DECEMBER: RUNNING THE GAUNTLET

December 23, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting

I love Christmas! It’s my favorite holiday, which means I can get a bit carried away with baking Christmas cookies, decorating the house and the tree, and finding the perfect stocking stuffers. This year, though, on top of my Christmas preparations, I also had to juggle my reading/writing assignments for my Masters program. It wasn’t long before I realized that December was kicking my ass. Something had to give, and since it couldn’t be my homework, I was going to have to (gasp) scale back Christmas. It did not go well.

ME: Everyone pick your favorite Christmas cookie, and that’s what I’ll make.

OLDEST SON: That’s only four kinds.

ME: Yes.

OLDEST SON: Don’t we usually have seven or eight different kinds?

ME: Um, yes.

FINAL VERDICT: I made seven different kinds of cookies, but before you think I caved in to my son, this was entirely my idea. I love baking (and eating) cookies, and since I had just purchased a new Christmas cookie magazine…

ME: What do you guys think about getting a fake tree this year?

MIDDLE SON: Yes! Real trees are too much work.

OLDEST SON: That will ruin everything.

YOUNGEST SON: I’ll go with whatever the gang wants.

FINAL VERDICT: We got a real tree. Again, this was my idea. I didn’t like the fake trees: they were the wrong shape. So we got a giant real tree complete with a pine fresh smell. It took us half a day to trim the branches, cut down the trunk, carry it in, get it upright, tie it to the wall so it wouldn’t fall down (which has happened), and vacuum up the pine needles. My middle son was right: real trees are a lot of work.

ME: I am not putting all these ornaments on the tree by myself. You guys have to help.

OLDEST SON: I’ll do it.

ME: Great!

OLDEST SON: Do I have to put them all on?

ME: No!

OLDEST SON: Do you care which—

ME: No! Whatever you do will be perfect!

 

My 12 Days of Christmas looked like this:

12 glasses of wine

11 stores I went to that did not have the gift/size/color I was looking for

10 workshop samples critiqued

9 required books read

8 ½  foot real, beautifully decorated Christmas tree

7 kinds of cookies

6-ty minutes watching Jimmy Fallon Late Night YouTube videos instead of getting my work done (awesome!)

5 hour energy shots

4 hours spent at the movies (The Hobbit and Night at The Museum: rounding out 2 trilogies in one month)

3 hours spent dealing with !@#* Christmas lights with half the strand out

2 gifts that won’t arrive in time for Christmas

1 sick kid

With Christmas only a few days away, the end is in sight! It was a tough month, but I am now reaping the benefits of all my hard work. Now comes the fun part: enjoying quality time with my family. Wishing you and yours a very Merry and Magical Holiday Season!

 

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER: A BOOK REVIEW

December 5, 2014 in Book Reviews

If you’re looking for something different, Junot Diaz’s short story collection This Is How You Lose Her is it. Prepare to entire a different culture through the eyes of Yunior from the Dominican Republic. Poverty, violence, terrible treatment of women, sex, and racism in terms of the myriad of different skin colors and nationalities and their statuses are all exposed against the backdrop of an unrelenting search for love.

I’m warning you now: there are a lot of naughty words and thoughts in this book, and in the beginning, Yunior is not exactly likeable. In the first story The Sun, The Moon, The Stars, Yunior tells us straight up:

I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though. She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole.”

By the end of the story, after hearing about how Yunior cheated on her and the disrespect with which he spoke about her, I tended to agree with Magdalena. But keep reading, because in the next story Nilda we see a bit of Yunior’s childhood, which sets the scene for his big brother Rafa’s fate played out in The Pura Principle. Considering the unlikability of Rafa, it is surprisingly poignant, especially in terms of how these events shaped the Yunior we first met. The next story, Invierno is a heartbreaking account of the tyranny Yunior’s father held over both his sons and his wife, preventing them from leaving their apartment for “no reason other than that’s what he wanted.” Yunior, the asshole we first met, is becomes multilayered as we learn more about him until the final story, and the best in my opinion, The Cheater’s Guide To Love, which just about breaks your heart.

The stories are not in chronological order, and one story, Otravida, Otravez does not feature Yunior. Yet they all share the vivid, unapologetic, wonderful voice of Diaz who draws us into the Dominican culture and doesn’t let go. Come dip your feet into Yunior’s world, where it is sometimes harsh, sometimes disturbing, sometimes heartbreaking, and always compelling.

(The only thing missing from this book is a glossary. I would have loved to know what some of the slang terms he used meant, particularly when it came to classifying women according to their nationality.)

 

 

OLIVE KITTERIDGE: A BOOK REVIEW

December 1, 2014 in Book Reviews

The Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a collection of 13 short stories about Olive Kitteridge, either directly or indirectly. Olive is a rich, prickly character. A retired schoolteacher with a husband and a son, she is tough, controlling, critical, and proud, but she is also loyal, kind, and capable of being hurt. We first learn about her through the eyes of her husband Henry in Pharmacy, where we see her rigidity and coldness, but that view of Olive is immediately offset by the following story Incoming Tide, where Olive’s kindness is absorbed by her former student, returning to his hometown to kill himself.

So the novel continues, exploring the happenings in the small town of Crosby, Maine where tragedies and hurts of all shapes and sizes afflict its inhabitants. Each time the prism is turned to a new set of characters, we see a new perspective of Olive, until by the end, whether you like Olive or not, it is impossible not to feel for her, particularly in the heart-wrenching Security, where all her faults in raising her son come back to haunt her during a visit with him and his new family.

I loved Olive Kitteridge. Every story is full of complex characters involved in challenging situations, both big and small. Starving finds Harmon and Daisy, a couple having an affair, embroiled in trying to rescue an anorexic girl. A Different Road follows Olive and Henry through a horrible event in a hospital restroom, and Tulips has Olive visiting the mother of a killer in order to fill the loneliness of her days. Strout’s writing is mesmerizing. She knows exactly how much to reveal and when to reveal it, so that each story is rich with both what is said and what is left up to the reader to discern. It is a slow pageturner, in that I wanted to rush ahead to see what happened, but I also wanted to slow down and savor the quality of Strout’s writing. This is one of those novels that I was sorry to see come to an end.

Luckily for me, it doesn’t have to because Olive Kitteridge is now a miniseries on HBO starring the incomparable Frances McDormand from Fargo. I am looking forward to spending more time with these unforgettable characters, especially Olive herself, who I have grown to love.