Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Halloween 2011

It was a very piratey year! Three in our own trick-or-treating party plus the neighbor kid and at least a dozen other random people out that night.

Kirk was Captain Jack Sparrow.

Cousin A2 was Elizabeth Swann.

Mama was Anamaria. And Ronnie was Princess Leia. (Who of course likes pirates and scoundels.)

Mr. b really got into character as gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

He was quoting Fear and Loathing lines all night.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Quest for Bread

Here are some things I’ve learned about gluten-free products:

  • Pasta - I like the quinoa and corn better than the rice-based noodles. Ancient Harvest spaghetti is my favorite so far. They don’t have too many shapes so I haven’t been able to try the other varieties. I have elbow noodles in my cupboard but haven’t used them yet. The next best is Annie’s macaroni and cheese. It’s nearly as good as regular boxed mac-n-cheese, despite being rice-based noodles. They’re much larger in size than the typical blue box but they taste great and hold their texture as leftovers. My least favorite is Tinkyada. Maybe it’s just their asinine “energy-saving” cooking method (boil for 2 minutes then let sit, covered, for 20) but the texture was awful, they fell apart when mixed with other ingredients, they were mushy in the casserole, and worse as leftovers. We threw out half a pan.

  • Snacks & Desserts - I haven’t actually tried that many crackers. The Glutino table crackers are underwhelming so I’ve been sticking with Nut Thins. I genuinely like them and I keep trying new flavors. They’re really great with spreadable cheeses like port wine and cream cheese. Tortilla chips are of course a standard, as they have been all along. Frito Lay has a marvelous list of all their GF snacks, which include Cheetos! Unfortunately not Nacho Cheese Doritos; Cool Ranch just aren’t as good. I’ve also tried a few different bars. Bakery on Main has some nice granola bars and I like that you can actually buy a whole box. KIND bars and Lärabars are individual only. I was underwhelmed with the one flavor of KIND bar I’ve tried but plan to sample others. So far I like the chocolate coconut Lärabar best but it’s only the second flavor I’ve gotten around to sampling. I made some homemade Monster Cookies using a recipe from General Mills’ They used a box mix for Betty Crocker GF chocolate chip cookies. The finished product was OK, not great. They were actually better the second day but then got quite dry as they aged. I do like the idea of using more baking mixes though, instead of having to have 80 different weird flours on hand. A co-worker brought in a French Meadow GF brownie and a GF chocolate chip cookie for me earlier this week. They were both good but the cookie was actually pretty great. I’ve also had the local co-op’s GF brownie, which I liked though it was day old and so a bit stale.

  • Breakfast - Mostly I’ve been eating Corn Chex or Rice Chex. Or combining them into the same bowl for “Crispix”. I’ve tried one actual GF cereal, Sunrise Harvest, and it was good but weird. There were like six different shapes of things in there so it was like eating suicide cereal. Seriously. Like if someone poured Kix and Rice Krispies and Wheaties and Grape Nuts and Special K into the same bowl and mixed it all together. Odd. I’ve also gone through a box of Glutenfreeda instant oatmeal. I tried the variety pack which had apple-cinnamon, maple-raisin, and maple-banana. The maple-banana is best. But I would like to find just regular instant oats. Like a big container that I can choose how much to pour and flavor myself instead of the packets. I’m also curious about the quinoa flakes (like Malt-o-Meal?) but haven’t tried them yet. I have some actual quinoa that I used to make a delicious pilaf the other night. I think I have a recipe to make a hearty breakfast bowl with quinoa that I’ll have to dig up. I’ve also been buying Amy’s frozen GF burritos, which are awesome, and having those for brekkie. But that gets spendy.

  • Pizza - Pizza has been tricky. Mr. b found an Amy’s frozen rice crust pizza and it was awful. The flavor was ok I guess but the texture was all kinds of wrong. We threw out the leftovers. Since that disaster, I tried an Udi’s frozen pizza crust. It was great. Good texture, good flavor, and really only a little bit more effort to have to spread my own sauce and toppings. It was a two-pack so I’ve got a second one to decorate. They’re fairly small crusts though so I can eat like 2/3 myself. Something for a night when the kids are having Spaghettios. We had a pizza lunch at work the other day and the admin was kind enough to order several GF along with the massive order she called in from Pizza Luce. It was great. I even got to snatch the leftovers so I’ve had some leftover pizza for breakfast. There are a couple of other pizza joints I want to try that have GF crusts. It’s nice living in such a hippie organic bean sprout city because there really are a lot of restaurant options. I just need to remember all the places we used to go back in the 90s…

  • Bread - This is the biggie. I haven’t found anything that’s *that* good yet. Udi’s plain bagels were fine. They weren’t great but they were acceptable. I’m a bagel snob and nothing is ever going to compare to Bruegger’s for me so I just have to accept that. Udi’s were as good as non-Bruegger’s and that’s as good as it’s going to get. I also tried some brown rice tortillas. They were pretty passable as naan for scooping up Indian food. But they didn’t wrap well for burritos. I haven’t tried them as quesadillas yet but my fingers are crossed. Corn tortillas, though good for pretty much anything (seriously, I eat most leftovers in them; you can make anything into a taco), just don’t work for quesadillas. Regular bread though, haven’t hit on it yet. First I tried a loaf of Schär. The first two sandwiches I made for Mr. b and I – grilled ham and cheese – were excellent. But small. The loaf is little. But after it was frozen and I had to defrost in the microwave I was completely disillusioned. I choked down my grilled cheese and figured I’d have to try another brand. So next up was French Meadow. They’re local and their tag line is that it’s so good you won’t miss the wheat. Bullshit. I missed the wheat. It was not good. I choked down the tuna melt but was very unhappy. Then I decided to try toasting the old frozen Schär in the oven. It’s a bit weird and slow but it was good! I had it with cream cheese and it was better than the bagel. I tried the same oven technique with the French Meadow and again, it totally worked! My salami and provolone sandwich was dry but delicious. So I guess toasting is the key. I still want to try Udi’s and see if that’s universal but I suspect it is. I covet the soft pillowy direct-from-the bag slices when I make the kids’ PBJs. And croissants. I haven’t even attempted a hunt for GF croissants.
  • Friday, July 22, 2011

    It's Genetic

    Good News Everyone! Kirk and Veronica do NOT have celiac disease.

