About Briar

* I am a school librarian. In every possible way. * I am married to a wonderful man named Wes. When we met (blind date, 1996) he was female and I was a staunch lesbian. Over time, he realized he was really supposed to have been born a boy and I realized I was really attracted to trans-folk. So it all worked out rather well. * I have a 21 year old stepson. My husband is his mother. Yes. I refer to him on this blog as GMB (Gargantuan Man Boy). * Wes and I both suffer from major, chronic depressive disorders. We have both been free of any catastrophic episodes (and mental hospitals) for more than 8 years, but still - sometimes our house is BIG fun. * I have always wanted to be a mother. Using donor sperm, I started trying to get pregnant in May of 2005. I got my first positive blood test on July 27, 2006 - this was a result of my seventh IUI cycle, my second on Clomid with trigger shots. I used an HCG booster 6dpo to keep my progesterone up (I had a luteal phase defect). On August 29th, when I thought I was 9 weeks pregnant and after seeing the heartbeat the week before, I went for my first OB appt and found out that the baby had died around 8 weeks, 2 days - about 3 days after I saw it. I had a Manual Vacuum Aspiration the next day which was hideous but quick. Pathology report indicated a triploidy - 3 complete sets of chromosomes. Our first try back after the disaster worked. Beckett Ace was born in August 2007. * My mother died when I was 20 years old. She had cervical cancer. She hadn't had a pap smear in more than three years. Please visit your gynecologist regularly. * We have a dog and 2 cats. For many years we had pet rats, too, but they have very short lifespans and broke our hearts. If we hadn't had a baby, I shudder to think how many animals we would have acquired. * I have a pain disorder/syndrome called fibromyalgia. I am in at least some pain nearly all the time. * We both love to travel. Wes loves glaciers and animals and his dream vacations are Antarctica, Patagonia, Galapagos, and Kangaroo Island (Australia). My dream vacation is a World Cruise. * I am frequently bitchy, bitter, angry, moody, cranky, or whiny. It's why you love me.

I am doing this for Wes

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I came home with a bunch of swag after BlogHer and certainly did not intend to blog about any of it. But some of it was cleaning supplies. And if there is one thing my beloved Wes adores… it is something with which to make the world more sparkly.

He made me PROMISE that I would tell you about this product. And I agreed because he looked really scary when he talked about it. He had that breathless panting demonic look, eyes wide and voice insistent that you MUST understand how gross something was until this product came along and SOLVED ALL THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS.

Apparently this fur fighter thing cleared off two years worth of hair that had been hiding in the womb chair. And by hiding, I mean he has cleaned it with the vacuum, the sticky roller thing one uses on clothes, and a special microfiber sponge intended for the same purpose. None came close to removing so much hidden hair.  And he made a big, loud, breathless point of telling me that most of it was not pet hair but MY HAIR. Thanks so much, dear.

Anyway, it apparently works well on upholstery. Wes says so.

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worth it

This toy from Haba, the Click Clack Ball Track, costs a lot of money but he has played with it every single day since Christmas. He would have been happy with the holiday if all he had received were his guitar and this. If you are rolling in it or looking for a beautiful, well-made, worth-it toy for your toddler, this fits the bill. And rolling balls down the tracks is strangely meditative for adults, too.
haba

Book review: Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

Me and Margaret go way back. I discovered her when I was a teenager and predictably started with A Handmaid’s Tale. Then I devoured her oeuvre. Cat’s Eye was like a bible to me. The Edible Woman made me a vegetarian for nearly a month. Lines from her poetry were written on posterboard on my quote wall and carved into my ceramics class artwork. She is one of the two writers who truly made me want to write.

I have read almost everything she has written, but I don’t stay informed about adult publishing these days so I didn’t know she had a new book out until I was wandering the big bookstore chain in our neighborhood. I bought it immediately, even though it was not in our tight budget. For books, money can always be found. Margaret Atwood must be owned, not borrowed.

Moral Disorder is a book of connected short stories following the life of one woman. I think I read that on the back when I purchased the book, but I didn’t read it for a couple of months and I forgot. So I didn’t realize until she named the character the same thing. I read the first several essays, the ones that are in first person, thinking they were separate but strangely echoing one another. They echo other aspects of Atwood’s work, too. She has written many stories of childhood and they always share a sadness and distance. Her view, her memory perhaps, of childhood is far from the idyllic version many writers use. It always seems a dark and uncertain time. She captures the hardest feelings we had as children, the confusion and fear and dependence on unreliable adults. I think her stories featuring children are my favorites.

