good books and good works

I was tagged by Britt from Have Fun Do Good with this Book Meme last week.

Total number of books I own:

A lot. No really, imagine a lot of books. Now imagine that they reproduced. Asexually.

Last book I read:

Not For Bread Alone by Moe Foner. A really interesting, quick read memoir the guy who founded SEIU 1199’s Bread and Roses Project. Not a polished author, but a subject matter near and dear to my heart.

Last book I bought:

Hmmm. I bought a first edition of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard at a book sale last month. I think that was it.

5 Meaningful Books

I have to say, I’m having a hard time limiting myself to five. I’m picking five non-fiction, but there are many meaningful novels in my past, too.

Hey Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray by Allison Owings

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon

Red Diapers: Growing Up in the Communist Left  by Linn Shapiro

Dispatches by Michael Herr

Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools by Jonathan Kozol

…and of course, the tagging it forward:



Doppelganger (has there ever been a book blog I didn’t tag you with?)



Have a Happy Halloween, everyone!


October 30, 2007. books for grown-ups, memes. 3 comments.

Turtle Feet, Surfer’s Beat


A few months ago, a first-time author emailed me to see if I would review a young-adult book that she is releasing in November. I told her I would read it, and see what I thought.

Turtle Feet, Surfer’s Beat is the story of a 16 year-old girl named Penelope, who is forced (?) to leave her home in suburban New York to live in Costa Rica for a month. Her father, a noted nature photographer, is being sent on assignment to cover the efforts to protect the hatching grounds of the leatherback turtle. Her mother, who is on the verge of divorcing her dad for his constant travel, insists that the whole family go along for the ride. Right before the trip, her high school boyfriend, the quarterback of the football team, breaks up with her because he can’t handle a long-distance relationship.

Penelope and her younger brother Samuel, are ‘volunteered’ to help with the hatchery- protection efforts, so that their parents can have some time alone to repair their relationship. While living at a nature camp, Penelope meets and falls in love with a local surfer boy. Kendall is a native New Jerseyan whose parents have taken an early retirement in Costa Rica, where they run a small surf shop.

There’s a girl-gets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy-back kind of thing going. In addition, the parents get back together and it all ends happily for the turtles too.

I have to say that I don’t really know any girls who are the right age to read this book, so I’m a little ill-prepared to recommend it for a specific age group. The main character does lose her virginity in a not-terribly-graphic scene, so that pegs the demographic as older than either of my kids.

I should also say that I was a little pre-disposed to dislike the book, because instead of sending me a review copy, the author sent me a PDF. There’s nothing like having to burn out a whole printer cartridge to really put one in the right mood for reviewing. I think I overcame it, though.

Overall, I could tell that Ms. Kuperman is very committed to saving turtles. The parts of the book that involved turtle facts and turtle rescue were well-researched and compelling. The rest of it? I was kind of meh about. The characters are not drawn particularly deeply–including the main character, who is extremely shallow. The parents are almost paper-thin, particularly the father. And the love interest seems to be based purely on a high school girl’s fantasy.

The crisis of the romantic sub-plot is contrived (another girl tells Kendall that she saw Penelope kissing another boy–he knows it’s not true, but goes along with it because his feelings for Penelope are “too intense”), and the resolution is somewhat unbelievable (although perhaps I’m forgetting what it’s like to be 16 and in love).

I give Kuperman props for writing a book with a social message. But the surfer speak left me kind of cold. It’s possible that for a book of its genre, this is average–I haven’t read any of those Sweet Valley High books in a while, and my sense is that there’s a similar demographic targeted here. But this book is not going to be giving you answers about any of life’s big questions.

October 28, 2007. books for kids, free stuff can be good. 1 comment.

Happy (belated) anniversary, honey!

I saw this meme at Jennifer’s, and while I didn’t forget my anniversary, I am posting it late. So I guess there’s something going around. And I have forgotten my anniversary in the past, so I could see how that could happen.

The mysterious husband

1. Who is your man?
well, if I’m landismom, he’s got to be landisdad

2. How long have you been together?

Coming up on 14 years–but it was just our ninth wedding anniversary.

3. How long did you date?

Hmm, I guess it was about six months before we moved in together, although we knew each other before we dated.

