Book Talk: Things I’ve Read Recently

Your definition of “recently” and mine may not be quite the same. Whatever. It’s my blog, so I get to pick.

Anyhow, here are some books I’ve read, with the occasional thought attached.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
This was a hard read, but I’m so glad I read it. Lilith’s story is compelling from the start, and heartbreaking and painful throughout. It’s a powerful illustration of how slavery is brutal and corrupting.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’m never going to see the movie. I accept that. But I did enjoy the book, even if I wasn’t particularly surprised by how the story developed and played out. But I liked the fact that Mark is a problem-solver. Because he encounters a lot of problems.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
As a tween/teen of the 1980s, I have fond memories of Choose Your Own Adventure books. Clearly, so does Neil Patrick Harris. This was a fun read. Maybe he’s a little too diplomatic. But it’s fun.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
I don’t like horror, and didn’t really realize that’s what this was until I started reading it. It was an interesting story, and it held my attention, but I didn’t buy the ending. Also, in poking around on Amazon, I realized that I had read another one of the author’s books and didn’t care for it, but I had no memory of her name. Hopefully I’ll remember it going forward.

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
I thought Station Eleven was really good (if something I should not have read), but this book didn’t come together for me.

Valley of Ashes by Cornelia Read

I like the Madeline Dare books, even though they get weaker with each entry. This one had a really cliched villain, but if she writes another, I’ll read it.

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
“Why are so many recent books set in the 1980s?” asked Mr. Sandwich. “Because it’s recent enough to feel modern, but you don’t have to worry about cell phones,” I answered. I remembered liking The Tenderness of Wolves, and Penney’s next book–which is completely different from its predecessor–is also worth a read.

Tomorrow They Will Kiss by Eduardo Santiago

Santiago has written two books about Cuba and Cubans. I hope he writes more.

Roughing It by Mark Twain
This book is taking me forever to read. I guess maybe that’s fitting.

So that’s about six months worth of books. Clearly I’m off my game. Please leave recommendations in the comments.

Book Talk: The Emerald Key

Sponsored: I received a free Advance Reader’s Copy of The Emerald Key in exchange for writing a review. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

So one of my friends has written a book! Co-authored, actually.

The Emerald Key, by Mark Frederickson and Melora Pineda, is the story of a group of friends who discover a journal and accidentally open a portal to another world. The main characters, Penny and Laci, are life-long friends who anticipate a dull vacation and an unwelcome family wedding, but find themselves transported to another reality filled with danger and dragons.


I enjoyed the book–it’s fast-paced, with lots of action, and the characters are likeable. And while Penny and Laci and their friends go through a number of trials throughout the story, it seems like an adventure that tweens might actually imagine they want to have.

I was curious to get some of the story behind the story, and Melora granted me an interview.

1) What was your inspiration for The Emerald Key?
Both Mark and I have tweenage daughters. His daughter is extremely athletic, and I have on occasion, had to threaten mine to get her to put her book down and meet basic needs, such as eating and showering. Our goal was to write a story that would entertain their age group, but also have a little bit of each of them in it.

2) What made you decide to write a book as a co-author, and how did you develop a process that made that work?
Mark and I had worked on a treatment for a children’s show a few years prior to starting The Emerald Key, so we knew we worked well together. Originally we decided to write a screenplay aimed at a middle-grade audience, but by writing it as a book, we created the source material first. Our process was countless hours on the phone hashing out ideas. I took notes and wrote the first version of each chapter. One by one I sent them to him and he expanded them. Next, we spent an entire weekend reading the book aloud and laughing at some of our blatant mistakes, such as the repeated use of our characters “starting” to do something instead of just doing it. I edited per our crazy weekend and then submitted to various publishers.

3) Laci and Penny have a close and supportive friendship, in spite of–or perhaps because of–the many ways in which they are different. How did you develop the characters?
We wanted an unlikely pair of friends to create more contrast in their skills and more challenges in getting themselves out of the mess they landed in. We began with qualities from each of our daughters, but these are fictional characters, so added more differences than actually exist between them.

