Monthly Archives: December 2008

End of year wrap-up


It’s been a busy year. I wrote the third draft of my book (in present tense), did a ton of things with Shea (see previous post), read 17 books (seven short of my goal), wrote a few reviews for the SF Chronicle, tutored some, lost 52 lbs (including the baby), did a couple public readings, won the Field Report travel writing prize, and voted for Clinton and then Obama. I didn’t completely finish my book, now my goal for the end of February, or send it out to agents, also my goal for the end of February. I did make a lot of progress on it, though, and spent a tremendous amount of time doing family stuff, from keeping the house clean and organized to doing outings with Shea. I feel like I said most of what I wanted to say about this past year in my post about Shea’s birthday, so I’ll keep this one short. Overall, it was a great year with a lot of fun game nights and weekends at Sweet Dreams and holidays celebrations, and I’m looking forward to a repeat in 2009. My reading list for the year (and this time I’m not including the baby books I read like “Baby Wise,” and “The Fourth Trimester,” is below with my favorites starred. I wish I had time to read more!

1. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz*
3. Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
4. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
5. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
6. King of Shadows by Aaron Shurin
7. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (2nd read)*
8. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
9. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
10. The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti *
11. Animal Crackers by Hannah Tinti*
12. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah*
13. The American by Henry James
14. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri*
15. The Nakesake by Jhumpa Lahiri*
16. The Slippery Year by Melanie Gideon* (will be out in Sept. 2009)
17. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


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Shea’s first birthday


I’d better write about this before it’s 2009. There are so many blog posts that I start and put in my Draft folder and then never get around to finishing.

Some women in my moms group said their baby’s turning one was an emotional experience for them—one that brought back exciting and painful memories of the birth and anxiety that their son/daughter was now no longer a baby. I didn’t have this reaction. What WAS hard for me was giving up breast feeding, which I did a couple of weeks before Shea’s first birthday. I wanted to nurse him until he was at least one (preferably 15 months or longer), but I wasn’t disciplined enough about pumping (it’s hard to keep that up for an entire year) and had run out of milk by 11 1/2 months. I fought it for a couple of weeks, taking Mother’s Milk Plus drops and pumping more often, but I’d get just an ounce or two and Shea drinks eight, so it seemed pointless. About a week before he turned one, I stopped completely, and once I was resigned to that, I was fine with it. He’s moved on to sippy cups now anyway.

The birthday party itself was a lot of fun. We had it the day after his birthday and had about 55 guests—11 of whom were kids and babies—which is more than we ever have at our wine tasting party (good thing, or we’d have a lot of drunk kids). We had two beautiful cakes courtesy of Shea’s grandma and tons of food and balloons. I debated about whether to have Shea open his presents while everyone was here, but it was too hectic, so we let him open some that night and the rest over the next couple of days before we left for Christmas in Michigan. We now desperately need a toy chest because our living room looks like a toy store.

Most people didn’t see this, but we did sit Shea down on the rug and surround him with items of various professions for his first birthday. I put this together last minute, and couldn’t think clearly about what items to lay down, so I put: a thermometer (medical profession), a toothbrush (dentist), a comb (hey, this is the Bay Area), a pen (writer/academic), a calculator (accounting/business), a spatula (chef) and Martin’s iPhone to represent a computer scientist. Shea went straight for the toothbrush, which was predictable because he LOVES his toothbrush and because it’s bright green. Next time I’ll put a bright green pen and add some money to the mix.

We were very happy to have our good friends—Martin’s family, Ani and Aditi, Claire and John, Julia and Tim, Jon and Helen, Glen and Kari, Betsy and Steve, Amy, Whitney, Molly, Elizabeth, etc. and many we haven’t seen in a while—Joachim and his family, Erika and hers, Neal and Val, Kit, etc. etc.

Shea still isn’t walking, although he did take seven steps again in the hotel bathroom near Universal Studios. He’s very close, but seems too content with crawling to give it much effort. I’m in no hurry. They say it’s that much harder to keep up with them once they’re walking, and Shea is already into EVERYTHING.

Everyone says the time passes so quickly, and I guess it does, but I also feel like we made the best of Shea’s first year. Some things Shea got to do/see:

The European bookstore in SF
Little Farm several times
Steam Trains several times
Our local park 2-3 times/week
Tilden and other parks
Many walks through the cemetery
Many trips to the Russian River
Two trips to Michigan to see my family
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Universal Studios
Oakland Zoo
Detroit Zoo
Henry Ford Museum in Detroit
Weekly swimming classes
Weekly Music Together classes
Trips to Grandma’s and Aunt Kasia’s
Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek
Fireworks show in Michigan
Camping trip with moms group
Dickens Christmas Fair
Piedmont Avenue Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Patch

