Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I stayed up until 12:30 last night reading The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. I know, I was complaining a few posts ago how tired of this series I was. But the last two books were so great. I would even say they were close to Harry Potter.

Here's the thing. It was very romantic. Riordan was able to convey the stupid/incredibly sweet way that 16 year olds intimate their romantic feelings perfectly. I was actually a little giddy. It was enough to make me kind of understand all that Twilight business.

Brian just thought I was plain old weird.

I just put up my next two books. Both of which are grown-up books. I hope my brain can handle it.

On another note, I talked to the other moms at baby music class today. It's like the 4th week and the only people that interact are the kids. Weird. Anyway, today I made some mom type friends and we asked each other panicky mom type questions. Ahhh....bonding.

Monday, June 28, 2010

last night

Last night we walked to a small park in our neighborhood. Climbing up the slide, walking over the poles, running on the bouncy turf. As the sun set lower and the breeze came in, we all owned the world. Well, we owned the playground.

On the way home, Ramona rested, Brian and I chatted about the houses in the neighborhood and what we think of the world. As we neared home, I noticed that Ramona wasn't really awake, nor asleep, just some place in between. I commented on this to her dad. Brian said, "remember when you were little, listening to your parents talking quietly, and it was so comforting..."

In our yard, I held Ramona. She's not usually very affectionate. We show our love mostly by letting her be, she shows her's by letting herself be caught from time to time. But not this time, in this moment. She put her arms around my neck, and placed her open mouth to my cheek. A kiss and a hug. A miraculous show of affection from my very bright and busy daughter. Said in utter wonder and love by Brian, "oh, she loves you".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


When I was little, my grandma taught me Solitaire. I liked playing by myself, but it brought out a secret competition that I normally didn't have when playing games with other people. I really, really wanted to win. It drove me nuts when I would see a card I needed, but not be able to grab it. I asked my grandma, "is it ok if I just take that card anyway?"
She said, "Nova, who are you playing against?" And left it at that. She really had nothing else to say and had moved onto something in the kitchen.
So, sometimes I grabbed a card I wanted. Most of the time I didn't. But I always knew who I was playing against.

I haven't thought of Solitaire or this 19 year old conversation in a long time, but it popped into my head last night. Last night on the cushion. I was sitting very sweetly, but doing a horrible job of not following my thoughts around by the nose. It's just that I kept thinking of so many lovely, fun things.
I thought to myself, "so what, so I sit and indulge a little. I want to be thinking about these things. At least I'm sitting! At least I look like I'm being attentive".

That's when it happened. That's when the voice of wisdom traveled 200 miles straight to my heart. "Nova, who are you playing against?"

Saturday, June 19, 2010

book talk - The Georges and the Jewels

Remember when I said I was taking a break? I wasn't planning on writing about books for the rest of the summer, but The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley was so neat I can't help myself.

Jane Smiley wrote an adult non-fiction book called 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. I didn't actually love the book, but I loved the list of 100 books that she read as a project while writing her book. I have read a lot of these books, and I turn to the list when I'm wanting to read something adult and need direction. She is kind of like the librarian's librarian.

So, I was happy to see that she had written a middle grade novel. And it's a horse book!

The story takes place on a ranch in California during the 70s. The main character is a 7th grade girl named Abby. She and her fundamentalist Christian family live on a ranch where they train and sell horses. Things have been tough for Abby because of some social problems at school and family problems at home. Her 16 year old brother has run away because of a disagreement with the father, so now Abby is up to her eyeballs in work training horses. Her father's business is built around the slogan "we sell horses that a little girl can ride", so it is up to Abby to do the lions share of the training.

This book had some problems.It almost feels like she should have spent a little more time on it. If I could ask Smiley one question it would be: what did you read to prepare yourself to write a middle grade novel? Can I recommend some books I would like for you to read before you try again? And yes, try again, please.

Here is what I loved:
I have no idea if Smiley is a Christian or if she set out to write a Christian book, but this is a beautiful example of a book that centers around faith. As soon as I saw that a fundamentalist Christan family was in the forefront of this book I panicked. I thought, oh god, it's going to be like Footloose. This is going to make Christians look bad and this book is going to piss people off.
It so didn't. The role God plays in the family's life is never rocked. Smiley shows this family realistically. She shows how strong and good the family is because of God's influence. As a teacher, I was touched by Abby's attempts to hide her school curriculum from her family. I came away with a stronger compassion for religious families who want to shelter their children from certain curriculum. And also a stronger compassion for students who want to shelter their parents from the school's judgement. As a public school librarian I was very nervous about religion being a major element of the story, but Smiley did a beautiful job. Despite some rough language, I would actually recommend this to my Christian students.

