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“That is part of the beauty of all literature.  You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

I am what you would call a bibliophile.  I love books– I mean, I really, really love them. (My husband can attest to this as the number of book boxes he has had to pack and move increases each time at what he feels is an alarming rate).  And I’ve loved them as long as I can remember.  I recognize now that I owe my parents a great deal of gratitude for introducing me to books at an early age and for encouraging me to read when I was younger.  I remember my dad reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to my brother and I when we were little, along with selections from Edgar Allen Poe including “The Raven,” in which he would croak the word “nevermore” in his best impression of what a creepy talking raven would sound like.  I remember devouring the Nancy Drew mysteries, wondering how I could lead such an adventurous and exciting life.  I also remember when my third grade teacher read us Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and I would listen in amazement, think about the characters for the rest of the day and night, and anxiously await the next chapter.  My mother would take my brother and I to the library and we would cram all the books we could in the bag she brought to take home.  I still have that kid in a candy shop feeling when I walk into a library.  Rows and rows of books on any subject you could imagine and thousands of different stories just waiting for you to lose yourself in them – I want to stay for hours.  (I thought I should be a librarian for awhile until I realized that the job description did not include sitting in the library and reading the books).  I miss having the time that I had when I was a kid, and even when I was in college, to read a book for hours.  Still, I do try to read at every opportunity and usually can’t wait until I can climb into my bed and pick up that book on the nightstand.

My husband doesn’t know it yet, but this is the design for our den…

Every summer there are various “Summer Reading lists” put forth by everyone from Barnes and Noble to the New York Times Book Review.  Since we are almost midway through August, I thought I would share my own summer reading recommendations.  (As a side note, I feel a duty to mention that yes, I did read Shades of Grey because the trilogy was numbers one, two and three on the NYT Bestseller list and I was curious.  No, I did not read the sequels as the first was so poorly written –and I mean grammatical errors galore not to mention just bad prose–and the plot so flimsy that I found myself wondering just how exactly the author was going to fill up two more books.  Oh right, more completely ridiculous sex scenes. But she is laughing all the way to the bank so what does she care and how can I blame her!)

What follows are some of the best books I have read in the past year or two.  They have terrific story lines, amazing characters, and give a GREAT summer escape.

1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

This book was originally published in 1991, and I had never heard of it until my mother-in-law, a fellow bibliophile, gave it to me for Christmas.  It was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.  I feel like I should warn you that actually, this is the first book in a series.  Book eight is scheduled for publication sometime in 2013.  And once you start reading Outlander, you will have to read the rest of the series.  The books tell the story of Claire Randall, a nurse during WWII who travels to Scotland with her husband after the war is over.  After stumbling upon some ancient stone ruins,  she finds herself transported back to Scotland in  1743.  There she meets James Fraser, a Scottish Highland warrior (who you will absolutely fall in love with) and you will have to read the book and the rest of the series because I am not spoiling it with any more description.  Diana Gabaldon is a former professor and she researches her books so well that the level of detail in this historical fiction is fascinating.  She also has a great sense of humor that comes across in her writing.  Definitely some of the best character development I have ever seen, I envy her talent.  You will forget these people aren’t real.

 

Dark brown book cover saying "The HISTORIAN"; then "A Novel" in a shiny gold stripe, then "ELIZABETH KOSTOVA". A few thin reddish streaks stretch from the top almost to the bottom.

2. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

Again, my mother-in-law gave me this book and when I started to read it, I had no idea it was about vampires.  And no, it is nothing like Twilight. There aren’t any vampires falling in love, driving fancy sports cars  or sucking peoples blood.  This author has obviously painstakingly researched this book and it reads like a really creepy history book about eastern Europe.  I could not put it down.  It opens with a young woman who finds a stack of letters in her father’s library addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor…”  She begins to track down secrets of her father’s past which lead to some very dark places.  The book is actually like one of those scary movies where nothing outwardly scary is happening, but you are holding your breath and have adrenaline surging in your veins and can’t point to exactly why.  Let’s just say I did want to sleep with my light on a few times.

 


3. A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

Okay, so this one also has a vampire in it, and a witch, and daemons… but before you think I am a nut, this book was very surprisingly good!  Again, nothing at all like the Twilight, etc. phenomenon.  The author is a history professor.  On her website, she says she thought one day, “if there really are vampires, what do they do for a living?”  This is the story of Diana Bishop, a PhD student who is a witch but does not actually want to be one and has spent her entire life fighting her identity.  One day, when she is researching in an Oxford library, she finds a book which causes all sorts of attention to come to her from the world of creatures (i.e. witches, vampires, daemons, etc.)  This includes attention from Matthew Clairmont, a 1500-year-old vampire who is a geneticist and DNA researcher.  I love the storyline of this book and I love how the author weaves all of these mythical and magical elements into society in a way that seems so real.  The book is the first in a trilogy and I just finished reading the second book, Shadow of Night.  That book also reads like a history of Elizabethan England (another subject that fascinates me) and I couldn’t put it down.

