I read 44 books last year. This isn’t so impressive considering that the books I read these days skew short. Often really really short. Slender with wide margins and spacious leading (but only one included pictures). Frankly, I’m more likely to begin a book that I know I stand a reasonable chance of finishing. My 44 books were probably the page-equivalent of two Franzen novels, three Barbara Kingsolvers, and an uplifting, inspiring, and motivational memoir optioned by Julia Roberts (so you can go see the movie if you can’t stomach reading through to the end). In fact, the novels I read nowadays used to be called novellas, because calling it a novel is the only way to convince someone to pay $17.95 plus tax for what is really a short story; the high price is worth it to be able to declare at a New Year’s Eve party, “I read 44 books this year. You?”

Only Obi Wan Could Wear That on a Motorcycle

The biggest book I read by far was Outlander (656 pages), which also had the most sex of any book I’ve read in years, which was probably the only reason I finished it. Come to think of it, it’s the only reason I started it. My witty friend Ann fondled the cover in a bookstore, and she murmured that it was chock full of great sex, so of course I borrowed it from the library right away. It’s even more unlikely that I would finish a big library book. Usually they’re overdue before I start. Ann (now having an MBA and thus able to Solve for X-rated quite handily, though usually with the help of an X-cel spreadsheet) was spot-on about the carnal aspects of this weighty tome. Not just a glossing over of sex, but bursting at the tartan seams with sex, all involving a very big man in (or out of, as the case may be) an often hastily-doffed kilt. You can read this book in front of your children and tell them that it’s historical fiction in which you’re learning a great deal about 18th century Scotland. Open it up to show them a word like sgian dubh and rest assured you can leave it anywhere in the house without fear of them cracking it to discover what’s really under a kilt.

Bone to pick: The only Munro in a book rife with Scottish clans was a stinky, lame, wandering beggar dressed in blechy rags. Certainly no one the heroine wanted to see sans kilt. Come on, now, we Munros have a castle and a tartan, too!

I’ve repeatedly urged the Man I Married to purchase a Utilikilt, to which he replies, “Hell, no, I’d get my ass beat.” Has it occurred to him that I might be the one doing the spanking?

Janna Cawrse Esarey

Besides not having the time to read big books, I also lack the biceps. The thought of propping up anything other than a brimming martini glass is about as enticing as the scary part of doing laundry, when I must blindly stick my hands into the Little Monster’s pants pockets to find what mysterious horror lurks there (and which he will later deny he had anything to do with).

I rarely, if ever, sat in a chair during daylight hours to read a book. Reading a book in front of the Little Monster is the silent, motionless equivalent of that guy with light-wands on the tarmac beckoning a Boeing jet of annoying behaviors to come hither now and pester me loudly and persistently. LM cannot stand it when I read. He would probably notice it less if I suddenly smoked a cigar while executing a Double Lutz. If I ever want him to stop doing anything, all I have to do is crack a book. Although he cannot hear me yell to him that it’s time to take out the recycling, he has bionic hearing for the sound of a page turning.

Bonnie Rough

So I read 44 books in bed at night. That I’ve read so much in bed does not mean that I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, gripped by Shirley Jackson until midnight. It means that I go to bed at 7:45 and read until 8:59 if I really force myself. What usually stops me is not my eyelids drooping but my hands getting cold. See, nerds risk frostbite, too! Who needs to tackle Mt. Everest when one faces hypothermia resulting from lack of circulation atop one’s own mattress (while reading about people dying on Mt. Everest)?

Of those 44 books, 24 were library books, 16 books were purchased, and 4 were Kindle books (2 free, 2 purchased). I tried to reduce my book spending in 2010, which means that I ended up spending twice as much as I did in 2009, when I set no limits on myself. This is called the Diet Principle. Tell yourself that you will lose five pounds and you gain ten because the mere thought of deprivation drives you to Trader Joe’s to stock up on dark chocolate peanut butter cups. Tell yourself to buy fewer books and suddenly you must, absolutely must, acquire the collected works of Daphne du Maurier.

Danika Dinsmore

Of the 45 books I bought, I read 15. Here’s the exciting thing: 5 of the books I bought are by authors who are friends. How inspiring is that? Their book covers grace this blog, and congratulations to them.

