Archive for October, 2011

That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo
Knopf, 2009

I recently purchased a Kindle for my birthday in September.  This action was both an act of my youth and my aging.  I had long resisted the e-book format as I love books, the heft of the volume, turning the physical pages, the feel of the paper in my fingers.  However, after I spent an entire afternoon reading (a rare luxury with toddlerdom), I discovered that my eyes are not what they used to be.  My husband suggested I get a Kindle so I could read everything in 14 pt font.  So I did.  And now I’m gobbling up the e-books.  Maybe I look hip and trendy reading my Kindle, but no one needs to know that I’m reading it in large print format.

Amazon recently created an e-book lending program with libraries and I wanted to see how it worked, so I checked an e-book out of the library and had it downloaded directly to my Kindle.  Pretty nifty.  The book I chose was Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic.  (I have Russo’s Pulitzer-prize winning Empire Falls sitting unread on my bookshelf, where I have a lot of unread books, thanks to my ailing eyes.)  Now that I am endeavoring to embrace middle-age, That Old Cape Magic turned out to be an appropriate read for me.

Jack Griffin, a 50-something college professor, is about to see his life and marriage unravel.  After a long, successful career writing in the film industry, Griffin snagged his position in academia as a professor of screenwriting.  After all, screenwriting is a young person’s game, Griffin notes, as he made his move out of Hollywood to the tony suburbs of a Connecticut university.  As the only child of neurotic English professors—with whom he has contentious relationships—Griffin seems to have come full circle with academia and he settles into a comfortable existence with his beloved wife in their Connecticut dream home.  This dream home life lasts more than a decade, but the death of Griffin’s father, long divorced from his mother, forces Griffin to face some uncomfortable, unanswered questions.

Much of the novel takes place on Cape Cod, where Griffin’s family spent many summer vacations during his childhood.  Cape Cod signifies his parents’ idyllic dreams, the lazy summers by the sea, the escape from the politics and positioning of academia.  There is the status of having a summer home on the Cape, but the Griffins never owned their summer home.  They always rented a house and bickered over not being able to afford to buy their ideal summer home.  (The ones they could afford they “wouldn’t have as a gift.”)  The Cape was where Griffin and his wife, Joy, honeymooned and dreamed up their life plans together.  Nine months after the death of Griffin’s father, they return to the Cape for the wedding of a family friend, and Griffin has his father’s ashes in the trunk of his sports car (a not-so-subtle cliché of his middle-age crisis).

Russo’s writing is generous to his flawed characters, the kind of people you would like to have over for dinner, but may not know about their inner thoughts.  There are many comedic moments that were both delightful and pushed close to the edge of disbelief.  Griffin’s mother is a piece of work, an arrogant academic who sees herself well above the world and lets the world know it.  She’s a little over the top, calling at the worst times and intruding herself into Griffin’s life.  She is exactly what Griffin does not want to become, but he cannot stop her voice recording in his head.  Mommy issues.  Ah, yes, I know about those.

That Old Cape Magic is not a very “dramatic” novel in the sense that large, dramatic events do not happen, but it is a very human novel.  The crisis that happens in Griffin’s life has been building very slowly over the years, the way a person is formed by the small events that gather throughout one’s life.  This is particularly true of the conflict between Griffin and his wife, Joy, who share over 30 years of marriage that most people would call happy.  While they love each other, they also hurt each other in small, painful, irrevocable ways.  I found this to be an accurate portrayal of “happy” marriage.  That’s as good as it gets—teetering between love and contempt, hope and despair.  Perhaps a good reflection of the tenuous choices we make in life, marriage, and  middle-age.

Middle-aged Mommy and Milo on Cape Cod.

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Evolution of a Bed

We decided it was time to get Milo out of his crib and into a toddler bed.  For some families, this change can be traumatic because the child has a hard time transitioning into the larger bed.  For our family, the drama came with the actual bed itself.

Blake is a very spatial person and things need to fit well in his living space.  We’d seen the IKEA Kura bed at a friend’s house and we liked how it could be elevated to allow more play space underneath.  We also liked that it was a full twin-sized bed and that Milo could grow up with it, rather than outgrow a toddler-sized bed in a few years.  I was a little iffy about the elevated bed at Milo’s age, but Blake felt confident Milo could adjust fairly quickly.

When we saw the bed in the store, it was configured as pictured in the link, with the ladder on the left and the play space opening up to the left.  We needed the bed to be configured in the opposite way, with the ladder and the play space opening up to the right side.  In Milo’s room, there’s really only one spot for his bed, because of the mural and the optimum feng shui for the room.  If the bed wasn’t configured correctly, it wasn’t going to work.  But Blake was sure IKEA would be smart enough to design the bed to be assembled with flexible configurations, so we went ahead and bought the bed.

When we got the bed home, we started running into some problems.  It turns out the bed could not be configured in the way we needed.  We mulled over rearranging the room, but decided we really liked the current arrangement.  So Blake decided to pull out his drill and hack the bed into the correct configuration.

Then we found that the bed covered up more of the mural than I liked.  I spent a lot of time painting the mural while I was pregnant and I didn’t like that it was getting covered it.  (See post Baby Registry for photo of me preggers in front of mural, based on a silkscreen by my friend, the artist Nancy Hom.)

before hacking, covering mural

So Blake decided, since he was already modifying the bed, he would hack off a foot from the length of the bed.  This, of course, required pulling out the table saw and cutting the pressboard as well as the beams.  The mattress was foam and could easily be cut down to size.  We just had to tuck the sheets underneath and it would look just dandy.

after hacking, mural intact

It’s not a full twin, but the size seems more appropriate for Milo.  Plus, he’ll still be able to fit in it for several years to come, though maybe not through high school.  That’s okay.  He’ll probably want a bigger bed by the time he hits puberty.

Here is the completed bed:

completed bed, version 2.0

Milo loved his new bed.  He could barely go to sleep, he was shrieking, “New bed!  New bed!”  He loved trying to climb the ladder (which he could do with assistance) and he loved playing underneath the bed (dubbed “The Tunnel!”) and he loved being elevated on his new bed.

Most of you must be thinking, is it safe to have such a little guy elevated that high?  Yes, well, the first few nights, Daddy placed a piece of plywood over the ladder opening to keep the kid from falling out.  And in full disclosure, Mommy ended up sleeping with Milo those first nights.  It was a little awkward climbing up into that thing, but I managed.  After a few days of new bed, version 2.0, Daddy had to catch Milo from tumbling off the side.  Then Daddy starts thinking about hacking the bed even further to build and attach a pipe railing on the sides to keep Milo from falling out.   He’d have to get PVC pipe and make handles and figure out how to attach them to the wooden beams…

So I say, “Why don’t we just flip the bed over?”  IKEA designed the bed to be reversible, so that it could be elevated or not.

Daddy doesn’t think Milo will go for that because he loves being elevated and he loves the play area underneath, aka. The Tunnel.  But Daddy agrees to try it.  “We’ll see what Milo thinks.”

This is what Milo thinks:

New bed, version 2.1

Great climbing structure AND safe.  Milo is happy, which makes Daddy happy, and Mommy is happy too.  Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

As for Milo’s adjustment to the big bed, he’s done surprisingly well.  He’s fallen off the bed only once.   It’s also nice that Mommy can snuggle up with him sometimes in the new bed (and not have to climb up the ladder).  Hopefully he doesn’t outgrow the snuggling too soon.

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