My Apology to Ron Howard, Jason Katims, and Everyone on “Parenthood”

Parenthood-Family-tree-infographic6

Dear Ron, Jason, all the writers and every member of the cast of “Parenthood”:

I’m sorry.

I owe all of you an apology.

A big one.

Back when your new show “Parenthood” premiered (how could that have been six seasons ago? seems like forever, yet not long enough) I underestimated you.

I mean, I seriously underestimated you.

I wrote in this post that I thought you were going to be yet another copycat family drama that we’d seen countless times before.

They’re all similarly formulaic. A white, upper-middle class family where everyone is more good-looking and put together than the next person. A matriarch and old-fashioned patriarch intact …a long-brewing kettle of DNA dysfunction. A family where you need a family tree cheat sheet to figure who is married to or divorced from who and who has slept with who and who wants to sleep with who. A home (usually in California) ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest where everyone eats gourmet meals together on gorgeous plates and secrets are spilled while cleaning up the mess. Tonight, the Bravermans join the mix, and they fit the bill perfectly. They are, according to the script above, right out of Central Casting.

What really irked me – and what made me skeptical, and even a little bit angry – was the inclusion of the Asperger’s storyline. It felt gratuitous. Pandering. A cheap shot. It certainly wasn’t how I felt like relaxing after work, which at that time, included a 3 hour commute every day.

Then yesterday, I heard about the Asperger’s storyline in Parenthood and thought – CUT! No freakin’ way. NO FREAKIN’ WAY I am spending an hour watching this. If I want to see a drama involving Asperger’s, I’ll watch the drama right here in my family room. Besides, I was convinced there’s no freakin’ way they will even come close to getting it. Not to mention, there’s another unmentionable aspect of this show that slams pretty close to home, so … yeah. No thank you.

I wanted no part of this show.

Of course I watched anyway. All in the name of the blog, mind you. Either way I would probably get a post out of it.

Which I did.

Max Burkholder is brilliant as Max Braverman, who in this first episode, is considered by school officials to have Asperger’s Syndrome. The frustrations over what is for others a simple fine-motor task in the classroom leading to a meltdown and biting incident (been there, done that), the brilliantly portrayed breakdown by Peter Krause and Monica Potter of the parents when the fear and uncertainty of the diagnosis sinks in while life goes on around them (that scene was particularly tough for me to watch – did that bring home the moment of diagnosis for anyone else?), the wearing the pirate costume to school each day, the missed social cues.

I thought this premiere episode had to be a fluke. How could one person’s experience get translated accurately onto the screen in such a way that could be universally felt by so many, including those who aren’t on this particular parenting journey? How were you going to keep this up, week after week after week?

That’s what I doubted. I didn’t think you could do it  – and I certainly didn’t think it could be done well. I fully expected to hate “Parenthood,” to write bitchy ranty blog posts about how you got some aspect of Asperger’s oh-so-woefully wrong. Because you didn’t know me and the Asperger’s world I knew. You didn’t live in my house.

At least not yet.

Sure, I knew that Jason had personal experience as a parent of a child with Asperger’s but as those of us in this community are fond of saying, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.

It’s too early, I think, to say if “Parenthood” will become a groundbreaking show in this area – much as “St. Elsewhere” (my all-time favorite show, ever) was progressive in its day by having a child with autism as a central character – but I think “Parenthood” is off to a very good start. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Because make no mistake, I will most definitely be watching.

We’re a bunch of mama bears, those of us who have kids on the autism spectrum. Just look at all the crap you’ve gotten for Kristina’s frequent use of “buddy” as a term of endearment with Max, and how much their parenting philosophy is often criticized on the comment boards. We’re used to that from our own real-life families – people who think all we need to do is spank our kids a little more often or feed them a little less sugar and their issues will miraculously disappear.

So perhaps that was why, six seasons ago, I felt a little protective of Max Braverman – and of Adam and Kristina, too. I wanted you to do right by him, by them.

Maybe it sounds dramatic, but thinking back to 2010, perhaps I was at a point where I needed you to do right by all of us. As in, the entire autism community.

An unfair, unspoken burden, perhaps. But you know what?

You did.

For six seasons, you did exactly that and succeeded. You were our voice to others who needed to see the small big moments of our lives, how we feel when we’re overwhelmed for our kid’s future or when we don’t know how to tell a sibling what she needs to hear.

