Sunday, September 15, 2013


I'm loving all these book recommendations - please, keep them coming! So far I haven't begun a new book - I'm weighing my options. I finally figured out how to borrow e-books from my library, but unfortunately, everything I looked up was already taken out. So I have 4 or 5 books requested for hold right now - I have a feeling that it will take a while to get them.

In other news, I think I may finally give in and buy myself an iPhone. I've been living with my non-data plan, bare bones/basic phone quite happily for a long time, and I've been reluctant to upgrade to a phone that will cost me an extra $30 a month. But M. got an iPhone a few months ago (he already had a Blackberry, which was no bueno - and I can attest to this, as I also have a Blackberry supplied by my job and it, too, is no bueno - so the only extra cost for his iPhone was the phone itself), and what can I say? I'm jealous. I want a cute phone case (I will get a super cute and probably not-at-all-practical one, I have already decided this. Just haven't decided on WHICH super cute case), and I want to amuse myself with the Internet and Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram and all kinds of other crap all. the time. I want it, I do.

I've usurped M.'s phone to a degree - I set up an Instagram account for myself on it. This is because M. does not "believe" in Instagram; he's all "why would you want to take a perfectly good photo and ruin it?" Jerk. Anyway, I knew he wouldn't want to set up his own account, so I went ahead and did it. But every time I want to take a photo, I'm not holding the damn phone. Because it's not mine, of course. And I want to take ALL THE PHOTOS. All the time. Capture the moments, what have you.

AND. And. My 10th anniversary is coming up. The "celebration" gift for 10 years is tin, and there is some tin in the iPhone (albeit apparently illegally mined), so this is totally legit, right? Plus, M. will be GONE on our 10th anniversary, and he won't be just anywhere, he will be in ALASKA. Because he gets to go to all the fun places. I get to drive back and forth to Northern Virginia.

I think I deserve two iPhones.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Trapped in Storyland

I'm on a reading kick lately - gobbling up books left and right. I almost feel as though I spent the last 7 years in book jail, separated by lack of time, effort, and energy from throwing myself into books, and I've finally been liberated.

I don't know why I have this feeling right now. Ever since I became a parent, I typically climb into bed somewhere between 10:00 and 11:00 at night, pick up a book (when I manage it), and struggle behind half-open eyes to read a few pages before conking out for the night. It's not that I haven't read any good books in the last 7 years - I have! - it's just that I'm so. tired. every. night.  And as a result, it's takes me such an agonizingly long time to read each book that I lose the connection to the characters, the setting, the flow, each time I put the book down. I spent an embarrassingly long time reading the Game of Thrones series (I did finally prevail, but refuse to re-read them all when the next book in the series comes out), and I think it broke me. My Kindle lay fallow for months while I settled for Facebook or Pinterest or a half-hearted perusing of Entertainment Weekly before heading off to dreamland.

But NOW! I climb into bed and read far too late into the night for the 6:00 a.m. wake-up of my alarm. I snatch moments here and there - while the kids are playing in the tub, at Lucy's dance class, while M. watches football on TV - much to M.'s annoyance. I served on jury duty last week, and the extended recesses and lunch breaks while the judge and lawers worked out various law-ish things was like manna to my furiously-reading eyes. I 've taken to carrying my Kindle in my purse, just in case opportunity knocks, and sometimes I'm so engrossed that I fleetingly consider grabbing it at red lights (would never. but want).

I'm not reading high-brow literature here, so don't be too impressed. Mostly I find my books through family, or from recommendations by a couple of the bloggers I read who regularly update on what they are reading. I'm trying to be better about adding titles to my Amazon wish list when I come upon particularly glowing reviews, so that when I finish a book, I don't have to face that sad "but what will I read now that I'm done?" feeling for long.

