book review

As one of my birthday presents back in August, Betsy signed me up to run a half-marathon in the fall. That weekend is coming up soon – it’ll be the Saturday after Thanksgiving, giving me two more weeks of training between now and then. (I’m thankful that I get a full day of digestion between Thanksgiving and the run. I’ll probably have to do at least a short jog on Friday to work some of the mashed potatoes out of my system before running hard the next day.)

I’m a little concerned about the run, as my training program has not been particularly consistent nor rigorous. This is mainly due to the fact that if I want to go jogging on a weekday, the only time that really works for the family is if I go first thing in the morning, before work, which means that I wake up at 4:45am to go running in the dark. So the fact that I go out running once or twice a week is actually pretty good. These end up being about 2 miles or so – long enough to get my pulse rate up, but hardly long enough for training.

The weekends are when I really get time, and I’ve pushed myself pretty far the last couple weeks, running 8-9 mile courses with some intense hills along the way. That’s still 4-5 miles short of what I’ll need to run, but since I’ve had gas left in the tank the last few weeks when I got home, I think the 13.1 miles of the half-marathon should be conquerable.

I found a nice trail near our house yesterday to go running on. It’s a nice 4 mile greenbelt trail along a creek that winds through the eastern side of West Seattle. The trail keeps stopping and dumping out onto the street before starting again a few blocks later, so it’s hardly a haven from city life, but definitely a good space for a run.

One of the factors that got me back into running this year (after another one of my frequent extended breaks from running) was the book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is one of my favorite novelists, and this book is written in his trademark easy, elegant style. The book is roughly 20% memoir of his life, 20% discussion of the creative process, and 60% why he likes to go running (and some of the most memorable runs he’s gone on).

For runners, I’d consider this to be a must-read, as he describes the running process beautifully, and describes some runs which are going to be in the “aspirational” category for quite some time (including a 50-mile super marathon across the Japanese coastline). For non-runners, it’s probably of more interest to people who are already familiar with his books (and I’m happy to provide recommendations on those), but it’s well-written and thoughtful enough to be well worth a read and to help you understand those crazy friends or family of yours who can think of nothing greater to do on a Saturday than running for two hours in the cold and rain.

We’re planning on starting to do little quick reviews of some of our family’s favorite music, movies and books. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have.

The links to the products will be special Amazon affiliate links, meaning we get a small kickback if you use the link. The kickback applies for anything you buy, not just what we recommend, so if you feel like shopping at the big A for whatever, you can get to the site through our links and it’ll make us happy.

(Betsy, shouting from the background, “remember to shop at your local independent bookseller!” Which we also encourage, especially as independent bookstores employ many of our friends. But, technically speaking, Amazon is local to us, and they are independent, in that no one else owns them…)

Our first music recommendation is Robbert Bobbert & The Bubble Machine . It’s the lead singer from the indie rock band Apples In Stereo, and it sounds pretty similar to They Might Be Giants, a poppier version of the Beach Boys, and (of course) Apples In Stereo. Lots of upbeat rhythms and bright sparkly guitars and synthesizers. Some adults might find it to be a little too sweet and sugary, but I think it’s a lot of fun and could see myself listening to some of songs even when Seth wasn’t around.

Here’s a video of one of our favorite songs, “We r Super Heroes”:

My favorite board book right now is Byron Barton’s “Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs“. The art is very colorful, and despite its simplicity, it’s surprisingly emotional – when the T-rex gets scared of the lightning, I just want to pick him up and hug him until it’s okay. I also find myself yawning every time I read the last page about how there were “very tired and very, very sleepy dinosaurs”. The language is just right for reading out-loud to a squirmy baby – it doesn’t make you try to pronounce weird and obscure names, and it has a nice soothing rhythm of repeating phrases. It’ll stay interesting for older kids, too, as the last page of the book provides all of the dinosaur names (along with pronunciation guides) – we skip that page for now, but I could imagine Seth being into it when he is older.