You transformed how people view people with autism. You shattered age-old stereotypes.

I didn’t trust that you could do that.

So, I’m sorry that I doubted all of you but so glad that I was wrong.

Which leaves just one more thing left to say.

Thank you.

Sunday Salon: Battling the Winter Blahs

The Sunday Salon

We have several full-blown cases of the winter blahs raging through this house today. The Boy came down with what seems to be a pretty bad head cold yesterday, making him absolutely miserable. The Husband, halfway through his low-iodine diet for his thyroid cancer treatment, can’t eat anything with taste so he is quite cranky. The Girl hasn’t emerged from her room today for more than ten minutes, so it’s hard to gauge her mood.

As for me, I blame my mood on the weather.  We’re expecting 3″-5″ of snow by this time tomorrow afternoon. We have a fine, steady snow falling as I write, and that 3″-5″ prediction is certainly better than our counterparts further east and in New England but it’s still a pain in the ass. I’m trying to focus on the fact that we’re all together, we’re safe, we have plenty to eat (even if one of us can’t eat much of it), we have heat and electricity … overall, we are fine and I’ve just got to get the hell over myself or start taking a multivitamin or something to snap me out of this winter funk. Maybe it is the remnants of getting over the flu and regaining my energy, I dunno.

Aimless LoveSo. January, for God sakes. Reading-wise, I can’t remember a more pathetic reading month in terms of quantity. I’ve had sluggish reading months before but I don’t remember one this bad. To date, I have read a total of one book. ONE! That would be Aimless Love, New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins, which I still have to review.

I’ve been unable to settle on an audiobook this month and have abandoned three of them: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and Goldengrove by Francine Prose.  I’m going to try Half of a Yellow Sun in print at some point. Thinking, Fast and Slow was too academic and too dense, and Goldengrove was too depressing even for my tastes. It was also sluggish and just left me feeling bored. Now I’m trying The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman; we’ll see how this goes.

West of SunsetI’m halfway through West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan and still enjoying this. I can’t believe this is the first O’Nan I’ve read. I’m hoping to spend some quality time with this today, imagining myself sipping drinks poolside with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart and Dorothy Parker.

Now that’s a nice warm thought on this wintery Pittsburgh Sunday.

Weekend Cooking: Life on the Low Iodine Diet. Again.

Weekend Cooking - New

Two years ago, The Husband was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It was one of those life-changing experiences – and, if I’m being honest, not necessarily for the better.

As treatments go, however, thyroid cancer often involves radioactive iodine therapy which requires that the patient follow a low iodine diet for 1-2 weeks prior. In The Husband’s case, his endocrinologist has him go through a round of this before his annual scan to see if the cancer has returned.

This is our third go-around of this.

The Husband is currently on Day 4 of the low iodine diet (or, what we call the Thyroid Cancer Diet in our house) which will last for another six days. For a vegetarian, it’s rather restrictive. I’ve written about this before, but basically the diet permits fresh or frozen fruits; fresh or frozen vegetables; fresh meat (which, obviously, we don’t eat); sugar/jelly/honey/maple syrup; a limited amount of basmati rice and pasta; matzoh; unsalted nuts; oils; herbs and spices; egg whites; and sorbet (as long as it doesn’t have Red Dye #3.)

That means no bread or flour, no dairy products, no eggs, no salt, no food coloring … you get the idea.

Good times.

Let me be absolutely clear: as cancer treatments go, I fully understand that compared to chemo and radiation, this regimen is a piece of cake. (No baked goods allowed, either.) I get that. It’s just that when you have a household of four people, each with their own picky eating quirks, cooking with these additional limitations is … challenging. For dinners, I try to match our meals as closely as possible, even with the diet.

I usually start off with all good intentions, planning meticulously. (As I’ve written before, if you or someone you know have to be on the low iodine diet, the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association (ThyCa) has a free downloadable cookbook in .pdf form that has been a godsend for recipes and helpful hints.)  I also have the approved ingredient list on my phone so I have it with me if I am making a quick stop at the store and need to check a product.

This time around, I intended also to blog each day of the diet, in hopes of maybe being a resource to someone else, but that didn’t happen. I’ll try to recreate what I’ve been making for The Husband here and hopefully continue along with posts into next week.

