What I'm Reading

Stardust by Joseph Kanon
Coming out in the fall, the next novel by the author of The Good German. It's so good I kinda want to lick the pages.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Aunt

I’m baaaack! Did you miss me? Did ya? Did ya? Don’t say no, or I’ll cry real tears.

Vacation was, in a word, fabulous. My sister and her kids came to New York for the Harry Potter festivities. (I haven't seen it myself, and probably shouldn't be sharing it in case I look like an idiot, but evidentally I'm part of someone's webcast. I know I swore I wasn't going to put on a costume, but yes, that's me in the Hogwarts baseball cap, Harry Potter glasses, and forehead scar tatoo.) Then I camped at the beach in Rhode Island with my family for a week. Coincidentally, without any planning on our part, Sarah was on vacation 15 minutes away with her family. Yeah, I was all broken up over that.

I am, as I like to say, darker than the average Caucasian. The first time I visited Polly when she was living in Georgia, her Alabama friend said she didn’t know they “had them that dark up North.” At the end of one of these trips, though, it’s ridiculous. Combine my Native Canadian skin tone with 7 straight days of going inside only to sleep and shower, and there is no sunscreen up to the challenge. I usually end up so tan that I’m the color of fried food, and am completely grossed out by own self. But this time I came prepared. I bought four different kinds of sunscreen with Helioplex, with SPF numbers like 70. Most days I would apply a 55 or 70, and then spray 30 over it every hour or so. I’m told that I’m more golden this time, and not so monochromatic (dark brown hair, eyes, and skin), so I guess I did okay. No woman wants to be human camouflage.

Now, as you all know, I love kids. Love, love, love them. And am so… freaking… happy I don’t have any of my own. What happens when you take one single-and-childless-by-choice woman, and put her with kids for nine straight days? It’s not pretty. On Friday (day 8) I looked at my mother and said, “I’m going to lunch. By myself. Somewhere they serve liquor.” Between my nephews, my niece’s goddaughter, Sarah’s kids, and her nieces and nephew, total kid count for the week was 14.

As overwhelming as it was, though, I loved doing it. I kept my 12-year-old nephew for the whole week (even though he never… stops… talking). I babysat Sarah’s little boys (ages 5 and almost 7), and brought my magic wand with me, insisting that it did real magic. I kept my goddaughter overnight, only to find out that she wasn’t feeling well, which meant that all things: eating, sleeping, sitting, had to be done on top of me. Literally. I got more cuddling in than you can imagine, and enough belly giggles to make my heart soar. At one point I was tooling around in Sarah’s van with 5 boys, having a blast. I love being the aunt. And you know what? I’m good at it. We were sitting around on the beach one day, and Sarah’s sister looked at me, as if it had just occurred to her, and said, “You’ve really got it made, don’t you? You can take the kids for as long as you want, and then you can just give them back and go home alone “ Yes, my friend. Yes, I do have it made. That’s the beauty of being the aunt.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Introducing Milestone Monday

No real post today, as it's my first day back from vacation and I'm still trying to get back into the habit of coherent thought. But as Monday is my Weight Watchers weigh-in day, I'd like to introduce a new feature -- Milestone Monday! I passed the 10-pound mark today. I'm down 11.4 pounds. Woo hoo!

And this was taken pre-weight loss, but it's a cute picture of me and Sarah from girls' weekend, so I thought I'd share. Call it my before picture. I look huge next to her, but I've accepted it as part and parcel of having a best friend the size of a sixth-grader....

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Last Express to Hogwarts

Tomorrow's the day!! Hurrah!! And as of Saturday I'm on vacation with my family, camping at the beach, so Bookgirl will be on hiatus. I read this today in Shelf Awareness, an email newsletter I get, and it made my heart smile, so I leave you with this...

The Last Express to Hogwarts
It is the eve of our last trip to Hogwarts.

Can you think back to that very first time?
The discovery that we are all merely Muggles?
That first taste of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans,
Strawberry, curry, coffee and sardine?
Harry's maiden ride on the Nimbus Two Thousand,
And his victorious capture of the Snitch in Quidditch?
Wasn't it all a wonderful surprise?

For Harry it's been seven years,
For us, nearly nine.
The children themselves championed Harry Potter
And the Philosopher's-turned-Sorcerer's Stone in the fall of 1998.
Impatient readers ordered the sequels from Amazon UK.
Their infectious enthusiasm precipitated
A global [English-language] release date for the Goblet of Fire.
Generations read the books aloud together,
Stood in midnight lines together,
Filled movie theaters to capacity,
And witnessed Richard Harris's departure
Before it was beloved Dumbledore's time to go.
And, as Harry broke all records for sales and first printings,
The children prompted the birth of their own New York Times bestseller list.

