to my dad and that girl sitting behind me at the basketball game

For the second year in a row, Sam and I have season college basketball tickets. Last year I didn’t attend any of the games because I was ginormously pregnant, uncomfortable and pretty sure Duncan was going to fall out of me at any second. This year, we’ve donated some tickets but I’ve attended several of the games with Sam while the kids stayed home with one of the handful of amazing graduate school students we interviewed to babysit (living in a town with so many universities and colleges certainly has its perks!) Yesterday we witnessed a rather dismal loss to Louisville, made all the worst by the couple sitting behind us who kept up a constant stream of loud-talking conversation that mainly went something like this:

The girl: I’m hungry. I am SO hungry. I am dying. Those nachos look amazing. That pretzel looks delicious.
Her fiance: So go get something to eat.
The girl: I can’t. We’re getting married. I have to fit into my dress. But God, I’m so hungry.
Her fiance: Well, then, think about dinner. Where do you want go to dinner?
The girl: I don’t know. Maybe(INSERTS PLACE NAME HERE)? I’m obsessed with it. OBSESSED. It’s not healthy.
Her fiance: Sure, that’s fine. We’ll go there.

It took a majority of my self-control to keep from turning around to this young woman and saying for the love of God, if you are hungry, EAT. Feed yourself! Have a pretzel, for Pete’s sake. It will be okay, I promise.

Segue.

At seventy-two years old, my father has started the paleo diet after reading exactly one magazine article about it. He is claiming to change his eating lifestyle because this particular magazine article claimed the paleo diet can stave off Alzheimer’s, but we know him and have no doubt this is ultimately about weight loss, which begs the question – is there ever a point in your life where you are allowed to stop worrying in some fashion about your weight? According to my mother this is the fifth or sixth time he has made a major lifestyle shift like this, and ultimately she is the one who suffers, firstly because even in her late sixties she has the metabolism of a souped-up sports car so decreasing her calories in any way causes people to ask her if she has cancer, and secondly because my dad is the type of guy who starts a low-carb diet by deep frying bologna at six in the morning.

Segue.

All of which brings me to an update on my progress on the South Beach Diet from last year, which I started with a bang and stuck to for three months or so, until it became obvious that the different food I was eating was very confusing for my daughter, who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t taking a bite of spaghetti and meatballs or sharing a piece of chocolate with her, and who started asking all the questions no four year old should have to ask. I saw in myself my father, regularly unhappy with my body, always trying to find a new way to achieve the unachievable, and I very clearly saw the possibility of going down this road in full view of my gorgeous, healthy, not-yet weight conscious children and I told myself stop it – just – stop it.

Eat, I told myself, like a grown up. Like a reasonable grown up, and be done with all the nonsense.

Currently, I have no idea what I weigh. I do know my clothes are all fitting well and I feel great. I’ve made sure to make time on a near-daily basis for exercise, including hot yoga, dance classes and swimming laps. I still do, and probably always will, evaluate what I eat on a daily basis, asking myself at the end of each day if I consider what I ate to be reasonable, and if it trends toward too much fat or too many simple carbohydrates, I try and address that the next day.

It’s hard – it’s hard to think this way, and admittedly I have some perhaps unnecessary ideas about what it means to eat like a grown up. Mostly these ideas center around avoiding too much sugar and too many white products and eating salads, but they aren’t terribly developed.

I love my father unconditionally, but there is a part of me that believes I wouldn’t have yo-yo dieted, and my weight wouldn’t have yo-yoed either, if our family hadn’t been subject to his dramatic swing in diets over the years – vegetarianism when I was eight, quickly followed by extreme low-fat (all the sherbet and pretzels we could eat, but never a hamburger), to South Beach and Atkins later on. I don’t think anything he was doing was so terribly unusual for the eighties and nineties – a lot of people started to diet in a really committed way around that time – but it’s time to stop the madness. I don’t want to be beginning a paleo lifestyle at 72 – I want to be eating pasta and gelato and exploring Italy because that is maybe when I’ll be able to afford to do so.

So, yep. 2015 can be considered the year I stopped dieting. I think everyone in my family is better for it.

The Goldfinch

It took me six weeks – six weeks, people – to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and along the way I heard all manner of stories from people who began, but could not complete, this book. The first person who started off with good intentions gone quickly south was my father, who for all intents and purposes didn’t even start the book. He ordered it from his local bookstore because it was selected by his book club but because of, I don’t know, backlog and slow delivery and the fact he lives in small-town northern Michigan, he didn’t receive it in time for his book club. He went to the meeting anyway, and all the people that annoy him loved it while one of the men he most respects slammed the book down and said “I do not understand why we are expected to care for or in any way be interested in this self-indulgent, whiny narrator.” That was enough for my dad, who I regularly accuse of having a terrible prejudice against women authors to begin with, to pass up the book entirely and guiltlessly return to, I don’t know, more Cormac McCarthy, probably.

Then one of my co-workers saw it in my computer bag. I have since learned from her that she is the type of person who generally prefers happy television and happy books, so her comment that she stopped reading The Goldfinch once the main character became “sort of a bad kid” didn’t hold too much weight with me – I’ve indulged in way too much Stephen King and Peter Straub to stop reading because of a flawed character.

Yet another co-worker told me he stopped reading it because “of all the art history” and, after finishing the book, I can see how at least a fleeting interest in art and art history would be necessary in order to be engaged by the story. It’s no secret that Suri Hustvedt is one of my favorite authors – it might be more of a surprise that I fell in love with art history in one of my college humanities courses and have indulged my passion for it here and there ever since.

