Saturday, December 28, 2013

Meme Mon...Saturday, and something about Festivus.

Nicole and I are bringing memes back, so in typical Nicole-and-Allison fashion, Nicole brought memes back starting two days BEFORE Christmas, and Hannah brought memes back very soon after, and me? Here I am straggling in on whatever the hell day this is, when it's really just a little pathetic to still be talking about Christmas television, but I'M OKAY WITH THAT. Nicole also takes her Christmas tree down the day after Christmas and ruthlessly sweeps out and puts away every pine needle, silver bell and sparkly ribbon, so we're clearly just barely the same species.

What is your favourite Christmas television special, and why?

A Charlie Brown Christmas. I love The Grinch, and Frosty the Snowman, and, truthfully, all the other dumbass specials that Family Channel spits out at this time of year. But nothing gets me right in the heart like a Vince Guaraldi soundtrack, those manically dancing little Peanuts figures and that pitiful little tree.

When I was still in the hospital after having Angus, I was holding him after breastfeeding with his little head in my hand, and he had his eyes closed and his mouth in this adorable little pursed shape, and I suddenly thought he looked kind of like this:

What is your least favourite Christmas special, and why?

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Nicole and Hannah already said it all.

What is the Christmas movie you cannot live without? 

Mickey's Christmas Carol. We didn't really watch Christmas movies when I was a kid, so this started when Angus was very small. When the Ghost of Christmas Present visits Scrooge, he comes with a feast, and he talks about mince pies and sausages and and then he says "and don't forget the chocolate pot roast with simash....with smishsmashio...with shiminashimina....with yogoit" (he's trying to say 'pistachio'). This made Angus, and later Eve, dissolve into gales of laughter and repeat the line endlessly. The first time my mom made the dessert she makes with whipped cream, ice cream and pistachio pudding, his eyes almost fell out of his head. We usually watch it Christmas Eve, but this year Angus was sick and went to bed early, so we watched it Christmas Day, all crowded into the pull-out bed in the basement.

Name a Christmas special from your childhood that is so obscure you're not even sure it exists.

Honey, I have enough trouble remembering the stuff that actually DID happen.

Name a 'very special' Christmas episode of your favourite childhood television series.

Damn. I should have just skipped this meme. I can't even remember if I HAD a favourite childhood television series. I liked The Littlest Hobo. Is that lame? That's lame, isn't it? Look, I'm old, we only had two channels for most of my childhood. For what it's worth, I love the Big Bang Theory episode where Penny gives Sheldon a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy and he freaks out and tries to give her a hug as a reciprocal gift of equivalent worth, and Leonard says "it's a Saturnalia miracle!"

Okay, I'm off to work on my 2013 book round-up posts which will make you all love me again.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ten Books

The lovely, talented, sweet-as-toffee-pretzel-bark and ever-so-bendy Nicole decided we should take this Facebook meme to the blogosphere. I have a tendency to overthink these things (I'm sure you never would have guessed) so I've been avoiding it on Facebook, but here it is three days since I've blogged AGAIN, it's 9:30 p.m. and I'm waiting for white chocolate and coconut to firm up enough to scoop into truffles, and who am I to look a gift meme in the mouth?

So. Ten books that have stayed with you. Ten books. Jesus. According to Goodreads I've read about 1500 that I've remembered/been willing to admit to. And these days even the things that stay with me don't stay with me, my memory being you know, that thing you use to sift flour and shit. And, unlike Nicole, I'm not a great rereader - not because I don't think rereading is a wonderful and worthwhile enterprise, but because I'm always feeling like I have to forge ahead in the name of shortening to TBR pile. But I'm trying to change that.

Anyway. Without poring over my list on Goodreads or looking at my bookshelves (until the list was done), I scoured my memory for books that made a deep impression, and this is what I've come up with. My pictures won't be as great as Nicole's either, because I don't own all of them (why don't I own all of them? Cripes, I own all the OTHER books in the world).

