Pushing Appliances to Their Limits

Tonight while we were making dinner, our twenty-six-year-old stove went kaput.

Luckily, just yesterday we got a new toaster since the one we bought in 2003 stopped working the day we got back from vacation.

“What timing!” I thought. Surely we can use the toaster to do some of the tasks we normally delegate to the stove!

Alas! The warnings in the toaster manual make it clear that there’s not much one can do with a toaster besides toasting stuff.

img_20170403_200758.jpg

Looks like we’ll be shopping for a new stove instead of heating pots of soup on top of the toaster, and I guess I’ll dry my nails the old-fashioned way.

But I have no idea how I’m going to heat my curtains.

Bookends: March 2017

wp-1491161557323.jpg

One of the things I love about Massachusetts.

My time in central Massachusetts, experiencing the discourtesy people here call “direct,” has been six years of cultural fatigue. There are things that I love about the area, but the people are consistently prickly. Yes, people can be impolite anywhere and in a surprising variety of ways, but most places I’ve lived and visited, the rudeness has been shocking in part because it happened so infrequently. In Massachusetts, discourteousness is like an element: living here, we swim in rudeness, whether we participate in it or not.

Late in March, my family spent a week in California. From the moment we landed, the difference was obvious. Sure, we lost thirty minutes in the rental car place because the guys working there were inept, but at least they were friendly. Everywhere we went, people smiled, they were cordial, they spoke kindly to one another. I felt little to none of the social anxiety that clings to me in Massachusetts. For the first time in ages, I felt like I could exhale.

Going to San Diego was like jumping from a polluted river into one that ran with fresh, clean water; coming back has been the opposite experience. Just this morning I observed a cashier and her customer openly ridicule another customer for thinking the cashier had given her a friendly look. “She thought since you looked nicely at her that meant it was her turn!” said the first customer, and she and the cashier brayed together as the second customer apologized and got back into line. If the three had been friends, I could understand it as rough but good-natured joshing, but I saw nothing to indicate that these people knew each other.

On the plus side, this kind of interaction makes travel even more appealing. Time to put our passports to work.

Aside from this unpleasant but not unexpected welcome back, March has been wonderful. Not only did I spend a week in a place that felt like home, but I got a lot of reading done, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching my children write and illustrate their own books and stories.

My seven-year-old has moved from filling journals with his stories to typing them out on legal-sized paper on the Smith Corona my dad used in graduate school in the early 1980’s. My son will kneel on a chair at the dining room table, typing for hours and yelling at anyone who tries to interrupt him for something as trivial as dinner or bedtime. All he needs now is a bottle of scotch, an overflowing ashtray, and a fedora.

Something to look forward to: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is April 29! I’m especially excited because this time around, a goal of the readathon is to raise money for Room to Read, a non-profit focusing on literacy and girls’ education across Africa and Asia. To learn more about this part of the readathon and to donate, visit the Dewey’s Room to Read campaign page.

Reading through the night won’t be happening for me on April 29, but I plan to clear my schedule at least for the daylight hours. If I take part, I’ll post about it here and on Instagram.

Until my children finish their masterpieces, I’ve had to content myself with what’s already on the shelves. Here’s some of what I finished reading in March:

Read More

Minimalist Blues

Inspired by the hip, minimal furnishings in the West Coast rental in which we stayed last week, I’ve decided to do some deep decluttering at my East Coast home.

Today, I got through one half of a closet full of unfinished crafts.

wp-1491084376399.jpg

Before decluttering, but after I took all of the crafts out of the closet.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with our hard-drive from 2008 or data backup CD-ROMs going back to 2003, but at least we made room for the microscope and the sheet music.

wp-1491084389776.jpg

After.

We might have a better shot at “hip” and “minimal” if we just buy the rental house. Or maybe I can just share pictures of that house and pretend it’s mine.

Bookends: February 2017

Well, what do you know? It’s March. I’ve been so distracted by the crazy rollercoaster weather here in New England the past couple of weeks and so consumed with the books I’ve been binge-reading in March so far that I totally spaced on doing the February Bookends.

Here are the titles I finished reading in February:

Read More

Nursery Song

Today, my daughter recounted for us a story she’d read about a pregnant woman who put headphones on her belly so her baby could listen to music. When my children stopped laughing, I told them I’d done just that when I was pregnant the first time.

I’d read somewhere that if you play a song for your baby in utero, it will help soothe her after she’s born. Something with a strong beat was recommended so baby could hear it through the white noise of the womb. It seemed pretty low-risk, so every night before bed I would put the headphones on my belly and play this song for my daughter:

 

After she was born, it did work pretty well to calm her when she was crying. So did running the vacuum or the hair dryer, but this way was more pleasant for her dad and me. As a toddler my daughter called it her “crying song,” but the actual title is “Captain Badass” by Songs: Ohia.

