Friday, July 30, 2010

this book made me ranty

This is a very spoilery review of "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger. This means that I give away the entire plot, including the end. Do not read any further if you haven't read this book and intend to read it someday. If you have read it, or don't really care, then continue.

I think the mark of a really good book is that no matter how far out of reality it takes you, you're more than happy to follow it down the rabbit hole. For instance, in The Time Traveler's Wife there's a man who is born with a gene that makes him disappear and travel in time. His wife meets him for the first time when she is five and he is forty, and it is the beginning of an epic love story, and not at all creepy. Sometimes the characters were selfish or made stupid decisions, but it meant they were "flawed" and that was okay.

Then you have Her Fearful Symmetry, which has you screaming "WTF!" at every plot twist and end up hating the characters. Edie and Elspeth are twins. It is hinted that they haven't spoken in years because Edie stole Elspeth's fiance. Edie moves to America with Jack and has her own twins, the creepy Julia and Valentina. Why are they creepy? For one thing, they are 21 and still dress alike in 8-year-old twin clothing that includes pleated skirts and knee socks. They sleep in the same bed, curled up together. Neither has had sex because if one of them lost her virginity before the other, it would be tragic. I'm sure any boy from their high school could have suggested a logical solution to that problem.

Elspeth dies from cancer in London and her younger lover Robert is distraught. This is when the book is still on the rails...I teared up at poor Robert mourning his dead love. Elspeth leaves her home and entire fortune to her nieces. They are to live in the apartment for one year and their parents aren't allowed in it.

Exposition, exposition, exposition. The twins move to London, discover they are rich, and then spend their days sightseeing. Seriously. These are 21 year old girls in London, and not once do they ever go to a pub. Robert follows them around for awhile because he's too shy to introduce himself, and even he wonders if they're ever gonna go to someplace cool.

Turns out, Elspeth is a ghost, haunting her own flat. She gets stronger and figures out how to make herself known. The book is still good. Robert and Valentina start an affair. The book is still good. Valentina and Julia begin to fight because Valentina wants to grow up and become her own person and Julia wants them to stay matching bookends forever. The book is still good. Elspeth figures out a way to communicate with them all. The book is still good. Then all of a sudden...


The book is replaced with a soap opera. Elspeth accidently takes out the soul of a kitten and then jams it back into the body really quick before it dies. This gives Valentina the brilliant idea that in order to escape Julia and become her own person, she will have Elspeth take out her soul, and then put it back in after the funeral. What?! Apparently this is a better alternative to her collecting half of the money and going to college herself, which was the other option that was presented. But no, she explains that Julia will never let her go because she's so controlling, even though there was a scene where Julia has a black eye from Valentina. The idea of her parents hearing that their daughter is dead gives her a twinge of guilt, but that's it. Elspeth is horrified at the idea. Robert is told and is horrified at the idea. Then they give in by rationalizing, "Well, if we don't do it, she'll kill herself anyway." Huh? The girl needs a shrink, not a resurrection!

So they do this horrible, selfish thing, and it gets worse. We get the big reveal on what happened to Edie and Elspeth all those years ago. There was no big fight...they had switched identities. Edie used to be Elspeth, who was engaged to Jack and pretended to be her own twin coming on to him to see what would happen. Jack falls in love with the other twin, and instead of coming clean, they decide to switch identities, so original Elspeth will now be fake Edie in America with Jack, and original Edie will be fake Elspeth in London, and they decide never to talk again so Jack won't find out. But! Fake Elspeth has sex with Jack one night as a joke (I'm being serious), and gets pregnant with the twins. So fake Elspeth moves to America with Jack and pretends to be Edie, even though she is really Edie, so I guess she's pretending to be herself? And she doesn't even like Jack? And she hates being a mom? So she goes back to London and switches out with fake Edie again, and they live happily ever after, even though they still can't ever see each other again. Did you follow any of that? Because I had to read it over five times to get it all straight.