The Front Runner
I found this on my parents' bookshelf when I was around ten. I don't THINK I read it just for the sex, but I honestly don't remember well enough to swear to it. I didn't know then that it was, according to some, "the most popular gay love story of all time", or that it was, in the words of some reviewers "so.....extraordinarily bad". But I do think it went a long to way towards laying the foundation for my positive feelings about homosexuality. I remember the love story more than I remember the sex, and I remember feeling outraged about the bigotry and hatred that they had to face, especially because the people, and the love story just came across as so....normal. Despite my rereading project, I think it might be best if I let my rosy memories stand and avoid revisiting this one.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich
I read this in graduate school (in, not for) and I would pair this with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Solzhenitsyn as classics that I read and actually felt like I got it. Okay, not necessarily got "it", but got SOMETHING, rather than feeling like a giant hoax was being perpetrated on me by the Western canon. There's a scene in Ivan Ilyich where the old man is lying in pain in his dark room and sees a light under his door and feels hope that the household is waking up and someone will come in to comfort him, and then the light goes out and he realizes that the last person has just gone to bed and he has to suffer through the entire night alone; this scene just gives me chills.

Bel Canto 
Read this for book club a few years ago. Blown. Away. I have trouble remembering the plotlines of books I read two weeks ago, and yet almost every moment of this story is burned into my mind. The heat. The fear. The moments of passionate connection. The episodes of farcical comedy. The heartbreaking conclusion. And I am ready to argue my point of view with anyone who thinks the ending is stupid, although I won't because of spoilers.

The Diaries of Virginia Woolf
Started reading these in university. I don't know how she had the time and energy to write such brilliant, sensitive, insightful, reflective prose in a diary and still write all the other things she became famous for (which, if I am totally honest, I still admire less than the writing in the diary, although I think reading the diaries made me more receptive to Mrs. Dalloway).

The Fionavar Tapestry
I love this trilogy so much it has pride of place beside my ugly childhood lion bank. Zarah recommended it to me in university as a great story with characters you fall in love with. It has love, courage, loyalty, tragedy, sacrifice, and it's just a thumping good read.

The Edible Woman or Lady Oracle or Cat's Eye or Surfacing
I can't decide. They all made a fairly deep impression on me. I did scenes from The Edible Woman for my drama solo in grade ten and it got me the drama award even though my teacher used to shake his head in sorrow every time I tried to do anything else in the class (I couldn't say four words without bursting into hysterical giggles).

The Hobbit
A female relative (by some tortuous Polish lines of descent) who I adored lent me this when I was quite young. I did love the story (I never managed to make my way through the Lord of the Rings trilogy) but more than that, it was the first time an older person gave me a book that was targeted towards older people and clearly thought that I was ready for it. This was in marked contrast to the woman at the library who wouldn't let me take out books without my dad coming to pick me up and approving them all first.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet
I loved A Wrinkle in Time and all the other Madeleine L'Engle books in this series, but this one in particular struck me with the force of its imagery, and its belief in the transforming power of family, hope, and literature. My L'Engle experience is also the exact inverse of my Woolf experience - reading L'Engle's journals was interesting but really took the shine off of her as a person for me, whereas I adore every work of fiction by her that I've ever read. Subsequent biographical information I've come across about her was completely devastating - I would have much preferred to keep my illusions in this case.

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus
I read this before I knew any of the distressing facts about Orson Scott Card that I know now. Finishing it was like emerging out of some beautiful dream world. It completely submerged me in the beautiful dream of being able to go back and change things, make them turn out right this time, and the detail and thought that went into constructing the new reality was fascinating. I recognize that it's naive in a way, and that there's every chance that even if we COULD do this kind of thing we would just end up buggering it up in the same or new horrible ways, but I was completely transported by the fiction anyway.

To Kill a Mockingbird
I love what Nicole said - Harper Lee never wrote anything else, and why would she? My tearing-up moment is when Atticus is confronted by the angry white men at the jail and Scout derails them by talking to them about their children, and after they've left another man speaks up and says "had you covered the whole time, Atticus". I had a cat named Atticus. My sister had cats named Scout and Boo. And it strikes me now that I should be bitch-slapped for not rereading this every two years or so. My dad read it again a few years ago and gave me his old copy, but I'm not sure where it is right now.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: Mending the Moon by Susan Palwick

Synopsis from Goodreads: Melinda Soto, aged sixty-four, vacationing in Mexico, is murdered by a fellow American tourist. 

Back in her hometown of Reno, Nevada, she leaves behind her adopted son, Jeremy, whom she rescued from war-torn Guatamala when he was a toddler—just one of her many causes over the years. And she leaves behind a circle of friends: Veronique, the academic stuck in a teaching job from which she can't retire; Rosemary, who's losing her husband to Alzheimer's and who's trying to lose herself in volunteer work; Henrietta, the priest at Rosemary's and Melinda's church.

