What We’re Up To

Besides doing as much of this as possible, of course.


Jane is thirteen and busy, busy, busy. Art class, piano,
ballet, Journey North, Shakespeare Club. The number of activities makes
my head spin but is delicious to her. She's learning her lines for a Taming of the Shrew
scene. Mastering the jump attack in Zelda: Twilight Princess. Beginning
to polish her repertoire for Piano Guild auditions. Enjoying the Think
Piece questions from Julie Bogart's Bravewriter Boomerang. (Today's Murder on the Orient Express
think piece led to a long and hearty discussion of the death penalty.)
Reading all the Agatha Christie she can get her hands on (which, thanks
to a kind librarian, has been a lot). Reading Jane Austen. Quoting
articles from Muse magazine. Making dolls. Reading stories to Rilla at
naptime. Plugging away at Latin and algebra. Baking cobbler when I'm
too busy. Crocheting hair scrunchies by the dozen.

Rose likes life at a mellower pace. Her fiery personality
adds enough spice to her life, I think. One by one, she has chosen to
opt out of the activities her sisters enjoy. She still takes art and
piano lessons, which seems like a lot to me, and is one activity more
than Jane was doing at her age. She has a small vegetable garden out
back, thanks to my mother's labors during my postpartum days, and she
spends a lot of time outside playing with bits of leaf and twig. She's
writing quite a bit: journal entries, stories, letters. Has been (like
the others) glued to the Warriors books lately. Is deeply attached to
her horse in Zelda. Clamors to be the one to hold the baby during his
morning nap. Chops all my potatoes and onions for me. Still loves to
play dress-up. Practices Amazing Grace on the piano ten times a day, as
long as I don't tell her to.

Beanie: busy bouncy Beanie! Loves to start her day with a
snuggle on the sofa, just me and baby if possible, but she'll make a
space for the other wee ones if they're awake. Just finished reading Understood Betsy;
said it had a very satisfying ending. (I agree.) Loves copywork with a
passion that is enchanting to behold (and mystifying to her mother, who
loathes writing by hand). Doesn't go to piano lessons any more (her
class was canceled due to a drop in enrollment) but is learning here at
home, with her sisters' help. They've been through the book before her.
Likes to fix my breakfast for me: a bowl of strawberry yogurt, almonds,
granola. Wishes we had a trampoline. Is learning to draw in 3D from
Mark Kistler's book. Writes me coded messages. Wishes she got to hold
the baby more. Wants to have a tea party with her friends: key event,
facepainting. Is looking forward to receiving her First Communion.
Can't help being drawn into Little Bear when her younger brother and
sister are watching. Wishes we had a pool. Forgets the job you gave her
even before she's out of the room. Is reading the Redwall books.
Listens to Suzanne Vega every chance she gets. Spends long minutes
smiling into the baby's eyes. Says she doesn't remember ever being
cooed at before, and that being cooed at is the best thing in the whole

As for me, besides all the usual mom stuff, and the
crammed-in-when-I-can writing stuff, I'm fiddling with fabric, working
on a quilt square for the online bee I'm part of. And (as you know)
I've been reading a lot lately. Not as much this month as I did in January,
but then I'm on my own again as sole adult in charge. Last month I had
my mom for two weeks and then Scott was off work for another two weeks.
Nice. Now I read in the very early mornings and late at night—on
the iPod, as often as not. I am finally, finally working my way through
Ulysses. Very slow going, yes, but oh my what a treat. I find myself staring at single sentences, single words even, tasting them over and over, scarcely able to believe that they've been there all along, ripe for the picking. Warm sunshine merrying over the sea. Birdsweet. The void awaits surely all them that weave the wind. DailyLit
tells me I am 4% of the way through the book. I can't think of books in
terms of percents, but I know I'm only just getting started, though
I've been at it for weeks, a page or two at a time. Every few days I
sit down with my big fat Ulysses Annotated
and unpack quantities of allusions, and then I have to go back and
reread what I read before with better understanding. I am loving this.

