Thursday, January 2, 2014

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

My cousin Richard and his wife have been a great example to McDreamy and I. They have 3 kids, the oldest was about 10 when T-Bone was born.  Richard lives in my hometown and we have tried to visit with his family as often as we can when we are in town which sometimes means just a quick coffee or a 30 minute visit to their house.  Richard and his family are remarkable in 10,000 different ways but one has always been a beacon for me.

When McDreamy and I were young parents we were in awe of their kids.  (Their parenting is what I should say.)  The two older boys and youngest daughter have always been polite, interesting and fun to be around. At all different ages. Richard didn't have to goad them into being civil.  His wife didn't have to bribe them to sit and visit with us.  It took me a while to put my finger on what was so meaningful to me and the way I ended up seeing it in my mind was that I wanted to raise kids that adults would enjoy being around. If we achieved raising kids that moms, dad, aunts, uncles, teacher, other adults would enjoy being the company of, it would be a good measure of a decent kid.

I think we've done it!  T-Bone and The Bug are still young but our friends really like them (so do we.) I am figuring this out because our friends with little kids have started asking if one (or both) of our babes can come with them on outings (to help with the younger kids, to be a positive influence, to enjoy.) WOW!  When they return they always complement us on how well mannered and easy to talk to our kids are. WOW! Several of the dads have commented how fun it is to watch football with T-Bone because he is so knowledgeable about the game and knows interesting stats.  We go over to friends for football Sunday or they are over here, and T-Bone is quite the hit. WOW!

When you invite us to dinner, you are going to get the whole package - adults who will LOVE your cooking and kids who will make you smile and laugh.  This feel pretty good.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Intolerable Feast

I cook dinner and make my family eat it at a table, together, most nights.   I am starting to rethink this system.

Dinner has once again descended into bickering and bad manners. Is it summertime blues?  Is it too much repetition? T-Bone slumps in his chair and eats with his hands.  Bug complains about the food and her friends in the alley and her brother and my singing. McDreamy sits there quiet and bruised from his stressful day (and irritating kids.)  And I white-knuckle my utensils, steam rising in my cheeks.

"T-Bone, use your fork."  "Bug, no comments on the food."  I can't sit there and tolerate their antics.  Be quiet and let the rudeness reign or correct them and add to the noise. Am I am making it worse or better?  This is what I call a no-eat situation.

It isn't always this bad.  Maybe the food gods are on vacation at the beach.

The kids should know my dinner rules by now.  Do they need to be tattooed on their forearms?

Rule 1.
I menu plan, drive to the grocery store, buy the food there, unpack it from the car, and cook that food every day. Until you do all those things too, you don't get to express displeasure about the food. 

Rule 2. 
If I want your opinion about the food, I will ask for it. And it will rarely be while we are eating it.  Guess what...I have eyes. Which means I can tell what you think about the food by watching you.  I know what you think of your food by how much you eat of it, how fast, and in what order.  And I subtly adapt our menu based on your likes and dislikes.

Rule 3
We live in a beautiful Cape Cod-style home with shutters and shingles. It's not a barn. So leave the burping, hand wiping on your clothes, and eating with your fingers for the occasion you actually have dinner with someone who lives in a barn. 

Rule 4
If you don't have anything nice to stay, stuff the cauliflower in your mouth and wash it down with milk.  My darling, bright eyed, athletic daughter, this one is for you.  Dinner is not the time to unleash your day's frustrations.  I know you it's grating when someone borrows your scooter without asking.  It's a hard life when the kid next door gets to drink two sodas and day and you get none.  And believe me, your brother's belching bugs me too.  But let's leave it for later, okay. I beg you.  Or at least share some good things about your day before you dive into the abyss.

I want our dinner time to be a cherished time in the day when McDreamy and I have our family all together, in one place, at one time, face to face.  Is it too much to hope that time will be pleasant?

Dinner is done and so am I.  I am taking a mealtime time out.