4. How old is your man?


5. Who eats more?

It depends. If the question is “who eats more healthy food?” it’s definitely him. If it’s just sheer volume? I guess it could be either of us.

6. Who said “I love you” first?

I honestly don’t remember.

7. Who is taller?

He is — but not by much.

8. Who sings better?

Probably me. He’s not really a singer.

9. Who is smarter?

I’m irritated by this question, and I’m not gonna answer it.

10. Whose temper is worse?

No contest. Mine.

11. Who does the laundry?

I do, although he throws in a load of whites now and again. Usually when he needs an gi for aikido.

12. Who takes out the garbage?

We share garbage duty on trash night, but I think he takes out the kitchen garbage more often than I do.

13. Who sleeps on the right side of the bed?

He does.

14. Who pays the bills?

Me. It’s all about the Money, Power, Respect for me.

15. Who is better with the computer?

Toss up.

16. Who mows the lawn?

Frank’s guys.

17. Who cooks dinner?

He does. Thank god!

18. Who drives when you are together?

Depends on where we are going, whose car it is, how long a trip.

19. Who pays when you go out?

Who goes out?

20. Who is most stubborn?

How long have you been reading this blog? Okay, it’s me.

21. Who is the first to admit when they are wrong?

I think both of us do this if the other one is calling us on something. Other than that, I’m not sure.

22. Whose parents do you see the most?

Well, technically my dad lives the closest, but since I haven’t talked to him in 4.5 years, that doesn’t matter much. We see his mom probably the most frequently, then his dad, then my mom.

23. Who kissed who first?

He kissed me.

24. Who asked who out?

Eh, it wasn’t like that at all.

25. Who proposed?

I proposed the idea of starting a family. He proposed that getting married might be a good first step.

26. Who is more sensitive?

Moody bitch that I am, I’m going to have to say me.

27. Who has more friends?

I have more friends, he has more long-term relationships that date to childhood/adolescence.

28. Who has more siblings?

Including step-siblings (we both have them), I’m the clear winner (I have three brothers, three step-brothers and three step-sisters)–he has one brother, one step-brother and one step-sister.

29. Who wears the pants in the family?

The Bee.

October 26, 2007. memes. 2 comments.

overheard in the car

SP: “Are girlfriends gross?”

Mommy: “No.”  (beat) “Why do you ask?”

SP: “We were talking about it in school.”

BB: “That’s what little kids think.”

Mommy: “???”

Mommy: “What do kids your age think?”

BB: “Some girls in my class say having a boyfriend is gross. But then they love someone.”

Mommy: “?!?”

Mommy: “You mean they like a boy in your class?”

BB: “Yes, redacted list of girls in her class and the boys they like.

Mommy: “Do you like any boys?”

BB: “I’m not sure.”

Mommy: “!?!”

Mommy: “Do you feel like you’re supposed to like a boy?”

BB: “No!!!!!”

Mommy: “Good.”

October 23, 2007. growing up, the cutest kids ever!. 10 comments.


The Bee has developed a taste for Scrabble lately. It’s kind of an obsession, really. She’s challenged me to three games in the past 24 hours. Last night, we played one-on-one, which she found unsatisfying. Tonight, I played against her and her dad.

I’m excited that the Bee likes this game, which was a favorite of mine in childhood.  I remember playing my own mother when I was a kid. I’m willing to let her have help from her father, but I’m not willing to dumb down my own play to lose against her, in part because my mother would never do that when playing me.

My mother and her sisters were rabid Scrabble junkies.  I told the Bee last night, when she got frustrated with it, that I didn’t beat my mom at Scrabble until I was about 12, and that she should strive to beat me when she’s 11, but not to worry if she can’t do it now.

The pace of a game involving an eight-year-old is slower than I remember from my own eight-year-old days of playing. The rules about when you can build off another word, while obvious to me now, clearly require some internalization.

Like so many things in parenting, one of the things I’ve realized while teaching the Bee the game, is how much patience one of my own parents showed me, long ago.

October 20, 2007. growing up. 4 comments.

on the one hand…

The Bee’s counselor called landisdad today to talk about her progress. The Bee has only had two negative interactions in class since the school year started, and the counselor feels like she is managing her mistake-handling fairly well. She suggested that we sit down and have a conversation with her about how she thinks she’s going to do on her report card, to see if she has unrealistic expectations of perfection, and try to defuse that in advance. (Not that we expect a bad report card, just a less-than-perfect one.) The counselor also said that she would be spending less time with the Bee after this marking period, because there are other kids who need her help much more.

