Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Gopher State

Aunt Jessie sent this to the Bug, as a little "hello" and a reminder that she'll be visiting in a few weeks. The info on the front made me wonder what else I don't know about Minnesota. In case you're curious, their state muffin is the blueberry and their state mushroom is the morel.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why I'm anti-radio

I don't listen to the radio much, except for NPR. Once upon a time I did, but pop music left me behind when it turned into hip hop. For some reason, though, I do listen to the radio instead of CDs during the occasional drive. And my drive on Wednesday evening reminded me of The Top Five Reasons Why Radio Sucks:

5. Country music apparently makes me go all emo. Be honest - no one needs that.

4. Commercials are all louder than the songs. And inexplicably, all stations play them at the same time, leaving the listener no escape.

3. I only ever hear about the last three seconds of any decent song. It either ends as I find the station, or I drive out of range.

2. The shitty options leave me pondering things like which is likely to be the cheesiest: something by Journey, a song from Peter Cetera's unremarkable solo career or any random pop duet. Seriously, is there a single duet in the history of pop music that isn't 100% terrible? And why must my neurons spend precious processing on this conundrum?

1. "Mony Mony." That song is only liked by 12-year-old kids who think that shouting the dirty line out at school dances is hilarious. And it's like six and a half minutes long, and only has eleven words. Two of which are "mony". Which is not even a word, let alone two words.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Reivers

The Reivers is by far the most lighthearted - and most accessible - novel I've read by William Faulkner. Apparently many Faulkner scholars regard it as one of his lesser works, but this Pulitzer-winning satire is hilarious. It does take a few pages to adjust to Faulkner's rhythm and style - long sentences, people described more by what they are not than by what they are, characters who all seem to be related and/or have similar names... but once you do so, it's a quick read. Plus, it would be a great introduction to Faulkner precisely because it is less complicated than his other works.

The Reivers is set in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, during the first decade of the 1900s. Eleven-year-old Lucius Priest is convinced by his family's shady retainer Boon Hogganbeck to take his grandfather's car (the first one in the County) to Memphis. While on the road they find that Ned McCaslin, Lucius' grandfather's black coachman, has stowed away. Boon and Lucius head straight for Miss Reba's bordello where Boon tries to woo Miss Corrie; Ned heads to the black part of town where he trades the automobile for a stolen racehorse. Our three unlikely heroes scheme to win back the car, enlisting the help of Miss Reba and the girls.

The four-day ordeal is Lucius' introduction to the underbelly of society: whores, gambling, horse smuggling and general non-virtue. He returns home somehow changed, grown up in a way. Boon and Miss Corrie find moral redemption of a sort. And Ned manages to get the best of everyone involved on a variety of levels. I'd recommend this highly to both Faulkner fans and the uninitiated.

Next up: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two steps forward, one step back

So I get that life is a journey and everything, but sometimes being at Point B is preferable to being at Point A. That's why you're trying to get there in the first place, right?! Unfortunately, kids have their own sweet pacing, which all too often includes backwards detours.

After a few consecutive nights of only one feeding during the wee hours, the Bunny woke up three times last night. I got about six hours of sleep, but in four separate chunks. I did not feel awesome this morning. I'm sure she'll be right on track soon, but I'm going back to work in a couple of weeks and having the baby sleep through the night is critical! And three months after being miraculously potty trained, the Bug has reverted back to diapers (for Number One only, knock on wood). While that's apparently common for kids with new siblings, it doesn't really sweeten the two-in-diapers deal for the 'rents. Rough week.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Real-life heroes

Most debates, discussions, arguments or wars have two valid sides. Sure, I tend to think one side is more valid than the other, though the opposite viewpoint could theoretically be defended. But there have been a few historical eras where one side was absolutely in the wrong. And the people who stood up to that side were really and truly heroes in every sense of the word.

I'm speaking, of course, of the Nazis. My grandfathers were two remarkable heroes, as I am reminded whenever Veteran's Day rolls around, or WWII Vets are remembered in the paper for some reason or another, or it's my Grandpa's birthday, or veterans/Third Reichs/old people/grandfathers/etc. come up in conversation. I'm indescribably proud of both of them.

