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Friday, June 29, 2007

iPod Random 10

Another fun idea I'm stealing from verbatim, but Karen told me it was OK :-).

When It Comes to Love - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Get Out the Map - Indigo Girls
Utopia Parkway - Fountains of Wayne
Havin' a Hunch - David Shiner (Seussical the Musical)
We Tell Ourselves - Clint Black
Your Mother Should Know - The Beatles
Joy to the World - Three Dog Night
Shoot the Moon - Norah Jones
Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
Wrapped Around Your Finger -The Police

TGIF, since it's an excuse for a rambling post

I took a vacation day yesterday. It was supposed to have been today, but we were notified on Tuesday that the maintenance staff would be changing A/C filters and checking smoke detectors in all the apartments in our building on Thursday, and Miss Gypsy can't be left home alone if anything like that is happening, so I switched days. (I learned this the hard way in my old apartment - let's just say I'm surprised I got any of my deposit back.) I wanted the day to get shopping and cleaning done before we went out of town this weekend, and I pretty much accomplished what I intended, within the constraints of waiting for the maintenance people. The notice said they'd be doing this between 10 AM and 3 PM, so they showed up at 3:05.

So, Chris has found an apartment and will be starting his new job on his 23rd birthday. I hope he'll still be able to keep up with his blogging once he gets settled (and has his internet connected); he's had several starts-and-stops over the last few years, but lately he's been a contributor to some other sites besides his own, and I'd hate to see him lose that momentum. Last night he called for some salary negotiation advice - for his girlfriend. The surprises of parenthood just never end.

This is the nicest kind of weird experience: popping over to Work It, Mom! and seeing my own name and picture in the "Featured Contributors" section of the Articles page! I've submitted three articles to them, and I'll keep it up until (or unless) I have nothing to say on a "Speak Your Mind" topic; I hope to write some others that don't fall under that as well, if and when there's appropriate inspiration. I'm also a pretty regular commenter on several of their blogs. I think they're building a great community.

Speaking of comments - when I first started writing this blog, I expected no one would ever find it and read it. Then, once I began to leave comments on some of the blogs I read, I began to wish I'd get some on mine. My very first one was from a member of my book club who's also a blogger, and I was so excited to read it! I don't get comments very often, but I just love when I do and can't imagine that it could get old. I also like when my comments on other blogs get e-mail responses, which has happened several times this week - but those are just for me, and not for public consumption :-). (My next wish is to see "The 3 R's" listed on someone else's blogroll - maybe someday.)

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up to be a review blogger for MotherTalk, and was invited to participate in my first book-review "blog tour" this week. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm scheduled to post my review of Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst (also author of The Dogs of Babel) on July 18. This was a book I intended to read once it came out in paperback, which means I'd review it here anyway at some point, and now I get a free copy!

Had I known at the start when I'd be doing most of my writing here, I would have named this "The Lunch Hour Blog." Except then people might have thought it was mostly about work, or food, and while there's an occasional post related to one or the other of those topics, neither of them is a major player, so I think it's got the right ('rite? - sorry, I'm a punner) title.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's all in the 21st-century family

This item in the Huffington Post definitely struck a chord. A few quotes:

The truth is that when people divorce, little thought is given to the fact that it is not only the husband and wife who are enduring loss but also their extended families.

(snip)

Considering that the number of divorced Americans rose from 4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996 and that very few studies have examined how divorce affects the continuation of relationships with the relatives by marriage, most people wing it. According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, sponsored by the National Council of Family Relations, only 11 percent of ex-spouses have a continued good relationship with each other's parents. And those low statistics are the ones presumably with kids.

(snip)

But it is naïve to think that children are the only lingering connection. Ties are formed after spending years of intimate holiday celebrations, ranging from passing the turkey gravy to washing dishes on Christmas morning or simply talking on the phone for a weekly chat and commenting on the way someone may leave their socks on the floor.

As Dr. Allison Bell, a New York psychologist, puts it, "the people surrounding the divorcing couple make many assumptions about how they are supposed to behave, often based on ideas about loyalty. It is frequently the case that in-laws feel polarized to side with their child and to banish the other spouse from their lives, partly because we all believe that someone's the bad guy and someone's the good guy in a divorce. But people have become more modern in their approach to divorce."

(snip)

Bell and other psychologists stress the importance of (communication) as a blueprint for the entire extended family -- including parents and siblings and their spouses -- especially for those who are left and need a support system.

I've been divorced from First Husband for a little over five years. He and I still have a reasonably friendly relationship, although it's been altered by distance in both the physical and emotional sense - I moved 1800 miles away after the divorce was final and our son was ready to leave for college, and we're both married to other people now and our son is officially On His Own. But I told him a while ago that he'd always be family - and not just because of our son - although now it's more like a second cousin whom you don't talk to very often. As for the rest of our families: my sister still sends him Christmas cards, even though her husband doesn't approve. (It's definitely a loyalty thing with him; given some of the circumstances of our breakup, it's rather surprising that First Husband and I get along, and my BIL remembers a lot of what I went through.) My father has no contact with him. I haven't heard from his relatives in years, with one notable exception - his sister, whom I e-mail and IM with regularly. When she was a guest at my second wedding last fall, I introduced her to some people as "This is my friend Amy. I used to be married to her brother."

