Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sniff. Sniff.

Some things that make me cry, in increasing order of absurdity:

1. When Gene Autry sings "Santa Claus knows we're all God's children/That makes everything right."

2. The key change in Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas."

3. When the chipmunks sing "We can hardly stand the wait/Please Christmas don't be late."

4. The neighing sound at the end of Boston Pops' "Sleigh Ride."

Friday, December 19, 2008

The 2008 Watering Place Gift Guide

For those who started reading less than a year ago, last year's intro still applies (and some of the list is the same, too):

"This gift guide is a little different. I like Design with a capital D mostly when it's on the Internet or in a magazine, not my house. I know nothing about technology. I violently disapprove of whole categories of products--such as scented soap--most of the time. I can't guarantee that you'll be able to find these gifts--some of them are...metonymic, let's say."

1. 70s Music
It's time to really embrace this stuff, if you haven't already. Artists like Dan Fogelberg, Steven Bishop, Bill Withers, and Donald Fagen are too easily taken for granted. Let's move them to the top of the stack, or the playlist, or whatever it is you currently work with.

2. My Santa Statue
Someone gave me this as a hostess gift at the first Christmas party we had in our new house--nine years ago! It came from a particularly delicious store, so I was excited when I saw the box at the end of the night. When I opened it, I was disappointed. I needed another Christmas knickknack like a hole in the head. But the next year I got the idea to put him on the newel post. One of the children knocked him off and broke his arm, and it's the old story--I cried, and discovered how much he meant to me. Now he is firmly attached with fun-tac, and he makes me happy every time I use the stairs. Don't be afraid to give someone something they won't immediately go crazy over. And don't be so sure you don't like the thing you just got.

3. My Mystery Grandmother Photo

This is someone's Scandinavian great-great-grandmother. It could be mine, but I know for a fact it isn't. Anyway, this picture is a fantastic piece of cultural history, and I see something new every time I look at it. I had it scanned at Kinko's and so far I've made a big framed print which hangs over my desk, and also had it put on the cover of a notebook at Snapfish, which came out great. Perhaps there is a photo kicking around your place with untapped potential.

4. The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story
It's still funny a year later, and on sale. Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends is also on sale, and also excellent.

5. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Ambrosia in a beautiful bottle. Just watch your consumption; this goes down really easy. Remember peach schnapps? Easier.

6. German Chicken Games
We love to play a game called "Hick Hack In Gackelwack," now available in an English language edition as "Pick Picnic." Another, dominos-and-dice, chicken game is "Pickomino," which we know as "Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck." Like Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Hi-Ho Cherry-O!, these games can be played with the very young; but unlike those games, these games do not make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a fork.

7. Arrested Development: The Complete Series
Please believe me; it is so funny. Last year I said the world would be a better place if everyone read The Fountain Overflows. I could make the same claim about watching AD. It's very good. Really.

8. This Pin
I'm not sure what the message of this one is. Keep reaching out? Appreciate your Peter Gabriel t-shirt? Despite what I said above, good design is paramount to a successful gift?

9. Ballet Shoes
A new BBC version of the beloved Noel Streatfeild book, featuring Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame. I am one of those annoying people who points out all the ways in which a movie is not faithful to a book, and this is one of the least objectionable adaptations I have ever seen, especially given the compression to 84 minutes. At the bottom of this post are some spoilerish exceptions* for any Shoes purists more pathological than I.

10. Spiked T-Shirts
Not-so-little-R asked for the "Humanity Is Underrated" shirt, and he's getting it, dear boy. Spiked Online is edited by self-identified Marxist Mick Hume. Last time I checked I was very much not a Marxist, but Spiked displays some thinking so clear that it rises above ideology. To wit: this article about a national anti-bullying campaign that says, "Hang on, wasn't it the state itself that was recently bullying children for being overweight?"

*SPOILER: Theo Dane is kind of trashy and sometimes seems to be hitting on Sylvia, not to mention engaging in a love triangle with Sylvia and Mr. Simpson, who has become a widower and marries Sylvia at the end of the movie.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


When I am in France or Italy (okay, okay, that's a total of three occasions, but I'm willing to draw a conclusion from them) and attempting to speak the language, I find that it stirs up my brain in weird ways, making me unable to remember the simplest English words and effortlessly produce many of the 50-cent variety.

It seems the stress and anxiety of the past few weeks (months) has done something similar to my musical brain. I lay in bed last night with about eight bars of wordless melody running repeatedly through my head. I could tell they were the end of a verse, but could not remember the chorus. I tried picturing the CDs in our collection, and then the albums, and I thought about artists, and genres, and finally it came to me: Billy Joel's "Downeaster Alexa." A song that is not in our collection, and a song I am pretty sure I have not heard since I saw the Brown Derbies perform it twelve years ago.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What We Truly Seek

On December 6th the Wall Street Journal reviewed The Magician's Book by Laura Miller, in which the author traces her relationship with the Narnia books from enchantment to disillusionment to acceptance. I admit to a teeny bit of disappointment upon rereading the chronicles as an adult, more because of their sparseness--my own imagination seems to have filled in a fair bit--than anything else. I was upset about Susan's exclusion from the paradisical "real Narnia" as a child, but it doesn't bother me as much now that I understand her sins are apostasy and lack of faith, not lipstick and nylons. I never felt tricked or betrayed by the allegorical aspects of the stories, and in fact I find The Last Battle to be a very illuminating and comforting theological text, both in its descriptions of the nature of Heaven and in these words that Aslan speaks to the Calormene youth who worshipped Tash:

"For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him...Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

What troubles me is this quotation from Miller's book: "Myths and stories are repositories of human desires and fears, which means that they contain our sexual anxieties, our preoccupation with status, and our xenophobia as well as our heroism, our generosity, and our curiosity. If we were to purge our shelves of all the great books tainted by one vile idea or another, we'd have nothing left to read -- or at least nothing but the new and blandly virtuous." The first portion of her statement is true and helpful, but that last clause seems fraught with peril. We must not assume that our newest ideas are necessarily virtuous, and we slip and show our most Tash-like natures when we assert that virtue is bland.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I'm Still Here

I see that my last post was October 30th. I think it was October 9th that my perinatologist put me on modified bed rest, and I promised R. that I would not "spend hours slumped over the computer keyboard." In any case, it was on November 17th that I was hospitalized because the baby showed signs of being in distress, and on November 26th that my tiny and beautiful son was born, two months early. Early in the morning on December 2nd he became ill, and by the evening of the 3rd he was gravely ill. He now seems to be getting better: "progressing," the doctor says.

But that's not what I came here to tell you about, as Arlo Guthrie says. Came to talk about my grandmother, and about prayer.

Grammie taught me to sing "Jesus Loves Me," and to play it on the piano (she wrote the notes in pencil on the ivory keys of her baby grand, and the melody in notes on a piece of paper: GEEDEGG...); she taught me to say "Now I Lay Me" and then the Lord's Prayer, and she taught me all the Bible stories I know. I can still hear her voice softly calling "Samuel! Samuel!" and see her aged fingers pressing into the imaginary holes in her palms. Grammie had two Catholic suitors and chose the one who did not insist on raising his children Catholic, so I'm not sure she would be happy that I found my home in the Roman Church; but I am sure that she helped lead me there.

