Thursday, January 29, 2009


I'm not entirely happy with the way I look.

Yes, I've lost 15 pounds since last spring. But I've got another 10 or 15 to go, and I have far-off hopes that include size-6 skirts and running a 5k.

Enter my 40 days of 40 and my darlingest husband who paid attention to all my griping and got me the best present that I would never have thought to ask for . . .

A personal trainer.

Who comes to my house.

It doesn't get any better. Which is what I'm reminding myself as I sit here, vaguely aware of muscles that I'm pretty sure will hurt tomorrow morning. "This is a good thing, this is a good thing, this is a good thing . . ."

Good news: in our very first session at 7:00 a.m. this morning, she had me doing things I didn't think I could. Like when I'd finished 3 sets of something-or-other lifts and thought I was done, only to be handed a heavier weight and told, "This is your heavy set." And that one was followed by a return to the lighter weights. 5 sets? No wonder I never made progress on my own.

Bad news: the session started with the ritual taking of my measurements and the calipers for body fat. (Followed by the ritual throwing of myself off a cliff into a pile of doughnuts.)

In the interest of using public humiliation as a motivator for change, I will now tell you that my body fat percentage is 32%. Looking at different charts, that puts me anywhere from poor to barely acceptable to obese.

Obese?! Really?! I wear a size 8! (Of course, I also recently preached to you all about how sizes and weight numbers don't matter.)

But body fat percentage is another story. That's a number I intend to change in the next four months of twice-a-week training sessions and changed-up cardio workouts. I want to drop that number, drop my weight, increase my strength, and increase my endurance.

I'll let you know how it's going. If only because I don't want 32% body fat to be the last number you remember about me.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Where has January gone? Into fog and inversions and sleet.

Where is Maui when you need it?


I did finally tally up my last year in books on this icy day.

Total Books Read: 114 (almost 20 fewer than last year--I thought so much time in hospitals would have increased my total)

Non-fiction: 30

Young Adult: 13

Fantasy: 14

Historical: 25

Mystery: 52

Although my overall number was down from last year, my percentages stayed pretty much the same. (In other words, you just can't take the genre-lover out of the woman.)

The very best books? Here's my spur-of-the-moment list . . .

Best non-fiction that was not a re-read: DEATH BE NOT PROUD/John Gunther (a 17-year-old's final year of life with a brain tumor, written by his father in 1948)

Best YA: a tie between two wildly different novels--THE BOOK THIEF/Marcus Zusak (young girl in WWII Germany and her friends and family) and SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS/Marisa Peshl (intricately plotted, exuberantly written, what-is-going-to-happen-next story of a private school girl and underground political movements)

Best Fantasy: THE GOLDEN COMPASS/Phillip Pullman (daemons, witches, armored bears, and the most compelling child character in ages)

Best Historical: OUTLANDER/Diana Gabaldon (a post-WWII woman goes back in time to 18th-century Scotland and falls in love with a Highlander, richly romantic and lushly epic in both story and style)

Best Mystery: has to be subdivided into:

Best Continuation of a Series: a tie--CARELESS IN RED/Elizabeth George (for pulling off the nearly impossible task of following Inspector Lynley after the traumatic death of his wife and unborn child and offering an intricate mystery to boot) and THE LAUGHTER OF DEAD KINGS/Elizabeth Peters (because I love John Tregarth and Peters obviously had nothing but great fun writing this book--I smiled all the way through)

Best First in a Series: VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN/Susan Hill (wonderful characters and a twisty plot that ended in a stunning about-face--unfortunately the next two in the series would fit in the category Biggest Disappointments)

Best Stand-Alone: TOUCHSTONE/Laurie R. King (anarchists, British upper-classes, an FBI agent searching for a bomber, and a traumatized soldier with an unusual skill are woven into a wonderful story that I loved every word of)

Best New Series To Me: the Armand Gamache novels by Louise Penney, starting with STILL LIFE (a Quebec officer investigates murder with humanity and grace, compelling characters and plots, wonderful sense of place)

Honorable Mentions:

DREAMS FROM MY FATHER/Barack Obama (biography of our new president's early life)
FIELD OF DARKNESS/Cornelia Read (first in a mystery series set in the 1980s with a journalist who uncovers murderous secrets in her family's past)
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS/Khaled Hosseini (the unlikely friendship of two very different Afghani women, even better than the author's THE KITE RUNNER)
THE NIGHT VILLA and THE SONNET LOVER/Carol Goodman (I love her atmospheric romantic thrillers and these both had exotic locations and sympathetic heroines)

Do you know what I'll remember most about this last year in books? Where and when I was reading them. TOUCH NOT THE CAT by Mary Stewart, for instance, is the book I took with me to the ER on January 1st and finished reading by my son's bedside later that week after he'd been diagnosed with cancer. Re-reading Bill Bryson's NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND during his daily radiation treatments, just to have something familiar and funny to take my mind away for a little bit. Weeping my way through Joan Didion's THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING for book club--I'd recommended it after reading it the previous year but reading it again while my son went through chemo was an entirely different experience.

