We have a houseguest in the form of half of our best friend. Nicki's up here from Pennsylvania. She's married to Emily, who didn't make the trip (hence the one-half aspect). We haven't seen her or Em since they moved to PA in late-July.

Nicki arrived yesterday in her little blue rocketcar. I was down in the driveway before Nicki could even open her door.

“I didn't realize how much I missed your smiling face until I saw it just now!” I said, pulling her into a hard, long hug.

It's awesome having a houseguest. First off, she brought us a case of Yuengling lager, something we'd never heard of until we met her. She's happy to sleep on our futon mattress on the floor, so we didn't have to move furniture. Moreover, it raises the grownup ratio in my household, so she's able to help me prep dinner or talk to my mom while I'm changing a diaper or help Mom find her wallet while I'm changing a diaper, etc.

Quite frankly, we might never let her leave. Sorry, Emily. You'll just have to move back to Western Mass. We'll clear a little bookshelf space for you and everything!

Brief book review: The Dwarf

I've decided that a brief book review is a short review of an under 250-page novel. (For me, that's short.)

Today's selection is The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist.

You know how every so often the Swedes award a Nobel Prize to another Swede, just to keep it in the family? Lagerkvist won the 1951 Nobel Prize for Literature. I was thinking this was one of their throwaway prize years and greeted the book with a bit of skepticism.

“Erik liked that book,” Monstro said. Plus, my best girlfriend is in Sweden right now. So I decided to give it a go.

So glad I did! This character, who supplies the narrative voice, is compelling, and I recognized enough of myself in him to make me a little uncomfortable. The novel is funny except when it's not, horrifying despite the straightforwardness of description and motive, and the last sentence is seriously heartrending.

The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist reads quick and even features Da Vinci as a supporting player. I highly, highly, highly recommend this novel, and shall myself be searching out Lagerkvist's two collections of stories: The Eternal Smile and The Marriage Feast.

Thanksgiving thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. I hadn't intended on cooking the entire meal by myself but once I got started, I couldn't stop. Viola! We brined the turkey this year for the first time and it worked out really well: the meat was moist and yummy. Unfortunately, I found it made the gravy a little salty, and it also meant forgoing stuffing the turkey. Nevertheless, it was delicious.

I was concerned about how it would go because it was our first Thanksgiving without our friends Nick and Em — we've celebrated the last five turkey-days with them and I was afraid we'd be terribly lonely without them. The bright side was, the lack of Nick meant we could cover the turkey with bacon, because Nick's allergic to pork. It definitely was the silver lining.

(Incidentally, did you know that there's a word for “covering stuff with bacon”? It's called barding. Subconsciously, perhaps I knew this, and that's why my Dungeons and Dragon character is a bard. Barding. Look it up.)

We bought more ingredients than we cooked so I'm looking forward to a melange of leftovers and finger foods the next couple of days. Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you all!

birthday wrap-up

Yesterday I had a birthday that turned out to be one of the more excellent ones in recent memory… It didn't start out so good — I had to clean the kitchen from the night before and then clean out the catboxes not once but twice — what is it about cats always choosing to take a dump the minute you've finished scooping their poop? Ticks me off…

Anyway, once I got the house and myself cleaned up and took Monstro to the tire place and drove him home and then took him to the dentist and drove around the area running errands and getting my free birthday rose from Nuttelman's Florist and picking up Monstro from the dentist, we went home, got my mom, sprung Lex from preschool and drove to Chandler's Restaurant at Yankee Candle, where I ordered my favorite entree: chicken parm from the kids' menu. We had an awesome lunch and BK sang “Happy Birthday” to me at least five times, which was so cute it melted the ice in my water glass.

Once we got home I opened a big pile of presents: some running accessories, a couple of books (“Booky Wook 2” and the last “Girl Who…” novel), some ukulele music including one with nothing but Christmas carols, and cards from far-away family members with generous checks therein. Mmmm.

I took the boys on a walk (my idea, not theirs) and then at 4:00 we all had some delicious black-forest cake. I made a wish and managed to blow out the candle. Everyone had cake for dinner. Then Monstro and I got spiffed up (you know, the clothes that used to be my skinny clothes now just fit regular, without the need for supportive or constricting undergarments) and left the rest of the family in the care of our across-the-street neighbor so we could go out and eat more food.

Not sure whether I've written about Bistro Les Gras in Northampton before but people, you have got to try this place. We were still pretty full from all the rich food of the past 6 hours, so instead of ordering entrees we got samplers of cheeses and charcuterie/pates and also a plate of salami that had been marinated in red wine. Speaking of wine, when I told our server it was my birthday, he brought half-glasses of sparkling wine to both me and Monstro. Then, it turns out that on Tuesdays, they offer flights of wine — three glasses for FIVE BUCKS. Yes, you read that right. Both Monstro and I ordered that, and recited lines from “Sideways” while waiting for the bevy to arrive. This evening, they featured Beaujolais, about which I know nothing except that it's a region in France, and I only learned that after asking our server. He brought a bonus fourth glass of wine, which was the Beaujolais Nouveau from the year before, to compare against the Nouveau that had just arrived the previous Thursday (“New new Nouveau, then,” I commented). So, for those of you keeping count, we had 10 wine glasses on the table, plus we each had a glass of water, plus there were three platters of rich French yummies and a bowl of sliced baguette. Monstro, the table, and I groaned with the volume of food and drink. Everything was delicious and the server was awesome; at the end of the night I told him he had been “attentive but not cloying.”

