Fall Review Roundup

Here's a brief, non-inclusive list of things that have happened since I wrote my last review: I had a birthday, Jason had a birthday, the seasons changed, I shot my first wedding, and my daughter was born.  I also read five books and saw three movies.  Here are some quick takes, just to help me get caught up:

The Wise Man's Fear: After such a strong debut and after waiting impatiently for as long as I did, I was a little worried that the second installment of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle wouldn't live up to my hopes. I needn't have worried, though--this second chapter may be even better. I'm not sure how Rothfuss will be able to wrap up this series in just one more book--there seems to be so much story still untold--and I'm sure that it will be years yet before I get to find out, but, man, I'm hooked. (Read 6/26/11 - 6/30/11.)

Manhood for Amateurs: I received this as a birthday present from a friend of mine who has very good taste in books, and who paid me the incredible compliment of telling me that she chose this for me because it reminded her of my writing. Having read it, I can kind of see what she means, in that the essays in this collection are about the same sorts of things that I tend to think and write about: fatherhood, American culture, pivotal moments of his youth and young adulthood. The difference is in the quality of writing--it almost seems impossible but his prose is both unmistakeably in his voice, so particular to himself, but at the same time so resonant and familiar that it felt like he was reading my mind. Suffice it to say, if you enjoy the stuff I write here, you will love this book. (Read 7/6/11 - 8/15/11.)

Cars 2: It seems thin praise, but mostly what I can think to say about this movie is that it's not as bad as everybody said it was. Sure, there wasn't much to it, a lot of the milieu didn't make sense, and the first movie was better. But it was a fun little diversion, and Jason liked it enough that he's still talking about some of the characters three months later. (Viewed 7/9/11.)

Winnie the Pooh: I wish I could tell you more about this movie, but I fell asleep about 20 minutes in, and didn't wake up until the credits rolled. What I do remember seemed a little smug in its postmodernity--the movie is presented as a book being read, and it breaks the fourth wall several times by having the characters interact with the printed text of the book--but the characters were mostly as I remembered them and Jason liked it. ("Viewed" 7/17/11.)

Storm Front and Fool Moon: One of my co-workers loaned me the first two books in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, and I tore through both of them in three days. They were, as he presented them, quite fluffy but very fun reads. Urban fantasy isn't typically one of my favorite genres, but I enjoyed the characters and the fast-paced, action-mystery plots, and I'm looking forward to picking up the rest of the series one of these days. (Read 8/16/11 - 8/18/11.)

The Lion King: Ever since we got that CD of Disney songs for Jason, I've been excited for him to see The Lion King, and he's been excited as well. When it came to theaters in advance of the Blu-Ray release (I could go on and on about how much I hate the whole concept of the Disney Vault, but that didn't stop me from snapping up the Diamond Edition as soon as it became available) we headed over to our local cineplex, where we found that the only showing at a good time for us was in the 3D theater. Which is unfortunate, because this movie was really not well-served by being re-done in 3D. Let's leave aside the argument that 3D is gimmicky and distracting and potentially migraine-inducing--the bigger problem is that the 3D version is way too dark. This is a movie that is all about bright, beautiful, cinematic scenes, and to have it all smothered and dulled by light-eating 3D glasses is just shameful. It looks better on my TV at home, and that's just not right. (Viewed 9/17/11.)

I do have one more book left to review, but since I just finished it a couple of days ago I'm going to let it marinate a bit more and give it its own post, hopefully next week.  Until then, have a happy Halloween!

Just a little administrative note: I'm no longer part of Amazon's affiliate program, so I no longer receive a commission for sales through links on this site.  The links are there now only as a convenience to you.


"Ugh, this place stinks."

"Yeah, you noticed?"

"It smells like balls."

"I don't even know what that smells like."

"It smells like unwashed balls here."


"It smells like balls with manure smeared all over them."

"It probably smells like anything with manure smeared over it."


"It smells like your face with manure smeared on it."

"My face smells like balls?"

"I don't know; I don't know what balls smell like."

"This smell is really… earthy."

"Well, that's a nice way of looking at it."

"Earthy and ballsy."

". . . You're going to put this on your blog, aren't you?"

Eva's Story

This is long overdue.

It's been an interesting experience, the last few weeks, a superposition of opposites that, oddly, makes me think of Dickens. Things have been both familiar and new, challenging and easy, fun and aggravating. It hasn't been the worst of times, of course, and I feel like maybe we are slowly finding our way toward the best of times.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The morning of September 19th--the morning of Eva's birth day--I woke up at 4:13, two minutes before the alarm went off. I stayed in bed for four more minutes, just enough time for Juliette to get up and make her way to the shower. Somehow we both managed to get cleaned up and slipped out without waking Jason up or Juliette's sister, who was there to be with him that morning while we were out. I felt guilty about leaving without telling him, but it was easier this way.

We left the house at about a quarter past five--Juliette's c-section was scheduled for 7:30 AM, but we had to arrive two hours early to fill out paperwork and get ready. (We chose for Juliette to have a c-section again rather than attempt a VBAC.) At one point during the drive, Calexico's "Close Behind" came on the radio, and I commented to Juliette that I had been listening to that song a lot right around the time Jason was born. We laughed at the coincidence, and arrived right on schedule.

By 5:51, Juliette was in bed and had the fetal monitors on. We got three texts in the next two minutes, the most interesting of which was from her sister: "Suck on your saliva." (Juliette hadn't had anything to eat or drink in about eight hours by then, and she was very thirsty.)

