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Monday, August 31, 2015


Who DOESN'T need this chair?
I love when I get a multiple-day sub assignment, when the kids and I can really get to know each other.

On my first day, one six-year-old fellow, we'll call him "L.," was calm and helpful in the classroom.

But this morning, he walked into the classroom all jacked up on... something. L. was climbing the walls, attempting flips on the Meeting Time rug and standing on his chair in a sort of "O Captain My Captain!" way.

"L!" I barked, bemused. "Exactly HOW much coffee did you drink this morning?"

He looked around at his classmates, stunned. "Mrs. Kain! I don't drink COFFEE!?"

"Ma'am, I've had too much coffee."
"Could have fooled me."

When L. started "playfully" slapping other children he promptly put himself in the "I Need a Break Chair."

He sat there for several minutes, banging his sneakers against the green stool under the chair, until he trusted himself to re-enter society.

Afterward, I heaped praise upon him for this classy move. "There are a lot of grown men who aren't wise enough to put themselves on the 'I Need a Break Chair.' And by the way, was it a regular coffee, or an espresso?"

"Mrs. KAIN! How many times do I have to tell you?"

"Until you 'fess us to how much coffee you drank, young man."

And for the rest of the day, whenever he caught my eye, I would mime drinking a cup of coffee, and point to him and he'd smile so huge that a black hole was formed inside of his dimple.

As a person who can be "naturally caffeinated" myself, I admire L's ability to rein himself in. I was fortunate enough to tell his father that when he picked up L. from school.

"Hey, L., is that your dad?" I yelled to him, hustling toward the car.

"Yeah, Mrs. Kain!"

"I gotta talk to him about letting you drink coffee."


"Sir, are you aware that your son drank a large amount of coffee before coming to school?"

And L. was jumping around outside the car and grinning. Then I congratulated his dad on having such a good kid.

"Oh, and I heard he ate a squid when he came to your office. He drew a whole story about it."

His Dad denies that squid was presented, much less eaten, but I have the crayon-colored pictures to prove it.

Then as I walked toward the parking lot, L. yelled after me, "I hope you teach me again, Mrs. Kain!"


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Boogers, tutus and boob chafe: 10 Things I've learned about running

Birdy clutches my running bible: The Terrible
and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run 
After running eight half marathons this year, I've picked up a few tips...

(1) Get rid of the boogers. The snot FLIES when you're running long distances. Sometimes you can do the thing where you hold one nostril, then blow downwind, but this can have sloppy results. I saw a lady running an ultra marathon who had a hanky tied to her Camelbak water, and she was my hero. I've started begging paper towels from every aid station on long runs. I feel 100% better each time after blowing my nose.

(2) Race karma is a thing. Go ahead and judge the person wearing the huge florescent tutu or T-shirt with a slogan you find cloying. Those runners will pass you and you deserve it. You are only capable of passing people while in a state of love and acceptance.
Judged tutu will pass you

(3) Run the shortest event of the race. If you want to run a half marathon, find a race that's a half/whole/ultra. If you run the half marathon in a race that's a 5k/10k/Half, it's freaking annoying. The 5k and 10k finishers eat all of the good food (and use the paper towels) like a hoard of locusts, and no one cheers on anyone coming in after 2 hours. Participating in a race with longer distances is inspiring, but most importantly: there is BETTER FOOD and you will get the first crack at it.

(4) Find a race organizer you like and stay faithful. I don't like overcrowded races (I inevitably fall), I don't like crappy food, and I don't like late starts and poorly marked trails. So I'm in currently love with Wolf Pack Events (Wolf himself let me blow my nose in his personal towel) and Pacific Coast Trail Runs (they lay out an aid station smorgasbord that I dream about).

(5) You have to train every time. I thought I could just mow through a flat half marathon today, after not running any long distances for three weeks. Har har har, my feet look like sloppy joes, and my muscles are seized up and sore as though I'd run an Olympic marathon. There is a huge difference between races that I've prepared for, using a training program, and races that I tried to jackhammer my way through. And that difference is misery.

(6) Do not run hung over. For me, this translates into drinking nothing alcoholic for the entire day before a race. Back in March, I ran 9am half marathon after drinking two whiskey drinks the night before (it was the school's parent party and that was the only free drink!), and it was a special feeling. It took me 3:30 to finish the course, and I was burping whiskey for the first six miles. A hiker wished me a "Good Afternoon" when I ran past him and I was shocked I'd run into the afternoon.

(7) Understand you are mentally impaired. I am as dumb as a rock for at least 2-3 hours after I finish a difficult race. I can't find my car, I am confused by my phone, I don't remember to eat. Now I just anticipate the idiocy and I'm less surprised by my inability to zipper my jacket properly.

(8) Every bra chafes. Maybe someone will tell me about a bra that doesn't chafe after 13.1 miles. But I've gotten used to bleeding a little between and below my breasts when I run a long distance.