So many people are praying for my son, and I am praying too, but it is hard. When I pump breast milk, and try to achieve let-down even though I don't have a baby in my arms, I say the Hail Mary over and over. It seems appropriate, and I tell myself that the Blessed Mother would only laugh
with me at the absurdity of the breast pump. I speak to all the saints I love, and all the ones who have a special interest in sick babies. In a way, though, I didn't feel I was praying very well until I got a song stuck in my head:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sang it to my baby through the porthole of the isolette on Friday afternoon, and he opened up his tiny dark-blue eyes for the first time in a long time and gazed at me. That song kept playing in my head, and then yesterday morning I sat on my bed combing my hair, which since I went on bed rest has reached the middle of my back and is the devil to comb. I remembered that Grammie told me when she had my mother her hair was a mass of snarls, and her mother came to the hospital and gently combed it all out. I thought of another song, "In The Garden," one of the two that Grammie wanted played at her memorial service:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

These gospel songs were the songs of my grandmother's youth. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder in 1883, my grandmother in 1927 went to tent revivals as evening entertainment. So yesterday I sang "In The Garden" through the porthole, and thought about Grammie. R. was the only one of her great-grandchildren she ever saw--she died when he was 11 months old--but I will never forget the way she received the news that he was expected, so joyful and yet so comfortingly matter-of-fact. It made sense, given that a baby is a common occurrence and a miracle at the same time. Faith can move mountains, but perhaps we show the most faith when we move a mountain and then move on.

R. and I left the hospital after shift change last night and drove wearily to my parents' house for dinner. "I've been thinking about Grammie all day," I said to my mother, and she said, "Today
is her birthday. She would have been 100 years old today."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Aaaand another child anecdote

In the car
M: Are fairies real?
MV: No. Well, not as far as I know.
M: Well, the Tooth Fairy is definitely real, of course.
MV: since I am the Tooth Fairy, I felt existentially compelled to say Yes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Warning: Child Anecdote

This morning, in the kitchen--

M: looks in the refrigerator. Mommy, can I have the last piece of quiche?
MV: Sure.
M: Can you help me heat it up in the microwave?
MV: Okay.
M: And by "help me," I mean do the whole thing, because I can't reach the microwave and I have no idea how to use it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hooray, I'm Galadriel Too!

Unlike MPJ, I have not even the slightest desire to be Picard.

"Possessing a rare combination of wisdom and humility, while serenely dominating your environment you selflessly use your powers to care for others."

Serenely dominating. I like that.

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Three Stories About My Grandparents and the Depression

Suggested by the 20+ pounds of apples I picked with the kids this weekend, and...well, you know.

1) Once my brother had a school assignment to interview a family member about her experience of the Depression. So my mother had her mother--our only remaining grandparent at the time--over for dinner. At first she said she couldn't remember anything, but then she came up with this story: My grandmother was a first grade teacher. Every morning she and the other teachers would go to school early, and farmers would bring apples they hadn't been able to sell. The teachers cooked up huge batches of applesauce, and then if any children came to school without lunch, they had applesauce to feed them.

2) In August of 1929 my grandmother decided to take all of her savings out of the bank and go on a vacation out West. She can't have had much savings, because I think she was twenty years old and had only been teaching for a year or two; but she was awfully glad she had done it when October came and the bank failed. She never really believed in the FDIC and always had her money in a whole bunch of banks for the rest of her life. Also, whenever one of her banks had a promotion in which they gave something away for opening a new account, she would go and convince them to give her one of the things because she had an existing account. I believe the clock radio on R.'s nightstand was the fruit of one of those expeditions.

3) My grandfather (my father's father) arrived on these shores from Northern Ireland at the beginning of the Depression. Among other cliches, he actually sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door; but he was never really in danger of starving because he was living with his cousin, a very successful radio comedian. Something to keep in mind: one good thing to be in troubled economic times is funny. People need laughs just as much as applesauce, and way more than vacuum cleaners.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

See You in November

Poked and Prodded blog has a good post on "7 Ways to Get Ready for a Child's Trip to the ER Before It Happens." I'm sure there are a lot of mothers who have been to the emergency room much more often than I have, but I've been enough times for it to take on a nightmarish Groundhog Day quality. I would say my top three tips are 1) Keep lots of information (such as your children's social security numbers) written down and on your person at all times 2) Be prepared to answer the same questions over and over again 3) (If admitted) Find out where the cafeteria is and what the hours are, and then go physically check it out, because the sheet they gave you that tells the hours is lying. That last is a new one.

I was sufficiently flustered at our most recent ER visit that I promptly and efficiently told the registrar that my husband's birth date is "6/30/1969." "That's my husband's birthday!" she exclaimed, and we marveled over this coincidence until my mother said with poorly-suppressed anxiety and disgust, "That's not R.'s birthday!" "Oh," I said, "right. 9/30/1969." A manifestation of my complicated relationship with numbers. I'm not bad with mental arithmetic and I especially love multiplication facts, but some primal part of my brain believes that, in the end, there are Curvy Numbers and Angular Numbers and that's about it. 6, 9, whatever.

Anyway, a happy 39th birthday to my beloved husband. Two curvy numbers!

And an announcement: in the tradition of NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, I am declaring October PerNoFiMo (Personal Novel Finishing Month). Blog posting will be light or nonexistent as I try to whip this thing into shape once and for all. Clocks are ticking, not least of all the Baby Clock. So wish me luck.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Some Things I've Been Meaning to Tell my Children

Dear Children,

1) Here are the locations of garbage receptacles in our house: basement, kitchen, downstairs bathroom, living room, your bedroom (no matter who you are), upstairs bathroom. It seems to me, given so many places in which to throw your trash, there is really no excuse for there to be (I have said this so many times that the phrase is now capitalized in my mind) Actual Garbage on the floor. By garbage I don't mean possessions of which I am scornful, such as Happy Meal toys, although there are plenty of those around too; I mean Actual Garbage like the wrappers from juice box straws, glucose test strips, and used tissues.

I know all about lazy. But the hierarchy of disposal-related tasks and their apparent onerousness (onerosity?) to you fascinates me. To wit: it makes M. and R. feel faint to open the cabinet below the kitchen sink, so they will walk all the way into the downstairs bathroom in order to stuff an empty cereal box into the small white wicker bathroom wastebasket. This, I hasten to add, is after I have said, "R., could you please throw away this empty cereal box that you put back in the pantry?"

2) Here is how the laundry room is set up: the dirty clothes which magically disappear from your room are sorted into the tall blue hampers to the left of the washing machine. Clean clothes appear magically in the baskets to the right of the dryer. If you think about it at all you can understand how this arrangement works (hint: like words on the printed page). When you come home from a landscaping service project so dirty that you are a biohazard, and I ask you to undress in the basement, you should not put your unbelievably filthy clothes in the baskets to the right of the dryer. Please. Oh, please.

3) It appears that someone has been climbing, or hanging, on the large white laminate cupboard in the downstairs bathroom. One particleboard side is ripped right off the bolts, and consequently the shelf inside the cupboard lost two of the nearly-inadequate clear plastic clips that are supposed to hold it up. I was able to hammer the side back on, and I'm sure I can buy that kind of plastic clip, or some other shelf-holding-up thing, at the hardware store. I just think it would be particularly tragic if one of my children were crushed to death under something that cannot really be dignified with the name of furniture. This cupboard is not a permanent solution to our lack of a broom closet, but it is a solution; could we not destroy it and endanger our lives in the process?

By the way, if you were climbing up to get napkins from the basket on top of the cupboard because I asked you to set the table, THE NAPKINS ARE IN THE CABINET ABOVE THE SUGAR BOWL. They always have been. There is, in fact, a large drawstring sack of napkins on top of the bathroom cupboard, but just let me worry about that. You see, when the napkins magically reappear in the cabinet above the sugar bowl, that's where they come from.

In eternal devotion, but a little confused about how such bright and winning children can lack the sense God gave a goat,


Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm Back, and Obviously Eating for Two Considering My Apparent Obsession with Food

It's been one month since my last post, not counting the stop on James Patterson's Mothertalk blog tour. Since I wrote my birthday reflection M. swallowed a penny and we spent the night in the hospital (thus I did not go to the Fireman's Fair after all). I have had two ultrasounds, been to so many doctor's appointments I don't even feel like counting them (I think it's seven), and had to start taking blood pressure medication, which really hurts the "I'm HEALTHY!" pride I didn't know was there until it got kicked in the teeth. The kids have started school, cross country, scouts, piano lessons, band, and soccer; but we have not yet factored in drama club, art club, or squash matches, much less the other activities that have been requested additions such as karate, art lessons, and fencing. (Side note: do you not know any fencers? That's probably because you don't know any billionaires. The initial equipment outlay is breathtaking.)

