Readin’, writin’, and drawrin’

Good (Monday) Morning!

Our weekend was spent in the usual ways…


What fine literature has my kids so rapt? “The Big Book of Who’s Who: Football.” When Dave’s on deployment, I’m hiding that thing.

In other news, this enormous orange cat regularly installs itself on top of the light fixture in our back yard.

This cat’s unexpectedly teensy meow is like a siren song for the kids, who rush outside to pet him. They call him “Santa” because of his long white beard. This guy must weigh 20+ lbs., but luckily he’s very friendly. He’s a paper tiger, as they say.

We seem to be in a family-wide drawing phase. Alright, so the craze hasn’t hit my husband yet, but the rest of us just can’t stop scribblin’.
IMG_3269I finished reading the big kids Matilda as our nightly story — fun to see how wrapped up in it they got. Now they want the 2nd book in the Peter and the Starcatchers series (written by a 2-man team including Dave Barry!) and Nora is requesting Mr. Popper’s Penguins for bedtime, which she read in school. I love when they’ve enjoyed a book so much on their own that they want to read it all together and share the fun.

As for me, I spent my time finishing When She Woke by Hillary Jordan and plugging away through Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (delightful in parts, but I feel horrid thinking, Is this girl ever just going to die for good, or is she going to keep coming back forever?). Next up is Philipp Meyer’s American Rust, which my dad scored for me at the Carlsbad library after our local library was out of it a full month running. I loved The Son in all its grisly, historically-manic glory, so I’m looking forward to going back to his debut novel and seeing how it compares.

Happy Reading!



Book Review: Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, From Vietnam to Iraq

How was your weekend? Here was ours, in a few pictures…..


T-ball can be fraught with terror, but we must push on!…

Things are in bloom here in San Diego….



Are your kids obsessed with Legos? My son built this “basketball court” this weekend. The big droid’s doing a throw-in — the ball is a minifigure head….


We spruced up our little garden. Being in the Navy, Dave and I long for a big in-ground garden of our own!…but that will have to wait.



Time to get on to the book reviews! Hope you all had a good weekend, too.



I finished a remarkable anthology the other day: Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, From Vietnam to Iraq. It’s published by Kore Press (a women’s press out of Tucson, AZ) and features primarily poetry and nonfiction by 19 different contributors, all women who served in the Armed Forces at some point in the last few decades. These women worked in roles as varied as air traffic controllers, mortuary affairs officers, translators, mechanics, tanks drivers in convoys. Their writing is impressive, sophisticated and nuanced; much of it is funny, and all of it’s heartfelt.

I thought reading Powder would feel like reading a literary journal — little tastes of this and that — but it has a very cohesive and finished feel to it. By the last page I felt like I’d been on something of a journey. I got a sense of what it would be like to be in such a minority — on some bases, female Marines were outnumbered by 200 to 1 — and to have to carry the burden of being a representative not just of my own self, but of my whole sex.

There’s so much variety to these pieces that I’ll list a few representative lines here to give you a feel for it:

Nothing mattered like taking care of the people who came to us. (p. 6)

We were all there to start over. (p. 22)

The day a new woman arrived on base, the news spread like fire. (87)

The moment I spoke up I was instantly liable. (69)

The Other Woman says,
Goddamn. That bothered
you guys? That was nothing. (83)


buy Powder online

Book review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

 Reviewed by Jenn Engelbrecht, US Navy wife, stationed in London


….who just spent a mighty literary day in Oxford — this gal’s life amazes me…


I’m not even sure how to start writing this review, so I’ll copy and paste from the back of the book.

” ‘
Every summer we sit like this. We should call ourselves something,’ Ash Wolf said.

‘Why?’ said Goodman, her older brother. ‘So the whole world can know just how unbelievably interesting we are?’

On a warm July night in 1974 six teenagers play at being cool. The friendships they make this summer will be the most important and consuming of their lives. In a teepee at summer camp they smoke pot and drink vodka & Tangs, talk of Günter Grass and the latest cassette tapes; they also share their dreams and ambitions, still so fresh and so possible.