The Book Thief,9780375842207

4. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

This is an amazingly creative story about a young girl during World War II in Nazi Germany related to the reader by the narrator, Death.  This is a young adult book, but is one of those books that is so powerful, I think every adult should read it.  As you can imagine from the description, it is sad subject material, but the writing is beautiful and the story and characters extremely moving.  I recommended this to my book club and everyone loved it. (Caution: You will need a box of Kleenex).

5. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.

This book is all about the politics, lies, sex, and intrigue of King Henry the VIII’s court told from the vantage point of Thomas Cromwell.  Such a great book and and interesting take on historical fiction.  I liked the portrayal of Cromwell as a sympathetic figure– it comes across as almost a “rags-to-riches” story of his survival and eventual appointment as one of King Henry’s advisers.  Again a fantastically researched historical fiction book.  This book ends with the execution of Thomas More and the sequel entitled Bring up the Bodies was just released, which details the rise and ultimate fall of Anne Boleyn.

 

 
ENJOY!  I am about to start Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.  I hope it’s as good as it sounds!

Baby Brain

I once thought that lists as blog entries were a somewhat lazy substitute for organizing one’s thoughts.  I changed my mind a bit, however, because a list seemed the only appropriate way to distill into a halfway cogent structure the muddle that has been my brain recently.  I was thinking about what the subject of my next blog post would be, and feeling guilty again that so much time had passed since the last entry.  Every topic that came to mind of course was baby-related. This was frustrating to me because I had promised myself prior to giving birth that I would not be completely defined by my children, that it was essential to have a life and interests outside of them.  I confess, I also smugly thought that I would not become one of “those people,” you know, the ones who talk about nothing but their kids all the time.  Let me just say up front that the birth of my boys completely eradicated many of my smug thoughts about “those people.”  The following is a list of random anecdotes about my current life with twins so far that have been bouncing around in my brain like a pin-ball machine whenever I sit down to try to write.  I think I need to cut myself a break.  Having two three-and-a-half month old babies pretty much ensures that the only thing on my mind is BABIES (and occasionally the dog who lays on the couch all day and makes me feel guilty for neglecting her…oh, and my husband, sometimes).  So I figured I would get over my reticence to write about nothing but my kids and get it all out in one post.

  1. Poop.

Yes, poop.  I specifically recall a good friend of mine telling me that when you have kids, you will be obsessed with it.  When do they poop, how do they act when they poop, what does the poop look like, smell like, etc.  You get the picture.  I of course knew I would never be so banal as to let a bodily function invade my everyday discussions.  Ha.  For the first two months of my boys’ lives, based on a chart I kept, I could tell you the exact date and time of day each of them pooped.  A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had a couple over for dinner.  The amount of time that passed before poop was discussed: 20 minutes.  (This couple also has a five month old).  I called my husband at work the other day.  I used to call my husband at work to plan a lunch outing at a new restaurant in town, to ask a question about some element of criminal law, or to ask a question about how best to pursue a certain legal matter.  The other day I called my husband to inform him that our son had pooped (our son had issues with this for several days in case you were curious).  The sad thing is, my husband actually paused a conversation he was having with someone in his office to discuss it.  I really hope this person has kids.

“You’re the Mom and you’re in charge? Yeah ok, we’ll let you think that…for now.”

  1. Things overheard at an Austin Mothers of Multiples Meeting.

I went to my first AMOM meeting in June.  I don’t want to be overly dramatic and describe it as life-changing, but I will.  It was life-changing.  After the general meet-and-greet,  we split into groups based on the age of each person’s children.  I made my way to the newborns/infants group.  A group of approximately twelve of us sat around in a circle and looked at each other.  One new mom who had six-week old twin girls broke the silence by confessing, “I’m here for someone to tell me that it gets better.”  The group released a collective sigh and what followed was what I can only describe as a group therapy discussion.  It was truly what I needed that night as I had completed my first couple of weeks alone with the boys after all the mom-saints left to go back to their own lives.  My favorite quotes from the evening’s discussion: “You have to just look at them and tell them, ‘I’m the mom!’ or they’ll gang up on you,” “My husband needs friends and I want him out of the house, does anyone else’s husband need friends?” and “Does anyone else curse at their babies? I mean, in a singsong voice and everything, but still….”

