Saturday, December 31, 2005

50 Book Challenge: This is the last one, I promise!

Now that I'm done reading for the year, I get to do something I've been looking forward to for a while now: summing up a year's worth of reading.

First, some general stats:
49 books read
7 books read for the second (or more) time
Literary Fiction: 15
True Crime: 8
Beatles: 2
Other Non-fiction: 4
Science Fiction/Fantasy: 5
Young Adult: 6
Humor: 2
Mystery: 3
Parenting: 2
Classics: 1
Children's Classics: 1
31 Fiction, 18 Non Fiction
Books I'd recommend: 28 out of 49

Most enjoyable reads of the year: The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men, The Ladies of Missalonghi, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, We Thought You Would Be Prettier, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time

Least enjoyable read of the year: Atonement

Books I gave the thumbs-up even though I had mixed feelings about them because I kept thinking and thinking about them once I finished reading them: The Time Traveller's Wife, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Books I'm proud to have made it all the way through: The Sparrow, Children of God, Atonement

Authors I definitely want to read more of in the future: Laurie Notaro, Stephen Goodwin, T.C. Boyle, Stephen Chbosky, Alexander McCall Smith

Authors to avoid under any circumstances: Aphrodite Jones, Ian McEwan (no doubt this is the only time those two will ever be mentioned at the same time)

Really good authors who kind of disappointed me this year: Anne Tyler, Jon Krakauer, Maeve Binchy

Just plain good reads: Breaking Her Fall, Drop City, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Wonder When You'll Miss Me, Sleep Into Heaven, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time

General thoughts:
I'm reconsidering the idea of myself as a book snob. I mean, I consider myself a book snob the same way I consider myself a movie snob, but my favorite movie of the year was "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," so there you go. When I say I'm a book snob, what that really means is I don't read romance or mystery novels, I think John Grisham is a hack, and no, I've never read The Bridges of Madison County or Tuesdays With Morrie. Also, I hate the whole concept of ChickLit and most of it makes me want to barf. But I've also never read Dostoyevsky, Proust, Gide or Tolstoy. I have a degree in English and I've read the complete works of Jane Austen, but that's my biggest boast with regard to how much classic literature I've read. This year's lone Classics entry, East of Eden, marks only the second book by John Steinbeck I've ever read.

So those are my parameters. Basically, no, I don't read anything very deep. I dislike philosophy, and I found the much lauded writing of Ian McEwan so sluggishly ponderous (a whole page of a 13-year-old girl considering her own hand? No thanks) it was like hiking through Jell-o. Uphill.

As a reader of fiction, what I ask for is something real. I need a story that has heart, but it has to have a brain too. I want characters who seem like real people, and stories that resolve in an authentic and satisfying way. That's what I strive for in my writing as well.

This year was hit or miss for me in the area of non-fiction. After 20 years of considering myself a Beatles fan, this year I became what I like to think of as a Beatles scholar, so I read a couple of books about them, and that was fun. In trying to work on some of Enthusio's issues, I read a couple of parenting books, neither of which quite hit the mark. The best non-fiction book I read this year was The Mommy Myth -- that one left me thinking for weeks. But my main source of non-fiction, true crime, was kind of a bust this year. Of the 8 true crime titles I read this year, I would only recommend one of them, House of Lies -- two others, All She Wanted (the true story of Teena Brandon, on whom the movie "Boys Don't Cry" was based) and Unholy Sacrifice, told interesting cases but were written so badly that I would never recommend them to anyone else. I'm afraid this is the direction the genre going -- there are more true crime books to choose from than ever, but the market is becoming saturated with quickly and poorly written books that don't do the stories justice. It's a sad thing. This year I plan to choose more carefully, and possibly reread some of the classics of the genre.

