Monday, March 31, 2008

How Green Was My Stream of Consciousness

Edited to say: the Christmas tree was boxed since Candlemas. R. wanted me to make that clear. 9:53 pm 3/31

Sorry for the light posting week. I was busy doing things like hosting Easter, driving to Philadelphia, and going to M.'s birthday party (having outsourced it to a wonderful place, I can't really claim to have hosted it). I also went a long way toward completion of the basement renovation I began in August. I won't post pictures until I'm completely done, but I will say that I managed to hang the wicker porch swing* and place the top on the craft table.**

My inspiration? Well, on Holy Saturday I got up bright and early and walked into my kitchen. I thought about the three kinds of bread I intended to bake for Easter dinner, and I pictured three energetic children dyeing eggs on the 2x3 butcher block table in the middle of the 13x13 kitchen where I intended to bake said bread, simultaneously, and I thought, no. Voila craft table.

Then I baked:

Those are cross buns, but they're a more rustic olive-oil, rosemary and golden raisin version. I wanted to avoid thick ribbons of icing, and I had already used a milky, eggy dough for the bunny-shaped loaves, faintly flavored with cardamom. On the far right are buttermilk biscuits (actually kefir as per my usual preference) shaped like little bunnies, lambs, chicks and a couple of really huge lambs.

As I baked, I listened to music. Holy Saturday is a tough day. It doesn't have the bleakness of Good Friday and the passion, but it isn't Easter yet. It should be a quiet day, a solemn day. So I went looking through the music and I thought my Welsh choirs CD would fit the bill. I've always been rather proud of the distant Welsh heritage that my maiden name seems to indicate. Land of song and all that. I like to play "We'll Keep A Welcome in the Hillsides" over and over, crying as I sing along: "We'll kiss away each hour of hiraeth/When you come home again to Wales." I love How Green Was My Valley, especially the mother's answer to her son's question of why she had children: "to keep my hands in water and my face to the fire!" I think of that whenever I have my hands in water, which is often. But then recently I read something--either at Spiked online or the Times Literary Supplement--that seemed to imply that the Welsh have a reputation in the U.K. for having difficult personalities. I can't find it anywhere now, but it certainly gave me pause.

Then I stopped by Ivebeenreadinglately after Mr. Stahl so kindly commented on my Anxiety of Influence post, and he had a commenter who discovered him while looking for stuff about John Cowper Powys and Owen Glendower, and I thought, perhaps this is Meant. I should read the Powys book. Even though I already love the incidental portrait of Glendower in Martha Rofheart's Fortune Made His Sword, and it will be hard to accept a different one. I wonder if anyone reads that anymore? It was rather dated and obscure when my English teacher pressed it on me in 1986, and it is available used on Amazon for 1 cent. I do recommend it. And that is the end of my stream of consciousness, except for the footnotes.

*Why am I hanging a wicker porch swing in the basement? Because I wanted to have seating in the basement, but all the seating I try to put down there ends up wet and moldy (skirted upholstered furniture + flooding = ick). L. mused, what about outdoor furniture, and I thought what about outdoor furniture that doesn't even touch the floor! Bingo.

**I first saw the project table in the Grandin Road catalog, and then I found the cheaper Target version, which my mother gave me for my birthday. Pottery Barn also has one, and they are, unaccountably, not currently showcasing the gorgeous espresso finish option. At any rate, I assembled the bookcases and stools "down cellar," as I usually refer to that area, in September. Right before Christmas I was inspired to ask my burly menfolk to take the table top out of the living room and carry it down to join its companions, where it leaned jauntily for three months and I dithered about where exactly the craft table should be. You see how our lives proceed in rich harmony with the liturgical calendar: the Christmas tree also made it up to the attic on Holy Saturday.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Also!

In the car driving home from Philadelphia on Wednesday (we went to this exhibit), I heard Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time." I remembered that when the album came out I was very intrigued by this song, and very moved; but at the time the sentiments were remote to me--I had all the time in the world. Now I have at least one friend who is scared to run out of time--and although I have babies, and a love, I feel some of the same angst. The lyric about watching your parents get old had new resonance, too. So I got curious about how old Bonnie Raitt was at the time she wrote the song.

"Nick of Time" came out in 1989, and Bonnie Raitt was born in 1949. So there you go. A little early, but basically right on schedule.

And by the way. 1989? Nineteen years ago.

Anxiety of Influence

I have lots of things to post about but my children are home on vacation this week, so it's harder. For right now, I'll just mention this. As loyal readers know, I love Joan of Arc. Of all the images of her, I like this painting best:

"Jules Bastien-Lepage: Joan of Arc (89.21.1)". In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/sara/hod_89.21.1.htm (October 2006)

I'm not sure how old I was the first time I saw it, but I was at least ten, because my room was already painted lilac on top of the original pink. I bought a print and it has been hanging wherever I lived ever since.

