29 February 2008

Report Card: English

Name: Miss M.
Age: 4 and a quarter
Grade: Pre-school

English – Poetry
Rhymes with abandon

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Miss M:
Snap crackle pop with granola on top. Hey, pop and top rhyme!

English – Vocabulary
Able to use four-syllable words when one will do

Yesterday, she described a strawberry as gargantuan, when big would have been more than acceptable.

English – Grammar
Budding stickler for the proper use of language

Miss M. to her mother: I don’t want you to lay, to lie down with me.

English – Handwriting
Capable of writing name, largely unprompted

This sanctioned bragging brought to you by the Parent Bloggers Network and Jenifer Fox.

28 February 2008

Ah, the good old days

The other day, as I was aggressively deleting spam to my office email account, one made me laugh out loud. The subject referred to increasing the size of my, ahem, well, something that I don't have. But the text inside is what got me:

When I was your age, we had eight inch floppies.

The thing is, I remember eight inch floppy disks. One of the first real jobs that I had was a part time job at a white shoe law firm, and the then state-of-the-art IBM computer that I used had two eight inch drives - and no hard drive. The word processing program lived on one floppy and that data lived on the other.

The first computer I owned was a second generation Macintosh - not the one so famously introduced in 1984, but the Fat Mac that arrived soon thereafter. It also had two floppy drives. A hard drive was available as an accessory - but I was a graduate student and a hard drive was an unthinkable luxury. That Fat Mac, with its printer, cost about $2500 - in the mid 1980s. In today's dollars, that's about $4900. For $4900 today, you can get a whole lot more computer power than I had in 1985, with enough left over for a cup of coffee.

Where am I going with this? If my spam correspondent was my current age in 1985, he's 69 now. You think he even has a floppy?

25 February 2008

Cranky Cranky Cranky

The kid's been sick since Thursday. I got it over the weekend. We both stayed home yesterday. This morning she was perky, and not running a temperature, so I sent her to daycare and loyally went to work. I shouldn't be here - I think I have a low grade fever, I know I have a runny nose, I have chest pain from an atrocious cough. Yes, I'm some kind of a martyr. But at this point, I'm almost too beat to get up and go home.

Niobe did that "do not get" meme a couple of weeks ago. Given how cranky and sick I am, it seemed like the perfect icing for a grey day.

I just don't get...

  1. Vodka. I drink gin in the summer, scotch in the winter, and wine all the time.
  2. Football.
  3. Margarine and other imitation dairy products. Eat real food, please.
  4. Mayonnaise, the kind out of a jar. Homemade mayonnaise doesn't taste anything like the stuff in a jar. [Don't get me wrong, it's not like I ever make mayonnaise. I just know the difference between the two.]
  5. Ralph Nader.
  6. Thongs. Why would you want to wear such a thing?
  7. Red mulch. Who thought it was a good idea to dye the mulch a color not found in nature?
  8. Pepsi. But I love Coke. Out of a can. With sugar and caffeine, thank you very much.
  9. Facebook. Yes, I joined Facebook. But I don't get it. I do play Scrabble there. But I still don't get it.
  10. Hummers. Especially driven by suburban housewives.

I feel better already.

The Liar's Diary

I feel a little like I'm in sixth grade, with a book report due. In some fit of madness, I signed up to do a book review for Mother Talk. What do I do? It seemed so easy when I was raising my hand – I read books, I write about stuff, hey, write about a book! Yeah, right.

To start with, the book is a murder mystery, so writing about it is tricky; I don't want to give away the plot. And, I find that I read viscerally rather than critically. Is it any good? I don’t really know. Did I like it? Yes and no.

The assignment was The Liar’s Diary by Patry Francis. Francis writes a blog called Simply Wait, and this is her first novel.

In short, it’s a thriller of suburban sturm und drang – families and individuals appear perfect but are hiding substantial secrets, all against a background of school hallways, pretty houses and trips to the grocery store. Nothing is as it seems.