Jeremy already had a fraught relationship with his charismatic mother and the people in her orbit. Now her death is tearing him apart, and he can barely stand the rituals of remembrance that ensue among his mother’s friends. Then the police reveal who killed Melinda: a Seattle teenager who flew home to his parents and drowned himself just days later.

It's too much. Jeremy's not the only one who can't deal. Friendships fray. But the unexpected happens: an invitation to them all, from the murderer's mother, to come to Seattle for his memorial. It's ridiculous. And yet, somehow, each of them begins to see in it a chance to heal. Aided, in peculiar ways, by Jeremy's years-long obsession with the comic-book hero Comrade Cosmos, and the immense cult of online commentary it's spawned.

Shot through with feeling and inventiveness, Susan Palwick's Mending the Moon is a novel of the odd paths that lead to home.

Let's just be up-front about something here: I can't review anything by Susan Palwick with anything approaching objectivity. Ever since I read Flying in Place I've been the most slavishly adoring fan girl ever, and as far as I'm concerned she never puts a word wrong. Her other novels before this one were The Necessary Beggar and Shelter, and she has a kick-ass short story collection called The Fate of Mice.

You know how sometimes an author writes a story you love and it pisses you off when they try to strike out in a new direction? Sometimes it works really well (I was completely dismayed when Laura Lippman wrote a book that wasn't a Tess Monaghan book, and yet To the Power of Three and Every Secret Thing are among my very favourite mysteries - actually, among my very favourite books, period). Sometimes you're totally right and you just have to suck it up and wait another damned year for the next series book. And then sometimes an author writes amazing stand-alones and then decides to write a series and that's annoying too.

With Susan Palwick, I never quite know what I'm going to get, except that there will probably be an element of the fantastic, the work will be suffused with a spirit of kindness and generosity, and I will love it. Flying in Place was a sometimes grimly realistic book with a supernatural element. The Necessary Beggar had an entire imaginary world twinned with our own. Shelter was futuristic and more overtly science-fictiony (yes, I've decided that's the technical term).

So I thought I might not love Mending the Moon quite as much as The Necessary Beggar or Shelter, because I really like imaginative world-making and futuristic science-fictiony books. And I was right. I didn't (I cannnot sully my Palwick worship with lies). BUT I still loved it.

Mending the Moon is pretty much wholly realistic, although the story is interleaved with stories from issues of Captain Cosmos, a comic book that is important to several characters in the book - this device works just as well as it did in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which is very, very well. In this book, Palwick tackles foreign adoption, losing a parent to murder, being the parent of a child who commits an atrocity, and the forces of entropy. Except she doesn't "tackle" anything, because that would be tacky and obvious and Palwick is never tacky and obvious. Everything just sort of flows organically and swirls around colourfully and seems sort of simple and right even when it's horribly sad and inexplicable. The characters aren't all lovable or perfect, but they're wholly realized and authentic. There are no easy answers, but there is closure of a sort.

So it turns out Palwick can write a book without talking houses or portals to other worlds or intelligent mice, and still be brilliant.

I do so hope the next one has a talking house or mouse, though. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Bark is Better than My Bite

This is what I did this afternoon:

The ones on the right (toffee shortbread or shortbread meltaways - my recipe is on a pink page from a flour recipe book, and I've miraculously managed not to lose it - this is almost exactly the same) has become my go-to Christmas cookie over the past few years, and one of the only cookies I can actually "whip up", which to me means very little recipe consultation - since my memory's gotten so bad and I'm a bit obsessive, following a recipe usually means frequent and repeated looking back at the recipe between adding and stirring things. The kids love them, they freeze like a dream well, shortbread, and Skor bits, so duh.

In the middle is salted chocolate toffee pretzel bark, which I found last year, I think by Googling pretzel toffee bark (okay, not the most gripping story - the recipe makes up for it). Every time someone tastes it, their first question is whether you need a candy thermometer to make it, and once they know there's no hard-crack or soft-ball stuff involved (hey, candy-making terms all sound dirty, I never noticed that before) then they ask for the recipe. My husband told me I have to take the rest of it out of the house.