Day 1 (Wednesday)
Breakfast:
egg white omelet
black coffee

Lunch:
matzo crackers with unsalted peanut butter
apple
banana
baby carrots
Sprite

Aftenoon snack at work:
small pear

Dinner:

Low Iodine Diet - Fajitas

Fajitas –
A recipe from the ThyCa cookbook. I sauteed some onions, green peppers and corn in olive oil, then put it on a soft corn tortilla with basmati rice and topped with tomatoes.

Day 2 (Thursday)
Breakfast:
matzoh with unsalted peanut butter and jelly
black coffee with a small amount of cashew milk

Lunch:
Leftover rice and veggies from last night’s dinner
apple
baby carrots

Afternoon snack at work:
small pear

Dinner:
Pasta with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and pepper

Day 3 (Friday)
Breakfast
oatmeal with maple syrup
black coffee with a small amount of cashew milk

Lunch
I’m actually not quite sure what The Husband packed for lunch; probably some combination of fruit, baby carrots, and crackers.

Dinner
Since I was going to be up late on Thursday night watching “Parenthood,” I made a version of homemade marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes in the crockpot. It was just olive oil, garlic, about 2 lbs. of chopped Roma tomatoes, a pinch of sugar. Simmered on LOW for 5 hours. The Husband had this with leftover pasta from Thursday night.

Day 4 (Saturday)
Breakfast
oatmeal with maple syrup
black coffee with cashew milk

Lunch
matzoh with unsalted peanut butter and jelly

Dinner
Confetti Rice - Low Iodine DietA simple version of fried rice with onion, corn, and peas. I added some sliced chicken to The Girl’s meal.  This is one of our favorite meals on the diet. So easy. We’ll probably see this at least once more, I’m guessing.

Six more days to go.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Road Trippin’ with Rob Lowe

Love LifeLove Life
by Rob Lowe
Simon and Schuster
2014
Audio published by Simon and Schuster
7 hours, 33 minutes 
Narrated by Rob Lowe

If I need to spend five hours in a car with anyone, Rob Lowe will do very nicely, thank you. I mean, I can certainly think of worse people to road trip with, y’know what I mean?

Now, celebrity memoirs by people who don’t even need their name on the book cover are usually not my thing. But if you’re a child of the ’80s as I am, you might find Love Life irresistible.

Because, well, it is. Almost all of it, that is. In my view, the first chapter had way too much name-dropping, too much talk about Malibu parties from back in the day, and too much … well, just too much.  (The comparison of the Dick Van Patten clan to the Kennedy family seemed over the top, making this feel no different than any other celebrity memoir.)

However, this quickly becomes the entertaining audio I was anticipating for my drive across Pennsylvania.

Rob Lowe filled my car with long-ago tales of debauchery, a tearjerker about sending his son off to college, and a female co-star who had a difficult time kissing him. (Note to Rob: if you ever find yourself in such a predicament again, I’ll be happy to help you out.)

Those of us of a certain age know all about Rob Lowe’s past.  And what makes this book work is that Rob Lowe knows that we know. He doesn’t hide from it; instead he self-deprecatingly transforms what he’s learned from decades of Hollywood experience into something resembling – OMG, this makes me sound like I’m ready for the fucking home – fatherly advice.

“I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who said 90 percent of successful movie-making is in the casting. The same is true in life. Who you are exposed to, who you choose to surround yourself with, is a unique variable in all of our experiences and it is hugely important in making us who we are. Seek out interesting characters, tough adversaries and strong mentors and your life can be rich, textured, highly entertaining and successful, like a Best Picture winner. Surround yourself with dullards, people of vanilla safety and unextraordinary ease, and you may find your life going straight to DVD.”

A little cheesy? Absolutely, without a doubt. But again, somehow, it works.

Rob Lowe is an entertainer. He’s spent his entire life doing exactly that. In that regard, Love Life does not disappoint.

 

sunday salon: emerging from the flu’s grip, waving one of the best novels of 2015 (yes, 2015)

The Sunday Salon

At my desk Wednesday morning, I felt a bit colder than usual but didn’t think anything of it. By lunchtime, I was still chilled to the bone while wearing my heavy winter coat indoors and I had a fever of 103.5. Classic signs that the flu likely had a hold on me, which indeed it did.