So that's that -- my year in reading. I've already started my first selection of 2006, and my theme for coming year is "Quality, Not Quantity." I'll define "quality" for myself, of course -- I wouldn't expect to see any Doestoyevsky listed if I were you :-)

50 Book Challenge: Holding at 49

By midnight tonight, I will have posted my 49th and final book of the year. I could have hurried it up, I know, and picked another quick read to follow it, and made my total, but I decided not to. Why? Because, for one thing, I knew it would be cheating to pick short books to finish out the year just to reach 50 when what I'm really dying to sink my teeth into at the moment is the zillion-page Beatles biography I bought with my Christmas money the other day.

The other reason has to do with the epiphany I had earlier this year about the books I've read, and that is that, for all I read, I really don't actually remember very much. For instance, take the book The Liar's Club. This is a book I love, and I've read it at least three times, possibly four. And yet, when I reread it a month ago, guess what? I had completely forgotten that there was a huge secret about author's mother revealed in the last chapter of the book! Sure, it had been 10 years or so since I read the book, but still -- that was a pretty big thing to completely forget about. And what did I remember? Bits and pieces -- the scene where the mother drove the grandmother and two girls across a bridge in a hurricane and the car completely spun around and one of the girls (the author) threw up down the front of her tee shirt. The fact that her father would tell his tales to all his buddies and punctuate them with "I shit you not." And the awesome, awesome scene where the author, as a pissed-off eight-year-old girl, to take revenge on a family who had said unkind things about her mother, sat up in a tree and shot at them with a BB gun, and when the dad calls her out, she has quite the response: And I came back with a reply that the aging mothers in that town still click their tonges about. It was easily the worst thing anybody in Leechfield had ever heard a kid say. "Eat me raw, mister," I said. I had no idea what this meant.

This is what I remember about books -- vivid bits and pieces, maybe a major plot point or two. Sometimes there's a little more to it than that, especially if something in that book just doesn't make any damn sense to me, and I'm still pissed off about it. But anyway, when I was thinking about this again the other day, after rereading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and realizing how very little of it I actually remembered, I thought, it's bad enough I devour books and then don't remember much of them later -- I'm sure as hell not going to stuff some extra ones in before the end of the year the way you might pop those last few bites of pie in even though you're already full to bursting from Thanksgiving dinner. I chose the sensible course by picking up a book of moderate length I've actually meant to read for several months, and I've read it at a reasonable speed for the amount of free time I've had in the last few days, and at some point today I will finish it and put it on my list, and that will be that. And you know what? I don't consider it a failure. I bet not too many other people out there can say they read 49 books in one year. Sadly, I bet most people out there can't claim to have read ten books in a year.

Just doing my part to bring the average up, I guess :-)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

50 Book Challenge: So Close!

Okay, folks -- I have three days left in this year, and I only need to read two books to hit my 50-book goal for the year. The day before yesterday, I wouldn't have thought it possible, but then yesterday, I read two entire books. Here's what happened:

We were still down in Clovis, where Reasonable Man's family lives, visiting for Christmas. The kids were staying at the house of my in-laws, but Reasonable Man and I were staying at a motel nearby. The night before, I finished The Subtle Knife (very good and I'm looking forward to reading the last book of the trilogy), and I woke up about 4 am, after a disturbing school dream, and couldn't go back to sleep. At 5, I decided to get up and put on some clothes and go downstairs to the lobby to find some coffee, and I took a couple of books and a magazine with me. I ended up reading close to half of Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child while I was sitting there, before I went back upstairs and went back to sleep for a couple of hours. Then I read then end of it when we were driving home. I still find it amazing that I'm able to read in the car -- it always made me so carsick as a kid. So that was one book.

(As for the book itself -- as with the other book I read earlier this year to give me some insight into Enthusio's issues, The Highly Sensitive Child, I have mixed feelings about it. Some of it was very insightful, but as for what it suggests about what you need to do to promote emotional intelligence in your child, I feel like they're kind of splitting hairs. For instance, they tell you not to grill your child when he or she is upset, but all their sample conversations include a lot of parent-asked questions. Where do you draw the line between grilling and asking non-grilling questions? The book also assumes you're going to be able to get your kid to talk to you when he's upset, which is by no means a given, and is dismissive of the idea that you should put a lable on your child's basic temperament, which pretty much in direct opposition to what you read in the Highly Sensitive series. I guess no book is going to give you all the answers, huh?)

