Monthly Archives: June 2008

Now that I’ve read Life of Pi…

I blogged a couple of months ago about the most recent book my bookclub was reading (Life of Pi by Yann Martel) and how I wasn’t looking forward to reading it, even though I’m one of the ones who voted for it.  I finally finished it last night, almost 48 hours after our bookclub met to discuss it.  Yes, I had the book in hand nearly two months, and still hadn’t finished it (though I was 7/8 of the way done) when we got together.

I found it… difficult to read, but not for the reasons I had supposed, previous to actually reading it.  I had heard that it was heavy on allegory, and I have an Allegory Spotting Disorder;  it’s just hard for me to discern that sort of thing, so I tend not to enjoy books of that nature.  (Now that I’ve read it, I’ve decided that the book is not so much allegorical as philosophical.) 

A few reviews on Amazon have mentioned the “unrealistic” nature of the book.  That wasn’t my problem either;  I have no problems vaulting myself into a world in which I need to willingly suspend disbelief.  Where else to do that other than fiction?  It’s not as if Martel was writing nonfiction (though the way he presents the story, it surely would make some wonder).

However, I did have a few problems with the book, which led to my ultra-slowness in reading it.  (Though I tried and tried and tried.  I’d pick it up and read two pages, five pages, ten pages at a time, and I just couldn’t get into it.  Well, once I was about halfway in, it did pick up, and I read more quickly.)

  1. I found it difficult to care about the main character, Pi.  It’s not for want of details regarding his life;  Martel did an excellent job of character development.  It’s just that… in order for me to really get into a book, it’s important for me that I actually care about whom I’m reading, and I felt rather ambivalent towards Pi until pretty much the very end of the book.
  2. I found myself feeling manipulated.  MEGA-manipulated.  Now, I do not suggest that writers should try to write without bias;  we all have different backgrounds and beliefs, and it’s ridiculous to ask a writer to simply put those aside and be entirely neutral.  However, I do have a problem when the motives of a fiction writer seem — to me — to be overt, even if I share their opinions!!  I don’t want to be pushed into anything, cajoled into anything, argued or even reasoned into anything, especially when I’m reading fiction!  Just tell me your story, and if it’s strong, it’ll stand, and it will probably affect me, perhaps even deeply!  But, when the “main character” is continually spouting religious, philosophical and/or political opinions or whatever opinions in a dogmatic way… Ugh.  It’s just hard for me to read.  I feel like I’m being preached at by the author.  That’s why I have three brand-new Christian novels — given to me by the publisher — sitting, unread, on my shelf, even though I’m passionately a Christian.  I just don’t read fiction in order to form (or even inform) my views on religion.  Fiction’s just not where I’m gonna go to delve deeper into philosophy.  And, it bothers me when an author tries to subtlely/not-so-subtlely tries to sway me to his side of the political fence — or whatever fence he’s interested in.  I don’t want to be an author’s convert.  Or a filmmaker’s.  Or whomever’s.  And, especially when Mr. Martel is selling religious pluralism…  Double ugh.  I’m just not buying that.  I have no problem reading about an Indian boy’s attempt to discover God wherever he can — in Hinduism, in Islam, in Christianity.  But the conclusions which “he” draws (I say “he” because, though it’s from the main character’s thoughts, it’s surely, actually, Mr. Martel’s perspectives, mainly about all roads leading to God), I just don’t agree with, and it bothers me that Yann Martel is preaching thusly to the masses.
  3. Oddly, something that bothered me about the book is its extreme masculinity.  Extreme.  It’s not that I minded (so much) stories about animal violence and bloodshed; it’s just that a woman author, when observing a rat flying through the air, wouldn’t likely notice that rat’s privates, and even if she did notice them, wouldn’t write about them in detail.  Or use the word “piss” unceasingly.  I hadn’t really thought about it until I was halfway done with the book, but without trying to, pretty much all of the authors I’ve read in the last few years are female.  Not all, but a vast majority.  Not that I’m wanting everything all pink and sparkly and lacy and tender and wrapped up in a lovely package;  I adore action and adventure and sports and the outdoors, and generally eschew chick flicks and chick lit…  But, some women write from a completely different sensibility than some men, and Martel’s sensibility (and values) grate against my own. 

