Book Talk: What Did I Just Read?

Capitol Hill Question Mark (Washington, DC)

So apparently I’m now selecting books without having any idea what they’re about.

First, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This is a really good book. I’d heard great things about it. Apparently I’d never actually read a synopsis, because for reasons I can’t explain, I thought it was about a teenage boy.

Spoiler alert: It’s lovely and moving. Also, it is not about a teenage boy.

Second, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg. I was expecting funny anecdotes about Ansari’s life, and there are some. But this is actually the funniest serious book about sociological trends that I’ve ever encountered. This book is based on a study and references others. It has substance.

I recommend both of these books. But I am surprised that, twice in a row, I read (well, in the case of Modern Romance, listened to) books of which I had no prior knowledge or understanding.

What books have taken you by surprise?

Photo by takomabibelot. Public domain.

Nothing’s Ever Easy

That’s my father’s saying. Mine is “It’s always something.”

Baguette’s IEP includes bus transportation between home and school. Because she is now able to attend the after-school program (this is a whole story of its own), she only rides the bus to school in the mornings; Mr. Sandwich picks her up in the afternoons.

At the beginning of the year, I called the Special Education department, which is where you’re supposed to call to let them know this.

Her bus comes at about 7:15 each morning, except for when it doesn’t–usually because there is a substitute bus driver, or because there is some sort of maintenance issue. Usually (but not always) we get a robocall about the latter.

Baguette, meanwhile, loves the riding the bus. She is ready ahead of time, can hear it 1/2 mile away (I am not exaggerating), and is almost frantic to get the front door to the house open when it pulls up.

little girl boarding school bus

Today, the bus did not arrive. We waited on the porch for almost 20 minutes. There was no robocall.

So I called the Area Bus Supervisor, who was not there, and left a voicemail. Then I called Dispatch, which required a lot of time on hold before I spoke to a person, and many more short times on hold while that person talked to other people before finally let me know that Baguette was not on the route sheet.

Which is weird, because she was on a route sheet YESTERDAY.

Then I got Baguette into the car and called Special Education, who confirmed that their records showed that she was to be picked up in the morning and said that her “profile is active,” but that they did not see any routing information.

And then I called the Area Bus Supervisor again, and actually got a person. She remembered talking to me earlier in the year (when I was trying to get Baguette’s pickup time changed because I refused to cut into her inadequate sleep even more by waking her up before 6:00 a.m.), confirmed a.m.-only pickup, and said that the only thing she could think of was that sometimes “when you make some changes, the system goes ahead and bumps kids off of routes when it’s not supposed to.”

You know what? That’s not a system.

But she did email the person in charge of routing and get them to reinstate Baguette’s transportation starting tomorrow, and she called me to let me know it was fixed.

So that’s good. But to get it fixed, I had to make multiple phone calls to multiple offices for a total of 45 minutes, be late to work, and find breakfast out in the world (thanks, McDonalds!) because I hadn’t been able to eat at home the way I usually do.

This is going to happen again, because this is how it “works.” Nothing’s ever easy, and it’s always something.

Three Fall Dinners

I love roasted vegetables. Love, love, love them. It’s not quite cool enough for that yet (although we did have a delightfully fall-like First Day of Fall). With temperatures in the 90s this week, I think I’d rather hold off.

But I do have a few fall dinner dishes that are easy to cook and don’t make me feel like I’ve heated up the entire house. Some of them are soups. There’s very little measuring in these recipes.

One of my standbys is black bean soup. I once had a co-worker who ate black bean soup every day. I’m not at that point, but I do like to have the ingredients for this one around: diced onion, diced carrots, a can of black beans, vegetable broth, and a variety of spices. I saute the onions and the carrots in olive oil, rinse and drain the black beans, saute them with the onion-carrot mixture, add the broth and some water, season, and simmer for at least an hour. Then I blend it with the immersion blender.

It’s not very photogenic, so there’s no photo. It is delicious, though.

A new introduction is corn chowder. This may sound like it should be a standby, but I haven’t made it regularly in the past. This month, though, I came up with a recipe that I love and can easily make after I get home from work. Saute onions and then carrots in olive oil, dice a couple of small potatoes and mix them in, add vegetable broth and water, simmer until the potatoes are done, lower the heat a bit and add frozen corn and some half-and-half, and continue cooking until those ingredients are heated through. Somehow this winds up tasting buttery. I don’t know exactly why, but it does, and I’m happy about it.

Blue bowl with corn chowder

This next one I cook year-round. It makes me think of fall in the fall, but it is also a great summer recipe, so whatever. There is no sauce easier than Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce. If you haven’t made it, you may be skeptical about it: A can of whole, peeled tomatoes; half a stick of butter; an onion sliced in half; a bit of salt. Remove the onion and blend the remainder. That’s it. You think it needs basil and oregano and pepper and more. It doesn’t. You just put this on top of pasta and eat. I’m not saying you’re going to replace your regular recipe with this one–but, actually, I did.
Oh, and one more thing. Read labels and buy the low-sodium version of everything. You can add your own salt.

