Defining Motherhood

One Mom Finds Meaning in the Madness

Meet Hecate

Meet Hecate, Formerly Known As Purple Bear

Hecate (née Purple Bear)

DENOMINATE:  to give a name to

Rick Riordan has changed things around here.

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series transformed Son into an eight-year-old boy who would rather read than have screen time. The Heroes of Olympus series transformed him into someone who made sure to have his allowance in his pocket if we were passing within the vicinity of Secret Garden Books.

And, the changes go beyond reading enthusiasm. Before Percy Jackson, the stuffed animals in our house had names like Big Dog, Little Cow and Purple Bear. Now, a large number of formerly plain-named creatures have been christened with names like Poseidon, Hecate, Zeus and Hephaestus.

My children have spent the last two hours in their room acting out complex scenarios and battles at Camp Triple Blood. That’s right. Camp Triple Blood: where kids that are a combination of human, Greek god, and animal go for the summer. I’m really hoping my children don’t ask too many questions about the specifics of how three people would mate to create the campers for this imagined camp.

If they do, I’ll be asking Rick Riordan to make a house call and clean up this delightful, inventive mess he made.

Summer Reading Bingo

summer bingo

BINGO: a game in which players match numbered squares on a card with numbers that are called out until someone wins by matching five squares in a row

It’s time for a review of my June reading. All of my selections have been dictated by the Seattle Public Library’s summer reading BINGO card. I’m now deep in the throes of competitive reading with strangers from around the city in hopes of being the lucky winner of a stack of new books.  Check out the scorecard and play along. Here’s what I read in June: 

Everything i never told you

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Category: checked out from the library

A quietly sad and well-written novel about what can happen when we choose appearances over authenticity. I was surprised to find that this was categorized as adult lit rather than YA. That made me less forgiving of the heavy-handed role of racial prejudice and certain unlikeable characters. But, I’m a sucker for first novels and a lover of dysfunctional family stories so this book was mostly a win for me.

the bookseller

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Category: from an independent bookstore

This was my book club’s pick for the month. My lukewarm recommendation of this book is more likely the result of my own cheapness and the fact that the book is only available in hardback than an accurate reflection of the quality of the novel. I mostly enjoyed this road not taken story—bouncing back and forth between two plausible life paths—but found the narrator’s over-enlightened modern perspective on autism jarring in this story set in the 60s. While the journey was quick and fun, the destination was disappointing.

 the dinner

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Category: translated from another language

This book takes place during a single dinner, with key plot points revealed like timed courses. The characters are erratic and unlikable. The plot is farfetched. The suspense is overdone. And yet, I liked the book as a whole. It was the literary version of a still life: Very few people keep a well-stocked fruit bowl with one stray pear artfully placed on a counter nearby, but it’s still impressive when an artist captures the colors and texture of a pear just right. If for no other reason, this book is work reading to appreciate Koch’s fabulous caricature of an upscale restaurant.

MMCD

Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness

Category: collection of short stories

Choosing to read this anthology was a bit self-serving, but I enjoyed the range of essays from my fellow writers. It’s the first book with a spine that includes my byline. So, yeah … I liked it. A lot.

girl with pearl earring

The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Category: banned

This book is written at a gentle pace that matches the unfolding lives of the characters. Chevalier captures scenes in painstaking detail and allows the reader to be completely immersed in a world where subtleties—an open mouth, a wisp of hair, a concealed grease spot—mark significant shifts in power and intention.

this one summer

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

Category: graphic novel

I get what this book is doing. I like realistic, subtle portrayals of depression and dysfunction as much as the next girl. It turns out, I just like those portrayals in writing. I’ll take 1,000 words over a picture any day. I suspect that for those better able to appreciate graphic novels, this will be a hit.

a boys will

A Boy’s Will by Robert Frost

Category: collection of poetry

I have long loved The Road Not Taken and, mistakenly, believed that I would love all of Robert Frost’s poetry. A Prayer in Spring and Revelation were two of my favorites in this collection from 1913, but I found the poems uneven. Though, to be fair, this is an early collection of Frost’s writing. I suspect that most famous poets—as well as anyone who dabbled in angst-ridden rhymes in their youth—cringe a bit at their early works.