Aside from going to the doctor on Thursday morning, today is the first time I’ve been out of bed in nearly four days. This flu is no joke, folks. But, thankfully, Tamiflu and copious amounts of tea, rest, and TLC from The Husband have done wonders. I have a slight lingering cough and the fatigue is still overwhelming at times, but I am much better than I was even 24 hours ago.

Anyway, a horrendous headache prevented me from doing much reading while bedridden (I managed to read about half of this week’s New Yorker) but I started making up for it yesterday with West of Sunset, the new novel by Stewart O’Nan.

West of Sunset

You guys. This book. I cannot put it down. I was in love from the first three pages and I feel very confident in saying that this is likely going to be one of my favorite novels  of this year.

West of Sunset is about the last three years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life. At 40, his literary success is well in the past, his wife Zelda is institutionalized, his own health is precarious, and he has no money.  To pay for Zelda’s care, Scott is “borrowing against stories he has yet to imagine.” (Love that line!)

When Hollywood (finally, thankfully) comes calling with work as a screenwriter, Scott heads west in somewhat desperate hopes of making it once again in a town where everyone else’s star seems to be still rising but where his is uncertain. (“There were years like phantoms, like fog. Often he wondered if certain memories of his had really taken place.”) This is 1937 and West of Sunset transports its reader back in time to hang with Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich … basically, this is a name dropper’s paradise of anyone who was anyone during that time. So far, it’s a fantastic literary experience that I am loving.

(East End Book Exchange here in Pittsburgh is hosting the launch party for West of Sunset on February 7 at 7 p.m. It’s open to the open to the public, so I’ve signed myself up to go.)

Hope this Sunday finds you healthy (or, at least healthier than I am!) and enjoying a good book!

station eleven, my review in today’s post-gazette / a chat from the front lines

Moon in trees

Moon in the trees, taken early in the morning, January 5, 2015.

This morning finds me awake well before everyone else in the house. In the dim light of the kitchen, I brew my first cup of coffee and fire up the laptop. Prime writing time, this is, and I know it is fleeting. I’m not caffeinated enough to resist Facebook’s temptations.

There, a status update from a once-upon-a-time boss now on the front lines of global initiatives to end HIV/AIDS. She has been traveling for two days, a blip in the timespan of this disease. We exchange a few brief lines and I marvel, as I often do, at this world that makes this possible, all of it: this work of hers toward a cure, our Facebook messaging across the shared skies between Johannesburg and Pittsburgh. My thanks for her work (now, then, always); this frigid January morning, her “sent from” locales changing with every message we relay back and forth on opposite sides of the globe.

It’s too early for the newspaper to be in the mailbox and too cold at 4:30 to venture out. Scrolling through the headlines online, I notice my review of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel has made the Books page. The first lines resonate.

Post-Gazette

 “STATION ELEVEN”
By Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf ($24.95)

Station Eleven

It is a rare thing when a novel appears on nearly all the “Best of” 2014 year-end lists during the same year when its masterfully crafted plot is synchronized with one of the biggest news stories dominating the headlines.

Welcome to “Station Eleven,” Emily St. John Mandel’s best-seller in which 99 percent of the population has been wiped out within hours or — for the truly unlucky — days. The culprit is the mysterious Georgia Flu, unknowingly brought to the United States via virus-carrying airline passengers from Russia. (“But everyone knows what happened. The new strain of swine flu and then the flights out of Moscow, those planes full of patient zeros ….”)

Enough similarities abound with the fictitious Georgia Flu and the real-life Ebola virus to pique the interest of any wannabe conspiracy theorist. Any level-headed reader will raise an eyebrow and wonder what if … could this?  (Read more here: “Station Eleven: All the world’s a stage (for the plague)”

Readin’at: Review of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, Poems by Rachel Mennies

The Glad Hand of God Points BackwardsThe Glad Hand of God Points Backwards
Poems by Rachel Mennies 
Texas Tech University Press
2014
79 pages
Winner of The Walt McDonald First Book Prize for Poetry

It’s a new year and a chance to get back on track with my weekly (usually Thursdays) Readin’at feature here on the blog.   Readin’at is where I celebrate all things literary that relate to Pittsburgh and the region. Here, I talk Pittsburgh-focused books (and review them), literary events, upcoming readings, author interviews and profiles, new releases and more. I’ve let this column wane a bit over the past few months, but there is so much bookish stuff happening in Pittsburgh that I think this deserves a resurgence.

