Archive for the 'Weird Things That Bother Me' Category

This Puzzle is the Enemy of Joy

Thursday, January 21st, 2016


That was the title of the one-star review I submitted at CB2 for the puzzle pictured above. The rest of the review was:

I bought this as a gift for a good friend, and I can’t apologize enough to her. This puzzle is a fun vacuum. Many, many of its pieces are so close in shape to others that it has numerous “false friends” or connections that seem right and need to be undone when other parts come together. Thus, much of this puzzle is done by tedious trial and error. This is not only NOT fun, but also problematic because the puzzle is not sturdy enough to withstand the necessary attempts to fit the pieces together, and many of the coatings on the connector nubs separated from the cardboard, so the end result is a puzzle with many sticky-up-py flaps.

This present would be a great gift for someone you DIDN’T like, as it would send them into a spiral of frustration, and make them question their self-worth that they can’t complete a simple 500-pc. puzzle. This puzzle would be lovely if it had better shape differentiation in its pieces, and was better made to withstand more than one connection attempt. As is, it is a very expensive pretty box that, like Pandora’s, only brings pain and suffering when opened.

Interestingly, I got a confirmation when I submitted the review, and another that said it was live and gave me a link. But when I clicked the link, it went to the general site, as happened when I clicked the link for customer service. Badly done, CB2.

When I searched the site for the puzzle, both the item and the reviews (the other review besides mine was also one star) were gone. Did they remove it because it sold out, because they don’t wish to offer a shoddy product, or because the reviews were so damning? I don’t know. But it’s gone and I still had some spleen to vent about it. Thus, I am posting it here for my fellow puzzle geeks to be warned in case it’s still out in the world: pretty box but bad puzzle.

A Program I Hate: Twin Cities Values

Monday, July 20th, 2015

If you, too, want this program to end, or at least stop being delivered to your home, you can go to or better, call at 612-673-7305.

The letter I sent today to the Star Tribune, about their abominable Twin Cities Values Program:

I’m the block leader for my neighborhood, and I am disappointed and even disgusted by the Twin Cities Values program. I entreat you to discontinue it.

Yesterday, I went to houses on our block to invite my neighbors to our National Night Out gathering. More than half of the houses had two TCV bags on the front walk, many soggy from recent rains.

This says to me that people do not want this item. Since it is not requested, you are foisting it on them, which even if it conforms to the letter of the law regarding solicitation, it disregards the intent. Since many do not bother to even pick it up–that’s how much they disdain and disregard it–I see clear evidence that your program is not appreciated. Please discontinue this program.

For many of the neighbors who were home yesterday, I brought the bags up to their house. Today, I went and collected the ones that were still out, and I’ve included a picture of the soggy, ugly pile. This pile would have been at least doubled if I’d done it yesterday.

Every time this program has been tried over the years, I call and ask to have my address removed. But the program starts again, I get them again, I have to call again. I called last week and was assured that for this round, the delivery would stop. I received a TCV. I called again today.

The woman I spoke to today said she was not able to give me information on who runs this program. I am disappointed in your utter lack of accountability for this literally trashy program.

I will be contacting the Better Business Bureau as well as the city, 311, and complaining to my councilperson, Kevin Reich, since you already have ignored my request this time, and haven’t carried it over from past times.

I will be posting this ugly photo on Facebook and Twitter, asking my friends and neighbors to also call to end delivery. I will also send this to the paper’s editor.

This program is a blight on Twin Cities. I think I’ve made it clear how much I despise and revile it. This does not reflect well on the Star Tribune, an institution I admire. Please, end Twin Cities Values.


Friday, May 29th, 2015

I saved Five Caught in a Treacherous Plot by Enid Blyton from my childhood. I remembered loving it, and wanted to read it to my boys.

It was a fun read aloud, and enjoyable to translate some of the archaic English bits for my boys, but ultimately it was rather a lame mystery, simplistic, with stereotypical gender roles. I actually think my boys, at 9 and 11 years old, were too old for it.

It’s a bummer when I revisit something I remember loving, and find the Suck Fairy got into it.

“Clutter Free with Kids”

Friday, May 29th, 2015

I checked Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker out from the library, hoping to get some insight into decluttering in an American family home, since one of my new favorite books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, is written more for single people.

But Becker’s book is long on platitudes, and short on strategy, plus his strategies tend to be more in the kind that Kondo helpfully debunks, like doing a little bit, or one little thing, at a time.

Skip the Becker. Buy the Kondo.


