Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shelter Me

I was offered the chance to review Shelter Me by Juliette Fay through Avon's First Look program. I was immediately drawn into the life of Jane LeMarche, a recently widowed mother of two young children, living in a Massachusetts town very close to my own. It's not often that a novel makes me think so much about my life; I'm usually just reading for pleasure, often with several books in progress at once (My GoodReads "currently reading" list is a little ridiculous). When I reviewed the letter from Harper Collins and realized that the review was due tomorrow (well, today, but this was last night) and I was half-way through, I buckled down and started reading in earnest. I had already become engrossed in the story, so it wasn't difficult. I read into the night, and picked it back up this morning while H ate his cereal, putting it down to 'interact' with my kids for a few hours.

After putting H and C down for their naps, I tucked back into the lives of Janie, Dylan, Carly and all the people that made the first year after the death of Robby maintain some semblance of normalcy. I don't want to put any spoilers in this review, but the basic storyline revolves around Janie who is self-admittedly in a 'shitty' place in her life following the day her husband was killed after being hit by a car while riding his bike without a helmet.

Just months after his death, a contractor, Augustus "Tug" Malinowski, comes to her door with plans for a porch that her husband had designed for their home as a gift to her. Janie decides to go forward with the building of the porch, as it's yet another way she can feel close to her husband.

While she is prickly, and angry and all the things you might expect from someone who's suffered a tragedy of this magnitude, she also reminded me of myself in a lot of ways; brusque and unafraid to speak my mind, but internally sensitive and bull-headed all at once. There were many times throughout the novel that I felt like it was me talking, probably amplified by the fact that my kids are about the same age as hers. There is one instance in which she is describing a 'breakthrough' with her daughter. Following her husband's death, she stopped producing milk and had to bottle-feed her baby. Their intimate breastfeeding routine was interrupted and I'm sure the emotional impact of the situation as a whole contributed to Carly balling up her hands in fists as she ate. The first time Carly again allows Janie to stroke her palm, is one of the gifts or "daily miracles" that Janie recognizes as the signs she needs to look for that life will go on.

She described the palm of her baby, and I just started to cry. Nursing C and H (when he was an infant, not now...blech) is one of my favorite things about baby-hood, and stroking C's palm as I look into his eyes...well, there's just not much that compares.

I could go on and on about the minutiae of my life that this book made me recognize is really special. I have been feeling in such a rut lately, and I know it sounds silly that a work of fiction has bolstered me so much, but I can't really attribute it to anything else.

Janie talks about that feeling of relief that used to wash over her as she realized her husband would be home at any minute to help out with the kids, and how that was one of her many losses. I have to admit that it's the touchstone in my day on the days that J's schedule works out that way. His working hours are crazy, and this month has been particularly hard. This quasi-single parenting is a lonely business, but reading Shelter Me really gave me the gut-check I needed. I'm not a single parent, and each comment I make to that effect is probably a slap in the face to J, who's missing out on all the little milestones that I've been complaining about. But I digress....

The details that Fay brings to life in these characters made me feel like I was reading the diary of a friend. Of course, it helped that I was practically reading about my neighborhood, and I could barely stop myself from googling Janie's town of Pelham, MA to get all the details and feel even closer to the story...okay, fine, I googled it.

The search is over. I have my next book club pick already selected. It will add even more fun that it will be read by a group of Central Massachusetts moms...Ms. any local book club visits? :) Shelter Me is available for purchase on December 30th...less than a month!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Graco Travel Lite Table Chair

When H came of age, eating age that is, we were faced with finding a high chair that would fit in our apartment. We settled on a monstrosity that was put in the corner (I guess we didn't listen to Mr. Swayze's admonition) initially, only to later do the shuffle from the tiny corner to the tiny kitchen at feeding times because apartment designers always think it wise to put carpet in an eating area.

Now that C is reaching the age of solids, I began my quest for the perfect small chair. I didn't want one the strapped onto our chairs, because that takes one out of commission and we only have four. When we have guests over, it's always fun to take H's booster off the chair only to turn red with embarrassment when I realize I needed to have scraped the month's worth of nasty food debris before having company over.

I was at a friend's house and noticed that they had one of the old-school hook-on high chairs at their breakfast bar so that the baby was with the rest of the family for breakfast and lunch, with a traditional high chair in the dining room and the light bulb clicked on.