I also loved Abby. Oh, what a lovely and good character. Abby works harder than the average grown-up and I was charmed by her cowgirl attitude. Abby's big problem in the story is an unruly horse. Now that her brother is gone, she is expected to train all the horses, even the tough ones. A "horse whisper" type trainer comes to the ranch to help with the horse, and actually spends more time teaching Abby.

I tried what he'd taught me on Socks George and the two mares, but what he had taught me, even though I could remember a lot of the very words he had used, was like a refreshing fog that slowly lifted and wafted away. After awhile, I had no idea whether I was doing the right thing or not.

That passage was my favorite. Such an exact description of what it is like for a student to carry on after the teacher has left.

Like I said, not a perfect book. The trouble at school is weak. The situation with the brother is never cleared up. It's hard to know exactly what the main problem in the story is. But there was enough good about the book for it to hold up. I hope Smiley comes back to try again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

under toad

In high school, there was this book that my friends and I really liked, The World According to Garp by John Irving. Something from this book that has stayed with me was The Under Toad. In the story, it was a family inside joke. They would go to the beach and warn the kids, "look out for the under tow". The kids misheard and referred to it as "the under toad". Watch out for the under toad! For the father in the story, this was a phrase that highlighted his anxiety, anxiety specifically about mortality. Garp...realized that all these years Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore,waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad.

This has been us. Life has been great on the surface, but I have felt the under toad hopping around underneath it all. A feeling of dread, of foreboding. Before I get into the toad, I would like to point out that in actuality the surface is all there is. The world as it really is. I wish I knew this in my heart like I do in my head.

Speaking of hearts, at Ramona's 9 month appointment her doctor heard a murmur. Then they heard it again at her 12 month appointment. Yesterday we went to the cardiologist.

I have felt a dark cloud hanging over my head since her 12 month appointment. The idea that she could be sick, seriously sick, had her dad and me very frightened. At first I wasn't too worried,we made the appointment to see a cardiologist and I neatly put it out of my head. Almost. But then I googled heart murmur and clicked on congenital heart defects, and then it was an all out avalanche of worry.

Yesterday, our cardiologist looked into my eyes and said "her heart is fine". I wanted to hug him. Her heart is fine. He said other things, other things about her heart. But more than anything, he wanted me to know her heart is fine.

More than any lesson I am learning, I am second by second seeing that the present is all there is. Her heart was always fine. Who knows what will and won't be fine in the future. Right now is all there is. And really, if we stop thinking, we will see that every moment really is and always has been fine.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


My first meditation retreat was today. So much drama, in such a quiet place. I am amazed to think my body looked quiet and still, despite the ruckus of my mind.

I have dedicated myself to having a daily practice. I have been sitting every day and have finally gotten my body to be still. Now, I'm free to see what a mess my mind is. I am reminded of Ramona, the way she walks over and over again to our TV to press the buttons and how I just bring her back. My mind is the same. I try to be as sweet to myself as I am to Ramona. Just bring it back, patiently and without anger.

Sometimes I do this ok and sometimes I don't. During one entire walking meditation I berated myself for my foot falling asleep. This has been a major issue with my meditation. One time, my leg fell asleep so bad it was just like having an epidural. It actually scared me so bad that I had a panic attack and ended up sick in the bathroom. Anyway, I thought I had solved this problem and it scared me that it had re-appeared. I shouted at myself for the next 10 minutes.

But, problems aside, when Lama Chuck said that going on meditation retreat is one of the kindest things we could do for ourselves, I agreed. I feel so wrapped up in my practice right now I actually laughed at the idea of myself participating in some form of exercise. "You want me to exercise! No way, I am way exhausted from meditation." So, obviously I need practice. Luckily there are two more this summer. Now, if only I could convince Brian and Ramona that I would be nicer to them if I could go on a real, multiple day retreat......

Thursday, June 10, 2010

book chat - summer break edition

I'm taking a break for the summer. Well, sort of. First I need to read the new horse book by Jane Smiley. I'm actually looking forward to this one. I like Smiley a lot and this is her first middle grade fiction piece. And it's about horses!

And then I need to read the last two Percy Jackson books. I am so tired of this series. I just don't give a rat's ass anymore if Percy does or does not defeat Voldemort....sorry, Kronos. But, if you are an elementary school librarian you have to read all the Percy Jackson books to be respected. It's the only way to show kids you know your business. So, onward I read. (The only thing I'm getting from these books anymore is lots of neat name ideas. The next kid, cat, or warthog I'm in charge of naming is going to get something cool like Demeter. Demeter Bradfield. You heard it here first.)