In the beginning of this book, we follow the main character (“Nell” in later chapters) through the birth and childhood of her much younger sister. We see her great anxiety when caring for her pregnant mother in a brilliant chapter called, “The Art of Cooking and Serving.” This particular story beautifully sets place and time through the 50’s advice the child reads in her mother’s cookbooks, and this pressure pushes Nell until she breaks, sick of caring for her mother and then for the baby her mother delivers.

The next story, “The Headless Horseman,” hit close to home for me. In it, Nell’s baby sister is shown to be a fearful and strange child who ends up adopting the scary, papier-mache head from Nell’s Halloween costume and caring for it like a doll. She also demands that Nell be a monster sometimes but Nell’s vaguely menacing tone even when the game is over torments the little girl: “A sister pretending to be a monster or a monster pretending to be a sister? It was too much for her to decipher.” Bizarrely, I played Monster with my own little sister and tormented her with undoubtedly similar questions. At least Nell’s little sister begged to play the game in the first place. Mine did not and was scarred forever by my meanness.

The four stories in the middle of the book use third person and we meet Nell as a woman, living with a married man in the country. This sudden narrative switch didn’t bother me when I thought they were all separate stories, but since I realized that they are connected and feature one character throughout, I have been pondering Atwood’s decision to use two different points of view. I haven’t come up with much by way of reason. I can speak to my reactions – I judged Nell more when she was presented in the third person. I wondered what the hell she was doing in the country with the married man. I felt she was a bit stupid for getting herself into the strange situation involving him and his ex-ish wife. I kept thinking that I would never put up with what she put up with from him or from the situation. It wasn’t extreme, but those were my thoughts.

Then we switch back into the first person and the character moves back to the city and I found that I felt closer to her again. So was this device used to try to give a fuller picture of the character? Can we never really know a first person character except through their own image of themselves? And can we never empathize with a third person character without their self reflection to assist us? I know. These are totally Lit 101 type questions. It’s just been a while since I thought about them.

I recommend Moral Disorder to lovers of Atwood. I didn’t find it that substantial of a book, not grand or sweeping or dramatic. It captured a life. It said a few lovely things and a few deep ones. It was a quiet and simple book. Enjoyable but maybe, if I am honest, not that memorable.

Book review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I bet you think that I frequent libraries since I am a librarian. This would be a logical assumption, but a wrong one. Even though I live a mile from the gorgeous main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, I rarely go there. In the past, the only times I entered its hollowed halls was when I was going to a particular conference that gives extensive required reading lists. I did that conference three times, I think. So three. Three summers that I spent some time at the library. Otherwise, not so much.

But having a baby changes everything, as the commercial tells us. The biggest thing I have found changed, other than the joy and worry and fatigue, is that I walk. I, a fibromyalgic shut-in with an epic distaste for the outdoors, can now walk an easy two miles without even paying for it in pain the next day. Nearly every day, I take the Beck to a baby playground nearly a mile away. When we leave, he often naps in the stroller and he stays asleep if I keep moving. So one hot, humid day, I wished I had a place to keep moving that was air conditioned. And then I realized we were about 3 minutes away from the library.

I am a lover of contemporary fiction but I have felt extremely out of the loop for the past half decade. My work requires that I keep abreast of all the latest developments in kid lit and that has been enough to fill my reading time. When I started working in Brooklyn and lost my subway commute, I read far less and the reading time I did get was really taken up with kid books. My only grownup book time was vacations. And, honestly, I can’t read when in turmoil – I lose my attention span. So with ttc and miscarriage and all that, I just didn’t feel like reading.

So there I was, looking for something to do and something to read while Beck slept. The fiction section has a display of recommended fiction and I felt drawn to this book right away. It has a good cover and a circus theme. Two circus books are firmly implanted in my memorable books list (Geek Love and A Son of the Circus), so it’s a theme I dig right away. I grabbed it somewhat impulsively, knowing full well that it could be something I just dragged home only to have to drag back unread in two weeks. I got Beck some board books while I was there so it wouldn’t be a waste of checkout time.

I read the first few pages right away, the dramatic prologue that certainly sets the stage for mystery and drama: a stampede, a murder, a setting and language that firmly plant us in a specific time and world. It’s a Depression era circus, a somewhat depraved and desperate place. I knew I wanted to read more but put the book down for a few days to finish something else. I found that I kept wanting to go back to it, though.