84 charing cross

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Category: recommended by a friend

A solid recommended from my friend Brooke. This book is a series of letters between Helene Hanff (a New York writer) and Frank Doel (a London bookseller). While the letters start off as little more than an old-fashioned Amazon.com transaction—Please send me X edition of Y: I’ve enclosed some cash but don’t know how to convert dollars to pounds, so do the math and let me know if I need to send more—they become exchanges between friends brought together through a love of literature. This collection of correspondence is curated into a tiny, charming, and thoroughly enjoyable book.

ill give you the sun

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Category: you finished reading in a day

This stunning story, told in alternating narratives, completely captivated me and was my favorite read of the month. I was sad to see it end, but lacked the restraint to make it last longer. I admired the vividness and authenticity of the relationships as well as Nelson’s writing style and her tidy-in-the-best-way plot.

35 things that matter to me today

candles

BIRTHDAY: an anniversary of a birth

Like major holidays or the first day each autumn that the coffee shop offers eggnog lattes, each year on my birthday I feel compelled to reflect on years past and what the day has meant to me over time.

This year as I reflect, I find many of the things that mattered in the past—my height, the theme of my invitations, the content of my gifts—don’t matter to me anymore.

Other things—my width, the theme of my current essay, and the contents of my coffee cup—matter more.

Here are 35 things that matter to me today:

  1. My husband
  2. My children
  3. The crazy joy that those particular people bring into my life
  4. The certainty I feel that I bring a bit of crazy joy to their lives too
  5. Childhood friends
  6. The perspective that comes from spending time with those who knew you when
  7. New friends
  8. The freedom that comes from spending time with those who didn’t know you then
  9. A ceramic cup that feels just right in my hand
  10. Coffee in that cup
  11. Gilmore Girls
  12. Pride and Prejudice
  13. Perfectly-salted popcorn
  14. Hoppy IPAs
  15. Comfortable shoes
  16. Spanx
  17. A cute purse
  18. Holding hands
  19. Sharing the covers
  20. Getting more than my share of the pillows
  21. Using the proper name for body parts
  22. Gilbert Blythe
  23. Mr. Darcy
  24. Hand-written thank you notes
  25. Alphabetized file drawers
  26. On time arrivals
  27. Having my name spelled correctly
  28. The color of the ink in my pen
  29. Paper that tears cleanly from the notebook
  30. A thought perfectly captured
  31. Writing the truth as I know it
  32. The flavor of my toothpaste
  33. Summer road trips
  34. Good chocolate
  35. Shaved armpits

Another Letter Nobody Asked For

ADVICE: an opinion or suggestion about what someone should do

I am a guest blogger over on Sassypiehole sharing my advice to moms-to-be.

It’s one of those open letters to unsuspecting recipients who didn’t ask for mail. Check it out.

Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness

MMCD

SPINE: the part of a book to which the pages are attached and on the cover of which usually appear the title and author’s and publisher’s names

It’s a major milestone here at Defining Motherhood: I’m in a book! Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness (Second Edition). It’s an anthology from Monkey Star Press, and you should check it out.

I’m allowed to brag about the book without feeling awkward because it’s really only 1/50th mine. Plus, the risk is low. If my essay doesn’t do it for you, chances are that one of the other ones will. Fifty writers and perspectives for you to enjoy. That’s the beauty of an anthology.

And, with chapter titles like The Family Bedlam and The Five Stages of Exhausted Cooking, you are bound to find something that more than justifies the cost of a book.

This may sound shallow, but I’m ridiculously excited about being part of something with a spine. I have been gazing at the spine, admiring how it looks horizontal on my coffee table, running a finger down its smooth surface as it stands on my bookshelf.

So, if for no other reason, buy it for the spine. Unlike mine, there are absolutely no signs of scoliosis. It’s an excellent spine.

April Reads

READ: to look at and understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols, etc.

we were liars

We Were Liars by e. lockhart

This is a tale about lies – the ones we tell ourselves and the ones we tell others. This was my auction recovery book: The day after the event I hid in my room, away from people and expectations, and read this book in one sitting. Most of the reviews and hype around this book focuses on the plot twist/ending, but I haven’t yet decided whether I thought the twist was surprising or predictable. What I have decided is that I like Lockhart’s writing. Her prose is poetic and varied in style. She effectively uses a narrative voice full of imagery with doses of magical realism.

