Monday, May 24, 2010

how her garden grows

I have long desired to have a little garden.  Tomatoes, basil, peppers, that sort of thing.  Well, I finally just up and did it.  With a little help from my mom, we planted 6 serrano pepper plants, 2 tomatoes, 2 green onions, and basil.  I have since added 6 strawberry plants.  I also have 2 cilantro and a thyme plant to put in pots today.  This whole dig in the dirt, water it and reap the harvest may just be addicting.
And look, two of my little tomatoes have turned from green to yellow... next stop red!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

ARC = free books! (Two book reviews)

I was a junior in high school when Mrs. Sabraw's English class read The Scarlet Letter.  I only have one vague memory of that unit; I made some smart remark how standing on a platform and holding an infant all day while people mocked wasn't really that bad of a punishment.  My teacher responded by piling textbooks into my arms, placed a Snoopy dog on top, and then had me stand in front of the class for the rest of the period.  It sounds like something I would do to one of my students.  And now that I have a child of my own to hoist around, I know that it would be exhausting to stand all day holding a baby.  And that the social stigma that accompanied Hester Prynne's A would have been, in fact, a hard burden to bear.  (Imagine that, my English teacher was right!)

And it was with this background that I received my first ARC.

I love getting ARCs.  An ARC (pronounced ark) is an Advanced Reading Copy that publishers send out to enthusiastic readers (usually booksellers or professional reviewers) to get some media buzz on the new book.  I've been fortunate enough to receive a small stack of these.  All I had to do was request a copy and the publishers sent them to my home, postage paid and all.  Nothing is more satisfying than getting a brand new book- Free!  Plus, these are brand new to the market, not even available yet.  So I'm also getting the opportunity to read future best sellers before they ever become that.  The downside is the risk; the books might not be all that good.

Since I've been so fortunate to get a few of these books, I figure the least I can do is post reviews about them.  So here are two ARC reviews.  I believe that both are now available for purchase in any book store. 

The first would be Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes.  This is the continuation of Hester Prynne's story from The Scarlet Letter.  I probably should have reread the classic before picking up this second part but I just wasn't motivated enough.  I last read The Scarlet Letter when I was a junior in high school, so the details were quite fuzzy for me.  I cheated by using spark notes to refresh my memory.  Anyway, this novel focuses on Hester and her illegitimate daughter Pearl.

Pearl struggles with being an outsider and an outcast.  She is a loner who is much more comfortable exploring the New England forests and seaside by herself than being in the company of the villagers.  Hester is a loving mother, though she is frequently caught up in her own isolation and pain.  She has also withheld the name of Pearl's father from her daughter.  Pearl knows enough of the adult world to pick up clues about her mother's past, knows that the pastor has a strong connection with her family, and knows that the fascinating doctor who just returned from England also has a strange power over her mother.  Pearl is just too young and to put it all together.

Eventually, Pearl's wanderings, combined with her curious nature and carefree attitude lead her to a neighbor's home, where she meets Simon and persists in forming a friendship with him.  Simon is an adolescent who should be teetering on adulthood, however, Simon is blind and his family is very overprotective of him.  These two outsiders become fast friends and Pearl is able to earn the trust of Simon's family. 

In order to protect Pearl and try to give her a better life, Hester arranges for her and Pearl to travel back to England as passengers on the trading ship of Caleb Milton, Simon's father.  While on board, Simon's older brother, Nehemiah hides Simon away from Pearl.  He is very upset because on one thoughtless occasion she left Simon alone on the beach. 

Time passes, and the predictable finally reveals itself: Hester and Nehemiah fall in love and marry.  I saw this plot line coming a mile away, and though it probably wasn't supposed to be entirely a big secret, it still bothered me that it was so thinly veiled from the beginning.  Then, of course, Pearl follows in her mother's footsteps and has an affair (with one minor sex scene that would make any Puritan blush).  This bothered me because a) it was predictable, too and b) I had hoped that the character would rise above this.  I had hoped that the author has some sort of plan of redemption or of growth in spite of overwhelming temptation.  I had hoped that the second generation would learn from the mistakes of the previous. 