Then the plot twists a little more, and Jack reveals to Robert that he knew about the twin switch ALL ALONG! He was pissed at real Elspeth pretending to be fake Edie, so he decided to play along and it got out of hand. He knew they switched after the London trip because, duh, your body changes after being pregnant. Stretch marks don't just disappear! The the plot twists a little more, and Robert tells Jack about his having sex with fake Elspeth, which he never knew, and Jack breaks down because he has only now realized—after Valentina's death—that the twins are his own daughters. This is supposed to be tragic and make me feel bad for him, but I can't because he is a FUCKING IDIOT! In fact ALL of them are idiots, except strangely enough for Julia, who was set up as being the controlling, manipulative one, and ended up being the only one with sense enough to say, "Hey, here's a problem, we should talk about it." Have I mentioned how much I hate plots that hinge on the characters having a complete lack of communication skills?

Not surprising, things go wrong when Elspeth tries to put Valentina back in her own body. Then...another plot twist! Elspeth jumps into Valentina's body herself. Robert is freaked out, but Elspeth explains that Valentina was a weak, misty ghost and couldn't get back in her body, so Elspeth saw this perfectly good body (it had been kept cold) not being used, and thought, "Hey, why not?" This actually makes sense to me. Valentina was the one who wanted to be dead so badly, so she can just stay that way. Team Elspeth!

Blah blah blah, Elspeth disguises herself with hair dye and contact lenses, gets pregnant (seriously, what a way to ruin your perky 21 year old body. And why did she get want to get pregnant? Because she was such an awesome mom the first time around?), moves to the country with Robert, Robert leaves her because he's so grossed out by what she did (but not too grossed out that he didn't screw her), the end. Jack tells Edie he had always known about the twin switch, and somehow it's all okay, the end. Valentina becomes a stronger ghost, gets out of the flat, and becomes a happy phantom, the end. Julia lets Valentina go and gets a cool boyfriend with a motorbike, the end.

What I haven't mentioned is the side plot about Martin and Marijke. Martin has OCD in a bad way...can't leave the house, has newspaper covering up the windows, boxes of stuff piled up everywhere. Marijke can't take it anymore and leaves him. Martin and Julia strike up a friendship, and through this Martin begins to sort himself out and take medication so that he can get back to his wife. This was the epic love story of the book, and in every review I've read, this is the story that everyone loved, not Robert and Elspeth/Valentina. Martin and Marijke would have made a great second novel all on their own, but it seems like Niffenegger really wanted to write a gothic ghost story, so instead you get a plot that VC Andrews would have found implausible. Please Hollywood, I beg of you, leave this book alone and don't turn it into a crappy movie.

Monday, July 12, 2010

serious post is serious! (or: A Very Scary Night)

It's rainy and the internet is spotty and I really hope it lets me post. Most of you read on facebook that Trench and I had a scare the other night that took us to the ER. Here's the long version.

Basically, he's had a cold for the last week that had started getting better. The current theory is that while he was sleeping, some post nasal drip went down the wrong pipe in his throat and started choking him. He woke up unable to breathe and that triggered his first ever panic attack. Trench does not get panicky or anxious or angry or anything other than his usual placid self. It was four in the morning and he got out of bed and said that he was light headed and was having a hard time breathing. As is my usual, I began searching for some sort of home remedy to treat him (where is that neti pot, anyway?). We tried going back to bed, but his hands started tingling. Finally he said, "This might be bad." I asked, "ER sort of bad?" He said yes, so I got up and grabbed some clothes to put on. We've done this routine before, with broken bones and swelling bug bites and such. I was looking for a book to bring and he was trying to rush me out. (I just told him that the reason I took so long getting a book is because I'm reading Her Fearful Symmetry right now, which is all about death. So I was looking for any other book, thinking, "Can't bring Her Fearful Symmetry, anything but Her Fearful Symmetry!") We got in the car and things started getting worse. He begged me to blow off the stop lights and to drive faster, faster. Thank god the ER is fairly close to us. He couldn't undo his seat belt by himself so I did it for him. His hands were starting to freeze up into claws. I ran to the passenger side to open the door for him, and he couldn't get out. There was a paramedic standing outside and he asked if we needed help. He got a wheelchair and (very slowly in my opinion) walked over to Trench and helped him in it. By this time his groans had turned into panicky screams. Freaking out doesn't begin to cover it for me.