Early in my relationship with TallGuy, he mentioned something about a conversation his mother had had with his ex-wife, and indicated they talked pretty often - and that made me nervous that his parents might have trouble accepting someone new in his life. (I worried more about that where his kids were concerned, of course...) They were great, though, when I got to know them...their main concern was knowing that their son was happy. Ex-Wife still is part of the family, though, especially in her own estimation. She and TallGuy have the major holidays with their kids in alternate years per their custody agreement, and my first Thanksgiving with him, in 2005, was spent at his mom's (his dad had passed away a couple of months earlier) with him, his kids (it was his year), his mom, some aunts and uncles and cousins - and his ex-wife. Christmas was the same, with the addition of my son (who had spent Thanksgiving in Tennessee with his father). It all seemed very modern, and at the same time a little confusing- why stipulate custody for the holidays if you're all going to spend them together anyway? Ex-Wife had the kids for the holidays last year, and they didn't come down to Mom-in-law's for Thanksgiving, but Christmas was the same as the year before. This summer, she took the kids to Mom-in-law's cabin in the Sierras for vacation. I've now had several holidays and birthday parties to observe her with TallGuy's relatives, and she seems to go on as if nothing's really different - as she said to Mom-in-law at Christmas dinner last year, "I didn't serve you with divorce papers, did I?" No, she didn't...and although the grandkids may be a big part of what keeps this going now, family doesn't just come and go, and a piece of paper has very little to do with your relationship with and attachment to someone. Years of shared history and common experience forge bonds that a legal proceeding doesn't necessarily sever, and really, why should it have to? Granted, in some families that might be for the best, but in a lot of others, people are just people. The newcomers have to respect relationships that pre-date their presence, and build new ones of their own - Mom-in-law and I get along just great, but that's about us and unrelated to her prior daughter-in-law.

BTT: "Desperation"

This week's "Booking Through Thursday" query:
  • What’s the most desperate thing you’ve read because it was the only available reading material?
  • If it was longer than a cereal box or an advertisement, did it turn out to be worth your while?

I'm really not sure what it could have been. Probably some pamphlet in a waiting room somewhere, and I can't remember - or have blocked it out - because it wasn't worth the time, just something to do as an alternative to staring into space.

Seriously, this is a situation I try to avoid at all costs, and it's why I carry a book with me everywhere.

You never know when you'll be stuck somewhere...


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My first "Wiki Wednesday"

Thanks to Karen at verbatim for turning me on to this one. It's easy to play.

Time to learn something!

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!

Did you ever wonder what Audio Video Standard (AVS) is? Me neither, and it sounds like you'll never need to unless you're looking for some Chinese DVD:

Audio Video Standard, or AVS, is a compression codec for digital audio and video.

Development of AVS was initiated by the government of the People's Republic of China.

(snip)

The dominant audio/video compression codecs, MPEG and VCEG, enjoy widespread use in consumer digital media devices, such as DVD players. Their usage requires Chinese manufacturers to pay substantial royalty fees to the mostly-foreign companies that hold patents on technology in those standards.

(snip)

AVS is currently expected to be approved for the Chinese high-definition successor to the Enhanced Versatile Disc.

Open source implementations of an AVS video decoder can be found in the OpenAVSlibavcodec library. The latter is integrated in some free video players like MPlayer, VLC or xine.

This is true randomness.

10-Minute Writers: What I Do...

I'm trying the "10-minute Writers" exercise on Crazedparent this week. It was more of a challenge than I anticipated, but it was fun. I'll probably do it again the next time the topic grabs me.

The question:"How big of a person are you?"
The assignment: For 10-minutes, write about everything you do for everyone else. Be big, be bold, and be as blunt as your writing mind wants you to be.

The rules, the rules...
* Write for 10 minutes and only 10 minutes. Use a timer. Don't stop writing/typing. Keep your fingers typing or your hands moving for 10 minutes. I repeat, don't stop writing.
* Don't edit as you go. Write whatever you are thinking.
* When you are done, leave a comment here with a link back to your 10-minute writing exercise.

How big a person am I? Have you seen me lately? I'm less than 5 feet tall - not very big at all!

And now that I'm done with the puns, time to answer the question. I start the workday by making coffee for the office. I don't drink the coffee - I drink mine at home - but I buy it and make it for my coworkers. I also keep them supplied with candy that I don't eat. Hopefully they'll miss me if I ever leave.

I do things for my dog. I make sure she's walked, fed, and has plenty of comfortable places to sleep - the house basically operates for her.

I do the grocery shopping - that's for me too, but I do it for the whole household. I make sure to ask if anyone wants anything added to the shopping list, and look for sales on their favorites so I can surprise them.

I help my dad by taking him grocery shopping every 2 weeks, picking up things for him at target, and doing small house tasks for him. This also helps my sister so she doesn't have to do quite as much for him.

I'm the main housecleaner. I keep the kitchen and the bathrooms in good shape.

I indulge my husband a lot.

Since I don't work for myself - but really, who does? If you're "self-employed," you work for your clients - everything I do at the office is for someone else.

Since I live with a family, most of what I do at home affects someone else and not just me. Cooking, cleaning, organizing, errands, shopping - we all get something out of it.

This assignment is harder than it sounds. I'm having trouble itemizing more than I already have, but I know that a lot of what I do is for someone else's assistance or benefit, even though much of the time it benefits me too.

I help my husband keep tabs on his health and take care of himself so he'll be around for awhile, and I help him be a great dad to his kids, even though he's chief caretaker during the 40% of the time they're with us. I try to keep things on an even keel at home, even though it's hard right now since work's gotten crazier than usual lately.

Do kids change your ambitions?

This week's "Speak Your Mind" topic on Work It, Mom! is "Have you become less ambitious in your career and personal goals since having kids?" It's a tough question to answer for me, since parenthood, career, and adulthood pretty much all coincided and it's tough to tease out exactly how they affected each other. I'm inclined to say "yes," but it's more like my ambitions have been scaled to the framework of managing family and work.

I'm not sure I've ever been overly ambitious - at least not realistically, since I know there's a limit to how driven I am and that I'm not one of those people who will do "whatever it takes." But I can't say at this point whether that's an outcome of having kids...I just know that family and balance are more important to me than getting to the top of the heap at work. And since last October, I've been married to someone who feels the same way, which is very nice.

There's a fuller discussion in my essay here. You have to be a member of the site to rate/vote on an article.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Just finished: "The Planets"

The Planets
Dava Sobel

from the back cover:
With her blockbuster New York Times bestsellers Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, Dava Sobel used her rare and luminous gift for weaving difficult scientific concepts into a compelling story to garner rave reviews and attract readers from across the literary spectrum. Now, in "The Planets," Sobel brings her full talents to bear on what is perhaps her most ambitious subject to date - the planets of our solar system. The sun's family of planets become a familiar place in this personal account of the lives of other worlds. Sobel explores the planets' origins and oddities through the lens of popular culture, from astrology, mythology, and science fiction to art, music, poetry, biography, and history. A perfect gift and a captivating journey, "The Planets" is a gorgeously illustrated study of our place in the universe that will mesmerize everyone who has ever gazed with awe at our night sky.
It's difficult to summarize a book like this any further, so I'm letting the back-cover blurb do my talking this time.