I have packed three lunches for every full day of school, not once resorting to the cafeteria (the temptation is somewhat less because M. eats in the classroom until after Christmas, so I have to pack at least one lunch a day regardless). This is partly because it is such a joy to fill NSLR's new lunch box, which is so cool that classmates are asking their mothers to get them the same one (okay, one classmate). R's box is sufficiently spacious that I can finally fill it with enough calories to power his explosive growth. Another joy? Neither R. nor S. has a classmate with severe nut allergies this year, so I strew cashews and almonds gaily about the kitchen nearly every day. Protein that is neither cheese nor salami! Something to go with your dried fruit (it is so fun to feed people who need calorie-dense food)!

I have also come to a realization. People rave about summer and the availability of fresh produce, but I love fall best. Berries and plums, yes, I love. Tomatoes, of course, or I'd be a traitor to my state. But all the time a voice in the back of my head is saying, "Yes, yes. Where are my apples, pears and grapes? My beloved winter squash? When can I have hot soup again? Beef stew with dumplings? Pot pies? Any food involving the glorious triumvirate of pork, apples, and cheddar?"

The answer is now!

Friday, September 12, 2008

License to Create

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X bears a red and white box on its back jacket flap that looks like a warning, but is in fact a reassurance: "In the spirit of the most enduring hit movies and books, James Patterson has written this story for readers from ten to a hundred and ten. Special care has been taken with the language and content of The Dangerous Days of Daniel X."

That is evident. Daniel X has it all when it comes to thrillers for little men: lots and lots of action, violence (just scary enough), and a soupcon of romance (mostly yearning and an occasional embrace). The promotional materials are focused on getting reluctant boys to read, and this book is calculated to keep the pages turning.

Unfortunately, neither I nor my 12-year-old son could be described as reluctant readers. While we were intrigued by the original premise--Daniel X is an alien hunter with the ability to create and manipulate matter, sworn to avenge the murder of his parents--we were distracted by the 92 two-to-three-page chapters, and maybe even a little fatigued by the necessity for 91 cliffhangers. However, I'm sure this structure is gold to parents who are wheedling their sons to read just one more chapter before going out to play (or staying in to game).

James Patterson has an enviable imagination. Pitting a creator against an army of destroyers is a great twist in the eternal battle of good versus evil. As we learn more about Daniel's origins there is a sort of Superman homage; Patterson knows his superhero tropes and uses them well. I don't know much about Patterson's views--though I notice he wrote a book based on the Fatima apparitions--but I thought I perceived a subtle pro-life message in one of the book's quieter twists. To say more would be to spoil it.

My son had some concerns about the exact nature of Daniel's abilities and the consistency with which they are portrayed, but he is a harsher critic than I--whether because he has a keener intellect or because of incipient adolescence only time can tell.

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X is a page-turner; it moved me, it made me laugh, and it kept me on the edge of the beach chair, holding my breath. Patterson and his co-author Michael Ledwidge should be very proud of their creation.

Monday, August 25, 2008

38 Special

I am 38 today. Ever since we discovered the brilliant Jay Hitt and his heart-rending "Twenty-Five Years Ago," I have used two rubrics to take stock on my birthday:

25 Years Ago
I was thirteen. My father excitedly informed me, a few weeks before my birthday, that he had two tickets for us to see Tina Turner at the Run-Down Theater in Supersecret Nearby Town. He had to explain who Tina Turner was, because it would be six more months before the spectacular second act of her American life began. But he told me everyone in the audience except us would be from the West Side of Supersecret Town, and that the atmosphere would be absolutely electric.

Then I found out that August 25 was the opening night of the Fireman's Fair in Other Supersecret Town. Now, in my defense, the Fireman's Fair was and still is the juvenile social event of the year around here: carnival rides, junk food, games of chance, an opportunity to sweat buckets in one of your spiffy new fall outfits while catching up with people you haven't seen all summer. I told my father that I would rather spend my birthday at the Fair with my best friend SdL than go to the show with him. So he gave the tickets away.

When it occurred to me to apologize, oh, ten or fifteen years later, my father said there was nothing to apologize for: when you're thirteen, your friends and your social life are everything. Of course, my father never wants me to feel bad about anything; but he had a point, and I try to keep that in the forefront of my mind now that I am about to have a thirteen-year-old in the house.

Tonight I am going to the Fireman's Fair.

Half My Life Ago
I was nineteen. I'm embarrassed to say I'm not at all sure how I spent my nineteenth birthday. On my eighteenth birthday, my mother made me a cheesecake topped with chocolate shavings, my grandmother brought me hot-pink cabbage roses, and I had my picture taken with both of those things--wearing one of my father's old undershirts knotted tight around the hips, my hair in an early attempt at the Millay bun, my face as pink as the flowers. Then I went out on the town with my friends, most of whom were leaving for college the next day. On my 21st birthday, I had a masquerade party on the stage of Supersecret Theatre at Supersecret College.

On either my nineteenth or twentieth birthday, I went skinny-dipping in the ocean with MB and TF. That's as close as I can get.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Things I Like

If you enjoy the domestic aspect of things around here, I recommend this blog:

Salt and Chocolate

and this recipe (not from the blog):

Roasted Baby Summer Squash with Feta and Thyme

which M. actually ate. Yes, a child ate yellow summer squash in my house and I did not videotape it for posterity. You'll just have to believe me; but this is what roasting things with balsamic vinegar and mixing them with cheese can lead to.

And on a less domestic front, while I'm recommending things, these headphones:

Zumreed Border Portable Headphones

Are there headphones that aren't portable? Anyway, pay no attention to the first reviewer who claims they are lacking, since he(?) uses the phrase "like I." I have the yellow and orange ones. They make me very happy, and they don't fall out of my ears like buds do. Originally brought to my attention by Jordan at O Happy Day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Summertime, and the blogging is practically nonexistent

A Twix commercial during the Olympics last night featured a flighty young woman exclaiming "I love blogging!" in token of her compatibility with a Twix-chewing young man. R. turned to me and said, "Guess that means blogging is over."*

Well, it's not over over here, but it is desultory. As are all my projects. For every day of energy-filled productivity and enthusiasm, I have two or three (or four) of vague inertial malaise, during which hydration seems a full-time job and dinner and laundry nearly insurmountable tasks. And cleaning...ha! Ha ha ha! I haven't even been reading as much as usual, but I am still working on my summer project of clearing out the "To Read" pile. To wit:

In Cold Blood, another of my dumpster finds. It was okay, a little too real, a little too sad; but given how much I love Breakfast At Tiffany's (all the stories in the collection) and A Christmas Memory, I think it's high time I sought out Other Voices, Other Rooms. I should have read it as soon as I fell in love with Nanci Griffith's CD of the same name. Buy it, now.

The Present and the Past, Ivy Compton-Burnett. This is the second Compton-Burnett I have slogged through and now I can say confidently that I don't "get" them and I don't have to read any more. Henry Green leaves me cold, too; I'm not the Anglophile sophisticate you thought I was.

Which Reminds Me, lots of show-biz anecdotes from Tony Randall. Good for reading at the beach, out the door it goes so someone else can get the chance.

The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman. I'm quitting in the middle of this one. I don't believe people can be crammed into five categories, and I think I'm going to rely on my own instincts in the trenches of family life rather than pinpoint R. or the children as particular types and express my love accordingly.