My new strategy is to revert to what we did when our first child was an only and he went to bed at 7:00pm. He got his dinner of strained peas and went to bed, then husband and wife enjoyed our nourishment in peace.  The new version of this is going to be to serve dinner for McDreamy and I with a glass of wine and some adult time.  No kids allowed. They can eat on the deck, on the garage floor, while they are zipping down the sidewalk on their rollerblades.  I think there is a barn down the road.  If they can't be civil at the table, I am not inviting them.

Until school starts again. Then I will revert back to the family feast.  Maybe.  For now I am going to enjoy this mealtime time out.  Just me and McDreamy.  Please pass the wine.



Sunday, August 11, 2013

What's next, a knee replacement?

I am equally situated between being a 40 year-old woman of distinction and a 50 year-old woman of character. But I still see myself as a spunky, funny, bright girl. Yes girl.  One you'd like to invite to your impromptu cocktail party at a rooftop bar or sneak away with for brunch and mimosas in the sad or hire for a creative job you want done well.  I feel young at heart. In the mirror I image myself as someone who's got it going on.

But I might be the only one.  And these days even I am starting to reconsider my youthful vigor.

There have been a few chinks in my self-esteem armor in the last handful of years.  And they are racking up quickly.

The minivan 8 years ago was a big hot dent.  Goodbye cherry red Audi.  See ya later 4Runner. I gave in to the minivan.  It felt like a jumbo jet liner (and looked like one too) compared to my sporty rides in my younger days.  There is nothing intriguing or distinguished about a minivan.  It's a white flag surrender to pure practicality.  Who wants to be practical?  A mother, I guess.  The needs of my two little kids and one big dog won out.  My husband drives a blue Corvette now, I still drive the blue wart.

The tweezers snuck up on me.  I was on vacation and felt a thick black hair sprout on my chin like an invasive weed after a spring downpour.  New growth kept happening when I went out of town. I had to plegde to never be without access to a good set of tweezers.  Otherwise my chin runneth over.

Next came the girdles...I mean Spanx.  Sure, woman of all ages wear smoothers and lifters now.  But the girdle's reemergence on the market a couple years ago coincided with the flourishing of my middle age muffin top and back fat.  Four years ago I bought several styles and colors.  And now they are too tight.

Because then came plump Margo.  It's so easy to put on weight these days and so hard to take it off. It keeps stacking up calorie by calorie, pound by pound.   My discipline has dwindled in inverse proportion to my waistline.

And this week, I am hugely offended by my new reading glasses.  Apparently multifocal contacts don't work well "when you are my age."   The doctor told me I had to sacrifice either clarity near or clarity far, you can't have great vision for both. Dang it!  I chose to have strong distance vision which might help me remain ambivalent to my fine lines and age spot.  I didn't realize that would mean I'd need reading glasses to read the cereal box.


Am I on the verge of being the lady in bulky sweater hunting her reading glasses around the house? Will I wear a brightly bedazzled chain to keep a pair within arms reach?  Will I forget them on the top of my frizzy head?

All of this aging business is natural. Yes, I get it.  I am older and wiser.  I appreciate the trade off. Kind of.  It's just complicated aging with style, because I married a man 6 years younger than me, with perfect eyes and no cavities. He's not even 40 yet!!!!! He is aging gracefully.  He really needed those extra 30 pounds he's now carrying (not me.)  His silver hair is distinguished.  We call him McDreamy for a reason.  And did I mention the Corvette?

Reading glasses, this isn't going to sit well with me!

What's next a knee replacement?


Book Review - The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I heard this author interviewed on NPR in May, and I thought a well-regarded novel about baseball sounded like a good way to start my summer reading. This books is not about baseball even though it is its backdrop. The Art of Fielding is about obsession, striving for perfection, competition, love, single mindedness, and barreling toward your future.

Set at a small Midwestern college, 5 main characters pursue their passions at all costs and a price is surely paid. Henry, a baseball phenom loses his confidence. Mike, a brute of a competitor, manhandles Henry toward perfection. Owen, the intellectual, has an ease about him not present anywhere else in the novel. Affenlight, the college president, falls in love and contemplates his future. And Pella, his daughter isn't sure what she's doing anymore.