My mother-in-law gave us a box set of The Chronicles of Narnia, and once I finished book 47 yesterday and saw that I actually do have a chance to hit 50 before the end of December, I thought thinking about those books. They're pretty short, and I've only ever read the first one, so... Now, I know that's kind of a cheat -- I definitely always had it in the back of my mind that I wouldn't choose short books to boost my numbers. But I thought -- I'm so close, and if I read maybe the whole series, which would be seven books when I only needed three, that would kind of make up for the cheating kind of aspect of it, right?

Well, it doesn't matter, because I put away The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe last night, and there's no way I'm reading anymore of them. Not to trash a beloved children's classic, but... I didn't much like it when I read it as a kid, and I liked it even less this time around. The characters aren't well-developed for the most part (I liked Edmund, the kid who goes bad for a time, better than any of his three goody-goody siblings), and the plot is stupid. Aslan comes and goes, and the only reason the White Witch has taken over and made it miserable for everyone is that he hasn't been around for a while? And all he has to do is come back and the perpetual winter melts away? Well, what's so great about him, then? Where the hell has he been while all the creatures in Narnia have been suffering?

And the final battle is written very strangely. It begins off-stage, and it's over in about two long paragraphs -- at one point it says "The Lion and the Witch rolled over together but with the Witch underneath," and in the next chapter it mentions the Witch is dead, which makes me think, so what? All that, and she's gone? Don't get me wrong -- I'm no fan of long, drawn-out battle scenes, but one that makes up what I consider the climax of the story seems like it would deserve a couple of pages at least. Am I right?

Of course, you could argue that the real climax of the story is the scene where Aslan sacrifices his life and then rises again, and that certainly does get more page-time.

In any case, I didn't find the way it was written very satisfying at all, and I'm not planning to read any of the subsequent books in the series any time soon. The question now is this: what to read? Do I pick a couple of books I could probably put away in the next few days? Or do I just charge ahead, into the new year, and give up the goal that I do have a chance of reaching if I cheat a little and intentionally choose shorter books? Hm...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas and all the trimmings, Take 2

It's Christmas vacation here, so yay! Usually I like it better when they're in school, but I also like sleeping in every morning and not having to do homework with Mermaid, so I'm pretty happy they have two weeks + off. Tomorrow is Enthusio's musical he's been in rehearsals for for the past three months, which is a Christmas-themed show, and it should be very cute. And of course we'll go see Santa at some point this week, and maybe do some baking. Just fun, relaxing stuff for the most part. You know, I'm not clinging to the fact that my kids believe in Santa or anything, but I do enjoy the rituals of the season, and I'll probably be kind of bummed when taking them to see the big guy is no longer one of them. Last weekend at a Christmas party, someone told us a great story that was supposedly about a family they knew. It sounds like a joke to me, but anyway:
Child: Mom, tell me the truth. Is there really a Santa?
Mom: No, there isn't.
Child: I didn't think so! Does Dad know?

So Christmas is a week away, and I'm pretty much enjoying the season, as I usually do once I get my shit together and stop trying to make it perfect. I am expecting my family for dinner later this week, and we will spend next weekend at the home of Reasonable Man's family for the big shindig there. Both events should be lots of fun.

One thing that's gotten under my skin more than usual this year is the advertising. True, I haven't seen any commercials with the "Isn't it adorable how this child has this very exact and lengthy list of all the toys he/she wants for Christmas and reads it for you in this snotty little precocious voice?" theme that I detest so very emphatically. Instead, this year there seems to be a preponderance of the "All good husbands buy their wives diamonds for Christmas"-themed ads. I don't mean to say I don't like jewelry, because I do, but a) call me a sap, but I find the implication that diamonds = love to be offensive, and b) at least half the women I know, upon opening a velvet box to reveal diamonds on Christmas morning, would turn to their husbands and say "Are you out of your freaking mind? We can't afford this!"

