21 September 2018

The Annual #FuckCancer/Happy Birthday Post

83, she would’ve been, today. I think of her every day. I think she would’ve been delighted that we went to visit the island from which her father‘s family had come, off the coast of Germany (and I can’t believe she never went there). I think she’d be horrified and dismayed by the revelations of bad behavior at the New York City Ballet. I know she would be angry and sad at the political state of this country right now. She would love my beautiful daughter, with her big heart and burning desire to succeed and her grandmother’s love of riding - which skipped a generation. (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been on a horse, and one of those was a mule.) She’d be tickled that I planted a New Dawn rose that scrambles up my back deck, and wholly supportive of my repair & recycle sewing projects.

[Remember the external fixator?]

I miss her.


If you are inclined to remember Moky, perhaps you’d support my walk-a-thon effort. My sister - who also has lung cancer - has again put together a team for a Lungevity event next month. Join us IRL (!), or by making a contribution. Lungevity does good work funding scientific research, educating on early detection, and providing patient support to help "people live better with lung cancer and dramatically improve on the current 18% five-year survival rate". And, they have a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator.

Click the Donate button below, or use this link to Lungevity.

Thank you.

09 September 2018

A Four Penny Dreadful

As you will remember, from time to time I rail about charitable solicitations that have annoyed me - especially when there are live stamps or actual dimes involved.

Yesterday brought a new iteration of the live stamp mishegoss.

Yes. The organization glued four penny stamps onto a business reply mail envelope. In other words, the organization just wasted four cents on that mailing because if the BRM comes back, the post office is going to charge them whatever they charge for a BRM (first class postage plus a surcharge which varies depending on how many pieces come back), and if the envelope doesn’t come back, the four cents is gone like the wind. And, since the return rate on charitable solicitations is generally low (like in the single digits low), nearly 95% of those penny stamps are going in the garbage.

You may say “but I’ll add my own stamp so the charity doesn’t have to pay”. Whatcha gonna do, use a Forever stamp that you have sitting around, or rustle up 46¢ worth of stamps? You’re unlikely to do the latter, so it’s a waste of 4¢. Plus, in my experience, even though some postage paid BRM envelopes say something like “use your own stamp and help us more”, like this one does, the post office does not always recognize that. You put your stamp on, the post office may well charge the charity the BRM rate anyway. (I have seen this happen; it’s one of the reasons we’ve given up on BRM mail in my office.)

End result?

International Rescue Committee is off of my list.

Cautionary tale for you?

Don’t put a stamp on a Business Reply Mail envelope.

04 September 2018

Tabbouleh, variant

My mother's stock in trade dish for the annual Labor Day potluck was always tabbouleh. Bulgur, mint, parsley, olive oil and lots of lemon juice.

Yesterday, I needed a side salad to go with some pork chops. I had a little bit of bulgur, a half a can of chickpeas, and a cucumber, so I whacked together a tabbouleh variant. I posted a picture on Instagram, because it was cheerful, and someone asked for the recipe. There wasn't one. So:

Tabbouleh with Chick Peas

  • 1/3 cup of dried bulgur
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 can of rinsed chickpeas
  • handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 a cucumber, chopped
  • 1/2 a sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • handful of mint, chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2-3 T. olive oil
  • 2-3 T. white wine vinegar

Put bulgur in a bowl, add boiling water and cover. Let stand for 10-15 minutes. Drain if necessary, and return to bowl. Add all other ingredients, and mix. Taste and season as necessary. If you want to be fancy, chop the onion and soak it in the vinegar while the bulgur is steeping. That'll take some of the bite out of the onion. This is enough for four people as a side dish.

03 September 2018

Reflections On Traveling in Northern Europe In August 2018

There are wind farms everywhere.

There are many solar panels deployed.

Nearly every single toilet is dual flush.

We stayed in six hotels. In five of them, you had to put your key card in a slot inside the door in order to "turn on" the electricity in the room. No card, no lights. No card, no iPhone charging.

Hotel hallway lights were on motion sensors. Open the door, and the lights go on. Walk down the hall, and the lights go on in segments ahead of you.

In five of the six hotels, there were no amenities of the sort you find in all American hotels - just a wall mounted soap dispenser near the sink, and one in the shower. No conditioner, no lotion, (no souvenirs). In a couple of hotels, the product was the same at both the sink and the shower. In others, it was hand soap by the sink, and shampoo/body wash in the shower. When it comes down to it, is there a difference?

