Posted by: thatjen | July 3, 2011

Standing on my head

I’m trying to see things more positively, even if it means turning upside-down so the glass looks half-full.  After two months or so of gluten avoidance, it seems that the best course of action for Cait’s health is that we make our house damn near gluten free.  Right now we’re still getting rid of some gluteny stuff we’ve got, but today I made the big decision to pack up all the unopened stuff from our basement shelves to donate to a food bank.  I decided I could either resent the situation and dwell on the money, or make the best of it and make our loss helpful someone else who is in a worse situation.  And it does feel better.

There are definitely still aspects of the transition for which I can’t see the positive – replacing the Kitchen Aid, just to name one – but I’m going to see what I can do to let go of the frustration and move forward with the smaller things, at least.

It’s not all forced Pollyanna smiles, either.  We truly are benefiting from the change in some ways, not the least of which is that it is forcing us to move even farther away from processed food, and shake up our food routines.  Tonight we had baked tofu, grilled vegetables, and zucchini fritters.  All naturally gluten free (except the fritters which required one simple substitution of GF flour blend for white flour) and all delicious.

I’m still me, though, and even though the glass is half full that does mean there’s an awful lot of empty in there too, so I will point out that Teddy hated all of it and Natalie only liked the tofu.  And cooking from scratch means a hellacious amount of dishes.

But it was tasty for the adults, it was in season, some of it was local, and it was healthy.  You can’t shake a stick at that.

I don’t know about other librarians, but this one hardly ever gets to read. At work, I am surrounded by more than 10,000 books. My bedside “table” is actually a six-foot tall bookcase, filled primarily with books I hope someday to read. We have books and bookcases in every room of our house. But the sad truth is, it’s a rare moment indeed when I am reading an actual book. The internet is largely to blame – most of the time I might spend reading books is given over to reading email, Facebook, blogs and boards – and life with kids, a house, and a job takes up the rest of the time. I’ve taken up reading magazines because the articles are short and I can squeeze one or two in while brushing my teeth and before falling asleep. The books that have made it past the obstacles tend to be non-fiction: parenting, organizing, health, and teaching, and since they are read in 2-3 page snippets, mostly get put aside after a chapter or two anyway.

Summer is the one time I do get to read, but even then I am mostly reading children’s books in a feeble attempt to stay abreast of some of the avalanche of new books my students are or should be reading, or reading to my kids (true confession: we don’t read to our own kids much during the school year because our schedules are so insane). So I leapt at the chance to review a book when it showed up in my inbox. A novel! For adults! Romance, even! Very little redeeming value! And heck, I’d even get some Amazon credit for doing it! How could I turn it down???

In all seriousness, it sounded like a fascinating book – a coming of age story with some romance set among the Amish. So I happily filled out the review application and was delighted to receive the email indicating I would be on the review team. A few weeks later a padded envelope arrived, thick with the promise of a new book FOR GROWNUPS! I opened it and found the anticipated copy of Beside Still Waters, by Tricia Goyer.

The classic romance-style cover did not disappoint, showing a young woman looking wistfully out a window as bright sun washed over her, lighting her face with hope. I flipped to the back cover and skimmed the jacket copy: family tragedy, young love, conflict… and God. A lot of God. And then, the author bio.

It turns out that in my eagerness, I missed a few key words in the description. I’d failed to notice the semi-oblique* and even the overt indicators that this book was not exactly in my comfort zone. I had so thoroughly overlooked them that my first thought was, “That was a dirty trick! How can you recruit people for a book review and not tell them it’s a religious book??” Full of righteous (ha!) indignation, I checked my email for the initial email about the book, only to find that I’d deleted it. Ooops. But the organizer cheerfully forwarded it, and I discovered that there was no trickery, just good old user error. Right there in the fourth paragraph it clearly stated that the author is “known as a writer of Christian fiction.”  D’oh!

You may be wondering if I am so opposed to Christian fiction, how I could possibly have overlooked the work “Amish”. Well, I didn’t. But there’s a difference for me between Amish and Christian. Christian in our culture often signifies born-again Christian, and with that comes proselytizing. The Amish, on the other hand, are not known for attempts to convert others. I enjoy reading books about other experiences and other cultures, and often tell my students that one of the wonders of books is the way that they can open our minds and take us to new places, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. But just as I do not try to push my beliefs or ways of living on others unless they ask, I don’t want anyone to try to convert me to any way of thinking or being (buh-bye Mormon and Seventh Day Adventist door-knockers). So seeing the multiple God references and description of the author as a Christian fiction writer made my heart sink with apprehension.