    I took them in last week to have blood taken for testing. Since it's genetic, they say that anyone with a confirmed-by-endoscopy diagnosis (me!) should have their first degree relatives tested. My parents and my siblings will have to take care of themselves. My kids are cleared. And they were so well-behaved at the lab that they got taken off grounding for the running away from home incident.

    It’s a big relief to know they don’t have it. I mean, I know it must be easier to deal with than parents of young kids that aren’t actually celiac themselves. I already am learning the ways of gluten-free living. But this way they don’t have to worry about getting contaminated out there in the world, at daycare or school or birthday parties or hell, even taking samples in the grocery store. It’s just simpler. And I was worried. Not about Kirk. I was quite confident he’d be cleared. But Ronnie’s always had a poopie butt. She has blows outs even still and her poo just isn’t as solidified as her brother’s was coming into potty training age. So it’s good to know that’s just her system, and not an underlying issue.

    My mom and I wonder if perhaps her father didn’t have celiac. He died when I was less than a year old so I don’t have any memory of him. But Mom says that Grandpa was always, her entire life, experimenting with his diet to try to solve his constant digestive issues. And since gluten wasn’t determined as the cause of celiac disease until WWII, and even then it wasn’t common knowledge outside of specialists in Europe, I can see it being highly unlikely that he would have stumbled upon eliminating wheat from his diet as a cure. I must admit, it’s kind of neat having a speculative link to a man I’ll never know.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011


    Saturday we took Kirk to see the King Tut exhibit at the Science Museum. He loved it. Of course. We looked at some of the other permanent exhibits, mainly the dinosaurs, and played out in the Big Backyard and by that time, it was nearly 7 o’clock. The snacks I had packed us all were quickly devoured in the car so Mr. b and I thought we’d hit a drive-thru. Taco Bell seemed easiest. Little did I know it was about to be a gluten fiesta.

    Taco Bell has gluten in everything. I am not making this up. There’s wheat in the Fire sauce. In the meat for the corn shell tacos. Even the frickin’ mango strawberry Fruitista Freeze has it! I was shocked. And...had already started eating by the time I made this discovery. I said fuck it and kept eating. Mr. b figures it was my chance to say good bye to Taco Bell. But then I had to wait for the sick to kick in. I knew it would be about a day and a half delay to get deep enough into my guts to do damage.

    I knew it would take that long because last week I got “poisoned” by toaster crumbs. I made myself a gluten-free bagel and used our regular toaster, not thinking anything of it. I met with the dietician that afternoon and found out: Bad Idea. Apparently I need to get my own toaster. I’ve been toasting my bagels in a dry frying pan in the meantime. Now that the gluten is out of my system and my intestines are beginning to heal, even the smallest amount will make me sick. But it took about 30 hours to hit. It wasn’t until following afternoon that I started to feel icky and needed to run to the bathroom repeatedly. I guess each instance will be different though because the Taco Bell fiasco manifested as gas and bloating instead. I’m keeping up my food log so at least I’ll be able to track the culprits now that I have a general timeline. Hopefully that’ll help me fine tune this radical diet change.

    Monday, July 11, 2011


    Even when I was in high school I knew the line from The Little Mermaid "Betcha on land they understand that they don’t reprimand their daughters" was hilarious. It’s even funnier now with a daughter of my own. Who needs to be reprimanded quite frequently in fact. For instance last night, when she and her brother ran away from home. At bedtime. In their jammies. To the neighbor’s house.

    I’m not entirely sure what they thought they were doing. We had been over to the neighbor’s that evening, splashing around in their wading pool in the backyard. Neither Kirk nor Veronica wanted to leave, despite it being bedtime. Thankfully the neighbor helped get them out of there by deflating the pool and dumping out the water. We all went home, got dried off, and into pajamas. While I was gathering wet clothes for the laundry I realized they had gone outside. Which, strictly speaking, was enough to get them into trouble but I was going to let it slide, thinking they were just in the backyard. I stepped outside to shoo them in and realized they weren’t actually in our yard. I started calling for them and noticed they were two houses over, about to go through the back gate to the neighbor’s that we had just left. They hustled over so fast when they saw and heard how mad I was. Mr. b yelled at them big time and Kirk blamed Ronnie, of course, and Ronnie was in tears and they were sent straight to bed and they’re grounded from TV. Kirk tried to suggest they get grounded from going outside. Yeah right. Nice try buddy.

    The ironic thing is that just that afternoon, we got set up with cameras to record Ronnie’s temper tantrums. When the kids were born I signed each of them up to be participants in various child development studies with the University. Kirk’s gone in a few times to do various cognitive development tests, like play with blocks and look at pictures. Simple stuff, quick and easy and fun. A couple of months ago they called about one for Veronica. Initially it was just a survey about how she reacts during a tantrum and how frequently they happen and how long they last. I knew she’d get picked for the larger study and sure enough, she did. They’re researching aggression and using toddlers as their human baseline, because they don’t yet have societal pressure altering their behavior. Obviously they need a lot of raw data for such a complicated statistical model so they’re taping 100 toddlers having three tantrums each. The research assistant came by yesterday and got the cameras in place and walked us through the paperwork. I already have a tantrum for her to come and download. Ronnie freaked out about a) fruit snacks [she’s only allowed one packet a day] and b) not coming to the grocery store with Mama. It’s not even the biggest, baddest one she’s ever had. But it certainly had many of the unique behaviors they’re cataloging – stomping, crying, hitting, yelling, walking away, reaching for comfort – so it definitely qualifies. I think we’re going to get our allotted three tantrums filled up in a hurry. I wonder what’s the fastest any family has completed the inventory? We’re just excited to have witnesses.