Here's what I've been reading lately, in case anyone else is looking for inspiration, too. I would do a "thumbs up/thumbs down" thing here, but honestly, I liked every book I read. Am I easy to please? Perhaps:

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (sci-fi) - I borrowed this from my mom, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, but felt conflicted about giving the author any of my money what with his whole "gay people shouldn't get married" stance. So this way I could read (her battered, very old copy) for free! It was a GREAT plot, especially considering how long ago it was written, but suffered from a lack of development in the latter half of the book. Card spent so much time delving into Ender's experience in Battle School that everything that came after that seemed so rushed. Also the Peter and Valentine storyline was obfuscating. But I really, really liked the book and will probably (eventually) see the movie.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (sci-fi) - the sequel to Ender's Game. It took me a while to get into this one - the beginning is wordy and has little connection to Ender's Game, so it's not like you're picking up right where that book ended. Plus, Card continued his "let's name the aliens something off-putting" (in Ender's Game, the aliens involved were called "buggers") convention by basing the storyline around an porcine-ish alien species he called "piggies." Hard to feel connected with THAT. But get into the book I eventually did, and it was another good read.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (fiction, of the regular-but-slightly-magical kind) - this book was absolutely beautiful to read. Every description was perfect, but there wasn't TOO much description. I was engrossed. Not one of those "excellent literature is dense" books - very readable. And beautiful. Highly recommend.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (young adult/fantasy) - I'm not much of a young adult fiction reader. I skipped the Twilight series, and liked-but-not-loved the Hunger Games series (Mockingjay was such a disappointment). I borrowed this from my mom after both my sisters tore through it because I was running out of reading material on vacation. This is the first book in a series of four books (called the Lunar Chronicles), and like my sisters, I tore through it. A quick read, and the storyline - I'm not sure if it's meant to be a bit of a twist? Probably not. I hope not - the storyline is hinted at mightily from the beginning, so there are no real surprises. But I still loved it. A take-off on the Cinderella fairytale, it had all the right elements of YAF - a not-too-pretty heroine with a short catchy name, a suspenseful plot, bad guys (or in this case, gals), and romance. It was engrossing and also made me a bit swoony.

Scarlett by Marissa Meyer (as above) - I bought book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles as soon as I finished Cinder. For a second book (they are never as good, don't you think?), it was actually really well done. Cinder's story continues, but intersects with Scarlett's. Took me forever to realize Scarlett was supposed to be a take off on Little Red Riding Hood - I kept thinking Snow White for some reason (stuck in princess mindset? Ruby red lips?). And there are even wolves that feature prominently, so I don't know what my problem was.  I raced through this book as fast as Cinder, and got all excited when I saw the third book available for purchase on Amazon. Only to discover that it was a pre-order purchase, and the next book (called Cress) isn't due out until February of next year. I was sad. Want more now.

So I went looking for more young adult fiction, because it's cheaper and a quick read and gah, fine, I just apparently really like it.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (young adult) - This was really, really good, but also really sad. What possessed me to read a book about teenagers with cancer? Only a small part of me held out hope for a happy ending, so it's not like I was blindsided. And I guess the end is a bit uplifting? Very good, but bring tissues.

Divergent by Veronica Roth (young adult) - I had heard the name of this book before, something along the lines of it being the next Hunger Games, etc. That's not why I read it, though - I bought it because it was super cheap on Amazon, and I needed something to entertain myself during jury duty. It IS another "dystopian future" book, with a female protagonist with a short, catchy-but-tough name (Tris). There were so many parts of the storyline I found implausible. What's with all the empty trains that circle the city, just so that the Dauntless faction can jump on and off of them? Why don't they have cars, or at least bikes? They'd at least be cooler than taking the bus, I suppose. Plus, the whole scale of things was mystifying. How many people live in this fenced-in, destroyed version of Chicago? Why do none of them seem to know each other by sight, but it seems like there can't be more than a couple hundred in each faction? Why are is everyone allowed to choose their own faction, when everyone is supposed to exhibit all the same qualities (though I guess maybe that's sort of the point, now that I've finished the second book? Jury still out on that)? Wouldn't you just give everyone an aptitude test, and then stick them in whatever faction they line up with?

