Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time

I should preface this review by saying that a lot of what I've been reading lately has been lackluster. Not good, not bad, just....not anything. I've read a lot of books this year that I haven't even mentioned here because they didn't make me feel anything at all. They weren't good books but they also weren't bad enough to compel me to write a fun review about how much I disliked it. I hate it when I fall into that sort of rut, reading book after book and feeling completely indifferent about all of them. I have a personal goal to review most of what I read, but if, as I write my review, I start to bore myself, there is no way I can expect you folks to care about what I have to say. Which is why I'm so glad I finally got around to reading Love is A Mix Tape, because I LOVED THIS BOOK.

The author, Rob Sheffield, is a music journalist who has written for Rolling Stone but he's probably most known for popping up on VH1 to give a well informed opinion every time music is discussed. I've always sort of liked what he's had to say so his books have been on my to-read list for sometime. Love is a Mix Tape is all about Sheffield's too short time with his now deceased wife Renee, who died suddenly and unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism, just five years into their marriage.

Each chapter starts out with a picture of the cover of a mix tape, including band names and song titles. As the chapter progresses, Rob discusses himself and Renee and what they were doing at the time that particular tape was made. At first glance, the book might come off as trite, just the mundane details about the lives of a young music loving couple, but it's so much more than that. Rob speaks of his late wife so sweetly and with such love, that I'll just come out and admit it: The whole thing melted my cold, hard, normally bitter, heart.

One part specifically that really got to me was when Rob describes the time he and Renee returned from a road trip to find that the power had been cut off and they didn't have the cash to settle the bill:

There was no way I could have seen it coming, yet the fact that I couldn't protect Renee from it drove me crazy. How could something like this just happen? Why couldn't I do anything about it? I had felt helpless many times, as an adult even, but feeling helpless as a husband was different from anything I'd ever felt in my life. This was just a temporary snag, but it made me realize how many more of these there were going to be. I was going to have to get used to feeling helpless if I was going to remain a husband. And being a husband made me helpless, because I had somebody to protect (somebody a little high-strung, who had a tough time emotionally with things like the lights going out indefinitely.) Man, I thought it was tough being broke when I was single, but being broke as a husband is not even in the same category.

That paragraph just tore me up. I think that sort of sentiment coming from a man is greatly missing in books today. You expect it from a woman, but from a man.....it's unusual, but in a good way. The entire book was filled with these little moments. When we get to the chapter where he describes Renee's death, he writes about not believing that it's really happened and how he keeps thinking she'll return or call. When he finally leaves the apartment he takes the home phone with him, even though it was a traditional land line and would have done him no good, but he didn't want to think about Renee calling and not getting an answer.

Although I stayed in a perpetual choked-up, near tears state throughout most of the book, it definitely had its funny moments as well. Rob Sheffield is a quick witted, wordy guy, so the story never bores. Here he describes how they would fight over money:

One of us was a scrimp-and-saver, the other was a big spender. Neither of us was what is known as an "earner."

So yes, I loved this book and think that you should read it. It's a quick, easy read, but also original. (It's a shame that this type of male perspective is so lacking in literature.) I'm anxious to read Sheffield's latest book, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, but I may wait a while on that one. I'm not yet ready to think about him without Renee.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Anniversary of The Big Move

The anniversary of the big move was a few weeks back so it should come as no surprise that I've been finding myself dwelling not only on all that was accomplished within the last year but also what we left behind and how we hope to better our lives in the future.I remain so amazed that we were able to do it all. I know of a lot of people who still live within the same general vicinity of the place where they grew up, so to think that I'm now living closer to Canada than I am to my birthplace, leaves my brain rattled a bit. (I know, I'm simple.)

Given that I've had a year to think about it, I sat down and tried to make a list of some of the things I missed about Florida:

*My clothesline. I don't plan on living on the second floor of an apartment building forever, but even if I had my own house with my own yard, a clothesline wouldn't get much use here. Occasionally, yes, and especially during the summer months, but mostly it's just too wet and gray.

*Thunder. Oregon has thunder, but it's kind of a joke. (Sorry Oregon, I still love you though.) In fact, it took me months to realize that what I was hearing was in fact thunder at all. For the first six months we lived here I just thought someone off in the near distance was getting some roofing work done. Then it occurred to me that it was Oregon's idea of thunder. Yeah, the thunder in the south could totally kick its ass. But then again, southern thunder is usually accompanied by winds that could blow your house away and torrential downpours that flood streets, making rednecks think it's okay to float their canoe down the street, so you take the good with the bad.

*My compost bin. Okay, I know this one technically doesn't count because I could have one in Oregon, just not on my balcony. I'm sure my downstairs neighbors wouldn't appreciate it.

