Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Lilypalooza!

Seven years ago today I had a baby in what was called a "precipitous" birth, i.e. so insanely fast there wasn't even time to get a doctor in my room at the hospital. One minute I was eating an apple on the couch at home, and less than an hour later, I was holding a baby in my arms in the hospital that was a 30 minute drive way. I was still in the red t-shirt I'd been wearing. My hair wasn't messed up; my eyeglasses weren't askew. Aside from looking a little stunned, I look as I normally did on any regular day.

We already had a son and desperately wanted a girl since this would be our last child. When Mark said, "It's a girl!" I said, "Are you sure? Check again because you HAVE to be sure!" He checked again. "It really is a girl," he said. "Annie, we got a girl!"

We had a girl's name all picked out: Lucy. It wasn't even a question, until I held her in my arms and something shifted. "I don't know," I said to Mark. "I'm not sure what we should name her." Then Lily popped into my head. It was deep and fragrant spring; everything was in bloom, and lilies had always struck me as elegant but sturdy flowers. I decided I wanted a daughter who was elegant but sturdy. Mark took no convincing. He wrote her name on the dry erase board in my room: Lily Kahala Rice Panning. And it was decided. For several weeks afterward, I accidentally called her Lucy. She likes to hear this story now. "Can you even imagine me as a Lucy?" she'll say. I cannot.

Below are photos as follows, 1) Lily on a regular old day in our sun room, 2) Lily with her new purple soccer ball from Hudson, 3) Lily in her new GIRLS ROCK t-shirt from Auntie Amy, 4) Lily trying out the bongo drums from Mark, 5) Lily and I after our first run together this past Mother's Day.

How grateful I am for this feisty energetic girl. I know one thing: holding onto her unwavering confidence in herself is going to be my life's mission all the years ahead. We can do it, Lily. GIRLS ROCK.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Read This Book! #1

Driving With Dead People: A Memoir by Monica Holloway (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007).

I found this book in my local thrift store, hardback, for $1.00. I remember when it had come out, and thinking that it looked good, if a bit gimmicky. But for one dollar, who cared? The gimmick factor was there to some extent: the young narrator had spent time with a childhood friend whose family owned a mortuary. She and her friend would lie in the coffins for fun and pretend they were dead. Later, she would actually witness dead bodies being embalmed and drive around in the family’s hearse.

That’s interesting, I thought, as I began to read, but I wondered how far you could really go with something like that. But that’s exactly it: the mortuary/dead people aspect of the book—though it does serve as a loose through-line—is never the focus of the memoir. Instead, it’s the narrator’s relationship with her family, particularly her father (who drives all over their small Ohio town videotaping car wrecks and gruesome accidents) that cranks up the book’s tension. There’s also a family betrayal that Holloway gradually uncovers that makes the book a true page-turner right up until the last page. As the author's website puts it: "This is ultimately a memoir detailing her bizarre, often funny and ultimately terrifying life growing up in a small Midwestern town." But it's so much more than that.

Favorite Line:

“Dad had pulled some horrendous stunts, but when he fucked with Mom’s love of the Great Smoky Mountains, he’d gone too far.”


the narrator’s acting career in L.A., her little blue motorcycle, the many 1970s pop culture references (The Carpenters, Mrs. Beasley, The Beverly Hillbillies, Polaroid Instamatic), her sister's memories presented in italics as her own

Bottom Line:

I fell in love with this narrator. She’s funny and strong and ‘effed up and I want her to be my friend.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I read voraciously. I read at least a book a week. I steal from sleep to read. I get antsy and desperate and unhappy when I don’t have a good book to read. Therefore, I’ve decided, now that it’s summer and I’m relieved of my teaching duties, that every week (or so) I’m going to recommend a good book on my blog. Mostly the books will be contemporary and American, but not always. Mostly they’ll be fiction and creative nonfiction, but not always. So many times people tell me they really want to read but when they go into a bookstore, they feel lost. They don’t know what’s a good book and what isn’t. I often recommend books to my friends, and have a sort of personal “lending library,” but I thought my blog would be a good place to share with the public lots of good books out there just waiting to be read.

•Each entry will be titled, Read This Book!

•I’m not going to use any sort of star rating system since I'll only recommend books that I think are wonderful and definitely worth reading.

•I’m going to give a quick review plus a non-spoiler summary, as well as three mini features for each book:

1. Favorite Line

2. Idiosyncrasies

3. Bottom Line

Look for the first one very soon!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Four (Healthy) Food Products I Love

1. Chobani Greek Yogurt, Lemon Flavor. This is easily the best yogurt I've ever had. It's nonfat, only 140 calories and as thick and rich as a custard. What I particularly appreciate about it is the slightly tart taste, as well as the delicate lemon pulp mixed throughout. This has become my new favorite snack, although I must warn you that all their other flavors feature fruit on the bottom, something that creeps me out.