4) I noticed some references to Norse mythology throughout the book. Were there particular legends or features that inspired you as you wrote?
Although Hallvard’s village was not seafaring and the Norse dragons are more serpent-like than the ones found in Botkyrka, we used a lot of Norse mythology to relate to popular culture (thanks, Marvel). We mention Thor and the mythology surrounding him frequently, but Beowulf is an Old English poem and wyverns are considered to be from European mythology, so we clearly played around with various dragon-based myths. By having Hallvard familiar with the same mythology the kids knew, we could bridge the gap between the cultures and create a camaraderie.

5) What would you like readers to take away from The Emerald Key?

I hope this book reminds our readers to search for and have faith in their own strengths instead of comparing themselves to others. As well as believing in themselves, they should never forget the importance of trusting their friends, and that in the end, it’s a combination of strengths working together that can overcome obstacles. And beat the bad guys!

Finessing Christmas

When I was young, our Christmases were extravaganzas. My parents weren’t Clark Griswold/Christmas store-style decorators, but we had lights on the house and a big, full tree that was overdecorated and surrounded by piles of presents. On Christmas Eve, we’d don pajamas and curl up on either side of my father so that he could put his arms around us both as he read The Night Before Christmas.

On Christmas morning, we’d get up as early as my brother and I could persuade my parents to wake; make tea and coffee; go through stockings; have breakfast; go to Mass (when we were very young–later we switched to Christmas Eve Mass); come home; and open presents.

When we lived within driving distance of grandparents, we would spend the afternoon with my mother’s parents and the next day or two with my father’s. When we didn’t, my mother’s parents often traveled to spend the holidays with us (this is its own story).

We would spend the whole day at home with each other and our new gifts, playing board games and reading books–and watching movies, once VHS technology had been invented and acquired. And we’d cook our traditional Christmas dinner.

Times have changed, as they do. Most years we trade off holidays, so that we’re spending one with my side of the family and the other with Mr. Sandwich’s. Our own trees are smaller, often in height and always in diameter. I keep forgetting to locate the copy of The Night Before Christmas, and I never remember to buy stocking stuffers. Mr. Sandwich goes on an early run, as is his family’s tradition, and we eat some breakfast. We haven’t been to Mass in years.

The presents don’t all get opened on the same day. Baguette enjoys opening a few, but then loses interest, so we open one or two of hers a day until we’re done. Or we don’t. So far? Not done.

But there are 12 days of Christmas, right? So I figure there’s no rush.

Butch and Sundance

So we really miss Wicket. We probably always will–she was a phenomenal dog.

But she left a dog-sized hole in our hearts and our home, and there was only one thing to do about that.

Butch and Sundance

Fill it with two more dogs.

Butch (on the left) is a 10-year-old Crested Chinese. He is very chill. Sundance is an 8-year-old Miniature Poodle who gets kind of anxious whenever Butch isn’t around. Apparently they were brought into the animal shelter together, and they were so clearly bonded that there was no way we could imagine splitting them up. So we didn’t.


I don’t indulge in it often. I think it’s mean. But every now and then, I just can’t help myself.

Baguette’s school has a school-wide assembly every Monday. These take place while the kids are lining up with their teachers, which means that particularly for the younger grades, the parents are still there for the tail end of drop-off. They say the Pledge of Allegiance and have announcements. Sometimes there are awards. This makes me late to work, which means Mondays are a hassle, even for Mondays.

Sometimes there are additional assemblies. Last week, they had one on Monday, one on Tuesday (to talk about Veterans Day) and another on Friday (for a presentation about Diwali). Mind you, school was closed on Veterans Day, so that week there were four days of school and three assemblies.

