Friday, December 31, 2010

Never Judge a Book by Its Movie

Everyone is running a Best Of list at this time of year, so once again, I am going to jump on the bandwagon and do the same. My medium of choice – books! I read 60 books this year, frontloaded with lots of non-fiction, rounded out nicely by a wide selection of historical fiction, all if it taking place in either England or Italy, and as always, dipping shallowly into the pool of vampire lore. I ended the year rather limply, with just a collection of essays about living with children in New York that had almost nothing to do with children and everything to do with being congratulatory about living in New York. To me, this is a singularly unimpressive feat. There are roughly 8 million people living in Manhattan. You want to impress me? Take your kids to the Antarctic.

After perusing my list, I actually think all of my top reads are non-fiction. The Mockingjay series was engaging, but the last book was seriously flawed and the last chapter was almost insulting. Steig Larsson has gotten enough press and while his books are good, they really aren’t great. I also found myself unimpressed with many second-time around authors such as Stephanie Kallos (Broken), Stephen L. Carter (Jericho’s Fall), and Christopher Moore (Fool).

My top five reads of 2010 were:

1. Columbine – Dave Cullen. He gets the worst over with first and then moves into figuring out exactly what brought the two boys to commit such a heinous crime. Fascinating, horrifying, and moving, it tells the stories of the students, faculty, and law enforcement that were on the scene that day. An absolute must-read.

2. Game Change – John Heilemann and Mark Halpern. The 2008 presidential race was fun to watch, but going behind the scenes of how decisions were made is riveting. Even if you aren’t a fan of politics and didn’t vote for Obama, this book shows the gains and losses of Edwards, McCain, Palin, Clinton, Obama, and Biden in a way that humanizes all of them.

3. My Life in France – Julia Child. I have never eaten French food. I am not a gourmand. My idea of happiness is a cheeseburger and chocolate cake. I have never cooked anything that took longer than 30 minutes and would not eat 99 percent of anything on the Food Network. And yet, the story is more than food, it is about her marriage, her drive to be more than just a housewife, and her love of sharing her passion with others.

4. Monday Night Mayhem – Marc Gunther & Bill Carter. My husband loves football. I love movies and television. This book, found at a library sale, combined both of those loves and made for some really interesting reading. Unfortunately, it was written in the mid-80s, so it definitely more for those who are interested in the backstory of how Monday Night Football was created and not any of the current issues surrounding it.

5. The Blind Side – Michael Lewis. More football, but this time, the story focuses on the machinery behind turning talented kids into pro football players. This book confirmed my already strongly-held belief that no child of mine will ever play pro sports.

And the dubious distinction of the top five books I wish I hadn’t wasted my time reading goes to:

1. In the President’s Secret Service – Ronald Kessler. Too gossipy and bitchy, but not in a good way.

2. A Reliable Wife – Robert Goolrick. If any character had once been honest with another, the entire story would have collapsed.

3. American Adulterer – Jed Mercurio. It could have been a good story, but the structure and narrative killed any chances of that actually happening.

4. Through the Children’s Gate – Adam Gopnik. How he didn’t sprain his arm reaching around to pat himself on the back, I will never know.

5. The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder – Rebecca Wells. Dumb. From start to finish, just dumb.

And that my friends, is that. Happy New Year and happy reading.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Working 9 to 5

My husband is a workaholic. It’s like a disease, only dumber. Last night, I had to call and remind him that 18 hours is more than enough for one day. I made the call at 2:30 am in the morning and I think it is a sign of how used to his symptoms I have become that when he called me at 9:30 pm to tell me he would be late(r), I was more surprised he called at all than the lateness of the hour.

It is not like this is a new illness that has recently come upon him. Oh no, he was like this when I met him. He and his friend M would show up at my friend MJ’s after work on Friday night for drinks. They never came over earlier than 8:30 pm and often, it was closer to 9:30. One of the first times we were supposed to “hang out” without others around (which I didn’t realize was a date and I don’t think counts as one because of the rest of the story), he showed up two hours late to pick me up - on a Saturday morning. Where was he? He was at work, of course! We may have missed the beer fest in Chapel Hill, but we did have a nice time all the same. Once we actually started dating (much easier to identify with the sex and all), his habits didn’t change, but at least he didn’t have to eat Chinese alone.