As far as his development, he’s learned to play ball, stack wooden rings on a stick, put things in boxes and take them back out, walk a few steps, cruise all over the house with and without his walker, say, “mama,” “dada,” “Ba bye,” “Ba” (ball), “Uh oh,” “nan” (banana), sign “more” and “milk,” clap his hands and point at things he wants. He loves to play peek-a-boo and run away when you chase him. He loves cats and dogs and music and jumping and playing in the sand and sticking small objects through the cat door. Recently he’s begun imitating more—copying gestures and sounds as you do them. In Michigan I learned, “How big’s the baby? Sooo big” (Did that come from Pat the Bunny?) and it’s hilarious to watch him imitate me, holding his hands in the air and saying, “Daaaa da” with the same intonation.

People say once you have a kid you stop buying things for yourself and only buy for them. That’s been largely true. I do go to H&M now and then and buy clothes, but for the most part, it’s all about Shea. I’ve also noticed that selflessness breeds selflessness. I find that I spend SO much time taking care of Shea that it feels more natural to spend time cooking and doing things for others than it did before—it’s like I have this fountain of energy and good will—and yet it’s not boundless. I do get exhausted and retreat to my bed to sleep or read, sometimes in the middle of the day.

More often, though, I’m in this state of go-go-go where, when I do have a break, I just keep going—cleaning the basement, sorting out files, running errands, cooking meals for Shea, etc. I feel depressed far less often than I did before I was pregnant and I feel in need of exercise (to fight depression) less often, too, which has resulted in my climbing three times in the past year and a half (and yet I did start running in November). I miss climbing sometimes, but not enough to sacrifice other things for it—my reading, my writing or spending time with Shea. He’s SO much fun to play with, more fun every day, and I’m looking forward to year two as he transitions into toddler hood.

It’s hard to believe that a year ago I was afraid to take him in the car alone, afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the stroller open or the car seat out of the car or be able to nurse him or change his diaper in public. Those first few months were like a crash course in parenthood, but eventually we settled in and started enjoying the ride.

Birthday pix are here

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My Family


Last night my brother, who reads this blog, remarked that I never blog about my family. The truth is I don’t blog about much besides my writing and my one-year-old son Shea. I don’t blog about my friends or my mom’s group or my husband, the reason being that I didn’t think most people WANTED to be blogged about, but maybe I’m wrong. So, for starters, my family:

My dad is 83. He lives alone in Michigan. He can’t walk well, but he has the spirit of a 45-year-old. Example: About five minutes after nine inches of snow landed on the ground, he decided he needed to get a haircut. He won’t let anyone else drive him anywhere, so he called his barber to make sure he was there (because NO one was leaving their houses until the streets were plowed), and then hopped in his car—me at his side—and backed out of the driveway. Our neighborhood hadn’t yet been plowed, so we had to drive in other people’s tracks. We get to the exit of the neighborhood and there are four cars stuck—one abandoned on the side of the road and three spinning their wheels, backing up, spinning their wheels again, trying to make it out to the main road. My dad’s response? “These people don’t know how to drive in snow!” and out he goes around all of them out to the main road, where he whisks past all the cars being shoveled and towed out at various other neighborhood entrances, to his barber to get his hair cut.

(Later that day, after the plow circled our neighborhood three times, my niece Maureen and I shoveled the walk and the bottom of the driveway, where the plow had dumped all its snow. It felt good to shovel snow, something I hadn’t done in at least 20 years.)

Sister One—a nurse, twenty years my senior, has six kids, including one who is 33 and getting married in February. She lives in Michigan and has empty-nest syndrome, so she just learned to use e-mail and the Internet and is now forwarding e-mails the rest of us read six or seven years ago (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration) 🙂

Sister Two—a high school counselor, a middle child who gets tired of being so goddamned nice to everyone all the time (like middle children do), extremely generous, hates blogs and Facebook because she thinks they’re a narcissistic waste of time. Lives in Michigan and has three kids.

Brother One—for anyone who came to our wedding, he’s the one who gave the speech about only meeting me once or twice in my lifetime (a gross exaggeration, but not wholly untrue). President of a fly-fishing company. Lives in upstate New York with his wife and two kids.

Brother Two—The tall green boy in my fisher price house. Lives in Michigan, has five kids, likes astronomy and board games and fondu. Not sure if he reads my blog.

Brother Three—otherwise known as PFW—the one who asked why I don’t blog about my family and why my only mention of him has been that I loved the pumpkin roll he made me three years ago (I think it was a Bûche de Noël, but not sure). Often e-mails me blog comments (rather than writing them in the comments window), all in caps. Things like: TELL THOSE DOPES TO GET THE F*** OUT OF THE TREES and OK ALL YOU OBAMA SUPPORTERS, I HOPE YOU PLAN ON COVERING MY TAX INCREASE. Lives in Michigan. Has one son, two cats, two birds, a cockatoo (I guess he doesn’t count as a bird) and a couple of fish.