I could go on. But plot implausibilities aside, I was so INTO this book. I don't even know why. Oh wait, yes, probably the romance. Sucker. I am apparently a sucker for it. Reliving the angsty teenagehood I never really had, perhaps? Anyway, read this book. It's really good.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (young adult) - Book 2. Not as good as Divergent (see above, re: second books never as good), but did  I care? Nope. I didn't care. I was NOT going to be able to get anything done until I had finished it, that much was clear, so after I finished my jury duty and faced the prospect of no more gobs of undisturbed reading time, I made M. watch football one night while I sat next to him and read to the end. The next day, I pre-ordered the third (and final) book, Allegiant, even though I think pre-ordering is lame, especially for a Kindle. But it's out next month, and I WILL be reading it, so whatever. I figured it can only get MORE expensive, not less (bought it for $9.99) for the foreseeable future.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (young adult) - Most of the books in my Amazon wish list are books that Princess Nebraska has recommended. She reads A LOT (probably as much as you, Stacey, or maybe EVEN MORE, which I never thought possible), and is not easily impressed (unlike me), so if she likes it, it must be good. Eleanor and Park is one she recommended highly. I bought it because I had a Divergent-sized hole in my life to fill. But I didn't want another series - I had to get back to normal, controllable, only-a-little-bit-of-reading life. This is just a single book, so I figured I would be safe. How engrossing could it be?

I started reading it on Monday, about 10  minutes before I had to get ready to head down to my meeting in Viriginia. Just a couple of pages, to have something to look at while I ate lunch. I started, and within minutes I couldn't put it down. I brought it up to the bathroom with me, and read it while I brushed my teeth, and in between each makeup step. If I could have brought it in the shower with me, I would have. I don't even know why it's so engrossing, but it is. When I was reading it, I would get this weird buzzy feeling in my hands, which - I don't really know what that was about, but I think it's just a testament that I just felt this book so hard. I had FEELINGS about it. So, yeah, I absolutely loved, loved, loved this book. I'm so sad it's over.

And now I am reading nothing, despite my long Amazon wish list. Because I should probably take a break from reading for a bit. Definitely. The rest of my life is missing me.

But just in case I don't - what are you reading lately?

Friday, September 13, 2013

You Probably Think This Song Is About You

"Do you think I'm pretty?"

"Do you think I'm the prettiest?"

"I need to bring this mirror with me so I can look at myself at school."

A littany from Lucy, lately. She drapes herself in accessories and baubles and crazy outfits, steals my chapstick, begs for make-up. And asks us if we think she is pretty.

Have we done wrong by her? Told her she is pretty, or cute, or adorable... too much?

"Well, yes, Lucy, you are pretty. You're also smart, and funny, and wonderful." That's what I usually say. And then I think - but don't say - why are you asking me that? Is that what is important to you? Is that what you think is important to US?

M. ignored the crux of her question one day, and answered back that she is smart.

I want her to know that, I do very much. But I don't want her to think she isn't pretty.

Every girl should think she is pretty. Every girl IS pretty.

So I chimed in and told her she was.

When she asked Finn the other night, he responded by saying "You shouldn't ask me whether your are pretty. The most important thing is whether you think you're pretty." He's pretty smart sometimes, that kid. I thought, maybe that's something he learned at school? At daycare? But he says he knows this because we taught it to him, and we told him that the most important things about someone are on the inside. I guess he listened.

I guess we're doing something right.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Drive On

I've confirmed my near-constant suspicions that Jill cannot be trusted.

Jill is my GPS.

I've been wary of her directions ever since her predecessor, Emily, and then she herself joined our collection of devices.  Her choice routes are almost never MY choice routes (why, oh why, with the constant insistence that I travel in the local lanes of the highway, rather than the express lanes, even when I'M NOT GETTING OFF!?), and her continual inability to account for the occasional (or in my case, nearly constant) red light when calculating the ETA is always a source of frustration. Yet she is my only source of directions on the fly if I find myself in unfamiliar territory. So we struggle along, Jill and I. And sometimes I even humor her, taking her directions, even when I'm pretty sure mine are better. If only to avoid the endless chime of "Recalculating." But I also secretly think it makes her happy, as if inside that little black screen is an actual person who is mentally screaming "idiot" at me as she politely asks me to make a U-turn when I've disregarded her directions.

