Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hello, New Zealand! (Now with Updates)

Sometime while I’m sleeping—hours before I start the day that you’re just ending (I think)—I’ll be on Campbell Live on TV3 at 7 pm. I’ll post a link as soon as it comes up. (Unless I’ve made an ass of myself, in which case I’ll try to distract you with other posts.)

Practically Perfect isn’t in bookstores in New Zealand, but if you’re interested, both Whitcoulls online and Seek Books carry it.

You can read an excerpt here, and more about the book here.

But most importantly: Was that thing under my eye (bug bite? impending pimple?) too distracting?

Hey, you couldn't even see the eye thing!

Here it is!

All in all, if I can be so immodest, not too bad. Especially when compared to a radio interview Stephanie and I did years ago on Nanci Olesen's Mombo show, on which I nervously repeated "You know what I'm saying?" What I was saying, dawgs, is that I was happy to take time out of my busy schedule smoking blunts with Snoop to chat.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Little Ditties

--Now they (and by they, I mean Newsweek reporters and their sources) are saying that your microbes—your bacteria, your little extra funk—can help determine your happiness. Oh, for cripes.

--Do you know that part in Practically Perfect where I’m throwing a party for two writers who happen to be in Charlottesville for a few days? And that it’s a literary salon? (And that I am about to hit you with a name drop?) They were Miriam Peskowitz and Andi Buchanan, authors and editors of many a fine book, but also the authors of the anticipated and brand-spanking-new The Daring Book for Girls.

--Yesterday, I dawdled on the porch swing with the music playing and Cathi Hanauer’s Sweet Ruin to read. I finished it this afternoon, and boy howdy, was I sad to come to the end. It’s a lovely, sensuous novel about marriage and passion and the roads that might be taken. Loved it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

House of (Minor) Horrors

Brandon, Caleb, and I were having a debate the other day about which is better: being a kid or being an adult. All three of us tend toward thinking adulthood is a way better deal. You can eat what you want, stay up as late as you want. You have money, and not just an accumulation of the $.75 you get from cleaning the windows. You can vote, drive, have whatever sort of pet you’d like. You do not have homework.

“But being a kid is good, too,” I reassured Caleb.

“How?” he asked.

I made up some marlarkey (because for real, adulthood rulez!), but I was thinking lately that Halloween is way better in childhood, sparkly and promising, the kind of season when terror is delicious and imminent. These days, to me, Halloween is blunted, dull.

My moments of horror this Halloween season have included:

1. The dogs got a squirrel. (Dead bodies!)
2. The pumpkin Halloween decorations on the door looked like, in the darkness before bedtime, the silhouettes of two small heads peering into our house. (Ghosts!)
3. A new CD to which I was listening alone while making salads featured a noise that sounded like a door creaking open—but nobody was there! (Poltergeists!)
4. I got sucked into America’s Most Smartest Model on VH-1 (I’m coming in there, Carol Ann!)

“Why aren’t you afraid of anything?” Caleb asked me that night.

Oh, ho, ho, I thought. War and famine, disease and accidents, the fires in L.A., the erosion of rights, panic, boredom, the knowledge that he will inevitably understand that I’m not at all fearless. These are the fears I best keep under wraps.

I was brushing my teeth, and he was waiting for an answer, so I thought of a recent time when I was afraid. A box was delievered to the house. It didn’t have a return address, and as I started opening it, I felt the cool metal of whatever object was inside. I became convinced that it was a gun and that when I removed the wrapping, it would go off. I picked that motherfucker up and took it to the garage. I called Brandon and my neighbor to inform them of this Code Red situation. It turned out, it was some camera equipment Brandon had ordered.

“I don’t like packages without return labels,” I told Caleb.


“Because,” I said. “It might not be a good surprise.”

“It could be poop,” he suggested.

“Yes,” I said. “It could be poop.”

That really would be scary, though, wouldn’t it?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Little Bits

If I worked for a consortium of blues musicians, instead of a magazine, I might be given the nickname Bottleneck Niesslein. Because, these days, anything that gets passed my way will get caught in the (relatively) small and (I remind myself) temporary bottleneck of work. I got them overwhelmed-by-professional-obligations blues. My sense of order up done and left me. The deadlines, they treating me mean.

In the meantime (while I let my tired old metaphors take a load off), some nuggets:

--Plumpynut. I predict this is the name that will launch a thousand seventh-grade current event reports.

--I was recently in the Pittsburgh area, and on the road from the airport, the signs struck me as a little passive-aggressive. “Beware of Aggressive Drivers.” “Watch Out for Drunk Drivers.” “DUI: You Can’t Afford It.” Pennsylvania knows that you would never lick the icing off one side of your sister’s birthday cake, but thinks you might have some ideas on how it could have happened.

