Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I don't believe in resolutions

I'm sure that many people you know have spent the past week or so working on their new year's resolutions. I am not counted in that number. Frankly, I don't believe in them. If something is worth doing, I should do it, and willing it to be so one day a year won't make me exercise more or drink less (or vice versa). But if I were to make one, I think it would be to get a polar bear. A baby one. I mean, they're so freaking cute!

Monday, December 28, 2009


Siddhartha is the best known novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Hermann Hesse. It is a short book that follows the spiritual journey of the title character, who travels the Indian subcontinent during the time of Buddha in search of enlightenment.

Siddhartha is the son of Brahmin elder, who leaves his hometown to wander with the ascetic Samanas. While with the Samanas, he encounters the Buddha, who he believes to be truly wise and enlightened. That being said, Siddhartha doesn't feel the Buddha can teach him anything - he doesn't believe that any person can teach him - so he continues on his journey. The next stop is with the lovely courtesan Kamala who teaches him the pleasures of physical love, while he learns about money and gambling from the town's most successful merchant. Years of this life leave him feeling disgusted and nauseous, so he contemplates suicide by the river. He's saved by an old friend, and Siddhartha spends the final stage of his journey listening to and learning from the river, where he ultimately finds peace.

Perhaps I'm not a very spiritual person. Maybe I don't know enough about Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Whatever the reason, I didn't find Siddhartha to be a sympathetic or inspiring character. Rather, I saw a self-indulgent egoist who shirked his responsibilities in the name of finding enlightenment. I won't say it is a bad book, but it is one whose appeal is entirely lost on me.

Next up: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, which Santa left in my stocking.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Home for Christmas

The Bunny is too young for us to travel to Colorado for the holidays this year, so we had our first family Christmas at home. It was a far smaller affair than we are used to. My brother and his wife were also unable to fly away so they drove up to spend the holiday with us, and my father-in-law joined us on Christmas Eve, too. Since this was a big year for the Bug - really the first time she was able to get into Santa and the holiday schtick - I wanted everything to be perfect.

I spent the week cooking, which is something I've never done before. My hope was that things would go smoothly on the big day, which was still something of a pipe dream... apparently having two little kids running around guarantees dinner will be delayed. But it was actually fun to test the capacities of our freezer and oven, and I was pleased with the results all around.

More exciting, though, was watching the holiday unfold through the Bug's eyes. She had so much fun Christmas morning: putting the last ornament on the advent calendar, seeing the stockings filled beyond capacity, opening all of her presents (and all of the Bunny's). And she was a trooper, missing naps and staying as sweet as could be... though I'm sure it helped to have a bunch of grown-ups around with endless patience for Candy Land and Animal Bingo. A 2-year-old really makes for the most awesome Christmas imaginable! The Bunny was happy and adorable, but at 6 weeks old she could not have cared less about the hubbub. The big guy and his associates were generous to a fault, and the toys and other cool stuff (of particular note: sparkly pink shoes for the Bug) are still strewn about. Clean-up will happen soon enough; for now, I just want to relax, drink some wine and reflect on the lovely past couple of days.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Master and Margarita

My love for 19th Century Russian literature has been well established, but for some reason I only recently became aware of the 20th Century's preeminent Russian novel, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It is a haunting work of art, a scathing critique of Stalin's regime, and one of the very best books I have ever read.

Bulgakov, heavily influenced by Russian greats Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gogol, was a well known and prolific playwright. He began writing The Master and Margarita in the late 1920s, but because of the political themes it could not be published until more than a quarter century after his death in 1940.

The novel contains three distinct stories which don't appear necessarily to fit together at first glance. The first is of the devil (named Woland) and his henchmen, a couple of disfigured men, an enormous cat with a penchant for handguns and a naked witch, who spend a few days wreaking havoc on Moscow's literary elite. The second story is about the love between Margarita and the master, more specifically of Margarita's courage and devotion. And the third is the master's novel, a story of Pontius Pilate that takes place in the days around Christ's crucifixion in ancient Jerusalem.