Am also reading via DailyLit the YA thriller Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow. I look forward to each night's brief installment.
There aren't many books I would like to read this way, parceled out in
small daily doses, but for these two—for dramatically different
reasons—it's working.

Have not yet finished rereading Portrait of a Lady, long way to go. Started Inkspell Inkheart
right after Christmas and set it aside: still mean to finish that one.
Have a TBR stack as high as the moon. You know how it is.

Well, that's half the family. More than enough for one post, eh!

This and That

Busy, happy weekend with some of Scott's family. Wish the rest of
them could have been with us. His parents and his oldest brother flew
in from the East Coast for the baptism and much merriment. Uncle Jay is
one of the best guys I've ever met. Absolutely the most generous. My
children are crazy about him, and there was much weeping following his
departure this afternoon.

It had been too long since we last saw Scott's parents. So nice to
see them laughing it up with our noisy throng. Scott's mother stood
proxy for the dear godmother who lives far away. There's a story behind
that beautiful christening gown; we've been talking about it in the comments. Such an honor to have my children be part of its long history.

After they left this afternoon, I caught up a bit on blogs and tweets.

Karen Edmisten shared this link to Austenbook, which made me laugh out loud at least six times. Perfect timing, too. I just finished reading Pride and Prejudice. Again. Couldn't be helped. I read Shannon Hale's Austenland and, well, after that I had no choice.

Related: this time around, I read P&P on an e-reader. My iPod
Touch, to be precise. It's the third or fourth book I've read on the
Touch, and this was the first time I found myself really enjoying the reading experience
(as distinct from enjoying the book itself). I will always, always
prefer a real book, the rustling paper, the satisfying weight of it,
the smell of ink and tree. But…I admit it. There are some advantages
to electronic reading. With my Touch, I can read with one hand, turning
pages with the barest tap of a thumb. I can lie in the dark nursing the
baby and read without any light source other than the device itself.
Last week I tried to curl up with a nice fat library book beside my
slumbering child, and I dropped the book on his head. You begin to see
the advantages of a "book" no bigger than a playing card.

I've been experimenting with the various e-readers available for the
iPod Touch and would like to post some reviews, but I'm too busy

(No really, I'll get to it eventually.)

Lots of friends have shared the scoop on these nifty Homeschool Connections online seminars. They are reputed to be extremely fun and informative. Great lineup of speakers.

I still haven't taken my photos for the Illegal Books Meme, but lots of other people have. And I will, too, as soon as I get a chance.

Speaking of CPSIA, I really appreciate the post roundup in the Love2Learn sidebar.

Did you see Beck's rant about The Ten-Year Nap, that book that so annoyed me last month? Beck too, and she didn't even have to read it:

(Do my) mundane daily routines and ever-more tenuous
connections to increasingly independent children compensate for all
that lost promise?
asks the Publishers Weekly blurb on Amazon's page for The Ten Year Nap. And then I barfed, or I WOULD if I wasn't in some sort of decade-long coma, apparently.

 If Beck lived in SoCal instead of Canada, I would totally make her a cobbler.

Saturday Snapshots

A few peeks from our week…


Guess whose big sisters got hold of him? He may have the villainous beard, but they’re the ones with nefarious purposes.


Rilla needed a sling to match mommy’s. Mine, by the way, is now serving its sixth baby! I’ve had it since Jane was a bairn.


I am in love with this sweet dolly. Jane made her for Rilla, totally by herself. I want a big sister like Jane.

(Psst DHM and Mama Squirrel, thanks for reminding us of our dear Miss Suzy! Rilla had not met her yet…)

Books Read in January

I read a lot last month. That's because during the first half of the
month, I was too pregnant to do much else, and during the second half I
was snuggled up with a snoozing lump of baby. My hands are too full for
writing, most of the time, but reading, ah, that's something I can do.