The children grew up with Harry,
In a trailblazing series that literally matured with its hero.
Laura may have grown up in the woods of Wisconsin,
And on the shores of Silver Lake,
But, in the Order of the Phoenix, we suffered through Harry's adolescence,
Excruciating for its perfect resonance with our own.
When the insidious, unidentifiable threat of terrorism invaded our shores,
Voldemort was a knowable villain.
Evil had a face, and Harry had faced him down--
With a scar on his forehead to prove it.
What more heartening message
Could one give a child?

So, as we stand on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters,
Awaiting the last train to Hogwarts,
We taste the same bittersweetness
That those seniors must taste.
Excited, but a little sad, to graduate from a place
We've embraced as part of our own community.
And though we will bid farewell to Harry, Hermione and Ron
On the final page (one or two of them perhaps sooner),
They await our return at every rereading.

Millions of children grew up with Harry,
And whether they go back to their video games,
Or go on to be lawyers or teachers,
Writers or booksellers,
Their lives have been touched by magic.

They won't forget Harry.
And neither will we.--Jennifer M. Brown

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Code What?

If I got my news from any source other than Yahoo!, I might know this, but is there currently a high terror alert for New York City? Because my neighborhood has been crawling with police this week. I mean, traveling on foot in packs of three, posted on street corners, squad cars everywhere. Last night ten of them passed me, lights blazing, sirens blaring. I heard one of the officers on foot explain that they’re a special anti-terrorist squad that travel around the city. I, personally, am choosing to believe last night was just a drill. The good news is that when I went walking at 10:30 Saturday night, I felt really, really safe.

I like the police way better than the National Guard. (Yes, these are actually distinctions that need to be made in a 21st-century New York City.) When you see a lot of cops around, you can just tell yourself, “See? Look how safe we are? All that extra security.” Besides, police are at all sorts of fun stuff. Like parades. And carnivals. And high school dances. And who doesn’t love those things?

But in the first couple years after 9/11, when there were still National Guardsmen everywhere, there was just no way for me to rationalize that into a good thing. And I can rationalize anything. There’s no way to spin the guy next to you in camouflage, carrying a shotgun, into anything other than, “Dude. We really are fucked, aren’t we?”

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Are You Ready For Some Football?

It’s finally time. I got the email last week. You know the one. The one inviting me to rejoin my Fantasy Football league. Ah, those sweet, sweet words… Fantasy Football.

For someone like me, who can watch any sport but only really follows one, the period between the Super Bowl and August is one long, lonely time. Sure, there are other sports. But I don’t want other sports, dammit. I want mine. I want to be able to spend 11 hours on a Sunday on my couch drinking beer and watching whoever happens to be playing. I want to talk about football with guys and see that dawning respect in their eyes as they realize. ”Wait… She knows as much about this as I do.” I want to be in a bar with my girlfriends, talking about the game, and watching it work its magic as men around us realize we know what we’re talking about, and it sings its siren call, drawing them in. I want to be at the stadium, getting there hours early to tailgate. Good weather, bad weather. I don’t care. I just want to be there.

So welcome back, boys. All you players and fans. Even those of you who know less about it than I do, I’ll fake it if you’re cute enough. Bring on the commercials that make me laugh out loud, the commentators ribbing on one another like they’re back in the locker room, the ex-players who impossibly look even better in their suits than they did in uniform. Come on, boys. Come to mama. Are you ready for some football????

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dumbledore's Army

As I was walking through Rockefeller Plaza at lunch on Friday, I saw a group of teenage girls with their Harry Potter books, and one of them was wearing a “Dumbledore’s Army” t-shirt, as though it was a rock band. And the pure joy this brought me, the excitement that a book—A BOOK!—could still enthrall kids this way, could make them that enthusiastic about reading, well, it just about made by heart burst. On behalf of teachers, librarians, and book lovers everywhere, I hope someone, somewhere, just gave J.K. Rowling a big, wet, sloppy kiss.

My sister Denise and my nephews Jon and Dan (ages 18 and 15) are coming to New York on Friday for the book’s on-sale, and we’re meeting up with my friend Jeanine and her son, and the whole bunch of us are Harry Potter party-hopping downtown. We’ll ooh and aah over the people in costumes, and have a blast, and then at midnight stand in line for our copies of the book. The crowds will be ridiculous, and I’m not only willing to deal with them, I’m thrilled. Just the thought of all those grownups and kids coming together over the love of a book kind of makes me teary. As Polly would say, “These are my people.”

