June 30, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting, Book Reviews

On a recent June afternoon, my boys and I, in various combinations, spent the hours between 1:30pm and 8:45pm in the car in a perfect storm of dental appointments, sports practices, horrendous Seattle traffic, and a birthday party. It was a long afternoon, but somewhere along the way, we proved that old parenting adage that says if you want to talk to your kids and have them actually pay attention to you and respond, do it in a moving vehicle.

We covered all kinds of topics, like the proper terminology for male anatomy, who liked or didn’t like which girls, and why they shouldn’t make weird faces at the drivers stuck in traffic next to us, but by far the most heated conversation was about what to do in the event of an apocalypse.


My oldest son is very into this topic. The Hunger Games and The 100, both the book and the TV show on CW, have triggered this interest. The 100, by Kass Morgan, concerns the last remaining survivors of a nuclear-war ravaged earth in their makeshift home in space. They have been floating in their spaceship for a long time and are now rapidly running out of resources, namely air. Is it safe to return to earth? Instead of sending a Wall-E-esque robot for the task, they decide to send 100 juvenile delinquents in custody until their mandated death at the age of 18. Since they’re slated to die anyway, who better to investigate the habitability of planet Earth? After dropping 100 questionably moral teenagers onto earth with no resources, no adults, and no social structure, multiple intriguing problems ensue. (Note: The TV show is nothing like the book, save for the title and the premise.)

When my oldest son posed the question: “What would you do if there was a zombie invasion in Seattle? What would be the plan?”, I thought it was a fair one. After all, Brad Pitt earned millions of dollars answering the same question in World War Z.

Naturally, as a mother, I have a plan for just this occasion, but I was curious about what my sons would say. My youngest came up with an elaborate and violent plan to decapitate every zombie he saw with a knife.

My Oldest: You’re only eight years old. You can’t even reach his neck.

Youngest: I can climb up on his shoulders and then chop off his head.

Me: I think you should run far away from the zombies.

Middle Son: I would go out into the country and hide.

Me: That’s a great idea!

Oldest: I would go hang out at Costco.

Me: Costco? Trust me: by the time you got there, the food would all be cleared out. That’s the last place you’d want to be.

My son didn’t believe me. He argued, loudly, and I argued right back.

Because I knew: I saw what happened here in Seattle when the great wind storm of 2006 downed power lines and trees. Food, gas, and medicine were nowhere to be found because the supply trucks couldn’t get through.

I knew something else too: the story of Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. It is a compelling fictional tale of what would happen to the pockets of civilization that survived a full-scale nuclear war. Radiation was a big problem, as were looting and lawlessness. There was no more food being delivered to grocery store shelves because the major cities, and thus the major factories, were taken out. The same happened with medications and pharmacies, leaving those requiring medication to live, such as diabetics on insulin, with a severely limited lifespan. Broken eyeglasses and illnesses requiring antibiotics, normally easy fixes, became calamities because the resources to provide those supplies were no longer available. Makeshift police crews guarded the barricades of their new, enclosed city against invaders with radiation poisoning or the intent to steal. Venturing beyond the confines of the new city became a life-threatening endeavor.

I relayed all of this information to my son, and still he didn’t believe me. So I did the next best thing: I said “Read Alas, Babylon and then we’ll talk.”

He’s reading it now, and I can’t wait until he’s done. Not only is it a terrific read, but I’ll be curious to see if his post-apocalypse plan changes in any way, although I may have to wait for another long drive in the car to hear it.







June 27, 2014 in Book Reviews


I love watching mystery shows. There is something about the discovery of a crime and the gradual unfolding of the investigation that hooks me. Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, True Detective, Top of the Lake, and Broadchurch are just a sampling of the kinds of shows I watch that fit this genre. Now I have a new one to add to my Netflix queue: Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran from 1993-1999 on NBC.

It was based on David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Simon, a journalist, spent one year in the company of the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit. I have been to Baltimore once in my life, and I have three distinct memories of the city. One: the people I met were wonderful. Two: the National Aquarium in Baltimore was spectacular, and three: the sound of sirens traveling throughout the city never stopped. Now I know why.