Thursday, October 30th, 2014

I visited Salem, MA earlier this year, and was excited when I saw that Shirley Jackson, author of the famous short story “The Lottery” and the recently re-read and loved Haunting of Hill House, had written The Witchcraft of Salem Village as part of a history series. It was well reviewed, so I was disappointed not to find it in the historical center’s gift shop, but later thrilled to find it for $1 at a used bookstore. And then disappointed again when I found it a slightly stylized but straightforward accounting of the trials, which might have engaged me as a child, but made me question its use of quotes and details in this creative account.

Each time I read about the witch trials, it seems largely explained by a mean-girl syndrome combined with rebelling against their parents and the repressive town in general. I find it weirdly timely, but depressing.

Not nearly as depressing as the memorial to the victims of the trials, though. It is a narrow path with seats on either side, each inscribed with the names of the hanged, who weren’t accorded proper graves. Thus, Salem is apologizing to these victims by inscribing their names on something for people to put their butts on.

Shameful. Disgusting.


The Path to Publication

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Beginning-of-summer draft

Beginning-of-summer draft

And so it begins. Or rather, has begun. I could throw a lot of words at this, but it’s better to simplify, I think.

November 2002, while pregnant with first kid, participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote 50K young adult novel draft about a teen girl with synesthesia. This draft had no plot and no conflict. Sometime after that took 2 novel writing courses at the Loft, found a critique group, and was told it was ready to send out.

I sent it out to 2 editors, plus used it to apply to several writing contests.

*crickets chirping*

I inferred that it actually wasn’t ready to send out.

Around then I had a second child followed by an extendo-dance-mix version of post-partum depression. Things got really jumbled for a while. I started another non-fiction-y memoir thing, I participated in another NaNoWriMo with what seemed like the sequel to the first book. I put both the YA and non-fictiony thing down when Guppy was 1.5 because it was just too much, already.

When he started kindergarten I picked up the YA book again and realized that the first NaNoWriMo combined with the second, the supposed sequel, could actually be one book with a plot and conflict. I took 2 years to merge the two ideas and write my way to an ending I liked.

I took one more year to get a 120,000K word sloppy messy draft to make the beginning and middle match the ending.

I took a summer to edit the 120K behemoth (see photo above. I had it printed out to read and edit in hard copy) down to a svelte 72K word less sucky draft, had 3 beta readers read it to assure me it didn’t suck and was really truly close to sendable.

I made some MORE changes based on their feedback (honestly, I can’t count the drafts) and now it’s at 73K words.

The next step now that I’ve written the best manuscript I am capable of writing is to seek an agent. Back in the day, Young Adult authors could often skip the agent step. Not very often, now.

The order of operations is:

1. Get an agent who then 2. Tries to sell your book.

Last month, I pitched an agent at a conference. She asked for the first 50 pages which I sent, and I haven’t heard from her, but she notes on her site that she takes up to six weeks to read partials, so we’re still in that window.

Last Friday I sent my first cold query to an agent. Yesterday I sent my second.

Every single step of the this new venture makes me feel slow and slightly nauseated. I can’t figure out how to get formatted text into email (apparently, I need Word, which my husband is philosophically and morally opposed to), and was wrestling with the Query Tracker website this morning.

According to all available info, I have years ahead of me of rejection, and am perfectly likely to have this book (on which I’ve worked for nearly 12 years, gah) be rejected and either self published (which is a fine option, though very work intensive) or put away so I can work on the next thing.

As with many moments, I have to remind myself there are really only 2 choices: give up, or keep trying. So for now, I’m going with trying. In spite of the stupid feeling and nausea.

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Bike version

Monday, September 8th, 2014

This is not Bridge #9

Bridge #9? Who knows?

Realized yesterday that “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” could work for me as a blog title, blog subtitle, or epitaph.

Things yesterday that seemed like a good idea at the time:

1. Wearing a skirt to ride my bicycle, hoping to demonstrate the triumph of the ‘penny in yo’ pants‘ hack.

Alas, maybe its my skirt, maybe it’s my generous thighs, but I just cannot get this hack to work for me. putting the coin through both layers, back and front, does not stay, then looks like I’m shitting a coin when it falls out plus then my skirt rides up when I’m biking, and while I wear underwear and am thus not flashing my pink parts at anyone, still, it’s not the image I want to project.

2. Taking a long ride for the first time in a long time. Today, I am saddle sore. Not sure that skirt was a good choice there either, though it is dang cute.

3. Thinking I could depend on my phone’s navigation rather than carefully plotting the route to someplace I’d been to years ago, especially because it advised going over a bridge I’d had trouble finding before, PLUS a bridge in the vicinity of an area of city road washed out earlier this year by a landslide and still closed to traffic. Why yes, I am embracing run-on sentences today.