Tom Campbell is co-owner of the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, N.C. It’s one of those fabulous independent bookstores that everyone in the industry knows and respects. He wrote the following in his store newsletter, and captured the spirit perfectly. He, too, is obviously one of my people.

"This is the last Harry Potter book, and it will quite likely be the last time in any of our lifetimes that people will line up, in the middle of the night, all across the country, and all across the world, to buy a book. To 'see what happens next' in a story. The only other time this has ever happened, as far as I know, was with Charles Dickens more than 150 years ago when crowds waited on the quays in New York for the ship carrying the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop to dock, calling out to the passengers and crew, 'Is Little Nell dead?'
"We don't yet know who is going to die in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but we do know that more than a million Harry Potter readers are dead to the real significance of this event. These are the people who ordered their books from Amazon, and who at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 21, will be home asleep, waiting for the UPS delivery of their book the next day, or two days later, or whenever it arrives. They are indeed getting a great deal on the price of their book, but sometimes in life you get what you pay for. And sometimes you also get an experience that is truly priceless, a once in a lifetime kind of thing."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Little Scrubs

Last month I was on vacation with Polly Poppins and the girls (for those of you longtime readers going ”huh?” that’s the online name adopted by the friend previously known as my-best-friend-in-California). We were listening to a hip hop station, and there was an ad for a day care called Little Sprouts, which I misheard as Little Scrubs. A reasonable mistake, I think, given the context.

But ever since then, I can’t get the idea out of my head. How cool would that be??? Little Scrubs – the hip hop daycare. Can’t you just picture it? All those babies in do-rags and gold chains. Blinged-out, jewel-encrusted pacifiers. Pants that sag below the diapers so you can see the Elmos across the back. Low-rider strollers with speakers mounted so the bass makes them bounce.

Instead of the hokey pokey, at play time would the kids learn the Electric Slide?
Would they answer the phone with “Yo. Little Scrubs. What up?”
The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Working the W's

I swore I wasn’t going to blog about Weight Watchers, in case I lose my motivation. Then I’ve put it out there, and everyone knows I’m trying, and I’m still fat.

But as is the case with any major life change, I’m completely obsessed and can’t keep myself from thinking, talking, and now writing about it. Constantly. If you’ve never struggled with your weight and totally don’t get where I’m coming from, please, for the love of God, don’t tell me. I was a chubby kid who grew up into a chubby adolescent, teenager, and adult. Then about five years ago I went through a really unfortunate time emotionally, which coincided exactly with my dad being diagnosed with cancer. It was like a perfect storm of bad. I ate. And ate. And ate. And ate. Until I woke up one morning, 50 pounds heavier, trying to figure out who that girl in the mirror was.

So while I’ve been on and off Weight Watchers since I was 11, this is the time. I think. No, really. This is it. It feels different this time. I’m in that focused zone, the “you’d damn well better believe I’m going to make this work” zone. And it feels great.

Well, mostly it feels great. Not so much when I’m getting up to pee for the THIRTIETH time today, because I’ve now drunk something like 80 ounces of water so far. Or that moment when I suddenly realize my body was not meant to consume half a head of cauliflower, a large salad, 2 cups of cherries, and some broccoli on the same day. That moment, not so great.

On vacation last week, I actually packed healthy snacks to take to the beach. And ate everything, all weekend, out of the same measuring cup, so I could control my portions. (I’ll probably feel less good if I get food poisoning from the measuring cup, but that’s another story. I’m guessing clam chowder and milk aren’t supposed to mix). I’ve been looking up menus online before I go out with my friends to plan out what I’m eating and figure out the points ahead of time, and exercising more than I have for months. (Sorry New York Sports Club, I’m no longer pure profit.) I mean, I’m FOCUSED. And determined to stay that way, which is what I need you guys for. Who wants to be my cheerleader??

p.s. 5 pounds down after 2 weeks. Woo hoo!!
p.p.s. The amount Weight Watchers wants me to lose to get down to their idea of my ideal weight is actually more than Sarah weighs. I suggested that I just dump HER, and then I’d have lost all the weight with a lot less work, but she reminded me that then I’d just be fat AND unhappy. She might have a point…

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pimpin' in the Camry

As some of you know, I gave up my beloved car in November. Well really, it more gave up on me, but that’s semantics…. Now I know for you suburbanites, going without a car would be somewhat akin to giving up your right foot, but this is New York City. There’s literally nowhere I need to go that I can’t get to on public transportation. So I’ve been walking, busing, or training it everywhere.