Bowl of rotini with Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce and parmesan

Beyond these? I’ve got a whole Pinterest board of recipes I hope to actually try, whether or not it’s fall. Maybe someday.

Singing

Baguette has been singing the classics:

For he’s a joggy good fellow,
For he’s a joggy good fellow.
For he’s a joggy good fellow
Which nobody canst deny.

Which nobody canst deny,
Which nobody canst deny.
For he’s a joggy good fellow
Which nobody canst deny.

–Baguette

The song accompanied work on this puzzle.

small girl working on 250-piece puzzle with an image of a girl, rabbits, fox, tree, flowers, and deer
It’s been a big week for puzzles.

Things I Said While Watching TV Tonight

Watching Matthew McConnaughey in a Lincoln ad:
Mr. Sandwich: Let’s see what Matthew McConnaughey is going to tell us about Lincolns today.
Me: There is something really unnerving about his teeth.

Watching Speechless:
Me: I identify with Jimmy and Dylan. Because I feel like it’s my job to stay calm and also I’m fighty. There’s a lot of conflict between these two parts of me.

Watching something that appears to be an action movie due to urgent driving:
Me: What is this? Is it Live Free and Die Harder in a Really Stupid Way?
Mr. Sandwich: It’s Batman v. Superman.
Me: Same thing.

Still watching Batman v. Superman:
Holly Hunter: The world has been so busy thinking about what Superman can do that we haven’t stopped to ask what he should do.
Me: Oh, I get it. Superman is Jurassic Park.

Still watching Batman v. Superman, even though we meant to go to bed 30 minutes ago:
Perry White: Headline: End of Love Affair with Man in Sky?
Me: Perry, that’s a terrible headline.

But, really, the amazing thing is that we got to watch TV. Do you know how rare it is for Baguette to sleep?

Fat Tuesday

I don’t follow Lenten traditions, but I do like pancakes. So I decided to get pancakes for lunch, and arbitrarily went to one of two places at a nearby intersection.

I ordered my combo plate and answered “sourdough” when they asked what kind of bread I wanted.

The plate showed up, and I was served two eggs over medium, bacon, some really unappealing hash browns, and two slices of sourdough toast.

That’s when I realized: when they asked about bread, they were including pancakes in the option.

But they brought me what I’d asked them to, so I ate some of it and then went across the street to the other place, where I went with the full-on decadent version of pancakes.

plate of pancakes with caramel sauce, bananas, and powdered sugar

Fat Tuesday, indeed.

Endings and Beginnings

Friday

Today was Baguette’s last day at the school she’s gone to for the past year and a half (almost). We fought hard to get her into that school, and in the end we succeeded. She spent last year in TK, and overall we were happy.

Pros: The special ed teacher was amazing. She really cared about Baguette–and all her kids–and went the extra mile (and then some) for them. The kids were welcoming to Baguette, and didn’t mind when she screamed, and kept reaching out to her even when she didn’t seem to respond. The parents were friendly and supportive and made sure that Baguette was invited to birthday parties. The office staff was delighted by her, and repeatedly told us how much progress they saw her making. The principal always said hi to her, and made sure she was included in the morale events he sponsored, and told us how much change he was seeing in her.

Cons: The TK teacher didn’t want Baguette in her class. It was obvious, and if we could tell, Baguette surely could. Seriously, I don’t think this teacher said a single positive thing about Baguette all year.

At the end of the year, they tried to get us to move her to a special day class in another school, instead of staying in the mainstream classroom. The original plan had been to give her two years, so we insisted on staying for kindergarten.

This year is kindergarten.

Pros: A new classroom teacher, and several of the children from her TK class.

Cons: A new special ed program and a new special ed teacher, neither of them a good fit. A new principal (she could be fine–I don’t know her–but it is change). A classroom teacher who didn’t seem resentful, but who didn’t connect with Baguette either.

The real problem was that Baguette wasn’t fully participating in the class, and wasn’t demonstrating mastery of the curriculum. I need to point out that I think the key word is demonstrating. Baguette is constantly learning, but she knows when she’s being tested, and she does not cooperate. It’s a challenge. But it doesn’t mean she isn’t learning what you’re teaching her.

The thing is, it was clear that the staffing changes at the school meant the school had changed. The parents and kids and office staff were still great, but the teachers and the assistant principal (who runs the IEP process) are going by the book, and their book doesn’t include Baguette.

You know who knows that? Baguette. She didn’t take to the new teachers. And like a lot of us, she performs better when she knows you want her around.