    Tuesday, July 05, 2011

    I Miss Carbs

    I’m having a hard time adjusting to the lack of carbohydrates in my diet. I’m a carb kind of gal and I’m noticing an increase in dizziness, floaters in my vision, headaches, and other things like that. Things that I’ve long associated with low blood sugar. That I used to be able to take care of by just eating a granola bar or some peanut butter toast. Now I’m filling myself with cheap carbs like soda and potato chips. Just to try to feel full for a minute. But it never lasts. No matter how much protein I try to add. My meeting with the medical nutritionist is tomorrow.

    Yes, the celiac diagnosis is official. I briefly met with the GI docs again last week. Basically the diagnosis is two-fold: outright celiac disease and a bunch of medical bullshit that boils down to “manifestation of celiac disease”. I’ve been doing the gluten-free thing, more or less, for two weeks now and I’ve definitely noticed a difference…in my poop. I’m very excited that I’m no longer having daily diarrhea. I keep joking that the only time you’re excited about poop is with your infant, or if you’ve had diarrhea for four months.

    I haven’t noticed any other differences yet. I’m exhausted but that’s likely from a non-stop weekend of Kirk’s birthday party, my dad’s BBQ reunion, and blowing shit up with neighbors in the alley. I’m supposed to keep taking my daily iron supplement for the next couple of months before trying to cut that off and see if I still need it. Other than that, I don’t know what else to look for.

    I’m trying to keep track of what I’m eating so I can tell what makes me sick. Apparently very small amounts of gluten will have a big effect once I’ve fully transitioned. I had icky poo again two mornings in a row, once after Red Lobster and once after homemade gluten-free macaroni and cheese. Initially I thought maybe there was cross-contamination in my steak and baked potato. I tried to be careful with what I ordered at the restaurant. But then when I felt icky the second morning I looked to rum as the potential culprit – I had a Bahama Mama while out and a glass of homemade rum punch the following night. Mr. b told me to try rum a third time before cutting it out and sure enough, that wasn’t a problem. So now I’m back to wondering about cross-contamination and reviewing my food log to see what might have been the issue the second time.

    Meanwhile, I’m not sure I like gluten-free bread. We bought a loaf of Schär multi-grain last week and I made us some grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Both Mr. b and I liked them a lot. But when I made myself a grilled cheese this weekend, it wasn’t very good. The bread has to be used very quickly or else frozen so I’m thinking the defrosting and then grilling was the problem. We’ll see if I can come up with another method of cooking it. I found a double corn tortilla to be a very excellent substitute for a hot dog bun!

    Monday, June 27, 2011


    My wrist is bruised from where the IV was in. It was really sore yesterday. I have my follow-up with the GI docs tomorrow so I’ll ask them about that. I never did get a call about the biopsy results so theoretically I’ll find that out tomorrow, too.

    We’re starting slow with the gluten-free foods. Our usual grocery store has a small section in the hippie aisle. We taste-tested two different spaghettis, one was quinoa/corn and the other was corn/rice. The whole family liked both, which was a relief. It definitely cooked differently than regular semolina wheat spaghetti, and the texture of the leftover noodles is different, but in both cases it wasn’t bad, merely not what I’m used to.

    I’m not ready to dive headlong into gluten-free baking. The idea that I’m going to need a half dozen different flours and combine them in various ways with xanthum gum and other stuff is just too daunting. I’ve got a loaf of gf bread and we’ll see how that tastes. I’m planning on mostly rice and potatoes for starches for meals this week. And there’s always corn tortillas.

    So far, I’m just winging it. Cutting out the obvious wheat/rye/barley. And I’m staying away from oats until my system is cleared, then I’ll try them to see if they affect me or not. I’m not worrying about the celluloses and glutamates and dextroses and maltoses and whatnot. I know some are wheat based and some are corn based and frankly the internet is just overwhelming. I’m meeting with a nutritionist next week. I’ll ask for a list of what’s OK and what’s bad then. I figure the trace amounts of gluten in various derivatives isn’t going to be enough to set me off since I’m not 100% gluten-free yet. I know some people can get sick from one crumb but I haven’t been at this for even a full week yet. And I cheated last Friday, having one last sandwich from the deli at work, just to say goodbye. *sniff* I’ll miss you, delicious deli sammiches.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011


    Last week I had my first appointment with the GI specialist. The doctor was handsome, very smart, and eager. He put together my history, like the flu in February and unexplained anemia since I was a teenager. The senior fellow came in (it’s the University so it’s a teaching hospital; I just thought it was funny that the “learner” himself is a full-fledged MD) and praised handsome doc for the job he did with the background analysis. Essentially they think I’ve pretty much always been celiac. In 10-15% of cases the only symptom that ever manifests is anemia so if I hadn’t had the triggering event of the viral infection, I possibly would never have known. Senior doc thought it was irresponsible of my past doctors to not look deeper but hey, it was over 20 years ago and they assumed it was puberty and starting to menstruate and all that and I’ve been taking iron for so long I just never think about it. He thinks that the mal-absorption of iron will go away with the other dietary changes, so that’ll be interesting. I wasn’t supposed to eliminate gluten yet though; they wanted me to wait until after the endoscopy. They expect that I’ll notice improvement in things I never noticed were affecting me before, like energy levels. When he asked if I’m often tired I joked that I have young kids, of course I’m tired!