Baltimore is a tough city where crimes are solved by tough detectives, and Simon gives you a front row seat to the action. Not only does he take you along as the detectives painstakingly walk through the crime scenes, write up reports, track leads, and interrogate suspects, he lets you hang out with the detectives on slow nights, where their personality clashes, gallows humor, and failed or failing personal relationships play out. He takes you to the morgue, the courtroom, and the bars after hours, all pivotal aspects of a detective’s job. He walks you through the office politics and the pressure to clear cases off the large white board in the room, listing every detective’s successes and failures in red and black ink. But at the core of the book are the cases themselves. Some are “dunkers,” easily solved because the shooter shot the victim in front of witnesses, and some are true “whodunits,” following the path of a Law and Order episode, where evidence and information from witnesses are followed like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, hopefully to a viable suspect. Then there are the cases that break their hearts, like the case of an eleven-year-old girl whose murderer is still at large despite the efforts of the lead detective who almost lost himself in the case.

This was a fascinating look into the basest level of humanity and the detectives who dedicate their careers to trying to hold those people accountable for their crimes. It is not pretty, and there are precious few happy endings, but these detectives continue to show up, day after day, night after night, doing everything humanly possible to avenge the deaths of the victims. I have a new appreciation for the men and women who hold the position of homicide detective, and for David Simon, who spent a year immersed in this life. His research and his writing are meticulous, and his own tales about his time as a writer holed up with some of the toughest men around, trying to break into their domain, are just hilarious.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is a true literary Law and Order that gripped me as strongly as the TV show, if not more: I still wonder if they ever caught the murderer of that young girl.


June 24, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting, Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

June 18, 2014 marked two big milestones in our family: my oldest son graduated from eighth grade/middle school, and my middle son graduated from 5th grade/elementary school. Amidst the pride and the parties and the sheer relief of being on summer vacation, the thought occurred to me that this particular summer was one we needed to savor, for big changes are on their way.

My oldest son begins high school in the fall as a freshman. Grades will begin to matter, strength of character will be tested, and the balance between school, sports, homework, and chores will ratchet up in both volume and seriousness. For my son, this summer will be the last true summer of his childhood, and I intend to let him enjoy every last minute of it.

For my middle son, the journey from elementary school to middle school is an anxious one. Our middle school has about 1200 students, two stories, and five-minute transitions from class to class, which is a far cry from the elementary school he has lived in for the past six years. He is worried he will get lost in the throng of students filling the halls between classes. Luckily, his big brother has been enlisted to show him around before school starts, but I anticipate an anxiety-ridden first day of school for both of us. But once my middle son finds his friends and his way, he will be just fine.

This summer marks a big change for me too: I’m going back to school! After mmmppffhh years of being out of school and raising my three sons, I am going back for a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing. When the reading list came out, I had a momentary panic attack: how could I possibly read all of these books by the middle of July? But then I realized…my homework is reading? I love to read! I read all the time even when it’s not assigned. The only difference now is that the books I read are being selected for me.

I have already waded into my reading list, and I have discovered two things. First of all, I am being introduced to some amazing authors that I have never heard of before, and I will have some great recommendations to offer you this summer! Secondly, I have the distinct feeling that I have come home. This program is exactly where I want to be. Yes, it will be an adjustment for all of us, as the words “I have to study,” will be coming out of my mouth quite frequently. But my kids are getting older and they will have to study more too. I have a warm image of all of us sitting around the kitchen table on a crisp fall afternoon, fingers tapping on a laptop, pencils scratching across pieces of paper, and the sound of scissors slicing through paper for a cut-and-paste project. (Notice I have already blocked out the tears of frustration, the arguments over who needs help first, and the yelling to hurry up because somebody has soccer practice in 15 minutes.)

In the meantime, this is a summer to savor, and we are going to soak in every single second of it.

Right after I finish reading my book.



June 5, 2014 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

You know how people post quotes on Facebook? Some are funny, some are thoughtful, and some are inevitably about cats. I skim over most of them, but the other day I came across one that has stayed with me. I can’t even remember how it went, but the gist of it was “Be Kind. You never know what battle someone else is fighting.”

