Thursday, December 30, 2010

EWR to DEN (and back again)

We got back last night from a week-long holiday celebration with Mima and Boppie (and Aunt Jessie, Uncle Shane, Aunt Ali, the great-grands and a whole pile of other aunts, uncles and cousins).

Travel with a 3.5-year-old and a 1-year-old is... well, let's just say it's not fast. Airport lines are longer than they have ever been, and if you saw our little family of four re-shoe, re-coat, re-laptop and gather up our "liquid exception items" (the girls' milk and medicine) after passing through security, you would be amazed we actually made our flights.

We did make them both, and I can share some critical advice. First, direct flights only. Don't bother with connections, especially in December. We've been nearly stranded in Chicago, and who could forget our 3-day stay at the Hartford Airport? We no longer leave that portion of the trip to chance. Flights cost too damn much - and holidays with family are too important - to spend excessive time in airports. Which, incidentally, all suck.

The second word of advice is to put every butt in a seat. I know, I know: flights are too damn expensive (see above). But now that people have to pay to check bags and carry-on space is at an even higher premium, putting the baby in a seat makes a huge difference - we need those two extra carry-ons for all the girls' stuff. Plus, it frees up mommy and daddy's hands to find snacks, find milk, wipe up spilled milk, take the preschooler to the potty, take her again, scoop her up and run to the potty before the landing gear comes down, read books, pick up the books the baby throws and, if it is truly going that smoothly, enjoy a cold beer.

The Bug, on the other hand, thought that the airport was "really fun" and her favorite part of the flight was "blast off." She also liked the seat belts, and kept Pandy, Princess Dolly and Yellow Baby safe and sound.




I'll share more about our holiday fun times (including pictures) soon, but until then I hope you and yours had lovely holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mansfield Park

I've heard complaints about Jane Austen's Mansfield Park several places, including on reading blogs I have come to respect.  I'd hoped that these criticisms - most often dismissals of Fanny Price, the protagonist, as an uncompelling heroine - would not bear fruit.  Although I really enjoyed reading the book, it is more of a testament to Austen's unparalleled authorship than it is to the characters and the plot of the novel.  It's my least favorite Austen novel read to date (I've only yet to read Northanger Abbey).

Fanny Price is the poor cousin of the Bertram family, Sir Thomas Bertram having married Fanny's aunt.  The Bertrams live on an impressive estate called Mansfield Park, located in Northamptonshire.  Through their (somewhat misguided) generosity, Fanny is brought to live with them when she is only nine, so as to relieve some of the burden on her working-class parents who have too many children to feed.

Fanny grows up at Mansfield but she never becomes a part of the family's fabric.  The Bertrams and Fanny's other aunt Mrs. Norris (who, incidentally, is the namesake of Filch's evil cat in the Harry Potter series... which I totally called halfway through the book!) don't understand her: she is quiet, reserved, unassuming, sickly, nervous... the complete opposite of her older cousins Tom, Maria and Julia.  Her cousin Edmund, six years her senior, is the only member of the family who reaches out to her, tries to help with her happiness and her education and becomes her friend.

When Sir Thomas is called away for an extended trip to his interests in Antigua, the charming and attractive Mary and Henry Crawford enter the scene.  Coming from London, they're wealthy and used to the finest entertainments.  Both Crawford siblings work their magic on the Bertram siblings, with only Fanny doubtful of their goodness and sincerity.

As with all Austen novels, Mansfield Park is a love story.  Fanny pines away for Edmund, who has fallen in love with Mary Crawford.  Henry and Maria entered into a flirtation that ended when he was called to London; Maria married her uninspiring fiance, and she and Julia moved with him to London.  Only at this time did the Bertrams, and Mary Crawford, begin to understand and appreciate Fanny.  When Henry appears back on the scene, he first toys with and then falls in love with Fanny.  Her refusal of his marriage proposal severely disappoints everyone, including her uncle Sir Thomas who thought it was the least she could do to show her gratitude.  Henry sets out to prove his devotion and make Fanny realize his sincerity and true love, but fails miserably by committing adultery with his former flirtation, the now-married Maria.  Fanny is proven right, Edmund realizes Mary's true nature and discovers his love for his cousin (which, by the way, ick!), and Fanny is installed as the mistress of Mansfield Park.

Throughout all of this, I truly hoped that Henry persevere, Fanny would be proven wrong about him and the book would conclude with an interesting twist.  I was disappointed.  Fanny, as opposed to Austen's great heroines Elizabeth Bennett or (my fave) Emma Woodhouse, is unerringly good.  She is never wrong, she never falters, she is never tempted from the righteous path.  She is boring.  As I said before, I still enjoyed reading the book - Austen deserves her place among the great writers of all time.  But Mansfield Park is simply not up to her usual standard.

Next up: As She Climbed Across the Table by one of my contemporary favorites, Jonathan Lethem

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Making cookies with my kid

The Bug loves to help me cook.  She has gotten to be good at washing veggies, peeling certain things, putting chopped veggies or fruit into the salad bowl, stirring eggs... enough skills to where she actually helps me out.

Not so much with Christmas cookies, though.  At least, not yet.  Her "help" definitely increases the time involved in an already time-consuming process.  Every year I make a few different varieties of cookie, all of which are from my Swedish and German great grand-mothers' recipes.  It's a ton of work, and I don't even have a sweet tooth, but I love them and I love making them and it's just a part of Christmas to me.

I've learned not to attempt them all in one night. And to increase my odds of not strangling the Bug, I often make the dough for one kind after she goes to bed so we can bake them together the following evening.  On Saturday we made the Pepparkarkar dough together (which was awesome), and we baked one batch before she went to bed.  She LOVED it.  But I... well, I think that if I sucked less at rolling out dough I would also care less when she stuck the cookie cutter in the dead center, tried to scrape that cut-out with her fingers, and essentially made me roll the entire thing out after only one or two cookies had been deemed more or less shapely enough to bake.  Did I mention I suck at rolling?

She does, however, wield the red and green sugar sprinkles with impressive dexterity and enthusiasm... WOAH, baby!

