

    So I was completely unprepared for the World According to Men when my mom started dating. It took me a while to get used to these large grumpy creatures who liked things their own way. My mom eventually remarried and from junior high to the present day, my world has always had men in it. I lived with my mom and stepdad until I went to college; in college I lived in a co-ed dorm and then in various housing situations with both male and female roommates; I've lived with more than one male in my adult life and I've been married once before. To a man.

    In my life with men, I have often wondered if the experiences of my early years didn't provide me with enough knowledge of how to be in a man's world. Maybe it was a good thing; maybe I just didn't know that women acted one way and men acted another way. The way I saw things growing up, women did whatever they wanted to do, whether it was take care of the house, pray, go to work, play the piano, or smoke dope.

    It took being in the working world for me to begin to understand the personal implications of sexism. First, I have been paid less than my male counterparts in every position I've held except my most recent one, where, coincidentally, my manager was female. And there is no doubt in my mind that in each of the jobs where I was paid less, I did at least 25% more work than either the men I worked beside or the ones who held my job before me.

    It also took being in personal relationships with men for me to start truly groking sexism on a daily basis, in my own home. Without fail, the main issue I've had with any man I've ever lived with--friend or lover--was one of housework. Apparently, women are raised to do housework and men are not. I never knew this. When I was growing up, my grandma did all of the housework including clearing our plates off the table and stirring my chocolate milk until all of the lumps were gone. I have always wondered why I now do housework when it's obvious I was raised like a princess. Or at least like a male child.

    In order to co-exist in a world where half of us are women and half of us are men, I pick and choose how I fight my battles on the sexist front. I persistently fought for raises when I was working, but I never compared my salary to a male co-worker's and used the result as a reason why I should get one. At home, we have discussions about housework and how it's divided, and I try to live with the idea that it's an equal split. On bad days I have my doubts.

    Sexism rears its ugly head in so many aspects of our daily lives that it's almost invisible. I can't recall the last time I experienced it. But wait, didn't I experienced sexism today when I was reading that magazine at the gym and realized that most of the articles were written by men? Didn't I experience sexism today when I read such positive reviews of George Clooney's behavior at the Oscars and such negative feedback about Reese Witherspoon's speech? Why is Clooney revered as a good 'ol boy in the best of the classic chauvistic pig tradition and Witherspoon is dismissed as being too gushy and girly? Didn't I experience sexism today when I chose not to go jogging because it was getting dark out? What man "knows better" than to jog after dark in a suburban neighborhood lit with streetlights?

    Today is International Women's Day and Blog Against Sexism Day. It's also a good day to remind ourselves that we do not live in a society where men and women live with the same notions of what to expect from life or the same notions of what to expect from each other or the same notions of what to expect from themselves. Regardless of how far we've come (a long way, baby!), how loud we've roared (I am woman!), and how much bacon we can bring home, we still live in a society where sexism is professional, personal, and omnipresent.

    And that's what I know about sexism.

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    Tuesday, March 07, 2006


    Book review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

    My name is Mary and I belong to a Book Club. What is a book club, you ask? Well, a book club is what happens when a group of moms desperate to use some big words (and a couple of well-placed small ones) in a conversation that doesn't include the question: "What's the magic word?" get together and discuss a book that they may or may not have read.

    This past month, my book club gathered to discuss The Giver by Lois Lowry. Now, before you pass judgement, understand that we knew the book falls under the genre of Young Adult fiction and is geared for a pre-teen audience. Cut us some slack. Most of us in the book club haven't slept a full eight hours in years, so we're running on less than a full tank, okay?

    The Giver tells the story of a young boy named Jonas and his coming-of-age in a community where there is no war, no fear, and no pain. In this community, there also are no choices. Because Jonas is now twelve, he is assigned the job that will take him from boyhood and through his adult years until he is sent to live in the House of the Old.

    Once Jonas begins his training to become The Receiver, we begin to understand that Jonas's world is much different than the one that is first presented to us. And as his training progresses, we see Jonas's world--and the limiting qualities of it--through Jonas's eyes. It is then that we share his unrest and his burgeoning distrust of the society in which he lives and its force-fed culture.