I also loathe the Walmart commercials with celebrities in them. I don't know anything about Jesse McCartney or his music and I don't care, but the ad where his family is supposed to be enjoying their Christmas day by individually the consumer electronics they got as gifts all seperate from each other around the house while they ignore the crowd of screaming girls outside is asinine -- I don't doubt that the members of some families can't wait to all get away from each other on Christmas, but it seems awfully cynical to be putting that a commercial for Walmart, the store that asks you to believe that senior citizens work there passing out shopping carts because it's so damn fun and not because they need to supplement their Social Security checks. Also -- the members of Destiny's Child and their families all buy each other crap at Walmart and then celebrate Christmas together? Please spare me.

(I hate Walmart and don't shop there anyway, so it doesn't pain me to shred their advertising. I also hate it when Target does the celebrity thing at Christmas, and that does pain me, because I love Target.)

Basically I really hate incredibly cynical, capitalistic advertising that tries to disguise itself as sweet and sentimental. Don't we have enough credit card debt, personal bankruptcy, and families so busy busting their budgets to buy whatever the newest piece of technological garbage on the market is that they don't notice how dysfunctional they are? My son is seven, and other than a very large, expensive set of Harry Potter legos, every single item on his Christmas list involved playing video games. When I gently discouraged him from expecting to find a Gamecube under the tree on Christmas morning, he told me that if I wouldn't get it for him, he'd just ask Santa instead. Good thing I still get veto power over the Santa gifts too.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Today I did something was so amazing, for me.

A bit of background: Enthusio is in a play. Enthusio is one of the only boys in the play. Enthusio is squirmy and when he gets bored, he is constantly doing things like pulling his arms out of the sleeves of his shirt. There have been long rehearsals for the play Enthusio is in last week and this week, because the performance is next week. Yesterday was not a very good rehearsal. For some reason, a large majority of the kids in the cast were just not very attentive, and there was a lot of obnoxious behavior going on. Nevertheless, the director of the play seemed to consistently have Enthusio on her radar, and by the end of the rehearsal, a couple of the other moms had commented to me that she seemed to really be singling him out, so I knew that it wasn't just me being sensitive to what was going on with my own child.

Enthusio didn't really seem bothered by it when it was happening, but at dinner when I was telling Reasonable Man, I did ask Enthusio if it had hurt his feelings, and he said it did. I stewed about it, as I have hundreds and maybe even thousands of times before when someone's done something that's bothered me and I've let it eat at me instead of telling that person how I feel. I was dreading going to rehearsal today and facing a possible repeat of what happened yesterday.
And then, somehow, I just picked up my cell phone and called the director and told her how I felt.

When the phone was ringing, I was thinking "I can't believe I'm doing this. What am I going to do if she actually answers?" And then she answered, and I told her who it was and said I wanted to talk to her about rehearsal yesterday. I said I felt like Enthusio was being singled out, and I asked if she could try to be more tolerant of him from now on. I told her that how things had gone yesterday had upset me and made Enthusio feel bad.

Guess what? The sky didn't fall. Pigs didn't fly. The world didn't come to an end. The play director was lovely and apologetic about it. She said she hadn't meant to pick on Enthusio but she understood where I was coming from and knew that her eyes have a tendency to go right to him when she's looking at the stage, just because he's been pretty wiggly (or as she put it, "kinetic"), since the first day of rehearsals. She said she felt terrible that he and I felt bad about things and promised to apologize to him and make a general apology in front of the cast, and to be more patient with him for the last two rehearsals. And she said she was glad I'd called. It ended up being a nice chat, considering that I'd called to complain and that I was shaking and trying not to cry for the whole thing.