The author also did her best to craft the story using language that would make Hawthorne proud.  At first I found this extremely annoying, but after a while it grew on me a little.  I cannont recommend this book, though.  It regularly put me to sleep.  It was little more than a romance novel, and I wasn't all that interested in the original story to begin with.  But there is one lesson that a Christian can walk away from this novel with, and it is that we must love the unlovable.  Pearl was an outcast because of her mother's sin.  This should be wholly unacceptable in the Christian community.  And though we do not need to tolerate sin (and should strive to correct it when we can) we can't hold a past sin against someone forever, we must act with forgiveness. 

Forest Gate is a book I can recommend.  This was an entirely gripping novel, even if it was one of the most depressing books I've ever read. 

Within the first few pages we learn that two friends jumped from the rooftops of two London apartment buildings with ropes around their necks.  One boy died.  The other didn't. 

Meina and her brother immigrated from Somalia.  They were able to get out of their home country after their parents were murdered in tribal, political warfare.  But in London Meina's brother Ashvin was not able to find any kind of peace. 

Peter grew up in London.  He was a surprisingly mature and driven young man, considering his five older brothers were arms and drug dealers and his mother was a crack addict.  However, he found himself repeatedly dragged back to the life he hated and resented.

And then Peter and Ashvin met at school.  They were kindred spirits who opened up and shared everything with each other; their past, their hopes, their fears, but mostly their struggles and angst.  So these two friends decided to be done with life.  They both felt that all the odds were stacked against them, and that those odds were impossible to begin with. 

So they jumped.  Ashvin died and Peter didn't. 

The author, Peter Akinti, tells a remarkably believable and heart wrenching story as Meina and Peter try to put the pieces of life back together.  This novel also employs rarely seen narrative structures.  The chapters bounce between Meina and Peter as narrator.  There was also one particular gem that I enjoyed in terms of identifying the characters that I'll let you discover for yourself. 

Caution, this book makes frequent use of the Big Eff and has some graphic depictions throughout.  It is raw, but if you can tolerate it, this book has a powerful payoff.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sleeping Boys

I just want to point out that the mere fact this picture exists, someone, namely me, was not sleeping.  And honestly, I don't think Adam was really sleeping either, although when I found them, all three were snoozing on my bed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

breakfast belly

We have been a little lax in our blogging lately.  We have just been too busy SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT to post all of the videos and pictures of our son. 
Garrett continues to pack on the plump.  Sometimes it appears that he actually gets fatter while he sleeps for an hour. 
To prove his chunk factor... we have a video of his post-breakfast belly.  He may be pooching it out for the camera, but still, that is one big baby belly.  And the cutest little belly button you have ever seen.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Someone asked me last week how long it took me to recover from the c-section that brought Baby Garrett into the world in one piece. My first reaction was to respond with the amount of time it took me to get out of bed for the first time: 1 day. Then I remembered how much pain I was in when we returned home from the hospital after 3 days. My pain was mostly gone in just two weeks. And just seven weeks from delivery, I am back in my jeans!

However, upon further reflection, I realized that I may never completely recover from the cesarean delivery. Not only will I sport a physical scar, most likely for the remainder of my days, but, I will keep the emotional scarring that came along with it.

I know that many women have c-sections every day. And that they are so commonplace, we forget that it is not the "natural delivery" method. It is surgery. And I felt as if it robbed me of the opportunity to birth my son. A week ago, I looked at my son and emotionally connected him to me. He came from me, and even though it took an anesthesiologist, two nurses, two doctors, and at least one scalpel to make it happen, I gave birth to him.

He is half me, half Adam. And he is part of our family. There is great joy in that. But I have had to grieve the loss of the birth experience we, and I so desperately anticipated. I had desired a medication-free birth, which obviously ruled out a cesarean. I had envisioned Garrett coming into the world, hearing his first cry and having him put on my chest. I imagined the satisfation that would come from pushing and pushing, and finally hearing "here he comes". And I imagined our families rushing in, to see the newest DeClercq.

But instead, I labored for 22 hours, with 3 epidurals to take the edge off of back labor that drove me to tears. Pushed and pushed, only to hear "c-section". Heard his first cry through a blue sheet to shield me from seeing my insides. My first glimpse of my son was tainted by the surgery that was being finished up on my lower half, while Adam held Garrett to my face. I am not sure I would have recalled it even happened if Adam hadn't described it to me later. Our families had to wait two hours from his time of birth to see us.