I re-parked the car since I hadn't bothered with looking for a spot before, just parked outside the doors. A nurse gave me papers to fill out for him and took me to his room. The nurses were asking him questions that he was trying to answer. Stuff like, "Have you been anxious about anything?", which is a laughable question for Trench. They said they'd come back with a doctor who would give him something to calm him down. They left and I kept saying, "They're coming, the doctor is coming, it's going to be okay." And then sat there, waiting, while my husband couldn't breathe. Finally I walked over to the nurse's station and meekly said, "Um, he can't breathe." The nurse grabbed a doctor and said, "Can you see the panic attack in room 9?" It's the first time they called it that. Now that Trench is able to breathe and is back to his easy going, placid self, he says that it's okay that they didn't come right away, it's the ER and they have lots of important things to do, and other patients take precedent. Not exactly his line of thinking while he thought he was suffocating, but oh well.

The doctor and a paramedic student gave him oxygen and hooked him up to an ativan drip, explained that he was having a panic attack, and talked him through breathing...inhale, hold your breath for the count of three, exhale. He stayed that way for the next two hours and thankfully calmed down. His hands slowly relaxed and he concentrated on his breathing. Eventually they gave him a chest x-ray and an EKG. His heart rate was 130 when he came in, and down to a normal 76 by this time. The doctor explained about the post nasal drip and sleep-choking and asked if he wanted antibiotics, which he didn't think was necessary because the cold was clearing up.

We walked back out into the sunshine to our car. I was exhausted. It was after 7. Sometime around 5:30 Trench had asked me if I would call in to work, and I said I wasn't sure if it was a good enough reason for them (I hadn't been admitted to the ER after all). Trench said, "I think having to spend the night in the ER with your husband is a fucking good reason." By 6:30-7, I agreed with him. I was so tired I felt drunk. I didn't want to leave him alone for the day either, and he didn't want me to go. When we got inside, I heard my alarm go off. I called my manager and woke her up, explained what happened, and she said she might still need me to come in for some clients in the morning. Luckily she got a hold of the new part timer and she agreed to come in for me. We slept till noon, woke up, then stayed in bed awhile longer, till about 2. The rest of the day was normal and it's still normal. The panic attack was a freak thing, and if it ever happens again, he'll know what it is and be able to breathe through it. Still scary though. And makes me have morbid thoughts about fifteen, twenty, thirty years from now when it might be a real stroke. Those thoughts will just tear you apart if you think too hard about it, so I'll just push it away and concentrate on now, when we're both healthy and fine.

Friday, July 9, 2010

some nights you should just order in

I got home a little early last night, before Trench, who has been sick lately. I was starving and knew exactly what I wanted to make for dinner...homemade Chinese fried rice, made with the leftover rice from the last time we ordered Thai food, and stir fried with egg, shrimp, onion, garlic and soy sauce. I had plenty of time so I just snacked and indulged in some after work downtime. Finally I sauntered into the kitchen and looked for the rice in the refrigerator. And looked. And looked some more. Damn! Either Trench had eaten it, or we had accidently thrown it out.

Well, this put a damper on my dinner plans. I had no idea what else to make since we were getting pretty low on groceries. I considered ordering from grubhub, but I was hungry and it was already late, and I didn't want to wait 45 minutes to get dinner. I decided on an easy mac n cheese recipe, where the pasta is cooked in the dish with the cheese mixture. I had all the ingredients (except I substituted cream cheese for cottage cheese because cottage cheese just isn't something we keep around the house) so I combined them in a bowl and mixed it all up with my immersion blender. Then I took out a casserole dish, and started to pour the mixture into the dish. This is the moment where the dish slipped out of my hands, fell with a clunk on the stove and sprayed cheesy-milk all over me and the kitchen.


Okay, so the bowl was probably slippery. Or maybe my hands were, I don't know. It's one of those dumb little things that happen. But I was (and still am) absolutely convinced that something in the universe made this happen just to fuck with me. The fact that my blood sugar was low and my stomach was screaming for food didn't help.