--An interesting quote from an essay by Newsweek’s Kathleen Deveny. The essay is about correcting stranger’s kids, and here’s yer historial perspective: “Kids were not raised to internalize their own family's particular values, they were expected to share the community's values," says Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College. That began to change in the 1830s as class distinctions grew sharper. "Often it wasn't so much 'our family has different rules' as 'our type has different rules'."

--Via Julianne, this brouhaha over Jessica Seinfeld’s book (Deceptively Delicious) and Missy Chase Lapine’s book (The Sneaky Chef) seems bizarre to me. (The both offer recipes on how to trick children into eating nutrients.) There’s at least three forthcoming books with a concept similar to Practically Perfect. It’s just a weird Zeitgeist-y thing. It happens, and I fully expect the better-connected and dewier-skinned authors to get more press than I did (not that I’m complaining). As David Byrne taught us all, “Somebody somewhere owes us a favor—that’s how things really get done.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nine Is Fine

Gretchen has had a couple posts about whether or not kids make you happier. Research usually says no, they don’t.

I’m not so sure that there’s a straight answer to be had, though. True, I will never get back the hours, days, weeks, I spent pretending that I was a plastic oviraptor. (Brachiosaurus, are you my friend?) But as Caleb gets older, he just delights me more and more.

The other night he came inside and sat down on the couch next to me. “Well,” he said, “we have some new family members.” Crickets, he meant. Crickets that he caught and intended to feed until they got bigger and he could release them back into the wilds of our neighborhood.

Later that night, as we were falling asleep, he said, “Do crickets lay eggs or, you know, give birth?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “We can look it up tomorrow.”

“Because I want to be a breeder.”

“Mmmm,” I said.

“But I need to know if they lay eggs or not. I hope not.” He went on for a new more minutes before I reminded him that we really needed to get to sleep. Cricket husbandry would never have crossed my mind, as a child or now.

(Later, I found this website. From it, I learned that they lay eggs. Also: “The first question to ask is, ‘How many crickets do you want to breed?’" Duly noted.)

Today, he turned nine. I gave him his presents this morning, including some clothes. In the past, he’s been less than enthusiastic about clothes-as-gifts. (Once, when he was three or four, my mom handed him a wrapped present. I said, “Look, Caleb! Go-Go got you a present!” In a let’s-not-kid-ourselves tone, he whispered, “It could be a shirt.”)

But this morning he took the tissue paper out of the gift bag and exclaimed, “They look really comfortable!” He lifted up a shirt. “And stylish!”

And stylish. You see what I'm saying?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Champions, My Friend

I saw that the finalists for the National Book Award were announced today, via GalleyCat (a blog by Ron Hogan who is, among other things, a stunningly awesome headline writer).

Despite what I say about being moderately hopeless, there is a small ice cube in my little glass-half-empty heart that truly believes that it’s in the realm of possibility that Practically Perfect would be on the list. I mean, I’m almost certain that the National Book Award committee doesn’t rely on writers stumbling around on the internet to get informed that they’ve been shortlisted. But not 100 percent.

In other news: I’m a dork.

While I was there, I noticed that there is a category called “Young People’s Literature.” Which seems kind of quaint. I’ve heard of “young adult” or “children’s”—but “young people”?

I don’t know about that for the book club, Dot. That’s seems like young people’s literature. The kind they read when they’re listening to the rock and rock and playing on the world wide web.

I don't know. Maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Attention, Shoppers

So, enough with the rock-batting debacle, huh? We may or may not have a record now (don’t mess with us—our son can throw stones!), and our credit cards took a hit, but I think it’s done.

So let’s talk about shopping! Elrena Evans tagged me for her meme on being a conscious consumer—i.e., thinking about our purchases. I have to say, travelling this summer really made me aware of buying, mostly because of the fifty pound weight limit on the luggage. When I had to carry or wheel around all my booty, I was forced to really consider if I needed what I was buying. A book for the plane? Yes. Loverly boots? No, damn it.

Sadly, these days, I do not walk the walk of conscious consumerism as much as I’d like to. Here is the meme, so I can show and not tell:

Here's how it works: post the directions on your blog, tell everyone who tagged you, answer the questions, and tag five or more people. That's it!

The purpose of this meme is to inspire some reflection about how we shop and what we purchase. The idea isn't that consumption itself is somehow bad, but that we all
could probably stand to put a little bit more thought into what we buy. And, of
course, it's supposed to be fun.

So here goes! Pick a recent shopping trip -- for clothes, shoes, groceries, doesn't matter. The only guideline is that it will be easier to play if you purchased at least a few things.

Now tell us, about your purchases:
1. What are you proud of?
2. What are you embarrassed by?
3. What do think you couldn't live without?
4. What did you most enjoy purchasing?
5. What were you most tempted by?
(This last one may or may not be an actual purchase!)