This afternoon's rehearsal was nicer for everyone. Enthusio came home much happier than yesterday. Plus, my earlier triumph of assertiveness gave me the confidence to approach one of his teachers, with whom I'd had an upsetting conversation about a week ago. She called me and we had a really good conversation about how he's doing at school. My impression after the last time we talked was that he is just a huge pain in the butt for her. Talking to her today made me realize she just really doesn't quite know what to do with him. She said she's sad that he's so upset in class so much of the time. It sounds like there are a number of kids with issues in the class this year, and it's been tough for her. So that was good, just opening the lines of communication. We will work to arrange for her and his other teacher to meet with his therapist and start working on finding a way to help him be happier and cope better in the classroom.

I just feel so good, for him and for me. If you are reading this thinking "So you made a phone call -- big whoop," I have this to say: Congratulation on being a naturally assertive person. I'm not. This kind of stuff has been hard for me my whole life. Standing up for myself has always been an issue. Today I stood up for my son, and it felt good just to know I could do it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


This has been a pretty weird weekend because I've been out dancing two nights in a row. I would say I don't know when the last time I did that was, only I don't think I've ever done that. I like to go dancing but it's not an opportunity that seems to present itself in my life very often. Probably something to do with having kids when I was young and supposed to be doing stuff like going out and dancing.

Anyway -- Friday there was this jewelry party at my gym, and then some of us went out and had dinner, and then a few of us in that group ended up going over to a bar where they had a deejay. Okay, so it was five of us women over 35, in a big, not very full bar, and we were the only ones dancing, so for a while the deejay tried to keep us happy with lots of eighties and early nineties music. Then two college-age girls joined us, and he obviously started to feel like he needed to cater to the crowd in the bar, and this is a college town, so... Anyway, for a while it was like we were battling the college girls for control of the deejay -- he'd play an eighties song, and some of them would drift away, and then he'd pump up some rap and we'd go sit down. A couple times he managed to play something no one had any interest in, and then the floor would be empty for a few minutes. I didn't envy the deejay -- he was trying to keep everyone happy, and obviously there were wildly divergent tastes to deal with. But in the end, the battle was lost, as we figured it would be -- we were severely outnumbered, and around midnight it had been more than 20 minutes since we'd heard anything we wanted to dance to, so we took off. It was fun while it lasted though.

Last night, Reasonable Man and I went to this Christmas party for one of his clients that we've gone to for the last several years. In the past it's always been held somewhere where you can walk around socializing and having drinks for a while, and then you sit down at one of the tables and have dinner and then they have a big presentation where they have a raffle where all the employees win things like restaurant gift certificates and that sort of thing. It's not the most exciting thing in the world, especially since I don't know many of the people there, but it's kinda fun and I don't mind going. This year I was actually excited about it, because it was being held on a boat on the Sacramento River, and I love going on boats.

Well, as it turned out, the whole thing mostly blew. First, we all stood around freezing on the dock for twenty minutes while all the different parties boarded before ours did. Then, as soon as we got on, we all had to choose a seat and stay there for pretty much the whole evening. We ended up at a table with some cool people, so that was nice, but what exactly is the point of having a party with around 50 people in that kind of setting? You don't get to circulate at all, and I didn't really know anyone so I didn't care all that much, but if it had been my company, I don't think I would have been very happy about it. Also, it was cold -- I spent most of the evening bundled up in my jacket and my scarf. Also, we were on the bottom deck, and everyone from the top deck got to get food before we did. Actually, the people I felt sorriest for were the other party downstairs with us, because they were right next to the food, and they got to go and load up their plates dead last. Pretty bogus deal there!

The whole thing was kind of shabby -- we drank wine out of plastic cups and the guy next to me had a knife that was greasy and had some dried food on it when we first sat down. The food wasn't bad, but the way we all were herded around to get it seemed kind of silly. And the whole effect of being on a boat was kind of lost due to the fact that the windows got fogged up and you couldn't really see anything outside of them anyway, since it was dark. Overall -- not too impressive.