We did the Swedish ice box cookies on Sunday night (I make a half-batch which yields about three thousand cookies), and I made the German sugar cookie dough last night so we'll bake them tonight.  (These are particularly fun to make with kids because each cookie has to be pressed with the sugar-coated bottom of a glass.)  We'll do the svenska mandel kransar tomorrow night, and call our project finis at that time!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Deck the halls

I love the Christmas season.  I really love it.  Not because I am a Christian, or because I'm a Santa Clausian.  (I'm not really either, to be honest.)  It's because this is the time of year when people are a little nicer to each other.  It's the time of year when people throw an extra buck to the homeless guy.  When we pull our coats and hats a little tighter.  When you might see snow in New York City, (which is really magical, if you haven't seen it).

And it's the time of year when we decorate our tree.



I love decorating the tree.  Ever since I was a kid, decorating the tree has been one of my favorite nights of the year.  Mom would put on Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper" record (which we duly made fun of), and we'd pull ornament after ornament out of the box - this one my great-grandparents brought with them from Germany; that one my parents bought in New Orleans.  My Mom - and Dad - could tell me the origin of every single one.

My great-grandparents with fab hats
Now it's my tree, and my family tradition, and my daughters.  The Bug had a blast hanging the ornaments (as evidenced by the super dense bottom two feet).  Now I know where every ornament came from.  And now I play Willie Nelson, but on CD.  Merging ornaments was one of the most loving demonstrations of our union, and hanging them with Joker makes me feel so warm, so loving, so happy.  I tear up when I hang some of them.  And I added to the spirit of our tree by eBaying some 1940s-era beads so my tree would look more like my Grandma Jan's.

This old horn from JOK is super irritating when blown

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yeah, I'm thankful for you, too

This month, the Bug's school had a spotlight on the Thanksgiving holiday, with a variety of extremely P.C. arts and crafts (I was partial to the Indian face with googly eyes, myself) and seasonal lessons.  Among other things, the kids have a big bulletin board in the front of the school, with each kid's face on a fall leaf.  The leaf says the thing that they're most thankful for.  About 75% of them say "mommy" or "daddy," with most of the rest being a sibling or a pet. 

The Bug's says "necklaces and bracelets."  No Mommy, no Daddy, not even her beloved Mima.  She's thankful for shiny things.

Last night when I tucked her in, I told her that today we'd all get to celebrate the things in our lives that we're most thankful for.  I told her that I'm thankful for her, for her baby sister and for her sweet Daddy.  She told me she's thankful for jewelery.  I prompted her, asked if she's thankful for me or Daddy.  She said "no," though she did add "...and the Bunny!" 

Yeah, I guess that's sweet.  But honestly, it's no consolation. 

All the best and happiest to you and yours!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bali

Uncle Shane's passport stamping endeavors have continued at a ferocious pace, most recently taking him to Bali.  After a few days of work, he spent a little time relaxing in a tropical paradise.  While the absence of his lovely wife made him feel a bit like the ultimate third wheel in this honeymoon destination extraordinaire, I frankly don't feel too bad for him.

P.S. I feel like somewhere in the monkey card, there is a joke to be made.  Something along the lines of, "Looks like he found someone to spoon with after all!"  Right?...  Am I right?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Easter Island

Easter Island, the debut novel by Jennifer Vanderbes, is a well written and impeccably researched book that tells the parallel stories of two women who came to the island in question 60 years apart.  Elsa Beazley, a young bride and the primary caregiver for her younger sister Alice, arrives in 1913 with her sister and her much older husband.  Beazley is an anthropologist sent to study the island's giant moai statues, and Elsa herself becomes engrossed by the island and its mysteries.  In 1973, biologist Greer Farraday goes on her own to understand the island's history through the study of centuries of pollen.  The two women come to terms with personal betrayals, study the island's people, culture and history, and try to solve the mystery of whatever happened there. 

Greer's story is particularly compelling.  This is her first solo research project, something conceived when she was working as a member of her better-known scientist/late husband's lab team.  Her work on Easter Island is largely conducted alone, giving her ample time to reflect on her disastrous marriage.  This provides great insight into gender inequities of the '60s and '70s, and helps to make Greer both the most complete and the most sympathetic character in the book.

Elsa, Alice and Beazley arrive on Easter Island with the knowledge that they will be there for years, perhaps longer.  They set up a camp and a research station. Elsa proves adept with languages and quickly becomes their primary translator and emissary to the native people.  Before long, she discovers the mysterious rongorongo, wooden tablets covered in a sort of heiroglyphic picture-language.  The language has long since been forgotten by all but the oldest natives, and she sets out to translate the tablets. 

A third story is interwoven with these, that of the German WWI Admiral Graf von Spee, whose connection to Elsa seemed just a little too neat and tidy.  The only other note I'd make is that this book is cram packed with scientific and historical data and explanation, which I found fascinating, but I suppose could drag a bit.

All in all, this is an extremely solid first novel, and I'm happy to have read it.  I will definitely be reading Vanderbes's second novel, Strangers at the Feast, before long.  It's worth mentioning again that Vanderbes is a college friend of mine, so... "Kudos to you, Jen - I'm totally impressed!"

Next up: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Bunny is one!

It's already been a year since our beautiful little Bunny joined us!  As the saying goes, time flies. 

We had an absolutely delightful birthday party on Saturday.  The weather was stunning, and we picnicked in Greenwich Point Park with Pop-pop, Aunt Katy and the cousins, Uncle Nick, Uncle Shane and Aunt Ali (poor Aunt Jessie was delayed by travel woes).  The Bunny loved being outside and walking all around the grass, and the other kids played tag and threw rocks into the Sound.  When cupcake time finally arrived, the Bunny did blow out her lone candle.  Then she sunk her hands deep into the cake and frosting and squish, squish, squished. 

The Bunny is certainly a happy little baby!  She is walking quite well now, and while she babbles nearly non-stop she doesn't say words other than "ma-ma" and "da-da."  She and the Bug are the best little friends, and they constantly make each other laugh.  She has a great appetite, and has been observed consuming enormous quantities of pasta, grapes or zucchini.  She's tipping the scales at over 20 pounds, though she is not an overachiever in the hair growing department.  The Bunny is a blast - what a fun age!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Show me some leg, baby

While it shows up frequently on out-of-towners' lists of New York things to do, going to see the Rockettes perform doesn't generally come up that much among the locals.  Most people I know have never even considered going.  But last night, through the generosity of my employer, I was able to take Joker and the Bug to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.