  1. The Sliding Scale of Cleanliness.

The same friend that coined “down the baby rabbit hole” (described in my prior post) introduced me to this phenomenon.  It describes how one’s standards of cleanliness and what constitutes good hygiene are once again magically altered by the birth of children.  Before children the standard was this: “Gross! There is a stain or some substance on my shirt, I’d better change it.”  After children:  “Hmmm, there seems to be a pee stain next to the spit-up stain on my shirt… well, as long as it’s not poop!”  A second scenario: Upon pulling back the covers to your bed, you discover that the baby you laid there momentarily earlier in the day while you threw on some clothes did in fact spit up in copious amounts.  According to the sliding scale of cleanliness, your desire to change the sheets is weighed against the exhaustion you feel and the knowledge that you will be up again in a few short hours.  Thus, you crawl into bed, lay directly on the spit up because, well, at least it’s not wet, and fall blissfully asleep.

“First step in the master plan: disarm her with complete cuteness!”

4.  Twin Celebrity

When  you have multiples, it is difficult to exist under the radar.  This has required some getting used to on my part because I am in my comfort zone under the radar and twins bring attention.  Constant attention.  Even with the incidence of multiples on the rise, having twins is still a novelty and people love to  inspect the phenomenon.  Sometimes this is not a bad thing.  Yesterday, a woman at the grocery store let me cut  in front of her in line even when she had already unloaded her cart.  She turned around and looked at me and the boys and demanded that I go ahead.  I was extremely grateful, although in my head I wondered just how harried I looked!  When I take the boys on the daily morning walk in the neighborhood, everyone that we pass turns to stare and those who are a bit bolder stop to peer into the stroller.  A couple of weeks ago at Sam’s Club, I received a hug from a complete stranger in the parking lot and assurances from two other strangers inside that I was blessed and that they would be praying/thinking of me.  Young children usually point and say loudly, “look- two babies!”  Yesterday at Babies ‘R Us as I was unloading the babies into the car and wrestling my behemoth stroller into the trunk, an older woman told me that I was a brave mom to leave the house.  I told her it was not so much an act of courage as it was an act of desperation! There is certainly no quicker path to the end of sanity than being confined to your house with two babies whose master plan is obviously to join forces and conquer mom.  In fact, the first advice I received from a fellow mother of multiples was “you can’t show fear.”

And now I have to end this brief snapshot of my life.  From the sound of it, it appears the boys are mounting an offensive against my husband in the living room, and I’m pretty sure they’ve detected fear.  Mom to the rescue! (or hopefully, naptime).

 

 

Image

Aidan

Yesterday was my twin boys’ two-month birthday.  I feel (depending on the moment and my mood) like these past two months have passed by in a whirlwind or alternatively that I am emerging from a black hole of time. Nothing any friend or stranger could ever tell you can prepare you for that great leap into parenthood, and more exactly, into motherhood.  I find that the words so many offered – “it will change your life,” or “your life will never be the same again” – always delivered with a knowing (and sometimes smug) smile, fail to completely encapsulate the situation.  A more apt description came from a friend of mine who had her baby four months before me.  When I called to check in on her a week or so after the birth she said, “I’ve gone down the baby rabbit hole.”

The first months have certainly had the Alice in Wonderlandish vibe that my friend felt.  From the time I drove to the hospital in the dark on the morning of March 26th to have my babies, my life has been a series of strange, scary and wonderful events that I previously would not have believed possible.  Even as I sit here to write this post, I can’t come up with the proper words to describe the experience.  Suffice to say, I personally believe that having twins is excuse enough to have neglected this blog for as long as I have.  Although I really started the neglect during my whopper of a pregnancy (which, by the way,  also deserved an Alice in Wonderland theme- perhaps more on that in another post when I am far enough removed to find the humor…).  Another wise friend counseled me one day as I beat myself up for failing to follow through on my blogging.  She said that all of my creative energy was being directed to the ultimate act of creation that was taking place inside my belly.  I think that is brilliant.  (A bit of unsolicited advice here: always have friends that are more brilliant than you think you are).

Image

Cameron

All in all, these awesome little beings are sleeping more, I am starting to get the hang of this mommy thing, and as a result, I am getting parts of my life back, little bit by little bit. One of those parts is, I hope, the ability to regularly post on my blog.  Their father and I are extremely proud of the night-time routine we think we have established. (And yes, I know that by writing this down, I am jinxing the delicate situation, but here I go…).  Baths, bottles, and in bed by nine to nine-thirty.  The munchkins then have the uncanny ability to wake up at the exact same second I swear, and so at around one a.m., one of us will prop them up on their boppy pillows on the floor and feed them at the same time.  The next person repeats at around four or five a.m.  At six-thirty or seven a.m., the sun is rising and so are they, at which point my husband and I give up on sleep and everyone piles in the bed.  This includes several boppy pillows, pacifiers, bottles, burp cloths, a dog, and two very strong cups of coffee.  And when I looked at my little family in my bed this morning, going down that rabbit hole was so completely worth it.