But -- after dinner, they had a deejay by the tiny dance floor upstairs, and Reasonable Man and I headed up there to boogie down, and that was fun. I couldn't help noticing the contrast between my two dance experiences -- Friday night, we were a tiny group on a huge empty dance floor, and Saturday, a ridiculous number of people were crammed onto this tiny one. But people were having fun, and since it was a crowd made up of people closer to our age than the night before, the music was pretty decent. No eighties new wave -- this wasn't really that crowd either -- but it was mostly older stuff that we knew, so we enjoyed it. Even when they played "You Shook Me All Night Long," which is probably Ryan's least favorite song of all time since he hates the AC/DC singer's voice, we had fun with it.

Anyway, who knows? We're going over to some friends' house for dinner tonight -- can I make it three nights in a row dancing? That would be fun, but I kind of worry that this old body can't take it that much excitement in one weekend :-)

50 Book Challenge: Not Gonna Make It

I concede defeat. November was a black-hole, reading-wise; I knew that might be the case because I was working on my Nano novel, but I didn't count on the added issue of both of my book clubs making selections for the month that we will call challenging. Atonement was difficult and ultimately unrewarding. I do not recommend it. The book for my other book club was Sophie's World, which was very interesting but you won't find it listed here on my blog because I only got through half of it. I'd like to finish it sometime, but I don't have the energy for it right now. So I've reread The Liar's Club, which is my selection for one of my book clubs this month, and now I'm on to a true crime book I picked up a while back -- I shouldn't have anymore "assigned" reading for book clubs until January.

I'm a little disappointed that I won't make my 50-book goal for the year, but not really. I've read some really good books this year, a lot of difficult stuff, a lot of books I never would have picked up if someone in one of my book clubs hadn't picked them for me. I also managed to read quite a few of my own selections. I think the list is a pretty good mix of quality, guilty pleasure, good reads and bad. When I realized I wasn't going to make it to 50 this year, I immediately thought "I'll just try again for next year." Now I'm not sure if I will, but one thing I will plan to do is keep listing what I've read here on my blog, just to keep track and to be able to see an overview of what I've taken in over the course of a year. That part of the exercise has been very interesting :-)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Christmas and all the trimmings

It used to be that I just loved Christmas and pretty much everything associated with preparing for the season. Then came the first year I was in therapy, and I was talking to my therapist about feeling overwhelmed with shopping and decorating and everything, but I kept insisting that I actually loved it all, and she kept gently suggesting that what she was hearing was that it actually stressed me out, which I was finally forced to admit. So now I approach the season each year with cautious enthusiasm, mindful of the fact that I need to pace myself in the decorating, shopping, wrapping and holiday carding processes so as not to turn myself into a basket case.

This year I've done very well, due in large part to the face that Thanksgiving was pretty early, so things like putting up the outside lights were done before it was even December yet. Christmas shopping seemed to be a little easier this year as well -- Reasonable Man took an active role in selecting, purchasing, and arranging to go in on gifts with other people, and I had at least a few things tucked away early on, and it's all just generally come together very nicely. I did get my cards out a bit later than usual, and I had them printed at Target rather than printing them myself at home for the first time quite a few years, but I still had the same feeling of satisfaction when I was cramming them in the mailbox the other day, and I'm sure people will like them, so what's the difference?

And now a few words about holiday music:

It's been getting on my nerves this year. I have my own homemade CD of my favorite Christmas songs, and I usually look forward to putting it on while I'm decorating the house. This year, before I even got it out of the box, I was already tired of Christmas music from hearing it in stores while shopping. One day Sue and I were at Marshalls and they played three different renditions of "The Christmas Song" -- you know, "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" and all that crap -- in a row. The same song, three times in a row! WTF? I now support legislation making it illegal for anyone to ever record this song again. I mean it. I may take up arms the next time I hear it.

