Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from one cranky mom

It's Christmas Eve.

I'm standing in the corner of my kitchen where the sink and the patch of countertop next to the stove meet. Outside snowflakes are meandering down to the grass. Two days ago it was almost 70 degrees and today we're in a snow globe.

I'm not feeling very Christmasy. I try to follow individuals snowflakes, willing them to drag me to serenity.

All is not calm in my household.

I just had an epic meltdown. Lily, who is supposed to be napping, crawls out of her room into our room where Jovie has just fallen asleep. She giggles loudly at her sneakiness. 

"I want hot chocolate," she tells me.

"Shhh!!!" I whisper shout. "Get out! Jovie is sleeping." 

This incites heightened cries for hot chocolate. Boisterous laughter. Jovie wakes up crying and I erupt in Vesuvian rage. 

"LILY GET BACK IN YOUR ROOM NOW!" I yell, laying Jovie down in our bed bawling.

Slamming the door behind me. Hoisting Lily into her bed. Reprimanding her for waking her sister. For not doing as she's told. For making my life harder in that moment when I all I want is a few minutes of quiet so I can recover (discover) those floating bits of holiday cheer I keep hearing is out there for the taking.

I tuck Jovie in again. She screams some more. Stands crying at the door. She needs a nap. But maybe not as much as I do, having spent the previous night wedged on the couch with the dog who now barks in his crate in the wee hours unless he's snuggled with his people. As I dozed on the couch the thought faucet turns on:

Did I put the lasagna away? 
I forgot stocking stuffers for Brad! 
My magazine deadline is coming up… what the hell am I going to write about?  

I resume my position at the sink as the girls yell to each other from underneath their respective doors. 

"Jovie! Jovie! I'll get you," Lily yells.

"Yi-yi? Yi-yi?" Jovie responds. 

They sing Rudolph and Frosty together. It's cute. They should be sleeping. 

I set to work on the bread dough. And the cookie dough. And the batter for the chocolate cake. Hoping I can bake my way to sweetness and cheer.  As mother's we're in charge of making these days special, right? Creating vignettes of happiness for our families. 

Stir, stir. Knead knead. Wash dirty bowls and pans. Repeat.

Back in August I wrote a story about dealing with holiday stress -- I spoke to a couple of therapists who both repeated the mantra that this business of holiday stress was really just the business of ever increasing expectations for chestnuts, warm fires, rosy cheeks and smiling faces. The reality is a letdown: We're all the same people with the same faults and the same hangups that we have the other 11 months of the year. 

But that's just fine they tell me. 

The person who controls the pulse of the holidays should give herself permission to let go. To not feel like you have to keep up with everyone else. 

I turn my back for a minute and hear suspicious chewing noises behind me and find the dog scarfing down a placemat-sized flap of bread dough. Long strides to the dog and I tear half the dough from his jaws and toss it in the trash.

A deep breath. Another deep breath. It's OK, there will be plenty of dinner rolls. 

The hallway is quiet now. The Jovie's small hand reaches underneath the door. She's fallen asleep on the floor. 

All is calm.

And there's a minute to think about the past month. 

Sure. There have been some disappointments. For instance, there were no 'Parkly Deer to stake out. Those neighbors who left their lights up until late February never hung them up again for this Christmas. 

And yes, maybe I thought it was a bit strange that they kept their Christmas lights and decorative lawn statuary up for so long, but I still looked forward to it. I learned from a show on the History Channel the other night that the tradition hanging up Christmas lights dates back to pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, when burning bonfires and lighting candles was a way to illuminate the longest nights of the year -- chasing the darkness away.

From that perspective, I'm in full support of keeping lights up until spring. 

Even the squirrels were less than inspired this year …

Pretty sure he wore the  jingle jester collar last year...

… And is that a scrunch being used as some type of infinity scarf?
I know, I know. I shouldn't be critical. It's those high expectations. I thought I'd find reindeer squirrels with glowing noses or Santa squirrels with beards. 

So no 'Parkly deer. No super fancy squirrels. Oh well.

Each year celebrating with the girls is more fun. And this year their eyes have been dancing since I first slipped in a  CD of Christmas songs in the car (we've been listening to it for weeks now). 

"IT'S FAW-STY MAMA!" Jovie exclaims from her carseat. Feet kicking, head bobbing as she tries her best to keep up with the lyrics. 