Getting there: followed phone’s directions. Instead of going way I know pretty well, I was confident I could find elusive Bridge 9. Not so. End up on rocky dirt path, and when Google maps (which still insists, years later, that bike directions are in beta, for good reason, I discover, but still, let’s get it together, already!) tells me to turn left on a bridge, the bridge is over my head, with neither end in sight.

I followed detour signs and ended up on the opposite side of river, and thought, this is wrong (which is was) but just kept going. I did finally arrive at my destination, having to re-cross river, after an hour 25 instead of the predicted 50 minutes, sweaty, late and feeling like an idiot.

Then, on way back, directions said to go straight for 5.4 miles and turn right on elusive Bridge #9. Easy, I thought, and maybe road is not washed out. BUT road is washed out, so took detour, and phone kept telling me to do impossible things like turn left into a building. I followed a nice U student who said he didn’t know which bridge was #9, but that he was going across river, so I followed him, got across river, bonus: stayed across river (yay!) and eventually found my way home.

Later, looked at map to determine I’d probably gone across Washington Avenue bridge, and have yet to get to #9.

So, what did I learn?

1. Wear pants. Possibly padded ones.

2. Bike more, so I am not going on a long ride, woefully out of shape.

3. Take a day in which I have no goal and am not hungry or tired or angry or overheated and figure out where the heck this bridge is. I had a similar problem once finding the Cedar Lake Trail entrance off the River Road (because it’s crappily marked, and almost literally a hole in the wall.)

Problems: 1. costs money. 2 and 3 sound fine, but experience shows more biking = less writing AND more eating and money spending. Solution to 2 is to moderate and alternate, and 3 is to just bike and stop biking to food destinations.

And thus, I sit in my coffee shop, writing. Not biking.

Attention, reader Kitty

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Dear reader Kitty, who lurks, and is perhaps the first fan of my writing:

I keep getting spam from HostGator. Isn’t the the company someone you know works for? While I adore that someone, I do not adore the spam.

If so, can you find a way to get this site off the spam list? Spam makes me feel bad about the blog, which makes me blog less so I get less spam. But I want to blog more!

Any help with this, from any readers, would be greatly appreciated.


GD aka KB

55 Essential Movies for Kids?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

My Neighbor Totoro: Best All-Ages movie ever?

My Neighbor Totoro: Best All-Ages movie ever?

Recently, Entertainment Weekly posted a list online and then in print, of 55 Movies Every Kid Should See.

It’s an interesting list, and like all lists, not unproblematic. I like how it’s grouped for all ages, then 8, 10, and 12+. I agree with many of the movies on the list, demonstrated by how many of those my 8 and 10yo kids have seen.

[quick break while I count... 35.]

Like all lists, it has some questionable inclusions and some inexplicable omissions. I had two main problems with it.

The first is unforgivable, which is that no film by Hayao Miyazaki is on the list. Adding insult to injury is that sexist crap with phallic imagery like The Little Mermaid is. I’m pretty sure that even Miyazaki’s worst film is better than The Little Mermaid. The Miyazaki films should be a subset of their own, and put in order of excellence and age appropriateness.

In fact, maybe I’ll do just that for a future post.

The second flaw is an organizational one. Putting Christmas movies in with the Gen Pop makes no sense. We binge watch the age-appropriate ones every year. Like Miyazaki films, they deserve their own ordered subset, and perhaps I’ll do that come December.

After the usual post-list outrage was vented, EW posted a follow up of 12 Reader Suggestions, which did give a nod, but only that, to Miyazaki.

A few others that came to my mind that we’ve watched with our boys: The Great Escape, The Right Stuff, The Magnificent Seven, Rio Bravo.

This illustrates another problem, though with films, not with the list, which is a woeful lack of films by and about women and girls, yet another reason why all the Miyazaki films should be on the list, since they all have strong female characters most of whom are the protagonist.

How about it, parents and cinephiles. What do you think of the list, what’s on it you disagree with, or missing?

“Just Let Me Lie Down” by Kristin Van Ogtrop

Saturday, July 19th, 2014


A friend recommended Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom by Kristin Van Ogtrop. I hesitated, because Van Ogtrop is the editor of Real Simple magazine, of which I’m not a fan.

I call it Fake Simple, because it purports to make life easier by recommending things that either cost a bunch of money (buy a bunch of organizers from The Container Store!), are actually work intensive (clean your bookcases in 12 easy steps!), or are lame (5 different uses for a dryer sheet!).

To its credit, Real Simple has some good articles, and it’s pretty to look at. Similarly, while I had some problems with the book, there was also some stuff that made me laugh, or want to shake my fist in the air and yell, “Yessss!” Structured as a dictionary of terms like “Ignore the Tray”, and “Que Sera Sera-ism”, it’s really a series of short essays. It would be an ideal bathroom book.