Approaching Radio City, it really looked like Christmas: the lights were beautiful and the crowd was bustling.  (Whether I think it's appropriate for anything to look like Christmas in early November is another subject altogether.)  The venue is absolutely stunning, and looks tremendous with the lights and the decorations!  The staff handed a candy cane to everyone who entered, and the Bug was enthralled by the downstairs lobby, which was essentially an intricate candy store. 

The show, however, I could take or leave.  The Rockettes... well, frankly, they don't do it for me.  They are extremely skilled and their dancing is very mechanical and very precise and I sure as hell couldn't do it.  But it bores me.  Their singing is completely on pitch, but leaves me flat - at a Broadway show or the opera, I feel it in my heart when they sing; the Rockettes might as well have been a recording.

As for the Bug, well, she loved Santa.  I think she liked the Rockettes alright, but she really loved Santa.  When he first came on stage she sat up high and squealed - that little action made the whole night worth it.  When we all put on our 3-D glasses and watched Santa's ride to New York City, she was mesmerized.  And after it was over, the sweet thing put her glasses on precious Yellow Baby so that she could see Santa, too.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Herzog

Saul Bellow's Herzog appears on any number of great books lists.  It's regarded as something of a masterpiece, largely because the exploration of the main character, Moses Herzog, is done through his prolific writing of unsent letters to people living and dead, famous and familiar.  Instead of fascinating me, as I expected it would, the book left me flat.  I didn't hate it, nor did I particularly enjoy it.

When the novel opens, Herzog is in the throes of a midlife crisis that coincides with his second divorce.  His literary and professorial career is on the skids and his second wife has left him for his best friend.  While he has been involved with a lovely and charismatic woman, he is unsure whether he is fit to enter into another serious relationship.  He's sunk his personal savings into a dilapidated house in the Berkshires.  His friends seem to think he's on the brink of a nervous breakdown.  Basically, Herzog is not in a very good place.

Throughout the limited action of the book, which essentially consists of Herzog unsuccessfully running away from his problems (to Martha's Vineyard, to New York, to Chicago, back to the Berkshires), Herzog is writing.  He writes letters short and long, some to people he has met, others to people long dead.  Some are quick notes to his girlfriend or his brother.  Others are lengthy diatribes to renowned intellectuals.  Through these letters we are thrust into the intricacies of Herzog's mind.  Compelling proposition, but frankly, his mind didn't really interest me.

Next up: Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes, a friend of mine from college.  50 pages in and I'm both intrigued by the story and impressed with her skills as a first-time novelist. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Boo!



Last weekend - or, perhaps more accurately for anyone with kids, last month - was Halloween. The Bug in all her infinite girliness was (stand back!) a princess.  The Bunny, who doesn't yet have a say in the matter, was a little black kitty cat.  Incidentally, this puzzled the hell out of Sirius and Buffy, and her whiskers were extremely entertaining to her sister.

The festivities kicked off with a trip to the costume shop in mid-October.  I thought this was way ahead of the game, but apparently all the pink princess costumes had sold out weeks earlier.  While the Bug was a bit disappointed to be a blue princess, she was quite pleased with her sparkles and her "jewels." 

The following Friday was the school trip to the pumpkin patch, and I "chaperoned."  I use quotation marks because despite the lengthy set of instructions Miss Diana provided to all the parents in attendance, I pretty much had the Bug latched to either my hand or my leg the entire time.  I did extremely little actual chaperoning.  And I can pretty much guarantee that those teachers do not get paid anywhere near enough. 

The Friday after that was the school Halloween carnival, so the Bug and her friends all wore costumes to school.  Totally adorable.  And that evening was her school program.  I'm pretty sure the brownies we took were supposed to have been delivered to the school in the morning.  By any measure of accounting, I think am scoring a C (at best) in this pre-school thing. 

Sunday was the big day.  We visited our zoo in the morning, and went trick-or-treating in Joker's former 'hood with some friends.  The Bug is definitely a little shy - she insisted on holding my hand all the way up to every porch - but these kids have some sort of innate gene or something.  They are programmed to walk right up to complete strangers, most of whom have pretty freaky looking houses and countenances, and ask for candy.  And somehow, we are all OK with that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Family portrait

The Bug's artwork has become increasingly recognizable.  First, she was able to make flowers with discernible stems and blooms.  Then she moved on to faces.  Here, you can see she has mastered not only rainbows and faces, but entire people: from left, Joker, the Bunny, the Bug and yours truly.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paris and Provence

Sorting through a stack of what I thought was just bills and junk mail, I found two other postcards from Mima and Boppie's trip to France.  The first was sent at the start of their trip, written while they were looking at Notre Dame.  The Bug was extremely amused by this one.  Not only does the cat look like our little buddy Sirius, but Joker bought this print when he was in France years ago and we have it hanging in one of our bathrooms.

 
The middle of their trip was spent in Provence.  They sent this from the town of Cassis, and told us of the calanques (essentially French fjords) between this town and Marseilles - long, deep, narrow inlets filled with the cerulean water of the Mediterranean.  Sounds like a place we have to see for ourselves someday!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Mima and Boppie just returned from a fantastic visit to Paris and Provence.  They saw some beautiful towns, ate their hearts out and found the granddaddy of the impressionist museums to be truly amazing; Boppie deemed it the best art museum he's ever seen.  They sent the Bunny the postcard of Gauguin below, and they sent the girly-girl Bug the Degas at the bottom.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Bitch is definitely Back


Last night I had the extreme good fortune of being able to see Elton John and Leon Russell in concert at the Beacon Theatre.  Yes, the Elton John.  Sir Elton.  Elton fucking John!!  In the 3,000-seat Beacon. It was totally awesome!

After a brief introduction from Elton, Leon Russell took the stage, looking with his shaggy white beard like ZZ Top's great uncle.  He played the 9-foot grand piano on the right, and was supported by an all-star 15-member supporting band.  He played some of his best known hits, and I particularly loved his honkey tonk. His gravelly voice sounded amazing, and his forceful piano playing was incredible. 