World Made by Hand
by James Howard Kunstler, a novel set in the not-far-off future, after
a sweeping political and economic event (described only in vague terms)
has dramatically altered American society. There's no more oil. The
grid is down: no electricity, no long distance communication, not much
government to speak of. Bombs have destroyed Washington, D.C., and Los
Angeles. A flu epidemic has wiped out masses of people. In the
narrator's small upstate New York community, the survivors have cobbled
together lives from the refuse of their former existence; abandoned houses
(most of the houses are abandoned, now) are stripped for parts, and the
unsavory character who has taken control of the old landfill is one of
the chief power-wielders of the community. The narrator and his
neighbors seem perpetually dazed, still shaken by the waves of tragedy
and loss that washed the old way of life away. The events of the book
force the narrator to wake back up.

I have a great fondness for post-apocalyptic literature and film, so
this book's premise was right up my alley. The narrator's state of
shell-shocked numbness keeps the reader somewhat at a distance, but
it's a believable numbness and perhaps a merciful distance: there is so
much loss, so much pain, so much quivering uncertainty about the
future. Kunstler's vision of the various ways society gropes to reshape
itself is convincing and minutely detailed.

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella
by Alan Bennett. What a little gem. Scott checked it out from the library and said he thought I'd enjoy it. As usual, he was right. The Queen of England discovers, by
chance, that a library bookmobile visits the palace grounds. To the
astonishment of the librarian, she checks out a book—and finds herself
on a literary rabbit trail, hopping eagerly from one book to the next.
Surprising, original, delightful.

The Moving Finger (Miss Marple Mysteries) by Agatha Christie. Everyone deserves a Christie break now and then.

The Music Teacher
by Barbara Hall. Really wanted to like this novel. So much potential in
the setting and cast of characters: the novel is about a woman who
gives violin lessons in a small music store, the only female on the
staff, half in love with one undeserving coworker and flattered by the
attentions of another. Eventually I grew tired of the relentless
melancholy and bad choices. I admit I lose patience with people (even
fictional ones) who seem determined to be miserable.

Which is why the next book, Meg Wolitzer's The Ten-Year Nap,
annoyed the bejeebers out of me. Don't get me
wrong: Wolitzer can write beautifully. But oh what a bunch of whiners
in this novel. I kept wanting to shake them and shout, "Knock it off!
Quit your bellyaching and DO something! Read to your kid! Take a walk!
Bake some bread! SOMETHING. Anything." I'd read rave reviews. People
loved the "honest" look at the misgivings of women who gave up
promising careers to stay home with their children. I'm sure many women
do have those misgivings. But, look, you make your own happiness. The
women in this novel seemed to me to be sleepwalking, drifting through
their days in a state of vague discontent, trapped in the hamster wheel
of their own minds. I have little respect for people who refuse to wake

The Twilight of American Culture by Morris Berman.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by
Azar Nafisi. Had this one on the library reserve list for a long time.
Really enjoyed it—sort of. Seemed like Nafisi was trying to untangle
some knotty emotional threads about the Iranian Revolution and her own
choices during those stormy years and the decade following. The
eyewitness-to-history narrative was fascinating, but became terribly
repetitive as the book went on. The best parts of the book are her
literary discussions, her thoughtful unpacking of Gatsby, Daisy Miller, Lolita, Pride and Prejudice,
and other works. Here Nafisi shines, and it's easy to see why her
students became so attached that many of them returned to audit her
classes year after year. Best of all, Nafisi got me reading: she made
me hungry to revisit old favorites (Austen, Gatsby) and curious about
books like Lolita that have spent far too many years on my TBR
list. I wanted to hear what Nafisi had to say about them, but I loathe
spoilers, so I had no choice: had to read the books. Am very glad I did.

These next few titles, then, are books I read between sections of Reading Lolita.

Daisy Miller by Henry James.

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald. For the, I don't know, sixth or seventh time? I
can open this book to any page and just sit there tasting sentences.

by Vladimir Nabokov. Creeped me out in the worst way—but I couldn't put
it down—and jiminy crickets what gorgeous, sumptous writing. And
beneath the creepiness, the terrible sadness, the bleak impenetrability
of Humbert's cage—worse even than the cage Lolita is trapped in.