And when we showed Lily the classic claymation "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" she shouts every time  "Mom! His nose is shiny!" 

I got tears in my eyes as I watched Lily talk about princesses and other sparkly things with my 18-year-old niece Hannah, who years ago when she was little shared a similar bond with me. (I had to watch from a distance because Lily kicked me out of the room -- the same way Hannah used to kick her mother out of the room when the two of us were playing Barbies). 

The older I get the more loops are closed.

They were both enthralled with Christmas Magic -- a lights display at a local park. Lily even got close enough to Santa to hand him her list (there was just one item on it -- a Belle doll -- which she has requested multiple times a day since we received the Toys R Us catalog back in October). Of course, she didn't actually talk to Santa. Instead she kind of did this weird squatting waddle in his vicinity while making the face pictured below: 

The season has also fostered such amusing scenes as this one that Brad described earlier this week: 

This morning, Lily requested a reindeer, which she told me could live in our house after we picked it up from the reindeer store. Sure.

And when we went over to Nana and Papa's house to see my dad's train display, I had as much fun watching the girls clap for the trains …

… As I did watching my generally stoic dad play with them …

And I took more than a little delight in the realization that, with Lily's obsession with sea creatures, I could partially re-create the scene of the famous Wandsworth-area Christmas Pageant from "Love Actually":

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away ...
The girls wake up. Jovie all rosy cheeked and fluffy haired. I apologize to Lily for being cranky. She apologizes for laughing. We hug. I tell her I love her.

"I love-ah you, too mom," she says. "I want some hot chocolate."

I laugh. Because people don't change just because it's Christmas. And at this moment, I wouldn't want her any other way.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The year I tried to read everything at once

I've been on bit of a reading kick lately.

Or maybe, I've been on a bit of a I-need-a-few-minutes-to-escape-the-the-bits-of-chewed-up-crayons-now-burrowing-their-way-into-my-white-carpet-next-to-the-orange-juice-spills-and-unidentifiable-dog-funk kick. 

It's probably a little from column A and column B, either way I've been reading a lot. But not just reading a lot -- becoming immersed in books. And craving the next one like that salted dark chocolate and almond bark I recently discovered at the grocery store (what? it's in the organic section so it must be good for me, right?). 

I devour pages as I scarf down my bowl of bran flakes in the morning. I sneak pages when rocking Jovie before her nap. And I race through them while the girls play in the bathtub (careful to protect them from errant splashes -- our bathroom is cozy). 

Last month I found myself reading four books at one time. Well, not all at once, obviously. Rather, I was in the middle of four books at once. 

It all started back in July when I went to Denver. While browsing the shelves at the Tattered Cover I picked up "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee -- a Pulitzer Prize winner on sale for just $7. I read the first few chapters standing in the store, which is no easy feat, considering the book weighs, roughly, as much as my 3 year old. A few people questioned why I would want to read a book about cancer, and the answer is pretty straight forward: I like science books (I should add science books written for non-sciency sorts), it grabbed my attention off the bat and I needed something to read for the flight home. 

I plowed right through the first half of the book, which documented everything from the history of the disease to early forms of treatment to the PR campaigns that tried to raise awareness about it and money for research. It was fascinating -- for instance, did you know that modern chemotherapy has roots in things like artificial dye and mustard gas? 

Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher and a great storyteller (you know, as if, cancer physician and researcher weren't admirable enough). The information he shares was accessible to me up until he begins discussing the genetic research on cancer. At that point I would find myself reading and re-reading a single page or paragraph over and over again (or, more likely, falling asleep sending the anvil book crashing on my snoring face).

A sample sentence: "Using transgenic mice technology, Philip Leder's team at Harvard altered the c-myc gene in mice, but with a twist: cleverly, they ensured that only breast tissue in the mice would overexpress the gene."

Ah yes! Genius! Those tricky Harvard chaps and their brilliant transgenic mousing! If only I  would've thought of that. It's not that Mukherjee is less effective at breaking down this complicated material for laypeople … it's just that it's really complicated material and I'm probably a bit slower than the average layperson. 

"Are you still reading that cancer book?" Brad asked me night after night after night. 

"Yes," I'd respond defensively. "I'm going to finish it." 

And, five months later, I did!

I read the last page and in a big show, I smacked the book closed right in front of Brad's face. "Finished," I said, probably with more smugness than the occasion warranted. I was the one, after all, who took almost half a year to read 470 pages. (I'd actually started thinking I'd finish writing my own novel before I'd finish reading this book. And then I work up).