After searching on, I added the Zooper Hook-on Chair in Margarita to the boys' wish list. It had a cloth cover that could be taken off and thrown in the washing machine and got overall excellent reviews.

After several feedings where I had C in his Exersaucer and he was lunging at the spoon in an artful bob and weave, I realized I should just go back online and order the chair, like, yesterday.

Because I usually make rash purchases, I decided to make one more foray into the world of Internet reviews and found the Graco Travel Lite Table Chair (for $15 less, and it still shipped for free with SuperSaver shipping). Not only did it have a higher back, it also had a tray that snaps on, and is as light as the Zooper for travel use. Since I am not purchasing this as a travel chair but as my full-time chair, I was happy to see reviews with the same sentiment.

Today, I received my chair in the mail, and I let C do his wail of hunger while I quickly installed the chair and prepared his lunch. The Tango in the Tongo pattern's background is a little more green than in the pictures, which I actually like. It feels very sturdy, was extremely easy to install and didn't require any assembly; I just pulled it out of the box and hooked it on the chair.

There is a small gap in the chair, between the seat and the back, allowing for food to be cleaned up easily and it seems comfortable while still being very functional. The only drawback I've found so far is that I feel like I needed to hook it very close to the table since it's C's first real chair, and it's a little tight getting my hands in and out to buckle him in. Also, it is a 'baby' print, so if you're looking for something that says "We have a baby, but we won't tell anyone", this isn't the chair for you...the Zooper or Chicco chairs would be a better pick (although, simply having the chair will give you away).

The travel lite chair hooks easily and securely onto our tiny table, in our tiny dining area, for a tiny price...which gives me big satisfaction.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Knit Two

When I first started working for the State of Oregon, my co-worker and I tried to burn off some nervous energy/stress by learning to do what we called knitting but what others would call making a giant knot of yarn that resembles something a cat may yak up. Being extremely impatient, I moved onto the next task quickly.

Three years later, after having H, Portlandia and I had taken to walking together (one Starbucks further at a time) in my post c-section recovery. One of our talks led to a discussion about knitting, and I learned that she knew how...'would you teach me?!' I practically yelled in my excitement. She gladly, and patiently, taught me to cast-on and away I went on my first scarf...which then sat in a pile until almost a year later...I didn't learn to bind off before returning to work and with the hustle and bustle involved in my job, I didn't take the time.

Then providence intervened and it was off to another mind-numbingly boring training about 'paradigm-shifting' policy changes, which really amounted to more of the same worded differently. I saw another woman knitting patiently and glommed onto her at the next break, asking if she could teach me to bind off. A-Ha! I would have a task for the next days of training...and I haven't stopped since.

That week I picked up a copy of Stitch n' Bitch at Barnes & Noble which was practically my bible for my first 6 months of knitting, and then forayed into the world of knitting circle fiction. I first read Knitting Under the Influence, (because who can pass up a book with a martini glass on the cover using knitting needles and a yarn olive instead of a skewer?) and I was hooked.

When Friday Night Knitting Club first came out, I kept looking at the cover and lusting after the gorgeous skeins of yarn but had been on a huge chick lit run so passed it over in favor of Reading Lolita in Tehran (which I still haven't finished...). My mom came to help out when I had C, and offered to buy it for me also, but I passed it up in favor of the 'behind the scenes' book for the SATC movie.

When I finally read it, I couldn't believe I'd let it go so long. I loved it. They really aren't kidding when they call it the Steel Magnolias of knitting. I finished that book wanting to know more about the characters, and feeling like I'd been left hanging...what happens with Peri and her Pocketbooks? Does Dakota go on to lead a rich life, or is she lost in the shuffle of so many people trying to be a stand in for Georgia? What will come of Walker and Daughter?! So many questions, and no answers!

It wasn't two weeks later that I was sitting at my computer when I received an email from MotherTalk/MomCentral regarding advanced copies of Knit Two being available for review. I think I hit reply before the email had fully loaded. Less than a week later, I tore open the envelope that held Knit Two, and started reading immediately (not exaggerating).