The book flashes back and forth from the past circus to the present, where our main character, Jacob, is 90-ish and living in a nursing home. He is in good mental health but his body is failing him a bit. He is edgy and anxious and bored. And a bit bitter about the state of things – the nurses, the food, the company of other old people.

Through the flashbacks, we learn Jacob’s story. He comes to the circus very much by accident because of a family tragedy that leaves him penniless and alone. He is almost a veterinarian and once the circus figures this out, they very much want to keep him on to care for the menagerie. He quickly feels connected to these animals and they keep him emotionally tethered to the place even when events occur that should send him running.

August the animal keeper, Jacob’s boss, is a charming and terrifying man. He is a talented animal trainer on his best days, a generous husband and friend. On his bad days, when things don’t go his way, he is ruthless and sickeningly cruel. There are some hard passages to read in this book, though the author does a good job of setting the worst cases of animal cruelty “offstage,” as it were, so that our imaginations take care of the details.

August’s wife, Marlena, is the star of the liberty horses act and a skilled horse trainer. Jacob immediately feels drawn to her beauty and love of animals but fears for her safety because of her brutal husband. A dangerous love triangle develops here, with Jacob receiving constant invitations from August for dinners and excursions. He can’t refuse August, but his feelings for Marlena become dangerously close to the surface.

The story of these three is set among the characters of a typical old time circus – the dwarf clown, the roustabouts, the cooch tent prostitute, the newly-acquired circus elephant who is either very stupid or very smart. Overseeing all is the ringmaster whose ambition to surpass Ringling drives him to give merciless and deadly orders when things aren’t going well. People aren’t paid. People go missing.

I couldn’t put this book down. I read it late into the night with that “just one more chapter” feeling you get from well-built suspense. I even read the interview with the author at the end and all the book club questions, which is rare for me. There I learned that the author did extensive research into circuses of the time and that many of the craziest details are true, or at least as true as circus history can be.

The end came too quickly, as it does when you are enmeshed in a fictitious world you love. In some ways, the final present-tense outcome seemed far-fetched to me, impossible. But when you are writing about the circus, perhaps anything is possible. And whether it rang true or not, it hit the right note on an emotional level.

Highly recommended.

fertilitee-vee: shows that got me through

I can’t remember feeling passionate about a television show – really, really must-see-ish – until Six Feet Under. We watched and enjoyed 24 – I watched the whole first season alone and then got Wes hooked over a long weekend when he was recovering from surgery, if memory serves. But that was just fun, not seriously good.

I didn’t watch Six Feet Under at first, not having HBO. Melissa’s then boyfriend/now husband taped them all. Taped, like a VHS tape. It wasn’t even that long ago and now it seems just adorable to have a TV show on tape. Anyway, we all passed them around like contraband and before long we were all addicted and sharing one another’s cable once a week so we could see the new episodes.

The final episode of Six Feet Under in 2005 coincided with Melissa moving away from me, off to LA. I will never forget the final, amazing montage of Claire driving away from California and toward a life in New York and knowing that my best friend was about to fly in the opposite direction away from me. She was staying with me at the time, her husband already halfway across the country with the cats. We watched the tape (!) of that episode again the next night and cried all over again.

I was in the midst of the beginnings of ttc drama – scads of the now-IVP got pregnant the month before while I was out of town missing my ovulation thanks to a fabulous cruise. The end of that show was something in which to lose myself.

I wrote a good post about it. Go read it. It’s far better than anything I write lately.

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With the demise of Six Feet Under, I was lost. So we threw ourselves in to Season Two of Lost.

I didn’t get into it immediately when it started the year before. I remember seeing the previews and thinking it looked interesting. But I never remember to watch new shows right away. I have to be convinced to let a new show into my life. I need personal recommendations and references and a resume before I accept them into my home. Eventually, those things started trickling in for Lost. And I watched. I watched some random episode in the middle of the first season. It was Kate-centric, I think. The one where she is in Australia and the guy she works for turns her in, I think. I had absolutely NO idea what was going on but I watched the whole thing. I kept announcing to Wes, who was across the mezzanine on the computer, “I have NO IDEA what is going on. I am LOST. Get it? I’m LOST watching Lost! I have NO IDEA what is happening. They should call this show ‘I’M LOST’ instead of just Lost. What the hell is going on? I don’t know. And still I am watching it.” He was not that interested. And then I kept forgetting to watch it so I missed most of the season. So we bought the DVD. And we were both hooked immediately.

So Lost got me through my first ttc break and has been there for me ever since.