Anyway, whilst picking my way through the cancer book, my sister Laura kept quoting a book that she'd just finished, "A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius: A Memoir Based on a True Story," by Dave Eggers.

"It reminds me of a book you'd recommend to me," she told me. "I think you'd like it."

It was actually one I'd be meaning to read since high school or college, when my friend Megan was raving about it. So I decided to download it to my Kindle -- figuring it would offer a nice break from the cancer book. Turns out, there's a lot of cancer in this book, too. Not exactly the breezy repast I was looking for. 

But still really good. 

Eggers captures the voice of that kid I was in my early 20s. The one so certain that the world needed to hear whatever it was I had to say and that I was going to do something world-changing and memorable only I had no clue as to how I was going to do it. The internal dialogue is uncomfortably self-conscious -- I suppose the hallmark of vulnerability -- but I imagine anyone who's weathered that phase of their lives can relate. 

It took me a while to get through this one, too though. Maybe because a lot of it made me cringe. Eggers, writing as a fictionalized version of himself, tells about becoming the guardian to his little brother after both of his parents die from cancer within months of each other. His child-rearing decisions -- basically leaving his brother to tend to himself -- contradict his monologues about philosophies of parenting. For someone who has such strong opinions about how a parent should be, he lets his brother down in so many ways -- all because of his own selfishness. 

I spent the book wanting more for both of them and hoping to see Eggers grow up and was left with left with no reassurances as the book ended. 

Like I said, it was good. But uncomfortable. 

Brad brought book No. 3, "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman, home from work one day. One of his co-workers (and my friends) had given it to him with instructions to pass it on to me. As I recall, the attached Post-It told me I would like it. 

Never one to question a book recommendation from a fellow sarcastic journalist (that might be redundant) or look a gift book in it's mouth, for that matter, I started reading.

The book became my kitchen table book -- the one I'd read when I was eating breakfast or watching the girls color or doing other sorts of kitchen table-y activities. And because it's basically a series of character profiles, it was perfect for that sort of reading. Each chapter shares the story of the editors, reporters and executives who work for a struggling English-language newspaper in Rome. The journalism pulled me in -- all that discussion of style manuals and deadlines and news holes -- and the quirkiness of each of the characters kept me reading. 

Rachman inspired me to think about the various characters I'm working with, right now. He fleshes each out in a small amount of space such that you feel as if you'd recognize them if you passed them on the street. And using their vignettes as a way to tell the story of the history of the paper and its uncertain future is smart and fresh.

I finished this one the fastest, because it wasn't mine and the longer it hung around our house the more likely it would end up becoming drenched in chocolate milk or crusted with oatmeal.

Book No. 4 was "To Kill a Mockingbird," which I've already written about. I sped through that one. 

Did I say I was reading four books at once? I'm now remembering that thrown in the mix with these four were "Gina & Mike" and "The Christmas Violin," both written by a former YDR colleague Buffy Andrews. Both are quick reads, but thoughtful and entertaining. 

I decided to treat my book ADD by committing to finishing the longest of my out-standing reads -- so I wrapped up "A Heartbreaking Work …" and then a few days later the notorious cancer book, which I had to do, because Brad's mom loaned me "Gone Girl" and I couldn't start that until I finished the cancer book (everyone knows if you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding.) 

And how could I forget another one I've read over and over and over again in recent months. "Are You a Cow?" by Sandra Boynton. While perhaps not the most literary of the bunch, this delightful little board book is notable for being the first book Jovie has preferred to read rather than chew on.

Previously, story time with Jovie consisted of me or Brad trying to read to her as she wiggled away before we made it through the second page. 

That is, until "Are You a Cow?" 

She'll not only grab the book from the shelf shouting "Cow! Cow!" before bed, she'll also read the book with you. 

We also like this page. 'Hup-side doooown?' Jovies says.

For instance, when Boynton asks, "Are you a cow?" Jovie says, "no." And then when Boynton asks, "Are a dog?" Jovie says, "no." And so on and so forth.

On the final page *spoiler alert!* when Boynton establishes that "You're not a penguin," Jovie begins excitedly pointing to herself for the line, "You must be you! Now isn't that great."

"Again!" Jovie demands. And who am I to say no?

It's been a good year for books. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Storytelling inspiration from my 3 year old

Thursday was a day for indoor snuggling, which is exactly what the girls and I did that afternoon. 