Brother Four—otherwise known as RJ Squirrel. The most conservative in my family of Catholic Republicans. Despite having worked in both the Senate and the Pentagon, knows the name of every actor in every TV show and movie every filmed. Got Martin and I hooked on: Lost, The Office, Extras, Dexter, The Wire and Heroes. While I talk about “Omar and Stringer and Marlo,” he talks about Michael Williams and Idris Elba and Jamie Hector. Lives in DC, where he is a stay-at-home dad with two kids.

Brother Five—otherwise known as “CG.” Also a stay-at-home dad and carpenter/contractor who secretly wants to write but doesn’t know what to write about (Hello! “Memoirs of a Mr. Mom” is a perfect book topic!) Is the person from whom I inherited all my bad puns, like “Don’t take that (granite counter) for granite” and “Those trees are real pop’lar around here.”

I won’t go into my nieces and nephews—there are 21 of them ranging in age from 6 to 33—but now that I’ve given summaries of the rest of my family, you’ll know who I’m referring to when I blog about “PFW” or “Sister Two” if they don’t sue me for libel after this post.

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Christmas in Michigan


So we’re here in snowy, cold Michigan for the week, where most of my family lives. It’s been three years since we spent Christmas here because last year Shea was just two weeks old, and the year before we had just come in September for the wedding of my niece, who got married a month and a half after we did. I like coming here for Christmas because it’s a big weeklong affair, whereas Christmas at Martin’s family’s house is celebrated European style on Christmas Eve, which means it’s over by 10 p.m. on the 24th and I get depressed because we’re ordering Thai food on Christmas Day when we should be eating a turkey or ham with green beans, potatoes and yams.

This trip has been especially fun because we got dumped with nine inches of snow our first night here (I saw it begin at 5 a.m. because I had insomnia like I do tonight) and then got another couple of inches the day after that. We went to K-Mart and bought Shea a baby sled and a pair of snow boots and bundled him up in my nephew’s twenty-year-old snowsuit and dragged him around the yard. He HATED it, but I still plan to take him to the sledding hill at the farm down the street to teach him the joy of combining speed with snow.

So far since we’ve been here I’ve made five batches of English toffee, cooked dinner for my dad a couple of times (breaded chicken with cilantro vinagrette one night and filet mignon with a tomato mushroom sauce the other night) and recovered and washed my four Fisher Price houses and all their accoutrements (the house, the barn, the A-frame and the Sesame Street building.) I lay them on the living room floor and furnished all the rooms, then sat two people in a couch and said to Martin, “This is Sean and this is Jerry” because to me the tall green boy and the short orange boy looked exactly like my two brothers. I could have lain there on the cranberry carpet for an hour sending the boys in a car for a picnic at the A-frame house, where the BBQ and picnic table were all set-up, but I got worried about that the A-frame boy’s broken hat and the bits of paper peeling off the walls of all the houses from sitting in our hot, dry attic for the past 35 years would be choking hazards for Shea, so I got up and organized all the pieces instead.

I’ve been to see several high school friends and their kids (attached is a photo of Shea with my friend Karyn’s twins), read half of a novel, eaten a ton of cookies, candy and caramel corn, and stayed up late catching up with my sisters. Usually my trips home feel rushed and I get a bit overwhelmed by all the people to see and things to do—even if we’re here for 10 days—but this trip we’ve taken it very easy. I haven’t been to the mall yet (although I do plan to go tomorrow), I don’t plan to do much Christmas shopping (we drew names, and we already bought those gifts in SF), and I didn’t bring any goals or work to do with me. I also didn’t bring my running shoes, climbing shoes or yoga mat and figured I’d just get back to exercising when I return. I didn’t send Christmas cards either, which makes me both sad and happy. Sad because I like getting cards, and like sending them. Happy because it’s so much time, money and stress to get them all out. I like this life—cooking, eating, reading and spending time with family and friends. I can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays—except maybe adding skiing and some board games to the mix.

P.S. I haven’t blogged about Shea’s first birthday yet, but I haven’t forgotten either.


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It’s going to be a white Christmas


We’ve had 11 inches of snow since we arrived in Michigan on December 18th. Tonight the temp is 3 degrees and feels like -18 according to the weather report. Here’s a picture of our front yard after the first (nine inch) snow fall. That’s my shadow on the left side of the lawn.

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Shea is no longer walking


Shea quit walking. Just gave it up. He’s a full-time crawler once again.

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FieldReport, after announcing it was extending its deadline for its last qualifying contest for the big $250,000 prize (which was art to my eyes because I hadn’t yet written the essays I wanted to submit), yesterday posted this announcement.

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