But my dad, my lovely, lovely dad, lent me his car for the month of July. Not only do I get to drive, this car has two things my old one didn’t—air conditiong AND an AM/FM Radio. Unless you’ve been there, I can guarantee you that you have absolutely no frame of reference for what it’s like to drive 200 miles each way Fourth of July weekend, with heat in the high 90s, the windows open, listening to Radio Disney because it’s the only station that comes in.

So here’s the scenario: I’m going to Rhode Island for the 4th because it’s my parents’ 52nd anniversary. I’m all excited. I go out drinking Tuesday night, because hey, I have a car. I can just drive to Rhode Island in the morning. I get up early on Wednesday, pack up, get ready to leave and realize it. I. Have. No. Keys.

My house keys are still in my purse. My parents’ house keys. The keys my friend gave me so that I can get into her apartment in times of crisis. Yup, all there. But the key to dad’s car? Not so much. I tear apart my entire apartment. Nothing. I call AAA to get them to send someone out on the off chance that (Please, God) I accidentally locked them in the trunk They remind me that my subscription has expired. I didn’t renew it since, you know, I don’t own a car. So I pull out my credit card, and they send someone to unlock the car. (Current stupid mistake price tag: $58.00, one hour looking for keys, and a call to Sarah that begins with “I have to tell you something. But if you laugh our friendship is over.”).

The nice garage man comes and no dice. So now it’s back on the phone with AAA, so they can send out a locksmith. (Current tally, $58, 2 hours, 6 phone calls to Sarah, and one to my family informing them “something came up and I won’t be making it to lunch.”) The locksmith comes, removes the lock from the trunk, takes it back to the shop, and makes me 2 keys. All for the low, low price of $250. Because if you’re going to do something stupid, why not do it on a national holiday when it’s even more expensive to fix it? For those of you keeping count at home, we’re up to $308, four hours, and a phone call to Sarah involving the words “I really think I’m going to throw up.”

So I finally get on the road. I make it to Rhode Island, pull into the campground where my family is spending the weekend. Great, yes? No. Because I can’t find the campsite where I’m meant to leave my car. One would think that the numbers would go in order, right? But one would think wrong. I’m looking for 541—538, 539, 540, 542.Huh? So I kick it into reverse, thinking I must have driven past it. And that’s when I hear the loud crunching noise. Yes, hat there’s one lone tree planted out four feet further than any of the other trees. And that tree is standing where my side mirror used to be.

So I can just refuse to explain why I’m late, but the missing piece of my dad’s car? That’s not one I can brush over.

Me: So you might have noticed that your car used to have a side mirror, but doesn’t anymore.
Dad: What happened?
Me: It’s gone.
Dad: (Now speaking slowly carefully) What…Happened?
Me: I don't want to talk about it. It’s just gone.
Dad: Did…You…Get…In…An…Accident…With…My…Car?
Me: No. I hit a tree. I’ll get it fixed.
Dad: (Relieved now that he doesn’t have to deal with the insurance company) You do realize that it costs at least $250 to replace the mirror, right?

So yes, grand tally: $558, one humiliating conversation with my dad, and reconfirming the popular family opinion that I’m a complete flake. Good thing I borrowed the car and saved myself that $65 on a bus ticket, eh?

p.s. If you know my dad, he doesn’t know about the whole lost key part. Let’s keep it on the down low, shall we?

p.p.s My sisters and brothers-in-law were taking bets as to why I was late. Popular opinions included both a hangover and me having an overnight guest. If only…

p.p.p.s My friend’s husband, He-Who-Can-Fix-Anything, found me a used mirror for $100 and is fixing it for me. I heart him. While this will most likely be paid in the previously mentioned currency, I will not be the one paying the debt. Way to take one for the team, my friend.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Girls’ Weekend

I’m not sure that there are 2 words in the English language, put together, that bring me as much joy as these two: Girls’ Weekend.

I’m now up to three different girls’ weekend traditions with three different groups of girls. In the winter, it’s my college friends in the Poconos. (Really girls’ weekend and Anthony, since he’s the only boy who comes every year). In June it was my high school friends. And this weekend was the grand-daddy of them all, Duplessis family girls’ weekend.

The year my niece got married (yes, you read that right. My niece. Married. She’s only 4 years younger than I am) we rented a couple of hotel rooms by the beach and all went away together. Between the giggling and the beaching and the sunning and the drinking, we realized we had something there. And so a tradition was born. The next year, we decided to try camping, and now every year, the weekend after the fourth of July, we all show up at the beach. Once we started camping, it became girls’ weekend and dad, since he who owns the motor home is automatically welcome.