But decades later not everyone can sustain in adulthood what had seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, has resigned herself to a more practical occupation; Cathy has stopped dancing; Jonah has laid down his guitar and taken up engineering. Only Ethan’s talent has endured. As their fortunes tilt precipitously over the years, some of them dealing with great struggle, others enjoying extraordinary wealth and success, friendships are put under the strain of envy and crushing disappointment.

Against the backdrop of a changing America, from Nixon’s resignation to Obama’s new world, Wolitzer’s panoramic tragicomedy asks how the ‘Interestings’ can be happy with being anything less than brilliant?

First of all, I loved this book. Whenever I talk about it (to anyone and everyone who will listen for even just a moment) I feel like I come off sounding like I didn’t like it, but I really really did.

The American cover was cool looking, which is enough for me, so I bought it while we were in Prague and began reading right away.


(I’d just finished reading four Jack Reacher books in a row.

They’re not my typical type of story, but I could NOT get enough, and I wanted nothing more than to start the fifth one, but they’re so exciting and fast paced and FUN, I thought I should probably read something a little more substantial. Sound pretentious enough for you? Yes, I often get a little full of myself.)

The back of ‘The Interestings’ says it’s about five characters, but really, it’s about three, and sort of a fourth, Dennis, who isn’t even included in that original five. I thought Jonah was a waste of ink, he didn’t really add anything to the story, and Cathy and Goodman are just sort of background noise. The story is about Ash and Ethan and Jules.

Meg Wolitzer

It isn’t a typical book with a plot. Know what I mean? The narration just sort of follows their lives, from fifteen to mid fifties. There’s not any sort of mystery or drama, not big conflict to resolve, it’s just them, living their lives.  

(As a side note, when I was about two thirds of the way through (it took me FOREVER to read, because I was so terrified that something was going to happen to Dennis. I made [my friend] Angela tell me, ‘Please, please, does anything bad happen to Dennis?!?!’ she replied with a clipped, ‘No. Now finish the book already.’)


Thank you, Jenn!

What some other folks had to say about The Interestings:

Julie “Jules” Jacobson is the central character to the story and is extremely relatable, which made her extremely endearing.  She grows from a gangly teenager into the woman-next-door, the kind of character in whom most readers will be able to see bits and pieces of themselves.

Just a One-Girl Revolution

One thing The Interestings provided was a great book club discussion. There is a lot of currency to the book, with themes easily linked to today’s public conversation: from mental illness, marriage, the arts, to underage and underpaid factory workers abroad.

— The Unputdownable Book Club

The book did seem a little long in places (we travel their journey from the 70s to present-ish day), more because I think Wolitzer didn’t want to get rid of some lovely passages she wrote, even if they were unnecessary to move the story along. But overall I found myself thinking in many places how well-written it was, and how Wolitzer can really turn a phrase. I’m glad I stuck through it in parts that were getting a little slow because it was so well worth it in the end.

Bailey’s and Books

Know Your Military Member By Haircut

I’m taking a little break from the book reviews today for something I consider a public service item, a little getting-to-know-you between civilians and folks in the military — a simple crash course, if you will.

Have you ever seen someone in plain clothes on the street and thought to yourself, that person has got to be in the military?

If yes, then you’ve got good instincts. But I can take you one step further. I can help you wager an educated guess as to what branch that military member is in, and impress the people around you.


IMG_0953Alright, posting a photo of a man in dress whites gives you an unfair advantage. Surely this man is in the Navy.  I know it for a fact, as he is my husband.

Here, he’s kindly modeling (I had to plead with him) a classic cut I associate with the Navy, and perhaps with officers in general. It’s a typical clipper cut — number two on the sides and a five on the top, to be exact —  no scissors involved. It’s clean, it’s inexpensive, it’s — dare I say — on the conservative side stylistically, even for the military. Most any hairdresser in any port — even in the dim belly of a ship — can be trusted to pull off this haircut without going too far astray, and that’s why I associate it with the Navy.