My parents took R. and S. to the Met yesterday so R. could further immerse himself in the Egyptian collections and S. could pursue her interest in Japanese art; but also so my mother could indoctrinate her into 19th-century European painting. She started with this painting, and S. held forth at some length about how it looks just like me.

I guess I have been channeling that painting for years. For a while, in college, I consciously tried to look like this image of Edna St. Vincent Millay:

The two are not dissimilar. One problem is that I don't have this good a profile. Another, bigger problem--in modern life one only has so much time to stand around looking soulful while vaguely holding onto tree branches.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

RIP Paul Scofield

Just here quickly to say Terry Teachout picked just the YouTube clip I would have picked, so go on over there.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Cool Is Jordan?

Paul's Party.

I think part of it is that she--and her friends--are not afraid of being uncool.

I Hope I Can Get an Honorary Degree Out of This

The consumption of leafy greens has increased in the U.S., as has the incidence of food-borne illness from consumption of leafy greens. However, the rate of illness has increased more than the rate of consumption, and researchers cannot figure out why.

I am not a scientist, but I am a cook and a grocery shopper, and I can tell them quite definitively: people are eating more leafy greens because they can buy them in bags that proclaim that the greens are "triple washed"! And they think that means they do not have to wash them, which is why they are getting sick more often.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Heirloom Recipe For You

My suggestions: replace half the flour with whole wheat flour. My conscience delivers a small electric shock to my brain whenever I don't eat whole grains these days, and I suspect even the most refined flours of the past were browner and grittier than today's all-purpose flour. Contemporary cultured buttermilk sort of stinks. I recommend whole milk kefir--and it has live probiotic cultures!

I have a complicated relationship with Irishness and St. Patrick's Day. As I grew up I understood that the wearin' of the green was not for us Protestant Ulstermen: we should be wearing orange, were that not nearly as dangerous in my very Irish community as it was when my grandfather walked through the Catholic side of town wearing his orange-trimmed band uniform and had rocks thrown at him. I never played up the Irish thing even though my grandfather had a brogue, the gift of gab, a fondness for potatoes and soda bread, and a ruddy complexion--all of which, except the brogue, were passed down.

Now, of course, I am Catholic. And I wish St. Patrick's Day had just a tiny bit to do with St. Patrick in this country. I just heard a representative of the county sheriff's office on the radio saying, "On this day, of course, we all have a little Irish in us. All we ask is that you please don't get behind the wheel." I would love to hear this public relations strategy applied to other holidays: "On Cinco de Mayo, of course, we all have a little Mexican in us...On Columbus Day, we all have a little Italian in us..." I'm going to leave the offensive stereotype up to you.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Next Up: Calculus?

Another thing I never learned to do properly? Or, to be honest, at all? Dive. I can recall one, maybe two afternoons at the side of the pool with friends vaguely trying to do it, but it just didn't happen for me. Then I got too old and self-conscious.

This morning I went to swim class, and my regular teacher was not there. The woman who was there was great. Part of it was just having a different pair of eyes to watch my stroke and tell me some things to do. She told me to slow down, which I find very difficult. I have this problem with running, too: not that I go so fast, but I have only one speed.

After we had worked on our freestyle kicks, and arm strokes, and did some backstroke to get our wind back, she said, "Any interest in learning to dive?" I looked away and didn't answer. The other two women said yes. So we went to the deep end and started working on it. The silver lining of self-consciousness is that at a certain point not trying becomes even more conspicuous than trying. I learned to dive today.

It made me cry. I was able to hold it together until I got in the shower, but it made me cry. Because that was something I thought I would never, never do. I thought that door was closed.

And I want to thank dear Mama at The Elmo Wallpaper, because she started me on this road.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Links For You

Blog purists think this is what I should be doing every day, rather than bother you with my navel-gazing:

Dwelling in Possibilities:
Our students' spectacular hunger for life makes them radically vulnerable

I would give anything to have written this article. I think it is absolutely brilliant.

Literature's Self-Implosion
A TLS review by John Mullan of Ronan McDonald's The Death of the Critic. Interesting in itself, but also for the alternate headline at the top of the browser tab: "Literature's Ratner moment TLS." Being a sloppy reader, a fan of the pope, and unfamiliar with British business history, when I first saw the article I read the line as "Literature's Ratzinger moment" and got unnecessarily excited.