All that said, I heard that M. Night Shyamalan has purchased the movie rights to the book, and I think it could be a stellar movie, especially given the very Shyamalan-ish plot twist at the end, which leaves one questioning the “reality” of the book and its main story.  Oh, whoops, upon reading the Wikipedia entry on the book, apparently, Shyamalan is not going to be making a movie of it, apparently because of the plot twist, and that if he made the movie, people would expect a plot twist.  ???  Um, OK.  (By the way, do not read the Wiki article if you plan on reading the book, because it gives everything away in the first couple of paragraphs.)  I actually do hope that someone will make a movie of it.

And, I can’t say that I regret reading the book, though I’m glad it’s behind me.  And, if the three points above wouldn’t bother you, you may find it an entirely worthwhile read.  I think of the six of us who discussed the book in our bookclub, I liked it the least.

I’m very glad for our next book:  Lilith, by George MacDonald.  I adore George MacDonald, though I think all of his books that I’ve read, heretofore, have been either children’s books, or his (non-fiction, Christian) essays.  He definitely had his own views on things, but never seems preachy.  He was a great influence on C.S. Lewis;  many thanks to him for that.  Lewis, in his own fiction, writes with a similar non-preachy sensibility, even when being deeply religious and/or philosophical.              

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So, tell me about your heart

Yesterday, I posted a smallish bit on the kinds of blogs I don’t like and an example of one I do.  One kind commenter made this excellent observation about blogs by “perfect” women, reaching a conclusion that I hadn’t realized myself, but is very true:

It sets an unrealistic picture and doesn’t tell me about their heart.

This led me to a little revelation about something entirely unrelated. 

Most summers, at my church, there’s a Bible study that usually lasts for eight or 10 weeks.  Historically, I’ve either been entirely uninterested, or interested only because it keeps me in contact with ladies who are either a) dear to my heart, or b) with whom I need to build relationship.  However, my commitment typically wanes, and I find myself not attending after the first four or five weeks.  I think all of the Bible studies, up to this point, have been Beth Moore ones, with workbooks and DVD lessons.

Now, God bless Beth Moore and all her onscreen warmth, but I just don’t feel a kinship with her;  it seems like the struggles she’s had, I haven’t, and those that I do, she doesn’t.  I don’t feel much of a meeting of the mind or heart or spirit with her.  Plus, I have to get past my perception of her as the perfectly-put-together Church Lady, with big hair, lots of makeup, and expensive clothes in order to drink from the water she’s offering.  I can do it, but it’s more of an excercise than a blessing.  For me, attending Beth Moore Bible studies are more like, “I should do this.  It’s good for me.”  Like drinking cod liver oil, instead of being comforted with some homecooked soup and a caress on the forehead and gentle words when I’m sick.

This year, however, I’m gung-ho about the Bible study.  I anticipated it greatly, and have enjoyed it immensely (though it’s only been going on for two weeks).  Why?  Because it was written and is being led by a woman who is very, very precious to me.  Her name is Kathy, and while she’s very wise and Godly, she’s also very real.  We have enough similarities that I can relate to her, but we have enough varied experiences and she with strengths in areas which I, so far, only aspire to, that I can really learn from her, too.

The above-quoted comment was completely revelational to me, about why I value this year’s Bible study:  Kathy sets a realistic (though challenging) picture, and completely reveals her heart.

~sigh~  I so value transparency.  I so value realism.  I want to be challenged, and led “further up and further in” but for me, there’s a fine balance.  If the leader is uber-perfect, I tend to get discouraged, rather than inspired, like “I could never do that.  More so, I don’t think I want to do that.”  With Kathy’s teaching, I’m inspired, and nowhere near discouraged.

So, if you’re reading, dear Kathy, thank you for all your efforts.  They’re not in vain.  🙂  It’s a reminder to me of that truth:  the very areas in which the enemy tries to destroy us, God uses for His glory, and for the building up of the Body of Christ. 