We took what few leftovers we had (hello, cheese!) to the van and then headed to East Heaven Hot Tubs, where I received a free half-hour tub for my birthday and Monstro had to pay $20. Note to the world: Beck's “Sea Change” is the world's best CD to accompany hot-tubbing. Monstro and I staggered out of the place all limp-noodlely. It was tremendous.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, a man who was waiting for his outdoor hot tub told me, “you don't look a day over 26.” Hell yeah, buddy. I'll take that to the bank!

We got home safely despite the buffeting wind, and I opened my last present, which turned out to be a much-coveted bottle of Maker's 46. I poured a fingerful over ice and sipped slowly, savoring the smoky sweetness.

All-in-all, it was a banner day, made all the better by the fact that I apparently look 14 years younger than I am. Thanks, universe.

Birthday week: off to a good start

The only good thing about your best friend living in New Zealand is you start getting birthday greetings the day before your birthday! I am gearing up for my birthday/Fibonacci day; have already scheduled a florist pick-up (it's for Thanksgiving, but I'll get a free rose 'cause it's my birthday). Don't know what else the day will bring tomorrow but I'm sure looking forward to it!

24-Hour Theater Project People

I was honored to be asked to act in this year's Northampton 24-Hour Theater Project. Friday night I went to the “pull,” where the playwrights learned how many characters their play would have, and the general characteristics of the actors who'd be performing, and what the “trigger line” would be (that's the line that each play had to have in common).

My best-case scenario was a three-person play, mostly because the dynamic is ripe for theater. And then I won the jackpot — my super-talented friend Meryl drew a three-person play, and then drew me. Totally awesome. I booked over to a family dinner at Friendly's for Lex's birthday with a very broad smile on my face.

I'd like to say I got a bunch of sleep on Friday night and actually, I probably did, because the dream I had was long and involved.

Monstro dropped me and my bags (one of uke and uke music, another of basic-black costume pieces) off at the rehearsal site at 8:20. I found Meryl in-conference with Tim, the director, and Steve, the stage manager for her play. I went across the room, got a bagel and some coffee, and then sauntered back. Meryl handed me a script.

“Whatever you've written, I'm sure it's better than the play I dreamt you wrote,” I told Meryl. She laughed.

I dug into the script. “You're Maggie,” Meryl said.

Her play was called “The Cure” and I laughed aloud many times during the read-through. My character (Maggie) is trying to convince her brother (Matt) to donate part of his liver to to their desperately ill father. Problem is, 18 months previous to the play's action, Matt's dad sent Matt away to “People Can Grow,” a de-gay-ification program run out of Doris's apartment.

(Meryl is the founder of our town's Playwright Lab. A fellow founding member, Toby, was also writing for the project, and upon learning that Meryl was writing for me, put in a request: “Please make Lynn sing.” So, I had a bit of a song on the first page, and a bit more on page four.)

It's surprising how much you can get done on a play in not many hours. We had our tech rehearsal at 1:00, and then our stage manager scrambled around for a better sofa for us to use (the one the props people found was way too big). Much of the time before that was spent blocking our action and the stage fight between Doris and Maggie — the end of that fight finds Doris atop Maggie on the aforementioned sofa.

(A gentleman in my Playwrights' Lab sent me an email this morning: “The image of you and 'Doris' on the couch is indelible.”)

All three of us carried scripts but I mostly didn't need mine, which was a great personal accomplishment. It was the #1 thing I'd been warned about, so it was a comfort to be mostly off-book but still have it for reference when needed.

Our show was second in a lineup of six. We had a full-house for the 7:00 show and a mostly full house for the second show at 9 p.m. The audience found us hilarious and we got big laughs. My mom came to the first one and now she can cross off “watch daughter proposition another woman for oral sex on stage in front of 120 people” from her bucket list. Hey, I was trying to save my father's life. A gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do…

So, yeah, making art for a full day and being around actors and writers and directors made for my best Saturday in recent memory. This morning my quadriceps were burning — my character spent a lot of time getting up off the floor after being down on one knee; I must have done the equivalent of 400 squats in 12 hours — and I feel as though I've been beat up a bit, which I was, but applause is a tremendously therapeutic balm and the warmth of our generous audience will have me smiling for days. Brava!

Preschool Assembly

Lex goes to a preschool within an elementary school. Basically, we pay for it, but then the kids get to use all the resources the elementary school has to offer: music room, art room, library, etc. It's a sweet setup. Also, the teachers are amazing, and Lex LOVES school (good thing, he's there everyday).

Yesterday morning was an all-school assembly. It was hosted by the preschoolers, and they were going to sing a couple of songs, so Monstro, BK, and I piled in the car to attend. We sat in the back and watched as Lex's class filed into the auditorium/theater/cafeteria.

Lex sometimes has problems with staying in line; frequently, he takes cuts in front of the line leader so he can be first on the yellow swing. So I was a little concerned when I saw him in the middle of the line getting up to the stage, but then front-and-center ahead of everyone once they were all settled.

Once the music started, though, I realized that was probably arranged by design. Lex knew every word to every song, and every hand motion, and even did the cutest cha-cha-cha I've ever seen. He was also right in front of the standing mike so we heard every word loud and clear. Basically, there might as well have been no other children on the stage. He was captivating. The sixth-grade girls sitting on the floor in front of us were charmed by him.

“When the piano goes 'BOM BOM,' that's when you bow,” Lex had told me while brushing his teeth that morning. He had that down pat, too.

When their songs were over, I waved to him. He waved back, smiling. The sixth-grade girls thought he was waving to them, so 10 of them waved at him. It was like he was a teeny tiny rock star.

It's amazing how he's growing up into his own person. Today is his birthday. He's five. I took BK and my ukulele to his classroom and sang a bunch of kiddie favorites (plus my “show-off” song, You are the Sunshine of my Life). He sang every word to all of those, too. And BK joined in with “Happy Birthday to You.” Oh, how I love my boys.