Part of the problem is, there are really only so many Christmas songs out there, but every year, a few pop singers, or more likely, whatever record companies are pimping them out, feel the need to record a whole album of holiday standards, and then, guess what? We are stuck with these things for all eternity. These singers may have faded from popularity many years before, but that doesn't mean radio stations will hesitate to keep playing their horrible Christmas songs every damn year. Just yesterday, I was in Home Depot and who did I hear singing over the sound system in there? Debbie Gibson, that's who. Now I don't mean to rip Debbie in particular -- it so happens that I kind of liked her during that twenty-minute period in 1987 when she was selling records -- but my point is, they are still playing her Christmas songs 18 years later. And you know we're going to be stuck with Jessica Simpson and Celine Dion (sorry, Mom) and Kenny freaking G. at Christmas for years to come too.

My Christmas music preferences run more to the less sentimental end of the spectrum. Sure, like any good child of the 80s, I love "Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band-Aid, and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon (yes, BLB, I know -- too much Yoko). My personal Christmas CD is also heavy on songs from TV specials, like "Christmas Time is Here" from the Peanuts specials, and the song the Whos all sing in the "Grinch" special. But my favorite Christmas song of all is "Merry Christmas from the Family" by Robert Earl Keen. I think the whole thing is hilarious, but I'll only subject you to the lyrics from the first chorus:

Carve the turkey, turn the ball game on
Mix margaritas when the egg nog's gone
Send somebody to the Quick Pack store
We need some ice and an extension cord
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rite
A box of tampons, some Marlboro lights
Hallelujah, everybody say cheese
Merry Christmas from the family

I can't say I've ever asked a relative to pick up a box of tampons or some smokes for me on Christmas before, but nevertheless, this song sounds a lot like the reality of the holidays to me than Jack Frost nipping at my nose and folks dressed up like Eskimos. I'm just saying.

I'd also like to talk about Christmas lights. The other day, Reasonable Man sent me this link to what is possibly the most over-the-top holiday lights display the history Christmas. It's very cool, and if it's real and not just something someone created on their computer, I have to say that I know I'd enjoy going to see it a time or two each year. If I lived anywhere in close proximity to this house, however, I think I might go and live somewhere else for the month of December every year, because that would get really old, really fast. I can just imagine sitting in my house, watching "CSI" or something and minding my own business, and suddenly having lights blasting into my house to the strains of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra or whatever that is at random points throughout the evening. I don't know -- maybe they only do it once a night or something like that. I hope so, for their neighbors' sake. I like the dancing fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas too, but I wouldn't want to live across the street from them.

Anyway, this provides me with a nice segue into the subject of Christmas lights. We have more Christmas lights up this year than we have in the past, and I'm quite proud of my display. Still, I cut some corners in a few places, and predictably, the lights are sagging a bit in a spot or two. I may remedy this, I may not. They're up, and because I'm not a man, I don't have to obsess about it.

I'm not saying all men obsess over things like Christmas lights, but it seems to me that it is more likely to be men than women who feel that there is a right way to put them up and that is how it has to be done. Me, I just kind of put them up however they'll go up. I've put hooks in a few places to make it easier to put them up the next year, but otherwise I'm pretty low-key about it. This is as opposed to, say, my father-in-law, who, when those icicle lights got popular a few years ago, found the sets you could buy at the store somehow lacking and created his own by purchasing about fifty regular strings of white lights and painstakingly looping them to his own satisfaction. The guy across the street was up on his roof -- like, way up on his roof -- putting his lights around the perimeters of his house on the same day I was putting lights up on our house, and let me tell you -- his lights are straight. I don't know what he did to get them that straight, but I've sure never figured out how to make mine look like that, and I have a feeling it involves serious tools and some kind of process developed over time that I would never have the patience for.