Apparently that wasn’t enough, because today was their first Character Day, focusing on “trustworthiness.” All the kids were asked to wear blue. And there was an assembly.

Turns out that the Character Day assemblies are run by one of the parents who has volunteered to teach the kids about character. She talked a little about friendship and kindness and honesty, and then a group of students came out to perform a dance that involved sitting in chairs, shaking hands, and something about waving flashlights around in the daytime.

She directed the dancing students to run over to a bucket, where they grabbed handfuls of something and threw them into the crowd of students.

The “something” was candy. The big idea was to throw candy into a crowd of elementary school students.

Pandemonium ensued.

She tried to get everyone back to their places, saying, “I got it, I got it.” One of the teachers came up to her, and she said, “I got it, everyone’s yelled at me already, I got it”–into the microphone she was holding.

And then, somehow, she found a way to blame the students for their lack of self-restraint and telepathy.

I kind of want to volunteer to teach the kids about critical thinking in daily life. My first lesson will be on “Predictable Disasters.”

It might even help with their telepathy.

Mr. Schadenfreude by “Roger Hargreaves”


I’ve lost my shadow.

Wicket came into our lives almost exactly six years ago. Mr. Sandwich had finished up a bike ride and was buying soda at the corner store, and a tiny beige mop of a dog walked up and put its paw on his foot. He looked at it and said, “Okay, follow me.”

I was at home, taking one of the very few naps I got during my pregnancy. I heard him say, “Sweetheart? I need you to come look at something.” He was holding back the beige mop, who was trying to come into the house. I said, “Did it follow you home? Well, let’s put it in the back yard so it’s safe.”

He bathed the dog, and I made a trip to Target to buy food, a leash and collar, and a bed for a small dog. I had no idea what I was doing. I bought a cat bed.

We put up signs, and posted online, and eventually–because we were going out of town for Thanksgiving, and because you’re required to by law–we took her to the shelter. But we also put in for first rights, because we knew we weren’t going to leave her there any longer than we had to.

She cried when we left her there, and she was so happy when I picked her up. When she rolled on her back for tummy rubs–which was often–she looked just like an Ewok. That’s how she got her name.

At first, she was reluctant to overstep. She leaned rather than sit on my lap. She looked for permission to go through the doorway. But soon she was comfortable and secure enough to snuggle. She would lie on my lap as I sat on the back patio; I would pet her tummy, and we both would fall asleep. She kept my weight and my blood pressure down through most of my pregnancy, and when I had to leave early for maternity leave, spent hours curled up on the couch with me.

When Baguette came home from the hospital, Wicket instantly recognized her as one of the family. When Baguette would scream incessantly, Wicket would place tortilla strips–her very favorite treat, which we hadn’t meant to give her, at Baguette’s feet. When we set up Baguette’s crib, Wicket walked into the room, looked at what we were doing, and walked out. A minute later, she came back and gently laid a tortilla strip inside the doorway. She was giving Baguette a housewarming gift.

She almost never barked. For months, my father-in-law was convinced that she had been de-barked. But she had the ability–she was just too kind-natured to disturb anyone that way if it wasn’t absolutely necessary, like when she first came home from the shelter and announced to the neighborhood that she had a home, or the time she defended the house from Mr. Sandwich mowing the front lawn.

She was oblivious to earthquakes.

She let Baguette learn the word “gentle” on her, and never retaliated for the tugging and grabbing that a toddler can inflict, no matter how quick those toddler’s parents may try to be. She never scratched or snapped or bit, although we wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.

She sat with me through miscarriages 3 and 4, and kidney stones, and last month’s bout of pneumonia. She always gravitated toward the sick person in the room, knowing that they could use a little extra love.

She learned the word “walk,” and then she learned what “W-A-L-K” meant. We switched to code words, and she never did decipher “frisbee.”