Then we waited. For the next two and a half hours we talked and looked at our phones and wondered how much longer it would be. At some point, the nurse came in and told us that another woman had needed to have an emergency c-section, so we would have to wait until the operating room became available. That was, of course, just fine with us--we could wait, which in and of itself was striking considering how much pain Juliette had been in when we arrived at the hospital for Jason's birth. So we waited. 7:30 came and went. We checked our phones a lot. I took a lot of inane pictures, like this one:

Our turn finally came at 8:25, at which point the nurses had Juliette out of the room and wheeling down the hall almost before I knew what was going on. As we passed through the doorway, Juliette exclaimed, "Mike, look!" I followed her finger to the sign beside the door, discovering that our LDR room had been dedicated to someone named Eva Hough.

I should back up a second and explain something. You see, until that moment, we didn't really know what our daughter's name would be. Just as we had with Jason, Juliette and I had come up with a short list of possible first name-middle name combinations that we liked, but after that we wanted to wait until we saw what she looked like. "Eva" was on that list, but so were three other names. Now, I don't really believe in signs or fate, but when we saw that sign, we both just knew.

Just a few moments later, we were at the operating room door. Juliette was wheeled directly in, while a nurse politely directed me to wait there and said someone would come get me when they were ready to begin.

And then I was by myself.

I don't want to make more of this than it's worth, because as tense and anxious as I felt while I waited outside that operating room, I wasn't the one about to be sliced open. I wasn't the one being handled by a bunch of strangers. I wasn't the one being poked and pinched to see if my spinal was working yet. (It never did fully kick in, but I'm getting ahead of myself again.)

So, yes, I know that I had the easier part, but that doesn't mean it was easy for me. I had thought that having gone through this once before it might be easier this time. The thing is, watching your wife go into surgery--even a routine, well-understood, everyday kind of surgery--is not easy. I paced and fidgeted, rubbing my thumbs across the fuzz on the inside of my mask. I took pictures of everything: the walls, the doors, my hands, the scrub basin, the blanket that lined what would be my daughter's first cradle. I massaged my palms to keep my fingers from clenching. I gave thin smiles to the nurses and doctors that walked in and out of the OR. And I looked at the door a lot, wondering what was going on inside as the minutes ticked by.

The door was, as doors often are, uncommunicative.

They finally let me in at two minutes to nine. Juliette was stretched out on the table, a sheet of blue fabric separating us from her belly. She looked up at me when I came in and gave me a smile that I imagine was meant to be as reassuring as the ones I had just flashed the doctors, and was just as unsuccessful as mine probably were. I sat down beside her and took her hand. I don't remember much about the next few moments--I don't know what we said to each other, and I don't remember exactly when they started cutting. I do remember Juliette's eyes alternately widening and clenching shut, and the way she sounded as she gasped in pain. I do remember telling her "You're doing great," and the way her brow furrowed as she shook her head in response. I remember the way she gripped my hand tightly, and how her hand felt in mine as I squeezed back, and how her hair felt under her cap as I stroked her head and tried--and failed--to comfort her. It wasn't supposed to be this way--it hadn't been this way the last time--but something about the shape of Juliette's vertebrae was making the spinal ineffective.

I had told myself that I was not going to look behind the screen this time. I had looked when Jason was born, and the sight of Juliette's stomach cut open and the doctor's fingers inside her, pushing muscle fibers aside, was too much for me--I still can't think about it without getting emotional. But I had also been able to see Jason's head pop out, and somehow the need to do the same, to bear witness to my daughter's first moments, was more important than my desire to save myself the trauma of seeing my wife's insides. So I looked, just in time to see the doctor do something and a gush of what must have been amniotic fluid--but looked a lot like blood--come splashing out of the incision. I looked away, then forced myself to look again a few seconds later and saw Eva's head slip out of the hole in Juliette's stomach. What a strange thing it is, to see something at once so wonderful and so terrible.

The doctor began to push the baby out, and Juliette moaned. I turned back to her and put my hand on her forehead. I think I told her it was almost over. And then it was over, and the doctor lifted our daughter up above the screen and showed her to us.

And in that moment, I didn't see the blood dripping off her, or how pale and gray her skin was. Just then, what I noticed was how much deeper and louder her voice was than Jason's had been, and how much stronger her cries were. Funny, where your mind will go at the biggest moments of your life.

It was 9:05. The whole ordeal, which Juliette and I would both have sworn was at least half an hour, if not longer, was actually just seven minutes. The nurses took Eva--by then we both knew that that was her name--over to another table to wipe her off and wrap her up. I hesitated; I needed to be with my daughter, and I needed to be with my wife, and I didn't know which one I could stand to abandon. Fortunately, Juliette is more clear-headed than I am--she told me to go and be with our new girl.

And, boy, she was angry. Not that I can blame her, of course, being pulled from a safe, warm environment where she could be lulled by her mother's heartbeat into a cold, stark, brightly lit hospital room. Again, I was struck by how much more powerful her lungs were than her brother's had been at his birth--and at the time, I had been impressed with his pipes, too. The nurses wiped her down and presented the cord for me to cut, then wrapped her up and put a hat on her, and I brought Eva to meet her mother for the first time on the outside.

I wish I could remember what Juliette said just then, to me or to Eva, but it's gone now. What I do remember is marvelling at how much like my grandfather Eva looked. "You're definitely a Sakasegawa," I told her.

Just a few minutes later, Eva was in her little hospital bassinet, and I was wheeling her down the hall to the waiting room where Jason was sitting with Juliette's parents and sister.

"Hi buddy!" I greeted him. "I have someone for you to meet!"

"Is that Tinkerbell?" he asked.

"Yeah, that's your sister!" I responded. "Her name is Eva."

Jason stood up on his tiptoes and peered into the bassinet. "I like her," he declared.