So we agreed to move her, and move her now, because hopefully there’s enough of the year left for her to adjust to a new classroom. If we like it, and she does well, we can keep her there next year. And if we don’t, we may be able to find another school for her. We’ll spend the spring looking at how to do that, so that we know what our options may be and how to make the most of them.

We’re sad about leaving that community, and we don’t really want to take this step–but since we’re taking it, we hope it will be a good one for Baguette.

Monday

So Long, 2016

I wrote 14 posts this year. Sometimes I wonder if I’m still a blogger.

What can I say? It’s been a hell of a year. A lot of this is known to people; we all heard about the election, and no matter how you feel about the results, it was a big damn deal. We all know about the celebrities who died; Carrie Fisher’s passing hit me particularly hard.

For us, we’ve had a triathlon to train for (Mr. Sandwich) and support (Baguette and me), multiple IEP meetings, changes in leadership at Baguette’s school, lost teeth (the sixth came out this week), family drama that warrants assessment, and lice.

Oh, the lice.

We were supposed to travel to visit my dad and stepmom for Thanksgiving. But I had a bad cold, and based on much prior experience of making that trip sick, we decided not to. As it turned out, that was a wise decision. Because on the day we would have been driving, I discovered that Baguette and I had lice.

We called a service to come over to the house that night and comb all three of us, and scheduled the follow-up for the Monday after the holiday. But as it turned out, we couldn’t wait that long, so we also went to a lice-combing salon on Friday for an additional come-through.

There are, by the way, a lot of businesses providing this service in Los Angeles.

That was our hair; we also commenced on an astonishing amount of laundry, washing and drying on hot things that we often don’t even put in the dryer. We vacuumed and lint-rollered and bagged and froze and did everything we could think of to halt this in its tracks.

It was exhausting. It was not a vacation. It was not a break. But ultimately, we were successful–although we now are completely fixated on checking our heads on a regular (and probably unnecessarily frequent) basis.

We delayed our trip, planning to visit the week after Christmas. And then I got bronchitis. So we didn’t go. But we did have Christmas dinner with Mr. Sandwich’s parents, as planned. That was nice for a bit, and then discretion is the better part of valor, and also of family harmony on Christmas.

Now we are two weeks into Baguette’s three-week winter break from school. In case you were wondering, three weeks is too long. It’s not that I don’t love and value the time with her–it’s that we don’t have any other care for her, which means we have to take more days off from work, and it means that her routine is significantly disrupted in ways that are very difficult for her. And with my bronchitis that first week of the break, we didn’t do a great job of creating a different routine. We’re getting into one now, but that still doesn’t keep us from having rough days.

Long story short? I am ready for a new year. So Happy New Year to all of you!

And know that while I may not be able to stay up the whole time (among other things, Baguette got me up at around 4:00 this morning), I am definitely feeling this:

Happy Halloween, 2016

Baguette has never been that into trick-or-treating. From her perspective, Halloween is when you knock on your neighbor’s door, and they answer it–but then they don’t let you in. What’s the point of that?

It’s always been a struggle. Not because it particularly matters to us whether she wants to, but because we want her to understand what it is, and see if she can find a way to make it fun for herself. There would be a parade at her day care that she had to be wrangled through–the teachers made those costumes–and then in the evening we’d try to get her out into the neighborhood.

Each year, it was harder than you’d think. There was the time she refused to wear layers (shirt and tights were fine, but not the elephant part of the costume). After many tears, she decided to wear all of her Elmo clothing. It worked. The next year, she rejected the costume we’d bought her AND the one from day care, finally settling on my shirt worn backward. The year after that, we laid out every costume and clothing item we could think of, and she chose soccer ball fleece PJs–although once she was done with her abbreviated neighborhood circuit, she added Anna’s ball gown from Frozen.

This year, we looked at the restrictions required by the school and settled on gray leggings, gray t-shirt, and elephant headgear (we bought two headbands with ears and a hat). But yesterday I pointed out that she’d spent the week saying “I am a fire fighter” and “I am a doctor,” following a LOT of viewings of Elmo’s World DVDs. And I remembered that at some point, someone had given her a doctor costume. So I unwrapped it, and she instantly fell in love with the idea. She wore it all afternoon, and tried to sleep in it, and put it back on enthusiastically for this morning’s parade at school.

Small girl in scrubs costume running
Paging Dr. Baguette

She was still wearing it when Mr. Sandwich picked her up, and didn’t take it off until they were in the store looking at fire fighter costumes. They brought one home, but its velcro fasteners proved unacceptable. Out of all of the costumes we’d spread across the couch, which one did she pick?

The elephant-ear headband.

So we headed out with our elephant for trick-or-treating, but it turned out that Baguette had no interest in that–she just wanted to go for a walk around the block.

The whole point is to have fun, and for the first time, Halloween was really fun for her.

I couldn’t be happier.