I am going to skip the brief, nightmarish period of our lives together where he worked out of our shared apartment. The less said about it the better, but how we managed to get married when he worked from sunup EST to sundown PST I will never know.

Anyway, onto a new job, a new city, and new levels of work dementia – our first Christmas Eve in our home, we had his brother and lovely wife over for dinner. My dippy dear came home mid-afternoon. An early day! Yay! However, during dinner, his brother seemed perplexed that the office had even been open at all and forced to either lie or confess, my husband sheepishly replied that well, yes, the office actually had been closed. While I stared at him in shock, he explained that he really hadn’t realized it was closed, but since he was there, he figured he’d get a lot of work done. And, he went on to point out, he had come home early.

My husband in a nutshell: the office was closed, but at least he got a lot of work done.

There are benefits to being married to a workaholic. I get to watch whatever I want on TV at night. I get to hog the blankets on the couch. On the nights he is home, I get to foist the kids off on him with nary a pang of guilt. Lest you think I am a pushover, he also does get punished for egregious lateness. End-of-quarter, end-of-year, or holiday season (he’s senior management for an e-retailer), lateness is expected. When end-of-quarter falls on every major holiday, as it did this year, trapping him in the office over Easter, the Fourth of July weekend, and New Years? I grin and bear it. But working late just for the sake of working? That is punishable by a fine of one $25 gift card to BN. This year I earned so many I actually have a few stashed away. As my friend C explains, being late is not the problem, being late when you say you are going to be early is. So, on the rare nights when I cooked a nice meal, or needed him home for an event, or was sick – kaching!

I’d complain (more than just in a blog) but really, when there is one paycheck for four people, how do you tell the guy earning it not to work so hard? True, I did honestly believe you couldn’t turn off a CrackBerry because I had never seen one in a resting state, I have threatened to throw it in various bodies of water, and considering his work habits, a less self-confident woman might believe he is cheating – but I just let it all pass. Sure, we were once SIX HOURS LATE to a weekend getaway (with his family), and every friend can tell a story of how I arrived late because I was waiting for my husband to get home, but now they just lie to me and tell me earlier times and it all works out. As for cheating? Never. He was so subtle about asking me out on dates that we went on three of them before I realized what they were. The man hasn’t spoken to a stranger since 1982 and practically has to be stepped on to make a sound in front of friends we have known for years. The only mistress he has is strapped to his belt and allows him to play Angry Birds in the bathroom.

So when he does come home “early” so that I can attend book club, or PTA meetings, or mom’s night out, I do try to appreciate his efforts. This year, he made great strides and actually took two separate vacations without his laptop. He doesn’t check e-mail under the table at dinner anymore (mostly) and has been known to make it through an entire movie without getting up to check his messages. He may even use all of his vacation days. Baby steps, but I’ll take them. Because really - what would I do if he suddenly started showing up in time for a hot meal every night? Learn to cook? Only if he, he himself, the Grinch carved the roast beast.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Good Intentions

The road to Christmas, much like hell, is paved with good intentions. We all start the season thinking we’ll get all of our shopping done early, will pare down the number of gifts we buy, and will really try to enjoy the season. I know that worked not at all for me. Nope. Once again, I found myself buried under a mountain of gifts, making Internet purchases on the knife’s edge of pre-Christmas delivery, and spending way more than I thought I would. How does this happen every year? In a word – marketing.

This year, the Back-to-School decorations were barely down in stores before they were putting up Christmas lights. What other event, besides a wedding or birth, do you prepare for so far in advance? Stores create the sense of urgency by making you believe that if you don’t shop early, you will miss out. Personally, I think that is just poor logistical planning on the part of the store. If they can’t figure out supply and demand, then why should that become my problem? Why should I help stores reduce inventory?