The prologue to this book describes the author's solar-system diorama for the third-grade science fair; my sister and I made a similar project. This brief, engagingly written book will draw in anyone who's ever had an interest in astronomy, as Dava Sobel gives each planet a chapter to discuss its physical attributes, its history, mystery, and discovery by humans on Earth, and its unique character in our Solar System. The book touches on the controversy over Pluto's planetary status, but was published prior to its reclassification, and talks about ongoing exploration of our planetary neighbors.

This is a quick read, especially considering the complexity of the subject, and the presentation is very approachable but never dumbed down. I enjoyed it very much.

So, what's YOUR generation?

A lot of quoting from Penelope Trunk follows. My answers and score to the quiz are below.
What generation are you part of, really? Take this test.

If you want to know how old you really are, look at the media you use rather than the generation you were born into.

(snip)

Here’s an idea: We should determine our generation not by our age but by how we use media. This comes from Margaret Weigel, who has worked at Harvard and MIT doing research on digital media engagement:* “We should not judge people rigidly by the years they were born,” she says, ”If we want to define people by categories, it should be by behaviors because this is something each of us chooses.”

Another reason to use media engagement to peg someone’s age is that the media we use reflects both the space we live in and the circle of friends we run with. For example, you probably won’t find the Wii at a senior center, and you do what your friends do or you’re out of the loop.

So here is a test (Penelope) put together with the help of an interview with Weigel and an evening reading her blog. Add up your points to figure out what generation you’re really a part of:

Do you have your own web page? (1 point) +1

Have you made a web page for someone else? (2 points)

Do you IM your friends? (1 point) +1

Do you text your friends? (2 points) not as a rule, but I'll occasionally test/answer texts from my son

Do you watch videos on YouTube? (1 point) +1, but not too often

Do you remix video files from the Internet? (2 points)

Have you paid for and downloaded music from the Internet? (1 point) +1

Do you know where to download free (illegal) music from the Internet? (2 points)

Do you blog for professional reasons? (1 point) no, mostly for fun

Do you blog as a way to keep an online diary? (2 points) +2

Have you visited MySpace at least five times? (1 point)

Do you communicate with friends on Facebook? (2 points)

Do you use email to communicate with your parents? (1 point) n/a - they don't have e-mail. but I do with my son

Did you text to communicate with your parents? (2 points) n/a

Do you take photos with your phone? (1 point) no, my pocket-size digital camera has much better quality

Do you share your photos from your phone with your friends? (2 points) n/a

Total score = 6. I'm a textbook "Gen Jones"-er (born 1954-1965).

0-1 point - Baby Boomer

2-6 points - Generation Jones

6- 12 points - Generation X

12 or over - Generation Y

Friday, June 22, 2007

The first one is the smartest (?)

My sister sent me a link to a story from today's L.A. Times regarding a Norwegian study investigating the "birth-order effect" which concluded that firstborn children were smarter than their younger siblings by 2-3 IQ points, which might not sound like much but "experts said even a few IQ points could make a big difference over the course of a lifetime — and set firstborns on a trajectory for success."

The study suggests that the difference is not genetic, but rather more likely due to differences in parental treatment of the first and subsequent children - that "...older children are showered with attention early in life and treated as leaders in the family. They are handed more responsibility after younger siblings are born and live with higher expectations from their parents." The differences in IQ correlated with the spacing between the children; "children born less than a year apart had the greatest IQ gaps. Differences in IQ scores diminished when there were more than five years between the first and second child." That last point makes some sense to me; when the first child is older, the parents may be less stressed and able to focus more on the second baby than when there are two children in diapers at the same time.

My parents had only two children, my sister and me, and I'm the older one by 19 months and one day. And yes, my IQ is higher, by 3 points. (The story states that an "average" IQ is 100 - I will only say we are both well above that average.) We both believe in the reality of the birth-order effect and have had many discussions about it, in connection with the differences and similarities in both ourselves and her two boys, ages 7 and 4. It's a topic my husband and I have also talked about in relation to his older brother - he's the younger of two boys, 15 months apart - and my stepchildren, ages 12 and 7. (My son's an only child, so he's technically a firstborn, but has no comparison points.)

The study data came from the results of required IQ tests taken by 240,000 men conscripted into the Norwegian army between 1985 and 2004. I think this leaves open the question of whether the results extrapolate to women.

Other considerations are that "smart" encompasses other, less easily quantifiable, qualities besides IQ score, and that "success" can be defined in various ways. But it's always made sense to me that your position in your family of origin would have a pretty strong effect on how you develop and who you turn out to be - it's one of the determinants of how people relate to you, and environment shapes us just as heredity does. (Whether one outweighs the other is not part of this conversation.) It's a topic that fascinates me, and I'm sure my sister, my husband, and I will keep talking about it.

UPDATE 6/25: They're talking about it today over in On Balance.

UPDATE 6/27: An interesting follow-up commentary on today's Huffington Post suggests that birth order doesn't really become a factor until there are at least three children in a family, and even then it may matter less than spacing between the children, gender, and various other factors. Coming from a two-child family, I'm not sure how much I would agree.

Just in case you were wondering...

...even though I doubt you were:

I'm 83% feminist (via PunditMom), and a "New Left Hipster," married to a "Peace Patroller" (via Karen on verbatim) -

and I'm totally OK with that :-).

UPDATE 6/23 - TallGuy took the feminist quiz and outscored me (!) at 96%. Good to know one more way in which I chose wisely :-).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Single-minded

The truth is, I've spent most of my adult life married (from age 19 - yes, I know it was too young, but there was a baby on the way - to 38), and it's been less than a year since I reclaimed that status. Even so, some points in Leslie's "On Balance" commentary reviewing the new book Now and Not Yet by Jennifer Marshall, which examines single life from a conservative Christian perspective, struck a chord.