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And then there was the miscarriage.

I got through it by watching medical dramas. That may seem weird, but it was apparently where my mind wanted to be. I wanted to watch procedures and surgeries and cases of hardcore difficulty. And I needed some snark. So it was House, which I had watched sporadically but began ordering on Netflix, and Grey’s Anatomy, which I believe Asia dropped off with me as part of my miscarriage care package.

I still love House with a white hot passion but I haven’t watched Grey’s at all this last year or so. I have totally lost track of it. It makes me think of the bad period. And I find Meredith Grey to be a strange, watery character. I want to like her more than I really do. It was all about Sandra Oh and Izzy and George for me. And I don’t think Mc-Whatever-She-Calls-Him is actually cute.

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Through it all, there has always been Bravo. I watched Project Runway for the first time as part of a marathon of Season One shortly before the second season was to begin. Is there any better time to discover a new series love than before the second season? You can catch up quickly and then the next batch is right there ready to go. It’s a gorgeous thing.

Once I was hooked on Runway, there was no stopping me. I discovered that I will watch ANYTHING Bravo airs. A reality show about cutting hair? Yes, please. That strange show about the hotel? Yes, fine. Flipping houses with an OCD nightmare man? Oh, yes, yes, yes. Stand-up and/or series with a D level celebrity who bashes other celebrities (even though I don’t actually follow celebrity gossip in the first place)? LOVE. IT. And that doesn’t even mention actual quality like Top Chef.

Pregnancy was when my Bravo addiction really took off. Last summer when I was huge and unhappy, I just stayed on the couch with marathons of old seasons of… anything. And that continued after Beck was born. I roped my mother-in-law into my Runway love when she was here, causing her to stay up LONG past her usual bedtime to watch an entire season that I had seen probably five times already. What can I say? I had a 6 day old baby and familiar, calming sights like Tim Gunn were very welcome.

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Big Love. Loved big. Wes doesn’t like the main guy so can’t enjoy it but does enjoy speculating on what our life will be like when I choose my sister wives (you know who you are).

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In my first few months of motherhood, I needed TV more than I have ever needed it before. I needed something to make me stop crying about my “lost life” and my constant breastfeeding and the scary baby beast completely dependent on me.

Somehow, I was the only woman on earth who had never watched Sex and the City (except for one episode I saw once in the waiting room when I went to the gay/lesbian health clinic). And my sister had the whole series on DVD. This was when we were living on the bedroom level of our home – no kitchen, just us in less than 600 sq ft existing of 2 bedrooms and a bathroom with a baby and four pets. I would just sit in the chair and nurse and watch Sex and the City. And it made things OK.

Then I got Weeds on Netflix and felt even better. I liked it so much that I bought it for Wes for Christmas so I could hook him, too.

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And now?

Still with the Bravo love. Serious love.

Loved loved loved Lost this season.

Supernanny. Always loved her but actively seeking her out now. This show can make you feel extremely competent as a parent by comparison.

The Office (US) – now that I have a DVR, we are catching up on old ones and we are still talking about this season’s finale which was hysterical.

Bourdain – No Reservations – again, the DVR made me love you. I had seen it and liked it but never would have remembered to seek it out at particular times. Now I can see him pretty much whenever I want.

That damn dog grooming reality show that Cali made us watch – we think this is some of the worst TV ever, especially Jai from Queer Eye delivering those TERRIBLE dog puns week after week. And yet… I keep turning it on in order to torment Wes. And then he got a letter asking him to donate a dog bed to some event where Jorge from this ridiculous show will be the guest. Please don’t tell me what’s happened for the last 3 weeks or so. We have them freaking DVR’ed. I can’t believe I admitted that.

Cali also made us watch New Amsterdam, which was great. Just saying.

stroller wars revisited

ADVICE FOR OTHER STYLE-MONGERS EXPECTING A TOT:
Our stroller (the Mutsy 4-Rider Light) is awesome.
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It drives like a dream (moms in my group who tested it called it the Ferrari of strollers compared to theirs) and is nice-looking and functional and extremely cozy (once we got into the big boy seat). He loves being in it and falls asleep every time. Perfect. BUT I would not pick it if I had it to do again. We wanted a stroller that took a bassinet, a car seat and a regular toddler seat. We didn’t need the bassinet. He HATED the bassinet. He hated the car seat, too, of course, but not the way he HATED the bassinet. We used it TWICE. Now the cat sleeps in it. I would have purchased the stroller we are now going to get as our lightweight, travel stroller (the Quinny Zapp). It can take a car seat and that would have been fine for the infant days. And it weighs 12 pounds, which is half what ours weighs. And it folds down to nothing.
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BUT when we were picking strollers, the car seat that goes with the lightweight wasn’t approved for the US yet. So I couldn’t have it. And I thought I wanted a bassinet. I thought it would be so cute to have a little swaddly baby in there. I thought he would sleep in it all the time. HA.