(And a February note: my James kick has continued. First Washington Square, new to me. Now, Portrait of a Lady,
the first half of which I loved passionately in college, a love that
turned to outrage during the second half, because at that point in time
I had no stomach for a book with a likeable heroine who did not find
felicity in romance at the end. Now, nearly twenty years later, perhaps
because I am comfortably immersed in a still-crazy-in-love marriage, I
am finding that I can allow the novel to be the novel it is, not the happy-ever-after tale I wanted it to be in college.)

Presidents Day Dessert

I just put a cherry cobbler in the oven—yes, I know it's not even
lunchtime here yet, but I've learned that if I don't cook early in the
day, I won't cook at all—and I thought that in honor of Presidents Day,
I'd reprise this old post which contains a very  nice cobbler recipe, if you can wade through all my nonsense to find it.


Breakfast of Champions

Originally posted November 2005

I have just polished off—with considerable help from children doing
their finest ravenous-baby-bird impersonations—the remnants of the
cherry cobbler I baked for teatime last week. We will pause here while
people who know me well digest this news. Yes. I BAKED. From scratch.
Well, the cherries were canned but I did actually have to crack an egg.
And measure things. And—are you ready for this?—"cut in butter." Oh
sure, most of you out there probably cut butter into a flour mixture as
easily as breathing, but SOME of us find these things a lot more
complicated than, say, writing novels or using HTML code. To be fair, I
must disclose that Jane did most of the actual cutting-in. But I put
the cobbler in the oven and took it out when it was done. Not burned.
Not still gooey in places. Really truly perfectly done. Also, I whipped cream. (Gasps arise from my friends.)

Anyway, I have decided that cherry cobbler is the world's most perfect food. (Well, right after dark-chocolate-and-marzipan bars.
And my mom's fried okra.) The cherries, not too tart, not too sweet,
bursting with antioxidants, so the can assures me. The biscuity cobbler
topping, only slightly sweet, with a lovely cake-like texture. And then
of course the whipped cream, which, now that I think about it, really
might be God's most awesome invention. And so foolproof that even I
can't mess it up.

I have informed my children that we're going to be eating lots and
lots of cobbler from now on. They appear to be amenable to this plan. I
will now share the recipe so you know what to serve for dessert next
time you have me over.

Fruit Cobbler for the Incompetent Cook


1 can cherry pie filling (or blueberry, apple, whatever)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional–I didn't use it)
3 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 beaten egg
3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400. Dump pie filling in an ungreased 8×8 baking
dish and stick in oven to warm up while you mix the topping. (Cookbook
will prattle on about how to make fruit filling from scratch, but you
know your limits.)

In bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and if desired, cinnamon.
Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Do not panic if
you have no idea what that means. Google can offer a ready explanation.
Or ask your oldest child, who seems to have an innate knack for these
things. Better yet, let her do it. You can still claim credit with your
friends because after all, YOU made her.

In another bowl, combine egg and milk. Add to flour mixture, stirring just to moisten.

Take baking dish out of oven. Drop topping into 6 mounds atop
filling. Do not forget that the baking dish is HOT. When you do forget,
drop spoon into filling and rush to sink to put burned hand under cold
water. Allow oldest child to gingerly fish spoon out of filling and
resume dropping mounds of topping into dish (which child will not
forget is hot, because 1) you are yowling at sink and 2) she has more
than half a brain). Assure younger children that your burn is not
serious. Resolve to yowl under your breath next time, so as not to
alarm small children.

Turn off cold water, dry burned hand, stifling scream when towel
touches burned part, and resume impersonation of capable, domestically
skilled mother. Start to pick up baking dish and thank children for
alerting you with frantic shrieks that you are about to touch hot dish
once again. Pick up potholders, which are lying on counter right next
to hot baking dish and which were custom-made for you on a potholder
loom in colors so bright it is surprising that you failed to notice
them when you reached for the scalding-hot dish in the first place.
USING POTHOLDERS, place dish in oven. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25
minutes or until toothpick inserted in topping comes out clean.
Possibly entrust this task to your oldest child, as you are sure to
burn yourself again if you attempt it.