The main problem I had is Van Ogtrop is clearly conflicted about working and parenting. It reminded me of that line in Dead Again, where Robin Williams says

Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that. If you’re a nonsmoker, you’ll know.

Parenting cannot be the either/or that smoking can. She wants to be a parent with a job? Great! Be that. Don’t waver among celebrating your accomplishments, envying what you imagine the opposite is, then sour-graping that it wouldn’t work for you anyway.

Here’s my advice: Life is complicated. Make your choices and the compromises they entail, live with them, and embrace the messy rich life that results.

On the positive side, there were many things that worked for me, and I could relate to. I gave up the corporate rat race when my elder son had three ear infections in five months of daycare, before he was nine months old. I’m not a “working mother” by most people’s definition anymore, since I am a freelance writer who works from home. But every parent is a working parent, whether they have the luxury to choose to have a job or not, so there’s lots of empathize with and appreciate.

I love that in her entry on “Having it All” which is appropriately in quotes, she says it would include:

Coworkers who never use “reply all”

I also love that her entry to First Do No Harm begins:

What you must constantly remind yourself when you’re tempted to kill one of your children.

Because, while I know there are some parents out there who are horrified by that sentence, I am not one of them. I say, Amen, sister.

every boy between the ages of five and fifteen thinks that putting the clothes next to the hamper is the same thing as putting clothes inside it.

I have a 42yo in my house who also can’t always quite get the clothes in the basket.

List Paradox: The Catch-22 of managing your life. You make a to-do list because it enables you to feel as if you are in conrol of your life and helps you see what you can accomplish. Therefore it boosts your self-esteem. However there will always be more items on your list than you can actually cross off, which makes you feel worse.

I periodically swear off lists. Currently, I’m off the list wagon, but I sense a renunciation coming soon.

Mission Statement: The explanation you are forced to provide to children or coworkers whenever you want the group to do something that is meeting intense resistant. Examples include family trips to museums, budget cutting.

This exactly describes my attempts to institute No-Screen Sundays in our house.

Vanishing Act: The fantasy-life maneuver in which you suddenly disappear.

When I was expecting, a new-dad friend of ours, a stand-up guy with a steady job and a suit, told us about his Vanishing Act fantasy. It was useful advice to know that even someone like him struggled with parenthood and the non-Hallmark-Card-ness of it.

In the end, the best part of this book was it made me look hard at my own choices, and embrace them all over again.

“Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse

Saturday, July 27th, 2013


1986. I’m in a class called “The Problem of God” at a Jesuit university taught by an atheist who’d been raised Catholic. One of the required books is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, and the paper we were required to write on it was in response to the question: “Is it possible to be in the world and not of it?”

I am abashed, because it’s a cliche, to say that this book and some of the others like it jolted me out of the mostly complacent beliefs I’d been raised with in the Episcopal church. I didn’t run out and say I was a Buddhist or get a bumper sticker, but I started saying that I was raised Christian rather than that I was a Christian. Interestingly (or not) nearly 3 decades later, I’m not much more defined in my beliefs. I still wander and wonder, unsettled.

is a fairy tale, based on the life of Gotama Buddha, written by Hesse, a German Protestant. Most Buddhists agree this isn’t a good book about Buddha or Buddhism, but interesting perhaps as a German Protestant’s understanding of Buddhism. Like Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, it’s become a beloved book that perhaps belongs better in pop culture or self help than in religious studies.

Siddhartha and his friend Govinda go out from his wealthy home and become ascetics, then part ways when Govinda decides to follow Gotama Buddha and Siddhartha says he much go his own way, a response in harmony with the Buddha’s teaching that there is no one truth, no one teacher and each person’s answers lie within. Siddhartha wanders, then becomes enmeshed in life when he takes up with a courtesan (an interesting woman, yet the book is obsessed with her lips that look like a ripe fig, and isn’t she really just a variation on the Hooker with a Heart of Gold? and on the sexy older woman who teaches the young man The Ways of Love.) Siddhartha becomes nauseated and suicidal, but listens to the river and reaches a form of enlightenment not unlike the Buddha’s.

This is a lovely little story, stereotypes of women aside. It’s accessible. But I think too often it’s taken as Buddhism, rather than a little sliver of a story about Buddhism written by a white man who wasn’t a Buddhist. And the inaction that is ultimately validated seems antithetic to a world of increased justice and peace.

Some other reviews I found interesting included Keely’s on Goodreads, and one at The Open Critic.