One issue raised by the book is that single women can feel out of place in family-oriented churches, and that was very true for me - one of the reasons I stopped going to church regularly after my divorce was that I just didn't feel like I fit. The fact that the churches I've attended were in family-centric suburban communities, where I was also out of place in other ways, probably complicated that, as did being a divorced Catholic. I haven't resumed churchgoing since my second marriage, though - that's partly due to becoming OK with not having it as part of my life for a few years, and partly due to my marrying a heathen whose Catholicism is way more lapsed than mine.

I gather that the overall premise of the book is that singlehood is fine in the relatively short term, but not a good place to be for an extended period, and I think it depends. I didn't ask to be single and basically on my own for the first time at 38 - my ex-husband initiated the divorce, and for quite awhile during and after I resented the fact he couldn't just suck it up and accept not-entirely-happy-ever-after couplehood. (Thank heaven I eventually worked my way out of that mindset!) But once I was single, it wasn't hard to imagine staying that way for a long time, and there were elements about that time I really enjoyed. I could support myself financially and didn't have to explain or defend my choices to anyone, and I didn't have to answer for my time to anyone except my dog. I lost weight and found new interests, and learned a lot about myself. There were also plenty of things I didn't enjoy at all, but therapy was a lot of help with that.
And once I decided I was ready to try dating again, I was pretty focused about it, but the last thing I expected was to find a "keeper" so quickly (I had joined eHarmony for a year, and was "introduced" to TallGuy during my first week). But one great thing about my relationship with him is that I'm not losing the "me" I developed into during those single years.

Singlehood did turn out to be an in-between time for me, but odds are it will happen again - life expectancies and all - and my perspective now is that I wouldn't trade it at all for a few more less-than-happy years with First Husband.

Booking Through Thursday - "School days"

This week's BTT question:

Since school is out for the summer (in most places, at least), here’s a school-themed question for the week:

  1. Do you have any old school books? Did you keep yours from college? Old textbooks from garage sales? Old workbooks from classes gone by?
  2. How about your old notes, exams, papers? Do you save them? Or have they long since gone to the great Locker-in-the-sky?
My high-school books are long gone. I kept all my major (Accounting) textbooks from college except for my tax accounting book, which was going to be replaced by a new edition the next semester, plus my Business Law textbook, which I thought might have possible use as a future reference. I kept them in my office during my first few jobs, but they're living in a box in the closet now. After five moves and 20 years since college (!), I think they're permanent residents, although a lot of what's in them is probably out of date now. I realize a sentimental attachment to Accounting books is probably bizarre. All my other books were sold, traded, or otherwise disposed of years ago.

Even while I was still in school, I didn't usually keep old notebooks or anything unless I was taking a next-level course in the same subject the following semester, so I know all that stuff has long since decomposed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sing it, sister!

Regardless of all those articles in women's magazines concerning finding/catching/living with/losing men, women's relationships with each other can be more complex, nuanced, and interesting. (No offense to the guys - you know I love some of you ;-D.) I think this is what draws me to a lot of what I read - women authors, female protagonists, women's issues, and women blogging about their lives and concerns.

PunditMom posted a review of a new book that sounds intriguing. Sisterhood Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild looks at the evolution of feminism over the last 40 years, the progress we've made (and still haven't), and the friction and ambivalence today over embracing the concepts. As I commented in response to her post, my consciousness developed during feminism's high-water mark in the 70's, and I can't think of a time I wouldn't have considered myself to be one. I think there are times when the organized movement has gone off on tangents that weakened support for it, and times when its public approach to important issues has outright alienated people. None of that should take away from the fact that equal opportunity and treatment under the law, equal pay for equal work by women and men (and a tax code that doesn't screw dual-income married couples), and reproductive freedom - just to name a few - are issues that continue to matter and to fight for.

What women can and should do for one another is important, and that's where the "sisterhood" comes in. We can accomplish more together, and can get there by respecting both each other's choices (even if they wouldn't be our own, which is why the "mommy wars" thing is, at the core, just dumb) and the hard work done by the women before us so that we have the opportunity to make those choices. We've still got plenty of work of our own to do, though.

Speaking my mind on Work It, Mom!

Work It, Mom! is starting a weekly article/essay contest, and this week's topic is "If money weren't an issue, would you work and what would you do?" Nataly raised a related question in her blog a couple of weeks ago, and was interested in further discussion of the topic, so here it is.

Yes, I'd work. I'd do something different, though. Read about it here.

The highest rated article submitted, as voted by readers on the site, will win a $50 Spafinder.com gift certificate for its writer. Feel free to participate! (Of course, if you decide to vote, I hope it will be for my article :-D.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Feeding" the need to read

I'm trying to find ways to manage my blog reading, since it's come close to getting the better of me a few times lately. Ironically, reading too many productivity blogs keeps you from getting very much done.

I haven't really found the blogs I read through random searching. The first few came via major and/or mainstream media websites like Salon, Slate and Amazon.com's blogs. I'd follow their links to various posts, and then I discovered the blogroll links on those blogs, which led me to investigate yet more blogs. I added Reader to my Google account services, and started subscribing to feeds - having the updates come directly to you is more efficient than bouncing around the internet trying to keep up. When I last checked - about 10 minutes ago - I am subscribing to 107 feeds. Some of them don't update more than once or twice a week, while others get new posts many times a day.