Wow, you've read a long way to get to this! Knit Two did not disappoint. Kate Jacobs again brought KC, Dakota, Darwin, Peri, Lucie, Anita and Catherine to life, five years after Georgia's death. I thought she did a remarkable job of going through the range of emotions and grief stages that would be present in a group who lost someone that meant something different to each of them.

I was really hoping that she wouldn't have James end up in a romantic relationship with any of the girls, because it just would have been too easy, and was very pleased with how she resolved each person's quest to find out what they wanted and how to act on it. This is a quick read in that you become ensconced in the characters' lives so are able to race through it. That said, it has more substance and depth than first glance would grant it.

I was especially happy that she included the pattern for the "Georgia Afghan" and also a recipe for one of Dakota's muffins as they are so central to the story.
My favorite part of the book, just as in the first, is all of the rich and detailed descriptions of the yarn, stitches and various projects that are created throughout. Ms Jacobs knows knitting and it's very exciting and encouraging to see a fiber art that is gaining momentum with my generation being featured in mediums other than crafting magazines. Curl up with your favorite afghan and get ready for another great read.

**As I was looking Knit Two on amazon in order to include a link, I saw that Kate Jacobs has another novel called Comfort Food. What? Since my two favorite things are knitting and eating, I'll be sure to pick that one up next!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


As C is getting close to being too big for the bucket, it's time to transition him into a traditional rear-facing car seat. The seat that H currently uses is for both front and rear facing and had been our 'back-up' seat in J's truck in Oregon, so has only been used as the primary seat for one year. H is getting too tall for it, and very close to the weight limit for the harness, so it was a natural progression to hunt for a new seat for H, while giving his to C. There are still over 3 years left before the 'expiration date' so I knew it was fine to use this as my game plan.

I was fairly nervous about the prospect of H being in a booster with just the seat belt, as he still seems so young to me, but we couldn't afford the Britax, which has a much higher weight limit than our current Graco car seat. Luckily, I was talking about the dilemma with one of my friends and she told me about the Graco 3-in-1 of which she had just purchased two for her girls. The 3-in-1 has a 65 pound weight limit for the 5-point harness, then transitions to a seat-belt booster, and finally to a backless booster for up to 100 pounds.

Had I not found this car seat, however, I would still have felt more confident about having H in a backed booster given the new product I was sent by MomCentral called SeatSnug. SeatSnug is manufactured by Lap Belt Cinch, Inc., and is both ingenious and very easy to use and install. They developed the product as one of the failings of seat belts is that they "represent a compromise of safety and comfort" in that they allow slack to develop in the lap belt portion which is acknowledged by the auto industry as a major contributor to injuries and deaths in car accidents.

Although H won't be using the seat belt in his booster for awhile, I installed it in our car regardless because I occasionally take friends' kids that do, and the seat belt can be used by an adult or older child with SeatSnug still installed by using the on/off switch.

I was impressed that they provided not only clear and concise directions for installations with lots of pictures, but also an online video to make sure that it's used properly. The Safe'n Snug guarantee also allows for, among other return/exchange reasons, a free replacement of the product should it be installed and in use during an accident as, like car seats, they should not be used after involvement in an accident.

SeatSnug is available on for $34.95. Who knew peace of mind could come at such a small price?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Moving so far from family and friends was a very daunting prospect. The furthest I'd ever roamed from my sleepy Northeastern Oregon hometown was the big city about four hours away. This country looks mighty large when you're moving to the opposite coast.

After a few months of living sans family and friends, I realized that it didn't feel quite as lonely as I'd expected. Email and Instant Messaging had made it so that I could virtually talk to my friend just as we had when working across the wall from each other. I didn't miss the way kids were growing up because I got lots of pictures.

Before we moved, my in-laws gave us a web cam so that we could have H call and say hello. I don't know if you've tried to wrangle a toddler in front of a computer before, but it's less than successful.

How fun, then, to have the ability to get them to say a few words in a video email? That's just one of the options available with the program TokBox. The best part? It's free and there's no software to download (or upload, I never quite get those straight.)

Upon starting my account, I was a little dubious, because you have to allow the program to "talk" to your camera and computer. I guess one of the downfalls of having a career where you attend multiple conferences with information about Internet predators is that you can never truly let down your guard (and shouldn't really). Like all camera-based (or chatrooms in general) programs, I would strongly suggest to anyone that they never have the camera in the child's bedroom, and that it be centrally located in the family home (i.e. the living room or kitchen). After performing several functions, however, I realized that each time I attempted to initiate a call or email, I had to physically 'allow' the communication to happen...phew!