When we went out of town, she went to Mr. Sandwich’s parents’ home. She loved visiting them so much that we called it “Wicket’s Disneyland.” She loved car rides (although when she arrived at the vet or the groomer, she was always disappointed). She loved walks, and other dogs, and every person in the world.

She had terrible teeth, and every year fewer of them. Until the past few months, she almost never had an accident overnight, no matter how late we opened the dog door the next morning. She was largely deaf, and very nearly blind, but she could still see me.

She followed me everywhere. I was almost never out of her sight. If I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, she came with me. If I went out back to hang up laundry, she joined me.

She’s been getting sicker for the past six weeks, even though for most of that time she was still dancing around me and scrambling onto the couch and rocketing out the door for walks. She had a cyst on the outside of her ear, and had a seizure or stroke, and developed pancreatitis. We’ve been adding milk thistle to her morning meal, and pumpkin and fiber to her evening meal. She loved bananas and strawberries and most of all asparagus, but she hadn’t gotten any of those recently because the pancreatitis meant she was on a prescription diet, and we wanted to be sure she had stabilized before we modified that on even the smallest scale.

This morning, she didn’t get up with me the way she usually did. When I set out her food, she walked away from it–twice. She threw up, and she trembled. I brought her bed out into the living room and tucked her under her blanket. She never stayed under that blanket, but she was under it for hours today.

I took her to the vet, who gave her more antibiotics and fluids and nausea medication, and told me to bring her back before closing for more fluids. I went to work. When Mr. Sandwich brought Baguette home, he called me to say that Wicket had fallen out of her bed and was having seizures. I raced home to find him cradling her in his arms. He handed her to me, and she relaxed and nestled a little. But her breathing was shallow and labored, and her legs kept going stiff.

We took her back to the vet, earlier and more urgently than we had planned. I held her on my lap in the car, and Baguette fell asleep in the back seat. Mr. Sandwich went in to tell them that we needed to go straight into a room, and they escorted us in. I cradled her head, and with Mr. Sandwich balancing a sleeping Baguette, we petted Wicket while they gave her a shot to help her relax.

She went within moments.

We were with her, which is what she wanted. And we were with a vet we trust absolutely, which is what we wanted. Except that of course we didn’t want this at all.

When we got her, everyone estimated that she was 12 years old. The average age of a toy poodle is 15 years. The best guess is that she made it to 18. That’s amazing, but it wasn’t enough.

Later this evening, I will mix pumpkin and fiber into no one’s food. No one will sit on the bathmat while I shower. At midnight, no one will follow me to the bathroom. Tomorrow, I will clean up no one’s soiled training pad.

We’ll have other dogs. She was our first, and right away she taught us that we wanted dogs in our life.

But I’ve lost my shadow.

Rediscovering Disney: The Little Mermaid

We’ve started trying to add to Baguette’s movie preferences. We had no luck with Cinderella (she only likes “The Work Song”) or Sleeping Beauty, and Lilo & Stitch got no reaction at all.

We tried non-Disney (or at least previously-not-from Disney) with Star Wars,* which was of momentary interest–right up until the cantina scene, at which point she started shrieking.

What is entering the rotation is The Little Mermaid. Baguette only watches about half of it, but that’s how she started watching Frozen, too. She asks for it by name (although the first time she did, when I asked her if she wanted to see Frozen, she said, “I want to see fish, please”). It’s a problematic movie, what with the stereotyped musical fish and the love-at-first-sight/hearing-without-any-real-knowledge-of-the-person.


I’m actually less bothered by the movie than I expected to be. Because Ariel doesn’t know Eric, but he actually does have a lot of good qualities. True, he’s easily distracted and enchanted. He’s also brave, and a quick thinker. Ariel saves him, and he saves her as well. They’re mutually supportive.

What I’m saying is, they could do a lot worse.

That said?

Photo from
Photo from

That is a lot of Merpeople who sold their souls to Ursula. Now that he’s married off that headstrong youngest daughter, I think King Triton needs to take a hard look at reform.