    It would be too simple to read this book and take away the message that choice is a good thing. Because is choice always a good thing? Perhaps living in a world without choice can be freeing, especially if you are unaware that you live in a world without choice.

    But while ignorance may be bliss, once an individual--like our friend Jonas--becomes aware of the possibilities of choice and of the richness and color that a world filled with choice brings, that is when the pain of knowing becomes a difficult burden to bear. The question then becomes, Will Jonas be able to change his world?

    I enjoyed reading a book geared for a young audience. I never had to read a sentence twice and yet the meanings were still rich with possibility. For example, how should one interpret the ending? Is it hopeful or not?

    My book club discussed the ending of the book and the issue of choice, which spurred us onto discussions of male circumcision, knitting during the Olympics, and why having a personal shopper pick out your clothes is a good thing. It's these offshoot discussions that make being part of a book club so fun.

    Next month, my book club will read and discuss Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking so we're moving up the literary food chain rather quickly. By the end of the year we'll be tackling Homer's Iliad and exploring the idea of Helen of Sparta as the ultimate Mother Figure and comparing the ten-year-war to the modern day battle of maintaining one's self identity while raising children. I can see it, can't you?

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    Monday, March 06, 2006


    If given the choice, I would not choose

    Imperfect Mommy has a good post up she titled "A year later, my blood still boils (aka why the mommy wars are a joke)."

    Her post hit me like a brick because I have been thinking about writing one very similar to it. She writes:

    "Looking back on things, I am 100% confident that I would still be working if I would not have had to engage in a constant battle after the little lady was born."

    She then goes out to outline the amazing amount of BS she went through after returning to work from maternity leave. I commented on her post:

    Your story very much provides an stunning illustration to the book I'm currently reading, Judith Warner's Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. She writes a lot about how little choice there is when a woman decides to become a mother; in many cases, an unflexible work life simply decides for her. Unfortunately, mothers are then blamed for dropping out when (like you pointed out) they may have stayed in the workforce if the conditions were actually supportive of the idea that a mother does want to spend some amount of time with her child.

    I, too, have been looking back on things lately, mainly because I am reading Judith Warner's book and also because I'm not always 100% totally and completely happy with my life as a stay at home mom as it is. I long for some of the life I once had as a valued member of the workforce. I sometimes blame myself for quitting. Did I wimp out? But the reality is that there were pros and cons to being a working mom and very quickly after I returned to work the cons outweighed the pros. I tend to write off my decision to quit by saying, "I'm lucky I had the choice," but did I really have the choice? And why did I have to choose? Why couldn't I have had both?

    This passage from Perfect Madness rings very true with me and helps explain a lot of my mixed emotions over whether or not I did the right thing by giving up my career to become a domestic engineer:

    What's unnatural about motherhood today, if you follow Hrdy's (author of the 1999 book, Mother Nature) line of thinking, is not that mothers work but rather that their "striving for status" and their "maternal emotions" have been compartmentalized. By putting the two in conflict--by insisting on the incompatibility of work and motherhood--our culture does violence to mothers, splitting them, unnaturally within themselves. And the nature of work today makes this split worse. The demands of the contemporary workplace, which often require long working hours and long commutes, force mothers to separate from their children for excessive periods of time. Lack of flexibility completes a picture in which women really are forced to choose between providing for and nurturing their children. This means that mothers' instinctual drives to "seek status" are put in conflict with their children's instinctual needs for succor. "The conflict is not between maternity and ambition," Hrdy writes, "but between the needs of infants and the way a woman's ambition plays out in modern workplaces."

    My comment on Imperfect Mommy's post went on:

    After reading Warner's book, I, too have revisited my own reasons why I left my career when my daughter was six months old. I had always imagined I would continue working and juggle parenthood with a career, but then the reality of pumping breastmilk in the company "X-box" room while male co-workers rattled the door handle despite the sign on the door, the dismal (yet expensive!) choices for daycare not to mention the waiting lists -- all of these things combined forced me to reconsider my decision and leave work.