Proud of: I bought a minor thing at the drugstore for some friends who are going through a rough patch.

Embarrassed by: All of this shopping was done at big chain stores. I’d like to support the local stuff, but I wished they were grouped as nicely as the CVS and Kroger at Barracks Road Shopping Center. Like Melrose Place’s Amanda Woodward, I am a very important executive and do not have the time.

Couldn’t Live Without: Milk. Plain tea might as well be iced.

Enjoyed: The ingredients for a homemade mac and cheese in the Jamie Oliver cookbook—fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, ruffled pasta shells. It smelled good even in the cart. It made me anticipate dinner, as opposed to the usual dread of cooking it.

Temptation: I could wander around CVS for an hour, particularly in the seasonal aisle and in the lipstick section. I don’t even wear lipstick on a daily basis, but I associate it with going out and having fun, so I enjoy perusing the colors, although I feel like a simpleton when I realize that, like an infant, I’ve spent ten minutes staring at bright, shiny colors. Didn’t do it this time.

I’m not sure who to tag, but if you’re doing the meme, let me know, okay?

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Darnedest Things

It’s been a while since I worked myself up into a blind rage, but last night, kapow.

The three of us went out to a nice Oktoberfest dinner, and when we got home, there was a message on the voice mail from one of my neighbors.

Apparently that afternoon, four of the boys, including my boy, were playing baseball with rocks. Which is a bad idea, it goes without saying. Apparently, one of the rocks hit a house adjacent to our development. This sounds all nice and Americana, even shading into Norman Rockwell terrain, no? No.

The owner of the house calls my neighbor and claims that a window was broken. He wants us to “make it right by sundown.” Or, what? I’m thinking. He’s going to get his posse together and learn us a lesson?

So while I was enjoying my spaetzle and beer, three other mothers went to the guy’s house. He indicated that Caleb was “mouthing off” to him. He said, “I’m a Vietnam vet—don’t go there, kid.” He mentioned that he’s friends with police officers. Also, it turns out a window was not broken, but a screen was torn.

I talked to Caleb, who contends that he didn’t mouth off. He didn’t say anything at all, just ran home as fast as he could when he heard the guy shouting at them. When he ran, the guy called after him, “You better run.” (Again—or what?) The only thing the other kids said was, “I’m sorry.” One kid, the youngest, was especially shaken.

My conversation with Brandon went something like this:


Brandon: …


Brandon: …

It was already dark. I collected a bunch of rocks in a cup and walked over to where the boys were earlier that afternoon. I started winging them at the house one by one.

Lights came on. He stepped out. Before he could say anything, I started in.

“Here,” I said. “Here’s your chance. If you want to bully someone, bully me. I'm another adult.” I clenched the cup of rocks.

I’m kidding. I didn’t do that, but I really fucking wanted to.

I have methods for not getting into these kinds of rages, but sometimes, I have to just live through them. Eventually, I calmed down enough to try to understand the guy’s perspective. Before our houses were built, he had woods behind his house. The developer promised him things that he didn’t deliver on. The guy’s resentful of us anyway. Then there are these kids and their rocks on the camel’s back.

My normal impulse is to root for the underdog, and I know, I know, that he appears to be the victim here. He’s the one with the torn screen and the shitty backyard view now. But on the other hand, I know this type. And he better watch what he says. Or what? I'll think of something.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Matters of Linkage

I got nothing myself. Nothing but a bounty of links, that is!

--Beth is my pal and the staff artist for Brain, Child. We met in seventh grade when we both tried out for the school play and got steered to the chorus. (Our talents lie outside the dramatic arts, apparently.) The plan—my plan, anyway—is that she will someday move to Charlottesville. In the meanwhile, I have to make do with occasional phone calls and glimpses into her quirky, awesome brain via her blog. Does this rock or does this rock?

--If you think Body Mass Index guidelines are a bit F to the U-C-Ked up, have a look at this. Kate Harding matched up some BMI categories with photographic evidence. (Via Jezebel).

--Thought this was interesting in The Believer; it’s about morals and evolutionary biology. But then it gets all sexist and broad and shitty at the end when Frans de Waal (incidentally, the sentimentalist in The New Yorker article on bonobos) claims that women can’t be good leaders because we hold grudges. Really? I don’t know about the rest of the ladies, but I still love someone who told me he hated me and that I was a mean mommy, all the while I was cleaning fecal matter from his person. If that’s not forgiveness, I don’t know what forgiveness is.

--Give blood!

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Age of Realism

Caleb made his birthday wish list over the weekend. The third item on the list was $100. He paused. “No one’s going to give me a hundred dollars,” he said to himself. He crossed it out and wrote “nine dollars.”

Later, I took the list upstairs to email it to our relatives. He’d crossed out “nine dollars” and substituted it with “money.”

Because, really, who is he to restrict the generosity of his loved ones?