A couple of other unrelated notes:

  • Filming Seth was a lot easier before he was mobile and/or aware of the world around him. Now when I try to film him, he stops whatever cute thing he had just been doing, and makes a beeline for the video camera. I have tons of footage of him crawling right at me and grabbing for the lens, but little else. Hopefully I’ll be able to get another video put together before too long, though…

  • If we bring Seth over to your house someday and, as he’s crawling around on the carpet, he stops and starts thrusting his hips rapidly at the floor, don’t be alarmed – he has no specific amorous intentions towards your carpet. That’s just… kind of what he’s into doing these days. We don’t get it either.

There are a lot of books out there about adoption, and it’s been a struggle thus far to separate the wheat from the chaff. In the interest of providing utility to other couples who may be going down the adoption road as well, here’s the first in what may become a series of book reviews.

The Complete Adoption Book
Laura Beauvais-Godwin and Raymond Godwin

This was the first book I read, and still probably the most useful out of all of them. It did an excellent job of detailing all of the different decisions that have to be made in the adoption process (domestic vs international, private vs agency, open vs closed, etc, etc), and discussed the issues involved in each type of adoption. As far as educating oneself with the facts and the details of adoption, this was by far the best resource that I’ve seen so far.

My main complaint would be that I kept waiting for a summary – a chart showing side-by-side comparisions of the different adoption types, or some resource like that that would help me make my decision. Instead, the book steers far clear of offering any sort of recommendation, and sticks to purely factual descriptions. I understand and respect that approach, but I would have liked at least a little help to point me in the right direction.

It was also very much a fact book, and while one can’t talk about adoption without talking about emotions, it had a limited amount of storytelling and anecdotes. I enjoyed the fact based approach, whereas I don’t think Betsy liked this book as much.

Bottom line: Excellent fact resource, but light on the “warm fuzzies” and frustrating if you are looking for steering in your decision making.

A Love Like No Other
Edited by Pamela Kruger and Jill Smolowe

This book was a collection of stories from different adoptive parents, running the range of almost every adoption type. This was a little light on raw “facts”, but it did an excellent job of showing the wide range of experiences people had.

Okay, before I go any further: I really enjoyed this book, and if friends and/or family wanted to do some reading to learn about the type of experiences Betsy and I will be facing, this is the book I would recommend. It was very good.

That being said… I had a couple of major beefs with it. The first issue is what I’ve started referring to as AHDS, or Apathetic Heterosexual Dad Syndrome (or Stereotype). In the reading I’ve done thus far, be it in books, websites, magazines, etc, the only men that get portrayed in a positive light are the gay couples looking to adopt. They are usually full of energy and excitement about starting a family. The men in heterosexual couples? Well, they were dragged into this adoption thing against their better judgement, and really, they’d rather be off fishing somewhere than holding their child for the first time. Changing a diaper? Isn’t that why Mr. AHD got married in the first place, so he didn’t have to do stuff like that? The good news about AHDS is that it motivated me to start this blog to help fill the void, but still – rather annoying.

I’ll save the other beef for the next book, as both suffered the same problem and I don’t want to sound overly critical of what was otherwise an excellent book.

Bottom line: Betsy says it was excellent; I wouldn’t know, because reading is women’s work. I was too busy watching football and belching.

The Family of Adoption
Joyce Maguire Pavao

I’d recommend this book for families that already have completed the adoption process. The book is written with a heavy clinical psychiatric viewpoint, charting the growth of an adopted child from infancy through early adulthood, and discussing potential emotional and developmental impacts to be aware of. The points are illustrated with interesting and enlightening anecdotes from the author’s practice as a therapist specializing in adoptive families. For a couple just starting the adoption process, it was not really aimed at us, but the information contained will be useful to refer back to once we complete the process and begin parenting.