The more the messier

I’ve been in the blogosphere for only about 2 and a half years, and I’m still continuously surprised at what a dearth of Really Good Blogs there are out there.  I was just thinking, a couple of days ago, how I simply cannot read most blogs by/for women, because they just seem… ummm… unrealistic.  You know, the chipper, cheery, pink & sparkly kind, full of perfect advice from perfect women who have absolutely fabulous kids, ideal relationships with God, marital bliss, are more stylish than I ever could hope (or care) to be, and who have tastefully creative, spotless homes, as well as an organic garden out back.  And whose dogs have better pedicures than my own.  Those kind of blogs don’t tend to inspire me.  At all.  It’s all I can do to not be repulsed.  So, I just don’t read ’em. 

Not that I’m looking for abject failures with whom to wallow;  I’m just looking for a little reality injected into the perfection.  Know what I mean?

Enter:  The More the Messier.  From a recent post about books:

But I’ve read almost nothing but non-fiction since the minute Theo was born. Childrearing, it seems, leaves me no patience for the willing suspension of disbelief. At first, I devoured all the parenting books I could get my hands on, because – believe it or not – until the baby was actually born, I did not understand that I was going to be raising a child. I was therefore woefully unprepared for my new situation.

[I know, one could argue that the parenting literature belongs in the fiction category, for all the good it does the hapless reader. But let’s not go there right now.]

Once I finished every single parenting tome ever published, I moved on to other how-to’s and self-help books: the marriage ones (which should all be subtitled “How To Manipulate Your Spouse Into Doing What You Want”), the home organization ones (didn’t take), the homeschooling ones (“Teach Your Child Latin While You Do Dishes!” and other lies)….the list is endless.

By the time I got to the “Latin” bit, I was rolling.

Written by a homeschooling mom of six who is funnier than I’ll ever be, The More the Messier is worth a read.

 

Going bananas

I’ve noticed how bananas have shot up in price over the last few months, but I attributed it to the current, across-the-board escalation in grocery prices.  My e-maginary friend, Amy, blogged a wee bit about bananas, and linked to a really interesting article.  It’s from the NY Times, and is a short history of the banana in the U.S., and its threatened future.

Take me out to the ballgame… next year

Continuing my trend of interrupting my own posts with tangental information, I must say it’s no fun to watch SportsCenter on ESPN when your team is on a losing skid.  😦  The only consolation that the Diamondbacks are in the National League West division, all of whom are skidding worse than us.  So, though we now are barely over .500 for our winning percentage, none of the rest of the teams in the NL West have a winning record at all, so we still lead our division. 

Anyways. 

I receive e-mails from a non-profit organization called Kids With Food Allergies.  Wesley has celiac disease, which means he can’t have wheat, rye, barley or oats.  It’s not an allergy;  it’s an autoimmune disorder.  But, he’s also anaphylaxic to peanuts, meaning that he literally stops breathing in the presence of peanuts and peanut products.  (He has other food allergies, too, but none so severe as peanuts.) 

One of the ways we’ve had to alter our lives to accomodate this severe allergy is to stop taking him to baseball games.  I’ve considered taking him, because if the stadium’s roof is open, it might be OK; it would practically be like being outside, with a continuous flow of fresh air, which would greatly minimize the chance of Wes reacting the peanuts around him.  Peanut products (like peanut butter) are actually more problematic than peanuts themselves, because grinding the peanuts releases oil into the atmosphere — peanut oil is very volatile — and it’s the oil that has the most adverse effect on Wes.  But, it’s too risky.  He had a severe reaction once, sitting in a recliner where my Uncle Glenn eats peanuts in the shell every night, even though there were no peanuts present when Wes was sitting in the chair…  Ever been to a baseball game?  The stands are absolutely littered with spent shells;  it’s practically de rigueur to just chuck ’em on the floor.  And, even though I’m sure they clean the stadium after every game, I’m sure no one’s scrubbed the seats down with hot, soapy water to get all the peanut oil off.  So, we just haven’t risked it.

Fortunately, Wesley is the least-sports-fan in our house.  Even Audrey will watch baseball (or any sport) for longer than Wes, and at 2 years old, she even cheers at the right spots.  🙂  But, it’s just plain fun to go to a game, even if you’re not a huge fan.  And, it’s no fun to sit at home while everyone else gets to go to the game…

A couple of days ago, my KFA e-newsletter mentioned that a couple of MLB teams have designated peanut-free sections in one or more games per season.  Particularly, they mentioned the Padres and the Twins.  Seriously, it was enough to make me start dreaming of a trip to San Diego, just so we could all go, as a family, to a game.