Paranoia aside, I immediately mailed a test message to myself and was pretty impressed with the clarity, and 'real time' speed. It didn't clog my inbox either, because it's not a big attachment, it's just a link to the site. I also received an email that the message had been viewed, so you don't have to wonder.

Now for the real test. I sent a message to my parents who love all the opportunities that having a computer gives them, but are fortunate to have a daughter who works for a phone/Internet company that they can call for assistance at any time (thanks, Myrtle!). Easy for Senior Citizens? Check.

My sisters and I have 'sister chat' weekly through messenger, so I was really excited to see that this has a conferencing feature and we can truly chat live. If we keep having all these advancements, living in New England forever may become appealing.

As I was writing the review, I kept noting that something was pinging in the background, and realized that my TokBox screen was still open, and a friend was IM'ing me. I was surprised that she had an account and asked how long she'd had it...turns out, she was IM'ing me from Gmail and because my contacts were imported, she was able to contact me while I was logged into TokBox. What a great feature! You don't have to be logged into different programs to get all the features in one.

The only downside? Wow, I've got some serious jowls that the web cam seems to highlight more than in normal life, and my loft area looks like Hurricane Ike made an appearance. Maybe just talking on the phone isn't so bad after all!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I remember when I had my first 'check-up' when I turned 18, I felt like I'd been brought into the fold. Like menarche, it was one more step toward becoming a full-fledged responsibly procreating (or not) member of society. My mom was firm with my sisters and I about the importance of an annual exam, so it didn't seem like quite the chore to me that it did for others.

I tried to put it in the perspective that I was making the choice between a fifteen minute appointment once a year to stem concerns or cervical cancer that goes undetected for several years? Hmmmmm...such a difficult decision. I'm always a little surprised when someone avoids their exam for several years at a time. I'd talk to other girls my age and their reasoning was "Well, I'm not having sex yet, so I don't need to have someone poking around." It was usually the same people that thought using a tampon would remove their status as a virgin.

As women, it's important that we carefully look at our options when it comes to anything 'down there', which includes seeking both appropriate preventative care and timely treatment of ongoing concerns. All too often, we rely solely on the physician currently treating us to provide us with all of the information used to make our health care decision and/or to create a treatment plan.

A recent study performed by AAGL, which is a not-for-profit organization of physicians 'dedicated to advancing the safest, most efficacious and least invasive diagnostic and therapeutic techniques to treat women's pelvic health disorders' concluded "When half of women suffering from a given condition are unaware that they may be candidates for a minimally invasive procedure that spares them pain, time and disruption of their lives, there is a clear need for stronger efforts in patient education."

While the women surveyed did agree that it was their responsibility to ask providers for alternatives to total abdominal hysterectomies, the vast majority (myself included) trust in their provider to present them with all the options, including those with the shortest recovery and smallest impact on finances and family.

Further the survey concluded that less than 40% of women were aware of the hospital stay, scar and significant recovery period associated with TAH. In contrast to a TAH, a laparoscopic hysterectomy is minimally invasive, can be done on an outpatient basis and enables most women to resume normal activities within a week. Most women didn't know that a laparoscopic hysterectomy was an option.

I feel like I'm a fairly well-informed person when it comes to my health options, simply because my husband is a physician and dialogue about health issues is common in our house, but I am certainly thankful for resources such as AAGL. In the end, my goal would be that my provider and I would be able to work together in order to make the decision that was best for me, considering social and financial aspects of my life as well as the medical. I know that my OB-Gyn would be very open to my coming to an appointment armed with information and specific questions, and I would hope that would be the same for others.

I looked around at the site, and there is a lot of information provided, including a glossary of terms and physician finder. The glossary may be the most helpful because sometimes the medical lingo is the biggest barrier.

You can read the full results of the study in order to get more detailed information. I love that it's called "minimally invasive gynecology" because if it was called non-invasive, you'd know it was coined by a man. All sarcasm aside, I think the important thing is that women be aware of their options, actively use resources to educate yourself in order to be an informed patient and to be generally proactive regarding your own health.