*An Internet search indicates that I wasn't paying close enough attention to the commercial: the man was not looking for a computer-savvy soulmate, he was using blogging as the modern equivalent of etchings.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oh, hi! No, I didn't accomplish anything while I was gone

I started a long post about some food I've been making and then was too lazy to upload the pictures. If anyone would like the recipes for white bean-sage dip or rosemary-raisin wheat bread, just let me know and I'll email them to you.

I guess I just got out of the habit of blogging. I've been going to the beach, very slowly trying to get my literal and figurative house in order with a January deadline, and staying hydrated. It's a full-time job when you're pregnant. I had forgotten that, and also forgotten that Pregnancy Brain precludes multitasking. I'm not a great multitasker under any circumstances, being a daydreamer of the extreme "oh, there's a bluejay!" type. Last week, though, I managed to make one batch of bread without yeast, and then a second without salt. And after several bread failures R. gently asked me how old my yeast was, and the answer was "over a year past the expiration date." That can't be attributed to PB, I don't think.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Whenever I see a headline about Alcatel-Lucent, I think of Alcasan, the severed head kept "alive" in That Hideous Strength.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sausage and Lentils with Cabbage that is not Fennel

In summer, my freezer is stuffed with ice packs so that we can keep food safe in multiple coolers, or with rapid cooler turnaround. This means food in the freezer has to be kept at a minimum, and it was time for two pounds of sweet Italian sausage to be used. Recent frustrating experiences with R. and pasta--his bedtime blood sugar is always either too high or too low after a pasta dinner, even whole grain or high-protein pasta--ruled out ziti or lasagne. "Sausage and peppers!" people brightly say, and I think, "and what else?" Also, I am not an Italian deli/caterer, last time I checked.

So I found this recipe for Sausage and Lentils with Fennel at Eggs On Sunday (a blog title guaranteed to get my attention, by the way). I headed off to the farmers' market and then got caught in a thunderstorm that reminded me of a visiting friend's remark last summer: "You told me about the 60% chance of rain today, but not the 20% chance of Armageddon." The Farmer's Market had been quickly dismantled. So I had to resort to the A&P. I went to "the big A&P," and even they did not have any fennel. Shocking, and disappointing. They did, however, have a table of local produce right at the entrance, including some dainty heads of cabbage. I love cabbage very much, and it is one of the eleven foods we should be eating and aren't (but actually are) from the New York Times. Usually cabbage comes in the "enough cole slaw for the annual church picnic" size, so I seized upon these, and substituted cabbage for fennel in the recipe. Yum.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Going to the Chapel of Narcissism

At first I wasn't going to blog this even though it made my blood boil, but then a connecting article surfaced in the Times.

First, from the New Yorker coverage of the book launch party for Galt Niederhoffer's The Romantics:

“In a way, my book party is my wedding,” Niederhoffer said. “This is a better thing to aspire to, isn’t it? To be celebrated for your intelligence and your talent, rather than for your size-two beauty.”

Um, Galt, honey? My wedding was a celebration of the joining of two lives, the creation of a new family, of love and hope and good wishes. I wanted to look nice, because I was going to have my picture taken a lot and I generally do try to look nice, especially at dress-up occasions; but I didn't think my appearance was the centerpiece of the event.

I certainly didn't expect to perfect my bridesmaids' appearances:

"For Ms. Knauer, who will be married in December, cosmetic interventions for herself and her entourage are as vital as the centerpieces or food. 'If I were 25 or 26 and getting married, a bracelet, necklace or matching earrings would be fine,' she said."
It's Botox for You, Dear Bridesmaids

All I asked was that they wear identical lavender moire dresses, and even for that I am now sorry. My mother tried to get me to consider letting them choose their own dresses, but I was only the second one of my friends to get married, and it was hard to think outside the box.

As if to show that things can always get more nightmarish, the article ends with one woman's attempts to get rid of her mother's and future mother-in-law's crows' feet. *Shudder*

Am I overreacting to this?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Brief Visit to My Unconscious

So as I was watching Ergo's embedded video, I thought to myself, "Now who was telling me that I would get better grades if I put more kettle drum into my orchestrations?" And then I thought, "Guess that was a dream."

Any guesses as to what it might mean?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wishing Well

"The Lion and the Mouse," an excellent piece by Jill Lepore from the July 21 New Yorker, mentions Stuart Little's words to the lineman along the road, "I wish you fair skies and a tight grip." These in turn reminded me of this exchange from The Hobbit:

"Farewell!" they cried, "wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey's end!" That is the polite thing to say among eagles.
"May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks," answered Gandalf, who knew the correct reply.

It's one of the many reasons I have such a crush on Gandalf. I would love to be so gracious, so thoughtful, and so learned, that I know the proper formula to wish anyone well according to his own culture and the things that are most important to him. I'll have to take another look at Stuart Little, but as I recall he does this more than once, coming up with just the right thing to say off the cuff. Off the cuff, but taking a moment to think about the person he's addressing and that person's circumstances.

I know, of course, that it's--forgive the expression--the thought that counts; but words are important to me, and I think words that have lived together in the same phrase for so long (as in the Gandalf case) take on a life of their own.

Here's one that made me feel particularly blessed at our wedding:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Or, for the fishermen among us, "Tight lines!"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Brainwashing Complete

M: Mommy, don't you think the place where we live looks like it should be in a movie or a TV show?

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Story Box, The Story Box

Did anyone else watch The Magic Garden?

A few years ago--probably more than three but fewer than six--I bought a nice, heavy varnished pine toy chest with heart cutouts from a garage sale around the corner, with the idea of refinishing it and putting it at the end of our bed for storage and seating. Probably within a year after that, I stripped it, which experience was, I guess, so demoralizing that nothing else happened for quite a long time.

In addition to getting rid of the movies I'm not going to watch and the books I'm not going to read, I have decided that any garage sale furniture that doesn't reach its intended destination by Labor Day is going out the door as well. So this week I painted my blanket chest in palest blue, and I think that color, coupled with the hearts, gives it a nice Swedish Country look:
Especially paired with my fjord painting:
And my faux-Swedish-Country-armoire, which I managed to paint within a week of acquiring it,

because it was huge and in the living room. In fact, my Decorating Tip for today is, "Don't put your garage sale finds in the basement." NB the inside of the armoire is the same color as the chest--I used the rest of the paint, hooray!

As I told my sister-in-law, I count this as a triple achievement:

1) Chest is painted
2) Chest is in bedroom
3) Chest is not in basement

I knew there was a book I was forgetting in my roundup yesterday. One day last spring I took the magazines to the recycling center and found in the dumpster:

In Cold Blood with nearly pristine dust jacket
The House on the Strand Daphne Du Maurier
The Little Minister J.M. Barrie 1922 edition

So last week I read The Little Minister. I don't like Peter Pan very much, and I am permanently prejudiced against poor Mr. Barrie's dramatic works by the scathing reviews in The Portable Dorothy Parker; but he was a very successful writer in his time and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

He spins a good yarn, and it's absolutely dripping with sentiment. I don't think I'll be spoiling anything for anyone with this next observation, because I suspect none of my eighteen readers has as much tolerance for broad Scots dialogue and Victorian hoo-ha as I do, but just in case,


The denouement, the big reveal, in this book is that the gypsy girl and Lord Rintoul's intended are one and the same. I spotted this twist on...I'm going to say page twelve. Were turn-of-the-century readers so unobservant, or were they, like me today, just along for the ride?

Edited to add: slightly spooky, Arts and Letters Daily today makes me aware of an article in the Telegraph about Barrie and his (previously unknown to me) connection with the Du Mauriers.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Medias Media

I am not so broody that I have abandoned my favorite pastimes of reading and viewing altogether. To wit:

While in the North Country I read all 768 pages (plus introduction and historical notes) of Owen Glendower by John Cowper Powys. It was Levi at Ivebeenreadinglately who made me aware of the book--and it's hard to trace, but I think it was my early-2008 obsession with Dorothy Sayers that led me to Levi. As he observes, the book isn't easy--although I must say, the only book I know that is that long and also easy is Gone With The Wind--but it is ultimately rewarding. One of its themes is one of my favorite themes of all time: that the great events of history necessarily happened in a much messier, more personal, more complicated way than History with a capital H would have us believe. It's particularly rewarding for anyone with a special interest in Wales and a developing interest in Celtic lore.