    I hope mothers can stop pointing the finger at each other long enough to see that it's an attitudinal shift in the nation that's needed. The availablility of quality daycare would be a good start...

    Right now I'm actively trying to find part time projects that will satisfy my desire to be an adult who interacts with other adults, my "striving for status." I've found a couple and I'll let you know about them when I've finalized the details.

    And I'll write a more detailed review of Warner's book when I'm done with it.

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    Don't throw mud at your brother! Chi chi moo moo?

    In which I attempt to let my children be spontaneous while I try and be okay with it even though I really am not...

    I belong to a playgroup that meets every Monday morning at one of our many local playgrounds. Because it's been raining here and the playgrounds are all wet, today I volunteered my house as an alternative meeting place.

    Not many moms are brave enough to open their homes to these dirty creatures known as children, but I don't mind. I use hosting playgroup as an excuse to run around making clean. Hate me now; I'm one of those moms. You know -- one of those moms who has a clean house. If it makes you feel better, please know that I have complete control freak issues and that's why my house is clean. Really, I'm to be pitied. There's no doubt my kids will go to therapy and wallow in filth when they're adults.

    After an enjoyable morning spent chatting with a mom friend about the book I'm reading (Perfect Madness: Mothering in the Age of Anxiety), why family vacations to the snowy mountains of Lake Tahoe can make a grown man cry, why living in San Mateo can make a grown woman cry, and the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act, Emily, Thomas, and I say goodbye to our playgroup friends. I have visions of an early lunch and an early naptime for my two little pumpkins.

    Unfortunately, my two little pumpkins have other plans and other visions and beg to go outside. I figure I will let them play IN THE FRONT PAVED COURTYARD ONLY while I fold a load of laundry and make some (what else?) macaroni and cheese. I let them out the door with the admonishment, "Do not go around to the side of the house. Do you understand me?" Apparently they thought I was saying,"Gobble gobble boggle doogie do snay. Chi chi moo moo?"

    Two minutes into folding laundry I peek outside and see my two kids playing on the side of the house and splashing in a puddle of water. Okay, I tell myself, I can handle changing shoes and pants. No big deal. I take a big deep breath and continue folding miniature clothes: shirts, pants, sleeper pajamas. I loose myself in the aromatherapy of Downy dryer sheets and pretend I work at Baby Gap.

    Two more minutes pass and I peek outside to make sure one of them hasn't face planted in the puddle of water. I see that they now have sticks and are poking them into the planting bed that lines the perimeter of the yard. The planting bed that one day will be home to beautiful flowering trees and shrubs but that now is home to dirt and worms. It's okay, I tell myself. I am okay with them studying nature up close and personal. Isn't that what childhood is all about? I take a big deep breath and continue folding clothes. This time I pretend I work at the DKNY outlet store.

    Two more minutes pass and I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up; something is terribly wrong. My mother sense kicks in, and I look out the window in time to see Emily throwing mud pies at Thomas, who is laughing. He has mud all over his hair and face and a big clump of mud and grass sticking out of the back of his shirt. I imagine it doesn't feel too good, but since he's laughing, I can't be sure. I rap on the glass and shout, "Stop throwing mud at your brother!" which I'm sure came out as, "Bleek blook boing dee dook!"

    I realize at that moment that I am no longer relaxed or okay with the idea that my two kids are having a grand old time playing in mud. All of a sudden I am not okay with the thought of cleaning mud off of my children, their clothes, my floors, and my rugs. Argh! I feel my tension and anger rising fast, but I try and quell it.

    I think fast. What would a fun loving, cool, rational mom do? Acting on something I read in a magazine once, I draw a hot bath with plenty of bubbles. I change my pre-nap plan to include a long bath. I am determined not to let this little muddy upset ruin an otherwise perfectly sane day.

    I strip both kids at the door and plop them in the tub. While they enjoy a surprise bath and have a great time getting water all over the floor of the bathroom and spitting at each other, I shake off the excess mud and rinse all of the soiled clothing in the kitchen sink. Even though I'm trying not to let it get to me, I'm upset that my kids' fun in the mud has now resulted in the cold hard reality of my life as their caretaker. I am; therefore I clean.