The librarian cannot tell me how many books I borrowed in 2010, because of protection of privacy, but she could tell me that I had borrowed 2,922 items since they introduced their new computer system in 2003. This equals to my borrowing exactly 365 books per year for the last eight years, which confirms my long-espoused theory that my primary form of exercise is carrying library books (that I never read) up and down the hill. Although some of the 2,922 items might have been CDs or DVDs, trust me, most of them were books, of which I read a mere 6.5%. Clearly, I have higher aspirations than follow-through. I end up donating the books I buy but don’t read to the library, so it’s a handy closed system.

Corbin Lewars

Only one of the 44 was a writing book (Ron Carlson Writes a Short Story, highly recommended). Only one was a parenting book (The Three Martini Playdate, but you probably guessed that, also highly recommended, particularly for its insistence that parents should have hobbies, a theme that is close to my heart and that I will explore in a future blog post, if I can ever take enough time away from my hobbies to write it). In my defense, I did watch a parenting two-DVD set and skim the accompanying book (Magic 1-2-3, recommended by our Harborview specialist, well worth it to learn the two biggest mistakes that parents make–can you guess what they are?).

Donna Miscolta


Conclusions and Goals:

Finish my own damn book with the belief that it will be published, because my hard-working, persistent writing friends have proven that it can be done.

Read the sequel to Outlander.

Put no limits on my book spending, which means I’ll spend half as much.

Borrow twice as much from the library to lose ten pounds.

Write shorter blog posts so I have more time to pester MIM about that kilt.

Mary Guterson
Wendy Call

(Yes, the savvy amongst you will note this makes more than five book covers by friends, but I must include Mary Guterson despite her book being a 2009 purchase. Books by Wendy Call, Donna Miscolta, and Sharon Cumberland coming in 2011. I should also mention recent books out by Lorraine Healy, Lana Hechtman Ayers, and Midge Raymond. Gee whiz, I’m lucky to be surrounded by such a motivating force of talent and willpower.)

New Year’s Rearview Mirror (where Ordinary Acts are Larger than they Appear)

Mama's Little Pie-Eating Monster

Rather than looking ahead to goals and changes, I’m looking back to say thank you to the many people who have helped my family to remain a family as we near the 2.5-year mark with the Little Monster (a term of endearment that he loves, lest you worry that I’m traumatizing my eight-year-old, a job that was already efficiently dispatched by others, unfortunately). It truly does take a village. So much has gone right for us when initially it looked like so much was going wrong, that I’d like to express my gratitude to those who have been there for us—one kind, encouraging word can make a difference. I am a truly blessed and lucky person. Please excuse my effusive and repetitive use of adjectives in the list below, but they are all true, and sometimes a writer is simply forced to fling superlatives about.

To Kathy E, who gave us respite when we most needed a break and who was also wise enough to nudge us away when she knew we’d be okay without her. Kathy has inspired me to someday offer occasional weekend respite to parents (foster or otherwise). It is a necessary service that can make or break a family, but there is no one out there filling this gap. You may not know that foster parents are entitled to two 24-hour breaks from their children every month, but even living in the major metropolitan area that we do, there is no one who actually provides that service.
To all of our neighbors who help us to support LM and keep him safe, especially Melanie, who gives him books and biscotti and love.
To Julie Wicklund, who phoned me on her birthday to express her shock that anyone couldn’t “get” the difficult parenting job we face and to tell us that we are the best parents ever.

To Meredith, for saying, “I am so proud of you for what you’re doing with LM.” I don’t know why it’s so important to hear those words, but it is. 

Presenting Awards in Bed to All of You

To Ellie and Doug, new friends who spoiled us rotten for a weekend at their “B & B.” As Ellie said when I expressed my surprise and gratitude at such lavish treatment, “Hey, I’m not raising a foster child and you are.” We were exhausted and needed a break, so thank you.

To Jackson for listening, and listening, and listening, especially during LM’s early days, when I wasn’t sure we’d make it (and I knew he wouldn’t judge and would keep on listening even if we didn’t make it). And he still listens and is always supportive of this journey, although surely it must bore him at times.