All of which is to say, I brought a lot of other people’s baggage to this book, but am I ever glad I kept on reading. This is one of the most remarkable, beautiful books I’ve ever read, so much so that as I neared the end I made sure to complete the book when I wasn’t too tired so I could absorb every word. This is a book that makes an argument – and argument for art and artists and acceptance of the differences between each and every one of us. This is a book where you meet terribly, terribly flawed people who have all managed to survive – terror attacks, horrifying families, lost loves, and a deeply cruel world. They’ve managed to survive through various coping mechanisms (the only way I can think to describe it although “coping mechanism” feels too light-hearted) – drugs, alcohol, sex – art, antiques, unrequited love – and while they don’t necessarily do so easily or gracefully, they make it – they make it through.

There are so many ways to talk about this book – through its carefully constructed plot, through its characters, through the city of New York, through the art – and it’s been out for a while so I’m not terribly concerned with spoiling the plot for anyone, but given the way I entered this particular reading experience I have decided, instead, to talk about what you need to bring to the reading of this book. So, first of all, like most great reading experiences, you need to bring a healthy dose of what if to this book. What if a boy and his mother were one day wandering through the museum of modern art and a bomb exploded and then that boy through an incredible series of events survived and inadvertently – yes, truly – stole a world famous painting. What if? This needs to be plausible for you, otherwise you’ll never complete the book (for it is long, yo).

A boy goes on an adventure. What if.

I also think you need to bring at least a glancing compassion for, if not direct knowledge of, addiction. Almost every character in the book either battles with or welcomes at least one (but most often multiple) addictions – and I think it’s the spiraling out of controlledness that these addictions lend to the story that turned off readers like my colleague and my father’s book club member.

Finally, if you aren’t an art history buff, I do think you have to have a love of literature or film or theater or ballet or even baseball – something that stands the test of time. For me, the most powerful argument the book made was about the conversations that happen over the course of centuries, how art communicates with its audience through the passage of time. I’m not an art expert, but literature and the theater have always spoken to me in this way, and there have been times in my life where returning to Pride and Prejudice or a production of “The Cherry Tree” has felt lifesaving. It might sound like hyperbole, but that is how it feels.

This is a stunning book – read it.

Happy New Year

I’ve tried to write drafts of this post twice now and both times I haven’t successfully saved them in wordpress but hey, third time’s a charm! Admittedly, it’s sort of difficult to rally the same spirit for this post the third time around but I am going to give it a try. So, yes, 2015 had some ups and downs for us but it is hard to dislike a year that brought us this guy:

Duncan1

Having a second child is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Watching Evangeline and Duncan’s relationship develop has given me more joy than I ever thought possible. Our finances are certainly strained and without any family nearby Sam and I sometimes feel overwhelmed but I wouldn’t trade these two for wealth or relaxation, not even for a second:

parkbreak

We are deep into early January – close enough that any resolutions we made can still seem shiny with promise – but far enough away that talking much about 2014 seems trite to me. I didn’t read or write nearly enough but I hadn’t planned on it – a baby’s first year can be terribly consuming and I made the conscious choice to simply focus on Duncan’s first year and work on everything else in 2015. One nice thing about my thirties – I’m growing out of making resolutions, but I did sit down on New Year’s Eve and write some guiding words for the year. (Okay, here is the point where I realize that I forgot to bring my journal with me and so don’t have the words immediately in front of me. I was going to explain a little about each word but instead I’ll just write about a few of my intentions.)

One of the concepts I am embracing wholeheartedly – indeed, that I started incorporating into my daily life before the new year – is the concept of minimalism. So often I feel overwhelmed by paperwork, my kids’ toys, by all of our things despite owning a large home. In the fall I started following Rachel Jonat at the Minimalist Mom and even downloaded her book, Do Less. Both her blog and the book are loaded with great information to steamline your home, your life and your mind. One of the first tasks I tackled was throwing away all of our old, ratty towels and buying one towel set for each family member, as well as a guest set. As they show signs of wear and tear I will replace them, but otherwise they get laundered on Saturdays and used the rest of the week – my linen closet is already greatly improved! She also had some really great tips for applying minimalism to our on-line lives. I really thought about the outlets that bring me joy (my blog, facebook on occasion, twitter almost never, instagram when I remember it) and relentlessly began defriending people on facebook who bring negativity to my space (the anti-vaccine crusader who I hung out with in high school, the racist Obama-haters), unsubscribed to a million newsletters and online catalogues (another concept she tackles is reducing the want in your life by reducing the number of catalogues and online advertising you subscribe to) and trimming my twitter lists.

I know most people probably don’t need a how to book to purge and improve their lives but I’m the kind of person who needs a bit of guidance so I’m grateful for Jonat, her book and her blog.

Another one of my guiding words – Art – is pretty broad, but basically by improving my home I am hoping to make more room for my writing and reading, and whatever creative pursuits my children set their minds to do. Evangeline really loves crafts and Duncan responds in a very visceral way to music so I am hoping to make lots of room for this kind of exploration for them.

In terms of the blog, I would like to make this a more visual space without it becoming all about the pictures. My favorite blogs to read are still the long text heavy ones that tackle subjects, ideas, passions and wormholes – but one or two good photos slays me every time. I also hope to keep up its overall theme by discussing “sandwich day” issues, but I also hope to use this space to talk about my current passions and interests. Thanks so much for sticking with me in 2014 – here is to a fascinating, complex 2015!