At the top of the same page was this pull quote from Alice Miles:
"The idea of a national motto has already attracted derision on a glorious scale"

It reminded me, as so many things do, of Rebecca West. In Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, she recounts a train trip during which a group of Germans in her compartment exclaim rapturously at the beauty of the scenery, and she observes:

"If anyone in a railway carriage full of English people should express great enjoyment of the scenery through which the train was passing, his companions would feel an irresistible impulse not only to refrain from joining him in his pleasure, but to persuade themselves that there was something despicable and repellent in that scenery. No conceivable virtue can proceed from the development of this characteristic."

She is wrong, of course. As R. so often observes, the best things about us are the same as the worst things about us: and this English quality, which I recognize in myself and my family, to my sorrow and to my delight, develops at its good moments into a healthy resistance to Groupthink.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thursday Poetry Podcast Returns Next Week

I have a child home with strep throat--FOR A CHANGE--and I can't record today. I considered doing it yesterday, wouldn't you know, but decided not to. I mean, why would someone do something ahead of time rather than at the last minute?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Public Service Announcement

Yesterday evening R. and I attended--and spoke at--a public hearing on the future of Governor's Island. We support the construction of a New Globe Theater in the open courtyard of Castle Williams. Take a look at the website, and if you agree that this is the best option, please consider submitting a comment to the National Park Service by the March 18 deadline. I'll highlight two particularly important and easily overlooked points:
  • The New Globe construction will be privately funded and the theater self-supporting, rather than competing for increasingly scarce tax dollars.
  • The design is "reversible and does not impinge on the historic fabric of the monument."
The overwhelming majority of last night's speakers and attendees were New Globe supporters, yet the National Park Service did not reference the New Globe plan in any of its four published scenarios for the future of the island. I hope some of my readers will add their voices to the throng and try to wake up the Park Service bureaucrats.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Notes From All Over: Culinary Edition

  • Quite a few years ago I was discussing with my friend JM--the only one of my close friends to have a child at 25, as I did--the things our children would eat. She mentioned drinkable yogurt and a third friend piped up, "What's drinkable yogurt?" "It's a new way to make small amounts of yogurt even more expensive," I answered, and JM did a spit take. But it's true. I am convinced that Groupe Danone has a Vice President for Increasing Yogurt Profit Margins. Now we have Activia, which contains probiotic bacteria that promotes digestive regularity. But wait: I thought all yogurt contained probiotic bacteria? Yes, but this is special probiotic bacteria and this yogurt has a special name. Someone took the trouble to sue over this.
  • The boy scouts are currently holding what they call a Holiday Candy Sale. Can someone explain to me why we need to be coy about it? It's Easter candy. In addition to bunnies, chicks, and eggs, one may purchase a large milk chocolate cross. There are no macaroons, no nut tortes or flourless chocolate cakes or mousses made with olive oil instead of cream, no chewy charoset bars. Am I being insensitive? I know one of my readers has opinions in this area; help me out here. And if you say the scouts shouldn't be selling the candy at all, I'm behind you all the way, because I hate the sight of candy these days.
  • Here is a very informative article about MSG. Among other things, it says that MSG is a cheap and easy way to achieve the "new" taste of umami, which no one is able to describe very well. And it says that Maggi, a product I learned about from my German-speaking Czech roommate, who considered it an essential ingredient in sauerbraten, is "extremely popular in regions as far-flung as India, Mexico, the Philippines and the Ivory Coast."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thursday Poetry Podcast: Shorter Modern Poems

Now with commentary! Don't panic, it's still only about 7 minutes long, and mostly poems.

Shorter Modern Poems: The Ones That Appeal to a 16-Year-Old

Today's poets:
Sara Teasdale
Louis Untermeyer
James Elroy Flecker
Victor Plarr

Edited to say: I got curious about the Plarr poem, and went to find out what "Citharistriae" means. It wasn't difficult; the first Google hit gave me this definition: "[Ancient Roman] Harpists. They were almost invariably prostitutes." So there you go.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Less Blasphemous Than "God's Nightgown," More Satisfying than "Great Balls of Fire"

My children have devised a new exclamation. I may not have mentioned in these pages that R. is teaching himself hieroglyphics with this book. Apparently while working on one of the exercises he mistranslated "Great Lord of Debju" as "Great Basket of Debju." There is some long and uninteresting reason why. At any rate, he and S. were taken with the phrase and started going around saying, "Great basket of Debju! It's Harry Potter!" in their best English accents. I helped them branch out a bit into things like "Great basket of Debju, boy, what are you on about?" and "Great basket of Debju! Is there any clean laundry in this house?" It helps if you imagine that you are wearing a frock coat and have a large moustache. Yesterday S. ventured into new and brilliant territory with this combination: "Great basket of Debju, it's like Sputnik!" N.B. S. has never seen "So I Married An Axe Murderer." The torch is passed to a new generation.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Brief Tour Through the New York Times