After four or five solo songs, Elton joined him (playing the other 9-foot grand piano on the stage), and they played their new album in its entirety.  I've listened to it this week in advance of yesterday's release date, and found the album to be really enjoyable but mellow.  Played live, there was an energy that kept it from feeling "mellow" in the least - we didn't know a word, but in the hands and voices in these masters the songs were exciting.


Then Russell left the stage and Elton played his hits.  Lots of them, and the old favorites, too!  "Tiny Dancer" practically brought me to tears; it makes me think of the Bug because Joker put it on her special baby CD.  "Your Song" live is about the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.  He played "Levon," "Take Me to the Pilot," "Ballad of a Well Known Gun," "The Bitch is Back" and more.  And Russell joined him for an (unrehearsed) encore of "Honkey Cat."  Un-fucking-believable.  I haven't left a concert feeling that impressed and excited and happy in a very long time.  If you didn't watch it live on Fuse, you should definitely catch the encore next week!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Untitled 1 & 2, mixed media on paper, 2010


The Bug's love of art continues.  She loves everything from coloring in coloring books to drawing pictures and designs for us to paint, glue and more.  Almost nightly, she'll run into the kitchen while I'm cooking with a "special delivery" of something she's just made "for you, Mommy!"

While Mima was here in September, the Bug truly expanded into a previously untested material: leaves!  Here are some of her creations. 

 


Neither work of art quite fit on my scanner, but you get the idea: leaves, glitter glue, sequins, beads, regular glue... truly the whole nine yards!

Monday, October 4, 2010

October beach visit

Last weekend we made a quick visit down to the Jersey Shore town of Ocean Grove, a place where Joker spent a great deal of time when he was growing up.  I love visiting beaches in the off-season, and the weather on Saturday was absolutely perfect.  Both the Bug and the Bunny had a blast playing in the sand, flying a kite, playing on the playground and taking walks on the boardwalk.  A couple of our dear friends met us there, and we had a really fun night catching up, too.

The skies were stormy and the seas were pretty rough on Friday evening.


 But the sunrise on Saturday morning was absolutely glorious.

While the Bunny took her morning nap, Joker and the Bug set up our little tepee to be our home base on the beach.  They flew a kite, threw the football around and had the beach practically to themselves!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Brothers Karamazov

Every couple of years I re-read Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.  This latest endeavor was for last night's book club, and neither of my compatriots had yet experienced this masterpiece.  I was so happy that everyone enjoyed this new translation, and the book remains my favorite of all time.

The plot of the novel centers around the life and family of the unsavory Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a small-time swindler and the neglectful (at best) father of three legitimate - and probably one illegitimate - sons. None of the sons grew up in Fyodor's household, but they all return to their small hometown in the opening chapters.  Dmitri Fyodorovich is the oldest, and somewhat of a scoundrel himself.  He spent his youth wildly and irresponsibly, spending beyond his means, charming women, drinking and carousing.  Ivan Fyodorovich left his childhood home to attend school and never returned.  Alexei Fyodorovich, considered by the narrator to be the hero of this book, is young and saintly, living in a monastery as the book opens.

Fyodor makes an immediately unpleasant impression on the reader, who soon learns that there is a great deal of near-violent conflict between Fyodor and Dmitri, over both money and the love of a woman.  Tensions exist between each of the brothers as well, with the exception of Dmitri and Alexei.  And it isn't long before Fyodor is murdered in cold blood, with all suspicions falling on Dmitri.  The crime, the investigation and the trial are riveting; it is so modern that with a few tweaks (cars instead of troikas, for example) it could happen today.  As with any Russian novel, there are numerous sidelines and back stories and digressions, some of which are as poignant as the core action.

Whether because of this wonderful translation, or because I've read the book enough times the plot was familiar to me, I discovered quite a few new things this time around.  First of all, it's a small thing, but I hadn't realized that the name Karamazov translates quite literally into "black smear"; Dostoevsky does not hide that he intends this family to be doomed.  Second, this is a really funny book.  There are lines that made me laugh out loud (such as when the pious monastic Elder Zosima tells Fyodor, "Do not give yourself up to drunkenness and verbal incontinence."), and entire scenes that border on ridiculous.

Most notably, it was not until this re-read that I realized that the narrator is an important character in his own right.  He is never identified, though we can infer based on where he sits during the trial that he's a man of some importance in the town.  He is omniscient for all intents and purposes, but he is by no means impartial.  He says from the onset that Alexei is his hero; he speaks of Dmitri's impending downfall from the beginning; and he peppers his narrative with unnecessary clauses or fixates on a word for a page or two without every using it again.  This drove a great deal of criticism when Brothers K was published, but it adds a truly fascinating layer to the story.

I stand by my assertion that this is the best book ever written.  If you have never read it, procrastinate no longer!

Next up: For book club, Easter Island, which was written by Jennifer Vanderbes, a college friend of mine.  I'm also going to squeeze in Herzog by Saul Bellow before starting that one.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The word on the Street

Can you believe Sesame Street is just launching into its 41st season?  The Bug is now an huge fan in her own right, which is pretty cool since I loved it when I was a kid.  Plus, I could always credit my strong Spanish proficiency entering college to the giant clam ("Abierto.... Cerrado!").

A new season began on Monday, and the sneak peeks I've seen on You Tube are pretty excellent.  I'm probably not the toughest critic at this point, though, because I think I know every word of season 40 and I am really ready for some new material.  Anyway, here's a strong contender for second best song of the year, by Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Montana

Apparently Aunt Jessie has found a state that, in her opinion, rivals Colorado for natural beauty: the big sky country of Montana.  She was in Glacier national Park for a good friend's wedding, and wrote to the Bunny and the Bug that she hopes to take them hiking here someday:

I only hope to be invited along - I've never been there, and it looks stunning!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Battle of wills

The Bunny got a big ole ear infection a couple of weeks ago, which made her downright miserable.  She would cry and whimper all night long, so Joker or I would pick her up and comfort her, but she wouldn't want to be put back into her crib.  So we made the total rookie mistake of bringing her into bed with us.  Every night.  And usually more than once.  We were jackasses.