The three of us holed up on my bed, the girls insisting I make a tent by holding up the blankets until my arms and legs ached. 

"Mom I need a flashlight," Lily told me her eyes wide under her sheet bunker. Jovie peeked out from behind her, "TEEEEENT!" she yelled. 

I got the flashlight and resume my position.

"No TEEEEENT!" Jovie yelled, knocking my away and causing partial collapse.

"Mom! Make a tent!" Lily demanded. So I did again. Jovie moled away.

Holding the flashlight in front of her face, Lily decided it's storytime.

"Mom, I'm going to tell a story," she said.

And I got excited. Because I love stories and telling stories and now my 3 year old is about to tell a story and it feels like a moment to remember.

Here is the story Lily tells us: 

"Lily's Story"

Once upon a time, there was a brave cat named Delaney.

One day, she got rescued by a bear. 

She married a penguin and then fell into the water and got all clean.


She tells the story several more time. Each time substituting a different pet into the role of the main character. For example:

"Lily's Story: The Sequel"

Once upon a time, there was a brave dog named Snacks.
One day, he got rescued by a bear. 

He married a penguin and then fell into the water and got all clean.


It's a solid story, I feel. Albeit with some plot holes and no clear antagonist … but nonetheless there's a protagonist (a brave one at that) and things happen to him/her and then the story ends. 

I amuse myself for the remainder of the afternoon by remixing Lily's story -- answering some unanswered questions, connecting dots, creating some rising action, etc. 

Here's what I came up with.

"Lily's Story: As Told by Mom"

Once upon a time, there was a brave cat named Delaney.

She lived in the basement of a modest brick rancher with two other cats, a dog and a herd of hairless bipeds. 

The two youngest  hairless ones were aggressive in their affections, clamoring to pet the soft, billowy Delaney and promising to be gentle. But Delaney was shrewd and she quickly learned that the hairless ones didn't seem to understand the definition of the word "gentle." No sooner would their mother turn her back to tend to the mountains of laundry when they'd scoop Delaney up under her furry leg pits and drag her about the room like a terrestrial drowning victim.

It was for this reason Delaney spent most of her days crouched beneath the futon -- just out of reach of their small, sticky fingers.

In her heart, Delaney was not an under-futon croucher. She was a fearless hunter of other cat's tails. An intrepid stalker of glowing red dots and ever vigilant of the drooling canine who patrolled the upstairs.

So one day, seeing the door to the garage ajar, Delaney bounded up the basement stairs in a blur of tabby fluff. Just as she closed in on freedom and adventure, the hairless ones came shuffling behind her loaded down with bags, blankets and dripping drip-free sippy cups, chattering about something called a "zoo." 

Not wanting to be apprehended, Delaney leaped into the back of the car. 

"Where are we going?" said the larger of the small hairless ones as her mom strapped her into her carseat.

"We're going to the zoo," her mother, really a two-legged burro laden with cargo, said.

"Mom!" the larger of the small hairless ones shouted. "Where are we going?!"

"I just told you," her mother said.

"The zoo!" the larger of the small hairless ones shouted. "What do we do at the zoo?"

"We see lots of animals." her mother replied starting the car. 

"What kinds of animals?"

"Bears and lions and monkeys and lots of animals."

"Mom! Where are we going?"

The conversation proceeded in this manner for 45 minutes, until the car was parked and the engine turned off. As the hairless ones unloaded their offspring and their offspring's various provisions, Delaney leaped out of the car and bounded past a rainbow of sparkling minivans for the treeline. 

Invigorated by the fresh air, the warm sun and end of basement cuddling, she pounced on bugs, chewed on ferns and peered like a panther behind shrubbery.

Until she heard a heavy grunt and caught the whiff of something pungent. With the snap of a twig behind her, Delaney bolted up the nearest tree in terror. 

"YoooHalllooo!" called a voice from the ground, dripping with honey and concern. "Are you alright up there?"

She snuck a glance down, her stomach churning with vertigo, and saw an enormous bear starring up at her.

"I'm fine! I'm fine!" she whispered. 

"Well, you don't seem fine!" the bear called, reaching her giant claws up the trunk.

"No! No! I'm great! I'm OK. Just umm. Just enjoying the view," she tried to sound relaxed and breezy. Like the wooden precipice perched over the jaws of death was really a hammock on a sunny day.