                         “The Road Not Taken”

                        – Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,  
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;         
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,         
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.         
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.         

                   I came across this poem on a blog I regularly read and was again completely impressed by the universe’s power to send a message at exactly the right point in time.  Not that this poem is a new message for me — I have read and re-read this poem countless times since being introduced to it in grade school — but very often I need to be beat over the head with an idea repeatedly before an “oooohhhhh” moment kicks in. 

                   I think this poem is regularly abused.  I like to picture Robert Frost groaning with his head in his hands when people use his poem and message to justify making some irresponsible decision or to avoid doing something unpleasant or burdensome.  Not that I am completely innocent of mangling this poem’s message at convenient points in my life (I mean really, isn’t it a less traveled road to study for the Bar exam by the pool with the assistance of a margarita?)  But right now, I am struggling with an important decision, one that will affect not only my life, but the lives of those around me and two lives that are still waiting to begin.  Perhaps I am dramatizing the momentousness of this decision, but this is what it feels like sitting on my shoulders at this moment. 

                  So while I hesitate to sound cliché by invoking Frost’s wisdom, I really do find myself struggling with the idea of the “road less traveled.”  After all, if you read the poem closely, it’s not like there was a signpost that indicated the “less traveled” road.  In fact, he says that the road was “just as fair” as the other and that they were worn “really about the same.”  So for all my waxing poetic about taking that less travelled road so that my life will be fantastic, how the hell do you know which is the road less travelled?

                   But wait — Frost doesn’t say that taking the less travelled road will make your life fantastic in every way.  All he says is that taking that less travelled road has made all the difference in the life that he chose to lead.  Either path I choose at this cross-roads has good and bad that comes with it;  both are “just as fair” in many ways.  What I think Frost was saying is that you have to choose  a path with your heart, and not by contemplating how others will perceive you or how you will nicely fit into the social structure.  You also cannot choose this path by attempting to predict what lies around the bend because this will always fail.  I am a huge believer in intuition.  If you are very honest with yourself and genuinely listen to what your innermost voice is whispering to you,  you will choose the road less travelled because it is your path and yours alone.

Fourteen Weeks

Twins!
 
                      I feel somewhat guilty.  I have been neglecting my blog.  And for almost seven weeks!  But this time, I feel like I have a pretty good excuse — being very pregnant with twins!  After a long period of waiting, hoping, ups and downs, crossed-fingers, prayers and tears, my husband and I have been extraordinarily blessed with the two tiny lives that are now growing inside me.  Words cannot begin to express what we felt when we saw the first grainy images of not one, but two little black and white blobs shimmer and then come into focus on that ultrasound screen.  I didn’t know it was possible to feel that surge of love and protection for two beings that only recently came into existence and whom I have never even met.  I walked, no floated, out of the doctor’s office on cloud nine, or quite possibly cloud ten or eleven.  I spent the drive back to work dreamily contemplating the rest of my pregnancy.  I am pretty sure that day-dream involved me looking pleasingly rotund,  postively glowing with the aura of pregnancy, walking through a sun-shiney meadow of some sort in a mother-earthy dress and bare feet.  There might even have been some Disney-esque cartoon birds landing on my fingers and singing the joys of pregnancy.
 
                      Fast- forward four weeks — when instead of being rotund and glowing in a meadow, I am instead perched precariously over the toilet, dry-heaving and convinced that Walgreens has certainly given me sweet-tarts in place of the anti-nausea pills I pop religiously.  Friends have assured me that this passes after the first trimester, that at thirteen weeks a magical switch is flipped and I will no longer want to do nothing but sleep until I am forced to get up to pee or barf.  All I can say is that I am now two days away from my fourteenth week and my damn switch must be broken.    
 
                      Please don’t get me wrong.  I am still so happy every day when I think about the two little ones inside me, and I get misty eyed any time I see a father playing with his kids and add Dad to the list of wonderful things that my husband is.  But right now, I just want someone to fix my switch. 

“After a Long Insomniac Night”

– Edward Hirsch

I walked down to the sea in the early morning

after a long insomniac night.

I climbed over the giant gull-colored rocks

and moved past the trees,

tall dancers stretching their limbs

and warming up in the blue light.

I entered the salty water, a penitent

whose body was stained,

and swam toward a red star rising

in the east — regal, purple-robed.

One shore disappeared behind me

and another beckoned.

I confess

that I forgot the person I had been

as easily as the clouds drifting overhead.

My hands parted the water.

The wind pressed at my back, wings

and my soul floated over the whitecapped waves.

In Bloom

“And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk to bloom.”

– Anaïs Nin

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