“Buddha” by Karen Armstrong

Saturday, July 27th, 2013


I have a confession to make. Buddha was the first book by Karen Armstrong I’ve read. I minored in religion as an undergrad, and went on to get an MA in religious studies. People have been telling me to read Karen Armstrong ever since A History of God came out. Armstrong is a former Catholic nun, a self-described “freelance monotheist” and well-known as an author of books of world religions. And now, I’m feeling kind of vindicated and no longer that guilty about not reading her books. Because I was not that impressed by her Buddha. It was, to me, “unskilled” in many ways, to use a phrase she deploys in the book.

At the beginning, she sets out the challenge of how to do a biography of a person for whom there is so little historical record. The idea of taking the myths and stories and trying to tease out the commonalities into something approaching fact is an interesting one. Alas, the book was more focused on historical details of The Axial Age on one hand, and some oddly specific psychologizing of its subject, such as what he felt and why he left his wife and child. And Armstrong’s no-comment, no-sympathy treatment of the abandoned wife and child curiously dispassionate to me.

Armstrong started to lose me about page 50, though, when she referred to “yoga” in a way that didn’t make it clear that it is a complex system, not the series of exercise poses that many people know it as. She then goes on at page 56, to describe the “yoga” of the Buddha using negative, restrictive terms such as: “force, bludgeon, denial, cut, refusal, exclude, radical denial, invulnerable, control, impervious, suppress” to decribe “yoga”. Additionally, she uses only the male pronoun, unqualified, to describe any practitioner of yoga. Her source, in the notes, is simply Yoga by Eliade, and all her quotes are from the same source. This is in the paperback edition, so I can fairly criticize BOTH author and editors for such a slack-ass citation. The full citation should have included the full title:
Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade and have indicated that it was first published in 1936. Why does Armstrong use a scores-old source written by a white man when she might have used modern critical scholarship by practitioners? Yes, Eliade is one of the most famous figures in religious study. He’s best known for his writing on the sacred/profane, and origin myths. But along with Joseph Campbell, who Armstrong also references in her notes, I think of him as the type of superficial, outsider scholar that is included in most first-year college religion overviews, or on PBS specials, or in pop-culture. I wanted a better source, and to know whose translations of the ancient texts she was using, and why.

Edited to add: I also wondered at Armstrong’s uncritical take on the caste system, presented simply as “this is what it was” rather than as the colonially constructed system posited by Nicholas Dirks in his Castes of Mind.

Finally, I found Armstrong’s book dull and slow, surprising for such a short book about such a fascinating person with such a vast store of myths and legends. Frustrated and disappointed, I pulled out my freshman college copy of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha to compare and contrast, which I’ll write about in another post.

For a more compassionate take on the book that still raises concerns, see this review at Tricycle.

Whither the Female in Post-Apoca-Fic?: “A Canticle for Leibowitz” and “Oryx and Crake”

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Post-apoca-fic (PAF) is most recognized as a sub-genre of science fiction, but end-time narratives are at least as old as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah’s ark. Modern PAF is marked as beginning with Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, written by a woman by featuring a male protagonist.


I recently re-read the PAF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr. Published in book form in 1959, it collected 3 sections that had previously appeared in a sci-fi magazine. It centers on a monastery in post-nuclear Utah. There the monks seek canonization of the sacred Leibowitz of the title. A man of science instrumental in the nuclear holocaust of the mid 20th century, Leibowitz converted to Catholicism and advocated peace and learning. The book’s first section is set in the mid 21st century:

Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice’s Lenten fast in the desert.

The subsequent sections jump ahead hundreds of years, though there are through lines for characters and artifacts that are fun and satisfying to recognize. I found the first section with Brother Francis, the most engaging. It’s the most funny, and Francis was my favorite of the many characters in the book. As the novel progresses, though, it shifts from being speculative to more preachy and explicative. The only females are in the third section, and this book fails The Bechdel Test, which identifies gender bias in fiction, in that no female has a conversation with another female.

Since the book is set in a monastery, it could be argued that it wasn’t within the scope. Yet after I read this book, I longed for a female perspective, something like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Since I hadn’t read her most recent post-apocalypse novels, I decided to check out Oryx and Crake, the first of the MaddAddam trilogy, which was followed by The Year of the Flood and completed with MaddAddam, to be published this September.


The events in Oryx and Crake are typical of PAF: a genetically engineered plague has wiped out probably all humans except one man, our narrator:

Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wve sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is still asleep. ..

Out of habit he looks at his watch–stainless steel case, burnished aluminum band, still shiny although it no longer works. He wears it now as his only talisman. A blank face is what it shows him: zero hour. It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.