So, I sent an e-mail to the Diamondbacks organization:

Hello. Every one in our family are huge D’backs fans; we watch all the games on TV, and we attend as many games as we can. So far, we’ve been to two this season, including the one where my son, Grant, was a KidKaster. However, we are no longer able to attend games as a whole family, since my 6yo son was diagnosed with anaphylaxis to peanuts, about 2 years ago. This means that he literally stops breathing in the presence of peanuts and peanut products. All three of my sons have won D’backs tickets through the Glendale Library’s Read Your Way to the Ballpark program, but my son Wesley won’t be able to attend a game, same as last year. There are at least a couple other MLB teams which designate sections or skyboxes, etc., for one or more games per season to be peanut-free. This is usually done in conjunction with a recognized non-profit that manages severe food allergies. Here’s a link to info for peanut-free Padres game: http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/sd/ticketing/groups/peanut_free.jsp and similarly, for Twins games: http://www.minnesotafoodallergy.org/#twins It would be fabulous if the D’backs would consider something like this, so that our family could, once again, attend games as a whole family. Thank you very much. 

Today, after returning home from swim lessons and errands, there was this e-mail waiting for me:

Hi Karen, thank you for taking the time to write in with your comments and suggestions about peanut free zones at Chase Field. Your timing is pretty interesting because we just started talking about this a couple of weeks ago, and we are going to continue talking and meeting about this in preparation for the 2009 season. We’re in the process of gathering info from the various clubs out there who have done it before, as well as gathering info from the medical profession to learn more about this issue. Once done, we will put together a logistical plan of action so that we can advertise this for next season.

Please hold on to my address and phone and please feel free to contact me during the off-season for more information.

Thanks,

Russ Amaral
VP – Operations
Arizona Diamondbacks
Ph: 602/462-6677
ramaral@dbacks.com

Woo hoo!!!  I called the boys over and let them all read the e-mail.  Everyone was excited at the prospect, even though it’s not until next year.  Seriously, I started to tear up.  With Wesley’s multitudinous dietary restrictions, it not only affects what he can and can’t eat, it affects where he/we can go, and what we can do.  It’ll be fantastic just to be able to attend a game as a family.  I can’t wait.

She don’t take no guff

A few days ago, my son Ethan decided he’d play the classic “nose-grabbing” game with Audrey.  He played that he snatched her nose, and tucked his thumb between his index and middle fingers, so that it looked like Audrey’s nose was poking out of his hand.

Audrey stood with her hands on her hips, leaned forward, and said in an authoritative voice, “Hey!  You gimme back my nose!”

Four kids and a pregnant mom at the city pool…

Today, as well as being now-11yo Ethan’s birthday, was our first day of swimming lessons for the summer.  We take them through our city;  it’s 9 consecutive weekdays, 1/2 hr lessons, for $18 per kid, with most classes limited to six kids or so. 

I decided to go ahead and enroll Audrey in the parent-and-tot class, so we wouldn’t roast on the bleachers while waiting for the guys — especially since the earliest time-slot that had all three levels that my boys are in was 11:00.  By that time, it’s over 100*, and I just couldn’t bear to be miserably hot for that long.  Last year, I was able to get them in the 8:00 time slot, and it was hot then.  So, I decided that Audrey and I needed to be in the water, too.  But, I didn’t even own a regular bathing suit, let alone a maternity one!  So, it was shopping I went on Saturday.

You think its hellish shopping for a bathing suit?  Try doing so when you’re almost 6 months pregnant!!  Ugh.  Not fun.  At all.  After trying on eight, and nearly crying, I opted for this one, which doesn’t look nearly as fetching on me as it does on the model.  I actually liked the one-piece version of the same suit a bit more, but all they had was a medium, which fit me “just right” right now, meaning that it will no longer fit in about one week.  So, I thought it would be wiser to size up to the large.  ~sigh~  I also got some black board shorts to go underneath, largely because I am FREAKED OUT over an explosion of vericose veins, spider veins, and assorted lumpy vascular ugliness on the back of ONE of my legs.  One.  My right leg.  Now, I do agree with my hubby, that one is better than two.  But, I think it’s highly odd that it’s just one leg.  It wasn’t there before I got pregnant, either.  And it’s painful.  I’m considering going to the doctor about it, but I may wait until after I deliver the baby, to see if it’ll all go away when there’s not so much extra blood pumping through my body. 