I cleaned myself and the mess up as best I could, and there was still plenty left for the dish. I put it in the oven and then looked at the recipe to see how long it would take, figuring it would probably be about 20-30 minutes. SonuvaBITCH! The damn thing cooks for an hour! I totally could have ordered food, not gotten splashed with cheese-milk, and gotten it sooner than it would take this thing to cook!

I figured by the time it was done, it would be 9:30, and that just wasn't happening. I decided that would be lunch/dinner for the next day and that I would make scrambled eggs for dinner, and Trench would just have to fend for himself. I had just gotten the eggs mixed up when Trench came home with groceries, including raviolis. Dinner is saved! I covered up the egg mixture to use for the next day too, and boiled water for the raviolis. I tried explaining to Trench how miserable my dinner-making experience was, which he totally wasn't getting because he was sick and just wanted to sit down with the laptop. I boiled the raviolis and went to drain them in the colander. Two of them slipped out and fell into a dirty dish. The colander threatened to tip over the rest of them and I gripped it with two hands, shouting, "NOOOOO!" I saved it. I brought food out to Trench, had delicious but not entirely satisfying raviolis, and eventually put the mac n cheese in the refrigerator for later.

Next time I'll order Chinese fried rice instead.

why I never get anything done

I fall into a Morning Funk pretty often. Today I’m scowling because I have to work at 10:30 and I’m not used to working that early on Saturdays. Which is dumb because at my last job I had to be there at nine on Saturdays to sit in a basement for ten hours. This should be nothing. I don’t know if it has to do with my job, or if it’s just because I hate mornings. Even on my days off I have a tough time getting myself moving. I would feel so much better about myself if I could wake up, have my coffee and then be all, “It’s time to be productive! Let’s clean the cat box, do laundry, straighten up the apt and exercise!” Once in a blue moon I get a random shot of energy to do all that, and I do feel better about myself. Pats on the back all around! But on most mornings off, I ease myself into it gently by drinking coffee and surfing the internet until—hey, check it out! It’s noon! I should do something! Wait, let’s look at facebook once more time…crap, it’s one! How did that happen?

So workdays are worse because going to work severely cuts back on my coffee drinking and internet surfing. Okay, actually it doesn’t because there’s a Starbucks down the street and I have an iphone to play with during lunch and commute. But now I have to do those things wearing makeup and contact lenses, and I have to interact with people! Bah to that!

Growing up I was definitely not a morning kid. Bedtime was at 9pm, but getting to sleep at that time was difficult and I was always getting in trouble for turning on the light and reading. (I’m sure that now kids get caught web surfing with the laptop hidden under their sheets.) Waking up at seven was torture. My grades throughout grammar school and high school were dismal, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as soon as I got to college, where I could have class start in the afternoon, I suddenly had a 4.0 gpa. Waking up early is not for me.

Now I’m a grown up and my schedule is scattered enough that most days I go in late, or at least later than the average 9-5er, but I still have the mentality of, “I don’t wanna go!” I’ll hit the snooze button five times and take too long doing everything. It’s not even necessarily that I want more sleep, I’m just not good at bounding out of bed, throwing open the curtains and being ready to Do Things! For those who can, or who can at least fight through the scowling and grumbling enough to get a few things accomplished, my hat is off to you.

Fashion! Turn to the left...

I’m sitting in a cafe, doing “important” work on the laptop, because when I’m at home all I end up doing is checking facebook and reading other people’s blogs. For some reason, I’m more productive when I get out of the house. Unfortunately, I was planning to go to yoga at 4pm and realized that I have about ten minutes to get there. That’s not going to happen. Crap. Maybe I can hit the 6pm class. I think I can, I think I can?