Sales are also ever-present during the extended holiday season. This is price fixing at its best. If a widget costs a dollar, then it should always cost a dollar. It shouldn’t cost $1.50 on a Wednesday and $.50 on a Friday. It especially shouldn’t be three for a dollar on Black Friday. This year, some poor guy got trampled at a Target. There is video of him desperately calling out for help as people just rush over top of him. News flash: there is nothing in any store, at any time of year, for any price that is worth a human life. Don’t believe me? Just ask the family of the guy who was killed at Wal-Mart in 2008. I bet Christmas is pretty bleak for them, but I sure hope the people who murdered him are enjoying their half-priced electronics. The bottom line is this - unless zombies have actually risen from the dead and your only shelter, food, and water is available at a big box store, you don’t need to push and shove to get inside of it. Ever.

Even the best laid shopping plans cannot withstand the blitzkrieg of marketing. I personally bought into the Sing-a-ma-jig “craze” and bought two of them, full-priced, on Amazon (even though I already made fun of them on the blog). As it turns out, I sort of can’t stop playing with them whenever I see them, but therein is the problem – I see them everywhere. Every store has them. Picking up a prescription? CVS has them. Picking up groceries? Shoprite has them too. I bet Petco has them as dog toys (and the thought of the noises they must make as the animals rip them to shreds may just keep me up nights.) They might have been the “must-have” toy of the year, but I’m pretty sure everyone was able to get them. Forget zombies, it’s the Sing-a-ma-jigs that are going to rise up in one unending chorus.

I think the more kids you have, the more crazy you go around the holidays. Just trying to keep track of who got what requires a spreadsheet. I found myself frantically texting my husband (on my brand new iPhone – thanks Santa) to order one extra gift for my son because I had picked up an extra one for my daughter. I even made sure to wrap their shared gift in a combination of their personal wrapping paper. And yes, I just admitted to purchasing different paper for each kid. I even went so far as to use their special-ordered name stamps (my daughter has a unique name that has yet to be found on a carousel of mugs, nametags, etc.) for each present lest my handwriting give me away.

Thankfully, Christmas is almost here. I already did my parental duty and read my son’s favorite holiday book to his class – it is a delightful story about aliens stealing all of Santa’s toys and replacing them with underpants. He giggled through the entire reading, the rest of the kids just stared at me in horror. I just have to get through the last few days and then it will be Christmas Eve – where this year, I may put out more than cookies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Harry Connick Christmas

Another year, another SIL shopathon – but this was one was a little different. To recap, every year, A, B, C, and me go shopping at the largest mall on the East Coast, then the outlets, all in two days, all on a weekend during December. We shop until we drop starting from the moment the first doors at the first anchor store open and ending only when we have run out of money. There are preplanned routes, routines, and rules to follow. This year, we broke them all.

It all started with C. Four months ago, we booked our shopping weekend. Four weeks ago, C wound up with a work commitment. No matter how we begged and cajoled, she could not be induced to possibly lose her job and career to go shopping with us. Rescheduling was out of the question due to everyone’s already crowded calendars. A then asked to limit us to one day of shopping due to her work commitments. Down our fearless leader (and greatest shopper) and facing a severe time crunch, I advocated hitting the stores in reverse order to get more bang for our bucks. Rules, what rules?

As always, in times of change, there are design flaws that had to be worked out. Without the tiniest bladder in Christendom to keep us merrily potty-breaking along, we hit a crisis moment where kidney failure was imminent. In the rush not to wet ourselves, we actually didn’t use one of the pre-ordained bathrooms (high-end anchor stores only) and had to deign to pee with the downtrodden masses in the food court restroom. There were multiple White Rabbit moments as B would start sprinting through the mall madly checking her watch and trying to hurry us along to our next destination. And, without the Buddy System in place, we couldn’t split up into pairs and every store (excluding Sephora which makes me itch) required the attendance of all three of us.