Snowman is not alone; he is surrounded by a variety of genetically spliced creatures. The series proceeds ahead then flashes back. Typical Atwood, she breaks every rule of how to write fiction, yet the story unspools seamlessly into a compulsively readable narrative. Although devourable, the book left a bitter aftertaste. The central characters are a love triangle: two men and one woman, who embodies several cliches, and meets a clicheed end. She never converses with another woman, so this book too fails the Bechdel test. And, for anyone expecting closure, remember: you’re reading Atwood.

I continue to puzzle over this book. What does it add to the PAF genre other than a ripping yarn typically devoid of females? Is there a deeper layer of irony that I’m missing? Is Atwood saying a fully realized female is impossible in PAF? Is this an extension of the female-suppressing world of Handmaid? Does the apocalypse somehow preclude women? Certainly, it’s provoking, though what it has provoked is perplexity and anger and disappointment at Atwood, not my usual admiration.

I found a possibly parallel question in Vanessa Veselka’s essay in The American Reader, “Green Screen: The Lack of Female Road Narratives and Why It Matters“:

Siddhartha wants liberation, Dante wants Beatrice, Frodo wants to get to Mount Doom–we all want something. Quest is elemental to the human experience. All road narratives are to some extent built on quest. If you’re a woman, though, this fundamental possibility of quest is denied. You can’t go anywhere if you can’t step out onto a road.

Left to my own devices, I’d go down a rabbit hole and explore PAF with female protagonists. Maureen McHugh has done some excellent stories and her novel Mission Child is one of the few I can think of. Octavia Butler? Sheri Tepper’s Gate to Women’s Country? Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time? YA PAF often has female protagonists, e.g., Katniss Everdeen, only to shackle and domesticate them in the end.

Alas, being part of 3 book groups, one of which I lead (hence Canticle, which sent me down this “road”) means my dance card is limited, so I’m unlikely to read up on these questions soon. If any of you kind readers have any insight, please, please, start a thread in the comments section.

“Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel

Saturday, April 6th, 2013


I am one of the few people who didn’t love Wolf Hall. I found the story boring and the use of ambiguous ‘he’ pronouns annoying. Does this reaction make me a philistine? Perhaps. So I was understandably reluctant to approach the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. Trusted friends like Amy and Kate assured me it was better than the original. Nonetheless, I put it off over all the other Tournament of Books contenders that I wanted to read. Left it for dead last.

I liked the opening. There’s some gorgeous writing. Henry the VIII’s court should be fascinating. Yet I found this book far too easy to put down. I told myself I’d give it 50 pages, yet when I got to 45, I couldn’t even see the point of forcing down those last five pages. It was non-compelling for me, and still with deliberately awkward use of ‘he.’ I read so many ToB books this year that I just loved and raced through; this one left me cold. I returned it unread, and am on to the next book. Life’s too short.

In Search Of…

Friday, April 5th, 2013

I’m 45. I wondered recently if because my Granny is almost 99, if this didn’t make me less than middle aged. Alas, it was a joke, and I’m recently butting up against trying to dress my aging self. I’m thinking wistfully of the time my yoga instructor said to me, “Your abs look aMAzing!”

To which I responded, “Not for long, I’m 6 weeks pregnant.” And that was the last we saw of my flat belly, though I suppose I should take some consolation that it went out at the top of its game.

Now, though, it’s a definite bulge, and my current challenge is that I can’t find a clothing layer that covers both my belly and my boobs. If it’s long enough at the bottom, it’s plunging, often below the edge of my bra at the top. If it covers my (admittedly scanty) cleavage (aka Cleave-land) then it hits about my belly button.

So I’m desperately seeking something–a tank, a camisole–that can meet both needs. I have one Bordeaux top that a friend gave me that does pretty well, though new ones are price-y (or spendy as we say here in MN) at $55. I picked up some Alfani camis (no longer available on their site) from the Macy’s sale rack shopping with my sister last week.

I also ordered a couple things online, and was reminded of the problem with online purchases–easy to buy, hard to return. So I think I’m back to shopping in person. And yet, shopping isn’t exactly the best use of my time. Sigh.

But my prey is elusive, and I suspect this is EXACTLY the kind of silly quest that distracts me from things I really should be doing, like writing, some volunteer work at the boys’ school, exercising, and cleaning house. I do so love silly quests.

Book Advice?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

I’m obsessing nerdishly over what books from the Tournament of Books to read and which to skip. Here are the ones I haven’t read but am interested in:

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
May We Be Forgiven
Bring Up the Bodies
Beautiful Ruins

Might read sometime but not now: Dear Life, Building Stories,

Probably (or in the case of the Heti, mos. def.) not: Yellow Birds, Fobbit, How Should a Person Be, Ivyland

So, what should I read next? I was leaning to Beautiful Ruins, but it’s hard to lay hands on, and Bring Up the Bodies just came in for me, but I didn’t really care for Wolf Hall. And Billy Lynn just got eliminated, and doesn’t sound like a zombie contender.