The book is written in the first person, a necessary device but one that often feels stilted. Too many sentences begin with “I”, “Since I”, “Realizing I”, “I don’t know”. The narrator is Jeanne, a suburban doctor's wife and mother, with a job as the school secretary in the local high school, where her son goes to school. A new music teacher arrives at the school, and turns everyone’s life topsy-turvy. Ali, the music teacher, keeps a diary that eventually goes missing. Is Ali a liar? Is she prevaricating in her diary? Or is the “liar’s diary” of the title a reference to the book itself? After all, a diary is a first person narrative, and Jeanne may not be the most reliable storyteller - she's psychologically stilted and unable to recognize the darkness in her marriage.

The book is absolutely a page turner; I read about 2/3 one night and finished it the next. And it’s cunning – the plot twists and turns, with little foreshadowing of the next revelation. The denouement was a surprise. In retrospect, maybe it shouldn’t have been, but I let myself be carried along in a stage of suspended disbelief, because sometimes escapist fiction is just the ticket. At the same time, though, that final revelation is completely preposterous and quite implausible. Does that matter? It depends on what’s important to you in reading fiction. Harry Potter is completely preposterous too.

Am I happy to have read it? Yes.

Is it going on the list of favorite books of all time? No.

Are you intrigued a little bit? In need of some diversion for a trip to the beach? If you are, leave a comment and I’ll do a random drawing on March 1st – the winner gets my copy of The Liar’s Diary.

Edited to add: Susie J won the book!

24 February 2008

Excellent Hearts

The very funny Kelley not only invented a prize, she gave it to me! But it seems to bear a word of explanation. If you look at the "less than three" symbol sideways, it looks like a heart (and if it doesn't look like a heart, try the other sideways). Anyway, Kelley hearts me, and I heart Becky and Becky. Because, you know, they're both named Becky. Well, really because they're great. Go, see for yourself.

Her Grace passed along another E for Excellent. As I went as poking through my feed reader, I realized that I have twenty-nine posts from one blogger marked "save as new". In other words, I'm using Bloglines to bookmark recipes from Smitten Kitchen because I want to try nearly everything Deb writes about. She's a terrific food writer, with great taste and a wonderful eye. So, E for Excellent to Deb and Smitten Kitchen. Check her out if you haven't already. And come to think of it, I think that this afternoon is a perfect day to make some lemon squares.

Incidentally, are you on my blogroll? Should you be? Do you want to be? Let me know.

23 February 2008

How Well Do You Know Wal-Mart?

I came across a witty and perhaps esoteric internet quiz the other day: Walmart vs. Donald Judd. I scored 83%.

I sent it to my brother and my accountant. My brother scored 100%, but then he's an architect and has been to Marfa a lot. More amusingly, my accountant scored 100%, but he's cool for an accountant - he used to be in a rock band, and goes to Marfa every year.

How'd you do?

Edited to add: Marfa is a town in Texas. Donald Judd bought an old military base there which is now a "destination" for art pilgrimages.

22 February 2008

Sick Day/Snow Day

Poor little chicken
High fever is misery
Can't enjoy snow day

We've had a beautiful snowfall today, 8 to 10 inches of the first real snow since December, and the kidlet has been running a fever since about 3am on Thursday. So her daycare is closed because of the lovely snow, and not only can she not go out to play in it, she doesn't even want to. Poor thing.

She's lying pitifully on the couch, working her way through all of the Miyazaki movies, while I alternate between mopping her fevered brow and attempting to work from home.

I did drag her off to the doctor, who said it wasn't throat or ears, and that there was a virus making the rounds that did nothing much but cause a high fever for FOUR to SIX days. Let's hope for four days, because the small lump of humanity in the other room is the saddest thing I have ever seen.

Haiku Friday

21 February 2008

What's on Page 123?