After a couple of weeks of truly terrible sleep - by us; she was completely content - we decided it had to happen.  She was going back in the crib.  Period.  All night long.  Whatever it took.  Tuesday night, the battle of wills began.  I am happy to say that in the end, Joker and I did prevail.  But it took two hours of back-rubbing, soft cooing.  (I admittedly suffered from a moment of weakness after about 1 1/2 hours of this ordeal, shouting to Joker "Just pick her up!"  To which he replied, "Turn off the monitor and stop listening!")  I have no idea how she could *seem* completely asleep, and yet begin to wail the second I left the room.  It was with pride, though, that I barely even had to comfort her last night - two small cries, I didn't even pick her up, and I was out of her room in less than five minutes.  With luck, her sleeping all night is back on track.

In other news, apparently we've been feeding her Beetlejuice for a week or so.  How gross is that?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My New York City

Like just about every other New Yorker I know, I still have visceral feelings about September 11.  I remember every excruciating detail about that day and those that followed.  I still feel angry that people would damage the fabric of this city so deeply, but every anniversary of that tragedy reminds me of how much I love New York. 

I brought my camera into work on Friday morning.  I'd hoped to go to the top of the Empire State Building as a way to thumb my nose at people who want to drive airplanes into skyscrapers, but the cloudy skies would have virtually eliminated the view.  Instead, I took some photos of the surrounding area - things that I see almost every day.  Here's a little glimpse into my daily New York.

Chrysler Tower over the South Facade of Grand Central Terminal
Patience (or maybe Fortitude) guarding the New York Public Library
Top of the Empire State Building reflected in a building on W. 37th Street
Tribute to industry, Herald Square
Empire State Building
Greeley Square

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Song of the year?

It's not gonna get any better than this in 2010... If you haven't heard Cee-lo's newest little ditty - a cross between a bubblegum pop riff and everyone's favorite four-letter-word - listen to this:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A man, a plan a... gnu?

I've mentioned that Uncle Shane has a cool job that forces him to see places near and far, right? 


Enter South Africa, which from all but his last two days appeared as a magical generic urban landscape.  Apparently Pretoria isn't all that.  The animal parks surrounding Johannesberg are, however, all that.  Shaner saw lions and tigers and bears zebras and rhinos (and wildebeests, cheetahs, warthogs and more) oh my!


On the other - or at least AN other - end of the earth, he saw the Panama Canal.  Which praise be to my favorite President is apparently still an engineering feat to awe and inspire.

Note to Shane: we noticed that these were both sent from their countries of origin.  Thanks!  And, bonus: cool stamps! 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Death Comes for the Archbishop

It's probably been 20 years since I last read a book by Willa Cather: My Antonia, which I absolutely loved.  I can't say why it has taken me so long to pick up another of her novels, but I recently finished the acclaimed Death Comes for the Archbishop

This book has a great deal of appeal to me.  I am fascinated with stories about pioneers, and about the Navajo and Apache nations (as well as the Sioux and the Comanche and the Arapaho and so on...).  I love the flat desert lands of the American Southwest.  I've seen Shiprock, been to Santa Fe and stood in awe of the sand dunes and mountains and canyons.  So again, it's a puzzle why I haven't read it sooner.

The protagonist is Father Jean Marie Latour, a French priest who has spent several years living in Ohio before being named to the newly-created post of Bishop of New Mexico.  He comes to the sparsely-populated territory, bringing his lifelong friend Father Joseph Vaillant, to find a brutal and breathtaking land.  The Mexican citizens are generally quite devout, the Indians range from tolerant to hostile and the Americans either embrace these wild lands or try to take advantage of the indigenous people. 

Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant represent everything that is admirable about the Church.  They are tough guys who ride on horseback for weeks at a time, sleeping under the stars, to care for (and bring the Word to) the people within their Bishopric.  They are kind and smart and resourceful.  They respect the beliefs of the Indians and insist that every local priest does the same. 

The main theme of this book is not the taming of the American West, and there is actually very little conflict throughout.  It is about friendship and loyalty, and about human relationships.  It is written so beautifully that Cather's language is to be savored.  There are a few pages near the end of the book where Cather describes the respect of the Navajo for nature; the words made me catch my breath.  In the end, Bishop Latour dies "of having lived," leaving an indelible mark on both the landscape and on the reader.

Next up: A reread of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, this time in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: this book is amazing, wonderful, can't-miss... Join me!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Minnesota loons

Aunt Jessie sent this super cool wooden postcard to the Bunny and the Bug, from a camping and canoeing trip to the Minnesota/Canada boundary waters.  A careful review shows that the Mommy Loon in the foreground is carrying her two little babies on her back, while the Daddy Loon is watching baseball on the couch. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fearless Readers: The Brothers K

Great, fun conversation about Things Fall Apart last night, including comparisons to literature and film from all over the map: Heart of Darkness, of course, plus Gone With the Wind, Apocalypse Now and more.  We nearly landed on a couple of different books for next time, before launching into a booze-fueled discussion of what it meant to be a truly fearless reader.

So... next up is my all-time favorite book, The Brothers Karamazov by  Fyodor Dostoevsky.  I'm recommending the Pevear/Volokonsky translation, which I have not read myself but am undertaking for this re-read; in my opinion, no other translators come close.  The meeting will be on September 29 in Manhattan, location TBD.  If you have never read this amazing book, now is the time!

For what it's worth, our discussion queued up Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow after Brothers K.  Now when we say "fearless," we ain't kidding.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Experiencing art as a family

Mark Di Suvero, from left: Pyramidian, 1987/1998, Mozart's Birthday, 1989, Mon Pere, Mon Pere, 1973-75
Saturday we spent the beautiful day at the superior Storm King Art Center, a sculpture museum that celebrates the relationship between art and nature.  It was founded in 1960, and in addition to its permanent collection, it's featuring a special exhibit to celebrate its 50th anniversary.  The museum is situated on more than 500 acres in the Hudson Valley, and the meadows, lakes, rolling hills and woods are as much a part of the experience as the works of art themselves.

The entire family thoroughly enjoyed the day.  It is truly a stunning place - a fabulous day-trip that's just 50 miles from NYC.  I'd recommend bringing a picnic; there are nice shaded tables, and a bottle of wine would be totally appropriate.  We couldn't have walked the entire grounds with the kids, but they've got a terrific tram that provides a view of some of their most famous works.