So, what next: Bring Up Bodies, Beautiful Ruins or May We Be Forgiven?

Any on the maybe or no list that I should reconsider?

Cuss You, Spam

Friday, March 8th, 2013

So I have a head cold, and am resting, and back to blogging about books, movies, food, and family, and what happens? I get slammed by spam. 75+ just this morning. Compliments, insults, randomness, vagaries.

I heard this morning that the unemployment rate was down. Apparently, a lot of people are now working in spam.

Kitchenaid: Your Products and Customer Service STINK

Monday, February 18th, 2013

An Open Letter to Kitchenaid Customer Service:

Interestingly and frustratingly, but sadly not surprisingly, I have visited your website and am unable to complete the customer feedback because I cannot access the columns–you have a faulty website with a limited Flash program that doesn’t accept input from our browser.

Also, you don’t list an address so I can send a physical letter.

And when I called to get an address, I was told by the electronic voice that I’d have to wait over ten minutes to talk to a real person. Also, I wasn’t given an option of customer feedback, just service or parts.


I have recently received two solicitations for an extended service plan for our Kitchenaid dishwasher, purchased at Warner Stellian in February 2006. The dishwasher is the worst appliance we have ever had the misfortune to own, and your brazen solicitations for us to pour good money after bad on the dishwasher in general, and Kitchenaid in particular, only add insult to the considerable injury we have endured over the years as we’ve muddled through with this substandard, poorly made machine waiting for it to die.

The machine broke down for the first time in February 2007. We thought we’d be covered by the warranty and were surprised and upset to find the warranty had been for a mere six months, which hardly shows company confidence in your products. The door mechanism had failed, and the chopper was clogged. The technician fixed both problems, and told me the door was an ongoing issue. I did my own research and found significant online evidence (just 2 examples: here and here) that the door attachment was weak and faulty. A more conscientious company would have notified all customers and replaced its shoddy work for free. Instead, we like many others, had to pay about $300 soon after we bought the machine to fix something that wasn’t made right in the first place.

A few months later, our control panel froze again. We called a technician, who came, told us the clogged chopper was an ongoing problem with the Kitchenaids, and showed me how to reset the panel and take the machine apart so I wouldn’t have to call for service everytime. He did not have to do this, and I am still grateful that he had the decency and good customer sense to do this. It is only this that has allowed us to trudge on over the years with the dishwasher, as the machine clogs at least once a month and I have to take it entirely apart to clear it out. This is yet another ongoing problem with the machine that could have been avoided by better engineering early on, but then at least mitigated later on by including how to reset the panel and take apart the machine in the user manual, rather than trying to hide that information with technicians who charge about $200 a visit.

This second visit meant we’d paid over $500 on top of the original price, all within 18 months of purchase. I determined that if another service call was ever warranted, that we’d buy a new, non-Kitchenaid dishwasher, one from a company with a good performance and excellent customer service record.

And while the door has not detached from the machine again, it has not performed well, either. It frequently pops open during a cycle, an unpleasant surprise to discover in the morning, and a waste of water as the cycle runs again. We’ve learned to hack this by wedging it shut with a chair and our cast-iron pan to weight it down. It seems to me this is an extreme solution to something so basic as KEEPING THE DOOR CLOSED.

The front basket accessory unravelled at the bottom, but we chose not to spend more money on the dishwasher. Ditto one of the brackets on the top shelf.

In order to keep the chopper clear, we had to scrupulously rinse dishes of food particles, plus carefully arrange dishes in the machine. This machine was extremely fussy and require a great deal of practice and attention in order to function. Even so, it often didn’t clean dishes thoroughly.

I contacted Kitchenaid customer service to detail the bad experiences we’d had with our machine. I was told it was out of warranty, and that they’d be happy to arrange another service call for me that I could pay for.

There is plentiful documentation online that many others had similar troubles. For me and for others, your company had NOT responded to repeated requests to stand by their malfunctioning product by fixing or replacing shoddy items.

The guts of the Kitchenaid DW. You need to remove them ALL to get to the clog.

The guts of the Kitchenaid DW. You need to remove them ALL to get to the clog.

For better or worse, I’ve been able to keep the machine going for almost 7 years since I learned to reset and clean it out myself. But the clogs have been getting more and more frequent, so I think the machine is near the time when I’ll kick it to the curb and tell it not to let the door hit it in the rear on its way out. I don’t appreciate spending hundreds more dollars on replacing an appliance I’d hoped would last for many years, not limping through seven. But I very much look forward to a non-Kitchenaid dishwasher.