I wonder what I'll be reading two weeks from now while he has first follow-up MRI since treatment ended.

Maybe I won't be reading--maybe I'll be writing. Now there's a thought! Here's to 2009--The Year of Selling My First Book :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In honor of my 10th day of being 40, I thought I'd go back ten years and give a peek of my life at 30.

(Full disclosure: the photo is taken shortly before my 31st birthday. I do not like any photos from earlier in the year. Deal with it.)

Worst thing about turning 30? I was living with my parents. That's just embarrassing. Granted, it was temporary, but by my birthday, it had been going on for weeks longer than we'd hoped. We had moved from Seattle the previous August and were building a new house; everyone who's built a house will understand how the weeks dragged by. To the point that, around about my 30th birthday in January, my mother was asking, "Now when is your house supposed to be finished?"

Not soon enough.

While living with my parents, our one and only daughter was born. After my shortest labor (four hours) and with no epidural (not the gameplan), my husband and I graduated from one-on-one parenting to zone defense (basic philosophy--there's more of them than of us, try not to let anyone die). I had thoughtfully pulled out everything I would need for a newborn before the move and made sure it didn't get packed away in the storage unit. Which was all well and good until we put the swing together and realized we had all the pieces except the motor.

We finally moved (into the home we're still living in) just after Valentine's Day 1999. We had no neighbors, something that would not change for an entire year. We had no yard, something that would not change until nearly the end of summer. We had no TV, something I had ambitious hopes of never changing (Hope: "Maybe we'll discover how wonderful it is with no television!" Reality: "Do you know how many times I've watched that Sesame Street videotape in the last 7 months? Get me a satellite dish now!")

Life was good :)

And here's my basic mantra about growing older: I can totally love getting older as long as my children do the same. I'll take 40 any day of the week over having 3 children age 5 and under.

Check back in 10 days for a look back at 20. (It will be worth it for the 80s hairstyle alone.)

Friday, January 16, 2009


Good news--my birthday did not include a single doctor's visit.

Bad news--I'm still forty.

Good news--It's better than the alternative.

So what did I do on my birthday? I got up at 2:45 a.m.; drove an hour to Haiku, Maui; rode another hour up Haleakala; watched the sun rise over the crater; rode a bike 29 miles back to Haiku.

It seemed like a good idea right up until the part where I had to get up at 2:45 a.m.

Seriously? It was a lot of fun. Which might have something to do with the bike ride being almost completely downhill. Oh, and for anyone who might be considering this in the future? They're not kidding when they say it's cold on top of Haleakala. And I don't mean cold for Maui--I mean cold, period.

Now I'm in the midst of my Forty Days of Forty.

This concept was introduced to me by my friend, Laura (great name) whose husband took it upon himself to make sure each day for forty days before her birthday was something special. (As he told me, don't get too excited. Yes, one day he gave her a horse. But another day, he gave her a pancake. The classic "It's the thought that counts.")

I, selfish creature that I am, did not want to start my forty days before my birthday, as that would have necessitated sharing it with the month of Christmas and New Year's Eve. So I'm doing the forty days after.

I am currently on day 7. So far, so good. No more Maui, but I have my friends. It's a fair trade.

Yesterday's treat fell somewhere between a horse and a pancake. While talking to Katie on the phone in the morning, we decided to go to lunch. Why not? It's my forty days, after all.

And if I can spread that concept around, the world will be a little better place.

At least for forty days.

(Ask me how I feel about my age on Day Forty-One.)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


1. What happens when Dad gives 15-year-old a cell phone for Christmas without asking Mom? Said 15-year-old takes video of Mom attempting Dancing With the Stars on Wii. And shows it to his friends. At which point Mom threatens to disable either son, dad, or phone.

2. The Law of Inverse Time and Writing: a fabulous, not-to-be-missed opportunity to share one's writing will arise at the end of a month in which absolutely no writing has been done except the family Christmas letter.

