Saturday, May 31, 2008

Portland, Maine

Uncle Shane and Ali sent their birthday wishes to the Bug on this postcard, while they were in Portland, Maine for a wedding. Who knew that the Bug had a New England lighthouse named after her!

And Uncle Shane and Ali sent their lobster wishes to all of us on this postcard, while they were enjoying beers and live music on the deck pictured here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Widow for One Year

This John Irving novel sat on our bookshelf for a couple of years before I finally got around to reading it. I'd loved A Prayer for Owen Meany, but wasn't all that crazy about The World According to Garp. I picked up A Widow for One Year only when I couldn't find the book I wanted to read. And I was very happy that I did.

I found A Widow to be much more akin to Owen Meany in that I really enjoyed the book. It's a very intricate plot that weaves through the lives of Ruth Cole and her family and friends over the course of more than 35 years. In typical Irving fashion, there is a ton of back story throughout, and, also typical, it can be a little depressing. In this novel he does a great job of character development, and on display is his meticulous attention to detail. His style of narrative fiction keeps the story moving very quickly, while giving the reader a thorough understanding of what motivates each of his characters.

The plot was interesting, if a bit meandering. The first section of the book takes place during the summer that Ted and Marion, four-year-old Ruth's parents, are going through a divorce. High school student Eddie O'Hare spends the summer as Ted's writing assistant, and the events of the summer define the rest of his life. The relationships between these four characters are deeply shaped by how the death of the Coles' two older sons several years prior continues to affect them both. We pick up in the novel more than 30 years later, when Ruth and Eddie get back in touch and begin a friendship. Ted's modus operandi has not changed; Marion has never returned to the fold. The rest of the book explores Ruth's historical inability to sustain healthy relationships, and its roots in that fateful summer.

As for recurring themes, a few will be familiar to readers of Irving's other books. These include disfunctional familial relationships, devastating consequences of promiscuity, Phillips Exeter Academy, and a freak accident. This book also includes the recurrence of women who'd been "a widow for one year," a phrase which makes an appearance in at least three distinct scenes.

I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to anyone who doesn't loathe him as a writer; it's a bit too long, and perhaps too self-indulgent, to please the anti-Irving crowd. As for me, though, A Widow has renewed my appreciation of Irving. I think I'll try The Cider House Rules next.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Bug is One!

Yesterday was the Bug's first birthday. While she had no clue that it was her birthday, she had the best day ever!! We started the day opening presents, and then headed out to a nearby state park for a picnic by the beach. We'd never been to Sherwood Island before, and it's really nice. Plus, when we got there it was still completely empty so we were able to claim two picnic tables in the shade. Little Bug played all day long with her aunts, uncles, cousins and Pop Pop. She's getting very close to being able to walk, and she tottered all over the beach and the grass holding on to a finger or two. She was surprisingly uninterested in her cupcake; she made a face and spit out the one bite she took. After an afternoon nap, we went down to the pool for her first swim. She loved it, so it looks like we'll be spending a lot more time at the pool this summer! It really was the best day ever.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nerding it up

When I was in high school, being a nerd was decidedly not cool. Getting good grades was lame, getting into good colleges was lame, liking school was really lame. While college was indeed a welcome change, I've really enjoyed the nerd renaissance of the past few years. Harry Potter brought science fiction to the masses. Bill Gates is the world's VIP. Comic book movies have become the biggest blockbusters. I can write a blog, belong to a book club, talk politics with my friends, and even read the Buffy comics, all the while maintaining my uber-cool rep.

So I must have had an amused smirk on my face when I read David Brook's op-ed piece today. He likens our current president to the high school dumb jock who doesn't think that being smart is cool. But because of his abomination of an administration, now all nerds can proudly and publicly unite, and claim Obama as their own. Bush has inadvertently given power to the nerdy people!!

And, by the way, a very big kudos to Dr. Seuss for inventing the word "nerd" in 1950.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cat's Cradle

Since choosing a chapter title from my favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel to be the name of my blog, I've been meaning to reread Cat's Cradle to see if it actually deserved that high honor. I am very happy to say that it does indeed. I've probably read this book a dozen times or more, and this most recent time was a pleasure. I'm not going to recap the book; if you haven't read it, I only recommend that you do so. But I will share my thoughts on a couple of the Bokononist themes of the novel.

Boku-maru is the ultimate form of worship under Bokononism, which is outlawed in the island nation of San Lorenzo. In the chapter called "Aspirin and Boko-maru", Julian Castle explains to the narrator that the only things that keep the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle functioning are aspirin and boku-maru. I chose this as the name of my blog for two reasons. First, I thought it sounded catchy. Secondly, without really knowing what direction this blog would take, I felt like it might become something that would keep me going, a sort of a constant in my rather rapidly changing life. While that prediction was admittedly a bit grandiose, I do think that it ultimately proved a fitting title.