There’s a shoe store in the neighborhood that’s going out of business. I got an email from them this morning saying everything in the store is 50% off. Now the last thing I need to do is buy new shoes while I’m packing up to move, but 50% off? Score! So I went over there to check out the goods, but didn’t see anything I wanted. Isn’t that always the way? When something is expensive, you want it. When it’s affordable, you think “meh.” Although to be honest, I never bought much from that particular store. Expensive shoes don’t bother me, because if they’re well made and last a long time, I feel like they’re worth it. But the shoes in this store are pretty trendy. Pointy, strappy boots…boots that aren’t Uggs but look like Uggs…pointy spiky high heels…sporty shoes that look like they have no arch support…meh. I work in a very trendy neighborhood (not hipster-trendy, but yuppie-trendy), and I’m getting tired of seeing skinny jeans tucked into tall faux-motorcycle boots or Uggs topped off with an Anthropologie sweater. And I’m resentful that strappy motorcycle boots are now killed for me…since when do yuppies wear that stuff? It’s like they all collectively saw how much Frye boots cost and decided that if they’re shelling out $350, it must be cool.

Point being; I bought a pair of warm tights and some earrings. Which will be much easier to pack.

It’s all too easy for me to rail against fashion that I hate, so I should write about fashion that I love. I favor retro clothing. Pinstripes make me swoon. I’m a tiny girl so I prefer clothing that’s well-fitted, and stay away from anything too blousy or babydoll. I have a large collection of tank tops and baby-t’s that I usually layer with a cardigan or a hoodie. Oh gods, how I love hoodies. I wear nothing but skirts in the summertime, and if I lived in a warmer climate I probably wouldn’t own any pants at all. Fishnets are a wardrobe staple. I adore John Fluevog shoes. Those puffy coats everyone is wearing look warm, and have the added bonus of not being a cat hair magnet, but I just can’t wean myself off of wool pea coats. I own more black skirts with white polka dots than one person should. Almost everything I wear is black, with splashes of red, burgundy or purple thrown in. And yes, I do own a couple pairs of skinny jeans that I will sometimes stuff into tall boots, but the exception always proves the rule…and the rule is that I can rock it better than a yuppie.


Let’s take a break from packing so I can write about my absolute favorite type of food to make…soup. When I was a kid I had terrible eating habits, and I don’t think I ever had soup apart from chicken noodle when I was sick. Maybe this is why I didn’t like soup? Even as an adult I didn’t like chicken noodle (before I gave up eating farm animals). Being served it whenever I was sick gave me that association so I couldn’t handle it when I was well. It’s also likely that I didn’t like soup because it was food that was “mixed together” and I was the type of picky eater that needed all my food to be kept in its own separate sections on my plate.

Once I got older and started branching out in my food choices, I discovered that I liked soup. It has my two favorite elements…it’s hot so it keeps me warm in the winter, and it’s savory. I love salt, and the sodium-fest in a can of soup kept me very happy. I would order french onion soup at the cheap diners my friends and I would go to. I think french onion soup is like a gateway soup…even if you’re not a fan of onions, you might just order it for the cheesy bread that tops it. Mmm…cheesy bread. Where was I?

So between french onion soup at restaurants and canned minestrone at home, I still wasn’t an adventurous soup eater. I had a memory today (what inspired this post) about a trip to Ireland I took with a friend after college…specifically visiting the Kilmainham Gaol and stopping for lunch in their cafeteria. I ordered a vegetable soup, and was presented with the Best Soup I’d Ever Had. It was savory but not too salty. Full of vegetables cooked just right. A little bit of sour cream. Remembering it, I just realized that that was probably the first homemade soup I’d ever had.

The first year I moved out of my parents house, I lived on canned soup, yogurt and boxed pasta (with some fruit here and there to ward off scurvy). Then-boyfriend and now-husband Trench moved in after year one and our attempts at cooking together weren’t much better. I remember a lot of Annie’s mac n cheese, and cooking to us was slicing up vegetables to put on frozen pizza. That year for Xmas I told my family that I wanted a cookbook…a “how to boil water” type of cookbook. My aunt bought me “Help My Apartment Has a Kitchen”. This book honestly taught Trench and I how to cook. We made our first pot of chili and took off from there. Now Trench is practically a gourmet. I simply increased my love for one pot meals, and cooked my way through the chapter on soups. Once you start making homemade soups, you can’t go back. Chili, soups, stews…I’m all over it. I’ll leave the tilapia with mango topping and roasted kale to Trench, and thank the fates for linking me with someone who considers that to be “lazy cooking.”

introducing myself

For some reason I feel compelled to do an introductory post, and that’s making it hard to start this blog because it’s daunting. Also, I’m sick right now and can’t think of anything clever. So I’m going to re-post an old “random things” survey from facebook. I promise that this blog isn’t going to be silly surveys, this will be the only one. It’s just so I feel like I explained a tiny bit of who I am, and I can do “real” posts from now on.