Which brings me to an only tangentially-related bit:  After 23 weeks of gaining virtually no weight, last week I gained five pounds.  In one week.  Ack.

Anyways, I shouldn’t have worried;  even being large and pregnant, I’m not the largest woman in the parent-and-tot class, so it’s not like everyone is staring at the huge pregnant woman.  Also, folks, that “tankini” top?  It floats around.  “Balloons” might be a better word, actually.  Ugh.  At least my giant belly with its vast array of stretch marks is obscured by the water.

Which brings me to another tangentially-related bit:  I read, before I got pregnant, that not only is pure Vitamin E oil good for reducing the body’s tendency to produce stretch marks, it will actually heal them (and other scars).  That’s what I read, anyways.  I only put it on 2-3x/week;  maybe that’s why it’s not working.  But, I haven’t given up hope.  Still, it’s not the easiest to use:  It’s thick and sticky, and doesn’t soak/rub in well.  I pour a handful and try to put it on pretty much all of my body from mid-thigh to above my bellybutton (yes, that entire area is covered in stretch marks), and then add some regular lotion afterwards.  And, you have to be careful what clothing you put on afterwards, because it’s likely that it’s going to get oil-stained.  Still, when one has as many stretch marks as I do, one goes to certain lengths…

Anyways.

Ethan was bummed out and nervous, because though he graduated from Level III last summer, he didn’t think he had the skills for Level IV, and that he’d be left holding onto the poolside whilst everyone was dashing away down their lanes doing perfect butterfly strokes, or something like that.  Turned out (like I was encouraging him) that that wasn’t the case;  he isn’t even the slowest swimmer in his class, even though it is challenging.

And, it looks like both Wes and Grant will be able to (finally) advance this year.  Grant has been stuck in Level II for a couple of years, mostly because of large-motor difficulties, which makes it nigh impossible for him to do alternating “big arm” strokes, like for freestyle, and impossible for him to tread water.  However, he reported today that he was able to do both!!  Hurray!

Wes has been stuck at Level I for a couple of years, mostly because he didn’t want to submerge his head, and because he has virtually no value for actually following the teacher’s instructions.  However, when I looked over at him, early in the lessons, his entire head was wet.  And, he reported to me that he did, in fact, follow all of the directions given to him.  Hurray!!

Audrey spent the first 15 minutes screaming in that high-pitched, piercing tone that only a 2yo girl can produce, and clinging to my neck with her arms and my torso with her legs, in a death grip.  (Strangely, this made me a bit happy, because she is SO not cuddly, and has NEVER been clingy.  So, it’s nice to know that when she does feel danger, The Mom is a safe place to cling.)  Then, she immediately switched gears, and decided that swimming lessons were fantastic!  In fact, after the lessons were over, I had to keep a firm grip on her wrist, so she wouldn’t go running back to the pool.  “Swimming lessons fun!  ‘Happy an’ a know it, ‘plash a wattuh!  ‘plash!  ‘plash!’  My try swimming lessons, OK, Mom?”  This, after 15 minutes of tears and wailing, “Not want to!  Get out now!!”

So, all in all, it was a good day at the pool.   

Cars, gas & mileage, from a non-environmentalist standpoint

My husband drives my old truck.  It’s a 1994 Suburban.  When we got my 1999 Explorer, last year, the intention was to sell the Suburban, and buy him a commuter car, as he drives — I think it is — 22 miles each way to and from work, and the Suburban gets 14 mpg.  (He was driving an older Infiniti, which still only got like 22 mpg, but when it needed too much work to make it cost-effective to own, we gave it to my brother, who, as he used to be a mechanic, can fix cars himself, saving the labor expense, which is often more expesive than the cost for parts!)

But… we’ve rather dragged our feet in selling our dear old Land Barge.  We’d likely get less than $2K for the Suburban, which means we’d have to shell out several thousand, even for an older used car.  We own the Suburban outright.  So, other than gas and maintenance, the truck is “free.”  And, though it seems to have its yearly needs, which sends us to the shop (a good mechanic, btw, is such a Godsend!!), and even though gas is now hovering around $4/gallon, our monthly expenses on the truck are still significantly less than it would cost us to buy a smaller, more gas-efficient vehicle.