These disparate stories, combined with the intricate tapestry of themes, make a plot summary difficult. Woland and his retinue arrive in decidedly atheistic 1930s Moscow where their first encounter is with Berlioz, an educated member of the literati, who tries to convince the devil of his own non-existence. This works out poorly for Berlioz, and poorly for everyone else in Berlioz's circle, since those who are not killed are generally driven insane. It is through Margarita, a woman so devoted to the master and his brilliant writing that she'd willingly sell her soul to secure his freedom, that Bulgakov illustrates the counterpoint to the homogenized Communist society. Cowardice is an unforgivable sin, and Margarita's bravery is ultimately rewarded.

This book easily ranks among my top 10, and I would recommend it without reservation. I've been noodling on it since I finished it, and I expect it will remain on my mind for quite some time.

Next up: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More stuff I've learned

Since sharing such incredibly useful info in October was so wildly therapeutic, I feel compelled to keep it up with my learnings of the past couple of weeks.

First, breastfed babies can go up to 10 days without making a Number 2. Pretty freaky, right? Since I don't want to go totally TMI on you, let me know if you need to know how to move things along as that day of reckoning approaches.

Second, carpal tunnel syndrome is not only caused by repetitive motion. It is also caused by pregnancy. If that makes no sense to you, you're not alone - the neurologist I visited (!!!) didn't appear to understand it, either. He said it is caused by the fluctuations in hormones, or the fluctuations in fluid... or something else in pregnancy, he's not sure what. Fills me with confidence, too. And for the record, carpal tunnel syndrome sucks.

Third, if your smoke detector battery begins to die, it beeps really loud. At random intervals. Sometimes a couple of times a minute, sometimes it'll give you a break for half an hour or more. It is very annoying. And if your ceiling is 15+ feet above your floor, and the wacky ladder your husband uses to get up that high weighs like a million pounds, you'll learn to live with it for a day. During that day, however, you might get a wee bit irritable.

Fourth, ice cream is still good, even if you're not pregnant any more.

And finally, newborn babies are really, really soft and cuddly. And when they smell good, which is most of the time, they smell really, really nice.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Jane Austen's excellent Emma has been sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years - I'd started it and hated it, and never picked it up again. In my quest to complete all the books that we currently own, I picked it up. I have no clue why I didn't love it the first time. It is an excellent book, and both fun and fast to read.

The title character was once described by Austen herself as a heroine who "no one but myself will much like", but Emma Woodhouse must be the most interesting character she created. Emma is flawed and self-delusional but charming and witty, causes harm where she means only good, captivates everyone around her though committed to never marrying. Her father is a comical eccentric, an extreme hypochondriac who hates changes to his comfortable life. The other people in her circle are robust characters so well written they leap from the pages: simple Harriet Smith, stalwort Mr. Knightly, dashing Frank Churchill, dear Mr. and Mrs. Weston, boring Miss Bates, irritating Mrs. Elton.

The plot will be familiar to anyone who has either read other Austen novels or seen the movie Clueless. Emma lives with her father on an estate some miles from London. She has taken Harriet Smith, a sweet girl from a lesser societal rank, under her wing and commences matchmaking. After convincing Harriet to reject a marriage proposal that Emma believes to be beneath her, she lands Harriet head over heels in love with a young man who falls instead for Emma. Frank Churchill comes to town and has most everyone convinced he is in love with Emma, though that relationship also fails to pan out. By the novel's end, everyone has managed to find their perfect match and everything is tied up neatly. This pretty much sums up the action, though there are countless social visits, balls, people calling on one another, letters sent all around, and other early 19th Century hijinks.

Emma is witty and intelligent, a great read even without considering it was written nearly 200 years ago.

Next up: The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It's supposed to be one of the best Russian novels of all time, and a masterpiece of the 20th Century. I'm really looking forward to it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The latest on the Bunny

The little Bunny has been home for three weeks, with hardly a mention here. Fear not! The reason is not that she isn't top of mind. Rather, she's a dream of a baby: sleeps well, eats well, hardly ever cries unless she needs to eat or sleep. She is partial to being cuddled, which is hardly a sin.

For the record, I am thus far convinced that the jump from zero kids to one is far harder than going from one to two. Perhaps we have just lucked out with such an easy baby, but I think it's more attributable to our already being in the baby frame of mind. Yeah, we're way behind on sleep, and having two girls at home means naps are but a pleasant memory (somewhat akin to golf, spur-of-the-moment travel and raging all-night parties). But the culture shock that we felt with the Bug - caused in part by the loss of the aforementioned pleasures - isn't here this time around. We've already been in kid mode; we've just upped the ante.