Here in town, there's a guy who writes movie reviews for the local paper, and every year he creates a holiday display in his tiny front yard that includes groupings of cartoon characters that he must have actually someone painted himself on sheets of wood and about a zillion lights. I saw him starting to put that stuff up a full week before Thanksgiving this year. It's an awesome display and I admire the effort, but let me tell you -- I will never go there. I really think the big fancy outdoor lights displays are the province of men with an eye for precision and a "Home Improvement"-style lust for more power. And that's fine. I'm happy to put my modest display up each year and leave the power-grid-killing crazy stuff to the guys. I have too many presents to wrap to worry about stuff like that.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Good things and bad

Good things:
I'm sitting near my fireplace, which now has a gas log set installed so I can just walk over and light it using my lighter thingie and the key coming out of the wall. No more of those overpriced firelogs from the store! No more ashes to clean up! No more "oh, I thought this would be burned out by now, but it's not and I have to leave the house and if I leave with the fire lit, it might somhow burn down the house even though it's never demonstrated the ability to do anything like that before but you just never know, do you?" No more, "I'm freezing and I'd really like a good fire to sit next to just about now but I'm only going to be here for x-amount of time and it's not worth wasting a firelog." I just turn it off when I'm leaving or going upstairs or something. It rules.

It's Saturday. I slept in past 8 and I don't have a headache even though I drank too many margaritas last night at Steve and Sue's house. The day is not packed with activities or anything like that. I should finish putting up the indoor Christmas decorations and pay the bills but nothing is pressing at the moment.

A lot of my Christmas shopping is already done. I'm not feeling that crushing feeling of "Oh my God, what am I gonna get for everyone?" The lights are up outside and the stuff inside... yeah, I'll get to it.

Mermaid's book report got done. I probably helped her with it a little more than I was supposed to, but geez -- it was a science fiction novel. And we had to read the whole thing. And it's hard enough to get her to understand a story in her reader or a chapter book aimed at younger kids than this one was about about something she's actually interested in. I'm pleased with how painless it was, and how well it turned out. And I'm glad it's done.

I found a shirt for Buster at Target yesterday that actually fits him. I should tell you at this point that this is exciting not because I have some compulsion to make him look silly by dressing him in stupid-looking clothes, but because a) he has no body fat, and thus walks around shivering all winter, even in the house, and forget about taking him out for a walk or something; and b) he's hard to fit, because of the whole long body/short legs things. Just on a whim, I recently researched dachshund clothing online and found the most perfect little fleece jacket -- for $50. I won't spend that much for a jacket for one of my kids, so forget spending that much on a jacket for the dog. But this little tee shirt fits him just right, and it cost five bucks, so everybody wins. I think he actually kind of likes it too.

Bad things:

I ate the last of the leftover Thanksgiving stuffing this morning, so all we have left is turkey, which probably won't be good much longer. I love Thanksgiving leftovers, and I know all good things must come to an end, but that always bums me out.

Having the gas line put in to hook up the gas log set in the fireplace set us back more than you might think. I'm not going to say exactly how much it was because I don't want my dad to get concerned when he reads this, but let's just say it was kind of a pricey deal and leave it there. It's not like those firelogs you buy at the grocery store are so cheap either.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the sound of Reasonable Man slamming around the bedroom getting dressed. I finally sat up and asked him if he was in a hurry or something, to which he replied that there was no hot water and he just wanted to get to the office so he could take a shower (I guess I knew they had a shower at his office. I've never actually seen it before though.). So I had to have Larry the Earnest Plumber come to my house for the third day in a row to relight the pilot light in our hot water heater, which he'd forgotten to do the day before when he was finished putting in the new, expensive gas line for the fireplace. It screwed up my morning.

I've barely touched my novel since I passed 50K on Monday night. I sat down and wrote maybe 250 words on it the other day, but I didn't even make it out of the scene I'd been writing on when I passed the 50K mark. I need to get my act together on that because I do not need another source of guilt in my life.

I feel like going back to bed. I also kind of feel like the two boxes of Christmas decorations in the living room are mocking me and demanding to know why I haven't unpacked them over the past two days since they've been sitting there. I don't know how productive today's going to be...