20 January 2017

The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.

I have, for the past several days, been writing posts in my head about the "peaceful transfer of power" that occurred earlier today, and the frightening prospects for the short term future.

Shall I rail about the Affordable Care Act? I could, but instead I will send you elsewhere to read a letter my sister sent to her local newspaper.

Shall I bemoan the threat to public education? Betsy DeVos is not only unqualified to be the Secretary of Education, but she is clueless and claimed to a Senate committee that it was a "clerical error" that her name appeared as Vice President in the tax return of the family foundation bearing her mother's name. I can't even.

Shall I point out that the National Endowment for the Arts has a budget of $150 million - which is a drop in the friggin' budget so let's just leave the arts out of all this? I don't need to go on about it; the Washington Post did a fine job of pointing out that "cutting federal support for the arts and humanities is a way to fight the culture war, not to tackle the federal debt."

No.

Here's the thing. Pete Souza, who may well be a national treasure, hung around and took just a few more pictures of President Obama as he left the White House today. One of those pictures is an overhead shot of the oval office - where you see the rug. Did you know that the rug has words in its border?

The welfare of each of us is
dependent fundamentally upon
the welfare of all of us.

A photo posted by Pete Souza (@petesouza) on


Teddy Roosevelt said that in 1913, in a speech to the New York State Agricultural Association.

Remember our motto? E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

We - you, me, your mother, my boss, that guy who made your sandwich, your friend from college - we need to stick together and rise up as one. We. What I do affects you, what you do affects me, and together we can affect us all.

Yes We Can.

11 January 2017

Letter to the White House

11 January 2016

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

Thank you for 8 years of grace, intelligence, and empathy, and for your fierce drive to make our country better for everyone. These United States are immeasurably stronger because of your vision of economic prosperity, health insurance reform, racial justice, gender equality, peace. Two steps forward, one step back – governing America must often feel like a Sisyphean task, but you have borne it with elegance and dignity.

As I watched your farewell address last night and heard you say “Show up, dive in, stay at it”, I thought to myself this is not a farewell, this is a call to arms. You cemented that when you said “I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days.”

I look forward to your next chapter, and I assure you that I too believe that #YesWeCan.

Thank you.



Sincerely,



Me



(PS, yes, I put a hard copy of this letter in the mail, with a stamp, to the White House.)

08 January 2017

My 2016 In Books

As is my wont, I checked my Goodreads stats to see how many books I read in 2016, and I was kind of shocked to see that I'd not met my goal of 60. I was also shocked to see how far off of 2015 I'd been.


However!

One of the books I read in 2016 was actually an omnibus volume of all six of the Mapp & Lucia books - 1,119 pages! - so really, the total should have been 62. And 2015 was clearly an aberration; how I read 79 books in a year is beyond me. Looking at 2011 to 2014, 60 books is pretty close to average for me. Here are some of the 2016 highlights, bookwise.

Non-Fiction that has totally stuck with me: M Train
Patti Smith's memoir completely got under my skin. I need to buy my own copy, and scribble in the margins. I did chase down some Weleda salt toothpaste, and I think of her every time I brush my teeth.

Non-Fiction that was everything I hoped it would be: Hamilton: The Revolution
The sound track is terrific, but it wants a libretto. (CDs and LPs are sorely missed in that regard.) Genius is all well and good for lyrics with annotation, but sometimes you want paper. The Hamiltome is pictures, essays, lyrics, notes - all in one glorious package.

Fiction that totally surprised me: The Girl With All The Gifts
Zombies! I'm not a sci-fi horror zombie aficionado. But several people, from different parts of my life, recommended this and I succumbed. It blew me away. Yes, the main character is a zombie. Put your preconceived notions aside and read it.

Delightful new-to-me author: Sarah Caudwell
Caudwell wrote four mysteries. Her master solver is one Professor Hilary Tamar (of indeterminate sex), the cast of characters includes a bunch of London Barristers, and the crimes all hinge on arcane points of British law. The dialogue is wry, the settings are fetching, and I have read three of the four and am saving Thus Was Adonis Murdered for a moment of great need.

26 of the books I read were library books. I didn't finish three, because they were too tedious for words. Only one book was a re-read (Supreme Courtship, and that was by accident on vacation, because I found something in the book swap in the rental house laundromat, but it was fun to read again and had an odd synchronicity to the presidential election). Another book was a suggestion from my (then) 12 year old daughter (The Memory Keeper's Daughter). And one book was edited by someone I know (Joanne Bamberger's Love Her, Love Her Not) and I met one of the other authors (Sari Wilson, of Girl Through Glass) at a work event.

And, because of all the new books for Christmas and my December birthday, the pile next to my bed is as huge as ever.

02 January 2017

Soup of the Instant Evening

I succumbed to the lure of the Instant Pot and gave it to my husband for Christmas. He hasn't actually used it yet, but I opened it up and inaugurated it with a potato leek soup. It worked admirably well even though I barely read the instructions and didn't really use a recipe. Well, the instruction book had a recipe for ginger butternut squash soup, so I kind changed out all the ingredients and used that. Does that count as using a recipe?