However, a commitment is a commitment, and I’ve surely read many a book I wouldn’t have chosen (The Day My Butt Went Psycho, anyone?) in my time reviewing children’s books, so I knew I had to read it. I shoved it in a corner and ignored it, but eventually pulled it out and opened it.

Reader, I liked it. I really, really liked it.

Ms. Goyer has done a thorough job of researching Amish life and portraying it in a detailed, captivating manner. Her characters are well-developed, likeable, and realistic. The pacing is good, and the predictable plotline has enough tension and surprises in it to keep the reader engaged. Unfortunately, the book is poorly edited, with enough significant typos (including a misspelling of Marianna, the MAIN CHARACTER’S NAME) to raise my hackles, but otherwise it is a decent showing: quality paper, glossy cover with eye-catching art, good binding. I sped through the book, enjoying the portrayal of Amish life and culture (which seemed realistic to this “Englischer” although I am not at all knowledgeable about Amish ways).

Until I got to page 129. A mere five pages after his introduction, Ben, the soon-to-be-rival for Marianna’s heart, was irritating me enough that I considered abandoning the book mid-read. Furthermore, the author was irritating me, too. Upon introducing Ben, Ms. Goyer abruptly shifts the point of view of the story to include his voice. Up to that point, more than halfway through the book, the story is told entirely from Marianna’s perspective and thoughts via a third person narrator. Suddenly, we are also presented with events as seen from Ben’s viewpoint, and allowed to share in his thinking, too. It’s rather jarring, so far into the story — and I found it all the more so because Ben’s thoughts are so foreign to me. He seems to be a born-again Christian. Regardless of the label applied, he is without a doubt intent upon bringing others to his perspective on God.

I was horrified that the author would spend so much time learning about the Amish and their lives only to set up a narrative in which the main character is converted away from her faith, yet Ben’s arrival in the story certainly made it seem as if that was her intent. As if it were a horror movie I couldn’t bear to watch, I set down the book and left it for several days until I decided I had to know. Would Ms. Goyer go through with it? Would she have the audacity to convert Marianna?

Luckily, there’s no need for a spoiler alert here. Beside Still Waters turns out to be only the first in a series of novels featuring Marianna and her family, and although a number of plot points are wrapped up at the end of the story, the reader is left unsatisfied as to which beau Marianna will choose.

After reading the book, like Marianna, I too am torn. Should my distaste for the overt proselytizing win out? Does the fact that the story turns out to be rooted in the true experiences of Amish people the author knows cancel out my discomfort about the somewhat voyeuristic/exploitive use of the Amish community only to (perhaps) convert the main character out of her original faith? In the end, I really can’t decide. I may even have to read the sequels to make up my mind….

*(Semi-oblique???  Hello, title?? “Beside Still Waters”? I *was* raised in a church, regardless of my current agnosticism, but apparently my brain was in off mode.)

Disclaimer: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of the Beside Still Waters Campaign and received a copy of the book and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Posted by: thatjen | June 26, 2011

NOW it is summer.

Well, I got the blog up and running again at high speed, didn’t I?

Even though the posts weren’t exactly flying, we sure were, helter-skelter towards the end of the school year, and we have finally (mostly) made it. Natalie has been out of school for a week and will proudly tell you she’s a kindergartener now, Cait has pretty well wrapped things up in her classroom, and I have more hanging over my head than I’d hoped but am no longer going in to work daily, so I’ll take it. We celebrated the end of the year by heading off on an overnight trip to see the fabulous Corey Jo and the jet-setting Trista who’d flown in from far-off Utah. A cast of adoring fans flocked to them both, in fact.

Last week leading up to the trip, while very excited about seeing so many friends (and, um, Spudnuts), I was quite overwhelmed at the thought of a whirlwind trip involving at least 6 out of 24 hours in the car with our less-than-stellar traveling companions. Plus, we needed to cram in a trip to the zoo and perhaps a birthday party flyby before leaving town on Saturday. (We wisely skipped the birthday party in the end.) But it far, far exceeded my expectations, and then some.*

We had a delightful time in a very walkable city with tasty, tasty food, and sparkling conversation! Oh, all right, perhaps the conversation wasn’t always sparkling, but by Jove, the adults outnumbered the children. At all times. Who could ask for anything more?

