The Pregnant Widow – A Review

The Pregnant Widow The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I can see why some reviewers had a problem with this book. It’s talky, and there doesn’t seem to be much going on.

But that’s also kind of what I loved about it. It was just what the doctor ordered for the start of the summer: a funny book about a bunch of characters who seem like they’d be good fun to hang out with, which is basically what I did for the month I took reading it.

I’m a huge fan of Martin Amis–as in, ‘favorite living author’ huge–and that probably biases my review of this book a bit. His style strikes all the right chords with me. Reading it was like drinking a really great cocktail, and not getting a hangover.

View all my reviews >>

Travelogging: My Starbucks Problem, Part I

The woman who provides the voice for the GPS on my cellphone is named Noreen. I’m not sure how I know this, I just do. I also know she wears her hair in a beehive and wears eyeglasses with severe 1950s schoolteacher frames. But she’s not a schoolteacher. She used to sit at a steel desk in the secretarial pool at a massive government contracting company, then she was an operator for AT&T, but now she works for Sprint, providing turn-by-turn directions to people like me, who only want a decent cup of coffee.

And Noreen, you failed. Go ahead and blame the overcast conditions, say it was the satellites’ fault, but I blame you.

Danielle, Sean, and I fled from Newport a day ahead of schedule because of the Nor’easter riding up the East Coast. Early predictions had it causing problems mainly for the Mid-Atlantic states, but now it looked to be tracking all the way north to ruin our travel plans. We had planned to have Saturday as a preparation day and Sunday and Monday as travel days. Instead, when we saw the weather reports and heard from friends in D.C. who had 18 inches of snow (and counting), we started packing right away to get on the road Saturday afternoon. We plotted a new course that would take us north of the projected snow, and we were off.

We stayed the night in Syracuse, and it was the next morning that the twenty-first century failed us. The satellites couldn’t find us. We knew there must be a Starbucks in Syracuse, but the hotel was located in a strange sort of hotel ghetto. There was nothing else around us except farmland. Danielle thought it best to just hit the highway and keep an eye peeled for good coffee. As she drove, I tinkered with my phone. We were both underpowered, having had only one cup each of hotel joe. Weak fuel indeed.

When the skies cleared a little ways down the road, the map revealed numerous Starbucks locations, all behind us in Syracuse. There seemed to be one a little ways ahead of us, though, and we would need gas, so we made for it. We filled up and let Noreen take us miles off the highway. When we were within a mile, neither Danielle or I thought it looked good. This was still farm country.

Sure enough, Noreen had led us to the back gated entrance to a New York Thruway service area. What was worse, once we’d gotten back on the highway, thinking the next service area would be our salvation, we discovered the one with the Starbucks was on the eastbound side, and we were heading west.

We cursed Noreen, and we cursed her silicon brain. Didn’t she know what a highway service area was?

We were approaching the Rochester, NY, metropolitan area. Abandoning Noreen, I searched Google Maps and found a promising listing just off the highway. Google led us to a mall. Thankfully, there was a Borders across the street. A Borders with a café.

To be continued

Attention Military Husbands and Home Brewers

I’m looking for home brewers (who are also military husbands or boyfriends) to interview for a piece in Military Spouse magazine. If I can get in touch with enough guys, I’d have enough material to do a feature on the topic, photo spread and all.

I know a good number of military husbands are into home brewing, so shoot me an email if you’d be up for doing an interview on the topic. I’m sure many of you have some good stories to tell–and probably some heartbreaking ones, too (the wort boiling over, the yeast dying, bottles exploding).

I want to hear your stories. You can get me at thomas(dot)litchford(at)gmail(dot)com.

Or share your stories in the All Things Beer discussion thread at, or in the comments on this post.


Summer Must Be Over

Yesterday, I had a beer-related epiphany: summer must be over.

First, I was bringing a six-pack upstairs for the weekend, and I looked at my remaining bottles of Bell’s Oberon and thought, ‘I need to finish those up. It’s starting to feel like fall outside.’ Then, I picked Danielle up after work. She had gone over to the package store for a few things to get us through the Labor Day weekend, notably, Post Road Pumpkin Ale and Samuel Adams Octoberfest.

Summer is over, my friends.

The Last Weekend

The last weekend of the Year of Bliss totally snuck up on me. This morning, John told me via Twitter to enjoy this weekend because next week is “gonna hit like a ton of bricks,” and I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought he was referring to a project we’re working on (about which, more later—keep an eye on the blog).