So, after I read three more library books, I'm going to read something just for me. I haven't decided what it will be, but it will be grown up and wonderful.

And then it's back to the shelves so I can get started on the 2010-2011 Mark Twain Award Nominee Books!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


This is my first summer "break" as a mom. (I do not count last summer. Last summer didn't happen. Ramona was teeny and she cried a lot. I never saw the sun. I was a basket case.)

One of the best things about being a teacher is having the time off. I gladly trade what I lose in money for the time away from work. As a working mom, it is really a wonderful prize to have two months at home with my baby girl. Also, I get a lot of nice little week long breaks throughout the school year.

I have done a lot of thinking about the meaning of work in the last year. Before Ramona, I was uninterested in housework. Every night I did work for graduate school and enjoyed my television. I created huge messes. But I was working hard.

In the last year I have thought about how much I would prize having some time to wash my kitchen floor or do a load of laundry. I swear to god, for the greater part of this school year I was either teaching, pumping milk, nursing a baby, or patting a baby to sleep. I was working hard.

Now, I'm home all day with Ramona. Working hard.

I am done trying to figure out what I think work is. I envy women who have older kids that have time to keep their houses lovely. But then, a few weeks ago my cousin stopped me from giving my nephew a bottle saying, "oh you get to feed babies all the time, let me!". I think of feeding a baby as work and she thinks of it as a treat! I used to hate the idea of cleaning my house, and now I beg Brian to take Ramona so I can be alone with my broom. Irony!

That's the thing: All thinking leads to irony, really. Labeling one thing as hard and not hard is silly. Deciding that one thing is work and the other is not work is pointless.

So, I'm at home with Ramona right now. I am working hard at every job that falls into my lap. This is fine. But in general, I'm doing a lot less thinking. A lot less judging. A lot more working.

Monday, June 7, 2010

sweet, sweet little ramona

Nicole and Brandon Parigo from Parigo Studios came over to do Ramona's one year photo shoot yesterday. Brandon shot a little video while he was at it and this is what he came up with:

Ramona from P A R I G O S T U D I O S on Vimeo.

See why I'm so exhausted all the time! See why we think she's the bee's knees!

Thanks to Brandon and Nicole, we are lucky to know you. Life is impermanent, nothing stays the same. Having these beautiful reminders of our girl is nothing short of an ordinary miracle.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

is it possible?

How is it possible that I only posted three times in the month of May?

Well, I was busy. And I was crazy. Totally crazy. I tore around the month of May pulling my hair out.

But a lot of things happened to me and I learned things.

Things like this:

I stopped nursing Ramona. My plan was to nurse her for a year and then stop, but I wasn't going to be too hard on myself about when to actually kick the habit. I figured we would just get there. We got there one evening about a week ago. I was nursing her to sleep when I realized I was clenching my teeth. She wasn't exactly biting, but she was sort of grinding her teeth on me. I simply wasn't enjoying doing it. I hated the idea of being done, but I honestly wasn't enjoying the actual event anymore. I walked out of her room and announced that I was done. The next evening, I gave her a bottle. I wrapped my arms around her tight. I put my face on top of her head and breathed her in and exhaled over and over again. It felt amazing. (I still miss nursing her though, but it's ok.)

My mom and I went on a road trip to Northern Iowa to hear a public talk given by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. I took diligent notes. I planned on writing extensively about this teaching. But, then I got crazy and life took over. But it's better this way, because the thing about Buddhism is that there really isn't much to it. I could go on and on with every little quaint/profound thing he said, but I won't. I'll just spit it out:

Soften your heart. Be warm hearted. Teachers, your job is to teach the brain, but most importantly, teach the heart.

And, I met Karen Maezen Miller. I went to a morning workshop led by her and the incredibly sweet and kind, Jill Tupper. Maezen said a lot of things, but two really stuck with me. She said, "this life of ours is hard" and she also said "if I didn't have my practice on the cushion, I would not be able to practice at the sink". I realize now that having a daily practice isn't an item on my "to do list". It isn't something to think about. Buddhism isn't something to think about, or read about. Buddhism isn't something to talk about. Buddha sat, Maezen sits, I will sit. I will sit and sit and sit. I will sit because it is the only way to follow the path. When do we actually have the practice we say we have?

Now, we have it right now. It's all possible, now.