    I had my endoscopy yesterday. Because of a series of stupid events, I was over two hours early. (And hungry. I couldn’t eat anything after 7am.) I was fine in the waiting room but when they took me in to the prep room I started to freak out. The prep nurse explained to me step by step everything they were going to do and when she left to let me change into my hospital gown, I started crying. Yes, it’s PMS week so my emotions are nuts but I was still in tears. She came in and tried to help soothe me a bit and put in the IV shunt, which never felt right the entire time. I don’t remember it being so uncomfortable when I had them in for labor. But then again, I was in labor so a bit distracted. I had some time to read and text so that helped to keep my mind off of it but not completely.

    Then they came to get me to the procedure room. There was a different nurse for that one and she was amazing. She tried to re-settle my IV and wrapped me up in hot blankets and did a fantastic job of helping to calm me. But I was still on the verge of bawling the whole time. They had warned me that the same senior doctor was always 15 minutes late. He ended up being an hour late. I just tried to close my eyes and doze off. It’s hard to actually sleep when there’s so much hustling and bustling in the hall outside and when your nerves are so on edge. Doctor finally got there and he’s a Tasmanian devil of humor and activity so I didn’t have time to freak out. He went through what they were going to do again and then he sprayed the back of my throat with basically just that lidocaine stuff the dentist uses; I had to swallow it though to get it down as far as possible. Meanwhile the nurse was injecting the narcotics and something else into my IV shunt. They hit me so fast. I felt woozy, like that spot *just before* you get the spins when you’re lying down after too many drinks. But it never got to the spins thankfully. I got another dose of the spray and another dose of the hippie drugs and they had me lying on my left side. Then I had to bite onto this circular bite guard thing and the doctor stuck the hose in my mouth. I had my eyes closed so I wouldn’t accidentally see it or the view screens from the camera. I had to swallow it and that was the hardest part. My gag reflex was tamed from the numbing spray but I still had to swallow three times to get it past. Then it was basically like being at the dentist, with the doctor giving the nurse instructions that meant nothing to me and she was doing stuff I couldn’t see and also rubbing my back and telling me how good I was doing and reminding me to breathe through my nose. Then the doctor said he was done and pulled the thing out. It took about 4 minutes. Then I had to spit out all the collected spittle (which obviously I couldn’t swallow with the thing down my throat) and they wheeled me to the recovery area to come down from the drugs.

    My sister came in and I could barely follow along with her usual pace of things. The recovery nurse had me drink some water to make sure I could swallow. I was super loopy from the “conscious sedation”, which they do because otherwise they’d have to have you on the breathing machine if you were knocked out fully. All I cared about was getting the dang IV thing removed because it was so uncomfortable. I can definitely understand why they don’t want you driving but I would have been able to take the bus by myself. But they don’t have any way of knowing that I’m an expert bus taker. So. I was mostly down from the drugs by the time we got home and then I was just starving and tired. I went to bed at 8:30 last night.

    The doctor came in while I was in recovery to talk about what he saw. He took biopsies of a couple different spots, in my stomach and duodenum, and will call me tomorrow with the results. But he said that if it’s not positive for celiac then he’s a liar. Which is why I have to start my new diet right away. I have to make an appointment with the nutritionist, too. We haven’t done any gluten-free shopping yet, and can’t until pay day, so I’m making due with what’s on hand. Which is mainly corn tortillas.

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Butt Update

    Last week Ronnie started wearing underpants. Now, this does not mean she is fully potty trained. In fact, I would say instead that she is merely in the process of potty training. She still has accidents. Lots and lots of accidents. But for her, just wearing panties is enough to make her remember to use the potty and she really, really hates having to wear a diaper at all now.

    It’s amazing how different the potty training experience is with Veronica compared to her brother. Kirk was just uninterested in it at all. Pure laziness. He would have kept going in a diaper forever if we would have let him. Which is why we started the sticker charts. Potty candy was all well and good but ultimately, he needed a bigger reward. Earning stickers to save up for a toy prize mattered a whole lot more to him than the personal pride of a pair of underpants. I guess that’s why Ronnie’s moving forward so much quicker and at such a younger age. I’m not sure if it’s the younger sibling thing or the girls-train-earlier-than-boys thing or personality differences or some combination of all of that. But it’s definitely been unique.

    Kirk always used the actual potty chair. He didn’t switch to the potty ring until he had been using the little chair for quite some time. We’d always have to clean it out and it was gross. Ronnie has never used anything but the toilet seat ring insert. When she was first showing interest many months ago, I pulled the potty chair out and she would sit on it but it was basically just a toy. She didn’t start actually going until I set her on the ring. That’s what she uses at daycare, too.

    So now I make sure she goes every morning when she first gets up. She’s really good at morning pee. The rest of the day is hit or miss. She’s been going to daycare in underpants but always ends up coming home in a diaper. She still needs one while sleeping so she needs one while taking a nap. Miss Ronica likes to then have her panties on top of her diaper, so she’s still wearing them. Sort of. I must say, size 2T Hello Kitty panties are just about the cutest thing ever.

    Mama’s also been having increased potty focus the past few months. The entire family got hit with a nasty bout of stomach flu back in February. All four of us were down for several days with repeated puking and diarrhea. It was not fun. But after we all got well, my butt never went back to normal. Essentially, I’ve had intermittent diarrhea for months now. I thought maybe it was red meat so cut that out. I cut out alcohol and caffeine and dairy. None of that made any difference. I tried adding lactobacillus to my water. Nope. So I finally went to the doctor a couple of weeks ago and had blood taken and had to provide a stool sample. That was a real joy to collect.