Another real hero was Miep Gies, who passed away this week. She was the last surviving member of the group that hid Anne Frank and her family in the now-famous annex above Otto Frank's business. Mrs. Gies was the woman who discovered and saved the pages of Anne's diary, the woman who also hid an anti-Nazi university student in her home, and the woman who tried to bargain with the Gestapo for the Franks' lives.

I have been to the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam. Near the end of the tour I stood away from the group and cried. It was so powerful, so illustrative of the absolute right that was the Allies' stand against Hitler's Germany. The generation of men and women who took that stand, who defended right against wrong - the Greatest Generation - is aging. Every day we lose another real hero. Have we sufficiently documented their stories? How can instill reverence, and true understanding of the sacrifices they made, in our children? Will there ever be another group so deserving en masse of respect?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Little muscleman

We apparently have another super-strong baby in the Bunny. She's been great at tummy time and holding her head steady from the get-go. Today she made the tiniest first step toward mobility: she's rolled from her tummy to her back. Now if she can only start making steps toward sleeping all night long...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Prince of Tides

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy tells the story of a disfunctional Southern family through the eyes and anecdotes of Tom Wingo, the family's younger son. As Tolstoy famously quipped, happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The Wingos are no exception, and The Prince of Tides explores the root of the curse on the house of Wingo.

The novel opens with Tom being called to New York City to help his famous twin sister's psychiatrist understand the reasons for her latest suicide attempt. Through a series of flashbacks beginning when he was six, Tom tells of growing up with his sister Savannah, older brother Luke, violently abusive father and manipulative mother. Conroy's storytelling is imaginative and interesting and his characters are vivid. The plot winds from a car trip to Miami to free a porpoise from an aquarium, to Tom and Luke's glory days as football co-captains, to class conflict between the Wingos and the town's selective Colleton League. There are miscarriages and spouse abandonment and a Bengal tiger named Caesar; shrimpers, fishermen and a brutal rapist and murderer who fixates on the kids' mother.

In the current time, Tom tries to piece together the last three years of Savannah's life while living in her apartment, reading the books in her extensive library and speaking almost daily with her therapist. The aftermath of an explosive childhood has manifested itself differently in each of family member. Tom has become a bastion of Southern middle class mediocrity: he's an ex-high school teacher and football coach, his marriage is on the rocks, he drinks too much. Savannah became a world class poet and a suicidal psychotic. Luke is dead, their mother is remarried to a colossal jerk and their father is in jail. By working to get to the bottom of Savannah's troubles, Tom begins to come to terms with his own.

If creative storytelling is Conroy's strength, his weakness is in his style. I've seen Conroy's prose described as poetic; I find it wordy and unnecessarily complicated. He uses an obtuse metaphor when a straightforward description would be better. It is a very enjoyable read, with a powerful story and memorable characters, but Conroy is not a top-caliber writer and he could have used a strong editor.

Up next: Another story from the American South, The Reivers by William Faulkner.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I vacuumed today

That might not sound like a blog-worthy activity, but today it was. You see, today I got the Cadillac of vacuums. And I don't mean the "Cadillac" of our generation, but "Cadillac" like when it used to be the Cadillac of cars. Yesterday I was still using the '74 AMC Gremlin with one donut and one bare rim of vacuums. Technically it could get from Point A to Point B, but just barely. And today: Fat City.

The last straw came on Sunday night. We'd taken down the Christmas tree, and there were needles everywhere. The Bug and I swept up the biggest hunks of tree, and I pulled out our craptacular vacuum to finish the job. It sucked not at all. Didn't pick up a single needle. So I used the hose attachment and sucked up all the needles in the hallway one by one. About a million or so needles later, I had to unplug and move to another outlet. When I turned off the so-called machine, every needle fell out of the hose and back onto the floor. I was undaunted; I sucked them each up again. Then I turned off the pathetic excuse for a machine, and every needle fell back to the floor again. Because I was with a toddler I could not scream the f-word at the top of my lungs before hurling said piece of shit off of our balcony. So I used a broom to clean the floor, outwardly calm but seething on the inside. It sucked. (Actually, come to think of it, the broom actually did suck as much as the stupid vacuum.)

So now, I have the Cadillac of vacuums. Our floors are so clean, I am a bit grossed out at how not clean they used to be, even when they were clean. I might even use it again tomorrow.