"Are you sure hon? You're looking a little woozy! I'm just going to come up and check on you."

Delaney could not see how this lumbering she-oaf could climb the tree, so she stayed still -- but then the tree began to sway. And there was the bear, scaling the tree like a ladder.

"Just stay right there hon! Sorry about all the rocking! It's fall you know, I've been packing on a little winter weight, you know how that goes."

"Oh. Don't go to the trouble! Really." Delaney began edging down the branch, which bowed under her weight the farther she inched. 

"It's no trouble. You don't look like you're from around here. Are you new? Did you get out of your exhibit? The Red Panda gets out every other day and comes over to say hi and there's always a big hullabaloo with the keepers. Very exciting! I can help you lay low until dinner if your want. They just left my lunch in the den so I don't think anyone will be around to check for a little bit. There I go again rambling on … what did you say your name was?"

"Delaney. I'm Delaney. And I don't live here. I have a family." She was midway down the branch.

"Oh hon, we all had families. Mine was in the Cincinnati Zoo and then I got moved here and it's different and I miss the kids and all, but it's quite lovely here. And you'll just love the food. Why don't you just come back this way and I'll help you down. I'm Louise by the way."

Louise extended a paw -- her claws ragged knives.

Delaney leaped off the branch. Time slowed as she fell -- angling her body to land feet first -- when she was jerked sideways and slammed into Louise's broad chest. 

"There, there Delaney. I got you!" 

Louise felt a wet nose on her head and a long tongue slapped her cheek.

"Guess you lost your balance, eh? Which is strange, you being a cat and all. The bobcats are always bragging about how graceful they are. Always laughing at me when I say I'm not a bad climber myself. They can be kind of insufferable. No offense. But you're not a bobcat anyway, are you? You're much too little. But so soft! Oh my. What kind of cat are you?"

"I'm a house cat. Can you put me down please?" Delaney was suffocating from the bear's feral musk. Not to mention the terror the that any second the amiable behemoth could decide it was snack time.

"Oh sure dear. There you go." Louise placed Delaney on the ground as soft as an egg. 

Delaney breathed a sigh of relief.

"Thank you Louise." Delaney relaxed. "I really should find my family." 

"Well off you go then hon. If you change your mind, my den is right over there," she pointed her now less-imposing claws toward a rocky outcropping near a fence. "There's a hole in the fence over there that you should be able to fit through."

"OK. And Louise, I think you're plenty graceful," Delaney said.

Louise grunted in satisfaction and ambled back to her den.

Delaney crawled through the fence and was faced with a stampede of strollers and marauding hairless ones. She dodged feet and wheels.

She ducked under a nearby trashcan to collect herself. The Louise's stench clung to her like jelly, so Delaney set to work scrubbing it off with her pinkie finger sandpaper tongue. The effort was futile. After several minutes of bathing, she still smelled like bear. She gagged, sending a soggy skein of fur onto the concrete in front of her.

Disgusted she crept from underneath the trashcan hoping her family would pass by.

But while their were plenty of hairless ones and their terrifying progeny, there were none singing the theme song for "Sofia the First" while dancing. None demanding chocolate milk and fruit snacks in ever-elevating octaves. No small feet clomping by in glittery pink princess snow boots.

This vantage point was not ideal, so she sought higher ground.

Behind her was a towering, terraced stone wall. She jumped on the shortest ledge and made her way up toward the top using each ledge as steps. Once there, she could see Louise scratching her back on a tree, a dead-eyed camel gnawing on its lower floppy lower lip and a ribbon of black asphalt dotted with dozens of hairless ones winding its way through the enclosures. She scanned the crowd. 

No family. 

"Hey! HEY," a voice squawked from below. Startled, she nearly fell off the wall. Looking down, Delaney saw a frenzy of black and white birds flapping shuffling about a rocky shore at the edge of a large pool. Honking and beeping like brass section warming up for a symphony.

"Hey BOBCAT! What are you doing up there?"

"I'm not a bobcat. Just looking for my family," Delaney said, still searching.

"Yeah, I guess you look a little small for a bobcat … and oh, yeah … there it is… you have a tail. Wow. That's a really fluffy tail you have there. It looks so soft and cuddly." 

Delaney wrapped her tail self-consciously around her feet. 

"Thank you," she replied, her curtness thawing.

“Yeah. It’s just so warm looking. You’re kinda cute. Hey, you wanna come down here? We just got some fish.”