    As I continue to clean, I continue to contemplate my consternation. I am conflicted between what I think a nice or a good mom would allow (the dream mom in my imagination) and what I do allow. I know that my hating of chores done ad infinitum is what keeps me from being (what I see as) a good mom. The reality is that I have a clean house yet I hate to clean. Maybe I'm the one who needs therapy.

    My daydreaming is interrupted by a shriek from Thomas. I don't know what caused it but I'm sure it has something to do with his sister, a coveted bath toy, and the dreaded idea of sharing. At any rate, I decide it's time for this afternoon mud and bath interlude to be over and life to resume as though mud play never happened. I contemplate the hour I just spent doing an entirely unnecessary round of chores and heave a large sigh. The wine bottle beckons from the counter, but I ignore it although I do speed up the lunchtime ritual and manage to plop Thomas in his crib a half hour before the appointed nap time. I need a break and a hot bath of my own. I need to calm down and accept that I am a mother to two little pumpkins who don't understand right from wrong and who depend on me to do the work while they do the dirty.

    Chi chi moo moo?

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    Sunday, March 05, 2006


    Married mom of two declares family vacation "not relaxing"

    "How 'bout them Oscars?" responds Mary Tsao, suburban housewife and mother of two, when asked about her most recent out of town adventure. "No, seriously, didn't you just love the part when that one lady thanked her kids? And the part when Reese said she was just a woman trying to make a difference? Those were my favorite parts. Oh, and I was so happy that Wallace & Gromit and March of the Penguins won! When they put those little bowties on the statues...wasn't that cute?"

    Pressed to give details about the nine hour car ride her family took to Northern California vacation hotspot Lake Tahoe, Mrs. Tsao shudders and makes small noises, motioning with her hands how she had to scrape the ice off the window so that her husband could see after they found themselves driving in a blizzard. "And when we got to Highway 89, he had to drive with his head stuck out the window. That was frightening!"

    Asked if she found the weekend relaxing, Mrs. Tsao gives a little laugh. "Relaxing? A vacation that involves two kids in diapers who both still drink only from sippy cups?" Mrs. Tsao's little laugh turns into a giggle and then into a shrill cackle, which she seems unable to stop.

    Mrs. Tsao finally stops her hysterical laughter long enough to tell us that she has to go get started on the first of ten post-vacation loads of laundry (Having fun is a dirty business), but she directs us to the photos she put up on Flickr.

    When asked if she will ever go on a family vacation again, Mrs. Tsao gets a funny look on her face. "Of course! We had a great time, silly. I mean, the vacation was not relaxing in the least, but I don't think family vacations are supposed to be relaxing, do you?"

    Thursday, March 02, 2006


    Being Karen Joy Fowler

    I have been meaning to write about Karen Joy Fowler for some time now. She is the last author I saw speak at last month's Festival of Woman Authors held by the Berkeley YWCA.

    When I approached Karen's table to get my books signed she seemed very familiar to me. I wondered if I had met her before, which is probably why I opened my large mouth and asked her for her email address. I think I may have gushed something like, "I have a BLOG and I often write book reviews. Is there an email address for your publisher where I can send a link to the review?"

    Even though I came across like an Internet stalker, Karen was very kind and gave me her personal email address and then, as I was walking away red faced and dazed at my brazen nature, she motioned me back. "I'm interested in knowing more about blogging for a book I'm writing. What's your email address?" She said.

    Embarrassment then turned into mortification when the only business cards--and I'm using this term lightly--I had in my purse were the ones I made from some Dora the Explorer playing cards of Emily's. I had written my name and URL on them with a Sharpie. Clever, huh? Either that or completely lame. But Karen smiled as she took my card. It's possible she can relate to a world where a kid's playing card can also serve as a business card; after all, she is a mom, too. Maybe that's why I felt as though I already knew her.

    Anyway, Karen is a deadpan funny speaker with spot-on comedic timing. She had the room laughing from the moment she prefaced her speech with a nod to James Frey: "To the best of my knowledge these (stories) are true."