Potato Leek Soup, in the Instant Pot

1 medium onion, chopped
3 leeks, split down the middle and cut into 1/2" half rounds
1 parsnip, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer)
2 T. butter or olive oil
1 t. salt
a few good grinds of pepper
1/2 t. dry tarragon
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Have all of the vegetables prepped before you start. Plug in the Instant Pot, put the butter and onion in the pot, and hit "sauté". The pot gets hot very quickly, so have the ingredients in before you turn it on. Once the onion is starting to soften, add the leeks. Give the onion & leek a stir or two and once the leeks are wilting, turn the Instant Pot off (use the Keep Warm/Cancel button). Add the parsnip, celery, potatoes, stock, salt, pepper and tarragon. [My stock was frozen, and I didn't bother to defrost it - I just dropped the whole block in the pot.] Put the lid on, latch it in place, and make sure the steam release lever is set to "sealing". Then hit "manual" and set the time for 10 minutes. Wander off. The machine will heat up and pressurize; once at pressure, it will cook for 10 minutes. When it beeps that it's done, release the pressure - this will be a dramatic, noisy and unexpectedly long whoosh of scalding hot steam, so be warned and be careful. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup (or transfer to a blender or food processor). Add heavy cream, and eat. Makes about four servings.




01 January 2017

New Year

To kick off the new year, we went for a walk, in a park on the Hudson River. I was taken with the gnarled intrepid trees along the shore, unprotected from the elements and showing it.

This battered, misshapen tree was magnificent ... and then we noticed the hole in the side.


Not only was the hole nearly the entire diameter of the tree, you could see straight through.


Naturally, I took a picture looking back out.


Though assaulted, the tree stands. There is hope in the future.

30 December 2016

Ponzi Schemes, And Other Tales

A few months ago, I happily signed up for a Ponzi scheme, perpetrated by the inimitable Citizen of the Month.

Neil is like some kind of internet era Pied Piper. I first encountered him years ago, when he was organizing the Great Interview Experiment. He is also the ringleader of the Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, which he started back in 2006, and which I have contributed to several times.

The schtick of the Ponzi scheme is that it's a book swap - instead of an old-style chain letter, or the recipe or poem chains that I get regular emails about - it was this:

WANTED: Participants for a book-loving social experiment. Comment if you want to participate and I’ll send you details. What do you have to do? Buy or locate your favorite book and send it to a stranger (I’ll send you a name and address). You will only be sending one book to one person. The number of books you will receive depends on how many participants there are. The books that will show up on your door are the other people’s much loved stories #SaveTheCulture #BookExchange #LongLiveBooks

So I duly mailed a book off to a stranger, and in return, had five books show up on my doorstep:


I'd read A Man Called Ove, but hadn't read any of the others - and they were all good: serious, interesting fiction. And even though I'd read Ove, I was happy to get a copy, because I'd read it as a library book, and I think my 13 year old will like it.

I was particularly happy to read the Flannery O'Connor. She'd been on my mind, because someone in my office loves her and talks about her a lot, but somehow I hadn't ever read her. The Violent Bear It Away is powerful, crazy, interesting and mind-bending - and the first thing I did when I finished it was take O'Connor's letters out of the library. Fascinating woman.

Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread is kind of shaggy, kind of meandering, kind of touching. I rather loved a passage about painting the swing blue, which reminded me of Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, and turns out to be a contentious plot point. "I'm thinking a kind of medium blue, like a ... well, I don't know what shade exactly you would call it, but it's darker than baby blue, and lighter than navy. Just a middling blue, you know? Like a ... maybe they call it Swedish blue. Or ... is there such a thing as Dutch blue?" It goes on, winding though Mediterranean blue and sky blue and not powder or aqua or pale and back to Swedish blue.

The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri is a rich family saga. Towards the end, she writes "In so many ways, his family's life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another." In so many ways, every family's life is like that - this book and A Spool of Blue Thread are exceptional iterations of that age-old truth.

The Giant's House is beautifully written, but I vacillated between really liking it, and feeling like it was just going through the motions. Nothing really happens, but some of the descriptive language is beautiful and sharp and inventively odd. Like this:

Somebody did want his bones: me. Not just bones, or the quilted muscles that wrapped them, or the resistant but assailable cartilage in his ears. I wanted to ladle together my hands and dip them in him and cast from my netted fingers a net of blood onto the floor to read, untangle what was wrong and fish it out, see, no wonder you felt poorly, this was in your blood.

I found the ending to be tidy and preposterous - and if a book ends poorly, it leaves a bad taste. That said, I plan to read Elizabeth MrCracken's memoir, called An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, about her life in the aftermath of a stillborn child.

But what is my point? Not all pyramid schemes are bad. At worst, I'd have been out a book plus postage. That I got five books from complete strangers was gravy.

25 December 2016

25: Louisiana Christmas Day

And it's Christmas!

My sister-in-law texted me right around Thanksgiving:

I started before Thanksgiving, as post-election therapy. I'm referring, of course, to playing my Christmas music. Usually in the car, full volume, sometimes in the house, but only with earbuds. (Husband doesn't share my obsession.) And I'd like to recommend a song to you: Aaron Neville’s Louisiana Christmas Day. Wonderfully bayou (if you like that sorta thing). It's style is native to part of the country that was solidly Trump, alas, but I can't NOT play it.


I texted her back and told her I loved it, and that she needed to listen to Sharon Jones singing White Christmas - not that they're similar, but they'll both get you bouncing around the house.



Happy Christmas!