And.......... that's all I got. Three things. Really, only two things because I'm sure I'll get a compost bin again one day. So no, I don't regret the move. I mean, I didn't think I would regret it, but before we moved there were a lot of naysayers (none of you kind people) who were certain that within a year we'd be jumping at the chance to move back to Florida.

So much has happened in Florida that would have had a huge impact on our lives had we chosen to stay. The boy's best friend moved to West Virginia. My best friend will be on her way to her new home in Indiana tomorrow, and Jay's close golfing buddy moved to Pennsylvania. It's amazing how quickly things can change. I'm glad we left when we did because I wouldn't want to be the person being left behind.

Not only would our social circle have changed, but it's quite possible Jay's work situation would have changed as well. No job is ever 100% secure, but since we've left, certain things have happened at that location that would have kept us on edge had we stayed. Here, Jay really has no day to day worries about his job.

As for me, I'm job hunting. Having been out of the workforce for so long, I'm scared. But excited. I'm so eager to work. I have some applications to fill out, and having talked to a few employers this morning, I'm feeling good about the reception I got. But, I'll be glad when the actual job hunting is over.

Looking back over the past few years I feel as if our lives were on hold while we were in Florida and we didn't begin to truly live until we left. The move has forced us to put ourselves out there and push ourselves in ways we didn't have to before.I guess only time will tell if the move was a good decision, but if you ask me, we've already come out on top.

(All photos were taken at Portland's lovely and lush Forest Park.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Houseguest

Next to Jay's store is a bra store that's in the process of being remodeled and they are throwing away all of their old fixtures and mannequins. Jay rescued this fetching young lass from the dumpster:

Randomness about this young woman:

*I'm not sure, but I think she and my son might be dating.

*She had a friend, but she was promptly snatched up by another store manager who had recently broken up with his girlfriend. Make of that what you will.

*I don't think she'll be staying with us long. I don't need this bitch standing around making me feel bad about my body.

*On the bright side, I can for certain say that I will always have her beat in the brains department.

Any suggestions for artsy crafty things to do with a mannequin? Or maybe some type of practical joke? I have to make her time with me worthwhile.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Pillow Covers

Shortly after we moved here, I set to work assembling some log cabin squares fully intending to make a quilt. I made about a dozen squares, using lots of greens, yellows, and oranges. I think initially I was going for some type of modified citrus theme. Anyway, as is usually the case with me and quilting, I grew tired of the project pretty quickly. I'm finding that I'm filled with dozens of ideas for large projects but not much patience to see them through. I get distracted by books, TV, or the family and when I finally return to whatever poor project I last abandoned, my enthusiasm for it is gone and I'm on to something else. So, the squares and remaining fabric got thrown in my desk drawer.

About two months ago I got everything out again but didn't feel like doing log cabins so I just started sewing the strips of fabric together with no real purpose. A few days later it all went back, once again, in the desk drawer. Which was where they remained until this morning when I decided my bed needed new throw pillows.
My favorite part about these pillow covers is that they can be taken off and washed, because they have that overlap thing going on in the back:I had never done that before but after making my own cloth sandwich bags (via this tutorial), I figured it was the same general idea.

As I was making these, I wasn't all that into the project, but as they started to come together I really began to love the way they look. I've come a long way with my sewing and it feels good to say that I made something that doesn't look like crap.

The cat likes them too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gub-Gub Brownies

(I'm pretty sure that I've written about these brownies here before but it was probably a while ago and I don't really feel like looking anyway. Plus, they're so tasty and unique that they're worth mentioning again.)

It's been a long time-at least two years-since I've made these. The other day I was kind of absentmindedly fumbling around in the kitchen when I said to no one in particular, "I need to make Gub Gub brownies again." The boy jumped from the couch and yelled, "Oh my god, yes! Please!" How could I say no to that kind of enthusiasm?

Despite my sweet tooth, I actually hate most brownies. But these are different, more like some strange, gooey chocolate chip cookie/brownie hybrid. The recipe comes from Ayun Halliday's Dirty Sugar Cookies, which is one of my all time favorite books.It's part funny memoir, part cook book and it doesn't disappoint on either count.

I'm not going to post the recipe here because I can't find it anywhere on the internet and I don't want to be the first to plagiarize Ayun Halliday, so to further entice you to buy the book (or at the very least, get it from the library), here's a picture of the pan of brownies before being popped into the oven:

Raw eggs be damned...yum.