It is hard to describe the emotional side of my cesarean delivery. It was traumatic. And yet, I can be thankful. I can be thankful that I and my son are both alive and healthy.

My scar is a reminder of how thankful we can be.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Garrett's Happy Place

Our amazing son, who is quietly sleeping for the time being, loves, loves, loves to hang out on his changing table.  He couldn't be happier when he is lying there. 

Check it out for yourself:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

You probably won't care, but

I just have to share this.  Not only is this review a well written review, but it makes a Thesaurus sound fascinating.  If only I had an extra $400 sitting around.

This is from a Powell's Review-a-Day email from The Wilson Quarterly magazine.
"Confess that you regularly consult a thesaurus, and you call your writing skills and even your intelligence into question, such is the ill repute into which this worthy reference has fallen. In a diatribe published in The Atlantic some years ago, Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman (about the making of The Oxford English Dictionary), lambasted Peter Mark Roget , the compiler of the granddaddy that spawned today's myriad online and school-bag versions. Many writers I know scoff when asked whether they ever crack one. Of course, using a thesaurus -- in its basic form, a book that groups words with similar or related meanings -- can result in travesties against the language, and even common sense, when a novice plucks a word he doesn't understand from an entry and substitutes it for thought. But to blame Roget for these crude mash-ups (the improvement of the phrase "his earthly fingers" into "his chthonic digits" is but one of Winchester's amusing examples) is like blaming Henry Ford when a blind man takes a Taurus for a spin.

A thesaurus can extract that word that's on the tip of your tongue but can't quite reach your lips. It reacquaints you with words you've forgotten and presents ones you don't know. It suggests relationships but usually doesn't spell them out -- like a hostess who invites you to a party of well-connected guests where you're expected to circulate and make your own introductions. In our hyper-searchable world, in which shelf browsing and even book skimming are on the wane, the thesaurus reminds us that precision isn't always a matter of predestined calibration. It can still be an informed choice.

The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (HTOED) -- which contains almost every word from the days of Beowulf to the present, some 920,000 words and expressions in all -- seems the sort of resource that has been sitting on reference shelves for decades. Yet it is the first historical thesaurus produced for any language, and made its debut only late last year. Based on the magnificent edifice that is The Oxford English Dictionary, and also drawing on A Thesaurus of Old English, the HTOED has been in the works since 1964, when University of Glasgow English professor Michael Samuels began plugging away at it.

The HTOED's editors boast that it provides the context other thesauruses lack. It is arranged into three major sections devoted to the external, mental, and social worlds, which are in turn divided into 354 categories (Food and drink, Thought, etc.), and then further categories and subcategories, from the most general to the most specific. (Roget divided his thesaurus into six broad classes, though most casual users simply flip to the index, unaware of his taxonomy.) Each word is listed with the corresponding year of first and, if applicable, last recorded use. Under the word piety, for instance, you'll find a list of words that have meant piety over the centuries, and then sub-entries for words that have to do with, but are not the same as, piety. Sanctimoniousness, a subcategory, lists words including hiwung (Old English), lip-holiness (1591), and mawwormism (1850).

The HTOED is only two volumes -- one consists of entries, the other is an index -- to the 20 that compose the OED's second edition. Missing are all those quotations that make the OED such a wealth of, well, context; it won't offer enough linguistic handholding to stop the abuse that has given thesauruses a bad name. (Thesaurus abusers flock to anyway, and likely aren't interested in Old English words for love.) The HTOED's lists, no matter how finely tuned, confirm what wordsmiths have known all along: The variety and coloration of the language make a precision-engineered thesaurus impossible. Reading the HTOED is a fascinating journey through 1,300 years of linguistic history, each entry a series of signposts to not-yet-scrutable destinations. It will send you straight to the dictionary, which is as it should be."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Looking for a Mother's Day gift?

Then I have to recommend this absolutely wonderful little book.  This book alone makes me want to have more kids already.  It is sweet, tender, and beautifully illustrated.  In it 3 baby bears ask the all-important question of their parents: "Who is your favorite?"  The response from Daddy Bear is touching and the response from Mommy Bear will fill you with joy.  I can't recommend this book enough, especially if you have multiple kids. 
It is a children's book but I think mom's of all ages will love it.  There is the book and the gift set with 3 toy bears.