“No thanks. I really should just keep looking.”

“Oh, right. Your family. Well hey, could I ask you a favor? See, my lady friend -- well, former lady friend I guess I should say – this girl just ran off on me. Left me for this guy Jorge – a transfer from the Philly zoo – he’s a real smooth talker. Can’t trust a guy like that if you ask me. But then Dolores – that’s my girl – she didn’t ask me. Soon as this Jorge guy shows up she tells me she needs some space. That she needs someone who’s more intellectual and worldly. And Dolores here, she’s no Aristotle if you know what I mean – she could stand to eat more fish – get more of those Omega-3s – maybe then she could talk about brain power…”

Delaney interrupted.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but what was the favor?”

“I’m sorry. I ramble. So my lady friend and I are expecting. I’m sitting on the egg here,” he pointed his beak down to his feet. “Anyway, I haven’t been able to leave get anything to eat since she left. I’m getting kind of hungry, and everybody else down here is too busy to help me out. Would you mind coming down for a minute to sit on it? My name’s Carl by the way.”

Now, Delaney, like most cats, wasn’t one to be bothered with favors. But she had a soft spot for little ones – even the younger hairless ones in her own house – as much as she loathed being dragged around the house, she still missed them.

“I’m Delaney … I guess I can come down but just for a minute. I really need to find my family.”

“Really?! That’s really great. Thanks Delaney, you’re an angel.”

 Delaney bounced down the wall and into the enclosure.

The cacophony grew. Penguins jumped in and out of the pool, constantly flapping, shaking their heads and walking around like their ankles have been tied together.

She padded over to Carl.

“Gee, that was just so nice of you. You’re even more beautiful up close. And so soft and fluffy,” he stared at her moony-eyed.

“Uh … sure. So your egg?”

“Right! Here’s the apple of my eye.” Carl stepped back exposing a round gray object. Delaney had never seen a penguin egg before, but she had seen plenty of rocks. And this object appeared more mineral than animal.

“That’s your egg?”

“Yep! That’s the little guy. Well, I don’t know what’s in there. I mean, I know it’s a chick. But there’s no way to know for sure whether it’s a little boy or girl. Only time will tell! Not that I care, I’ll love whatever hatches out.”

“So you just need me to sit on it,” Delaney cut him off. “Are you sure I won’t break it?”

“Oh no! It’ll be fine. He’s a tough little fellow. Between you and me I’ve dropped him a couple times – he just rolled down without a crack. You’ll do great. I think you have a maternal instinct. I can tell these things.”

Delaney was all but certain that Carl the penguin did not have a sense about these things. But she said nothing and instead settled on the egg, which felt cold and hard.

“Like this?” she asked.

“Yep, you’re golden. I’ll be right back. Thanks so much!”

As Delaney attempted to get comfortable another penguin waddled over.

“I see Carl got someone to sit on his rock,” she snickered.

“Oh. He told me it was an egg.”
“Yeah, that’s what he’s telling everyone. He’s trying to get Dolores back so he made up some story about this orphaned egg that they had to raise together. Dolores, of course, saw right through it. Nobody’s laying eggs around here – this isn’t exactly the South Pole. And anyway have you seen Jorge? He’s a hot dish.”

Dolores stared at all the birds – unable to differentiate one from the other.

Just then Carl shuffled back with another penguin trailing behind.

“I’m back he exclaimed! I brought Pastor Don here to make it official!”

“Make what official?” Delaney did not like the dewy look in Carl’s eyes.

“Us! Come on Pastor Don.”

The other penguin, unimpressed, started, “I’m here today to unite two souls in holy matrimony. Carl, do you take this bobcat to be your wife?”

“I do!” Carl honked.

“What!?” Delaney shouted

Pastor Don plodded on.

“Bobcat, do you take Carl to be your husband?”

“No!” Delaney jumped off the egg, which rolled down the rock they were standing on. Carl was not concerned.

“By the power invested in me from the Penguin Paddock, I now pronounce you husband and wife?”

“But I didn’t say yes!” Delaney pleaded.

Though not a swimmer by choice, Delaney took one look at Carl waddling lustfully toward her and leaped into the frigid pool, boiling over with penguins.

She swam to the opposite end of the pool and climbed up the stone wall onto a ledge blocked by a huge plexiglass window.

As she frantically licked her sopping paws, calculating her next move, she heard thumping on the glass.