I may be totally delusional or just blissfully ignorant, but I’m not really worried. I’m sure it’s going to be harder to be the solo at-home parent than I’m imagining, but I’ve always been more of a “react-er” than a worrier/planner.

Of course, it’s fully possible—maybe even probable—that next week will come and find me totally unprepared. The blog will go strangely silent. The phone will ring unanswered. Piles of laundry will develop intelligent life.

But I hope not. So, now I’m wondering how to adequately observe this, the Last Weekend. Any ideas?

Reblock Yourself the Polly Frost Way – The Atlantic

Unfortunately, this is not a problem I have had, lately:

Reblock Yourself the Polly Frost Way – The Atlantic January 7, 2009

I signed up for Twitter a while ago, but I haven’t really figured it out, yet. Maybe if I had one of those high-powered gee-whiz smart phones I would make more use of it. If I could ‘tweet’ while I was going about my day (a tweet is like a very short blog post), maybe I would get it.

Now that we’re back from our great journey to the Midwest, it seems like everything should have fallen back into place routine-wise. But it hasn’t. Going on vacation is like getting bucked off a horse: sometimes you’d rather just lay on the ground where you landed than climb back on. (I think that analogy popped into my head because we just watched the first two episodes of the second season of Deadwood. Highly recommended.)

Part of what’s kept me from my writing these last few days was an obstacle course of doctors’ appointments for Sean and for me. Why did we set them for the week after the holiday? Sean had his one-year visit yesterday, and everything is just as normal as can be. The immunization clinic was backed up, so we had to go back today for his shots. Count ’em 1, 2, 3, 4.

After that, the real fun started. But that’s a separate blog post…

Travelogging III: Holy Crap It’s 2009

Well. New Year’s Eve 2008 was quite a night! Let me tell you why:

After a nice supper with my folks (mmmmm, hammmmm), we left for Lynne’s house in Ann Arbor. Sean was asleep and my parents were babysitting. We were hoping he would stay asleep at least until we got back.

We wanted to stop for coffees on the way so we stopped at Meijer, where there’s a miniature Starbucks, but it was closed. Then we drove up to Espresso Royale, and that was closed too. Then we spotted a place near Lynne’s that sounded like a coffee shop (something like Classic Cup Cafe) but proved to be a sit-down restaurant. So we had to do without.

At Lynne’s we were surprised to see our friend Mike, in from L.A. We sat down to eat a bowl of lobster bisque and proceeded to ‘talk small,’ as the young Octavian in HBO’s Rome would say. I’m sure I offended at least two people I didn’t know.

Then Megan and Luke arrived and we were entertained by their story about their cab driver’s views on the economy and the Gaza conflagration.

Then, at about 10:35 p.m., my phone rang. ‘Your son’s been awake for an hour,’ my mom said. He had woken up hungry, as he sometimes does, and wouldn’t settle down without seeing Danielle. So my parents were watching TV with him.

Thankfully, we hadn’t been drinking copious amounts of champagne (contrary to Nan’s sage advice), so we could drive home and deal with the baby.

The rest of the evening was quiet and uneventful, except for (oh my God!) Dick Clark’s sad sad sad continuing presence at Times Square.

And that, my friends, is why we don’t go out very often.

Travelogging II: Holy Crap It’s New Year’s Eve

I’ve officially reached that ever-so-elusive goal of vacation: relaxation. I define this feeling as the point at which you start thinking about going home while realizing, happily, that you still have several days of vacation left. You no longer feel the need to hurry up and enjoy yourself!

Tonight we’re going to attend a low-key New Year’s celebration and probably be in bed before Midnight. There’s really no need to get drunk on champagne while watching some simpleton in Times Square, who is, in turn, watching a big sparkly ball.

Or maybe we’ll wind up having a blast and staying way past the end of 2008. One never can tell.

Christmas this year was a little tamer than in years past, but I don’t know whether that was a function of us as a family getting older and not being able to justify truly unnecessary gift-giving/-receiving, or if it’s a function of the current recession.

(At what point does a ‘deep recession’ become a ‘depression’?)

We also just celebrated Sean’s first birthday, which is unbefuckinlievable. He horsed down a big piece of German chocolate cake (pictures to follow when we return to the East).

Anyway, Happy New Year!

Travelogging I: Into the Mouth of the Monster

Last Friday (the Friday before Christmas), we left Newport for Upstate New York. Even though we got an early start—seven o’clock: early for us—the first leg of our Journey to the Midwest took us right into the heart of the first serious winter storm of the year (it was two days before the season officially began; Mr. Frost apparently also wanted to get an early start). We knew the snow-maker was on its way (it had already whitewashed much of the Midwest), but we’re stubborn when it comes to holiday plans.