These gents appreciate a good shave

The Army is the largest branch of the military, so I think you’ll find the most variation. The “high and tight” cut is very popular,

high-and-tight-haircut-cool-mens-military-cuts-190x190sorry to get all up in your scalp like that

but I must say I appreciate the soldier with the long hair in the top photo (from the web site no less!). Next time my husband tries to convince me that he wears his hair “as long as he can possibly get away with,” I’ll have Exhibit A here to show him. (Sometimes it kills me that my husband has this great, un-receding head of hair that he must keep constantly buzzed down to the skin. He’s squandering it! It’s a waste!)

I generally associate the Marines with more daring, badass haircuts and the Army with a simple, closer shave, but I confess I have no scientific evidence on this.


military-haircuts-high-and-tight-cool-mens-hairstylesI f–in’ love your haircut, man!

The above haircut is similar to the high and tight, but it’s got some extra flair. This is the “Recon,” and it’s a favorite of the Special Forces across the branches.

It’s also popular with Marines. Marines in general cannot stand to have any hair on the sides of their head. The thought is horrible to them. A man with hair on the side of his head is a sorry weakling, according to a Marine. So if I see a man on a base or about town with the bald sides and a happy little meadow up on top, I assume he’s a Marine. If he has a small child with him sporting the exact same haircut, then I KNOW he is a Marine.



The Air Force is our classiest branch of the military, and I think they’re also classy with their haircuts. At the center of this group of closely-shorn Marines sits the lone Airman, clearly rolling his eyes at the fact that no one around him seems able to support a full head of hair (except for the woman at the front there, who has lovely hair and who’s probably been rolling her eyes about any manner of things for the past decade). Meanwhile our Airman’s growing what’s nearly an Ivy League cut, and with ginger hair to boot. Well played, as they say.


I confess, I have no idea what men in the Coast Guard do with their hair.



Women (or, as folks in the military call them, “females”)  have two options: a short haircut, or a bun/French braid style to keep the hair back away from the face.

hair_female_1(this pic is Canadian, but the same rules seem to apply)

Black women have special hair concerns, as shared by this female airman; wigs and hair pieces are generally allowed, as are braids, cornrows, and micro-braids.

Dreadlocks are not, and, interestingly for all women, “shaved heads, flattops and military high-and-tight cuts are not authorized hairstyles for female Airmen.” (But what about G.I. Jane?!)

Jane, why so drastic — you could have a French braid right now.

I think women look serious and beautiful with their military updos, but, alas, I have no tricks to help you determine what military branch a woman might be in if she’s out of uniform, because when she’s out of uniform she’s probably in heels with her hair down.


…… There is no hard and fast way to tell what branch of the military someone you see on the street might be in. But you can have a good hunch, and if you can’t definitively name the branch, then you can at least name the haircut.

And why not just ask the person, face-to-face? Chances are they’re proud of their ‘do and would be happy to tell you.

A few more amusing pictures…….

Remembering Inprocessing: 'Just take a bit off the top'

Genial young man, clearly leaving his Santa Cruz childhood behind, gets induction cut at Air Force boot camp

An Royal Air Force pilot getting a haircut during a break between missions, Britain, 1942

Pilot gets his hair cut on the tarmac, 1942


Ice Man Kazanski wants to spike this volleyball in your face

In my near-decade as a Navy wife, I have never seen anyone with Ice-Man’s haircut. I don’t think it would pass Regs. But then again, neither would he. Which is the whole appeal, right?

Book Review: “Ready for Air” by Kate Hopper


“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side. Or you don’t.”

Stephen King, The Stand

I love this Stephen King quote so much I actually kind of want it to be true (and I think, for some people and certainly for some characters in books, it is). But what struck me about Kate Hopper’s memoir Ready for Air: A Journey through Premature Motherhood is that almost the entire book dwells in that space of change King describes, the blue mapless place.

At 32 weeks pregnant, Hopper developed pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition for both mother and baby. The story is gripping, harrowing even, as Kate first realizes something has gone wrong in her pregnancy, then delivers the baby, Stella, who fights for her life in the neonatal intensive care unit. Kate writes her fear very well, and I found myself flying through the pages, desperate to know what would happen next.