On the other hand…

last week the counselor and the Bee made worry beads. Today, they strung the beads, and the Bee was supposed to name them after 12 things that made her happy or relaxed. She could only come up with 9 things. (I was a little surprised to see that her brother made the list, but her dad and I did not.) The counselor said that, overall, the Bee has not really opened up to her. I’m happy to be able to have another adult’s perspective on her emotional state, but it’s disconcerting to think that she’s not just a happy-go-lucky kid when we’re not around. I guess I have this fantasy that she’s just acting miserable at home, and then going off to school and being happy there.

I think that landisdad and I don’t do a particularly good job of talking about things that make us happy, and that’s rubbed off on her. We have a lot of conversations that involve indignation (righteous or otherwise), and I know that the Bee could tell me 12 things that make her mad in a heartbeat.

During dinner tonight, I asked everyone what made them happy today. The only person at the table who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—come up with something was the Bee. I didn’t press her on it, because I don’t think that would be particularly helpful. But I do think we’ll be starting our dinner conversations with some similar topic from here on out.

October 17, 2007. thoughtful parenting. 8 comments.

all Q’d up and ready to go

We drove to New England this weekend for my FIL’s 75th birthday. We left Friday afternoon, drove up to New York and stayed in an adorable cabin that landisdad found online, then drove the rest of the way on Saturday morning. Had lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch with landisdad’s dad and his aunts and uncles, then drove the whole way home in one ridiculously long shot that was complicated by annoying and unexplained traffic.

Our ability to deal with hours and hours on end in the car with the kids got pretty frayed at the end. There are only so many versions of The Alphabet Game you can play, especially with an early reader who can’t read license plates fast enough to recognize the letters. It’s the one time I wish there were more billboards in the world! By the time I finally found a Q, we were 10 minutes from home.

There was a round of “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing an albatross, a blueberry, a canary and a donut!” There was “I Spy.” There was even, god help me, a round of “I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 20” that devolved into a variety of weird things like:

I’m thinking of a body part between the toes and the nose.

I’m thinking of a planet between the sun and Pluto.

and even, I’m thinking of a Trojan between Hector and Cressida (okay, that one was for landisdad’s benefit).

What do you do to entertain your kids in the car when you have to go on a long journey? How many times can one listen to the Curious George soundtrack without losing one’s mind?

October 14, 2007. thoughtful parenting. 6 comments.

promises I can keep

I just finished reading the book Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage by Kathrn Edin & Maria Kefalas, and I was really moved by it. It’s a sociological study of poor women who are white, black and Latina in several neighborhoods in the greater Philadelphia area. All of them are mothers, and all of them were unmarried when they had kids.

The major question the book seeks to answer is why poor women don’t get married before having kids. For most of the women in the book, pregnancy was unplanned, which seems like a pretty good explanation to me. But beyond just not getting married before pregnancy, what the authors find is that poor women do want to get married–but that for women who want to have a white-picket-fence life, it doesn’t make much sense to wait to have kids. The picket fence is only going to be attainable later in life, and who wants to raise their kids when they’re old?

In addition, there’s a common thread of women who don’t trust the man they’re with to really be there for them. He may be the baby daddy, but that doesn’t mean he’s bringing home any bacon, nor does it mean that he’s not someone else’s baby daddy, too. The women express, multiple times, a desire to ‘test’ their man, to see if he’s really the right one. The last thing they want is for their hard-won marriages to end in divorce.

It gave me new insight into a couple of experiences that I’ve had in my organizing career. The first was something that happened when I was in my late 20s, working on a political campaign near LA. I had a number of young guys working on the campaign with me, one of whom asked me one night if I had any kids.

My immediate reaction was to say, “oh my god no.” He looked at me funny, and said, “why did you say that?” I kind of stammered around, and eventually told him that, among my circle of friends, most people didn’t have kids. He, of course, was younger than me, and had several. It wasn’t so much the age distinction, though, it was a class line that separated us.