In five of the six hotels, the queen/king bed came with Two. Separate. Duvets. One for each of us. In all seriousness? This is genius. No stealing of covers possible. I may have to institute this at home.

Walking is everything.

There are nearly no overhead wires. Occasionally in the countryside, you see distribution lines. But all of the general electricity and telecommunications is delivered via buried lines. In the city, overhead lighting is suspended from cables.

Traffic is frequently calmed via chicanes - a little zig-zag just to slow you down. I think some chicanes would be useful in my town.

Roundabouts are everywhere.

Denmark is nearly cashless - although I had some cash, I didn't need it and could have gotten away with having none.

Translated signage will never not make me laugh.

03 August 2018

Cluny Brown

There's a periodic book column in the New York Times, called "The Enthusiast", described as "an occasional column dedicated to the books we love to read and reread." Several months ago, the column's subject was Margery Sharp - an author heretofore unknown to me (despite a whole mess of children's books that seem like books I should know). Charmed by the description of "Cluny Brown", I put it on hold at the library. And waited. And read some other books. And finally, a couple of weeks ago, "Cluny Brown" was mine to borrow.

I picked it up and was irrationally pleased to find that it was in that increasingly rare library binding: indestructible buckram. The cover is brown on beige, in a sort of feathered marble pattern.

The title is stamped on the spine in no-nonsense capitals.

And best, because it's a book that's been in circulation since about 1972, it's got a due date card pocket inside the back cover. Which, in my considered opinion, is the best place to store your bookmark.

So much pleasure from the merely physical aspects of the book. And! But! Happily, it is a wonderful book. Cluny is an idiosyncratic character of the highest order, and moves through life in a rather different plane than those around her. A plumber's niece, she has the temerity to take herself to tea at the Ritz "all on her own, to see what it was like."

At the end of Chapter 4, a foreign visitor has arrived at the Devon country house at which Cluny is now in service as a parlormaid.

Thus layer by layer, without any conscious effort, the oyster that was Friars Carmel smoothed and overlaid its grain of sand, producing, like a pearl, a distinguished Professor, met at a British Embassy, recovering from an operation, and fond of horses.

No such process, naturally, was applied to the new parlormaid.

Indeed, her entrance, at the beginning of Chapter 5, is spectacular and distinctly unparlourmaidlike:

Cluny Brown arrived at Friars Carmel in a Rolls-Royce.

Cluny simply doesn't act in the ways in which people expect a plumber's niece parlourmaid to act. She's delightful, and so is the book.

01 August 2018

Yes. Yes I have.

For reasons of my own, I changed my diet a couple of months ago. Mind you, I am not dieting, I am not on a diet. If I were on a diet, I wouldn’t be having that glass of Sauvignon Blanc with Rachel Maddow every night, now would I?

No, I changed my diet to address a health situation. I’ve done this before - I went on a strict low-fat diet when I was pregnant because my gall bladder up and rebelled and a low-fat diet is what held surgery at bay, because like any sane person I was trying to avoid a gall bladder removal while enceinte. It’s one of those things that’s doable, but better to avoid, IYKWIM.

The inadvertent side effect of the change in diet is that I’ve lost weight. I don’t know really know how much, because I don’t own a scale, but several pairs of jeans are now sporting Frankensteinian alterations. (Let’s put it this way: I can’t go out in public with my shirt tucked in, unless I’m wearing a cardigan, if I’m wearing those jeans.) And people - friends, co-workers, acquaintances - have commented. “Have you lost weight?” “You’ve lost weight.” “Hey, skinny!” “You look great!”

And here’s what makes me decidedly uncomfortable. Every time I hear that “you’ve lost weight”, I also hear an unstated condemnation. “You needed to lose weight.” “You were too fat.” Telling me I look great means I didn’t look great before?

It is unsettling.

Mind you, I’m not unhappy about the weight loss. It’s not because of a “bad” “condition” like cachexia - it’s because of the food choices I’ve been making. I’m down to something like how much I was when I got pregnant 15 years ago, and I’ve been higher than my delivery weight for a few years now.

But, like friend on Facebook said recently, “The assumption that any weight loss is chosen freely and a cause for celebration is a big cultural enshrinement of fatphobia and I'm so done with it.”