Rachel Mennies was one of the Pittsburgh authors who I read over the holidays. (She and I will be reading as part of Acquired Taste: Holiday Recovery on Saturday evening, January 10 at East End Book Exchange. We had met earlier in the year, during a gathering of writers on what was possibly one of the most spectacularly gorgeous evenings in Pittsburgh.)

Aside from all that, however, Mennies’ award-winning The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards attracted my attention because of its poems exploring themes such as coming of age as a Jewish woman in America; interfaith marriage; the history, the present, and the future of Judaism, and the sense of finding one’s place in the community as well as the family.   For various reasons  – the death of my husband’s grandfather, the main family tree branch connecting him with his Jewish heritage; celebrating the winter holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas, and returning back to Philadelphia for the holidays – made this the perfect book for me to read when I did.

In his introduction to Mennies’ work in The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, Robert A. Fink of Texas Tech University Press and editor of The Walt McDonald First Book Series in Poetry, posits that the title

“suggests a delightfully ambiguous, ironic interpretation of God’s hand that protects, that judges, that points to history, heritage, the promises made to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the law meted out to Moses and the children of Israel. God of the Garden of Eden. God of the Shema. This Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not hand of God, however, is also a glad hand, welcoming hand – one that “accepts / the muddle of our lives ,” a God who “holds/ nobody responsible,” who says, “As you wish,” and then “retreats into the sunset alone.” (“The Jewish Woman in America, 2010″) Glad hand also connotes what could be a less-than-sincere gesture, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts / neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, ESV). There will be no pat, no comfortable answers in this collection of poetry.”

Perhaps no comfortable answers, but for this reader several poems evoked feelings of comfort because they were set in my hometown of Philadelphia. It happens to be Rachel Mennies’ hometown, too, and that of her family.

“They went to Girls’ High School, classrooms filled with young women speaking foreign tongues, caught and released, caught and released each day, back when men and women were kept separately until marriage ….She left his bedside and paced a block of Old York Road, north and south, east and west, as if a cage around her kept her close.” – Philadelphia Woman, pg. 27

What Mennies does exceptionally well in these deeply personal poems – divided into five sections – is show through her curation of her family’s stories how one’s ancestors and their history remain an indelible part of us, even as we move elsewhere to build our own lives and raise our own families.  Our lives may be vastly different, the religion of our birth may become faded or forgotten, but the reminders are there.

“I see them in Giant Eagle, buying
the same soup and eggs as I buy;
at the Squirrel Hill library,

their sons garbed as God prefers
even in hot July, consoled by the tallit,
trailing blessed white strings

through Forbes Avenue dirt.
The women cover their heads, their skirts
making dark mysteries

of their legs. All faith, they show me
the fabric of inaccessible glory, the rents
in my own life. My God holds

nobody responsible. He lives in the thick air
over Philadelphia, likes it there, doesn’t
speak to me much, if at all….” – “The Jewish Woman in America, 2010″ (pg. 9) 

Yet we are connected to our ancestors through stories and ancient customs. They are always with us, as in “For Rose,” my favorite poem in this collection.

Practical. we take the names of our dead 
because the dead are sturdy – stern mantles 
of opportunity, watching as we shoulder them
from windowpanes, closets. Rose – one curling r

makes hundreds of us, Rachels, Rivkas, Renates,
Richards, Ronalds, this slip of a woman
in a fading photograph keeps all our tongues
moving. Blessed are you, lord of our passed-on,

our looking-over-us-on-high, as the dead name us
consonant, as we cast aside the baby books and run
curious to the headstones, hunting for names
among the mausoleums and weather-worn 

statues, the roses gone to pulp beside the roses
freshly brought, red and resonant. 
– “For Rose”, pg. 24

Rachel Mennies, a resonant new voice with echoes of the past.

Join Rachel Mennies, Jeff Oaks, and myself at
Acquired Taste Presents: Holiday Recovery
a food-themed literary reading celebrating family holiday traditions
Saturday, January 10
5 -7 p.m.
East End Book Exchange, 4754 Pittsburgh.
Additional details here