I had the damnedest time trying to figure out the rules to this meme. The page of the book starts in the middle of a sentence of dialogue. The next paragraph maybe has five sentences, but there's dialogue involved, so it may really be three sentences. So instead, here's the second full paragraph.

A pause developed, and prolonged itself to uncomfortable lengths. Then, unexpectedly, the other laughed. "Oh Douglas, oh Douglas, Tender and true...I am moved to respect. Very well. The bargain stands. Tell me the name of your friend, and you shall have your documents."

It's from Dorothy Dunnett's The Game of Kings - a gripping historical fiction of the Scottish and English in the mid-16th century. I'm not done with it yet, but I was smitten on page 15, with this sentence:

It was only a sneeze; but a sneeze outside the door of their chamber, which dislimned every shade of their privacy.

Dislimned! Be still my heart.

Here are the rules:

  1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
  2. Open the book to page 123
  3. Find the 5th sentence
  4. Post the next three sentences
  5. Tag 5 people

Who She She tagged me. I tag Alejna, Suz, Sarah, Julia and Becky - because I want to know what they're reading!

20 February 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Old and New

Out with the old:

In with the new:

Thanks, Granny!

19 February 2008

The Yangtze Glitter

The child has a mind like a steel trap.

Last night, I ran a bath for her. While she was in her bedroom getting undressed, I tossed in a yellow tub tint tablet (because the yellow ones are never ever her choice - her choice is pink). She arrived to climb in and exclaimed "Look Mommy, it's the Yangtze River!"

I knew immediately why she'd said that, but it still floored me. We've got at least 100 books in rotation in her room - everything from baby board books to books that have more words than pictures. And one of them is The Story About Ping - about a little duck who lives on the Yangtze River, the yellow waters of the Yangtze River. We hadn't read Ping in a while, so for her to instantly conjure up the Yangtze out of the yellow waters of the bathtub was startling. I guess her little head isn't as cluttered up with as much randomness as mine is. [Like, why is the title The Story About Ping, and not The Story Of Ping?]

Recently, as I was cuddling her to sleep, she said to me, quietly and seriously: "Daddy said a bad word". "Honey, what'd he say?" "He said 'Fuckin' glitter'". It was one of those parenting moments where I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Yes, he probably did say that. Yes, the glitter comes home from school and gets everywhere. Yes, he shouldn't have said that bad word. Yes, glitter is evil and persistant. And yes, he has a propensity for using profanity where none is required, not to mention using more words than anyone ever needs to put in a sentence. [My favorite quote ever? The day he spilled a bottle of pills in the bathroom and yelled "Goddamn Fucking State of Affairs!"]

Maybe I should get some yellow glitter for the bathtub - we'll make the Yangtze Glitter!

17 February 2008

Family Photos

My mother has been redoing the floor to ceiling bulletin board in her kitchen - rearranging photos, deaccessioning some, adding others. It's a work in progress, a place to give family photos - old and new - a place to shine. The grandchildren love it: Look, there's me as a baby! In a pile awaiting pinning is this photo of herself with the family dog, taken in 1937. At the time, my mother was just shy of 2 years old, and the scottie in the picture appears to be bigger than she is. The dog, named Sandy, may or may not be the dog that once bit my mother on the face, scarring her for life - or so she says.

Also in the waiting stack is this charming, slightly blurry photo of her - same vintage - walking across the grass with a paper umbrella. Where was she going? What's she holding in her other hand? If I didn't know better - hey, 1937 - I'd think she was holding a telephone to her ear.

15 February 2008

The Planets

Miss M.'s daycare class has been studying the solar system - learning the planets and some of their characteristics, making posters, building papier-mâché models, singing songs.

The Sun's a hot star,
And Mercury's hot, too.
Venus is the brightest planet,
And the Earth and the Moon are home to me and you.
Mars is the red one,
And Jupiter's most wide.
Saturn has those icy rings,
And Uranus spins on its side.
Neptune's cold and windy,
And Pluto's cold and small.
We wanted to name the planets,
And now we've named them all.*

But what I want to know is when they decided to change the pronunciation of Uranus. I learned it as Yer Anus. Now it's Urine Us? Either way, school children everywhere are going to giggle.