*There was a brief window in which the original trilogy was available on DVD as it aired in the theaters. These are the copies we own, because I want to make sure that Baguette knows not just that Han shot first, but that Han was the only one who fired a shot.

October 2015: Scarier Than You Think

So I’ve had pneumonia. That’s meant too may trips across town to the doctor, and lots of medication. Unfortunately it’s been hard to rest, because even with taking sick days from work, Baguette still needs to go to school, and I need to drop her off. And Wicket had had a mysterious sore on her outer ear that required several vet trips for antibiotics, bandaging, rebandaging, and bandage removal.

But on the days when I didn’t have a doctor’s appointment, I took naps. Naps help. And that was my plan for Thursday–even though I did have an appointment, it wasn’t until early afternoon. So: school drop off, nap, early lunch, doctor’s appointment. It seemed like a good plan.

What that plan didn’t include, though, was what happened before Baguette woke up. Wicket, who is normally an exceptionally continent dog, had two accidents in the kitchen that morning. We never get upset at her for going in the house, because she actually works really hard at not doing that. If the dog door is closed and she’s really desperate, she scrupulously keeps it on the tile (I tried putting down paper; she went next to it and then looked at me with an expression that said, “I did’t want to mess up your nice paper! It looked special!”)

Then she started vomiting. This is something that happens only when her stomach gets too empty and she brings up bile, and we have changed her feeding schedule to accommodate that. What never happens is vomiting six times in a row.

Then she couldn’t climb onto the couch cushion that was on the floor. This from a dog who, the night before, had been jumping onto the couch with only her usual intermediate step (floor to giant memory foam thing to couch).

Then she started tilting her head to the left. Then she stopped being able to stand up. She just lay there, breathing heavily. I brought her bed out from our room so that she would have a soft spot to lie. Then she started frantically rolling, over and over in seemingly endless circles that flipped her out of her bed, but didn’t end the rolling.

I thought she was dying. I said goodbye, I told her that we loved her, I told her she’d taken good care of us. I cried and cried. I made Mr. Sandwich get off the bus as soon as he could so that he could pick up one of the counter-traffic buses and get home, because I had to take Baguette to school, but I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving Wicket alone. It was absolutely terrifying.

During her second bout of frantic rolling, it seemed like she was trying to get her collar off. So I took it off for her–and she was still. The rolling stopped, and she just lay down, exhausted but calm. I called Mr. Sandwich back, just before he was about to get on the northbound bus, and told him that I thought he didn’t have to come back, after all. I got Baguette up and fed and dressed, and had her say goodbye to Wicket, just in case. And then I crossed my fingers and took her to school.

When I came home, Wicket was still exhausted but calm. I called the vet and they had me come in right away. She still seemed like her normal self, albeit unusually tired.

What the vet thinks happened was this: The day before, Wicket had gone to the groomer. It was the place we’ve been taking her for at least five years, but that day there were different techs, and they gave her the fastest grooming to date. So the best guess is that she got stressed out by the speed grooming and her blood pressure went up, causing a small seizure or stroke. They gave her some medication to settle her stomach and sent her home.

I went to my doctor’s appointment. On the way, I started to have chest pains. My doctor gave me an EKG, and everything was normal, so it was probably just stress.

Here’s the thing: We’ve had Wicket for six years, and everyone’s best guess at the time was that she was 12 years old. That means she’s now 18. Overall, she’s in great shape–she may nap a lot, and she may be missing more than half of her teeth, but she loves her food and her walks. People are always amazed to hear how old she likely is. And no matter how long we’ve had her, I’m not ready for her to go.

The food has changed; the blood tests and x-ray showed that she has pancreatitis, so she’s on a prescription low-fat diet for the rest of her life. She’s had antibiotics and fluids, and is stronger and back to her usual scramble onto the couch. We each have follow-up appointments next week.

So all of that? Is why I can’t remember which day last week I had another kidney stone.