Trial and error over the last couple of months have helped me learn how to deal with this flood of information and opinion, and I'm sure I'll keep learning. Right now, these tactics seem to be working:
  • Unless you're checking back on something, keep your view set to "new items" (the default) to keep from getting too bogged down.
  • I resisted for awhile, but it's definitely more efficient to set Reader to "list view" instead of "expanded view." This lets you see the titles and snippets for at least 20 posts onscreen at once. Skip over those that don't look interesting at first glance, and open the ones that do to read in full. On a related note, I've grown fonder of the blogs that syndicate a full-post feed, so I can read the whole thing in Reader without opening a separate tab.
  • Assign all subscriptions to a "folder," and keep the folders closed in the sidebar. Each folder will show an item count, and you can expand it to see exactly which feeds in that folder have new posts.
  • Some of my folders are more active than others, and since I tend to get anxious when my new-item count gets very high, I'm learning to manage that by switching from my "all items" start/default view to a folder-specific view. When I do this, I'll clear that folder by skimming the list view, reading the posts that interest me at that time, then marking all the posts in the folder as "read" so they'll go away. This tends to happen most with feeds that have a lot of contributors and content, like Lifehacker, Consumerist, and the Huffington Post, where I'm honestly not interested in everything they're writing about (sorry - no offense intended!)
  • At least once every couple of weeks, I review all the subscriptions and decide what's not working for me - something that updates so rarely I forget it, whose content isn't quite what I thought it would be, is too similar to another blog that does it better, or is just not a good fit after all - and unsubscribe. Unfortunately, I'm still adding more feeds than I'm deleting...
As I said, it's a learning experience - the content, and managing it.

Just finished: "Abundance"

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette
Sena Jeter Naslund

from the book cover:

Marie Antoinette was a child of fourteen when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranged for her to leave her family and her country to become the wife of the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France. Coming of age in the most public of arenas, the young queen embraces her new family and the French people, and she is embraced in return. Eager to be a good wife and strong queen, she shows her new husband nothing but love and encouragement, though he repeatedly fails to consummate their marriage and in doing so, fails to give her the thing she - and the people of France - desire most: a child and an heir to the throne.

Deeply disappointed and isolated in her own inti-mate circle apart from the social life of the court, the queen allows herself to remain ignorant of the country's growing economic and political crises. She entrusts her soul to her women friends, her music teacher, her hairdresser, the ambassador from Austria, and a certain Swedish count so handsome that admirers label him "the Picture." When her innocent and well-chaperoned pilgrimage to watch the sun rise is viciously misrepresented in satiric pamphlets as a drunken orgy, the people begin to turn against her. Poor harvests, bitter winters, war debts, and poverty precipitate rebellion and revenge as the royal family and many nobles are caught up in a murderous time known as "the Terror."

My summary:
At the age of fourteen, Princess Maria Antonia of Austria was sent to France to be married to the fifteen-year-old Dauphin (crown prince) Louis Auguste, thus forging an alliance between their countries and re-christening her as the French Dauphine, Marie Antoinette. Such alliances are cemented by producing heirs, but it takes several years and ascension to the throne before this marriage is consummated successfully, and a second pregnancy before a prince is born. The queen-to-be diverts herself with court life and gambling in the years prior to motherhood, less interested than her husband in reading or learning about the people they rule. When years of poor crops, poverty, and anger at the extravagances of the royal court finally provoke the French people to revolt, the queen never quite believes that their love for the monarchy, who have been chosen by God to rule over them (the "divine right of kings"), could have been so diminished, even as her family and friends are driven into exile, imprisoned, and put to death.
Marie Antoinette's public image has been undergoing some favorable revision in the last few years; for one thing, historians have absolved her of that "let them eat cake" quote. This historical novel, narrated in "Toinette's" voice, begins with her journey from Austria to meet her husband and goes to, literally, the end, as the guillotine drops toward her neck. She comes across as fairly likable, sweet, sheltered, and rather clueless, genuinely having little understanding of life outside the court. Her attitude toward the French people seems more oblivious and unaware than venal or malicious, although the agitators among the revolutionaries paint her, and the rest of the aristocracy, as evil. Not many of the supporting characters are very well developed, but that actually seems in character for a first-person narrative about someone who really is the center of her world. The writing itself is a bit pedestrian, and the story drags in spots, but that's probably appropriate in describing lives that are very privileged and to some degree aimless. And as with most fiction built around historical figures, you already know how it has to end.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Unsolicited advice for the newbie

(Wow, I guess this counts as being "published!" I've submitted an article related to this post to Work It, Mom! and it was posted today!)

Dear Chris,

(Since you blog under your real name, I'm not afraid to use it here.)

Congratulations! You're about to take the first step into your post-college professional life. If what I've been reading lately is true, you could have as many as 8 jobs before you're 30, so you may as well get started.

I have enjoyed serving as your job-search and interview coach, but since it seems my services in that capacity will no longer be needed, I am shifting my role to general advisor. I thought I'd get you started with a short list of resources. I recommend subscribing to these with a feed reader; you're not going to have nearly as much time to wander around on the internet.

Navigating the corporate world
Yes, I know it's not your very first job (there was Kroger, the museum, and work-study), but it's the first full-time one in your professional field, and it's a different environment. I've found a couple of blogs that address the nuts-and-bolts of work life pretty well. You already know about Ask a Manager, but the Evil HR Lady can also give you a lot of good info. And when you want suggestions about how to deal with the accounting department, you can always ask your mom.

Career issues, the bigger picture
I keep hearing that it's going to be a different work world for your generation - traditional career paths will go away, lives will be more balanced, job changes will be much more commonplace (this is the "8 jobs before you're 30" thing). I'm not sure these changes are happening as fast as some of the work-focused bloggers seem to think they are, but it will be interesting to see how things evolve - and odds are pretty good this will just be your first job, and it's not forever. Your guide through all this change can be Penelope Trunk, The Brazen Careerist, who truly believes the old rules don't apply anymore. I'm not sure that's entirely true; you're just out of college and found a job the old-fashioned way - saw an ad, sent in a resume, interviewed, with no networking or intervention from your parents - the job is directly related to your education and training, and you're not back living with either of your parents. Anyway, I don't always agree with her, but she's got a lot of interesting things to say.

Handling the money
Yes, you'll actually be making some, and that's exciting. I know you've learned a lot about managing your finances and budget during the last year or so, but this is a topic you want to keep learning about, and other people's experiences can be a good source. A couple of blogs that you might find useful are The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly.

And as a bonus, here's some free advice from me:
  • If your company has a 401(k), enroll as soon as you can, and if they match your contributions, put in at least that same percentage of your own money. That will get you started saving for the future.
  • Save for the present by setting aside some money every month to build up an emergency fund.
  • Don't take more than one or two of the unsolicited credit card offers you get. In fact, better to look around for the right credit card on your own and toss all the junk mail.
The uber-resource (not counting me, that is)
If you don't already check Lifehacker regularly, you need to start. It will point you to plenty of other great resources, in addition to its own original content.