This book is too long.

But it is also wonderfully complex, and the characters and their dilemmas are many layers deeper than most authors are willing, or able to go.

But it's really just too long. The author is pursuing perfection, just like his characters, but in his pursuit his editing eye is blunted.

The Art of Fielding is not a light read. It is not uplifting. But it is thoughtful and complex. I would recommend it for people who like meaty books, but I probably wouldn't read it again. I can appreciate the Art of the Character, the Art of Constructing a complex story line with interwoven stories and personalities, the Art of the Literary References. I should love this book and would love to be that smart, someday. But I just wanted it to move faster, find out where we were going, be less tortured.

If you want a book that is master class is construction and character, this is your book. If you want a book that helps you pass the long hot days of summer, you should look elsewhere.

I give this 4 stars because, after reading 6 to 7 other books this summer, I really appreciate Mr. Harbach's craft and oversized ambition.  This is a great book, it's just not very entertaining.

What a Girl Wants, What a Girl Needs (on her book shelf)

My name is Margo and I read novels.  Maybe more than the average Jane but I wouldn't call myself a rock star reader (yet).  I am consistent though.  I've been in one book club or another for fifteen+ years.  And if I had to put a number to it, I probably read twelve to twenty novels a year. 

I write reviews of most of them too while assigning a rating of 1 to 5 stars.  This helps me remember what I read because who can remember one book from the next after 2 or 3 months?  Who can distinguish Jilly from Milly from John from Paul once a few books have parked themselves on the nightstand.  Not me.  I give out a lot of 3 star ratings with a sprinkling of 4's and 5's when I'm lucky. While I might not be a massive consumer of the novel form,  I am opinionated.

What kinds of books do you like?
What makes a good book for you?
What genres do you like to read?

These have always been hard for me to answer because I know it when I read it. I've often said I like literary fiction not even really knowing what that means. I read an article in the Huffington Post last week about "Chick Lit"  and I light went off.  Blog editor Claire Fallon described what she thinks the difference between "chick lit" and "literary fiction" is. 
Commercial fiction (such as Chick Lit) serves an important function in the literary world. Consumers crave escapist books that will entertain, amuse and read easily and quickly. Even the most snobbish reader will on occasion take a Danielle Steel paperback to the beach. Many commercial fiction writers are talented and deserve success in their field -- success that appropriately comes with hefty book advances and royalties. But their aims differ from those of literary fiction authors, who provide fiction that is stylistically and thematically ambitious, challenging to the reader and often darker and more honest about the human condition. These books are not suited for the purpose of pure escapist entertainment; they are designed to explore thorny issues, prompt readers to rethink assumptions about the world and even themselves, expand readers' minds through the effort of piecing together layered meanings or decoding dense writing. They may be difficult to read, emotionally as well as intellectually, but their rewards to the reader should far surpass mere momentary pleasure.
 
Bam. That's it. My 4- and 5- star books are stylistically ambitious, challenge me as a reader, and prompt me to think and maybe even rethink!  Literary fiction moves me.  Sometimes it's hard to read.  I'll tune out it's too slow to move through.  I can't read this kind of book all the time though.  Everyday life is too hard to always opt for a challenge.  Good old fashioned commercial fiction with easy stories and escapist elements are like a visit to a sunny playground on a warm spring day. Everyone needs a good dose of that now and then. Or a lot.

What this girl wants...

If a book is too simple and trite, I might rather clean out my refrigerator.  (Body Surfing, Confessions of a Shopaholic)

If it's too deep or esoteric, I'll resent the author and never finish.  Who wants reading to feel like work?  (The Corrections, The Hours)

My favorite books, the ones that stay with me for weeks and years, combine the challenge of literary fiction with the delight of a well paced novel with interesting characters.  I am a sucker for quirky and imaginative.  You can reel me in like a hungry fish with beautiful writing (the words, sentence structure, pacing, and pure form.)  (Secret Life of Bees, Middlesex, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Cold Mountain.)