    Last week I got the results of the tests back. “Your blood tests for Celiac disease (gluten sensitivity) were both quite elevated. This makes the diagnosis quite likely.” Awesome. I have an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist set up for next month. But in the meantime, I get to speculate on life with a possible celiac diagnosis. There is no cure. The only way to fix my butt issues would be to change my diet. Radically change my diet. Wheat gluten is in *everything*. Seriously. It’s used to thicken even ice cream! I love pasta and bread and crackers and cereal. Sure, my favorite grains have long been corn and oats but there’s wheat flour in corn bread and dieticians are divided on whether or not oat gluten is also bad. Basically it’s at the point now where every time I eat a sandwich or a plate of spaghetti I find myself thinking, “Is this the last time I’ll ever be able to eat it?” I’m not supposed to modify my diet on my own before additional testing or else I’d have to eat a bunch of gluten specifically for tests. So in the meantime, I’m keeping on keeping on.

    But what will this mean for my family? I already have a massively picky eater in Kirk. Dinner is a fight more often than not. I don’t want to have to make special meals for myself but I also don’t want to have to force them to eat weird grains and bizarre recipes when they don’t have to. There are just so many factors and such a potential for ripple effects. I’m trying not to worry. But being celiac would certainly help to make sense of certain things my whole life so part of me would be happy just to have the answers. Even if that means knowing that I’ll pay later for that sandwich on delicious whole grain bread.

    Monday, May 09, 2011

    Libraries Rule

    Never apologize for your reading taste.
    -- Betty Rosenberg, Library Science educator

    I’ve always loved this quote. I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind whether you’re a voracious reader or only read a handful of books a year. But it’s especially important when you find yourself “stuck in a rut”. Genreflecting is a legitimate way to find your next read and it’s OK to stick with what you already know you like.

    Something else that’s important? Quitting a book that you don’t like. This is a tricky one. My aunt has been extremely influential on me with this one. She’s a professional librarian and so reads a lot. Like, a LOT a lot. And obviously even when you’re surrounded by books day in and day out, there’s still a limit to how much you can actually get read. So if it’s not making you happy, don’t waste your time. I’ve found it rather freeing to know that I *can* put down a book unfinished. But it took a long time to get to the point where I was comfortable actually doing so. And I still don’t do it often. Usually once or twice a year the book club selection will just plain not appeal to me but I’ll try it out for a few chapters, if only to get a feel for the writing and be able to explain why I didn’t like it and didn’t continue. Rarely will I quit a book that I picked out for myself.

    Over the past year and a half or so I’ve tried to stay on top of modern publications by requesting books from the library as I read an intriguing sounding review in a magazine. Yes, usually they’re something I would normally be drawn to anyway but it’s a trick that has pulled me into new directions, too. Sometimes I don’t remember exactly why I was interested in the title and by the time it becomes available on the wait list it will be a complete surprise me to me. Typically a pleasant surprise. But sometimes I’ll take a look at the cover art and read the flap and find that for some reason, I don’t want to read it. So I return the book unread. That’s been a shock to me and it’s also been incredibly liberating. Still, it’s not the usual event. More often than not I’ll read the book anyway and be very glad I did.

    Sometimes it’s not that I don’t want to read the book at all. It’s instead that I don’t feel like reading it right at that moment. Tastes change and like with movies, sometimes you just aren’t up to the in depth historical drama or the intricate character study. You just want a comedy or a thriller or explosions and action. So in those instances I’ve returned the book unread, but then re-requested it, putting myself to the back of the queue but still getting it again at a later date.

    Now. Here’s where these habits are all starting to intersect. I’m starting to have repeat returns. My Shelfari shelf of I Plan To Read has several books that I’ve checked out and returned unread and re-requested more than twice. Which is silly. I’m trying to be realistic. I know I’m never going to finish Game of Thrones in time, especially with new interest due to the TV show; it’s just always going to have a wait on it making it impossible to renew. The Book Thief is ridiculously popular right now and I’m not entirely sure I’ll ever be “in the mood” for a YA Holocaust tale. But I’m sure it’s as good as they say. I’ve been meaning to read His Majesty’s Dragon for several years now but my library only has a single copy and for no apparent reason, it seems to have a lot of requests on it at all times. It’ll be interesting to see if I do give up on any of them. I finally realized I was never going to actually read The Kraken after the second time I checked it out and I haven’t requested it again since.

    What am I reading mostly these days? Supernatural mysteries and YA dystopian futures. So books that fall into those bailiwicks I’m eating up with no problem. I picked out Journal of a UFO Investigator strictly based on that awesome title. All I knew is it was YA and had a great cover. What I’m finding is that it’s a somber coming of age story. And it’s really good. But I don’t know that I want to keep going with it. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll return it unfinished and request it again, or just give it up for lost. I think I would ultimately be satisfied with the read. But it’s hard and it hasn’t really grabbed me yet. And I have the next Nightside, as well as the next Black London, sitting on my bedside table. And I think I’d rather find out how John Taylor is going to track his mythical mother through alternate universes, or watch Pete Caldecott grow closer to Jack Winter as she learns how to control her newfound magicks and try to balance that with her mundane day job of a detective inspector.

    And I’m not going to apologize for that.

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    East of Eden

    It took over a month, and I read two novels and three graphic novels and one short story on top of it, but I finally finished all 601 pages of John Steinbeck’s epic East of Eden.

    I’ve been slowly rediscovering Steinbeck thanks to book club. I guess “re”discovering is a bit of a misnomer. I read some in high school. For sure Grapes of Wrath, which I didn’t care for at all. Possibly also Of Mice and Men which left no impression. I never really understood what the big deal was. Then last year we read Cannery Row and I fell in love.