Related only as it's another theme of Bokononism, the granfalloon was something that stands out to me now as completely relevant. In essence, a granfalloon is a false karass, a group of people with no spiritual connectivity but some surface-level reason to identify with each other. (For example, "You went to Yale, too? Let's be friends!") I couldn't help but think that Facebook is one giant, modern-day granfalloon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The color of money

The US Court of Appeals upheld a 2006 ruling which maintained that the United States currency discriminates against the visually impaired. I agree with this decision, and feel that it should not have had to suffer the year and a half delay of the appeals process. I really hope that the Treasury Department doesn't further delay the implementation of new currency standards with further appeals. As Judge Robertson wrote in the 2006 decision: "Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency, only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations."

I always thought that the "funny money" of other nations was cool - I liked the different sizes and colors of the bills. But what I learned through experience was that after only a short time in a foreign country, I could easily find the right bills in my wallet to pay for things because of the bold differences. The blind in our own country are not afforded this ease, even after living here for a lifetime. Because there are no differences in size or texture, a blind person has to rely on another person to organize her cash, and has to trust that other people make change correctly. Compared to the overall cost of producing currency, the incremental cost to make appropriate accommodation is not meaningful. While it admittedly poses an inconvenience and expense to certain constituencies (namely, vending machine manufacturers), creating easily distinguished currency is clearly the right thing for our government to do.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Bug loves books

We started reading to the Bug every night when she was just a little bit of a thing. I'm pretty sure that she didn't have any idea what was going on, but it was a part of our bedtime routine. Now, I'm sure that she not only knows that we're reading to her, but she has books that she prefers over others. Sometimes she'll want to read to herself, flipping backward and forward through the pages. Other times, and these are my favorite, she'll drag the book over, hand it to me, and crawl into my lap. That is my signal to begin at the beginning.

If anyone is looking for some winners, here are the current favorites of our almost-1-year-old Bug:

  • Mr. Pusskins: A Love Story, by Sam Lloyd. This stands out as the absolute current favorite; we'll read it 10+ times a day. Sweet story, fantastic illustrations, and the Bug likes to caterwaul along when we get to the appropriate page.
  • Good Night Denver, by Susan Bouse. This is part of the "Good Night Our World" series, which showcases other cities like Philly or Washington. Bug loves the pictures; the text is unintentionally funny.
  • No Matter What, by Debi Gliori. Beautifully illustrated story about unconditional love.
  • Barnyard Dance!, by Sandra Boynton. The real story of what farm animals do when my Dad's not watching.
  • Mini Masters series, by Julie Merberg. These tell a story through the classic paintings of Matisse or Degas or Van Gogh. I just thought they'd be pretty, but they're compelling little stories, too.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Celebratory clam-less bake

When my good friend James passed away last October, his remarkable ability to make deep connections with people was demonstrated by the extraordinary number who felt his loss. Many of us had been brought together over the years by our friendships with James. His high school buddies had been fixtures on our scene since college. After the funeral we spoke about getting together to celebrate his life in the spring, around his birthday, when the loss was less raw.

It is a testament to his enduring spirit that this celebration did in fact come together. His high school friends organized a clambake yesterday on a lovely little beach in New London, CT. In attendance were about 40 people, including James' friends from high school, college and New York, and our families.

Though the weather was a little spotty, though the lobsters were somewhat underdone, and though the clams never showed themselves, we had a lovely day. There were probably 10 kids under three years old, and it was the Bug's first time in the beach. She had a fantastic time playing with the other kids and experiencing the sand and the wind, and Joker and I caught up with people we don't get to visit with very often.

When we were leaving, I couldn't help but wonder if we'll ever see some of these people again. I've known them tangentially, some for as many as 15 years, but our connection was always James. He's the one who brought people together. I'd like to think that we'll gather again for his birthday next year, and perhaps this will become a nice tradition. Either way, the positive impact James had on us all will not be forgotten.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ending institutionalized prejudice

When I read recently about the passing of Mildred Loving, the woman at the center of the Supreme Court decision that overturned laws banning interracial marriage, the issue of gay marriage loomed in the background. Mrs. Loving and her white husband had been happily married in a small Virginia town, when a pre-dawn raid on their bedroom led to their arrests and subsequent ejection from the state. A couple of years after the couple moved to the District of Columbia, allowed to make only separate visits to their home town, the ACLU took their case to the courts.

The Supreme Court rightly struck down Virginia's miscegenation laws, and wrote the following in the opinion:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
I cannot but see the parallels between the right for interracial couples to marry, and the right for homosexual couples to marry. Marriage is an American institution, not one created by God, and should thus be extended to all Americans. Not even civil unions do the trick; history has shown us time and again that "separate but equal" is inherently unequal. The argument that the decision to allow gay marriages should belong to the voters is naive. The courts had to pave the way for black and white to marry, and will have to do the same for man and man, largely because of widespread prejudice that will one day be viewed as ignorant.

Yesterday's decision to overturn California's ban on gay marriage will bring the issue back into public view. There is an opportunity for the Democratic candidate to do the right thing - to publicly acknowledge that gay marriage does nothing to undermine the institution and should unequivocally be allowed. John McCain and his Republican colleagues will try to use gay marriage as a rallying point to get out the right-wing vote. I can only hope that public opinion sways toward the rational and the inclusive, and that the exclusionary laws banning gay marriage go the way of those fought by the Lovings.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's all happening at the zoo

Yesterday was my first Mother's Day, and I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do than to take the Bug to the zoo. I just love zoos.