What makes a memoir like Hopper’s so successful are the moments of reflection, moments of humanity that pierce the panic. (Hopper was a friend of mine in graduate school, and I remember her writing always had this quality.) She’s a very self-aware writer; she reveals the times at which people around her act with grace and dignity. She also reveals moments when she wasn’t at her best,  as when, sick with preeclampsia and not knowing when or how her baby would be delivered, she tells he mother, “Fuck joy, Mom. Fuck joy.” Her mother is taken aback, as is the nurse, who says, “Well, I didn’t expect that from you.”

Hopper recalls with clarity and honesty the moment she first sees her daughter, and the disappointment of not being washed over with instantaneous, blissful motherly love:

When I open my eyes, I am at Stella’s bedside…When I look down at her, my stomach or my chest — something in my center — tightens. A white ventilator is taped over her mouth, her scrawny legs are splayed like a frog’s, goggles cover her eyes, purple veins track across her skull like a spider web.

I take a deep breath. This cannot be my baby. This is not how it’s supposed to happen.

Throughout the book, Kate’s haunted by a constant awareness that anything could go wrong at any second; she sees families around her fall into that well of grief as she struggles to keep her head above water.  One moment her daughter Stella has had a fantastic day; she’s nursed for the first time and seemed content. The next day, she comes down with a serious blood infection.You find yourself right in there with her parents: No, no! Things were going so well.


It would be understandable for Hopper to wall off her experience forever, never think about it again (she points out that parents of preemies often show signs of PTSD, or are considered at high-risk). But what good would that do other people, the ones who’ll experience something similar after you? On the day she, her husband, and their tiny baby are finally able to leave the NICU and head home, Hopper thinks,

I can almost feel this time — these first weeks of her life — float up and vanish into the dark sky outside the window. I’m tempted to let them go. This never happened.

But when I look down at Donny, holding our daughter to his chest, I know I can’t do that. These weeks did exist — for her, for us — and I can’t pretend they didn’t.

*          *          *

It’s wonderful when Kate and her husband finally get to bring their daughter home from the hospital, but they still have challenges ahead. Now they’re on their own with a still-tiny baby; they’re exhaustedly vigilant night and day to the possibility that something might happen to her. Kate’s history of depression (and a college suicide attempt) haunt her as she spends a winter indoors, her daughter quarantined due to health risks. Stella can’t be taken to the grocery store or a friend’s house; Kate can’t make the requisite dull-eyed schlep-in-sweatpants through Target like we’ve all done with our newborns (right? didn’t you do that too? sweating hormonally into your clothes, praying your baby won’t cry, wondering if it’s OK to buy a doubleshot latte from the Starbucks even though you’re nursing,  hating the perky teen girls in the giant signs above the clothing racks… But imagine if you couldn’t even have THAT).

Parents reading Ready for Air can relate to the story in many ways — even if they haven’t had a preemie or a baby in the NICU, you can empathize with the terror. And when Kate gets home in the second half of the book, her experience is similar to many new mothers’, just with everything heightened somewhat due to Stella’s risks. But, oh, the pain and frustration of early nursing, the confinement, the awareness that on some level you will never be the person you were before — we all can relate to that in some way, and Hopper writes with gentleness, humor, and insight.

When the book broadens in its final pages, stepping briefly beyond Stella’s first six months, it’s truly moving. Hopper concludes the book brilliantly, with wisdom and heart, as if to soothe you for all you’ve been through alongside her.  The rewards of the bumpy ride feel vast — because they are.


Kate Hopper’s blog, Motherhood and Words

Interview with Kate Hopper

Buy Ready for Air

sketches on board a Coast Guard cutter

Here’s something rather cool that I didn’t know people still did: an artist named Bob Selby on board the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the Guard’s largest Arctic-deployed icebreaker, journaled the deployment through pencil sketches. The images have a quiet, timeless quality but also show people at work on sometimes simple, sometimes complicated tasks routine to life on an icebreaker. The Healy was on a primarily scientific mission, collecting zooplankton and ice core samples 335 miles north of the Arctic Circle.