Right now my mission is twofold: to finish or discard all the books I've started and abandoned in the past year, and to read all the books people have lent me so I can get them out of the house. Yes, I am in extreme purging mode. Last night I finished No Vulgar Hotel, Judith Martin's (aka Miss Manners) love letter to Venice. I did love Venice when I saw it at age 17--as with Paris, the pleasure is in just being there--but I felt no urge, at that time or while reading, to do as Martin and her friends have done, visiting the city as many as four times a year to the exclusion of all other destinations. The book is a delightful read, and let me give you a piece of advice that the lender gave me too late: skip the part in the middle about the old Venetian family the author has "adopted."

I'm now reading Real Food by Nina Planck. Miss Planck is preaching to the choir in my case, but I do look forward to gaining some conversational ammunition in defense of eggs, beef, bacon and butter.

My admiration of Wendy Wasserstein's work is no secret on this blog. I first saw the Meryl Streep/Jill Eikenberry/Swoosie Kurtz/Ellen Parker production of "Uncommon Women and Others" on PBS in pre-VHS days, which means I was awfully young to be hearing dialogue about phallocentric culture and diaphragms, but my parents privileged aesthetics over age-appropriateness, and they liked Wendy too. I decided it was time for another viewing, which the miracle of Netflix made possible. I was surprised by how mannered the acting is, but moved by the continuing relevance of the characters and their concerns. "Not much has changed for women in thirty years," I observed to my mother, "...and it never will," she replied.

Then I watched "Ratatouille," and I guess my expectations were too high. Or ever since I was frightened by the scurrying plague-ridden rats in The London Experience (at roughly the same age at which I saw "Uncommon Women," so equally imprintable) I haven't been big on cinematic depictions of hordes of scurrying rats. Also, the movie is very, very visual and I am very, very verbal. Anyway, it was fine, but not something I need to own or ever see again.

Next in the Netflix stack was "Away From Her." Well, actually, it's been on the top of the stack since, Netflix informs me, March 21. And on not one evening in the past over-three months have I thought, "Hey, tonight I'd like to watch a movie about a man who has to facilitate his wife's nursing-home romance after Alzheimer's causes her to forget about him and their marriage!" So into the mail it goes. I'm sure it's a great movie, but my tolerance for Bad Stuff in my entertainment decreases yearly. When the movie of A River Runs Through It came out, my grandmother's review was, "I didn't like it. The girl dies at the end." You may remember that "the girl" dies, offscreen, after a long lifetime of wedded bliss. But I can see myself on the trajectory to reach a similar attitude at age 85.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's My Own Invention, as the White Knight (and my grandmother) would say

Blueberry Sage Chutney
3 pints blueberries, washed, stemmed and sorted
1 red onion, chopped fine
approximately 3 dozen sage leaves, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt
sprinkling of red pepper flakes

If you're lucky, like me, dump everything in your breadmaker and run the jam cycle.

Otherwise, combine all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil and heat about 45 minutes.

Ladle into jars still hot from the dishwasher, top with lids and rings ditto, and put in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. See my improvised canning tongs? I knew I was saving all those asparagus elastics for something. No more scratching the lid or dropping the jar and scalding myself.

I think this will be good with roasted meats, especially fowl or pork; and also dumped over a log of chevre and spread on crackers.

Purple sage from my own garden, red onion of mysterious origin, and local blueberries (not my own blueberries, because here's my yield so far):
Enough for tomorrow's cereal. It's a start, and more than we got last year.

Oh, and not to be biologically deterministic, but there may be a reason I'm so nesty lately: the MomVee family is expecting a sixth member in January of 2009. I know, I buried the lede.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Outsourcing My Reading

Dear Readers,

I don't have time to read these items that have been in my bookmarks list for ages. I certainly don't have time to read them today, as I help both Rs to pack for scout camp and continue to try to restore (establish?) order in my home. But perhaps you have a relaxing weekend ahead and need something to read*:

The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating
Okay, I did read this one, or at least I skimmed it, and then I sprained my shoulder patting myself on the back because we are eating 10 of them. And I'll get some sardines pronto.

Email Checklist
36 things to consider before hitting send. Via Only Once.

Six Iconoclastic Discoveries About the Brain

I'm fascinated in the brain, but there's something wrong with mine that makes my eyes glaze over when I start to read something like this. My father actually wrote his thesis on "Stereoscopic Resolution of Conflicting Affect Expressions," so I guess that's where we differ. I am all about affect, though.

Gidget on the Couch
"Surfing's secret Austro-Hungarian roots"

Lawn Pox
Children's play equipment and the decline of the American yard.

You Didn't Know Harry Potter Was Jewish?
I think the title says it all.

Are Human Brains Unique?
See above.

Ghost Town
I read this one too. It's really long, so keep it for a rainy day. Fascinating photo essay of the area around Chernobyl. Originally found in Mighty Girl comments.

*Yes, Johnny Falschgedank, I know I could share these on Google Reader, but I bookmarked them before I started using it, and it's just too cumbersome to do them one by one.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Italics mine:

Since the discrediting of Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who first defined it, Munchausen's has been relabelled as “fabricated or induced illness”. This is a perverse disorder in which an adult invents or deliberately creates a child's illness to draw attention to himself or herself. Even the experts agree that Munchausen's is rare, likely to affect no more than 50 people a year. But campaigners fear that far more people are being accused of it. For the traits of the Munchausen mother are broad enough to cast suspicion on many whose children are genuinely ill. They include a reluctance to leave the sick child's side, familiarity with medical terms and, most devastating, the denial of accusations of abuse.

Family Justice: your word against theirs, Times Online

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hungry Yet?

"Women in that country were judged not by their bulging sweaters, but by their bulging pantries. Husbands unashamedly threw open their pantry doors and dared you to have more of anything."

The Egg and I, Betty MacDonald

That's one of my favorite books, by the way, although knowing that Betty eventually divorced Bob and fled the chicken farm makes it all a little less funny, just like knowing that Shirley Jackson struggled with depression and alcoholism and that her children are virtual recluses makes Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons a little less funny.

But I digress, and I hadn't even begun yet. Today I made four jars of raspberry jam and four jars of blackberry jam. I used to do a lot of that sort of thing--making jam, and baking bread, and sewing Christmas stockings for people, and coming up with elaborately-themed home birthday parties...and then I pretty much stopped. I don't know exactly why, but I do know that I was receiving messages, from both inside and outside myself, that I was wasting my time.

Now, in my continuing quest to convince myself that everything counts, I plan to revisit some of those activities. I'm not an artist like Anna, but I'm inspired by her handmade items--also by Angry Chicken's sewing, cooking, and paper-cutting; and I like the way Jordan and Abby work to make their surroundings beautiful. And, frankly, the way Umami Girl uses her fresh produce is making me feel a little competitive.

In Rebecca West's Cousin Rosamund, Rose is dining with her friend Mr. Morpurgo:

"'I do not waste money,' I objected.
'Nobody really does that,' he conceded. 'It is very hard to imagine an action that falls into that category except lighting one's cigarette with a five-pound note. It is almost impossible to spend money without getting something for it. Even if it gives one only a momentary satisfaction that is something for which only a miser would be unwilling to spend money.'"

I'd like to posit that it is also difficult to truly waste time, although I'm afraid some Internet surfing is akin to lighting one's cigarette with a five-pound note. I am resolved that as long as my time is spent on something that I know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful, I will not consider it wasted.