Since we were technically in an art museum, and since the Bug absolutely loves creating art herself, we talked a lot about the sculptures.  I explained to her that most of these works were "designs" - the artists didn't necessarily make them look "like" anything, but rather, the viewer should try to figure out what he or she intended to convey.  The Bug really got into it.  She thought this one, for example, looked like a spider web:

Kenneth Snelson, Free Ride Home, 1974

And she thought this one was Mommy, presumably because of her prominent thumbs-up:

Emilio Greco, Large Bather No. 1, 1956

And this one was a T-Rex:

George Sugarman, One, 1975-77

This super-cool floating one was at the bottom of a hill that Joker and the Bug rolled down. Try doing that at your typical art museum!

Menashe Kadishman, Suspended, 1977

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Juvenile swans

Despite my grand plans to closely follow the hatching and growth of the baby swans, our summer schedule has had us out and about or in the pool, keeping the swan family out of sight more than I'd expected.

In late May, two of the eggs hatched.  They've been doing well, growing like little gray weeds.  The family still spends its time together - the two adult swans and the two cygnets are rarely seen far from each other.  The Bug and I managed to sneak down to the boardwalk for an evening feeding on Friday.  Here are a couple of pictures:


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Senegal and Serbia

Uncle Shane has a pretty cool job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  At least, it seems pretty cool based on the amazing places he visits for work.  In the last month, he has been to Serbia and to Senegal!

In Senegal he worked his tail off, but stayed on the coast and enjoyed the local seafood.  I've seen a few of his photos, and it looks like a pretty amazing place.

This picture is of a massive fortress on the banks of two rivers - the Sava and the Danube, the latter of which I've seen upriver in Budapest.  Happy trails, Shaner - and keep the post cards coming... we love them!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Golden Gate

Dear friends and readers, I suggest
You give this book in verse a chance
To show what Vikram Seth does best:
'Tween friends and lovers, the cautious dance
That opens up a heart to joy
While risking heartache.  John, a boy
Is unable to find a girl
Until he gives the personals a whirl.
He finds real happiness with Liz,
While John's friend Phil meets her bro Ed
And for a while they share a bed.
But like old soda loses fizz
Their passions could not hold the spark
They started with, and things turned dark.

For John and Liz 'twas politics -
And her old house cat Charlemagne -
Which caused the rent they could not fix
In their bliss, and which led to pain.
While in the case of Ed and Phil,
Religion proved the poison pill.
Other themes the book did cover:
Nuclear power, the death of a lover,
Single parenthood, loss and grief.
Though a series of sonnets it was not
Difficult, pretentious, or a hard lot
To get through.  But what a relief
To have this review finally written;
With the poetry bug I've not been bitten.

Next up: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My cool Facebook story

So at 5:00 yesterday afternoon I got an extra ticket to see Maroon 5 at the Beacon.  To my knowledge I didn't know any true fans.  But I remembered that a college (and Facebook) friend who I haven't seen since graduation posted concert-related stuff on Facebook from time to time.  I wrote a message on her wall asking if she'd like to join me for the show, and within about 10 seconds she replied "YES!!!"... Turns out she's a huge fan of the band.  We made a plan to meet for a drink before the show, and literally picked up where we left off 14 years ago... she hasn't aged a day and it was totally awesome to see each other.  I'm so happy to finally have a true "Facebook helped me to reconnect" story!

Plus, for what it's worth, Maroon 5 put on a great show. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Toddler diversity

One of the things I really love about the Bug's pre-school is its diversity.  The kids seem to come from all different types of backgrounds and the class looks like a pint-sized Benetton ad.  I want my kids to grow up truly color blind - when they describe friends to me, skin color should be too unimportant to mention. 

In the mean time, I've gotten some unnerving comments and questions.  The Bug's told me that a couple of her friends "have different skin," and that she "doesn't like" another girl's kinky hair.  I remind her that we all have different skin and hair, too - daddy's covered in freckles, Bug's a blondie, Bunny's bald - and that we all still play the same games and have fun together.  I'm trying to acknowledge that there are differences in our appearances, while helping her to realize that these differences really don't matter.  It's been a little tricky, and I hope I'm doing a good job with it.  I know that Joker and my behavior will impact her attitudes far more than any words ever will, but I've still got to answer those questions. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe's 1958 novel Things Fall Apart is considered to be the archetypal English-language African novel. It is studied widely throughout Africa and in English-speaking countries around the world. The book tells the story of Okonkwo, a strong man in the fictional tribal villages of Umuofia, Nigeria, who creates his own successful life through hard work and a strict adherence to his own principles. Events cause his personal downfall, which is ultimately overshadowed by the arrival in Umuofia of Christian missionaries.

Okonkwo's father was lazy, leaving neither a successful farming business nor any tribal titles to his son. From his youth, Okonkwo has been determined to travel a very different path, securing the seed yams to start his farm, working hard year-round to cultivate his crops, earning titles, marrying the best brides and building a most respected compound for himself and his families. He abhors weakness: he doesn't accept sniveling or excuses, and shows few outward expressions of love or tenderness.

Because of his high standing in the village, Okonkwo is given charge of a teenage boy who is sent to the village as part of a peace offering. Okonkwo and members of the family grow fond of the boy who, over the course of three years, comes to care for them as his own family. When the village elders determine that the boy must be sacrificed, and when Okonkwo actively participates so as not to seem weak, his downfall is set in motion. Further events send him and his family into a seven-year exile, during which time he lives with his mother's people.

While Okonkwo is away, white men come to Umuofia. Initially peaceful, they bring both religion and a new form of government. Okonkwo returns to find his village greatly changed, and he struggles to regain the high position he once had. A new head of the Christian church brings a more violent regime that is less accepting of native customs and beliefs, and Okonkwo's brand of justice is no longer supreme.

The two most compelling themes for me are the importance of familial and social relationships, and the impact of missionaries on tribal life. Throughout the book Okonkwo remains unable to express his emotions, but he never fails to know the proper behavior for any given situation. Through social norms, life has rules. It makes sense. He is able to function, and, at least early in the book, to thrive. When a new group of people enter the fray - in this case, the missionaries - relationships are changed. New values and processes and structures are introduced. Initially they can coexist. But ultimately, one set of rules must prevail. In the novel, it is the way of the missionaries that wins out. The book is easy to read but complex and thought-provoking.