Not too long ago, I came across a blog post that talked about this very issue: weight loss is not always desired, not always healthy, not always good. Thinner is not necessarily better. Kim Bongiorno says “Why feel shame about our beautiful bodies? Each is different, and it’s wonderful”.

She says it a lot better than I can, and I urge you to read her post.

Or read Roxane Gay. She curated a series on Medium, called Unruly Bodies, exploring all of this stuff.

If you’d rather, read Gay’s book Hunger. She writes beautifully about so many things: race, privilege, body image, personhood, education, intelligence. But how she talks about being fat - really fat - is powerful stuff, especially at the intersection of public opinion and internal struggle.

p. 120 (chapter 31) - "When you're overweight, your body becomes a matter of public record in many respects"...[people make comments]..."They forget you are a person. You are your body, nothing more, and your body should damn well become less."

p. 137 - "What does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood?"

p. 175 (chapter 51) - "I have two wardrobes." "...every day...These are the clothes I feel safe in." "My other wardrobe, the one that dominates most of my closet, is full of the clothes I don't have the courage to wear." "When I slide back into my uniform, that cloak of safety returns."

p. 205 - "This is no way to live but this is how I live."

Our bodies are ours. Think twice before you say something about weight loss or weight gain. Do you really want to mention the dark circles under someone's eyes? Like my niece said once, “Commentary on my looks or anyone's is not welcome banter.”

Although, I’ll not be unhappy if you notice that my hair is a little bit purple, because that - dying my hair an eccentric color - amuses the hell out of me.

30 July 2018

Crazy Trip™

I have a friend who is wont to fly off to an exotic (or domestic) locale, for merely a long weekend. She calls those Crazy Trips™. This weekend, we emulated her.

The child is attending a two week summer camp, in upstate New York, roughly midway between Buffalo and Rochester. She needed to be dropped off yesterday, a Sunday, so I came up with the glorious idea of driving to Niagara Falls on Saturday, and staying overnight. Because, in all my born days, I had never been to Niagara Falls.

So off we went, early in the morning. We dropped our stuff at our overpriced mediocre hotel and headed straight for Canada. The falls are indeed spectacular, and indeed better seen from Canada.

Horseshoe Falls, from Canada

Note red navigation buoy near falls. If you're navigating near there, I think you're toast.

After a side trip driveby of scenic Niagara on the Lake, we retreated to our depressing hotel, where the TV set defaulted to Fox News.

In the morning, we walked down to the Niagara Falls State Park (proximity being the only saving grace of the mediocre hotel), and got on line for the Maid of the Mist because I am a sucker for a good tourist attraction, and the Maid of the Mist is, as my friend Yale said to me on Facebook, "the shit". I grinned like a fool for the entire little trip into the waterfall.

Horseshoe Falls from Maid of the Mist

American Falls in the foreground, as seen from the cantilevered viewing platform at the top of the elevator down to the boats

Then we hit the road.

My demand for the weekend had been Niagara Falls; my husband's was an exploration of the Erie Canal. Lockport was the location of a double set of five locks when the canal was originally built; later, a modern two step set was built alongside. The old locks are partly extant, and on weekends, a team of volunteers demonstrate the workings of the hand-moved wooden gates. Happily we got to Lockport at just the right moment - a paddlewheeler and two kayakers were coming through the 100 year old "modern" lock, and the volunteers were putting the adjacent antique gates through their paces.

Antique canal lock gate, at Lockport

One of my favorite bits was the pair of men in t-shirts labeled STAFF. On closer inspection, they turned out to be staff of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, some two hundred miles to the east. I asked one, "busman's holiday?" He grinned and copped as such.

Even though we'd seen Lake Ontario from Niagara on the Lake, we decided to detour north before heading for camp. We ended up in Olcott, a tiny adorable town with a 25 cent carousel and a Wurlitzer Band Organ. Why yes, I did have to stop and make a video.

Because it was awesome, and it was right there.

Boxes of Wurlitzer Band Organ rolls

Finally, we walked over to the shores of Lake Ontario. I wasn't prepared to go swimming, but I did have waterproof sandals on, so in I went. It's the first time I've been in a Great Lake.

Lake Ontario

To the child's great happiness, we concluded our sightseeing and headed straight to camp.

Signed, sealed, delivered, a whirlwind 24 hours.