Why wax poetic about my GPS? I've been making the trek back and forth between our Maryland house and a nondescript hotel near the Dulles airport in Northern Viriginia this week. The Department of Defense (my employer), along with lots of other government agencies, has eliminated all "non-essential" overnight travel in a mostly-admirable attempt to save money and cut down on misuse of funds. No one wants to be the next group slammed in a new article about conference-attending employees drinking champagne in bathtubs with strippers. I  get it, I do. I don't like being part of the well-behaving majority that is getting punished for the sins of a few, but I do get it. Unfortunately, it means that my colleagues and I now have to drive back and forth from our homes to attend the research review meetings hosted on behalf of our own office - not an easy feat when you live in one of the traffic capitals of the nation.

To make my 8:00 a.m. meeting start time, I rush, rush, rush to get out of the house so that I can sit, sit, sit with thousands of my best friends on a packed highway. The morning ride in isn't too bad - I have a steaming mug of coffee and NPR to keep me company. It's the afternoon that's much worse. I turn on the car and set Jill for Home, and then I eye the little red circle on the left hand side that tells me the length of the delay I'm about to  encounter. It goes something like this: Car on, route set. Delay reads 3 minutes. I glance over 20 seconds later, and we're hovering at a 5 minute delay. Not too bad, but we're only getting started. Within about 5 seconds, the GPS is registering a 30 minute delay.

And I haven't even left the parking lot yet.

I then watch as the delay fluctuates wildly between 20 to 49 minutes from moment to moment, up and down, up and down. I don't have much else to do as I sit on the entrance ramp for the D.C. beltway, waiting for my turn to wrestle into the slow moving traffic. Occasionally I call M. with an update, trying to figure out if I'll make it home for dinner, for back-to-school night at school, for bedtime.

I know the way, of course. These meetings are almost always at the same hotel, and I've been driving to it for years. But I bring Jill along with me to give me reassurance when night has fallen. Her voice is more pleasant then, when the cars aren't squished around me, but my fear of not seeing the road, or an obstacle, or the exit ramp presses in, making my hands grip the steering wheel tightly. I hate driving at night. And during the daylight, when traffic is at its worst, I imagine I can count on her to re-route me when the delays get too bad. That's why I had her on yesterday, when traffic was already looking ominous, and it took me 15 minutes just to traverse the ramp between one highway and another. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as an "alternate route" until after the Potomac - one must cross it to get from Virginia to Maryland, and opportunities to do so are few and far between. Three crossings, in fact, and I kid you not, one of them is an actual auto ferry boat (the lines of cars waiting to get on. THE LINES. This is not an actual, sane option), while the other brings me far north of where I actually live. So I have no choice but to cross the Woodrow Wilson bridge on the D.C beltway, regardless of traffic conditions. After, though, there's at least one other route choice that involves leaving the highway that could take me home, one I've never actually driven, but I know it exists. I figured Jill would tell me if I needed to use it. I crawled along, flipping radio stations (could we PLEASE play songs other than "Blurred Lines," PLEASE?), for 4 miles. Jill was happy with my progress, and complained not a whit.

And then, of course, when I was ON TOP OF the alternate route exit, she decided to re-route me. Onto the exit ramp that was 0.1 miles and 5 lines of traffic away. Thanks, Jill.

Needless to say, I did not make it. Didn't attempt it, even. Just crawled along with half of humanity on my original route. Eventually I spotted a pair of cars stopped in the middle lane of the highway. It's too hard to say if their presence was really a major factor in the traffic or not - was the traffic worse because they were stopped? Or did they have an accident because the traffic was worse than usual? Everyone flowed around them with minimal issue, and little change in speed. Possibly because we were all already going so slowly.

Interestingly, I saw a car stalled in the exact same lane and spot on my way home today, too. This time, Jill didn't try to re-route me. Maybe I'm training her.

The sad thing is that in both cases, none of the traffic reports I heard mentioned the stopped cars. It's a bit invalidating when a drive that should have been 40 minutes takes 2 hours, and not one bit of it bears mentioning on the radio. Which is probably just testament to the idea that speeds of 12 miles an hour are pretty much par for the course around D.C. at commuting time.

Tomorrow I head back to my office via my usual 30 minute commute. I think I'll leave Jill at home.