Book Review - Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

This book arrived on my kitchen table by way of Amy, a book club friend with lots of books to lend me for my summer reading fix.

CeeCee Honeycutt is left alone at a young age to witness her mother Camille's unraveling.  Camille suffers from an unnamed mental illness, probably a double whammy of depression and bipolar disorder.  Camille is stuck in her glory days as a small town beauty queen in the deep South and prances around her Ohio town in worn out prom gowns and tiaras stuck in her rat's nest hair. She is the town joke and CeeCee is in the bull's eye of harsh punch line. CeeCee's father is a travelling salesmen who shirks his family commitments.  When he comes home, as infrequent as it is, he screams at his wife and throws back another beer.

Camille doesn't make it, but 12 yearold CeeCee does.  She is rescued by Great Aunt Tootie who whisks her off to Savannah, Georgia to a grand old house and a host of strong, eccentric female characters. CeeCee is traumatized by her mother's life and death, and with the help of the maid Oletta and Tootie's lively friends, she begins the journey of learning to love herself and be hopeful for her own future.

Lord knows I love a coming-of-age tale full of headstrong Southern women.  The Secret Life of Bees is the bee's knees for me. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt has a strikingly similar theme and many common elements (escaping a bad home life, going on a journey to a new town, a clan of strong black women who band together to pull everyone through).  I like many aspects of this book but it lacks the emotional insight that get's me going. 

This is a sweet story that starts with a bitter pill. The first section is painful as we encounter CeeCee's brutal life dealing with her mother.  It is raw, realistic and this is where the author shines in her honesty.  When CeeCee is taken up by Tootie, it begins to feel a little too fairytale to me (rich family,  gorgeous house, splendid town.) 

We see CeeCee struggle.  We recognize that she is burying her trauma.  She slowly sheds her thick walls with time and love and a few funny antics along the way.  But it feels a little too easy, too sweet given how the story starts.

I like all of the characters (except her daddy).  I'd love to spend a night in one of Tootie's plush guest rooms.  I'd gobble up Oletta's homemade cinnamon rolls. I might even enjoy a twilight dip with Miz Goodpepper with a spicy cocktail in hand. The people and setting are truly charming.

This is a good book with lots of pain and fun. It's 3 stars for me because, while it was enjoyable and entertaining, my 4 and 5 star books offer more emotional honesty, intensity and insight.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review - The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank

A woman reaches her limit with her 30 year marriage.  Leslie Caret is caring and bright but also a big, fat doormat. On vacation with her husband Wes (and his two buddies with new trophy wives), Leslie falls in a manhole and sees the light.  She takes a time out on her marriage by escaping to her brother's house and her hometown in Charleston, SC.

Most chapters are from Leslie's point of view. She is angry with her choices and her husband. She realizes she's been a servant to her husband's happiness and her children's convenience. And thirty years later, she is lonely, sad, and ready to embark on a life of her own. Some chapters are from Weslie's point of view. He's grouchy, entitled, and controlling. It's amusing (and uncomfortable) to know his thoughts and perspective on his wife and other women.

This book is funny, heartwarming and a sweet read.

I recommend it for an entertaining read. It isn't earth shattering. You won't change your view of love and life (unless you find yourself in a one-sided marriage with a prick.)

A few things that bugged me: 

- The cover doesn't represent the book.  She isn't hanging out at the beach with a glamorous hat. Ever.

- Les complains about her kids a lot but she must of done some crummy things as a parent to foster such laziness.  She isn't very honest with herself about her own shortcomings as a mother.

- Les chose to be a doormat and it's hard to imagine she could do a 180 so quickly and decisively...but glad she did. 

- I thought there was too much dialog. Some of it was overdone and could have been more smooth and realistic if it wasn't dialog but actual writing.

I give this 3 stars because it's REALLY hard to get 4 stars out of me.

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