Next up: The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. It's a novel in verse, which I have never attempted to read before (nor have I been remotely interested). About 50 pages in, though, I'm thoroughly enjoying it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Baby's on the move

So last week the Bunny sprouted her second tooth. And she started crawling. The former results simply in a less ridiculous grin; that single-tooth thing is pretty goofy. The latter, however, means we are totally screwed. When the Bug started crawling, we put this little pen up around a puffy mat and some toys, buying us some time to get the stairway gate installed. Since then, the Bug's toy collection has grown exponentially in size and in scope, and cannot be contained by a mere plastic fence. This might not present such a logistical nightmare if we hadn't had to take down the baby gate at the top of the stairs. The Bunny no longer wants to be left in her jumperoo for hours on end; she now wants to crawl (and to cram gross things in her mouth, like cat hair, or shoes). Sounds like a fun weekend project for Joker!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Weekend in Vermont

Some good friends invited us to spend the long weekend at their family's house in southern Vermont. With us were Joker's two high school buddies and their families - seven kids in total, ranging in age from 7 1/2 months to 8 years. We had a blast! We didn't do anything too earth-shattering: grilling, drinking, hiking, a local kids' amusement park set-up with bumper boats and a bounce house. But we really relaxed and got to enjoy the lovely weather and comfortable house.

On of the things I learned is how awesome it is to spend a vacation with other families. The kids all played so well together (and the 8-year-old is already an amazing babysitter), it allowed the adults to cook, tidy up the house, play with other kids or read the paper. We could take turns being in charge; we didn't all have to be on guard 24/7.

I also loved to see that the Bug and the Bunny enjoyed just being outdoors. They loved the hike and the wind and the view and the wildflowers. Their appetites were out of control, they literally didn't complain (except when nap time rolled around), they shared... It was perfect.

On our way out of town, we hit a local farm for berry picking. Since it was roughly 150 degrees out, the Bug didn't quite finish the job, but she must have told me 10 times that she was having "so much fun!" What a satisfying feeling, to so thoroughly please your kids.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

National Mall, Washington, DC

Before the heat wave technically hit the east coast, Mima and Boppie visited Uncle Shane and Aunt Ali under the guise of a wedding they were attending in Washington, DC. They hit the Mall and the monuments, they took in a concert under the stars and they spent time with some of their very dear friends.

They also sent this very cool postcard, which employs lenticular 3D technology. I know this, of course, because I am a tremendous geek. That, and I have been working on a handful of 3D projects this year.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Atonement

Ian McEwan's 2001 Atonement is probably his most widely read and critically acclaimed novel. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, has been adapted into an Academy-Award nominated film, and is beloved by readers all over. I absolutely loved about 95% of the book, but in the very end I was left a little disappointed, especially after the near-perfect The Child In Time, the only other McEwan I've read to date.

We are introduced to the Tallis family in the summer of 1935, when 13-year-old Briony is excited to see her older sister Cecilia and brother Leon, home from college, and her cousins Lola, Jackson and Pierrot, who are visiting while Aunt Hermione has a tryst in Paris. As the weekend begins, she witnesses a flirtation between Cecilia and Robbie Turner, the son of the Tallis' charwoman who has grown up with the Tallis children and is also home from college. Robbie is head over heels in love with Cecilia, and determines to tell her that evening. When he does so, and Cecilia reciprocates, their moment of shared passion is misunderstood by young Briony. Later in the evening Lola is assaulted; Briony mistakenly accuses Robbie, ultimately sending him to jail.

The next part of the book overlays the brutal detail of Robbie's experience fighting in WWII with his and Cecilia's love story. It is beautiful and powerful and the contrast is wonderfully executed. From there, we learn of Briony's experiences, eschewing school and her family and entering into the nursing profession as her personal attempt to atone for her crime against Robbie and her sister.

The book is so well crafted, so well written, and the story so wonderfully conceived right until that point, I had every intention of raving about it and reporting that the attention lavished upon it is well deserved. Unfortunately, the last section bothered me. In the last few pages, we learn that the entire book was a novel penned by Briony, that it was the umpteenth re-write, and that the events may or may not have happened as written. It felt gimmicky to me. Casting it as a novel within a novel, but only sharing that information at the very end; telling the reader that some - but not all - of the preceding events were accurate, while others were Briony's embellishments or inventions... I didn't think McEwan needed the trick to make the reader feel the desperation or futility of Briony's quest for atonement. Almost all of the book was truly lovely, and I will read more by this author, but I didn't love Atonement the way many people do.

Up next: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the next book up for the Fearless Readers. I'm also reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Questionnaire of Reading Habits, part 2

12. Paperback or hardcover?
I virtually always buy trade paperbacks since I carry a book with me all the time.

13. At what point do you give up on a book?
If I absolutely hate a book when I'm 50 pages in, I will consider quitting at that time. I usually make a call around a third of the way in. That said, I should probably abandon more books than I do; there was no reason to finish either To The Lighthouse or Rabbit, Run.

14. How do you find about new books and authors?
I read a few writing blogs, and I keep track of a bunch of "Top 100" lists. I keep a few titles in a list on my Blackberry for times when I'm in the bookstore and need inspiration. The Fearless Readers book club is great for introducing me to new authors and books, too!

15. Best reading-related memory?
16. Worst reading-related memory?
I'm not sure what either of these are going for, but one of my most vivid reading-related memory was in about the seventh grade. I was reading Erich Segal's Love Story and cried during the line. The other kids in school made so much fun of me for crying over a book!

17. What was the last book(s) you bought?
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

18. What was the last book you checked out from the library?
It's been so long I cannot even remember.

19. On average, how many hours a week do you spend reading?
Probably about 8-10 hours reading books, and another 8-10 on newspapers and magazines.

20. Are you a fast or slow reader?
People consider me to be a very fast reader, but I really take my time and concentrate and enjoy the act of reading itself. And I don't even know how to skim.