Luckily, I found a petition to change its name altogether - but who do we send it to?

*The song is from Blue's Clues, but she learned it at school, not from the TV.

14 February 2008

13 February 2008

5 - 7 - 5 at 6 am

Phone at six o'clock
Daycare delays opening
Screws up my whole day.

After I answered the phone from a deep sleep, and learned that daycare was going to open two hours late because of the weather, I lay in bed composing haikus in my head as I listened to the beep beep beep of the snowplows on the street and the scrape scrape scrape of W. shoveling the driveway.

Eventually, Miss M. and I got up, had some pie for breakfast, and settled down to the rare treat of watching Sesame Street (her) and reading the paper on the couch (me). And somewhere along the line, I told her that school was going to be late, at which news she burst into tears. "I want to go to school!"

Why is it that at least once a week, she has a morning tantrum of the "I don't want to go to school" variety, but today she pulled the opposite?

Why we rubberneck:
There but for the grace of god...?
No, schadenfreude.

12 February 2008


Last week, my husband sent me the little bug - he'd seen it somewhere, tried to swat at the screen, and realized that I'd love it. He was right. So I stuck it in the header to see if anyone would notice.

I've always liked bugs.

For a long time, I had checks with bugs on them, back in the days before online banking became widespread. I'd whip out a check at the doctor's office and get the desk clerk to shriek. And they amused me every time I had to pay Con-Ed.

That said, I'm not interested in eating bugs and the article in the Times Magazine on Sunday was more than a little repellent. Some guy is trying to convince people "that consuming insects is both pleasing to the palate and good for the planet", calling insects the "terrestrial cousins" of shrimp and lobster.

Well, for me? I don't like shrimp OR lobster, so I think I'll skip the Thai giant water bug, "a creature the size of your thumb" which "yields a thimbleful of meat the consistency of crab and has a surprisingly powerful citrus aroma". Yikes.

11 February 2008

Ding Ding Ding: Quiz Answers!

I love that two of those books were known by nearly everyone who commented, and that the third was nearly completely obscure. But Melanie got it!!!

#1 is of course Claudia, from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg, 1967). In it, two suburban children run away and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was a suburban child and I wanted to do that - I wanted to sleep in that antique bed, and bathe in the fountains, and hide in the bathrooms.

#3 is Milo of The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster, 1961). Imagine driving through a tollbooth parked in the middle of your own room and ending up elsewhere - ending up in a topsy-turvy and playful world full of numbers and words and puns and riddles and puzzles.

And #2 is the spunky Maria of Mistress Masham's Repose (T.H. White, 1946). Maria's an orphan and discovers that Gulliver's Lilliputians are living on an island in a lake on her dilapidated estate. A spunky orphan! With an evil governess and an indulgent Cook! And little tiny people! And a map on the endpapers! This is an utterly charming book that takes a kernel from Gulliver's Travels and spins it into something completely its own. I found a little essay about it that well encapsulates the whimsy of the book - and I highly recommend it to all.

Claudia, Maria and Milo

Mystery Mommy's been posting quizzes, in which she asks you to identify some books by their first lines. I did staggeringly badly, so I thought I'd redeem myself by offering up one of my own. Here are the first lines of three books that I can't wait to share with Miss M. - do you know what they are?

  1. Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.

  2. Maria was ten years old.

  3. There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always.

10 February 2008


A couple of weeks ago, Miss M. and I were in the car on the highway on the way to visit Granny. I was in the middle lane, and I spotted three motorcycles in the rear view mirror. They were about to pass us on the right, so I pointed them out to her. They zoom zoom zoomed past us and gathered in a pack in front of us. She asked "do they know one another?" I told her I thought they were probably friends. She said "no Mommy, they're cousins."