On the left are these that I found on the Yummy Mummy Club website. I made them for the first time today. For how pretty they look, they're not that much work, but I'm not sure they're delicious enough to make a whole bunch. I'd like to find a way to get a bit more stuff on them to balance out the chocolate a little. I'm also not sure why they're called mendiants, which I believe means homeless people in French and I find that a tad disturbing (resolutely not Googling something again on the grounds that it might torpedo my ridiculous argument). They do look pretty cool, though. I added some red walnuts that I got to make shortbread since the dried cranberries weren't bright red enough, and I used pumpkin seeds instead of sunflower for greenness.

I have dough chilling in the fridge for smoked sea salt maple sugar shortbread and blue cheese warming for blue cheese walnut shortbread for my dad. But I'm not sure what else to make. I just typed five different versions of 'leave your favourite Christmas cookie in your comment!' and they all sound douchey. If you want to, though, go ahead. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Evan from EvoShield gets me. He really gets me.

Alternate title: "Most embarrassing thing I've had to ask about since going to Rogers Video and saying "um, I was wondering if you happened to have noticed that I mistakenly returned an Iron Man DVD case with a Dora's Mermaid Adventure DVD inside?" Well, the most embarrassing one I'm willing to admit, anyway.
Adams Fami
Adams Family McCaskill
Dec 07 10:14 PM (EST)
I'm trying to get into my account to see what colour socks I ordered my son and it keeps saying my password is wrong (I didn't think it was, but it's possible), but I asked for my password to be emailed to me and still haven't gotten the email. And I need to order the right coloured freaking socks before Christmas. How do I proceed?

Evan (EvoShield)
Dec 09 05:21 PM (EST)
Hey Allison,
Sorry you had an issues with locating your order. If the order was placed as a Guest then you probably can not access it without the order information. Do you know what name the order was placed under and I'll be happy to assist you with the information for your order!
EvoShield Customer Service
Adams Fami
Adams Family McCaskill
Dec 09 06:39 PM (EST)
Hmm. I didn't think I placed it as a guest, but my memory is crap lately (I blame the children) so maybe that was it. In any case, I searched my email and found the order (with the right colour socks, praise the lord) so I'm okay for now. Thanks for getting back to me.

Evan (EvoShield)
Dec 09 08:21 PM (EST)
Haha I completely understand that! Please let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with! Happy Holidays and good luck with the rest of your shopping! :) Thank you for supporting EvoShield!!
EvoShield Customer Service

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In which I will not talk about The Shining the way I thought I was going to

Last year when I was about to embark on my -- hang on a second -- FOURTH NaBloPoMo (I was about to say 'third or fourth' and then I remembered that a couple of weeks ago I asked my friend if her husband's law practice had been open for more than a year and she told me it was FOUR, so I counted), a friend warned me that NaBloPoMo had killed her blog. I always think it kind of resurrects mine - the fact that I'm obligated (however artificially) to post every day removes a lot of the pressure to post only weighty or worthy or thrice-polished material, and it gets me back in the habit of writing, after a fall season where school and activites have started and my resolve is often flagging.

When NaBloPoMo ends, I usually post again the day after or the second day after, and I think "yeah! I've GOT this! I'm going to keep posting every day! Or almost every day!" And then another day or two goes by, and I've got an idea of what my next post will be, but it's not NaBloPoMo any more, so I don't HAVE to post, so I think, I'll wait until I have a little more time to work on it. Because I have to go in to the library today. And then I have to take the van in to the shop. And then Eve and I have to get flu shots.

And then it becomes apparent how quickly I can fall into the habit of very much not posting every day again.

So I won't be presenting a carefully-marshaled discourse on The Shining, or goodness knows when we'll all be meeting here again. I'll just throw some thoughts down and not let the Cement of Endless Deferral harden on here any longer.

I can't remember how old I was the first time I read The Shining, but I think I was too young to understand a lot of the subtleties. I do remember being kind of confused and a little grossed out by the sex stuff - which is really tame and between married consenting adults, so I must have been pretty young. There was a bit about a bisexual movie producer or something and a gay man in a dog suit where the sexual subtext COMPLETELY escaped me last time. A lot of it felt like I was reading it for the first time - it wasn't even like I didn't remember it but then rereading it brought back the echo, it was like new stuff was there.