(9) Research the food. I thought it was a "given" that every race provided gels, candy, and other snacks to half marathon runners along the way. So when I come across a "water only" station, I get a little violent. I literally yelled "SHIT!" when the innocent water station volunteers told me there was no food at a recent race. If I'd known about the lack of food, I (a) wouldn't have signed up, and (b) brought my own.

(10) The first part of the race always sucks, the last part is always awesome. I hate the first two miles of every half marathon. I hate myself for signing up for it, I hate my shoes, I hate the people in tutus (see: race karma), I hate the organizers who put up "Mile 1" sign like that's relevant. Then, usually after the first aid station, I start to perk up. By Mile 5 I'm thinking of ideas for upcoming Girl Scout meetings. By Mile 7 I want to stop and write a brilliant poem I've just composed. And by Mile 9 I'm probably a genius with my new business idea. Things can degrade into simple pain/strain sometime between Mile 10 and 13, but that last 0.1 mile makes me feel unstoppable

Now give me the medal and pass the Nutella, I've got a car to find. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"House of Echoes": an English novel from a Munich bookshop that still scares us 14 years later

Fourteen years ago, my sister and I were traveling in Germany and we had run out of books to read.

It wasn't easy back then to find good English novels in Germany, so when Emily and I came across "House of Echoes" in a Munich bookshop, we grabbed it and headed back to our hotel, where we read it out loud and spooked the hell out of each other.

The story revolves around a woman who had been adopted as a baby, and eventually discovers a heritage -- and a house -- with a few ghostly strings attached. Some of the ghosts at Belheddon Hall are kind of nice, and others... not so much. There is witchcraft, there are connections to a real king, and it has a juicy "Da Vinci Code"-esque feeling to it.

Emily and I have not forgotten "House of Echoes," and we like to continue to scare each other with the sing-song refrain that one of the ghosts utters throughout the book: "It was my Lady Katherine...." (You have to sing it in an airy, semi-threatening way.)

So when I read Kate Morton's "The Forgotten Garden" -- in which an adopted child returns to her ancestral home, you can imagine how much I had to leave the light on.

PS: I'll post more about "The Forgotten Garden" and its relatively benign ghosts, separately.

PPS: There is another popular "House of Echoes" book. Make sure to read the one by Barbara Erskine if you want to learn how ancient witches can bruise modern children. It costs $0.01 on Amazon so there's really no excuse not to read this "House of Echoes."

PPPS: Hey Emily: It was my Lady Katherine....

Friday, August 21, 2015

"The Paris Winter" -- remember to breathe while you read this little stunner

Maud is a British artist working in an all-female studio in Paris in 1909. She can barely afford to live in Paris, but clings to her art classes (and the small snacks her teacher serves) for all of her sustenance. A wealthy Russian artist takes Maud under her wing, and directs her toward paid work that will help her fill her starving belly -- but is the job all that it seems?

It's a rare book that can make me gasp and stop breathing as Imogen Robertson's "The Paris Winter" did.

The chapters are demarcated by descriptions of paintings. Although this device might be too "precious" in the hands of another author, Robertson makes it worth the readers' while, and then some.

And, as I've mentioned before, I rely on historical fiction to teach me a great deal (all of which I forgot immediately after taking the European History AP exam in 1989). And the Paris flood of 1910 is marvelously imagined and depicted by Robertson. It becomes the most interesting, and sinister, character in a book filled with plenty of both.

"The Paris Winter" was a great re-introduction for me to the art world of this era, and I think my artist friends with a love of literature will especially enjoy this cold, wet, unpredictable ride.


Also, I found "The Paris Winter" to be somewhat reminiscent of Susan Vreeland's fascinating, but somewhat unsatisfying, period novel, "Clara and Mr. Tiffany." The vivid image of women of the past laboring over art together was very similar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

In which I only lose one child in Santa Cruz

The only way to photograph my children together: restraints

These are the panicky days before school starts. Oh, look at the calendar! We meant to go to the beach more! I'm about to surrender my children every day for eight hours!

So the minute I recovered from my post-Germany migraine-from-hell, the kids and I packed up and headed to a cheap-o motel 20 miles up the road from Santa Cruz.

We discovered that there is a train that goes directly from Felton, CA (near cheap-o motel) to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Since Chebbles and I are now accustomed to taking a minimum of 10 trains each day, we were drawn like moths to a flame to the Roaring Camp Railroad. So we happily steamed our way through the coastal redwoods and were delivered directly to the rockin' cars of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, to play at the amusement park all day long.

[A brief aside: why are all the songs they play on rides like this cars ride the SAME SONGS they played when I went to the county fair in the 1980's? I'm not complaining, other than to say that the current generation should be embarrassed that they haven't created any amusement-park-worthy songs.]