martian

The Martian by Andy Weir

This was my book club’s pick this month. I don’t think I would have selected this book on my own but was glad to have this “too nerdy” read forced on me. Turns out, I dig nerdy. After a dust storm and an unfortunate accident, astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead and his crew evacuates Mars without him. His epic battle for survival is peppered with real science and more math than I’ve ever encountered in a novel. The narrative broadened beyond the stranded astronaut’s storyline just in time for me – adding much needed diversity in perspective and variety in characters. I recommend this book to anyone who likes science fiction and wants to try a book that is heavy on the science without losing the joys of a great novel.

lets pretend

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess, is funny and irreverent. She wrote this book. Ergo, this book is funny and irreverent. Funny in small doses. Reading just a chapter at a time, I was able to give myself over to the joys of this book: I could embrace the rambling writing style, allow myself to laugh (hard) at things I shouldn’t, enjoy the reveal of quirks and accept that things that were funny or quirky would be proceeded by Lawson telling me to brace myself for something funny or quirky.

pardonable lies

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Loaned by a friend, I enjoyed this book in the Maisie Dobbs series. I love mysteries but had to reframe my expectations part way into the book. It’s more novel than mystery. What it lacks in thrill it makes up for in a plucky heroine and charming between-the-wars historical settings.

family fang

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

If your parents embarrassed you, you’ll feel better after meeting Caleb and Camille Fang. This story alternates between the past for of a family of performance artists and the modern day lives of the children trying to overcome the residue of their strange upbringing. The book is well written and entertaining. It kept me turning pages, even when it took sharp detours into a-little-weird-for-my-taste territory. In the end, I found it to be a delightful tour of quirky.

mountain meets moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

A story of desire, fortune, fortitude and gratitude, this Chinese folktale won a Newberry Honor Award and my heart. I read this book aloud to Son. We were both captivated by this enchanting story with a strong heroine and enduring lessons. Imaginative and powerful, this will be the book we measure all others by for a while. Son loved it so much he wanted to spend his allowance on a copy for a friend who had not read it yet.

First Drafts and Other Loves

first draft

DRAFT: to make a version of something that will need more work in order to be finished

I came home today to the jarring reality that always follows a relaxing vacation. There was laundry to wash, groceries to purchase, emails to scan, mail to sort, and homework to complete.

I was especially dreading the homework because…well, because it’s called homework and old habits die hard. Pavlov’s dogs salivated when the bell rang; I resist when something is mandatory. It’s science. In this case, the homework involved reviewing five essays from five writers in my memoir class.

Once I got started, I was reminded how much I love reading. I love the power of the written word in all forms. I love books, magazines, and blogs. Heck, I’m a sucker for a text-filled napkin. But there is something extra special about being trusted with early drafts from other writers.

Drafts are where hesitant voices clear their throats. Drafts are where words like perhaps and maybe get crossed out to make room for boldness.

Drafts are where risks are taken. Drafts are where writers dare to say something imperfectly rather than remaining silent. Drafts are where writers find the right term and the courage to use it. Rape. Doubt. Shame. Ambivalence.

Drafts are where writers try to make readers understand and sometimes help themselves do the same.

Drafts are where gems are unearthed so that they can be polished. Drafts are where side notes become the story.

Drafts are where an imperfect word is a placeholder for the perfect one that will come but hasn’t yet.

Drafts are where we let things go not because they don’t matter but because they don’t matter to this story.

Drafts are where the work of writing gets done.

March Reads

READ: to look at and understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols, etc.

graveyard book

The Graveyard book by Neil Gaiman

This story of Nobody Owens, a child raised by a cemetery full of ghosts, is delightful. I’ve been meaning to read another of Neil Gaiman’s books ever since The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I finally got to it. The way Gaiman creates such plausible fantasies – situations that are purely imagined but filled with vivid and real characters – totally captivates me as a reader.

us

Us by David Nicolls

Douglas is trying to save his collapsing marriage and connect with his teenage son during a family tour of Europe. Douglas isn’t doing so well. I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in a long time. I chortled my way through the short chapters; half-way through, I knew I would rave about the book regardless of if I liked the second half because the first half was good enough to make up for anything that came after.  Thankfully, the book satisfied all the way to the end. I was sad to learn that I was the only woman in my book club that felt this way. Apparently, I take more joy in family dysfunction than the average Jane.

girl on train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

A troubled alcoholic watches out the window of the train and creates lives for the people in the houses she passes. Then, she becomes involved when one of them goes missing. This was the monthly pick for one of my book clubs. I was curious enough about what would happen next that I kept turning the pages, but it didn’t have the kind of suspense that makes a book impossible to put down. I found myself shaking my head at many of the characters and their choices but was mostly wiling to suspend my frustration in the service of curiosity. If you despise unreliable narrators you will despise this book.

tao of martha

The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

Jen Lancaster is funny. This book about trying to be like Martha Stewart is funny, but forced. There are chuckles and places where her voice shines through but not as many as in her other books. As far as “did it for a year and wrote about it” books go, this certainly didn’t knock A.J. Jacobs’ A Year of Living Biblically out of first place for me.