    Karen has been in the publishing industry for many years. She started writing science fiction short stories, and then moved on to novels. Her first novel isSarah Canary and her latest isThe Jane Austen Book Club, which is an international best seller. It took twenty seven rejections and three years to get her first novel published. This kind of information is heartening for a newbie like me.

    During the time she's been in the publishing industry, Karen has noticed a definite shift in the attitudes of New York publishers. According to her, they now recognize the fact that most readers of literature are now women. She even said that her editor once admitted that "women's book clubs are what's keeping literature alive in this country today." That got a roar of approval and a round of applause from the festival crowd.

    But the one thing that Karen said in her speech is something so profound it has come up in my thoughts almost every day since I heard it: "We are living in a science fiction novel and if you haven't noticed it, look up for a second."

    Since the day I met asked Karen to sign my copy of Jane Austen Book Club, I have come to realize that I actually know people that Karen knows and the degrees of separation between us have slowly dropped to one. One! There is only one person standing between me and Karen Joy Fowler! The whole situation is making my head spin just a little bit. Here is the timeline of events:

    August 16, 1968. I am born.

    Sometime in 2001
    . I purchase a book at Green Apple Book Store in San Francisco called Sister Noon. The author is Karen Joy Fowler. I like the book. I later sell it to a used book store in Berkeley. Out of ten cartons, it is one of the few books that they purchase.

    July 15, 2005. After a disjointed and random web surfing session, I find out about BlogHer '05. I sign up on a whim. I have not blogged consistently since the birth of my second child and I am contemplating going on anti depressants.

    July 30, 2005. I attend BlogHer '05. During the mommyblogging breakout session, I sit next to Liz Henry. She points out that we both have Moleskine notebooks. I see her looking at notes I am taking. I worry my notes are inadequate.

    August - December, 2005. I blog more. I decide I don't need anti depressants. I am less depressed. I complete NaNoWriMo. I decide that I want to become a writer.

    January 28, 2006. I sign up for WoolfCamp after stumbling onto Grace's site the day she posts about WoolfCamp. I feel the hand of fate moving my mouse.

    January 30, 2006. I attend the BlogHer meet-up in San Francisco. I am drawn to the mommybloggers I remember from BlogHer '05: Jo Spanglemonkey, Jenijen, Liz. I wonder if I now am cool enough to hang out with them. I decide that alcohol will make me cool.

    January 30, 2006. It works! Liz invites me to Bad Ass Mamas coffee hour.

    February 4, 2006. I attend the Festival of Women Authors in Berkeley after being invited by a non-blogging friend. On this day, I meet Karen Joy Fowler.

    February 4, 2006. I embarrass myself in front of Karen Joy Fowler. She seems amused by this. In my copy of The Jane Austen Book Club, she writes, To Mary (calling plaintively from the nightstand) Karen Joy Fowler.

    February 18, 2006. I go to WoolfCamp, where I meet Debbie Notkin. She is cool and I like her. She has some books for sale. One of the books is The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2, which she co-edited along with...

    Karen Joy Fowler!

    I could stop this timeline right now with Debbie being my one degree of separation between me and Karen Joy Fowler, but then...

    March 2, 2006. I go to Bad Ass Mamas coffee hour and find out that Liz knows Karen Joy Fowler, too.

    Amazing. Who doesn't know Karen Joy Fowler?

    March 2, 2006. I remember that I want to blog about Karen Joy Fowler's talk and start writing a straightforward synopsis. My entry quickly takes on a stalkeresque quality, but I can't help myself; Karen Joy Fowler is haunting my life.

    March 2, 2006. I wonder if there is a point to this timeline. Is it possible I will soon be calling Karen Joy Fowler a "friend?" What's next? Becoming relatives through marriage? Reincarnating as Karen Joy Fowler? Being Karen Joy Fowler? Is Karen Joy Fowler stalking me??

    March 2, 2006. I realize I am still waiting for Karen Joy Fowler to email me so that we can discuss blogging.

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