When I say all this to Wes, he shakes his head. “I would have overruled you,” he says.

“No, you wouldn’t have. I was pregnant and angry. I would have won.”

“No. You would never have won. Two words. Or is three? Anyway…. Toddler. FunSeat.”

He is right. I never would have won the fight. The Toddler FunSeat wins. It goes on our stroller once Beck is big enough. It has a little fake steering wheel and the most gigantic basket ever. It really is so adorable that Wes once had all the sales guys at Buy.Buy.Baby gathered around the Internet oohing and aaahing at it with him.
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Note, written later: Zapp does not recline, I discovered once we got it so maybe it would not have made a good daily stroller after all.

stroller wars part 728

Wes and I have been debating the relative merits of the various ridiculously expensive strolles for many, many years now. We had thought it was a simple debate between the Bugaboo and the Stokke Xplory. The first two rounds of in-person exploration of the two landed us firmly in the Bug camp. There were times we thought that the decision had really been firmly made. We thought the Xplory was too plasticky the first time we saw it. The second time, when I was pregnant with the penguin, we thought that the mechanism for taking off the bassinet was too difficult. A green Bug, we decided. We were seemingly done.

But time is a funny thing, and TK has taken a damn long time to be made. We have changed our minds a zillion times. We have explored more stroller websites than seems natural. We have read more daddytypes posts about strollers than could posisbly be good for us. And now we can’t decide again.

And now there are more options!

And now every single solitary person in Park Slope is driving a Bugaboo.

Seriously. The other morning I went in to work late when I was feeling sick. It was 10 am and I was at the corner of my street and I looked around while waiting for the light to change. I spotted 7 strollers from where I stood and 4 of them were Bugs.

I am not completely thrilled with following the herd, but when a product is good, people buy it. I could get over this. Wes, though, would really like to be different. He will go with the Bug if we really decide it is the BEST but if there is an alternative that is just as good, it might win on just not being the Bug.

So. Mutsy came onto the scene because it is suddenly available in the U.S. More specifically, it is now at Buy B*y B*by (ie, the big, scary baby store), where we can compare the three front runners. These are up for consideration because they can all hold a bassinet, a seat, or a carseat – that’s our standard. They are all damn heavy and will be too much for me to carry down stairs to a subway alone (though we could handle it together), so we are aware that we will eventually need a cheap umbrella stroller. But a very large percentage of my time is spent in my neighborhood walking, and we want one of these fabulous strollers mostly for that. So we went for more research at the big, scary baby store.

(They also have the Orbit, which we used to find interesting, but which we did not like in person and which I would not buy anyway because A) the car seat really hasn’t been tested much and B) you have to pay for all the pieces separately and that’s lame.)

We got demos tonight in the Mutsy and the Xplory and learned that the Xplory isn’t really hard to take apart – we just had a bad salesperson at the last store where we saw it. The folding mechanism on the Mutsy is about a zillion times easier than either the Bug or the Xplory, and that’s a really nice feature. Both of them are higher up than the Bug, which we really like. The Xplory’s wheel base is a tiny bit narrower than the other two, though not by a lot. Mutsy has more accessories and fun things, like stands to make the seat into a bouncer or standalone bassinet, and a special toddler fun seat with steering wheel that looks awesome. The Mutsy and the Xplory have non-air-filled tires, which means not having to pump them up and not worrying about popping them.

Wes’ problem with the Mutsy is that it looks a lot like the Bugaboo and he doesn’t want anyone to think that he has a Bugaboo “knock-off.” The Mutsy price tag is still extremely high (though a couple hundred less than the other two) and that alone makes it no knock-off in my opinion. Plus, stroller conoisseurs will know that it is a new and special thing. People will start to recognize it as they have the Quinny strollers (still not available in the U.S. and not adaptable with U.S. carseats – otherwise we would be investigating them).

I would almost venture to say that we are now deciding between the Mutsy and the Xplory. But the Bugaboo has a way of winning us back every so often so I can’t say that yet. We have such a very long time to go, still.

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Xplory
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