Interestingly, and not coincidentally, over these years I’ve accumulated what I call the Kitchenaid Graveyard of other Kitchenaid kitchen implements that have failed. I will attach a photo, and will attach the photo to this letter that I’ll post online to my website, to Facebook. I will additionally follow up to review these items accordingly on major retailing sites so that other consumers might avoid the expense of these readily breaking down items:

The Kitchenaid graveyard of broken items. Cheese slicer and grater not shown.

The Kitchenaid graveyard of broken items. Cheese slicer and grater not shown.

Blender 1: glass container cracked, lid had faulty liner
Blender 2: plastic container cracked
ice cream scoop: squeeze mechanism broke, and scoop wouldn’t release without it
basting brush: filaments bent and would no longer evenly distribute sauce
cheese slicer (not pictured): wire broke immediately
Cheese grater: rubber ring base ripped; plastic casing and base both cracked

It took some years, but I finally learned my lesson and stopped buying Kitchenaid. I had a false sense of a reliable brand given my ONE good experience, which was with the mixer I bought at Bloomingdale’s at King of Prussia mall in the early 90’s. It still works well over twenty years later, even though it’s the lower end 4.5 quart size. But if it ever does break, I doubt I’d replace it with a modern Kitchenaid, given the subsequent product debacles I’ve endured over the years.

My advice to you:

Reduce advertising and spend that money and attention on engineering and customer service, which are severely lacking in products both large and small.

Extend your warranty yourself–make it two years, and when an issue like the dishwasher door becomes evident, replace the items at no cost to the consumer. Stand by your products, and not by sending out extended warranty solicitations way after the fact like you’re doing us some favor.

And, if you’d really like to stand up for your products, replace our Kitchenaid Dishwasher model KUDS01FLWH7 which has been a constant disappointment with a new one, and if it holds up, I’ll write positive reviews.

But until and unless you make a definitive statement like replacing our limping dishwasher, I will keep this letter posted on the web, and post detailed, negative reviews of your faulty products based on my experiences.

I am your sincerely disappointed, irritated and now aggravated by your recent solicitations,

Unhappy Kitchenaid Dupe

Further Misadventures with Home Spa

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

In November of 2010, I tried a DIY spa treatment at home. I made a brown sugar/heavy cream scrub for my scalp, which exfoliated and moisturized well, but smelled terrible. I wrote:

This should put me off any more home spa attempts for a while. Until I forget, and then I’ll be all, “I don’t know if this is a good idea, but I’m going to do it anyway.” Story of my life, I swear.

Two years and 17 days, people, is how long it took me to forget. Yesterday I consulted Curly Girl for a natural, shampoo-free solution for itchy scalp. I’d tried the brown sugar and conditioner before, and it worked OK. The newer edition of the book recommended quinoa plus conditioner. Directions: 1 tablespoon raw quinoa in 3 tablespoons conditioner. Scrub scalp and rinse. Hey, I thought, if I use it in my hair then we don’t have to eat it! (Not a fan of quinoa, or of how much 9yo Drake bitches and moans when we make it.) Plus it’s bigger, so it should scrub better than brown sugar.

It actually felt very nice and scrubbly, but as with past home-spa disasters, things started well but ended badly. Quinoa, unlike brown sugar, does not dissolve in water. And it’s a fast cooking grain. So by the time I finished scrubbing, rinsing, conditioning and showering, the walls, floor, shower curtain and my feet were covered with partially cooked grain. How had 1 Tablespoon produced so much? The hair trap was full, the water was backing up. The grains were no longer hard, but soft and more difficult to clean up.

So, here I was again, cleaning up another home spa mess. On the bright side, the scrub worked great and my scalp is in great shape.

“A Wrinkle in Time” graphic novel

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

I really, really wanted to love the graphic-novel version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. So I was surprised and disappointed to find I didn’t even much like it. And I feel terribly, terribly guilty about this. I love the novel–it was one of my first favorites as a kid. I love Larson’s work. In Gray Horses, Chiggers, Mercury, she’s a great artist and storyteller. But for me, this adaptation didn’t work.

The aspect that gave me the most trouble were the character depictions. I’ve held this book so close, for so long, that I have my own pictures in my head of what the characters look like, even the minor ones, and many of Larson’s clashed with the ones in my head. Obviously, someone coming to the book for the first time via this adaptation wouldn’t have the same issue.

Related to that, though, was the trouble I had with the character of Meg. When I’ve read the book, which I did last summer, I’ve related to gawky, socially inept Meg. When I read this book, I was irritated by her. Seeing her on the page made me less able to identify with her.

I am torn as I write about the book. I wanted to like it. I don’t want others to skip it. But it didn’t work for me. Here’s hoping it works better for you.