Hope you find all this just the slightest bit useful.

Love,
Mom




Thursday, June 14, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - "Dessert first?"

Booking Through Thursday is a blog that posts a reading-related question every week. You're supposed to answer the question on your own blog, then go back to the original post and add a comment linking to your response. It seems like a cool way to discover new blogs (and get them to discover you, too), so I'm trying it for the first time with this week's question.
  1. Do you cheat and peek ahead at the end of your books? Or do you resolutely read in sequence, as the author intended?
  2. And, if you don’t peek, do you ever feel tempted?
It's easier to answer #2 - sure I do!

#1 - Sometimes, but not very often. I don't have a problem with "spoilers" in principle, and I think peeking at the ending would pretty much be the same thing.

I record most of the TV shows I watch on DVR to watch later, but I'll read recaps of the episodes online the next morning before viewing - I still get to see how it unfolds, even if I already know what unfolds. (I'm just not allowed to tell my husband anything when I do that, and watching him react to the story as we watch actually adds to my enjoyment, especially when it's Lost or 24.) So in that case, I definitely read ahead.

I don't do that nearly as often with books, unless the plot's getting really twisted and I'm getting overly curious and frustrated. And depending on where I am in the story when I peek, it might actually make me even more interested in seeing how the heck things get to that conclusion - it's a chance to enjoy the journey more, knowing the destination. Although if it's not a well-crafted journey, I might just be annoyed when I get to the end for real.

I've very rarely skipped to the end and then decided not to read any more. Maybe I should, though...it might get me some closure on some books that have been languishing half-read for awhile.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Family issues from all angles...

Kelly Watson, one of the bloggers on Work It, Mom!, posted yesterday about domestic division of labor. One of her best points was made as part of a self-described rant: women don't inherently have more skills in home-keeping or child-raising just because we're women, and the partners/fathers in our lives are just as capable at the these things as we are. We need to do more than just encourage their participation - we need to expect it and allow it. If it were the other way around, we'd want that kind of treatment, wouldn't we?

That topic dovetails pretty well with a commentary in Women's eNews regarding the evolution of the bonds between fathers and daughters, particularly author Peggy Drexler's discussion of her mixed emotions over seeing her husband take a greater participatory role in their daughter's life during a period when he was between jobs and she was working full-time. The bigger point is that as girls grow up in a changing world, the role of the father is changing too.

Meanwhile, Dani Shapiro blogs at the Huffington Post about the working parent's struggle between dueling commitments, and wonders why schools and other institutions haven't recognized this better by scheduling events around working hours so that parents can be part of them without rearranging their lives (which some working parents really don't have much flexibility to do, but that's for another day). My own theory on this is that the school teachers and staff work too, and these things happen during their work hours, so something has to give - but it would be nice if it wasn't the parents all the time.

All of these items had some commonalities, from my perspective, but particularly the first two I mention. As I commented in response to Kelly's post, when my husband's kids are with us (6 nights and 2 full days out of every 2-week period), he is their main caretaker. He's their father. I'm not automatically more qualified just by virtue of my gender, and (although this is a particular quirk of step-parenting) I'm especially sensitive about not encroaching on their mother (even when she's not around). We also divide the domestic chores fairly well - we're both very capable of cooking and cleaning, and it's good for the kids to see both of us doing it. And as I observe him as a parent, I'm especially interested in how he interacts with and relates to his almost-adolescent daughter (I've only raised a boy myself, and he has one of each), and I see that relationship as pretty progressive in the ways that Peggy writes about in her post. Dani's post doesn't really cover new ground, but I totally agree with her point, and as she notes, one way to work around this is for both parents to tag-team these activities. (And that's how I tie this one in with the father/husband stuff.)

And this last item isn't too closely related to the rest unless you use a very broad perspective. In today's On Balance post, Leslie Morgan Steiner steps onto some controversial ground with a piece titled "Pro-Choice or No Choice?" Commenting on a recent article in the New York Times about how the depiction of abortion as an option for an unplanned pregnancy seems to have no place in entertainment today - referencing the current movies Knocked Up (just saw it, hilarious!) and Waitress - she says:
The message from the movies is clear: Here's another real-life subject that women (and presumably, men) are not supposed to discuss publicly. An unwanted pregnancy is perhaps the most powerful factor in unbalancing a woman's work and family life. Most working women (at least the sexually active ones) need birth control, including abortion, to plan their careers -- sometimes, you need to say "no" to motherhood in order to build your reputation, get more training or an advanced degree, accept a promotion, or simply to work very hard for a certain period of time. Childless women often stay happily childless thanks specifically to birth control. Non-working moms also need the choices offered by all forms of birth control to space their children wisely, and sometimes to put off pregnancy in favor of a current family member's special needs (including their own).
She's right about how an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy unbalances a woman's life, and realistically, terminating it has got to be something that most women consider for more than five seconds before dismissing it out of hand. I don't agree with her characterizing abortion as a form of birth control, though (although I understand that effectively it is); it's one of the possible responses to not using effective birth control.

As someone who was unexpectedly pregnant as a 19-year-old student, this subject always hits home. I was grateful that abortion was a safe and legally available alternative in 1983, and I was also grateful I didn't have to consider it too much for myself; my boyfriend and I had been together over a year and had already talked about getting married - which we did - and my parents were determined that a baby wouldn't keep either of us from finishing college - and he didn't. Without that support, I might have had to go another route - and I might not have chosen to end the pregnancy even then, but that's me. And I haven't had to look at that decision again, due to consistent use of preventive methods (depending on the time frame, it was either the Pill, celibacy, or a second husband who had a vasectomy after two children), but while I would call myself "pro-choice" for certain, I have a hard time with considering abortion as one of those "preventives."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I'm not the only one who wonders

It's kind of sad that I haven't posted anything for a week. The feed reader got really backed up - hey, I keep finding interesting stuff and adding it! - and I'm starting to leave comments here and there on other blogs, but it seems like the more time I spend on those, the less I have for my own. (And then there's the paying job, which still feels like it will never be caught up, and the life-and-family stuff...like Willy Wonka said, "We have so much time and so little to do! Strike that. Reverse it.")