And now I should probably clean the exploded Cream of Wheat out of the microwave.

PS Local berries, local honey.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Quarterly Political Post

I don't often get political on this blog. That's partly because my blog is about parenting and culture, not politics. It's partly because I don't really believe in political action as a solution to any of the most basic things wrong with the world. And, as long as I'm being honest, it's because I have a lot of left/liberal friends who assume I agree with them and I'm a pleaser by nature, so I stay quiet. Oh, wait, that's in real life too.

I think, though, I may be doing those people a disservice, as well as showing them a lack of respect. So here are two articles on a subject dear to my heart: food. Both of them--in the course of explaining why real food is or should be a conservative issue--might begin to illuminate what I find compelling in conservatism.

So for anyone whose shorthand understanding of conservatism is something like "hating people who are different from you while grubbing for as much money as you can"--and even for those whose understanding is more nuanced and whose opinion still (gasp!) differs from mine--I give you one glimpse of my conservatism, which is about nature, tradition, and continuity:

Food For Thought

Table Talk

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Limits of YouTube--or my search ability

There was a Fargo North, Decoder sketch on Electric Company that I think of whenever I go away. Someone had left a note saying "I am on vacation," and brought Fargo in to read it. He read, "I am on....VAY-KAY-TY-ON." Can't find it to show you, though.

That's what I'm on, too. In the unfashionable western Adirondacks--or as those in the know call it, the North Country--until July 7th.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You Have No Idea

M, this morning: Where's Daddy?
MV: He's at work.
M: There's still work during the summer? That stinks!

Monday, June 23, 2008

100 Things To Do, Part II

I honestly don't see how I'm going to come up with one hundred of these. Does that mean I'm contented, or unimaginative?

26. Read In Search of Lost Time
27. String up Chinese lanterns for a backyard party
28. Make marrons glacés
29. Speak at a commencement
30. Wear the Wonder Woman costume I bought at Marshalls on impulse
31. Try once-a-week cooking
32. Be in the Old Guard, and walk
33. Learn the basics of playing the organ
34. Drive across the country
35. Go on retreat with the Sisters of Bethlehem
36. Write a song
37. Design my own Christmas cards
38. Wear a big hat to a horse race
39. Try on my wedding dress at my silver anniversary
40. Go caroling
41. Catalog our home library
42. Square dance, for the first time since grammar school
43. Have a wildflower cutting garden
44. Take modern dance/"adult ballet" class
45. Publish an article in a magazine
46. Find a place for the OED that actually enables us to consult it easily
47. Go peach-picking
48. Have a box of chocolates ready in my desk drawer for impromptu occasions, like Joey Bettany
49. Be instrumental in opening a place like Cafe Meow in my hometown
50. Run an "arts colony" for all our talented friends some summer, and work on a collaborative project

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fresh...Exciting! As Kool and The Gang Might Say

Yesterday I went to the posh farm market, the one that used to be a working farm but now sells Vera Bradley bags and Caldrea cleaning products alongside the food, and bought as much local produce as I could find, including a bunch of in-state beets. I then invented

Incredibly Easy and Good-For-You Borscht

1 bunch beets, peeled and quartered
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (I cheat with Better Than Bullion)
Approximately 1 cup non-fat plain yogurt
Sour cream and fresh dill, if desired

Simmer beets and onion in stock for about 40 minutes, let cool if you're more patient than I am, or if you have a plastic blender. Transfer vegetables and liquid to blender and puree. Add as much yogurt as you can fit into your blender container and blend until thoroughly incorporated. Garnish with a dab of sour cream and a sprig of fresh dill, but I just took it to the beach in Gladware, unadorned. Six of seven diners fairly licked their bowls, and the seventh is the youngest of us, so still too young to know what tastes good. Makes 5 8-oz servings or 10 4-0z ones.

So today I went to the honest-t0-goodness Farmers' Market. It was better than I remembered: lots more greens and a greater variety of vegetables. I got more beets, kirby cucumbers, some gorgeous-looking sweet potatoes, and baby bok choy, among other things. The place is still plagued with wind chimes and incense burners--wouldn't you think the market for those would have dried up by now?--but my best score was a huge patio tomato plant, already bearing, for $10. It was like a message from God--it's okay that you didn't plant tomatoes this spring, I'm still giving you backyard tomatoes.

Sunday Laughs

An awesome column from the always-incredible Joe Queenan.

I laughed out loud at this paragraph from Mimi Smartypants:

"Of course there are Mormons and then there are Mormons. The FLDS and not the LDS are the ones who really picked up the polygamy football and ran with it, and it pisses me off that their little inbred towns like Colorado City get all kinds of federal money for their "school" systems and infrastructure and that the ACLU spends time and cash defending their religious right to forcibly marry and rape and impregnate 14-year-old girls. It is their RELIGION, you see. Well it's my religion to kick you in the crotch repeatedly, is that okay?"

Worth-Its 1-25

No one could put it better than Maggie did: Scenes I hope pop up as my life flashes before my eyes.

1. Waltzing around the basement with my grandmother on Sunday mornings, in my flannel nightgown, to a 45 of Patti Page's "Tennessee Waltz."
2. R. proposing on the streets of New York because I picked a fight with him in Cafe Lalo where he had intended to pop the question.
3. Seeing Barbara Cook and Wally Harper live in a small venue.
4. Not just the "yes" letter from college, but the little yelp my father emitted when I called up the stairs to tell him what it said.
5. Baby R. laughing at the sight of a pompon duck and the sound of the word "chandelier."
6. My first real kiss in a red Volkswagen bug, and thinking, "this is better than ice cream."
7. The hush followed by applause when I sang "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" sitting on the edge of the stage in "Pippin," senior year of high school.
8. My first dinner party with CF and MB, shrunken chicken and burnt apple cake followed by pizza.
9. Going out for bagels early in the morning after the nor'easter of 1992, seeing the streets littered with broken umbrellas, and buying a Christmas tree on impulse.
10. Skinny-dipping in the fountain.
11. Being awoken in the early hours of the morning and "sung in" to my a cappella group.
12. Coming home from a day in the city with GBR, having become a couple, and his saying "I want everyone to know about us."
13. Kissing R. for the first time and laughing out loud at the sheer, joyful, uncomplicated rightness of it.
14. Going to a baseball game with R, CC and PM, and joking about the impossibility of resisting the strolling vendors, no matter what they were selling: "Grass clippings! Get your grass clippings!" "Dog poop heah!"
15. Longest-sip and incredible-lie contests at David's Cookies after school in H.S.
16. Driving a 15-passenger van up an icy slope in Vermont with EB blowing kisses to me at the top.
17. R. and S. explaining R.'s plan to sell original poetry at a roadside stand.
18. JM pouring glass after glass of champagne in her Madame X-like dress at our second Country House Weekend.
19. Snuggling baby M. in the music building lobby after a Reunions cloudburst, and thinking, "I thought my baby would interfere with my enjoyment of Reunions; but actually Reunions is interfering with my enjoyment of my baby."
20. Christmas morning 1974 and what seemed like a huge number of presents under the tree. It now looks quite modest in photographs but they were all things I especially loved and played with for years.
21. Dancing with my father at my wedding as he said, "Isn't this all like something in a dream?"
22. Showing my brother the dilapidated swing set in my new back yard, vaguely lamenting the need to find someone to take it down, and watching him immediately proceed to do so.
23. Hearing Mister Rogers speak at my brother's commencement.
24. My 21st-birthday costume party on the stage of the theater where I was working that summer.
25. Baby S. grinning mischievously as she slowly reopened my robe after I tried to cut short what must have been one of our last nursing sessions.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Before I say what I really have to say, may I just mention that I consider myself a pretty good Googler, and I cannot find out what the Greek word for "list" is? No matter what, I just end up with lists of Greek words. No! Bad search engine!

