Saturday, December 29, 2012

Books I Read This Year (2012)

Twenty-nine altogether, which is not bad for me. Instead of making a complete list as in years past, I'd like to highlight those that stood out for one reason or another. Let me state up front that my memory is faulty, and I don't have the luxury of extra time to research details of the book. The following, my friends, is what stayed with me from the books, and that's got to count for something.

Books I Liked But Can't Figure Out Why
A Hologram For The King, Dave Eggers. Travelling back to the world of the book, I see a tent somewhere in the Middle East. Much of the action--and inaction--happens there, or in a mystery building, or that one scene in the sea. And yet I couldn't put it down. Let me mention that this year, I received a postcard from Eggers written to little ol' me (because of this), so I'll be a fan no matter what, but it helps he's such a good writer.

Several by Maira Kalman. You'll find her illustrations in The New Yorker and a retired NY Times column. Her books are crazy renderings of world history mixed with her own, and I love that she refers to her paintings and drawings as the real thing ("Here is Lincoln's hat"). While taking in And the Pursuit of Happiness and The Principles of Uncertainty, I felt...happy. Thank you, Maira.

Books I Read A Long Time Ago and Decided To Read Again To Determine How I Changed In The Intervening Years
This was a project that didn't last too long, but I will say I once again enjoyed Prodigal Summer and The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, and that finally, finally, I get Life of Pi.

Interesting In Their Own Right Books
The Happiest Man In The World, Alec Wilkinson. Unconventional people will always have a place in my heart, and Poppa Neutrino won me over not only for all his interests, but because his football play has won games--supporting my belief that nonspecialists have a lot to add to fields that are not their own.

Post-It Note Diaries, Arthur Jones. True stories spelled out like a comic strip but with panels confined to the space of a yellow sticky note, a structure that is at turns stark and profound, and never confining.

Books I Read But Don't Remember At All
Coral Glynn, Peter Cameron, finished on 4/15
The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes, finished on 8/25

Really Foul, Hilarious, Well-Done Books
Fight, Eugene Robinson
Bossypants, Tina Fey

Notable Nonfiction
Listening Is An Act of Love, StoryCorps. My husband claims I'm hard to buy for, and that he was taking a chance with this one. Lottery won, mister! I love true stories told in their original voices, and whereas sometimes they can get tedious (sorry, Studs Terkel, RIP), these StoryCorps originals, told in pairs with one person interviewing the other in a booth, are compulsively good. Us "real" writers need not hoard storytelling to ourselves; there is power in narrative, no matter who tells it.

The Glass Castle,  Jeannette Walls. Let's just say my parenting looked just peachy in comparison.

And finally, the annual Alexander McCall Smith category (he needs to become even more prolific, if I've only got three):
The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth
Limpopo Academy Of Private Detection
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And God Said, I'll Go There Myself (audio version)

'Tis a little late in the day, but I'd like to offer a gift of one of my favorite holiday memories: the time I led a short Christmas play in a homeless shelter. I've posted the text of this story here before; last year Greg and I recorded it, and then I probably decided I didn't like hearing my own voice or something like that. 

This year, though, I was missing the story, and upon a second listen thought it ready to share. I hope you have a couple six minutes to listen and let me know what you think. Thanks to Greg for his audio handiwork.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

You Never Know

The mom of a classmate of Theo's stopped me the other day.

"All I hear about is your son. Theo, Theo, Theo," she said.

Turns out Theo has been sitting on the bus with the classmate's younger brother and making quite an impression. Theo's just nine himself, but his behavior toward this kid--even just the act of sitting with him--makes him tell his mom, "Theo takes care of me."

I was surprised by this because I usually already know of the major relationships in my children's lives. They talk to me, which I love. But it turns out that Theo hadn't thought much of it; he'd simply done what was called for in the situation--be nice.

And what an effect it had. "He's always talking about Theo," the classmate told me.

In the play I'm doing with former prisoners, there is a man that has one line. I hadn't known he'd take part when I wrote the script, so I ended up giving him a short line that typically I would say from the wings during a performance.

He'd show up to each and every rehearsal--on time, script ready, even having bought some special clothes at a thrift shop. It broke my heart to see those little plastic tabs sticking out of the slightly stained polo shirt and khaki pants, and to tell him he wouldn't actually be seen during the play.

But I spent time with him on that one line. What it should sound like, how he should feel. Coached him on its importance, because it happened to be key to the meaning of the play.

After the first performance, the man interrupted a discussion with the audience to suggest they applaud me for my work. He was so grateful for that one line. Just four words.

Sometimes it doesn't take much to make a difference.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Belated Diabetes Thanksgiving

No, people who googled diabetes and thanksgiving, I am not about to provide carb counts for your pumpkin pie. (Sorry.) Rather, I'd like to take a moment to give thanks for the couple bright spots in the diabetic life--some meager, some more meaningful than others, but all reasons to be grateful.

1. OXO FOOD SCALE. After living with our son's type 1 diabetes for over two years, we finally purchased this scale, and I believe I have praised it aloud with nearly every use. It switches from ounces to grams! It zeroes out! Thank you, OXO, for making our lives a little easier.

2. WATER ON SPOON. On to the accidental discovery of water + tablespoon equals easier life. Measuring peanut butter, anyone? Try this: rinse the measuring spoon with warm water. Dip into jar. Voila! Peanut butter slides off spoon (mostly). I have not yet determined a way to coax the remaining 1/4 spoonful off unmessily, and yet this little trick makes me very happy. (A smarter mother might spray the spoon with cooking spray, but that mother should be concerning herself with her desecration of the peanut butter's taste. Water mostly works.)

3. THE INTERNET. When it comes to major diseases, the internet is both a help and a hindrance. I recall my very first search of diabetes, which turned up enough scary words to make me finally call the doctor and get Theo checked out. After his diagnosis, though, I quickly learned to stay away from this abundance of information and opinions; better to stay tuned in to our good doctor and his advice.

But later, as I branched out, I found an online T1 community of thoughtful folks who are trying to make their way, just as we are. Some are crafty, too; Shannon over at neurotic city was both creative and kind enough to send this postcard along in honor of World Diabetes Day postcard exchange, which I manage to miss every year. Shannon knows of my interest in boxing, and she tied this into our continual battles with diabetes. She's awesome.

4. ALMOND MILK. The unsweetened kind. Makes certain that Theo can occasionally indulge in cereal without a humongous shot. See, he needs more insulin at breakfast time, and cereal isn't much bang for the carbohydrate buck. Enter almond milk. At 1 carb per cup, he can have his cereal and eat it, too.

5. NICE SCHOOL STAFF. It's this time of year when I lament not having married a doctor, or having become one myself, only because (don't worry, Greg) I'd like bucketloads of money to treat the school secretaries to the world's most amazing Christmas gift. But what could I possibly give them as thanks for their nonstop, nurturing care for my son? We're on the phone at least three times a week, and they're spending time with him at least three times a school day. They do all this with a smile and, when necessary, sympathetic tears. I can't say enough about these women. Thank you just doesn't completely capture how I feel, and yet words are all I've got. And maybe a nice fruit basket.