Today, my children giggled at the title, of course. When I played the song for them, they weren’t particularly impressed—“Okay. Can we eat lunch now?”—but I loved it as much as I ever had.

“Will you stand up for your one chance? Will you stand up for love?”

Bookends: January 2017

January was a very good month to immerse oneself in fiction. To do this, one needed only turn on the news, but, always one to choose the path that’s less likely to give me palpitations even if it requires a little more effort and better lighting, I opted to immerse myself in novels and short stories.

Towards the end of the month, I participated in the 24 in 48 Readathon. It was my first time with this particular readathon, and it only bolstered my burgeoning love of the “athon” philosophy of reading. Binge-reading generally seems more of an antisocial escape than a social activity, but with the magic of the Internet, it can be both. What a world we live in.

Here’s is the list of titles into which I escaped in January:

Read More

My Planned Parenthood Story

This morning, I drove through the slush to my doctor’s office for my well-woman exam. Since the recommendations changed, I don’t have to have my feet up in stirrups nearly as often as I used to, but I still have enough experience that I know to keep my socks on so my feet don’t freeze.

It’s not exactly nostalgia, but the experience got me thinking about past well-woman exams, and particularly about those during the several years in my twenties when I didn’t have health insurance. I had no health insurance first because of cost and later because of a mistake in my medical record that caused me to be refused for a pre-existing condition I didn’t have (yes, there’s more to that story; no, I will not go into it now).

So, no health insurance. But since I was neither emotionally nor financially ready to start a family, I needed birth control. And that’s where Planned Parenthood helped me out.

I knew that I could go to Planned Parenthood and receive cancer screenings and contraception on a sliding scale that I could afford. Some clinics were busier than others, some clinicians were more compassionate than others, but regardless, the necessary care was there at a price that I could pay. And although my partner (and later spouse) had coverage through the university he attended as a grad student, I was comforted to know that he could seek medical services at Planned Parenthood, too.

But Planned Parenthood helped me beyond contraception and cancer screenings. It was a doctor at my favorite clinic in North Carolina who discovered my thyroid condition. While Planned Parenthood is known for family planning services and cancer screening, many clinics also provide general health services, and I was lucky that mine was one of those. Without access to affordable care at Planned Parenthood, I could have gone for years without learning about this condition, and I might have suffered other health problems as a result of leaving it untreated.

That clinic in particular was an especially comforting place. The staff there were responsive and caring, and they were especially skilled at working with patients who had experienced sexual abuse or assault. In my experience, this is not the norm within the medical community. Even once I had medical insurance, I continued seeking care there until we moved out of the area.

This morning, a little more than two weeks after a rally in Boston in support of the Affordable Care Act, as I handed my insurance card to the woman at the front desk at my doctor’s office, I realized that I had been without insurance at a very fortunate time. Without medical insurance, I could not have afforded to go to just any medical clinic, but Planned Parenthood was there to provide me with care that I could afford. If the ACA is repealed, millions of people—at least 18 million in the first year, according to the Congressional Budget Office—will lose their health insurance. When I was uninsured, I had Planned Parenthood, but with Planned Parenthood being threatened as well as the ACA, that might not be the case this time.

If Planned Parenthood hadn’t been there in my twenties, I wouldn’t have had contraception, I wouldn’t have had cancer screenings, and I wouldn’t have had my thyroid condition diagnosed.

What will the millions of people who rely on Planned Parenthood clinics for preventive and sexual health care do if neither medical insurance nor Planned Parenthood is there for them?

Here are some things you—and I—can do so that maybe we won’t have to find out.

January 2017 24 in 48 Wrap-Up Post

Well, the 2017 24 in 48 Readathon, January edition, has come and gone.

I’ll use the official 24in48 closing survey as a guide for my wrap-up:

How many books did you read? Pages?

I finished two books, The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike (325 pages) and Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (436 pages). I also read about ten pages of Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew, so my page total is about 771. And I listened to a little less than an hour of As You Wish by Cary Elwes while I took a constitutional, but I’m not going to attempt to convert that to pages read.

How many hours did you read?

I didn’t keep close track, but I estimate about twelve hours total, maybe fourteen. Some stuff came up that kind of derailed my reading plans (real life is always trying to push into my reading time), so I didn’t spend as may hours reading as I would have preferred.

What do you think worked well in this readathon?

I like the surveys, and I like the 24-in-48 format. I liked reading about the challenges, although I didn’t keep up with them myself.

What do you think could be done to improve the readathon for next time?

Couldn’t say. I didn’t follow the challenges or the social media presence all that well, but I think that’s my thing, not something anyone else needs to improve.