Serve warm with freshly made whipped cream, which (thank heavens) even you cannot mess up.

To celebrate, eat three servings. But save enough for tomorrow's breakfast.

Image courtesy The Graphics Fairy.

Cybils Winners Announced!

The winners of the 2009 Cybil Awards have been announced at the Cybils blog. Congratulations to all the winners!

As a member of the first-round judging panel for Fiction Picture
Books, I was happy to see that my favorite title from our shortlist, How to Heal a Broken Wing, won in that category.

And I'm tickled to see that the winner of the Nonfiction Middle Grade/Young Adult category is a book by a friend of mine: The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir
by Cylin Busby and John Busby. Cylin and I were lowly editorial
assistants together at Random House many years ago. I'm so proud of
her. (Good thing I wasn't a panelist for that category—I'd have had to
recuse myself.)  I've been dying to read her book: I finally have a
copy on the way, so more on that later.

While you're over at the Cybils blog checking out the winners, don't miss Easy Reader winner Mo Willems's illustrated thank-you note!

Happy Hearts


Another week, another delightful visit with beautiful online friends.


This time it was the charming Diane of Journey of a Mother's Heart who paid San Diego a visit. Erica did the honors, opening her lovely home to me and my brood, Kristen
and her sweet girls, and Diane and her sister-in-law and adorable
nephews. What a fun day. I already knew I was going to love hanging out
with Diane; her warm, funny, generous, lively spirit won my heart a
long time ago.


Wonderboy was smitten too.

Delicious lunch, stimulating conversation, busy children, snuggly
babies: a perfect morning. The time passed too quickly, is all.

All right, who's next?

On the CPSIA front: Alicia has started an Illegal Books Meme
to help spread awareness of the issue. I'll be chiming in as soon as I
can upload some pictures of books it would now be illegal to sell.


I have been wanting to blog about the dreadful Consumer Products
Safety Improvement Act for weeks, and especially this week when the law
went into effect, but I have very little handsfree time for typing
right now (and you know I’m not complaining about that).

But this is a very important and disturbing issue, and if it isn’t
on your radar yet, I urge you to read up on the matter. Many used book
stores and thrift shops are now throwing out—as in, putting in the
trash—children’s books published before 1985 because to sell them would
be breaking the law, as of this past Tuesday. Books in the trash is such a horrifying thought I can scarcely type it.

Goodwill stores have pulled all children’s clothing and any other children’s product from their shelves.

Here’s some links to folks who are on top of the issue. I highly
recommend exploring their recent archives (especially their posts of
the past week) and follow their links to yet more information.


The Common Room


American Library Association

Snopes, I’m sorry to say, is wrong on this one.

A friend just sent me a link to an HSLDA statement from earlier this week which pitches the CPCA’s recently added exemptions to the testing regulations as good news:

Last Friday, the CPSC declared numerous changes in their regulations, including the
following exemptions that correspond with requests made by HSLDA in our meeting with Commissioner Moore:

  • An exemption for certain natural materials such as wood, cotton, wool, and certain metals and alloys that rarely contain lead;
  • An exemption for ordinary children’s books printed after 1985;*
  • An exemption for textiles, dyed or undyed (not including leather,
    vinyl, or PVC) and non-metallic thread and trim used in children’s
    apparel and other fabric products, such as baby blankets.
  • The
    exemptions may be a step in the right direction, but that second bullet
    point makes it clear that children’s books published BEFORE 1985 are
    not exempt from the new lead testing requirements. Used bookstores,
    thrift shops, and eBay or other online sellers of books are unlikely to
    be able to afford to have all their pre-1985 inventory tested. It is,
    therefore, now illegal to sell children’s books published before
    1985—even in your own yard sale.

    This is seriously wrong.

    (Thanks for the link, S.!)

    Updated to add: Here, at The Bookroom, is a thoughtful post responding to HSLDA’s memo.