2. Chip'ins Popcorn Chips, Sea Salt Flavor. Made by a company called Popcorn Indiana, these chips have just three simple ingredients: corn, sunflower oil and sea salt. They contain no saturated fat and only 4% regular fat, plus they even have a little bit of fiber. I've tried the white cheddar flavor, but found the sea salt to be more subtle and satisfying. They also come in Hot Buffalo Wing and Jalepeno Ranch, but eww. Really. Did I mention they're only 120 calories for a very generous serving? I love their robust crunch and interesting texture. These make Doritos seem pretty gross actually.

3. Kashi GoLean Crunch cereal.
First of all, be careful not to grab the GoLean Crunch Honey Almond Flax. We made that mistake once and it was horrible. Instead, this plain version is made from seven whole grains and sesame with just a tiny bit of honey and cinnamon (I frankly can't taste either). It'll give you a whopping 32% of your daily fiber, but not in a way that feels bulky or cardboardy. It's also low-calorie and low fat, and the clusters stay crunchy. Every morning I put frozen blueberries on it with skim milk, which I love because the blueberries turn the milk ice cold and a beautiful purple color. We go through probably two boxes of this a week.

4. Masa's Miso Sesame Dressing & Sauce. I feel as if I've been on a lifelong search for the perfect utopian salad dressing. This one comes pretty close. It's got the wonderful salty tang of miso and rice vinegar but it's tempered by just a touch of brown sugar and sesame oil. Made by Rikki Rikki in Redmond, Washington, it's not exactly cheap at $4.59 a bottle, but a little goes a long way. I often use it as a dip for baby carrots and celery sticks, as well as a dressing for coleslaw. Real sesame seeds create great texture and body. It's a little higher in fat than I'd like (7% daily value/serving), but in this case it's worth it. Live large!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Most Tender Holiday

Dear Mom,

Happy Mother's Day. Though it's been almost four years without you, it still feels as fresh and painful sometimes as a new cut. What I find hardest is how the grief ages—not like a fine wine or a good cheese but like our little maple tree in the back yard that grows and grows and keeps getting bigger and more solid with the passing of time. I want to arrest it, stop the way the sound of your voice ever so slightly fades, how when the phone rings now on Sunday afternoon I know it won't be you, how, no matter how badly I wish for it, you will not know your grandchildren, Hudson and Lily, who are playing a loud and very boisterous game of freeze tag downstairs as I write this. Though they have seen my tears and remember tiny bits about you, they will never know what a big heart you had, what a quick and warm smile, what a cozy grandma you would have to been them all these years.

How would you love them.

Here's Lily. She goes to sleep like this every night with her blankie (aka "ear pillow") wrapped tightly around her face. She sleeps under the beautiful appliqued kitty quilt you'd started for her but never got the chance to finish (thanks to your dear friends, Marcia and Gloria, for doing so).

She really likes to run and just told Mark that she'd like to train for a triathlon when she's old enough. Her 7th birthday is in two weeks and she wants me to try and make a monkey birthday cake for her party. I'm sure you can imagine how good I'll be at that.

And here's Hudson. We made homemade butter a few weeks ago and he was totally into it. Like you, he enjoys complicated projects that require attention to detail. In this photo he had just carved his initials into his little tub of homemade butter. I like to imagine all the things you would do with him—teach him to sew, to make homemade caramels, show him your antique Santa collection, which is now god only knows where.

He does remember you, but I can tell he remembers you mostly through me. We got out to Minnesota so seldom when you were still alive. If only we had another chance, just one more day. I like to think of what we'd do together, just the simplest things really: sit on your front porch and drink iced tea and watch all the cars go by, walk up to Dueber's and shop for fabric and coloring books, cook up some hot dogs and baked beans and eat them at the picnic table. The kids could sit in your lap afterwards while you read them books after warm baths in the big claw foot upstairs. I'd hug you as we said good-bye, see you soon.

Little and big things have happened for me since you've been gone. I ran my first half-marathon last week. 13.1 miles, and when I was done, all I wanted to do was call you and say, "Mom, I did it!" But instead I hugged the kids and Mark and went out to breakfast with friends I love like family. But all day I kept wanting to tell you.

I get migraines now; I have to be careful with stress. Mark and I are planning a trip to Italy next summer for our 20th anniversary. This July we're meeting Amy and her family in Michigan for a week because we now have to find new ways without you. Minnesota just isn't the same without you and Dad.

Also, I'm writing a book about you. It's called Dragonfly Notes: A Memoir of Motherhood and Loss. I'm digging through your old scrapbooks, letters, photos. Sometimes it's so hard I have to leave the house and not come back until I'm able. But also, it brings me closer to you and it makes me understand you in a whole new way. I found an old light blue diary of yours from when you were 12. I found a scrapbook from when you were newly married filled with dream kitchens and matching living room furniture that you one day wished to own but never did. I found a gratitude journal that you kept, and read one entry over and over: "I'm grateful for my two daughters—they make me so happy."

I miss you.