    East of Eden is a big book. Much bigger in tone and reach than just page count. It covers three generations of two families, one being Steinbeck’s own maternal grandfather. The main family focus is the Trask family; I don’t know if they are entirely fictional or somewhat based in local legend and frankly I don’t know if it matters. As we follow these characters through time we also cross the continent, to the Salinas Valley of California, which is where the author grew up. His grasp of the land itself, not just the geography, is gorgeous and visceral. His narration of the lives of these families is occasionally interrupted by musings on humanity, which to me seemed to point the reader in the direction of that section’s theme and enhance and enrich the reading experience. And his characters themselves, while usually larger than life, still seemed real, even when clearly they were archetypes filling a role on an epic stage.

    Essentially, East of Eden is a retelling of the Book of Genesis. The players change roles as they age and mature. The plot doesn’t follow the Bible’s order specifically. But there is sacrifice and love and hatred and betrayal and choice and learning. At times I felt like I was being hit over the head with allegory, “Look at me! I’m playing with Cain and Abel! Aren’t I clever!” But then the characters would actually discuss and dissect the actual verses of Cain and Abel and fascinating things would come of that. The writing felt extremely modern as did the handling of various social issues from Chinese immigrants (the reveal of manservant Lee’s innate intelligence was both hilarious and telling) to sexuality (Kate the evil whore’s brilliant blackmail scheme after she took over as madam).

    In that way I both liked the book immensely and couldn’t love it entirely. It is clearly The Great American Novel. It’s beautiful and moving and brilliant and amazing. But it’s a little *too* good. It’s a little *too* perfect. It’s not lived in the way that Cannery Row was. Yet I was crying at the end. I would put the book down at points and be just completely exasperated by the characters, usually Cathy. There was never any question of me not finishing it. But it took time and I didn’t just fly through it. I wanted to digest the story. And I decided that the public school system is doing a disservice by making kids read Steinbeck so young. I think you need age and experience to fully appreciate these stories and this style of writing. I plan to go back and reread Grapes of Wrath and I expect to adore it.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Veronica at Large

    It’s been two weeks since Ronnie had her second birthday. Since it fell on a Monday this year, we had her party the Sunday before. She had a great time opening her presents.

    Maisy DVDs!

    Brother got her a stuffed Olivia, but she still wouldn’t put down the Puffle.


    The Easter hat was a hit, but the Jessie doll stole the show. Boy howdy does that girl love Toy Story 3.


    We had cake and visited with friends and relatives and it was a lovely afternoon.

    Miss Veronica seemed to get extra naughty following her birthday. I mean, even more naughty than she already was. And the crowning achievement of said naughty? Taking off her poopie diapers in her crib. Or in her nap bed at daycare. Basically, just wherever she happens to be. She still won’t poop in the potty more than the occasional shart when she’s already sitting there, but she refuses to stay in a soiled diaper for one second longer than she deems necessary. Which means that she’s getting crap everywhere. Rare are the days she comes home from daycare with the same outfit on. Or if she is, it’s because she already had that one washed, ruined the second one, and got switched back into the first one. We’re going through crib sheets like mad, too, changing them sometimes twice a day – after naps and after night – on the weekends.

    But at least she has finally adjusted to daycare. Ronnie is happy to go now, willing to say goodbye to me without tears or clinging on. She even will occasionally be having too much fun to want to leave when I pick her up! But even if I do get her settled into the car without a fight, we then have to go to school to pick up Brother from Adventure Club. And that’s where the trouble usually takes place. Kirk is a master staller, always has been, and he loves Adventure Club and rarely is ready to leave when we get there. Which feeds back into his sister. So a typical evening now involves me forcibly hauling Ronronica to the car from the school, sometimes carrying her boots or coat that she ripped off in a fit of pique, and trying to get the two of them to not fight over the remains of Kirk’s bag lunch in the back seat. I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing snacks with to pass out for the drive home from school. Even with them eating something in the car, they are still famished when we get home. I have to fix them a second snack before I can even start on supper.

    We had a brand new development last night. Something that Kirk never did. Ronnie climbed out of her crib. Twice! She was fighting going to bed and screamed so I went in there to hold her for a few seconds. I opened the door and saw her dangling by her fingertips over the side of the crib and then she let go and dropped the remaining few inches to the ground. My jaw dropped and I turned to Kirk, “Oh my god did you see that?!” Mr. b couldn’t believe it. But when we thought we had her calmed down and back in bed, we heard more clunking around sounds. Sure enough, she was out of the crib and making a beeline for the bedroom door. Apparently we’ll be buying a toddler bed this week.

    Wednesday, February 02, 2011

    Raise Your Hand if You Like Lists

    I joined a Mom’s Group at the UU church and we meet about once a month. It’s been nice to get to know the other ladies there, especially since we’ve been so crap about actually going to service every week this winter. I still find it kind of unsettling to be attending any kind of organized religious anything but I think it’s important for the kids to get the experience. Going to church of any kind is a normalizing experience in the US and there are so many young kids in the small congregation. It’s really great seeing how much fun they have.

    The common ground for all us moms is that we seem to all be big readers. So we decided that for our next meeting, we’d share our top fives. Obviously I couldn’t come up with just five...