Will you participate in a future 24in48 readathon?

Absolutely. Anything to give me an excuse to bury myself in books for a weekend.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters is the second and last book I finished for this year’s 24 in 48 readathon, matching my “finished” total for Dewey’s Readathon this past October. I cheated a little and read for two hours past the official end of the readathon, but I’m counting it anyway.


img_20170121_103100.jpg

From when I started the book at breakfast-time on Saturday.

This was the second book in a row that I finished reading at 2am, sitting on the floor of the bathroom with the door shut so my late-night reading wouldn’t disturb my spouse, who is much better about observing a healthy, consistent bedtime than I am. He’s also much taller than me.

I’d read very little in the way of crime dramas/murder mysteries until a few months ago when I began feverishly making my way through Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I can’t say with certainty that the commonalities I see between this book and French’s books is also something in common with the genre in general, so I’ll just keep to what I know. Beukes does all of the things that I love about French’s writing, and she does them even more. Like French’s characters, Beukes’s characters are distinct personalities, but they’re even more clearly—yet still subtly—drawn. Both authors weave their characters’ personal lives and a broader cultural commentary into the murder investigation at the core of the novel, but Beukes does it in a manner even more seamless and emotionally authentic. Reading this novel, I was constantly blown away by the virtuosity and subtlety with which Beukes writes.

The biggest difference between French’s novels and Broken Monsters is that Beukes puts no brakes on the bizarre. But while the novel gets really, really weird, Beukes still takes the reader along with her. I happily read bizarre fiction, but there’s usually a self-consciousness about it, a constant awareness that I’m reading something bizarre. But with this novel, the weird just kind of snuck up on me so that, by the time I was really aware of just how weird it was, I was already in it.

I think what made the difference for me was the emotional authenticity that Beukes retains throughout all of the really off-the-wall stuff. There’s a scene towards the end of the novel in which Gabi says something to Layla that makes total sense but I completely didn’t expect. I hesitate to use the word poignant because that implies a level of sap that this scene does not possess, so I’ll just say that the exchange reveals the depths of the love between mother and daughter in a way that’s so surprising in its emotional truth that I cried just a little. Granted, it was almost 2am and I’d been sitting on the tile floor of my bathroom reading for nearly four hours, so perhaps I was in a more vulnerable emotional condition than if I’d been curled up comfortably on the couch and reading well-rested, but while I might not have teared up, I think I would have been surprised and the scene would have retained its emotional truth in either situation.

Two quotes stood out for me. The first, which I’ve truncated significantly because I don’t want to give too much away, stands out because it feels true to how our culture responds to attention-seekers at all levels, especially in this Internet-fueled, post-truth age:

“Just keep giving him attention. Even if it makes you an accomplice to his [expletive]ed-up fantasies.” (405)

And the second just made me smile because I’ve thought it so many times myself (minus the comma splice, of course):

“Hell isn’t other people, it’s other parents.” (316)

To any of my mom-friends who are reading this, I don’t mean you.

The Graveyard Apartment

This is the first book I finished for the 2017 24 in 48 Readathon! I cheated a little and started six hours early, but hey…I finished the book! I’ll post book reviews here on the blog, but if you want the play-by-play, take a look at @imperfecthappiness on Instagram.


img_20170121_091957.jpgOverall, this book was pretty good. It wasn’t super-spooky, but I sat up late to read the whole thing in one sitting (with a break to put the kids to bed) because it was easy to read and because I found the deeper issues in the novel compelling.

There were no huge surprises, horror-wise—an apartment next to a graveyard, misbehaving electronics, weird noises, spooky happenings, a trip to check out city records about the history of the site. There were some things that were unclear or just dropped without further explanation, like the bird and the dark little figures. Some of the language was cliched or otherwise uninteresting, but I have a higher tolerance for this sort of thing in a translation. I found myself wanting to ask my friends who speak/read Japanese to read this and tell me if the word choice was any more skillful in the original Japanese.

One of the biggest things that gave me trouble was that the motivation of the antagonist(s) was unclear. Did they want to drive out the tenants (if so, why make it difficult to leave)? Did they want to kill the tenants (if so, why drag it out)? Are they targeting the one family specifically (if so, why all the collateral damage)? As another reviewer mentions, are they the spirits of dead people or are they malevolent spirits of some other, mythological type? Are they limited in power, as the beginning of the book suggests, or are they omnipotent, as they seem to be by the end (although they apparently still need the elevator)? It seems like the author can’t decide.

Two things kept me interested in this novel. First, the author did an excellent job of maintaining suspense. The action took almost too long for me, but not quite. That’s good suspense.

Second, there’s this intersection of the personal haunted past of the main family in the story and the haunting of the building. Read More