So, not taking into account the impact on the environment, or anything like that, it’s still a good idea for him to use it…  and he probably will, until it breaks in some way that costs more than it’s worth to fix.

Next time you see a guy on the freeway, alone in an old, white Suburban, before you curse his excess, remember us.  😉   

Yet another reason to love the Asian grocery

Last night, I did one of my marathon grocery shopping runs, leaving the house a bit after 8:00 p.m., hitting up three stores, and returning home after 11:30 p.m.  Ugh.  But, grocery shopping, exhausted and alone is better than grocery shopping in 112* heat in mid-day with four kids.  Have ice cooler, will travel.

Anyways.  My first stop was the Asian grocery store.  I just needed a few things — tapioca starch, potato starch, baby bok choy.  But, on my way to the checkout, I glanced over a smallish free-standing arrangement of shelves that had candy.  Most of the candy, of course, had Chinese or Korean writing on it.  But then, my gaze fell over a Galaxy bar.  I gasped.  Literally.  Out loud.  “No way!”

 

I don’t even like milk chocolate, but I absolutely adore Galaxy bars.  I’ve never seen them outside the U.K., though.  Then, I thought, “Well, bummer.  It’ll probably be labelled as Galaxy, but the labelling and ingredients will be all wrong, rather like Cadbury bars in the U.S. are nothing like Cadbury bars in the U.K.”  But, no.  It was labelled for a British market!  Woo hoo!!  It was a whopping $1.39 for a 45g bar, but I gladly plunked down my money, and savored every melty piece.

(Wikipedia says that Dove and Galaxy are the same.  Hm.  Maybe I’ll have to buy some Dove chocolate.  I’ll bet it’s not the same, though.)

Misc. news for the week

  • Well, we had our ultrasound, and the baby is a girl!!!  We were excited about seeing a 3D u/s, to get a good look at her face, but she kept a forearm across the bottom portion of her face the whole time, so we didn’t get a clear peek.  Oh, well.  It’s funny:  though I was hoping for a girl, now that I know she is, I’m just a tad nervous.  It’s rather like when I was pregnant with my 2nd child;  I couldn’t fathom what he’d be like, or how he’d fit in with our family, or if I’d love him as much as I did my oldest.  But, then he came, and all my fears were put to rest;  he was an absolute perfect, designed fit for our family.  So, now I just have to remind myself of that with baby girl #2, that God knows what He has planned for us, and this girl is just right for all of us, and we’re right for her.
  • Last night was so pleasant, here at our home.  We pretty much did nothing but hang out.  It seems like we’ve just been consistently busy…  Saturday night, we had the whole worship team over.  Sunday, we spent at Martin’s dad’s.  Monday, my mom & stepdad were over.  Tuesday, I went to a women’s Bible study.  Tonight, I’ll be going grocery shopping.  All good things, definitely.  Relationship, family, growth as a Christian, providing for my family, all important.  But, just watching the baseball game and playing Jenga, with our tummies full from a good dinner… it just felt refreshing.
  • This has been our first week off of school for the summer.  Whew!  I was ready for summer “break.”  It’s not really a break, because while homeschooling three kids and taking care of a todder, things pile up over the school year, so summer becomes the time for special projects.  And, lots of cleaning.  I like the house to be clean, and I really don’t mind the work, but while we school, it’s just nigh impossible to fit in all the housework that really needs to be done.  So, it’s nice to go to bed at night, knowing all the dishes are done, the laundry is caught up, there’s not 1/2″ of dust on all the furniture, and the floor’s been recently mopped.  The only thing bad about this week is that it’s been insanely hot, 110*+ each day this week, so it’s just too hot for the boys to play outside.  They can go out upon waking for about half an hour, and sometimes, by 5 or 6 p.m., they’re so stir-crazy, they’ll brave the heat (still over 100* even at those hours) to go in the backyard and play.  But, it’s just too darn hot to play, midday.  The day before yesterday, I was changing the lightbulbs in our coachlights, to the right and left of our garage.  It was 8:30 a.m., and I had to use hot pads.  Hot pads to handle the metal housing of the lights.  And, they’re not even black.  It’s just really, really hot.    
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