    Favorite Standalone Novels
    Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
    I think this one is self-explanatory. Anyone that’s followed me over to LJ and read my various Farscape and Babylon 5 posts knows how much I love this book. I’ve probably read it at least a dozen times. It’s been a few years and I really need to delve into it again. I always find something new.
    Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle
    Possibly my favorite book of all time. Recently re-reading it again really cemented for me why this is such a tough one to recommend though. I'm pretty much the perfect audience: comparative religion. Ancient Western and Ancient Eastern history. Hard science. Speculative fiction. Lots of hand to hand combat. Space. I mean, who else fits that specific intersections of loves? No really, are you out there? Who else loves this book as much as I do?
    The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
    Speaking of comparative religion, Ancient Eastern history, and speculative fiction…this is the pinnacle of alternative histories as far as I’m concerned. Let’s say that the Black Death killed 90% of Europe instead of “merely” 30%. That changes everything. And the way we get to travel through multiple eras in this new timeline is by following the same souls as they reincarnate into different characters in each period. It’s incredibly thought-provoking as well as a wonderful story.
    Superfudge by Judy Blume
    Sure, her other titles get more acclaim. But come on. “Eat it or wear it” is clearly the funniest scene of all time!
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    This is the first book I started re-reading on a regular basis, back in junior high. I haven’t been through it in a number of years but it’s still as vivid in my head as if I just finished it yesterday.

    Favorite Series
    Harry Potter by JK Rowling
    Again, do I really have to explain myself? Long before I had even head of TWoP I joined the HPforGrown-Ups egroup, just for speculation. It was my first online fandom and I still love over-analyzing every aspect of it.
    Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
    I discovered this series back in the mid-90s thanks to a sort of unofficial book club with my field crew at the time. Someone loaned me the first trilogy and I was hooked. The dragons were awesome enough but then there are fire lizards, too? And everyone can have one? WANT! They’re like kitties, but psychic, and with teleportation. What’s not to like? Plus then the series turned out to have a sci-fi explanation for all the fantasy elements? LOVE!
    Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
    This is hard science fiction at its best. There’s a good reason this series is much loved by actual rocket scientists: this is what colonizing Mars would *actually* be like. But on top of the factual basis are some of the most compelling characters and exciting adventures. I wanted to sign up for a Mars mission for a very long time after finishing this.
    Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
    Long before I ever knew what “shipping” was, I used to daydream about Anne and Gilbert finally getting together and living happily ever after. Thanks to a recent complete re-read, I can honestly say this series hold ups to your girlhood memories.
    Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
    Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire. No seriously. Look him up in the Chicago phone book. He’ll find your lost items but he doesn’t do love potions. Of course each book finds his seemingly innocuous case leading him into something much bigger and more deadly. The world building continues to grow and the sideline characters are being fleshed out in ways not often seen in such a long-running series. The most recently published title, punnily enough, changes everything, and I suspect the series is going to take a rather much more muchier epic tone as Butcher builds to his promised finale trilogy. The publication date of the next book cannot possibly get here fast enough.

    Favorite Graphic Novels
    The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
    Don’t give me any of that “But I don’t like comic books” crap. This is illustrated story-telling for literature nerds. Every single panel has a reference to something brilliant from some other source. Every single character is taken from a Victorian novel and set free from the constraints of their native pages to have adventures of their own. Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Mr. Hyde, and Alan Quatermaine join together under the direction of Mycroft Holmes to fight steampunk baddies. It’s sheer brilliance.
    Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar
    Tremendously inventive reimagining of the Superman mythos: what if baby Kal-El landed in Soviet Russian instead of Kansas? All the usual suspects show up, from Wonder Woman to Lex Luthor and Lois Lane. Plus a twist ending that will make you gasp.
    Hellboy by Mike Mignola
    This is dark humor at its best. Hellboy is everything great about film noir and hard boiled detectives, all while also being the actual literal demon of the apocalypse. His personal story arc is moving and compelling and the side characters get their own focus in the continuation spin-off BPRD.
    Mixed Vegetables by Ayumi Komura
    Don’t let the “backwards” manga format scare you. These characters jump off the page. Hana and Hayato are students at a Toyko culinary high school. Hana dreams of being a sushi chef but her father expects her to take over his pastry shop. Hayato dreams of being a pastry chef but his father expects him to take over his sushi shop. Star-crossed lover antics ensue, along with lots of great follow-your-dreams messages and yes, a happy ending. Yay!
    Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
    The book that made the general public pay attention to comics. Every superhero trope ever set to page is turned on its head. The alternate 80s setting still resonates today. And the characters have as many flaws as we regularly expect from our serialized television dramas. Plus superpowers and aliens and world domination plots.

    And now I find myself wondering what other sorts of categories I should do top fives for. Alternate Histories? Non-Fiction? Young Adult? Eighteenth Century Sailing Adventures?

    Monday, January 03, 2011

    BOOKS READ IN 2010

    It looks like it’s time for my annual book list! Hard to believe another year has passed already. It’s also hard to believe just how many titles I have on here! Wow. I’m astounded at my 87 completed in 2010. Granted many of these were super quick; I read my usual dozen-ish graphic novels and manga. The Superman alt-history blew my mind and Library Wars managed to do the impossible and be even better than Mixed Vegetables. I caught up with the authors for three series (Anita Blake, Sookie Stackhouse, and Harry Dresden), including their various short stories, and now have to wait for new publications. I only re-read two books – Mostly Harmless and Around the World in 80 Days – until the end of the year when I did my typical pre-movie Harry Potter re-read.

    The majority of my reading outside of those three series has been either Young Adult fantasy or non-fiction and memoirs. I find that an interesting dichotomy. My favorite of the latter was Cities of Gold, one of the trio of Spanish Colonialism books I read. The most all-consuming YA books were the Hunger Games trilogy. I still spend every night with thoughts of those characters and events occupying my thoughts as I fall asleep.

    I only skipped a single month’s title for book club this year, which I think is a record. I put the book club selections in italics (exception is Holes which was a selection the year before I joined) just to see how they space out through the year. I’m trying to pick a favorite of those and can’t narrow it down, which I think is a good thing! The top of the pile is Changed Man, Kim, Cannery Row, and Babbit. Ooh, I never noticed that only one of those is a modern selection; the rest are all Classics! Well, they’re Classics for a reason I guess.