And there in front of her, their little noses smooshed in the window, were her two younger hairless ones. Pointing and shouting in glee.

“Delaney! It’s Delaney Mama!”

After a lengthy explanation, extended negotiations and a complicated rescue operation, zoo officials retrieved Delaney from the penguin enclosure and returned her to her elated family.

The larger of the younger hairless ones donated her favorite blanket to warm the soggy cat (who now smelled more like mackerel than bear) and the smaller of the pair kissed her repeatedly on the head.

Delaney nestled between their two car seats and as she drifted off to sleep, she heard the mother ask her children what they thought had happened to Delaney at the zoo.

The larger of the younger hairless ones shouted, “I know! First, Delaney was rescued by a bear. Then she married a penguin. The she fell in the water and got all clean.”


Already, Lily has mastered the art of concise writing in a way I obviously struggle with.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

'To Kill a Mockingbird' still sings

I just finished reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the first time.

I'm still note quite sure how I hadn't read it before. I figured it was required reading for every American public school alumni. And I was a dutiful student.* I always read the required reading, no matter how much it pained me (I'm talking to you "The Scarlett Letter" and "A Tale of Two Cities.") 

Growing up, we watched the movie a couple times. I vaguely remember wishing I was as adventurous as Scout and loving the sound of Gregory Peck's voice. 

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it."

I'm left to conclude that the book was never assigned to me. And I never picked it up on my own. It must've been assigned to some member of my family though -- because here in the front cover it's stamped clearly with my alma mater: 

Hope they didn't want this back.
At any rate, it ended up at my house -- probably during one of my parents' pre-moving purges -- when they were unloading tired boxes stuffed with college notebooks or musty toys (if anyone is looking for a plush set of "Animaniacs" dolls, look me up!)

It's been on my book shelves for years and for years I've said I should really read it.

Well, opportunity presented itself when I flew to Austin a few weeks ago. I didn't want to bring the gigantic biography on cancer I've been picking my way through since July -- so I went with a more lightweight classic. 

And I know I'm a little late to the game here, but, wow. 
Every bookshelf should hold
 a care-worn copy of this.

I'm in tears here. In mourning because I have to say goodbye to Scout and Jem and Dill and Atticus and  Calpurnia and Miss Maudie. And because 53 years after Harper Lee wrote about prejudice and justice and human nature it seems like we really haven't come all that far some days. And because children can see the truth -- you know, the guts of a person -- so much more clearly than the rest of us can, and yet we're the one's raising them. 

And because Harper Lee is this perfect writer. The book is so full of life, character and soul and it all seems so effortless. 

"The remainder of the afternoon went by in the gloom that descends when relatives appear," she writes.  Or, "Dr. Reynold's step was young and brisk. Mr. Heck Tate's was not. His heavy boots punished the porch…" Or, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing."

She makes writing look like breathing and for that I'm profoundly grateful, awe-stricken and jealous.

Maybe it's a good thing that I never read "To Kill a Mockingbird" in high school. I doubt I would've had the same appreciation then that I have for it now. And I probably would've just checked it off the list of classics I needed to read in this lifetime and never picked it up again. 

Maybe I should give "The Scarlett Letter" a second chance …

My sister Laura has long had a love affair with this book, and when I texted her that I was reading it, she responded: 

"Love that book. I love that family … they are my friends. Enjoy."

I've read a lot of books … not enough … but a lot. And there are a handful of characters that I'd still count as friends -- the Ingalls, the Pevensies, or the kids from Harry Potter. And now the Finches.

And speaking of friends, I was so touched when one of my former co-workers dropped this off with Brad (also a former co-worker!) on his last day of work:

It has the warm, sweet smell of a library and the sound of the crinkling old cellophane wrapping reminds me of hours spent browsing shelves for the next adventure. The inscription warmed my heart:

It's nice to have old friends with old books.

Footnote 1: A huge shout out friend and former colleague Beth Vrabel, who just learned today that her first book, "Pack of Dorks," will be published next October (sounds like one I could relate to).

Footnote 2: Also, congratulations to four-times-and-counting-published-author (another former colleague) Buffy Andrews whose latest (or quasi latest) book "The Christmas Violin" was just released in time for those of you seeking lovely, soul-feeding, holiday-related literary fare. 

*OK I was a dork. A huge, kiss-up, rarely missed a day of school dork. The worst kind of dork.