Even the gluten-free traveling was manageable. Which is excellent, since this was kind of a dry run for the rest of our summer travels. Given the close confines of the car and the long and messy arms of the children, the wisest course of action for road trips seemed to be a gluten ban in the car. I packed a GF wonderland of snacks and lunchy stuff for the car, and everyone found something they were happy to eat. (In fact, my hopes that we’d eat more healthily on the road with the GF approach were only partially true. While we didn’t eat any fast food, we did have a lot of popcorn, peanuts, and ice cream. With a few grapes, cucumber sticks and pepper strips!)

Once we arrived, three of us returned to our gluteny ways, while Cait was able to find safe things everywhere we went. Cait even told the kids that she may have enjoyed her salad greens with rasperries more than the gelato. The kids have become quite used to being scrubbed down after coming near any dangerous food, so they cheerfully submitted to ablutions in Starbucks across from the Zoo, the pizza place in C-ville, the heavenly gelato shop, CJ’s house, and the fantastically named Moo-Thru on Rt. 29.

I’d always imagined Starr Hill to be a bucolic hippie paradise with daisies, free-roaming chickens, and perhaps a broken-down VW microbus. I was wrong. There ARE free roaming chickens. There are quite likely any number of broken down vehicles nearby. However, I didn’t see any daisies, and the bucolity? Bucoliciousness? Bucol? Whatever. It’s not there.

Starr Hill is very much an URBAN hippie paradise. And we loved it. Three hours from DC and the pace of life is totally different. Even the weather is different. What we thought was a marvelous lack of humidity turned out to be fairly muggy in the eyes of the locals (and nearly unbearable to the poor Utahn). It was the perfect transition from the madness of our year to what will be a lazy (for us) summer.

Thanks all!

*Except the Spudnut. I did not find it the doughnut to end all doughnuts, but I seem to have lost my taste for doughnuts of late. I didn’t *mind* it, but it was not nearly as transcendent as the gelato, or the company.

I’ve been wanting to revive the blog for a while and so of course I’ve been thinking about what I’d post, but never finding the time to post it. The title came easily, and is pretty relevant to what we’ve been up to lately.

The biggest and most recent subtraction is that of gluten from Cait’s life. Her dad has Celiac Disease, so it had been on our radar for a while, but having had two negative blood tests, she was not terribly interested in pursuing the possibility since it meant giving up a group of foods she greatly enjoys. A variety of people and circumstances made her reconsider, and she has been gluten-free for about a month, with noticeable, even spectacular, improvement at times. (More on that, and the diagnostic process, to come. So much more. And did I mention more?)

Other subtractions include a good bit of weight on my part (as well as losing some unhealthy thinking and behaviors around food and exercise), many baby-related items from our home: bye bye crib! diapers! chubby cheeks (snif!), and as you’ve probably noticed, blogging. But we both want to get back to it, so here I am.

One issue in our lives is neither an addition or subtraction, yet. We wrangle with the question of family size. We have NOT subtracted our remaining vials, and instead removed another large chunk from our bank account for annual storage. However, we are reluctant to take away from the small amount of sanity and something approaching equilibrium that has recently returned to our home as the kids move further and further from babyhood and the accompanying sleep deprivation, etc. We’re leaving the door open, I guess, but we’re staying away from the hallway too.

There is the matter of the last word in the title, too. Nothing in life is easy, and all of these changes have posed problems. So there’s a lot to write about, and we mean to get back to doing so. Hopefully our readership hasn’t been entirely subtracted at this point!

Posted by: thatjen | November 1, 2010

Wild Rumpus

Rumpus Begins

Originally uploaded by jrustdc

Happy (day after) Halloween!

Jen has been working hard on these costumes since Natalie declared that she wanted to be Max. The kids (obviously) had a great time roaring their terrible roars and showing their terrible claws.

Posted by: thiscait | September 19, 2010


All blood tests normal. Nothing to do but suck it up and trundle on. Damn you, deer tick and Dr. ThereIsNoLymeHere. Damn you, stupid body.

For lack of anything better to say, here’s a picture of Teddy at his birthday party, which celebrated his two loves, trucks and shoes.