Because the cousin bond, it's extraordinary and it trumps friendship. Miss M. hasn't any siblings, but her cousins are dear to her - the nearest thing to siblings. She bickers and plays and squabbles with them, all the while loving them ferociously.

Edited to add: This was undoubtedly dredged up from the synapses by Aliki's post yesterday...and her post today reminded me that I should have given her credit.

09 February 2008

Teenage Girl or Midlife Crisis

I think I'm turning into a teenage girl. I just bought a magenta rubber "case" for my iPhone, and I made my own ringtone out of the first 20 seconds of Blister in the Sun. Or it's a midlife crisis, and I should just go buy the damned Mini Cooper, right?

08 February 2008

Gonna be an engineer...

When I was a little girl I wished I was a boy
I tagged along behind the gang and wore my corduroys
Everybody said I only did it to annoy
But I was gonna be an engineer.

The song that jumped into rotation this morning on the way to daycare was Peggy Seeger’s “I’m Gonna Be An Engineer”, oft described as a feminist anthem. It’s a perky, rollicking song that invites singing along, and it damned near made me weep. I don’t want my daughter to be a dishrag - I want her to be a strong woman, confident in her ability, a force to be reckoned with. I want her to be smart and resourceful, creative and caring.

And I think, at core, that my daughter is why I voted for Hillary Clinton the other day.

I've been a sucker ever since I was a baby
As a daughter, as a wife, as a mother and a dear
But I'll fight them as a woman, not a lady
I'll fight them as an engineer.

If you don’t know the song, you can get the mp3 here. If you don’t know anything about Peggy Seeger, try here or here. And if you need all of the lyrics, they're here.

06 February 2008

Bloggity Blog Blog

Yesterday's crossword puzzle included the clue Dictatorial, to which the answer was BOSSY.

Is it a sign that I'm spending too much time in blogland when my reaction to this was Oh, how sweet, our BOSSY has made it into the Times crossword?

I've had a few more little awards, which warm the cockles of my little heart. Really. I'm becoming a sentimental fool. So without further ado, I'd like to pass them on and warm the cockles of some other people's hearts.

Slouching Mom gave me the E for Excellence. I hereby pass that gift along to Oh, The Joys and BipolarLawyerCook and Niobe and Flutter and I Won't Fear Love, because they are all excellent.
The Smile came to me from Where's My Cape. Some of the folks who make me smile regularly are Best to Keep Your Eyes Open and Derfwad Manor and Mayberry Mom.
And the roar came from the funny Mad Mad Housewife. That one can only go to one person: the inimitable Jen of One Plus Two - who roars out powerful words with grace and passion and finesse.
And last but not least, Julie kissed me! So I pass along the Mwah! to BeanPaste and Exurbitude and Ozma and Irish Goddess and Mystery Mommy and Painted Maypole and Poot and Cubby and Slouching Mom and Aliki and I could go on and on and on but the linking is getting tiring. If I didn't mention you, I love you anyway!

Cheers all around! And the navel-gazing is over, for the nonce.

05 February 2008

Did you vote?

Okay, maybe there's no voting in your state (or country for that matter). But it's primary day in New York, and there is a palpable excitement in the air. People in the office are talking around the lunch table of delegates and super-delegates and winner-take-all. They are wondering if you can split your delegates - half for Clinton and half for Obama - and checking the web to see. (Maybe there are some Republicans in the office, but they haven't come out of the woodwork.)

For the first time in my life, I think, I've voted for a different candidate than my mother did - my family just another iteration of the many instances of families splitting between Clinton and Obama. But pulling the lever this morning, with my daughter on my hip - for yes, we still vote on old-fashioned lever style machines - was thrilling. Because whichever way the Democratic primary goes, we'll have made history.

Did you vote? Go, now. It's your duty and responsibility and right and privilege. Do it. Vote.