We were ten this year: my parents, me, 3 of my sisters, my niece, her sister-in-law, Sarah (who my dad described as “like another daughter”), and my oldest nephew’s girlfriend. Her invitation was a momentous occasion, as we don’t let newbies in lightly, and David really likes her and would have been upset with us if we scared her off. There’s only one rule of girls’ weekend: no husbands, no kids. Pretty much everything else is fair game.

Conversations ranged from blow jobs as currency: “I know someone who gave her husband one a day for 6 months to get a Dyson vacuum cleaner. That’s not worth it. A cleaning lady, maybe. But not a vacuum.” To family history: (Were there really prostitutes in our background? Or did our mom’s sister make that story up?) to an in-depth discussion of the best way to remove the hair “down there.” And I loved every second of it.

There’s nowhere else in the world where I’m happier, where I’m more loved, where I make more sense, where I’m more “me” than right there, surrounded by my girls. They don’t only remind me of who I am, they are who I am. I’ve spent my entire life, since I took my first breath, as “the baby,” the youngest Duplessis girl. And there’s nothing in my life that could make me prouder.

p.s. A special thank you to Diosa, who developed my cute new signature. Isn't it great?? It's EXACTLY what I wanted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Girls of Summer

I live for summer. If you read my winter entries, they're whiney, and sad, and lethargic. But as soon as the weather starts getting warm, I come alive. Put me out in the sun and I'm happy as a clam. And even better than summer? Summer weekends. I spent this entire weekend, margarita in hand, either in or next to Sarah’s pool. My favorite quote of the weekend:

Me: Is it noon yet?
Sarah: Somewhere. Go get the blender.

Sarah has six kids (the oldest of whom inherited her perfect comedic timing), and I brought along my godson, so it was a full house. Sarah’s kids seem to think I was put on this earth to do exactly what they want me to do. As my mother put it best, “Yeah, because you’ve given them so much reason to think otherwise…” So basically I am the human jungle gym at their house. At one point I had three of them hanging off me and I said, “Dude… too many kids.” So the littlest boy would grab onto two of the other kids, have all of them hold on to me, and yell, “Too many kids!” I’m thinking of having that stitched onto a pillow for Sarah since it so perfectly encapsulates her life…

Sarah lives in the country, as do two of my sisters, so while I love my nephews dearly, they’re hicks. Dirtbike-riding, John Deere-loving hicks. Sarah’s seven-year-old told me “Mommy won’t go into Wal-Mart (she shares my loathing for their ideology and prefers not to have her hard-earned Benjamins going to the religious right) but Daddy will take me. Maybe I can go without my shirt on. Wouldn’t that be cool?” he he he. Aim high, baby. Aim high.

I swore I wasn’t going to blog about it, but I’m back on Weight Watchers. Again. (I lost 3.2 pounds this week! Woo hoo!) My weekend diet strategy was best summed up as “drink your points.” Something has to go, right? And it sure as hell wasn’t going to be the juice. While a pitcher of margaritas and a salad is no one’s idea of a balanced meal, it got the job done. My mother, however, doesn’t share my theory on such things.

Mom: You know, if you want to bring those little packets of sugar-free lemonade to the party tonight, no one would ever know. It looks just like a cocktail
Me (genuinely confused): Why would I want to do that?
Mom: In case you don’t want to drink
Me: No, I definitely want to drink.

I’m attaching my favorite pictures from the weekend. I only have pictures of three of the kids. Yeah, I know. I suck.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Thirty-Two Going on Seventeen

I spent the weekend in Woonsocket with the ‘rents, and it was an awful lot like spending a vacation with my teenage self. Staying with my parents, having to ask, ”Dad, can I borrow your car?” every time I wanted to leave the house, sleeping in the twin bed in my old bedroom.

Saturday morning, I was ready to go to the gym when my dad decided that at that exact moment he had to wash and wax the car. It was hard to argue with him, since, well, it’s his car. So I decided to go walking instead. As a teenager who was both without a car and constantly struggling with my weight, I walked everywhere. The CVS where I worked all through high school was right across the street from the church where I went to confirmation classes and taught CCD and volunteered at the summer carnival and hung out with the CYO (and yes, the Frank Zappa song was right). It’s about 4 miles round trip, and I could pretty much do that walk in my sleep.

So I set off, through the dead end where I learned to ride a bike, through the prep school where the rich kids went, through my elementary school, which looks EXACTLY the same, by the park where Diosa and I first sampled pot, by the yard where I let my friend dye my hair forest green (her mother wouldn’t let us do it in the house), by the house where one of my childhood best friends grew up. I had a nice little nostalgia fest. The best part, however, bar none, was a large orange sign. “Public Water Supply” it announced. No fishing, swimming boating… it went on and on. And this was what the sign was in front of. God, I love Woonsocket.