Posted by: thiscait | September 6, 2010


Teddy is two today.  He is delightful and loving and funny and ohmygod defiant and stubborn.  He is in near-constant motion unless we’ve tamed him with a book for a short time.  He is obsessed with trucks and loves shoes, necklaces, and all things glittery.  We are in love, but holy hell are we tired.

It’s hard to separate the tired that goes with parenting two strong-willed children, and now doing so while both parents work full-time outside the home, from the more abnormal forms of tired.  I tend to run on the tired and achy side due to the lingering Lyme stuff, but life is seriously kicking my ass now.  My knees always ache.  I can’t really kneel anymore–or have to do so carefully due to the highly pressure-sensitive spots on them (tricky when your job requires a lot of up and down and floor time).  The rest of my body feels like I’ve just run a race–  except not in that good, adrenaline-filled kind of way.  I’m gritting my teeth and dragging through days.  I’m trying to be a good mom, but have far less patience or creativity in this state.  I’m painfully exhausted to my core and can’t figure out how to get everything done.  Days I work, I fall asleep on the couch after the kids go to bed and then pry myself up to prep for the next day.  If I can.  Days I don’t work, I’m not a whole lot more functional.  I’m behind in the planning and organizing I should be doing for my classroom because I can’t stay awake, and when I am awake I can’t think clearly enough about it to do anything useful.  Our house is never as clean as I want it to be, and most days I simultaneously am too tired to care and driven crazy by it.  This isn’t normal…is it?  I know parenting is hard work.  I know teaching small children is hard work.  Is it the combination of the two kicking my ass, or is something else going on?  This is my constant internal battle.

I’m going to try to get to our GP this week to check in.  I’ll ask them to test me for Celiac again.  My dad has it, and as much as I would hate going gluten-free, I would welcome a clear course of action.  I’ll ask for rheumatologist recommendations as well.  But I suspect that everything will check out fine and I’ll be left with the stupid diagnosis that half the medical community doesn’t believe exists.  And because it doesn’t exist, there’s nothing to be done.  How the hell do people do this?

(sorry to appear after so long with nothing but whining, but I’m trying to operate on the “if you write something you’ll have an easier time writing something else” principle.)

Posted by: thiscait | May 8, 2010

Photo Friday: Desks

I’ve never been a desk person. I suppose it’s not surprising, then, that I work in a school where teachers don’t really have them. I spend my time at work on my feet, on the floor, crouched next to a table and a working student. When meeting/planning, several of us crown around a table, perched on chairs sized for 4 year olds, or we sprawl across the meeting rug, papers strewn hither and yon.

By the time I finish a day at school, pick up kid(s), get home, get kids through the evening routine and into bed, I am flattened. As much of the remaining planning and work as possible gets done at this “desk.”

Photo Friday: My "Desk"

Yes, that’s the couch and my leg under a well-worn bedspread of Jen’s from her childhood. When I’m really working, there’s a binder and a variety of papers scattered about on the leg and perched on the back of the couch. I stay as reclined as possible and move as little as possible. Years of Lyme have made me an expert in laziness and energy conservation. Well, sometimes, anyway.

Join the fun:

Posted by: thiscait | April 2, 2010

Photo Friday with a Wedding Twist

Calliope is resurrecting Photo Friday. I am trying not to let this blog die completely. Seems like we can help each other out here…

This week’s theme is sinks. At about 2:00 this afternoon, my kitchen sink was full of flowers ready to be arranged for the wedding. Seemed as good a time as any to photograph the sink.

The wedding was lovely. We are tired, but legal.

Posted by: thiscait | March 29, 2010

Legal Matters

“NOTE: Pursuant to the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, L18-110, effective March 3, 2010, same sex couples may apply for marriage licenses in the District of Columbia.”

So reads the red text at the top of the DC Marriage Bureau’s webpage. And so, on this first day of Spring Break, our family journeyed to the DC Courthouse to apply for a marriage license. Teddy charmed the multitude of gay men in waiting. Natalie tucked her doll in for a nap on one of the chairs and drew pictures with another queerspawn. The one or two straight couples that wandered in looked almost out of place. Our application was filed, and the license will be ready to pick up on Friday. Which is lucky, since we’re getting married that afternoon. Unlike our 2003 wedding, this will be a small, casual affair. But it will be legal.

(Given the legal protections we’ve already set up for ourselves this legal marriage won’t really change anything until DOMA is repealed, but it’s still a step, and we’re happy to be able to do it.)

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