This October is not easy. I think this sums it up:

Made-Up Rules for Our Imaginary Children

When Mr. Sandwich and I were married, but before we had Baguette, we made many pronouncements, as you do. Some of them still hold, like leaving the restaurant when we cannot keep her quiet and calm. Some of them remain untested (we are not fans of demanding MORE candy from people when trick-or-treating, and yes, we’ve seen that happen, but she’s not really a fan of trick-or-treating). Others have fallen by the wayside.

“No junk food before age 2! There is plenty of time to eat french fries later, but they don’t need them that young!”

At just under a year, Baguette reached up and pulled a french fry from Mr. Sandwich’s mouth and ate it. She loved it. Now I just wish she’d eat fries, because that would mean one more thing she eats.

“No TV before age 2!”

At about six months, she came home from day care with a fever. She felt awful and was exhausted, but could not quite tip over into sleep. I looked for something age-appropriate and stumbled across Yo Gabba Gabba. I thought, “Wow, this show is awful.” A minute later, she passed out on her own lap, and I thought, “This show is GREAT.” From there we found Pajanimals and Sesame Street (well, I knew about that one) and Wibbly Pig and Stella and Sam. We have never watched Yo Gabba Gabba again. That show is awful.

“We will never get a portable DVD player or own a car in which one is installed, even if we have to take a hammer to it. Our children can look out the window and play the Alphabet Game like we each did.”

We are seriously considering buying a portable DVD player for the car.

Sick Days

Last Wednesday night, I felt bad. It felt like the beginnings of the flu, with muscle aches. I emailed work and told them I’d be taking a sick day. This is very unusual. I don’t usually decide until the morning. But I was pretty sure the night before.

Thursday morning I had chills, and that afternoon I spiked a fever. I felt so bad that I didn’t take Tylenol until Mr. Sandwich came home, because I needed him to get the Tylenol from the bathroom cabinet. Getting it myself was too hard.

Then I started throwing up. That was fun.

I took another sick day on Friday. Saturday evening, we went to urgent care. They said it was probably bronchitis, gave me antibiotics, and told me to see my regular doctor on Monday and stay home from work until Wednesday.

I felt too sick on Monday, but I made an appointment for Tuesday.

On Tuesday, our street was being slurry-sealed. That meant we had to park around the corner. It’s not too far, but it’s not as close as our actual driveway. I headed out to the car, and as I walked down the street, could not help but notice the four police officers and maybe a sheriff, plus the guy sitting in the back seat of one of the police cars. Possibly this explained the helicopters I’d heard earlier. I also realized that my wallet was not in my bag. Since the situation on the corner appeared to be coming to a close, I decided to check the car. My wallet wasn’t in the car. I went back to the house, just as the guy in the police car was allowed to get out of the police car. My wallet wasn’t in the house, either. That meant it was probably in the car Mr. Sandwich had taken to work (long story short, it was). But I didn’t want to drive to the doctor’s office without my wallet, and I didn’t want to walk back to the car. So I punted.

On Wednesday, my doctor gave me a new antibiotic and an inhaler. You know it’s going well when you get an inhaler. She also said that if I wasn’t feeling better on Friday, to call back and she’d send me for a chest x-ray.

I wasn’t feeling better. Weirdly, I kind of had to argue to get the chest x-ray. But I got it, and you know what?

I’ve got pneumonia.

I’ve also got yet another antibiotic (don’t worry, every time I get a new one, I stop taking the old one, AND I’m taking probiotics). And two days in, I’m still freaking exhausted and coughing. My left lung still feels like it’s stuck to itself when I breathe.

Now, mind you, through all of this, Baguette still needs to go to school. And while I may want to spend all day sitting on the couch, she really can’t. So there are still outings and whatnot.

But after stocking up on Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, and then making minestrone, I have easy food for the next few days. So that’s good.

bowl of homemade vegetable soup