In the course of events -- scurrying excitedly between rides -- Gigi got lost. This is so unlike her. It's Birdy who has a tendency to wander off, a phenomenon we now call pulling a "HERNANDEZ" after the officer who helped repatriate her at the SF Botanical Garden.

After just a minute of not seeing Gigi, I knew something wasn't right, so I found a security guard and told him I couldn't find a seven-year-old blonde girl with a picture of the headless horseman on her shirt.

Putting aside any questions he may have had about a child wearing such terrifying imagery in a public setting, he radioed his fellow security guards, and an officer who looked QUITE similar to Officer Hernandez came walking toward us with Gigi beside him. And even though she had woken me up at six o'clock in the morning this morning with her face looming over me, saying, "I'M HUNGRY," I really wanted Gigi back, and relief flooded over me when I saw her face.

She had simply headed right when the rest of the family headed left, and had been quickly swallowed up by the crowd. A security officer (let's just call him Hernandez) spotted her and knew something wasn't right (bless him!) and asked her her name. And within a few minutes, he led her back to me.

Swing low.....
It's funny how in these situations I don't start panicking until the situation is resolved. It was only after I was hugging her that my knees started to shake and I was flush with adrenaline.

In my addled state, I inadvertently CUT IN LINE at the Dippin' Dots booth in order to get her a treat. Once I realized what I'd done, I blathered apologies to the mother behind me and explained what had just happened.

"That happened to us at Legoland.... and the County Fair.... and, yeah, well, a lot," she said. So at least I'm not the only one who misplaces kids. She kindly told us to go ahead and get our Dippin' Dots first.

So Gigi and Birdy sat like hobos by our return Roaring Camp railroad train outside the Boardwalk, wolfing down Dippin' Dots. The train whistled and hissed and waited for us to climb aboard -- me with the wobbly knees, and Gigi feeling only a little rattled by her encounter with the law.

Tomorrow we head to the beach. I'm going to give them flares.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The 5th Wave: "Blade Runner" meets "Twilight"

Just as she's done with other young adult literature I've overlooked, my friend Nicole brought "The 5th Wave" by Rick Yancey over to my house and plunked it on my counter.

And I'm glad to have read it -- at the very least because the movie is coming out next year and now I'll be "in the know" when people start throwing around "Waver" terminology.

"The 5th Wave" is set in the years following a hostile alien invasion of earth, and is told, initially, from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl named Cassiopeia who has, against many odds, survived previous four waves of attempts by aliens to depopulate Earth of humans.

No really, it's just like "Blade Runner" but with teenagers!
Romantically speaking, if you are someone who didn't like the "Twilight" series (I enjoyed the "Twilight" series when I was pregnant, which might explain some things about Gigi), then "The 5th Wave" might make you barf.

BUT I thought it was a worthy book, and I was willing to suspend all my disbelief because Rick Yancey is clearly inspired by Philip K. Dick, who wrote "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" -- a book that eventually became the movie "Blade Runner."  

There are many twists and turns in this Young Adult Science Fiction Post-Apocalyptic Blade-Runner-esque Thriller, so I won't spill any secrets here, only to say that some of the surprises caught me off guard.

So I recommend "The 5th Wave" to people like me who don't mind a little "Twilight" in their lives, and can still be charmed by a bunch of saucy teenagers hell bent on saving our planet.

A Reliable Wife: "Pretty Woman" set in 1907 Wisconsin

PSA: "A Reliable Wife" by Robert Goolrick is NOT one of those books that you can let your nine-year-old daughter read over your shoulder on a train. There are several NC-17 portions that I wasn't particularly expecting when I picked this up at the airport.

That said, it's a good book! And the plot resembles that of the movie "Pretty Woman," except it's set in 1907 Wisconsin, Chicago and St. Louis.
This happens in "A Reliable Wife" a lot.

Goolrick sets a convincing stage with "A Reliable Wife," and each of his characters have a back story that kept me obsessed from start to finish. He has described his book as a study in despair, and I found that to be accurate. Each character has much to mourn, and I found myself very wrapped up in the surprising decisions that each of them make.

So if you're looking for a well-crafted book with some sexy-time elements, "A Reliable Wife" fits the bill!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

We made it home

Chebbles and I are safely tucked into our beds back home, after scoring seats home from Frankfurt through New York last night.

When we finally pulled into the driveway after being away for 15 days, our cat Rehnquist looked exactly like Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal movie, his hair dreadlocked and clearly wondering where we had been.

The only bummer of our homecoming is that I got a horrible migraine on the first flight, so I spent the journey clutching a barf bag and trying to avoid lights and sounds in crowded airports.

At home today, my European iPhone charger looks strange. We are so happy to be together again with our family, looking forward to another week of adventure in California before school starts. But Chebbles and I are sad that our trip is over, and feeling as out of place as those Euros in my wallet.