So after Joker made me a delicious breakfast, we all headed up to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport. It was great. The zoo itself is quite small, but it is perfect for little ones. The highlights are the two Siberian Tigers, but there are also buffalo, deer, wolves, lynxes, monkeys, otters and a couple of small bears, all of which you can get very close to. They've also got an old-fashioned carousel, peacocks wandering about, and great space for you to eat a picnic lunch. We all had a wonderful time, though I think the Bug liked watching the other kids as much as anything. She was initially terrified of the carousel, but after watching her horse go up and down a couple of times, she finally let me put her on it for a few laps.

To top off our perfect day, the Bug gave us our first bath time caddyshack. If you're unfamiliar with that term, just think about the infamous Baby Ruth scene from the movie. Yeah, that's right. Happy Mother's Day to me.

Friday, May 9, 2008

No one else can spella... a neat word like "umbrella"

We recently purchased the Bug a boxed set of Sesame Street's music. We've been listening to it with embarrassing frequency... and it's fantastic!

So please, enjoy Melissa Etheridge's love song to the letter U.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Remedial courtesy

In case you were wondering what the prerequisites were for Courtesy 101, the kind folks in my new office have been good enough to share:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

My husband's relationship with his maternal grandmother has been described to me many times as having strong parallels to the relationship between Patrick Dennis (the character) and his Auntie Mame. Because of this, I was predisposed to love the Rosalind Russell movie, which I did, and I expected to enjoy the book as well. Even with these lofty expectations, and the hope that I'd feel a personal connection on some level, the book was a great pleasure to read.

Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis, is a superb exercise in storytelling and in character development. The book's Auntie Mame is even more gregarious than the character in the movie. She lives her life according to her rules and philosophies, leading to the anticipated madcap adventures, but also to complex relationships between herself and those she loves.

Eccentric Auntie Mame immerses herself in everything she does with unrivaled gusto. From the parties she throws to the professions she pursues, she gives it her all. She's got her finger on the pulse of the trendy and fashionable, in culture as well as in clothing. Mame is rich, fast-living, open-minded, and very fond of gin (the drink, not the card game).

Patrick lands in Mame's charge as a 10-year-old boy, and immediately becomes the primary object of Mame's devotion. She spends the following years doing all that she can to mold him into a smart and charming man. From education to father figure to bride, Mame is determined that Patrick will have only what she considers to be the best. Above all, Mame wants to keep Patrick from suffering the same fate as his father by becoming snobbish, material, stodgy, or anything else that she eschews.

Over half a century old, Auntie Mame stands the test of time and is still hilarious. The one criticism I have is of the literary device Dennis uses. When the book was written, the Reader's Digest was enormously popular, and Dennis uses the Unforgettable Character theme to set the stage for the various anecdotes that Patrick recounts. I'll grant that this was probably quite clever when the book was published, but it now seems tiresome and lame. That said, it doesn't keep this from being a really funny book which I'd strongly recommend.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Chatterbox ass hat"

This is what Joker just called me while he was sitting fully clothed in the bathtub petting Buffy, and we were debating whether the odds of his taking a shower today were greater than zero percent.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Immunization is important

Vaccinations are among the most important medical advances of the past hundred years and have led to the virtual disappearance of smallpox, polio and diptheria. Yet some parents continue to refuse vaccinations for their children for personal beliefs, most commonly a belief that vaccinations can lead to autism.

This infuriates me. This belief is not based on one shred of scientific evidence. The Times had a fantastic report recently about this alarming trend. Specifically, read this quote (emphasis is mine):

In addition, rumors continue to spread that some vaccines, or a mercury antifungal vaccine preservative called thimerosal that was added to vaccines, cause autism. Numerous studies have shown no link between autism and either vaccines or the preservative. An active anti-vaccine lobby, however, keeps the issue alive. The lobby is a broad tent. A few members question even whether bacteria and viruses cause disease; most seek more research into safety and greater rights to refuse vaccination.
We're not talking about mainstream opinion here, but rather radical, uninformed people whose decisions create a public health risk. Yes, shots hurt. Yes, there are mild side effects. If you want to spread out your kid's vaccines a little to minimize these side effects, by all means do so. But to skip them entirely is both ignorant and selfish.

As with any decisions, there are real consequences. The recent measles outbreak has primarily infected people who were not vaccinated. This includes children under one year of age, who are too young to have the vaccination, and those whose parents have chosen not to have their kids vaccinated. My 11-month-old is at risk because of other people's careless behavior.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I do not *heart* Times Square

Our offices moved over the weekend into some lovely new space in Times Square. This has lopped almost five minutes (in each direction) off of my commute, something that would generally be viewed as a positive. I now walk straight down either 47th or 46th Street, both of which have massive construction closing portions of the already crowded sidewalks. As I was making my way to the office this morning, I reminisced fondly of walking through the wide, pedestrian-only streets around Rockefeller Center, with flower pots and public art. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Times Square makes my skin crawl.