We made it past Albany before we saw a single snowflake. And then we saw lots of snowflakes. The only safe place to drive was the right lane, where a caravan of cars and trucks was keeping a two-track of asphalt uncovered. There were, of course, a fair number of daredevils—eighteen-wheelers on a schedule, front-wheel drive Honda Civics without a clue—passing in the left lane, but I stayed out of it except in extreme cases.

The Raptor’s all-wheel drive handled the mess admirably. We only felt her lose her grip a couple times during our two days of driving. We had her serviced (heh) the Monday before we left. The Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) dash light had clicked on, so I asked them to check that out and rotate the tires and do the rest of the 20,000-mile maintenance.

I’m a little peeved at the Mazda service guys because the TPMS light chimed on again the night before we left. When I checked the pressure myself, one tire had about half the PSI it’s supposed to have, and two more were at about seventy-five percent. On Sunday, during the second leg of the journey, we ran out of windshield washer fluid. Grr.

On Sunday, we faced more bad driving conditions. Danielle woke me up before sunrise. ‘What time is it?’ ‘Quarter to five. I’ve been laying here for forty-five minutes having visions of horrible weather and a long line at the border.’

So we got up and, after getting around and saying goodbyes to her grandparents, with whom we were staying, we hit the road. At six-thirty a.m. in December in New York, the sun’s not up, yet. The roads had a couple inches of snow on them and more was falling fast. Shortly after sun up, I spotted a tractor-trailer in the snow a hundred feet off the road.

Then, just east of Buffalo, the real snow started. Danielle was at the wheel in white-out conditions, creeping along at twenty m.p.h. with her hazards on (at her backseat-driving husband’s request). Once across the bridge into Canada (the lines were non-existent; most people weren’t stupid enough to be traveling), we missed a turn because we couldn’t see the road signs.

We finally arrived at our destination after a full ten hours on the road across New York and Ontario. Four hours more than it would have taken in clear weather.


Monday’s Breakfast, or, Refueling After the Weekend

Monday morning for breakfast, Danielle made French toast and bacon. The bread for the French toast was my mom’s homemade cinnamon bread, which had traveled many miles to reach us. The eggs were from a local farm. The milk was from a Providence-based dairy. The bacon was from the same farm as the eggs.

My mom made the bread in Michigan, where it was picked up by sister’s father-in-law and driven, frozen, to Massachusetts, where he and his wife celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with, among other family members, my sister and her husband, who had traveled from Boston. My sister then brought the bread back to her apartment in Boston, where Danielle, Sean, and I already were (in Boston), having eaten a Thanksgiving meal of our own with friends, a semi-annual event known by us as ‘Drunkfest.’ My sister joined us but forgot the bread. (On purpose?) She left the party early due to a headache and didn’t return (she gets terrible migraines), so the next day, yesterday, we stopped in to see them in the afternoon, and still I forgot about the bread—thankfully, Danielle did not.

The French toast and bacon was the perfect breakfast after the weekend. It eased us back into normal life. Sweet, homemade, local, and wholesome.

The weekend was rejuvenating, as a holiday should be. We started out with an early drive up to Boston Thursday morning, arriving before the rest of the house was awake. Megan, thankfully, heard us and came downstairs to let us in and say hello. We had coffee and made the living room Sean-Safe (poor Emily, whose house it was, came down bathrobed and pointy-haired to catch Danielle sweeping the floor).

Gradually, the rest of the house stirred and filled with visitors for the annual Drunkfest celebration. Drunkfest began when we lived down in Norfolk. We invited our friends to come for Thanksgiving, and it (d)evolved into Drunkfest: we consumed a startling amount of alcohol over the course of the weekend, and we had a terrific time. We hosted again the following year, this time in Newport, and invited a lot more people, and it was kind of insane. Last year was more like Thanksgiving than Drunkfest because Danielle was very pregnant, and also it was just us plus Nancy. Twelve people in the house for a weekend wouldn’t have been just insane, it would have been suicidal.

This year, Emily and Graham hosted, which was awesome, since we had enough to worry about with Sean. Emily and Graham are opera singers, and they are caretakers of a house in Cambridge with plenty of bedrooms for all our far-flung friends. It was also a much more potluck-y affair, since several of us are New Englanders.

We ate turducken. We drank good beer and wine, and I got a taste of the transcendental Sazerac 18-year-old straight rye. We remembered how lucky we all are to have such good friends, even if we only see them rarely.

It was a lovely Drunkfest. I hope yours was, too.