21. Do you sometimes read more than one book at the time?
Since I keep one book in my bag, I keep another one by my bed - there is nothing worse than getting on the train at the end of the day and realizing I have nothing to read. I have to make sure they are very different types of books, though. Right now Atonement is in my bag and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, a collection of Murakami short stories, is by my bed.

22. Are you what Stephen King refers to as a Constant Reader, or are there periods where you don’t read at all?
I am a constant reader.

23. What’s the longest you’ve gone without reading?
Maybe a few days?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Questionnaire of Reading Habits, part 1

Here's a reading meme I found on a book review blog I enjoy... I'd love to read your answers, too!

1. How old were you when you learned how to read?
I was pretty young; I was definitely able to read before I turned five.

2. Were you a big reader growing up?
In absolute terms I would have been considered a pretty big reader. Compared to the other kids in my class, I was voracious.

3. Are there any books that left a big impression on you as a kid?
I still remembered the words to The Monster at the End of this Book when I bought it for the Bug last year. Childhood books that remain dear to me today include The Velveteen Rabbit and Little Women.

4. Favourite genres? (Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction? Do you have a soft spot for horror, sci-fi, or romance?)
I read mostly literary fiction, and sample virtually every sub-genre. I try to mix it up to include current books and the classics, diverse authors and even a sampling of short stories.

5. Top 5 favorite authors.
This list is constantly evolving, though I would have to say right now it includes Fyodor Dostoevsky, Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, William Faulkner and Haruki Murakami.

6. Top 5 favorite books.
Another constantly evolving list, currently topped by The Brothers Karamazov, The Master and Margarita, Beloved, Brideshead Revisited and War and Peace.

7. Where do you prefer to read?
I can read just about anywhere, and I carry a book wherever I go. I read on the train during my commute home (in the mornings I read the newspaper) and I try to read a few pages before bed as well. Sometimes I read during lunch, while waiting in line, on the subway, during pedicures or at the bar while waiting for a friend.

8. Do you like to eat or drink something while you read? If so, what are your foods and beverages of choice?
I'll have a beer on the train from time to time, but I'm not a particularly great multi-tasker so I don't usually do anything else while I read.

9. What do you typically wear when you read? (I swear, I don’t mean this in a dirty way. My mind is a pure as the first snow of the year – before it gets contaminated by dog poo and engine exhaust, that is. ) Casual wear? Pyjamas? Jeans? Something more elaborate and stylish?
Who the hell cares?

10. On average, how many books do you read a month?
Only about 2-3.

11. How do you get hold of the books? Do you buy them at a bookstore, visit an online store, borrow from a friend or family member, or do you use the library?
I buy almost all of my books, and almost always from a bookstore because I like to browse. I had a fabulous independent bookstore until recently, the staff of which was an excellent resource. Now I research my books online and keep a to-read list on my Blackberry for times when browsing doesn't yield inspiration.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Don't be afraid!

The last meeting of the Fearless Readers was a little light on attendees with a grand total of two. None of the people who had actually wanted to read Lamb was there, so we spent all of two minutes on it:

Angie: "So, what did you think."
Aldina: "I didn't hate it as much as I expected to. I guess if your expectations are low enough..."
Angie: "Your favorite part was the jew-do, right? Tell me it was."
Aldina: "Um, no. That was awful."
Anyway, we did have a lovely time catching up, which was great fun! And, we chose the next book: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Regarded as one of the best modern novels to come out of Africa, it's a classic that appears on rankings galore: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, Time Magazine's Top 100 English-language novels, The Novel 100, the Radcliffe Top 100 and the Guardian Top 100. It's short but challenging, and should be great for discussion.

Please consider this an open invitation - anyone who reads, and is fearless enough to show up and get bookie with it, please join us! We're looking at July 13 (I believe) at the Black Sheep in New York City. Interested?? Yay!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

French Quarter, New Orleans

Right on the heels of Mima and Boppie's postcards from New Orleans, we got one from Aunt Jessie, visiting the same city with a bachelorette party:

Why the delay in posting, you ask? Simple. The Bug loves mail. When we get postcards (or cards, letters, thank you notes, invitations, etc.), I read them to the Bug. Then, she stashes them away somewhere. If I don't get a postcard scanned right off the bat, it can disappear for weeks.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Steamboat Springs get-away

Joker and I had a really nice time at Steamboat Springs, Colorado - two nights together without the girls! We stayed in a really comfy place, ate amazing food, enjoyed beers by the river, rode bikes, visited the hot springs... and would have hiked a bit if the trails hadn't still been snowed in.

The drive up the Poudre River Canyon is stunning, one of the most scenic in Colorado. Not far from Ft. Collins is one of Colorado's coolest outdoor music venues, Mishawaka Amphitheatre.


Just outside of Steamboat the beautiful 283-foot Fish Creek Falls. Several trailheads converge at the base of the falls; the view is absolutely worth the short walk to both the upper viewing platform and the old bridge at the base of the falls.



We drove home through some of the most spectacular ranch country I've ever seen. Located on between the Front Range and the Western Slope, the dirt road through the tiny town of Rand provide a unique vista: flat, arid ranch land surrounded by tremendous mountains.


Spring was a fabulous time to visit Steamboat; we are both looking forward to returning to experience the other seasons, too!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lamb

The subtitle of Christopher Moore's Lamb, "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal", is about as clever as this complete waste of time gets. Incredibly, more than 600 people on Amazon rave about it, and it's got a 90% positive rating on Facebook's Visual Bookshelf application. This should tell you nothing about the book, but it does say a great deal about the pedestrian reading habits of mainstream America.

Biff was Jesus Christ's best friend back in the day, and he's brought back to life by an angel who wants him to write his version of what happened between Jesus' birth and death. This leads to a bunch of super lame exchanges between the angel and Biff, between which he recounts his story. According to Biff, he and Jesus traveled to Asia, lived with each of the three wise men for a spell, made up the theory of evolution while talking to the Yeti, created Judo (more precisely, "Jew-do", or kung fu for Jews, I shit you not), and had a great deal of witty repartee with hookers and hobos and each other.

This book is terrible. If it's not the worst book I have ever read, it's second only to Ishmael, the story of a talking monkey who hates farmers. However, if you do choose to read it, and especially if you find anything whatsoever redeeming about it, please join us at book club next Tuesday, June 15.