But all was not lost. Williams Sonoma took quite a lot of time and money, but allowed me the opportunity for a mid-morning snack. One pre-packed oatmeal bar (thanks A!), some free peppermint hot chocolate with whipped cream to wash it down, and a dollop of free peppermint ice cream for dessert and I left that store sated and sugared. This helped me deal with the usual shenanigans at the plus-sized lingerie store, though to give credit where it is due, A did not walk around with a bra on her head (per usual) but did actually get me to purchase some sassy undies. This made her (and I imagine my husband) very happy. In fact, a ridiculous amount of time was spent mentioning ladies unmentionables, shopping for them, and discussing when and where to take them off. There is always something new to learn about the sex life of my SILs (much to my BILs chagrin).

After exhausting the mall (and the patience of those in the parking lot who wanted our spots but didn’t seem to understand that they needed to let us OUT of them in order to get IN them, the outlets proved to be a veritable goldmine of bargains and though it was damn cold outside, we kept warm by constantly exercising our wallets. Sheets, slankets, and snack food all added weight to our arms, and by dark, we had crossed the last person off the last list and were trudging with heavy bags and light bank accounts back to the car. It was at that very moment when I spied the cutest purse ever and broke the last and most pivotal rule. C, thousands of miles away in a world where a bright shiny orb filled the sky and air with warmth, must have felt her heart grow three sizes as I, the thriftiest of thrifty, bought my first real Kate Spade bag.(In my own defense, it was 80 perent off.)

And thus ended this year’s annual SILS. C was dearly missed, B actually found this year’s impossible-to-find item, A realized that she has been wearing the wrong bra for fifteen years, and I, I found that Christmas indeed, can be found in a store.

Friday, December 10, 2010


So my house was on the market for the “second best” realtor season. Not a single showing. Out of two open houses, we had a grand total of two visitors. I have de-cluttered, de-booked, and absolutely delighted in making sure every single item is put away exactly where it belongs every time we leave the house. (That last part is a lie.) I have a sister-in-law who lives in a home that is sparkling and neat at all times. I once had to stop her from Windexing her front door until after I had left because my son kept licking it and I was afraid he was going to become brain damaged. I have never seen so much as a remote control in plain sight. Even she would find the level of “house for sale” cleanliness exhausting to maintain.

Kids and clutter go hand in hand. Every day, their book bags disgorge craft projects, artwork, and various odds and ends. I tried slyly throwing out most of it. My daughter not only caught me, but she cried. Never will a child cry so hard over a forgotten item as to think that said item will go in the trash. I have tried to get my kids to help me keep the house clean. However, getting my three-year old to make his bed is difficult at best - the stuffed animals take up more room in bed than the child. We had more luck teaching more daughter, but that is mostly because she is anal-retentive about where each doll and stuffed dog belong. Between the two of them, they require more electricity to go to sleep at night than I do to work at home during the day. My backyard is filled with plastic graveyard of slides and swings and my bathtub is filled with foam letters and numbers. This is my life. Unless I throw out the kids, I can’t exactly throw out all of their stuff.

At one point, the few realtors who attended the broker’s open house felt that I needed to stage it even more. They believe that in order to sell it, it has to be an absolutely blank slate. If it is personal, or if is not absolutely essential to living, it needs to be put away. Sound easy? Sure! Oh wait, but I have two kids. How can I turn their playroom, where they spend 80 percent of their waking moments, into a bland and featureless “multi-purpose” room? How can I paint over all the animals on my son’s walls or tell my daughter that all of the toys in her room need to be put in storage? I promise you that if I have to hide the bananas and apples every time I leave the house, I will never find them again.

Personally, I thought the realtors should spend less time pointing out that the grout in the bathroom is wavy instead of straight and more time actually bringing people into the damn house. My job is to make the house presentable and sellable, but if they don’t actually bring people to see it, then it won’t matter what it looks like inside. I have kept up my end of the bargain – but they didn’t keep up theirs. No sale.

I was told that people like to come through homes during the holidays to check out their directions. To that I say, bah humbug. There are a plethora of Holiday House tours to attend – but mine isn’t going to be on any of them. Until the spring thaw, my house will remain unlisted and unstaged. There will be mail on the table, shoes on the floor, and books on every available surface. This house is going to be mine for a few months longer – I might as well enjoy it in its natural state.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

To quote Granny Weatherwax, "I Aint Dead."