    My reading resolution last year was to read more books that are already on my shelf, already in my collection. I failed. Only about a half-dozen were books that had been sitting around, waiting to be read. About the same number were books I bought to be read immediately or were re-reads. Clearly I need to cull the stuff I haven’t read yet because it’s just not happening. Instead, I got into the habit of immediately requesting books from the library if I read a review of them that I found compelling. About 8 or 10 were based on reviews. Most were varying degrees of hits but These Children Who Come at You with Knives was my second most hated read of the entire year (Blood Lite getting the dubious honor of being the hands-down worst thing I read). I allowed my current read to direct my next read for another handful of titles (for instance I read both Astrid Lingrens because of Dragon Tattoo). I haven’t let that happen in a couple of years and I forgot how pleasant it can be and how many fun surprises it can dig up.

    I’m not making a reading resolution this year. I’ve decided to make a sewing resolution instead: Sew More. Or, more specifically, Finish Existing Sewing Projects Before Starting New Ones. We’ll see what happens…

    1. Mostly Harmless Douglas Adams
    2. Mixed Vegetables, Vol. 5 Ayumi Komura
    3. Incubus Dreams Laurell K. Hamilton
    4. Around the World in 80 Days Jules Verne
    5. Artemis Fowl Eoin Colfer
    6. Blood Rites Jim Butcher
    7. Micah Laurell K. Hamilton
    8. Strange Brew Edited by P.N. Elrod
    9. Trouble with Lichen John Wyndham
    10. Holes Louis Sachar
    11. Danse Macabre Laurell K. Hamilton
    12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Volume 5 Predators and Prey Joss Whedon
    13. And Another Thing… Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Part Six of Three Eoin Colfer
    14. Mixed Vegetables, Vol. 6 Ayumi Komura
    15. The Harlequin Laurell K. Hamilton
    16. A Changed Man Francine Prose
    17. Must Love Hellhounds Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brooks
    18. Blood Noir Laurell K. Hamilton
    19. Dead Beat Jim Butcher
    20. Kim Rudyard Kipling
    21. Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle Jim Butcher
    22. Farscape Uncharted Tales: D’Argo’s Lament Keith R.A. DeCandido
    23. Proven Guilty Jim Butcher
    24. Skin Trade Laurell K. Hamilton
    25. Farscape: The Beginning of the End of the Beginning Keith R.A. DeCandido
    26. White Night Jim Butcher
    27. Farscape Strange Detractors Keith R.A. DeCandido
    28. Small Favor Jim Butcher
    29. My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon Edited by P.N. Elrod
    30. Year of Wonders Geraldine Brooks
    31. Backup Jim Butcher
    32. Flirt Laurell K. Hamilton
    33. Turn Coat Jim Butcher
    34. Mean Streets Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Kat Richardson, Thomas E. Sniegoski
    35. Bite Me Christopher Moore
    36. Changes Jim Butcher
    37. Dead in the Family Charlaine Harris
    38. The Horror Writers Association Presents Blood Lite: An Anthology of Humorous Horror Stories Edited by Kevin J. Anderson
    39. Mixed Vegetables, Vol. 7 Ayumi Komura
    40. Cannery Row John Steinbeck
    41. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Volume 6 Retreat Jane Espenson
    42. Crimes by Moonlight: Mysteries from the Dark Side Edited by Charlaine Harris
    43. Highlander: An Evening at Joe’s Edited by Gillian Horvath
    44. Bullet Laurell K. Hamilton
    45. Bitter Grounds Sandra Benítez
    46. A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World Tony Horwitz
    47. Farscape: Gone and Back Keith R. A. DeCandido
    48. B is for Beer Tom Robbins
    49. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
    50. Ivanhoe Sir Walter Scott
    51. Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope Chris Warner
    52. Pippi Longstocking Astrid Lindgren
    53. Superman: Red Son Mark Millar
    54. Cities of Gold: A Journey Across the American Southwest Douglas Preston
    55. Bill Bergson, Master Detective Astrid Lindgren
    56. Mixed Vegetables, Vol. 8 Ayumi Komura
    57. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison Piper Kerman
    58. Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 1 Hiro Arikawa & Kiiro Yumi
    59. Because of Winn-Dixie Kate DiCamillo
    60. Nim’s Island Wendy Orr
    61. Cities of Gold: A Novel of the Ancient and Modern Southwest William K. Hartmann
    62. One Day David Nicholls
    63. Dark and Stormy Knights Edited by P.N. Elrod
    64. Keys to the Repository Melissa de la Cruz
    65. The Freddy Anniversary Collection Walter R. Brooks
    66. The Windows of Brimnes Bill Holm
    67. These Children Who Come at You with Knives Jim Knipfel
    68. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files Storm Front Vol. 1 Mark Powers
    69. The Hunt for Red October Tom Clancy
    70. Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 2 Hiro Arikawa & Kiiro Yumi
    71. Death’s Excellent Vacation Edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner
    72. Rules of Engagement Peter Morwood
    73. Babbitt Sinclair Lewis
    74. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix JK Rowling
    75. Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files Jim Butcher
    76. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince JK Rowling
    77. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows JK Rowling
    78. The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins
    79. Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food Anthony Bourdain
    80. Nightshade Laurell K. Hamilton
    81. Firelight Sophie Jordan
    82. Catching Fire Suzanne Collins
    83. Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making it Work Tim Gunn
    84. The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise Julia Stuart
    85. Misguided Angel Melissa de la Cruz
    86. Mockingjay Suzanne Collins
    87. Star Wars: Tag and Bink Were Here Kevin Rubio