PunditMom had a post today regarding whether there might be something better than "mommy bloggers" to label and describe women who happen to be parents and are blogging about the world at large in addition to their own family worlds. Since my last post here concerned my "identity crisis" about whether or not I'm a "mom blogger," it resonated with me. I don't know what else to call it either, but I know one of the reasons I was reflecting on it last week is that there is a certain image associated with the term that I don't fit - but as I make my way around the blog world, I find plenty of others that don't either. (And I've also found there are tons of other "book bloggers," too, and moms who blog about books...it's hard to find a truly unique niche out here, but finding out you're part of a community can be nice too.)

Maybe we're all communicators, and we can leave it that.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I read, therefore I am...who, exactly? A "mom-blogger" or not?

I'm a relatively new resident of the "blogosphere," both as a participant (as you can tell from the archives) and as a reader/follower. I follow blogs on various topics - productivity and self/life improvement, career and work life, pop culture, news, and quite a few I have tagged as "just for fun." My interest in women's issues, lately centered on things related to the topic of "balance" - the whole "mommy wars" thing, "opting out," and all those related work/family buzzwords - has introduced me to some of the (of the many, many) "mom bloggers" out there, and makes me wonder whether I might be one - or not.

Since I started this whole thing as a means of keeping a record of the books I read, I would have considered myself a "book blogger," if I put myself into any niche at all. And if there is a "typical" mom blogger, there are a few reasons why it wouldn't be me:
  • I never was a stay-at-home Mom, except for brief periods between jobs coinciding with relocations, and never really wanted to be one either (at least not for any significant length of time). My consciousness was shaped not necessarily by the "having it all" ethos, but more the idea that my education and career training were an investment in my future that needed to be used. Also - true confession - I really never felt like I had the temperament to be child-focused 24/7. At first I was a college student whose own parents assisted with childcare when my (first) husband and I had classes or work, and then I was a professional slowly working my way up, living in a dual-income family - the other income came from academia, hence a need for two - with no extended family nearby, dealing with childcare, career, and domestic balance before people were talking about them much, and at an age when many of my peers had barely started families of their own.
  • I don't have very young children, and these days I'd consider my "active, hands-on parenting" to be on a part-time basis. My son went away to college after his father and I divorced, I moved across the country in the opposite direction, and my boy's just getting started on his own post-college life. My stepchildren (girl and boy) will be entering eighth and second grade next year, respectively, and they're with their father and me two nights a week and alternate weekends, plus periodic extended vacations. My peers these days tend to have children closer to the ages of my stepkids, and often younger.
  • I'm a few years on the opposite side of 40 - although not as far past it as you'd think, considering I have a 22-year-old (!) - which puts me on the upper end of the blogger age range, especially for the moms, as far as I can tell.
The thing is, I am a mom. I've been one for more than half my life, it's the most important job I've ever had, and it's full-time in my heart and mind regardless of how much "hands-on" time it takes up. The concerns of parents, particularly mothers, are mine. Because my own path has involved pursuing work outside the home in tandem with family life, I tend to identify most with mothers who are dealing with the challenges related to that. But I'm also interested in the experiences of mothers who are making different choices and how that's working for them.

I've read a few interesting things lately from the perspective that part of the "mommy wars" is a Baby Boomer/Gen X clash of values. Age-wise, I'm on the cusp of these two groups, and since the Boomers came before me, my consciousness and life path thus far were probably shaped more by those values. But at the same time, I identify with and share the concerns of Gen X'ers enough that I feel uncomfortable being lumped in with the "boomers."

Is being a mom who blogs enough to make one a "mom blogger?"

Friday, June 1, 2007

Just finished: "Accidental Happiness"

Accidental Happiness
Jean Reynolds Page
(selection for next week's Book Club meeting)

from the book cover:
After her husband's unexpected death at the age of thirty-six, Gina Melrose becomes a "live-aboard" on his boat, docked at a marina in coastal South Carolina, near the home she and Ben once shared. In this temporary, borrowed existence on the water, she settles into numb survival. But Gina finds her life taking yet another dramatic turn late one night when a woman named Reese disrupts her quiet world. With Reese comes a daughter: a charming girl named Angel. After a rough start, Gina realizes that, strange as it may seem, she's drawn to both Reese and Angel. Their sudden appearance shatters the stillness-and Gina is remade. She is fascinated by Reese, who seems both invincible and vulnerable-and whose past may hold the key to Gina's future. Gina begins to realize that for the first time since Ben's death, she's getting her senses back. As both pain and joy reenter her world, Gina discovers that she is able to accept feeling in order to live fully once more. But the biggest surprise for Gina is her relationship with Angel. After the painful loss of her sister during childhood, Gina had decided that she would never have children of her own. Struggling through conflicted emotions, Gina's finds her life unexpectedly transformed by the precocious little girl who may be Ben's daughter.
My summary:
Gina Melrose is still recovering from the shocking death of her husband, Ben, when Ben's first wife, Reese, and her daughter, Angel, make an unexpected appearance in her life. Angel may or may not be Ben's daughter, and Gina - who has never wanted children, due to her lingering ambivalence and guilt over her dead younger sister, Elise - has to work though her feelings about that possibility. Reese arrives in fairly desperate straits, and with other secrets in addition to her daughter's paternity. The two women, with little to connect them other than Ben, are forced by circumstances to negotiate some common ground, while Gina also works on finding her way through the grief of losing her husband and toward the next stage of her life.
I don't think I could have read this book a couple of years ago, and had it not been J's Book Club pick, I'm not sure I would have read it now. Books concerning the aftermath of young widowhood seem to resonate strangely for me - the emotions that the characters experience don't sound, or feel, much different than my own post-divorce, and it wouldn't have helped my own long-drawn-out recovery to be thrust back into that - so if a story does that to me, it's probably getting it emotionally right.