And it will be important to have a book to refer back to, because all adoptive children are crazy and liable to burn your house down with (or without) the slightest provocation. At least, that’s what it started to feel like after reading the last couple of books. To be fair, both The Family Of Adoption and A Love Like No Other do try to present some positive stories, and if The Family is going to try to prepare you for the challenges in parenting, it’s going to have to focus on the more difficult aspects. But reading those two books back to back was pretty intimidating, with heart-breaking stories of learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. I had to keep reminding myself that the potential for those issues is there with any child, and to remind myself of the adults I know who were adopted and who haven’t had these issues.

Bottom line: Good resource for parents of adopted children who aren’t easily scared; maybe less so for a first-time adoptive couple.

Yes, You Can Adopt!
Richard Mintzer

Yes, you can be a boring book that thinly disguises your distaste for certain adoption paths (including the one that Betsy and I had pretty much already decided on by the time I read this book)!

Bottom line: See above.


The Kid
Dan Savage

And finally… The Kid.

Probably the first thing you should know is who Dan Savage is – he’s a (very) openly gay sex-advice columnist who writes a column filled with quite explicit advice mixed with a heavily liberal political slant. And he doesn’t pull any punches in this book.

I know that the vast majority (all?) of my family would not be comfortable reading this book, and that many of my friends would fall in the same category. That being said, this is the first (and thus far, only) book I’ve found that follows a single couple all the way through the process, from the initial meetings with the agency until after the child is home. Having a case study of the entire process a couple went through is an excellent resource.

It was also arguably the most influential book in our process so far. Betsy and I are going to be pursuing the same path towards adoption that Dan and Terry did (even the same agency – they are also from Seattle), and while we were already leaning in that direction, I think this book cemented it for us and made us sure of our decision.

Bottom line: Don’t read this book unless you know what you are getting into. If you are comfortable reading it, though, it’s probably the best description of what awaits us – we’ll just have one more X chromosome in our corner.

We never really had an official discussion saying that it was time to start looking at adoption as an option. We had both known that that was quickly becoming the only remaining option we were comfortable with, but never had that final “sit-down” talk about it.

Instead, we did what we do: we began researching.

We were sitting around the computer, watching some sort of TV show or reading something online, when I took over the mouse and keyboard and started Googling “adoption”. By the end of the night, we had visited a half-dozen websites and put several books on hold.

For me, that’s my first step towards any sort of major decision – start sucking up as many books, videos, websites, blogs, magazine articles, smoke signals, writings on the wall, etc as I can get my hands on. Ideally, I’d like to turn everything into numbers and stack them up side by side and make beautiful charts and graphs and just completely geek out on the information. (You should see the prep work I’ve started doing for next year’s fantasy football league – I’d detail it here, but suffice to say that it’s profoundly nerdy and way too much effort for a make-believe sport.) Sadly though, adoption doesn’t lend itself into quantification, so I couldn’t make any charts.

However, there was a wealth of information in the various books, and by cross-referencing them against each other, I was able to establish some basic truths. Here is a comprehensive list of the facts I learned from the books I read:

  1. Adoption is really expensive.
  2. Oh man, you don’t even know how expensive.
  3. There are many, many laws and regulations and stipulations and amendments and revisions and certifications that you have to go with, and each one of those has their own pile of paperwork.
  4. And of course, you’ll have to pay a fee for each piece of paperwork.
  5. All books other than this one are lying to you and are written by charlatans and hacks who care nothing for your children.
  6. This book may also be the same as those described in rule #5.

So, uh, not terribly encouraging.

The act of reading, though, I think got us mentally prepared for the adoption. We started the research process before having an “official talk”, so we knew what we were getting into by the time we did finally verbalize to each other that we were commited to this plan.

Through reading, we got a taste of the worst-case scenarios of adopted kids going berzerk in their teens and hating everyone. We got a taste of the best-case, with love and sunshine and ridiculously functional relationships all around. We started to learn about the major types of adoption, and we definitely started to understand that no one agrees on the “right way” or the “best way” to do things, and that all of the experts are giving out wildly conflicting advice.

In short, we found out that adopting was going to be a lot like any other kind of parenting.