Like I always think about the best horror, this book isn't about the surface scariness of monsters or ghosts or dark places. It's about the kind of sadness that comes welded to any kind of love. It's about being afraid, not just that you'll lose the people you love, but that it will somehow be your fault - that you won't have been strong or selfless enough, and that the loss and grief will be deserved.

While I was reading, I kept thinking about how back in elementary school we used to study "themes" in literature, and I saw "MAN vs. NATURE" and "MAN vs. HIMSELF" on a blackboard in big block letters. The struggle within Jack Torrance, against his weaknesses, against alcoholism, against the fear that he'd never live up to his early promise, against the fear that he'd lost his wife and son - is illustrated masterfully.
Woman against herself too, which is another thing I didn't remember from the first reading - Wendy's fear that she'll turn out like her mother and destroy her son, or at the very least her relationship with him.

There's a dreadful inevitability about it all too, which is a huge part of the claustrophobic atmosphere. They all sort of "know" that if they stay something terrible will happen, but it's something completely inexplicable and undemonstrable, and the consequences of leaving are so tangible and horrible, that they CAN'T leave until the terrible thing actually happens, so they stay and HOPE it won't actually happen, although they KNOW... endless loop.

I remembered again how much I adored Dick Hallorann, the cook at The Overlook who pegs Danny for a Super Mind-Power Ninja instantly and moves heaven and earth to help him when things go south. It reminded me of King's gift for sketching a character you can love as much as someone in your own family in the space of a page or two. Hallorann's character is one of the principal reasons for my loathing of the movie.

The device of the topiary animals that went into attack mode at certain times didn't really work for me. I wondered if King was just trying not to confine all of the action to the hotel. It seemed kind of silly, although I might have not been able to envision it properly - it's the kind of thing that would probably be scary in real life, but in writing it was just Hedge Animals Gone Bad, and it didn't work for me.

That's all I can think of at the moment. Steph has taught this book - I wish she'd teach it to me. I feel like I could benefit from a lecture or two on it.

I still have to watch the movie again. I did read an article that said Stephen King didn't like Shelley Duvall's part in the movie either (or any of the movie)  - he said she was basically there to "scream and be stupid". I also found this movie on Netflix - "an exploration of various theories of Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining", so clearly I'm going to have to watch that.

On the whole, I think the book was really good. But I don't think it's one of my all-time King favourites. It might be interesting to rank them. Maybe I'll do a post on it.

Probably not tomorrow, though.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: Remember When I Used to Write Coherently About Books?

I have high hopes that I will again someday.

Today is not that day.

I wanted to write about a book of short stories that I took out of the library. I looked at the book notes that I keep as Word files, hoping that I had made notes on it, although I had no memory of making notes on it - I do many things that I have no memory of doing these days.

I didn't make notes on it. I also didn't order a copy of it when I ordered books the other day, using the gift cards Angus gave me because he had a bunch piled up in his room and was never going to use them (talk about a gift that makes you simultaneously exultant and despairing). I would have put it on my list of books to buy; in fact, I might have. But I can't find the list.

I feel a little like I'm walking on a disappearing path.

 Today while we were sitting waiting for our estimate at the collision centre, I told Matt that I was throwing in a load of laundry in last night, intending to go to bed right afterwards, then I went and told Angus that he should go to bed and read for a bit, and he looked at me like I was crazy and said "remember, a couple hours ago, we said we're watching The Walking Dead at nine?" I said to my husband "there's something wrong with me." "No there isn't," he said "I live my whole life the same way." I said "THEN THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU TOO!"

So I looked over some of my book notes, which is always diverting. It's funny how there are some fonts that make me feel like the person that typed those notes was very young. I can't decide why, or if I should change the font.

I use the word "haunting" a lot.

Is it possible that I was ever organized enough and had enough time to take notes on every single story in short story collections?

Then again, I'm not sure how I convinced myself that "refugees, thieves, phonograph, crying" or "man from Vietnam owns one of John Lennon's shoes" was going to adequately recall a story for me. At least it reminds me of whether I'd like to revisit a story, I guess. Or maybe I could use them as bizarre poetry:

Man charged with taking a group of madmen
across the city to asylum
Stops at cafe with friends
loses the madmen
Picks up twelve of "the most insane looking peasants" waiting for construction work
drops them off at the hospital
No one seems to notice the difference.