I was someone's first wife. I'm currently someone else's second wife. One of the aspects of this book that I found intriguing was the developing relationship between Gina and Reese. When two women have had a husband in common, they know things no one else does (not necessarily all the same things, since every relationship is unique), and it does create a connection between them. And if one of the women is interacting regularly with the other's child, it's in everyone's interest to try to build on that, although it's not necessary to become best friends, or even coffee buddies. (And it can be done; there are times I think TallGuy's ex might like me better than she likes him, although I'm not sure that's saying much.)

The shift in viewpoint from Gina to Reese in alternating chapters was interesting, as was the related use of first-person narration for Gina's chapters and third-person for Reese's. (There may be a plot-related reason for the style shift also, but that didn't really occur to me until I finished reading.) The story moved along well, with secrets unveiled at various intervals. I didn't find it particularly well-written, but I wouldn't consider it "fluff" or even "chick lit" - although it revolves around female characters, it's not superficial enough and doesn't drop brand names all over the place*. But the tendency of several of the characters to become tearful on a recurring basis, while understandable in context, did try my patience after awhile. It also irritated me, although for no particular reason, that the little blonde girl in the cover illustration doesn't have any resemblance to the description of Angel in the book, but that's a quibble.

One of the great things about being in a book club is that it does reading you might not otherwise select for yourself.

*Disclaimer: I'm by no means above reading chick lit or light fiction, by the way, as should already be obvious from some of the entries on this blog, but I tend to avoid the more stereotypical, generic examples of the form. It needs to be good chick lit, with some substance to the characters, plot, and writing. That statement makes it totally fair to call me on it if I ever post an entry on a book that doesn't have those qualities, and then say I liked it.

Her eye is on the Milk-Bone; or, a hundred names for "dog"

The new addition to the page sidebar answers to quite a few names, but one hundred is a gross exaggeration. As for her actual name, she was a rescue adoption and it came along with her. She is known as:

Gypsy
Miss Gypsy
Gypsy-Girl
Puppy-Girl (she's almost ten)
Gypsy Rose
Gypsy Belle (she's from Memphis, after all)
Puppy-Face (by her grandma)
Funny-Girl
Funny Face
Funny-Pup
Pupster
Fuzzybutt
Princess Fuzzybutt
Whatserbutt
The Critter
Most Beautiful (I am not objective)
Miss Thing
Doofus
Dingus
Dingleberry
Nimrod

She's cute (and knows it), she's smart (but not always, hence the last four names), she was my loyal companion and roommate during my single years, and even by dog standards, she has some seriously bad breath.

I've actually been reading other stuff too - happy?

...And reading a bit too much of it when I should be working. Late-spring fever, or maybe overwhelmed and under-motivated.

Thinking about a couple of the posts I've read this week:

The Grrl Genius' reflection on good coming from bad, asking the question Do you think it’s possible to ever learn this lesson so that when the bad thing is ACTUALLY HAPPENING you can shrug it off and know that something good must therefore be coming VERY SOON? made me reflect on the whole "one door closes, another opens" concept.

In my experience, it's been a long hard road to find that other door many times. It's not so hard to imagine everything staying in the same bad place it's in at that time - we can only project from what we already know and where we already are, and when that seems to be at the bottom of a big dark pit with no ladder, it's tough to be an optimist (which can be a challenge for me even in better circumstances). Then there's that little nagging doubt that this might be the time when your luck's run out and things don't actually turn around, even if they always have eventually, which might make you a little afraid to believe something good might come out of the situation after all. It's the "eventually" part that's the rub there - patience can be another tough one. I think all of these factors make it tough to shrug off the bad and be sure something good is around the corner.

My divorce from First Husband was the roughest experience of my adult life - it was pretty drawn out and the recovery was lengthy, and I'm not sure that the fact we stayed in pretty regular contact with each other made it any easier (the fact I moved across the country probably helped a lot, though). I felt like I was in a sad and suspended state for several years, and it felt like that was going to be the case for the rest of my life. I was getting pretty used to it - it was a messed-up little world, but at least it was familiar. When he let me know he was marrying again, that was the part where it got worse before it got better - but also when the good part started to peek around the corner, since I finally got myself into effective therapy (the adjective really matters) and made some major changes in my outlook. A few months later, I met TallGuy, Husband #2-to-be, and was on my way to a much happier place than I'd have begun to imagine five years ago. Sometimes the good thing that follows the bad takes an awfully long time to show up, and it can be tough to believe it ever will - to answer GG's question, I think that may be why it's hard to shrug it off.

On a somewhat related note, The Happiness Project discusses why happy people tend to be better workers, so it's in business' best interests to cultivate happiness - which isn't exactly the same thing as "keeping your workers happy," but more that you'll get better work out of happy people, regardless of the source of their happiness. I've worked when I've been happy and when I haven't been, and I'd agree that I work better when I'm happy. And on that note, this happy camper needs to wrap up a lunchtime writing session and get back to making the numbers come out right.

I read the news today, oh boy...and it was forty years ago today

(I shudder to think how many headlines/titles resembling this one are being written today...)

I've sometimes joked that the Beatles arrived in America just a few weeks before I did. (I was actually arriving into life, but that occurred in New York, so I still think the analogy works.) Being only three years old on June 1, 1967, however, means that the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band wasn't a transforming experience for me. It's not even my favorite Beatles album - I prefer the ones that led up to it, Rubber Soul and Revolver. But there's no denying its influence on popular music ever since, or the Beatles' influence on my own musical tastes. I've been a fan since I was old enough to be aware of popular music at all - probably around age ten - and still gravitate toward smart, melodic, hooky music with fairly traditional song structure. (It can still be found out there - meet Fountains of Wayne, for one current example. Currently on tour with Squeeze - an all-time favorite of mine, and another fine example of the Beatles musical tradition, it's awesome that they're back together! - it looks like the timing's wrong for me to see their L.A. shows in August. Bummer!)

In observation of this 40th anniversary, the least I can do is switch my iPod to my "Beatlemania" playlist during work today. Thanks for everything, John, Paul, George, and Ringo!