The teaser headlines on my igoogle page are so much better than the real headlines when you click through to the Times. For instance:

A Promise of an Easier Night for Interpretation

That's pretty exciting, right? I had no idea what was in store, but it sounded absolutely magical. I didn't really think someone had engineered an easier night for interpreting anything, but I couldn't wait to find out what it was all about:

With Contests in 4 States, an Easier Night for Interpretation

Oh. Oh, primaries. In her WSJ piece on William F. Buckley, Peggy Noonan included this quote from Samuel Johnson:
"How small of all that human hearts endure / That part which laws or kings can cause or cure." And she added, "When you have it right about laws and kings, and what life is, then your politics become grounded in the facts of life." This is what I was trying to say so clumsily and incompletely in my post about Ralph Nader last week. And I like to think it's why I can't get very caught up in this election.

Also, I'm never publishing a memoir. It's not that I think I would accidentally write one that was a complete work of fiction; I think the people who do that know just what they're doing. It just seems easier to avoid the whole genre.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Something Else New

I started a swim class at the Y today. I'd really like to do the Danskin triathlon this year, and that means swimming a 1/4 mile in open water.* Last time I tried a swim workout I did about a lap and a half total, with a lot of gasping and panicking and glancing sheepishly at the lifeguard thrown in. I can run six miles, surely I should be able to swim laps. So I decided professional help was in order.

My relationship with swimming is complicated. I may have taken group swimming classes before, in some very distant past, but they were obviously a total bust. I wore swimmies until I was eight, and refused to put my face anywhere near the water until roughly the same age. [R. is reading this thinking, "How was this not covered during marriage preparation? Can I still get an annulment?"] Then I suffered through a few years of private lessons, and believe me, my instructors suffered too. In so much teaching there is an inherent paradox: how can someone who is pursuing swimming as a career on any basis have much patience with a little girl who is reluctant to put her face in the water?

I ended up being able to approximate a crawl, fake a backstroke, and tread water forever. Totally comfortable with water of any depth--once you're over your head, what difference does it make?--in love with the ocean, basically unable to swim, confident of staying alive for quite a while if shipwrecked. Able to pass the infamous college swim test, not unreasonably, because that test is all about not drowning.

Only problem being, when I tried to swim laps for exercise, I felt like I was drowning.

So I went to class today. There were three options: 1) For the total beginner 2) To "become more comfortable in deep water" 3) Improve your strokes. Well, I don't have strokes, I thought, so I picked option 2. When I got there the instructor said, "What would you say is your best stroke?" "Arrgh," I answered (only in my head) "I can barely do freestyle." "Hmm, well, swim a lap for me and we may put you back in the beginner class." To my intense surprise, I was able to swim a lap. One hundred percent improvement over my last attempt. He wanted to put me in the "improve your strokes class," but I glanced over and that instructor was shouting something like "four laps butterfly okay GO!" I declined.

It was ever thus. The class I'm looking for never exists. Something between Music 103 and Music 141. Now something between "now we're going to tread water, don't worry, here's a noodle," and working on strokes I don't know.

There was no magic answer that instantaneously fixed my freestyle, but I was able to improve it. And I'm exhausted, so that's good.

*Or is it a half mile? They sound equally improbable at this point.

I'll Try Something New

I'm doing lots of reading lately--no, that's not the new thing--as indicated in the consumption sidebar. I got a lot out of Wayne Muller's Sabbath, not as much from Blessing of a Skinned Knee, and nearly nothing from Every Child has a Thinking Style. I am making my way through Memorize The Faith, more slowly than I would like, but this is one of those situations in which I am snatching time away from the mysterious devouring force: because last Lent I announced my intention to work my way through MTF and then never even cracked the spine.

Recently I began A Heritage and its History by Ivy Compton-Burnett. Miss Compton-Burnett is frequently mentioned in the same breath with Evelyn Waugh, and as a favorite (along with Waugh and Ronald Firbank) by readers I admire, notably Stephen Fry and Alan Bennett. It wasn't easy to come by one of her works, and I see the situation is no better in England. Every time I saw her name mentioned, I thought, "Right! Got to try that!" and then I forgot, and was never reminded because I never came across her accidentally. Until last September, when I was strolling through the Village and came upon the Strand, the wonderful Strand. I dared not go inside but there were lots of wonderful things on the carts outside, including A Heritage. It's appropriate that I didn't get to it until now, because this book is, despite being fiction, a worthy Lenten read. It's nearly all dialogue, and one can't let one's attention waver for a moment, lest one miss something subtle, crucial and devastating. It's chock full of quiet, deadly Edwardian sin and the wages thereof.

I'm three pages from the end and I still can't decide whether my opinion is "Phew! Now I never have to do that again!" or "Please sir, may I have some more?"