As indicated by my post of a few days ago, I resist list-making. I'd rather keep everything in my head and let really important stuff fall through the cracks. Why? Well, I suspect it's because I don't like a visual representation of the ramp that actually exists in physical reality.

So while I loved the idea of Maggie Mason's 100 Things To Do Before I Die, I couldn't pull the trigger on actually coming up with my own list. Now Mama has beaten me to it and my competitive spirit is engaged, so there's no looking back.*

In, emphatically, no particular order:

1. Publish a book
2. Knit myself a sweater
3. Learn to surf
4. Stop looking for the finish line, but maybe throw away some of the odd socks.
5. Celebrate my anniversary at The Cloister on Sea Island, with the kids.
6. Visit Denmark, especially Silkeborg, the town my great-grandparents came from
7. Go on a Chalet School tour of Austria and Switzerland with LSB.
8. Memorize a classical piano piece
9. Sing cabaret
10. Cruise the Adriatic
11. Learn to speak Welsh
12. Finish a triathlon
13. Learn to play squash
14. Visit the stonecutters' yard at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
15. Put 25 gallons of photographs into albums
16. Tape interviews with my parents
17. Turn my grandmother's diaries into a book
18. Become an expert on something
19. Rescue some of my most-beloved novels from obscurity
20. Write a children's book
21. Build Anna's play kitchen
22. Make M.'s First Communion veil
23. Learn to play my mandolin
24. See Joan of Arc's house in Domremy-la-Pucelle
25. Compile a memory book for my a cappella group

*Actually, there will be looking back. Because, also piggybacking on Mighty Girl, I intend to sweeten the terror of the life list by interspersing it with "Worth Its." I'm much more comfortable with the settled past than the infinitely possible future.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From The Duh Department

R. and S. are attending squash camp in the city this week, which means they get the fun of commuting in with R. on the train, enjoying some of the amenities of his beautiful club, and receiving excellent squash instruction. It also means that the four of us get the not-fun of rising around 5:30 am and trying not to forget anything, when at least three of us are the type that doesn't enjoy full brain function until around 9.

Those of you who are on Facebook with me may have noticed my status update about speeding to the train station with no pants on, which was the result of a Monday 6:31 am phone call from R.--"If you race here, you just might make it in time to give R. his tester." So I grabbed the blood glucose meter, essential if R. wants to, oh, exercise, or eat, and added flip-flops to my current outfit of t-shirt and underpants. Made it as the train pulled in, and luckily did not have to get out of the car.

On Tuesday things went a little more smoothly, and I typed up a checklist on the computer as we packed the bags. I taped it to the back door, and this morning (knock wood, no teary or panicked phone calls yet) was smoother yet.

Hmm. It seems to me that I have read and heard this type of technique suggested for absent-minded professors like us, oh, about a million times. I am shocked, shocked to report that it works.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Notes From All Over

--I have just finished Saint Joan of Arc by Vita Sackville-West, the best Joan of Arc book I have ever read, which is saying a lot. I attribute my enjoyment of the work partly to my early imprinting on Bloomsbury: my mother read and owned collections of the letters of Virginia Woolf, the journals of Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf's multi-volume autobiography, and enough other books about their circle to cause my father to call her study "The Virginia Woolf Room." I also observe, though, that Saint Joan of Arc was published in 1936, which seems to lie smack in the middle of my preferred era as far as language and literature go:

Fatal Interview, 1931
Gone With The Wind, 1936
A City Of Bells, 1936
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, 1941

What this means I don't really know.

--I emptied out the children's backpacks yesterday and put them in the attic. This may not seem remarkable, but consider that last year, I emptied the backpacks of their '06-'07 contents on the night before school began in September of 2007. Yes, they took up space in the mudroom all summer. Yes, I did manage to extricate the report cards and supply lists, but nothing else. So once again I have that triumphant feeling that I have snatched family life out of the jaws of the mysterious force.

--I watched with a liberal mixture of delight and horror as S. was presented with a t-shirt at squash camp yesterday and proceeded to fold it very nimbly and carefully. I have never asked that my children fold their clothes, only that they put them away. S. has so far seemed to be virtually incapable of putting away, so I didn't think to assign folding. Perhaps the fact that I hate putting-away most of all laundry steps will shed some light on this situation; apparently my daughter shares my tastes and/or is onto me. In order to lighten the load for myself, should I cede the task I like? Or should I continue trying to enforce the task I loathe, in hopes that she will become inured to it?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Not bad, except for the Jackie Kennedy part

Yes, I'm still alive, and easing back into blogging with a trusty quiz:

You're The Mists of Avalon!

by Marion Zimmer Bradley

You're obsessed with Camelot in all its forms, from Arthurian legend
to the Kennedy administration. Your favorite movie from childhood was "The Sword in
the Stone". But more than tales of wizardry and Cuban missiles, you've focused on
women. You know that they truly hold all the power. You always wished you could meet
Jackie Kennedy.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Here's A Story

A few weeks ago my children were watching an episode of "Life With Derek," the Disney channel's half hour comedy about a blended family. It was the last time they'll ever watch it, not because of something particularly offensive in that episode,* but because we've found something better.

The opening credits of LWD feature members of the family in boxes with a blue background. "Oh, this is an homage to 'The Brady Bunch,' I said to the kids."

"What's 'The Brady Bunch'?" they asked. I felt sort of like my mother must have when I was reading a review of "What's Love Got To Do With It?" and asked her "What's Banlon?" She laughed hysterically, and said it sounded like the beginning of an earnest article: "The other day, my daughter asked me, 'What is polio?' and I reflected on the changes in the world since my youth..."

But I digress. And I must continue to digress in another direction to note that as a child I loved "The Brady Bunch" very, very much. As I've mentioned before, I spent a portion of my childhood (a few months? a year?) eating dinner on a tray in front of the television because TBB was on at 6 o'clock, and this being pre-DVR, pre-VHS, I was not about to miss it.

Now, thank goodness, we have the DVR. So I taped an episode of TBB at 4:30 am for my children's edification, and we all watched it together a few days later.

I have been burned trying to share my childhood TV and movie faves before. Some succeed, but others fail miserably. This one was a home run. All three children were riveted, laughing hysterically, clutching each other, gasping, sighing. They were completely drawn into the problem of Cindy's only having one ticket to the class play.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed watching the portrayal of a happy family that speaks to each other in loving kindness and respect. "Our Cindy doesn't need wings for her costume," Greg says to his siblings at one point, "She always looks like a fairy princess." Unrealistic? Perhaps. Although my children are kind to each other in that innocent and earnest way, more often than not. Yes, they fight--so do the Bradys. I'm having a hard time putting my finger on it, but there's something ugly about the attempts at realism in today's TV for children.** I think I prefer this candy-coated version. And, miracle of miracles, so do R, S and M. So we are loading up on Brady Bunches.

*Although there are vaguely offensive things in every episode of that show. There's always a moral, and it pays lip service to doing the right thing, but here's a throwaway line: Casey tells Derek, "Girls and boys are not the same," and he says, "I know. I learned that on our old couch." I glanced at my kids with alarm when I heard that, but they were in the usual Disney Channel open-mouthed stupor and it didn't seem to register.

**In relatively recent memory, "Arthur" on PBS also portrayed a kind of family that I recognize. Is "Arthur" still on, I wonder?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday Poetry Podcast: In Praise Of Limestone

It is my fourteenth anniversary today. This poem is, as Johnny Rotten says, not a love song; but I already read "our poem" to my love on Valentine's Day (apparently if you enlarge the picture you can see granola on the tablecloth). This one is such a good poem, with so many brilliant lines, that it is a fitting tribute to such a good husband, with so many brilliant lines. Besides, although it's been absolute ages since he went fly-fishing, I know he still loves a limestone landscape.