04 February 2008

Department of Random, Categorized

>> Evidence that I am a dork:

I just bought a pair of jeans from LL Bean. And they fit. I'm not sure which makes me feel more dorky, the fact that I bought jeans from LL Bean, or the fact that I never tried them before.

>> Too Much Information:

I am suffering from some malaise of the digestion, which the lovely Jessica would refer to as "the mighty wind". In an attempt to have Dr. Google solve my problem, I found the following:

When research subjects ate a diet in which half of their calories came from pork and beans, they experienced a tenfold increase in their normal gas production.

I stopped my research at that point. I'd like it on record that I have NOT been eating an excess of pork and beans, and that I feel for those people, I really do. I hope they were well compensated.

>> Things we like to hear from the backseat:

You rock, Mommy!

>> The Moky Update:

Moky is out of the hospital, and has already had radiation treatment #1 of 16. Every weekday at 5pm for the next three weeks, she gets her head zapped. 5pm. As in cocktail hour. Hey, maybe I'll buy her a case of champagne splits.

01 February 2008

25 books, part two

Remember part one, about the pile of books that I'm currently reading? I've finished Decca and Organic Housekeeping (and, I dare say, Decca never cleaned a house in her life).

If I'd been more organized about the other pile, the to-be-read pile, I'd have actually posted this list before starting one of the books from that pile. Because now it's not really the to-be-read pile. Oh well.

Want to know what's in the to-be-read pile? I know you do.

Top to bottom:

  1. The Great Cat - Christmas present - an anthology of poems about cats
  2. High Rising (Angela Thirkell) - Verlyn Klinkenborg, who usually writes about driving across Iowa or standing around in the cold with his horses, wrote a paean to Thirkell at the beginning of January. It sounded great, and I'd never heard of her, so I scrounged up a copy of her first book. And it is great - perfect fluff. I may have to get the whole series. If you like EF Benson and Dorothy Sayers, you'll like Thirkell.
  3. Growing a Girl (Barbara Mackoff) - Christmas present. This book was something I'd put on my Amazon wishlist. My mother and sister were shopping on-line together, and both thought that I didn't need this book, as its sub-title is "Seven Strategies for Raising a Strong, Spirited Daughter". We have nothing if not a strong spirited daughter. But, you know, I want to help her stay that way, and not get sucked into conformity and materialism.
  4. Musicophilia (Oliver Sacks) - Christmas present
  5. The $64 Tomato (William Alexander) - Christmas present
  6. Atonement (Ian McEwan) - pass-along from my sister
  7. God is not Great (Christopher Hitchens) - Christmas present
  8. Paradise Lost (John Milton) - I got it into my head to read this because of the Philip Pullman Dark Materials trilogy. I'm not sure that it's going to happen - but it's not yet been relegated to the "never to be read" pile.
  9. Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog (Kitty Burns Florey) - Christmas present. A book on how to diagram sentences, which, if I ever learned, I have long since forgotten.
  10. A Stew or a Story- Christmas present, last year.
  11. Watership Down (Richard Adams) - I remember this as a family read-aloud when I was a kid. I stumbled on a copy and thought I'd revisit my childhood, but I haven't gotten there yet.
  12. Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould (Kevin Bazzana) - Christmas present, last year
  13. The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom and Surprising Life of James Thurber - Christmas present, last year. Now that I'm done with Decca, I can put some more letters in rotation.
  14. An Episode of Sparrows (Rumer Godden)
  15. The Game of Kings (Dorothy Dunnett) - I bought this because Julia said it was fabulous and she likes other writers I like, like EF Benson and Dorothy Sayers and Patrick O'Brian, so I had to have it.
  16. A Very Long Engagement (Sebastien Japrisot) - another pass-along from my sister
  17. Running with Scissors (Augusten Burroughs) - and another pass-along from my sister
  18. Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater His Dance (Deborah Jowitt)
  19. Nobody Knows the Truffles I've Seen (George Lang)

I'm almost through with #2 - what shall I start next?