To Mindy and John, for our new family Christmas Eve tradition (which brought us our little dog) and for being part of Team LM.

To Aunt Margaret for hugging me and confessing two years after-the-fact, “When I first met LM, I didn’t want to say anything, but I was really worried for you. He’s looking so much better now.” And for the horseback riding.

To Tod, who drove me to the ER and took care of LM without LM ever knowing I was sick, and for his constant little gifts and attentions to LM, who adores him.

To Wendy, who gets it, and gets it, and gets it. And for inspiring me with her own unique and generous “adoption” of a child whose family needed support. And for Hot Wheels!

Happy as a Boy in a Cowbarn

To Roger, for giving Max a peaceful end, a sporty last ride, and a pleasant resting place, and for taking my boys away for a weekend so that LM could feed calves. Holy House to Myself, Batman!

To my big bro Bob, who always understands with a laugh and a joke and who offers realistic but tough advice, and to Connie for being the best auntie a boy could hope to have, not to mention a sister-in-law who is more sister than in-law. Quite a bargain for a Kansas Picture Bride!

To my boss Bill, who gave me extra time off to support my family when he didn’t need to, and always offered a supportive ear and shoulder. To my co-worker who picked up extra work while I was gone and gives gifts to LM. To everyone at work who still regularly ask me how my son is doing and who give me advice, support, and encouragement.

To the tremendous “professional” team who support us and validate our every move: teachers, school counselors, social workers, therapist, psychologist, rock climbing instructors (funded by Treehouse), and daycamp counselors. If anyone can overcome a difficult beginning and go on to lead a successful life, it’s got to be LM, who despite early disadvantages has been blessed with this amazing foundation of support and constant guidance and reassurance and faith in him and us.

Fresh Air Does a Boy Good

To Mac, for giving LM a place to roam and for lending an ear (and wisdom and encouragement and validation and even a tractor) to MIM.

To Seattle Center for all of the free/cheap entertainment that is much needed for families that don’t have a lot to spend. We’ve spent countless weekends there seeing all manner of ethnic singing and dancing, which helps to educate, inspire, and entertain LM at no cost. For kids growing up with constant electronic entertainment, it’s invaluable to be able to watch real humans perform and make art even if we can’t afford expensive kid’s theatre.

To the community center, another resource that I had no idea provided such incredible support to families. From Elaine at the front desk who gives dog books to LM and who helps us with billing difficulties, to the artists who paint their canvases every Tuesday all summer long for the kids to watch, to the free bread from Essential Baking and the free newspaper from Seattle Times (Sunday comics for LM!) and the free popcorn machine, and of course to the camp counselors who stuck with us even when they didn’t have to. Please support your local community center.

To the businesses who accept LM’s medical card. It was a real wakeup call to find out how few dentists or eyeglass shops accept foster kids (shame!).

To Treehouse, an amazing funding program that allows LM to learn rock climbing every week.

Again to Tutu (see 12/15/10 Mele Kalikimaka post) and Granddad, who have always supported my dreams and goals. I hope to do the same for LM.

To the Little Monster himself. No child should have to work as hard as he does, and he inspires me daily with his cheerfulness, optimism, resolve, generosity, resilience, exuberance, love, and kindness. He has every reason in the world not to be any of these things, but he will be a survivor, thanks to all of you.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Chocolate, but Don't Give Me Guff

To the Man I Married, whom I believe was put on this earth to be the Little Monster’s father. I’ve been with him for 23 years and have never admired or respected him more than in the last two (despite the beard).

To everyone who offers expressions of kindness, support, love, and encouragement, or even constructive criticism and mature dialogue about concerns, whether it’s over coffee or wine or email or Facebook, your thoughtful words and understanding matter. Thank you to My Village. It’s easy to feel helpless with all of bleak news in the world, but your small voices and gestures make a big impact. Kind words resonate, while hurtful words—so easily tossed off as a reaction to secondhand misinformation in this era of virtual communication—go unheard beneath the overwhelming resonance of generosity.

Strangely enough, negative words can have a positive impact as well; the ones I heard this year set me free, and now I can focus on the burden on my okole instead of the one on my shoulders.

 Thank you, thank you, thank you for being part of my wonderful life. Happy New Year.