There is another recipe from Dirty Sugar Cookies that I have been dying to make but have never tried and that is the Shitty Kitty Confection, which has some of the best instructions in the book, such as Get ready to fuck up your blender with one package of vanilla sandwich cookies. It's basically a cake/cookie/pudding mixture with some Tootsie Rolls thrown on top to look like cat turds. Oh, and it's served in a (clean and unused) cat box and doled out with a pooper scooper. See, I can't serve that to just anyone, it would have to be someone who has cats and would truly appreciate it. (Daphne, consider yourself warned.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review:: The Anti-Romantic Child

Priscilla Gilman's childhood was idyllic. She never wanted for anything and she and her sister spent hours lost in the world of books or creative imaginative play. For her, childhood was paradise.

As the time neared for Priscilla to have her first child, a boy she would name Benji, she had a lot of romantic notions and expectations for his childhood. But as months passed, she soon realized that Benji was different: his fine and gross motor skills were always a bit off, he seemed to have an abnormal fascination with letters and numbers and he was reading fluently by the time he was two. On the one hand, Priscilla and her husband saw all of this as just signs of Benji's brilliance since they themselves were steeped in the world of academia at Yale, but when they attempted to enroll Benji in pre-school, they soon realized how different he truly was.

Eventually, Benji not only was diagnosed as having hyperlexia-which some believe to be the neurological opposite of dyslexia-but also as having abnormalities with his sense of touch, sense of movement, and sense of position processing systems. He had a speech disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, and motor delays. He needed speech therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, and physical therapy. The Anti-Romantic Child documents the years Priscilla and her husband spent trying to understand Benji and get him the treatments and education that he deserved.

I won this book through Goodreads (which is where I seem to be getting a lot of my books lately-yay for free books!) and I have to admit that I didn't expect to like it. Lately I've grown tired of memoirs and disappointed with what I see as the silly premises and poor writing contained in them. (Just Kids would be an exception to this.) But I loved this book. Priscilla Gilman is a phenomenal writer and the way she writes about her son is so heartfelt and honest. She intertwines her tales of tirelessly advocating for her son with snippets of poetry by Wordsworth (she's a scholar of the poet) but the writing never once gets too flowery or pretentious. She's simply writing what she feels in the best way that she knows how.

Another thing I loved about Priscilla is that although she comes from what I consider to be extreme privilege (wealthy New York lifestyle, two parents in somewhat high profile literary fields, etc.) she never comes across as seeming to have a sense of entitlement. She just wants for her son what anyone would want, and she herself puts in a great deal of legwork to get it. She takes him to numerous weekly classes, therapies, and meetings. While Benji was in speech therapy she kept speech journals of everything he said and in what context, and she'd often spend hours at night composing emails to Benji's teachers in attempts to reach agreements on the best way to teach him. All of this eventually takes its toll on Gilman's marriage, which she touches on near the end of the book, but never in any kind of accusatory way and throughout the book she really does a great job of staying focused on the topic-Benji.

I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone (it was definitely that good), but especially to someone who closely knows a child who has a personality that could be placed somewhere on the Autism spectrum.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Completely Mundane Randomness

*Last month I shaved my head. I kept meaning to tell you all that but for some reason never got around to it. Beforehand, I made this semi-big deal about it on Facebook. Like, should I do it/should I not? Then when Jay finally shaved my head it was sort of anti-climactic because it wasn't that much shorter than my usual pixie cut. I guess that's why I never mentioned it, it seemed uninteresting.

*Jay and I watched Back Swan the other night. Eh. Maybe I've just seen too many movies but I was completely underwhelmed by the lackluster storyline of this film. The acting was great but I really wanted more from the whole movie, especially the ending. As I sit here I can't really even think about any memorable scenes. As a side note: Everyone in that movie is really, really skinny so don't watch it if you're having a fat day. Jay made comments to me more than once about this, saying things like, "I don't think anyone in this movie weighs enough to get their period." Or, during a scene when Natalie Portman's character is seen vomiting into a toilet he said, "Oh you're throwing up? It must have been that half a grapefruit you ate two days ago." That's my guy.

*I really need a job. Not just for the obvious reasons of helping my husband provide for our family and bettering ourselves financially, but for the less obvious reason that if I don't find something semi-productive with which to occupy my time outside of the house, someone is gonna get stabbed. Back in Florida, when I had a huge house, I stayed busy all day and the fact that I didn't work wasn't really an issue. But here, our apartment is small and with regular upkeep it can be cleaned in a matter of minutes. So then I'm left trying to figure out how to fill the other 23 1/2 hours of the day. Of course, the girl is with me most of the day, so I spend a lot of time entertaining her, but really, she's not an infant and she doesn't need constant oversight. I try to stay busy with my hobbies and books but I'm definitely feeling the need for MORE. Not sure what MORE is but I hope I find it soon.