3. Taking down Christmas decorations is almost as satisfying as putting them up.

4. Diet success during the holidays means gaining no more than two pounds. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

5. Sub-zero temperatures and two feet of snow in the front yard are absolutely blissful to contemplate when one knows that 24 hours from now, one will be contemplating it while on a beach in Maui.

6. As long as my 40th birthday this week doesn't include outpatient chemotherapy or a two-hour long meeting with my son's radiation oncologist, I will be delighted to bid 39 farewell.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Written in 1948, a non-fiction account of the author's only son, Johnny, and his diagnosis with and death from a brain tumor. What I found most intriguing was immersing myself in a cancer parent's world sixty years ago and how different it was. Johnny was one of the first treated with a precursor of chemotherapy, developed from the chemical weapon mustard gas. Parents weren't allowed to spend the night in the hospital--this 17-year-old boy would call his dad last thing every night to say goodnight. Pathology reports took weeks without computers and faxes to send information. Doctors would not give any information to Johnny's mother, only his father. Darn good thing none of our doctors tried that! A small but beautiful book about a boy and his graceful last year of life. Recommended.

ALL SOULS/Michael Patrick McDonald/B-
Another non-fiction, about the author's family and his years growing up in Boston's South Side. It was well-written (I would give it an A for style and prose and scene-setting) but depressing. Four of the author's brothers died, in prison or shot by police or drug overdoses or suicide, and one sister fell (or jumped) off a building while high and suffered permanent brain damage. Unless you're interested in a sociological account of political incompetence, gang violence, and the destroying nature of drugs, I wouldn't recommend it.

IN THE WOODS/Tana French/A+
Another new crime writer to love! Hooray! French's first novel is set in Ireland where a police detective investigates the murder of a young girl on an archaelogical site. But it's complicated (naturally) by the fact that Detective Rob Ryan was once Adam Ryan, a 12-year-old boy who went into the woods with his two best friends and came out alone, catatonic and with someone else's blood in his shoes. The new murder site contains a link to that old disappearance and Ryan sets the stage for trouble when he remains on the case by lying about his past. He's never been able to remember what happened that afternoon when he was 12, but working this murder begins to unlock his memories. It's not an easy or light book, but I was drawn right in and impressed by French's character work. I especially liked Cassie Maddox, Ryan's police partner, who is the main character in French's second novel (which I'm taking with me to Hawaii this week.)

AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE/Jacqueline Winspear/B+
Maisie Dobbs' latest case takes her to Kent and the hop-picking fields. It also reveals more about her past and the gypsy blood I didn't know she had. While clearing up a land deal involving vandalism and mysterious fires, Maisie realizes that the village is holding a secret from the war that continues to reverberate almost twenty years later. I liked this one much better than the other recent entries in the series; it was, of course, well-plotted and well-told.

UNABOMBER/Robert Graysmith/C
I was looking for an in-depth study of Ted Kacynzski and his life and psychology, but ended up with a minimum of human interest and a maximum of technical detail. I'm not really interested in the schematics of each bomb he made--not to mention I can't understand them. But there was just enough personal storyline to keep me going. I liked the accounts of his adolescence, his short teaching career, and especially his interactions with his family. But it wasn't the biography I was looking for.

Carter writes beautiful prose and twisty plots about upper-class African-Americans who keep coming up against the facts of their skin color in white society. But not really. What he really writes about is people--difficult, complex, ambitious, and interesting people who wind up in even more interesting situations. One snowy night, Lemaster and Julia Carlyle come upon a body in the snow. It turns out to be Julia's former lover, Kellen Zant, an economics professor at the university where Lemaster is president. Julia thinks it's only the emotional landmines she has to watch out for her, but sooon discovers that Zant left her clues to something dangerous he was working on before his death. Now the people who came after him are after her, sure that she will decipher what he's left behind, a secret that involves her husband and may change the course of the next presidential election. But all Julia wants it to be left alone--until she realizes her troubled daughter is at the heart of the secrets.

EXTRAS/Scott Westerfield/B+
The newest in the UGLIES series, EXTRAS benefits from a new point of view character. Aya Fuse lives in a city that functions on reputation, determined by how many people connect to your website (or the future equivalent of such). Trying to kick a story that will rocket her out of extra-hood and into the high life, Aya infiltrates a group of girls pulling amazing tricks. But the real story comes in a train tunnel and with the alien-looking creatures who lead them to what looks a lot like a missile silo. Set several years after Tally Youngblood and her friends changed the world, Aya is a refreshing voice and when Tally shows up, it's fun to see someone else's take on a character who told her own story for three books.