I think about that when one of my fellow parents cuts me off in the school parking lot during the chaos of the morning drop-off. Does she have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, or has she spent the better part of her morning trying to keep her ADHD kid on task so that he can get to school on time, exhausting her patience for the day by 8:30am?

Is the guy who deliberately steps in front of me in the grocery checkout line being a jackass, or is he trying to finish an errand before he heads off for a visit with his dad, a man with Alzheimer’s who doesn’t always remember his own son?

Is the woman sniping at the young man behind the help counter being a bitch, or is she angry about the fact that her sister has just been diagnosed with lung cancer even though she hasn’t smoked a cigarette in her life?

We all have our battles to fight. Some are new, some are long-standing, some are mild, and some are severe, but they are there. Some days we seem to be winning, some days we need to hide under a blanket on the couch for a temporary reprieve, and some days we lash out in anger at strangers because we can’t lash out anywhere else.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, especially as those my age seem to be battling on multiple warfronts. We have kids with congenital defects, learning disabilities, social difficulties, and tendencies to annoy their siblings for no other reason than because they are there. We are waging war on drugs, alcohol, the inappropriate use of social media, and teenage moodiness. We have aging parents who are slowing down and dear friends suffering through cancer, divorce, the death of a loved one, a mid-life crisis, and long-standing health issues. And we have ourselves, trying to give everything to everyone until we have nothing left to give to anyone.

I’m going to think about this the next time someone around me is behaving like a jerk. Instead of getting angry right back, I hope I can take a moment to calm down and remember to be kind. I might not roll over and let the person walk all over me, but I will send a silent message out into the universe: “I forgive you, because while I don’t know what battle you are fighting today, I know you’ll need your energy to fight it.” And maybe, just maybe, they’ll do the same for me when I’m the one acting like an ass.






June 3, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

I recently watched Top of the Lake, a seven-episode TV miniseries out of New Zealand, in about two days. It’s a moody piece beautifully filmed against a backdrop of misty forests and an icy, eerie lake in a small town that holds a lot of secrets. Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) returns home to Laketop when a 12-year-old girl Tui, who might have tried to drown herself in the lake, is found to be five months pregnant. But who is the father? “No one,” she insists.

Tui’s father Matt Mitcham is a beast of a man encased in a thin, wiry build with a craggy face and straggly hair. He is menacing and indifferent to human—and dog—life. His home, Tui’s home, is one with no limits: drugs, alcohol, threats, and physical violence run rampant. And yet, every once in awhile, Matt Mitcham will show a softer side—right before he beats himself for his failures.

Detective Robin Griffin is the master of the silent stare, a combination of raw honesty and strength: she has survived much in her lifetime. The lake took her father, her mother is dying of cancer, and there is something in her past that occurred in Laketop that is bubbling just below the surface. Here, too, is her high school sweetheart Johnno, fresh out of prison for drug possession. It’s not a big surprise: his father is Matt Mitcham.

There is also a bizarre subplot: a group of women have purchased a piece of land and are living on it in giant metal containers, the kind that semis use to pull their cargo. It’s a commune of sorts, where women in pain have come to heal under the guidance of their leader GJ (played by Holly Hunter), an odd woman with long hair turned gray by a lightning strike.

When Tui winds up missing, Robin goes into action, investigating Tui’s past, interrogating Tui’s friends, and getting reacquainted with Johnno. But the real mystery of this miniseries is who can be trusted. Everyone has a secret, and most of them are slowly unraveled as the miniseries progresses. There are some intriguing ambiguities in the end, and perhaps that is part of the reason why I can’t let this haunting miniseries go. (That, and the scene that made me gasp in horror. If you’ve already watched this, then you know exactly which scene I’m talking about.) Yes, it was creepy at times, and there were some baffling forays into subplots that had little to do with the mystery of Tui’s disappearance. But the heart of Top of the Lake is in Robin’s performance of a woman who does everything she can to protect Tui, perhaps partly to make up for the fact that Robin herself was not protected when she needed it the most.