The sad irony of all this is that the time in my life when I want to work the most, it's logistically just not possible. Jay's schedule changes weekly and at times can be odd and hard to work around (ex: tomorrow he works from 4 AM until noon). Then there is the girl's 2 1/2 hour school day. These two factors incredibly limit what hours I can work. So, the plan is to start actively looking for a job when the school year is over and the boy can babysit. Then next year the girl will have a longer school day and we'll possibly utilize the after school program at her school, thus giving me an entire day to work. Like a normal person. Just thinking about this makes me giddy.

*To fill some of the many hours of my unwanted free time, I've taken to watching episodes of Law and Order, which, if you have access to enough channels, is on in some form at all times. Not only have I gotten good at figuring out who committed the crime and why, but now I'm starting to pick up on continuity errors within scenes. This would be sort of exciting if someone was around at the time for me to share this with, but sadly it's just the pets and they don't care about my sharp eye. And frankly, I try not to talk to the pets too much because I'm worried that in my severely bored mental state, that would propel me into a level of crazy I'm not quite ready to own up to yet.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Facebook and My Son

One of the minor irritants in my life lately has been in regards to my son and what he posts on Facebook. If you want to get technical, he's not even supposed to have a Facebook page because he's still underage (I think the age is 13, and he's not quite there yet.) But the fact that my son has almost 400 Facebook friends, most of whom are middle school age, proves that this is an easy enough rule to get around. When he started up his account, Jay and I set up a couple of ground rules:

1. He has to be friends with me and Jay.

2. His FB account, much like his cell phone, Ipod, email account, and (still useless) Playstation network account, is subject to an impromptu inspection at any time. (I've never actually had to log in to his FB account to snoop because many of his friends' pages aren't private so in most cases I can check up on things on my own in a matter of minutes. But, as mom, I reserve the right to hijack the whole thing if I feel a need to.)

About once a week I look at his page, click on his friends pages and commence "snooping." For the most part, I'm not friends with any of his friends and I don't want to be, I don't post on his page, and I pretty much try to make my presence go unknown. I'm not trying to be the 'cool mom', I'm just trying to do my job as a parent. And mostly everything I find is harmless. There's probably a bit more cursing than I would like, but nothing that isn't typical of an almost thirteen year old boy.

Occasionally though, he'll post a comment so foolish or ignorant that I feel the need to speak up. Sometimes I mention it to him offline and in private, other times I'll call him on it right there on Facebook. Last night was one of those times. After it was announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, my son posted something so ignorant and uneducated that I felt the need to speak up. I'm not going to repost what he said here because it was just dumb. It wasn't even politically controversial, just really stupid, and I said as much on his page and then his dad and I had a discussion with him about it.

What's my point in writing about this then? Well, this got me to thinking that once something is put *out there* via Facebook (or a blog for that matter), it's out there for good. Even if you delete it, chances are someone saw it. This isn't anything new to me of course. I've been blogging for a few years now and there are times I've had to clarify my point because I didn't say things as eloquently as I could have. But usually, when I post something here, I've thought about it enough to feel confident in the way I write about it. I think that everything that I put into words here truthfully reflects the person that I am.

My issue is that a lot of what my son puts on Facebook doesn't reflect the person I know he is. So much of it is phony, foolish posturing in an attempt to appear a certain way to the folks whose opinions matter a lot to him right now-his peers, other teens and pre teens acting just as stupid as he is. I know that this behaviour is typical of a twelve year old but it still bugs me that it has to be manifest in a way that is so public, to be read by anyone with an internet connection.

I'm sure when I was twelve I did and said a lot of stupid things that would embarrass me now, things that are far off from the person who I am today. But there's no public record of my foolishness. My stupidity was kept within my small circle of friends, rarely spoken of by anyone else and certainly not seen by adult eyes.

So now I, and other parents like me, are faced with a dilemma: Do we intervene every time our kid posts something dumb/ignorant/offensive on Facebook or do we let it slide in hopes that they'll come to their senses on their own? I'm not really the 'let it slide' type but I have to say that I was a really sheltered child and even I didn't have someone looking over my shoulder correcting every stupid thing I said. (FYI: Jodi wrote about something similar that happened in her life last year and I've been thinking about her post a lot today.) Of course there is always the option of making him delete his FB account, but I don't think that's the best solution in the long term.

As for me, I suppose I'll keep doing what I'm doing. Maybe a bit more snooping and a few more conversations about the face you present to the world via the internet. But until the teen years are over, if you find yourself on my son's FB page and something offends you, let me apologize in advance.