The second involves a woman I’ll call Ms. B., who I first met four or five years ago. She’s in her late forties/early fifties, has grown children, and is a grandmother. Since I’ve known her, Ms. B has been in a relationship with the same man, N. I don’t know if he’s the father of her children—I’ve always assumed so, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I want to ask about—but they’ve clearly been living together for a long time. Last year, they got married.

I’ve wondered, when it happened, what had made them finally decide to get married, and after reading this book, I feel like I have a little more insight into the process. It also made me realize how much of my own thinking about marriage and children was a result of social programming from the time and place where I grew up.

October 9, 2007. books for grown-ups. 11 comments.

on the lighter side

So I realize I’ve been blogging about some heavy topics lately–here’s on one the lighter side.

What good movies have you seen lately? And by good, I mean fun.

I looked at my Netflix queue the other night and I thought, “who are you?” It’s like 147 items of doom and gloom, or at least violence. (Or, to be fair, a kid video. As if there can ever be enough viewings of Spongebob Squarepants.)

What I’ve got at home right now is Matewan (union organizing drive goes badly, violence ensues). I’ve had it here for at least three days, and I haven’t watched it, because I’m not that ready to be depressed. Other exciting movies on my list? Next up, Yojimbo (masterless samurai in feudal Japan), Frida (talented woman fights her husband and a life of agony), Broken Flowers (allegedly a comedy, but hey, I’ve seen a Jim Jarmusch film or two in my life) and Maria Full of Grace (girl smuggles drugs to America to find a better life).

I just put Knocked Up on my list, because I do love some Judd Apatow. But I’m coming to you, oh friends-of-an-online-nature, to seek spiritual guidance. Or at least comedic guidance. What’s your favorite comic movie?

October 7, 2007. random other things. 11 comments.

the crazy, mixed-up world of anonymous blogging

I was reading this post on GoogleBlogoscoped earlier today, and I’m all in a tizzy about it. I’ve been thinking a lot about online privacy and public life lately, and I feel uncomfortably conflicted about it all. I had a kind of funny experience on Sunday that sparked some of that thinking, but it’s also that I’ve started using several social networking sites using my real name, and it’s making me think about things that I don’t have to think about when I’m blogging anonymously here (or elsewhere).

When I first decided to launch my own mommyblog, it seemed logical to me that I would adopt pseudonyms for myself and my kids. Content lasts for a mighty long time on the internet—if I do a google search on my real name, I can find email postings to listservs that I did more than five years ago—and I didn’t want to write things about my kids, using their real names, that would affect them negatively later in life, either in personal or work-related settings. That meant I had to give myself a pseudonym, too.

In most of my web-based existence, I’m landismom, mother of two kids, who writes semi-regularly about the joys of working parenthood. In a small portion of my web-based life, I’m my real self, a person who has occasionally been quoted in the newspaper, or has been listed as an endorser of political events, or has given money to particular charities. In my book-trading universe (which has to be tied to my real name, for purposes of sending and receiving books), I have a different handle—but that’s just a screen name, not something I think of as a real identity.

In the past year, though, my ‘real self’ has started to do more social networking sites, like LinkedIn and Facebook. I’m much more conservative in my content production on those sites—mostly I just joined them because someone I know in real life invited me, and then I found them to be useful in some way. I’ve communicated with my youngest brother on Facebook more in the last six weeks than I did in the previous six months.

There’s a part of me that wants to have some cross-over between my two online selves. I’d like to be able to share my blog, occasionally, with family members, but I also like the absolute freedom that blogging pseudonymously allows. I don’t want to have to censor myself, the way that I censor myself in the online content that’s attached to my real name, and the more people who know who I really am, the more I’m going to feel as if I can’t.

Then I surfed over to SoloMom’s blog today, and read her story about having her online profile modified by ivillage (and her firing by ivillage for complaining about it), and the whole thing came back up again. I guess I can’t call her SoloMom anymore, but wtf? Who actually owns her identity, her or ivillage?

I realize that the questions of navigating online identity and privacy are only going to grow more complicated as teh internets get more and more intertwined into every aspect of our lives. Entire college courses will be taught (if they’re not already) about the implications of what we reveal, or hide, from the online world.

It’s enough to make me want to pull all my online content down, whether it’s attached to this identity or my real name, until some more cogent method of dealing with online identity is contrived.

October 5, 2007. meta. 12 comments.

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