1. I love days off and downtime and just lying around doing a whole lot of nothing, but every time I’ve ever been unemployed, I’ve gotten extremely depressed.
2. I think the only people who have clean kitchens are people who don’t cook.
3. I do brazilian waxes for a living, and at this point have seen more naked vaginas than entire frat houses put together.
4. When I was in my 20′s I resented all the condos that went up around our neighborhood like mushrooms. Yuppies go home! Now that I’m contemplating buying one I’m all, “Ooh! Stainless steel! Look…a jacuzzi!”
5. The idea of having kids terrifies me. I’m just too lazy for that kind of responsibility. I think I’ll stick with cats, and maybe a puppy someday.
6. However, if I did get knocked up, it would be fun to mess with people by saying things like, “We’ve decided on the name! Mordocai if it’s a boy, or Zool if it’s a girl.” Or if someone tries talking to my belly, making it talk back in an evil demon voice.
7. I used to go to concerts all the time, and haven’t been to one in a very long time. Don’t know why, just haven’t.
8. Last night at a bar a friend and I were sitting next to a couple on a first date and kept eavesdropping. The guy wouldn’t let the girl get a word in edgewise! Men of the world: If you want to get laid, STFU!
9. I don’t have cable and don’t really feel the need for it because of dvds, netflix and the internet.
10. However, it would be nice to have the Food Network.
11. I gave up eating meat a few years ago and haven’t really missed it.
12. But I still eat fish so I refer to myself as a “flexitarian” or a “vegequarian.”
13. My favorite cancelled shows include: My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Veronica Mars, Firefly, Arrested Development, Wonderfalls and now Pushing Daisies. I’m starting to wish TV shows would run exclusively on dvds and avoid the networks altogether.
14. Before I get my period, my mind gets very fuzzy, to the point where I can’t remember words like “table”. And god forbid you ask me the name of a movie.
15. My work uniform consists of white scrub pants and a baby blue t-shirt with rhinestones on it. I’m at the point where I don’t even bother doing my hair or putting on makeup because what’s the point? I just look like I’m wearing pajamas anyway. Sometimes I’ll do my makeup at the end of my shift before I leave.
16. For the most part, I get along better with the massage therapists at my job than the other estheticians.
17. I’ve been drinking vodka since I started drinking, but I’ve been trying to get away from it these days. I’m alternating between gin and tonics or jameson and gingers.
18. Yes, I was a big socially awkward nerd in high school. I can say this proudly now because I’ve seen myspace pages of jocks who used to pick on me trying to call themselves geeks because they like Superman.
19. I’m glad I’m not a teenager now, because instead of being a painfully shy wallflower, I’d probably be a very annoying emo girl. I’d rather be socially awkward than emo.
20. I’m still very much in love with my husband, and happy that we’re still so affectionate toward each other after being together so many years.
21. February is the point in winter where I start getting depressed. I wish Chicago would start warming up in March the way other cities do.
22. I’ve thought of moving somewhere else, but I can’t find a city I like as much as Chicago.
23. Money is important but I’m baffled by people who are obsessed with it.
24. I went to school at Columbia College with Joe Meno, but refused to read any of his books until I found out “The Boy Detective Fails” inspired the show “The Venture Brothers”. It was very good, and I highly recommend it.
25. I sliced my thumb yesterday when cutting a bread roll for my sandwich. I iz smrt.

Adding that #4, #15 and #16 are outdated. My consort and I have bought a condo (so recently that we don’t even have the keys yet), and I got a new job shortly after posting this survey. I burned that uniform.