In Praise of Limestone MP3 (about five minutes)

In Praise of Limestone at Wikipedia
W.H. Auden at Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas

Jay has been blogging about drinking during pregnancy, and zero tolerance policies toward said drinking as a way to control women. I've blogged lightly about this before, when Melissa of Suburban Bliss was appearing on the Today show to defend cocktails at playdates. I think Jay has done a good job talking about puritanism and moderation; I don't need to add anything on those topics. But here are my not-very-well-organized thoughts on drinking in pregnancy:

This website (which Jay made me aware of in another context) has a very good rundown on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and research evidence. I'd particularly like to highlight the point made towards the bottom of the page: that the role of alcohol in FAS can be hard to separate from the other risk-taking behaviors that tend to cluster with alcohol abuse--smoking, drug use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care.

But here's another thing about pregnancy, alcohol use, and research: I'm pretty sure the data is tainted, because of this anecdote from a friend:

Setting: L&D ward. A nurse is filling out the admitting questionnaire.
Nurse: And did you drink during this pregnancy?
My friend: Yes.
Nurse: raises eyebrows You did?
My friend: Yes, I had a glass of wine from time to time.
Nurse: Oh, that's all. Well, I'm just going to write "no" here.

Great. So if all the moderate yeses get recorded as noes, what kind of answers are we going to get about safe levels of drinking in pregnancy? This isn't just a case of "everybody lies" as Dr. House famously says; this is a case of "health professional lies for you."

When I was pregnant with R., my first, we were having dinner with a wise priest friend at an Italian restaurant. I held my hand over the glass to keep him from pouring me some red wine, and he sighed, "I'm sure the mothers of Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas drank wine every day when they were pregnant." I'm sure they did, too--watered wine, granted. And I know the health practices of our centuries-ago forbears, with their shorter life spans and sometimes mysterious ailments, are not necessarily a model for today's healthy behavior. I also know just because, closer to our time, the author of Thank You, Dr. Lamaze was knocking back scotches on the rocks while she practiced her breathing techniques--and her kids turned out okay--is no reason to pour a scotch on the rocks when you're expecting.

But it's food--or drink--for thought.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

TED in Half | Ken Robinson - Creativity in Education

Watch this! And if you like it, go watch the 20 minute version.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Up My Alley

The instructions: Bold the ones you’ve read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish. Meme via Jay. I can't figure out how to underline either, so I asterisked the school ones.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
*Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights (actually, I may have eventually finished this, but only after so many stops and starts that I really can't remember)
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
*Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre

*A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair

The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
*Mrs. Dalloway
*Great Expectations

American Gods
(I think it's fascinating there are three Neil Gaiman books on this list, given that he's a contemporary genre [fantasy/sf] writer. I haven't read Anansi Boys, but I love American Gods and Neverwhere.)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a Memoir in Books
Memoirs of a Geisha

Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (but I have read the Geoffrey Maguire retellings of Cinderella and Snow White)
*The Canterbury Tales (I was only assigned some of the tales!)
The Historian : a Novel (I hated this book a lot.)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera

Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mansfield Park
(my favorite Austen)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist

*Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a Memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-Present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
*The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye

On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences (I picked a pristine, with-dust jacket copy of this out of the mixed-paper recycling dumpster a few months ago, but I can't pull the trigger and read it. I love Capote, but I'm not big on murder or, frankly, true stories)
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

I'm surprised In Search of Lost Time/Swann's Way isn't on the list. I would have thought that's the most started, least finished book of all time. I keep getting stuck around page 80, and at least two people have told me they bogged down in the same place.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Poetry Podcast: A Child's Garden of Verses

I can't find any good poems about mothers, so I read some poems that I heard very often from my mother:

A Child's Garden of Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson

I did try a little bit to find the bizarre lenticular edition of the poems that I remember--so seventies--and had greater success than I expected. I found no mention of that particular book, but plenty of the genre, at this fascinating site: Stump the Bookseller.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Notes From All Over

Line of the day
With regard to the slump-busting diorama of inflatable dolls in the White Sox locker room, Kevin Hench writes: "But when the White Sox say their déclassé diorama was intended merely as a slumpbuster, we should take them at their word. Not because ballplayers aren't capable of demeaning women, but because they are incapable of subtext."

Gee, I hope they're not mad, but I'll be at my cousin's wedding that day!
An ad in the New York Times made me aware of free iced coffee day at Dunkin' Donuts. I clicked on it to make sure that my local DD was participating, because I love coffee, iced coffee and free things. The DD home page had a link that read "RSVP at Facebook," which I clicked because I was curious. Over one hundred thousand people have indicated that they will be attending. Almost two thousand have written on the wall. Almost 14,000 may be attending, and over 32,000 have declined. I am aware that even viewing the page, not to mention breaking down the numbers on my blog, greatly lessens any distinction between me and the respondents. But still.

New (To Me) Fruit
A bin of apriums caught my eye at Whole Foods yesterday. I wasn't big on the pluot, but I have to say so far I am loving the aprium. So much for trying to buy more local, in-season produce.

Do You Want To Tell Him, Or Shall I?
"A source" says that Tom Cruise was inspired by his wife's participation in the New York Marathon last fall and wants to run one himself "possibly in Boston." The source is also quoted as saying that Tom is "keen to 'crush' Katie's time of 5 hours, 29 minutes." Putting aside the question of what kind of jerk feels the need to compete with his wife like that, someone needs to introduce Tom to the concept of qualifying times: since a man of his age needs to run a 3.5 hour marathon to even get into the Boston, the "crushing" will be a side benefit.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Disturbing Evidence That My Son Is A Changeling

R. is finishing up his first-ever term paper this weekend, on Scotland. Standard operating procedure is for one's parents to type up this paper, which I find irksome but ultimately not worth fighting. "Double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point," R. specified as he handed me his final draft. "Ah, so teachers have finally caught on to that whole situation," I said. I told him with what great genius we used to employ font size in the dark early days of word processing, and that I once used a ten-page Times 12 paper to calculate conversion factors, which I then wrote on an index card affixed to my carrel: Palatino 1.4, New Century Schoolbook 1.6, Courier 1.8.

"I think I'd rather just do the work," he observed.

Friday, May 02, 2008

New Place To Drink

I'm adding Spiked Online to the links at the right. I get a weekly email from Spiked and there's usually at least one good article in it; this week there are three:

Brendan O'Neill sadly reports that the horrifying story of Josef Fritzl is being used as an excuse to attack Austrian culture and private family life: "As the freed Fritzl children discover the joys of sunlight and take their first steps on the road to recovery, it would be a shame if they grew up in an Austria and a Europe made even more uptight by the one-off horror that they endured."

Nancy McDermott interviews Lenore Skenazy, the New Yorker who let her nine-year-old son ride the subway alone and found herself labeled the "world's worst mom." We try to practice a little free range parenting, too, and find ourselves thwarted at every turn, like when S.'s choir director walked her the block and a half to the YMCA after school despite my note giving her permission to do so by herself.

Frank Furedo reflects on My 1968.

Expectation becomes an expectation becomes an expectation

Perhaps you have heard something about the latest academic flap: a Dartmouth professor is threatening to sue her students for criticizing her. Or something. It's hard to tell because this writing professor is a shockingly bad writer, and not such a hot thinker either. In describing the specific class in question, Professor Venkatesan not only is unable to reconstruct the argument she was presenting, but also disowns it.

Moving on to the excerpt from the Dartmouth Review interview: even considering that this a transcription of an oral interview, the professor's remarks are really a masterpiece of inarticulation, followed by a masterpiece of paranoid fantasy. I have a Dartmouthian friend who expressed the hope that Venkatesan would turn out to be a comic performance artist, and it seems good to proceed on that assumption, but now I'm interested in working out her influences. Do you think she owes more to Gertrude Stein or Samuel Beckett?

There must be some explanation.