HOles

Holes by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats blames his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather for his bad luck, including his unjust sentencing to a boys’ detention center where he spends all day digging holes. I read this Newberry Honor book aloud to Son (age 8) in anticipation of an upcoming stage production of this play at his school. He liked it. I liked it. There is enough mystery to keep you turning the pages and enough tying up of loose ends to make the end – where Stanley eventually digs up the truth – satisfying.

magicians elephant

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

A fortuneteller, an orphan with a missing sister, and an elephant all come together is this beautiful tale of longing and belonging. This was a fantastic read aloud and another winner from Kate DiCamillo – further enhancing my writer crush. A lovely blend of whimsy and enduring truth.

Swimsuits and shoes: A tale of two purchases

swimsuit

SWIMSUIT: a garment worn for swimming

Sales Lady: May I help you?

Me: Yes. I’m looking for a swimsuit.

Sales Lady: What kind?

Me: Something highly engineered.

Sales Lady: Right this way. Anything in particular you are trying to hide?

Me: My c-section surgeon’s optimism … and the cascade of reality that spills over the misguided tummy tuck.

Sales Lady: Try this one.

***

The list of things I want to do more than swimsuit shop is long, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. The Sales Lady was unflappable and incredibly patient. Plus, eavesdropping on my fellow patrons provided a novel’s worth of fabulous dialogue and banter that I plan to put to good use.

The lady in the room next to me brought the kind of friend we all say we want but few of us can actually handle: The kind of friend who does not shy away from the term “back fat,” or avoid commenting on the condition of your bikini line, or pretend that you can pull off stripes.

I peaked my head out of my dressing room and offered to rent the friend. She offered her services for free so I asked for her candid assessment of one of my top three swimsuit finalists. She made overly familiar comments about my breasts and thighs and I decided she was more friend than I could handle. I retreated to my dressing room and allowed the tie breaker to be the price tag.

I am the proud owner of an expensive – but not the most expensive – swimsuit. A swimsuit I hunted for over an hour to find and will go to great lengths to avoid wearing.

The cowboy boots I bought right afterward, on the other hand, took me ten minutes to purchase and will be on my feet tomorrow.

February Reads

READ: to look at and understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols, etc.

Racing in the rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

This was the monthly selection for Book Club 1 and my “best of” this month. I loved it. As you might have heard, I’m not a pet person. Narrated by a dog, this story doesn’t seem like my kind of thing. But Garth Stein uses the dog to provide great insights on relationships and loss and the courage to carry on.

Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was the monthly selection for Book Club 2. It had been raved about by friends, so it suffered a bit from my unrealistically high expectations. I liked, but didn’t love, this book about the end of the world as we know it after a pandemic kills 99% of the world’s population and sets technology back several decades. Certain characters – and a renewed dedication to hand washing – stuck with me long after the final page.

One More Thing

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by BJ Novak

This collection of 50+ short stories, ranging from super short to modestly long, is delightful. Read it! But, be warned: the essays in this book are like potato chips. You only plan to indulge in a few but then you “just one more” your way through more than you intended. Not every story was a win for me but there were far more winners than losers. Novak has that thing all great comics have – the ability to draw humor and truth and insight out of a scene in equal measure.

The real boy

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

I read this book aloud to Son (8 years old) and his love for this artfully written story was contagious. I love any book that has my kid asking to squeeze in a chapter during every free moment. I was surprised how much he liked it since the plot was slow to develop and complex in parts. But, Oscar and Callie are lovable characters that carry the weight during the slow parts.

Brothers and Keepers

Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman

Assigned reading for my memoir class, this book alternates between the author’s voice and his incarcerated brother’s voice to tell a powerful story of a family, a crime, and the system we call “justice.” There is lots to celebrate in this book but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the typeface in which this impressive book is printed is brutal to read.

Refuge

Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams

An exploration of people and place, and the physical damage inflicted on both. While I preferred the people sections to the bird sections, Terry Tempest Williams’ prose is beautiful in all sections.

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