31 March 2008

Book Books and More Books

The first comment that Niobe ever left on my blog was about books:

Is there an option for expressing the opinion that books are massively overrated and something that I would never willingly allow to darken my doorstep (let alone any other part of my house)?

Even though I'd never seen her blog, or noticed her comments elsewhere, or otherwise "met" her, I knew that she loved books and was just being deeply ironic.

Since then, she's posted many pictures of the books overrunning her house - most recently last week, when she challenged me (and others) to show what's on our shelves.

M's room has a tall, skinny bookcase, full of kids books, which is attached to the wall so it doesn't fall over when she climbs it. We still have a handful of board books for nostalgia, but the other night she asked me to read The Reluctant Dragon, also known as the "blue dragon" - a book with considerably more words than pictures.
The Scrabble books have a place of their own, all together, because I am playing nearly too many Scrabble games on-line and via email!
Right near the couch are a few gardening books, in case I need to consult Dirr or Ruggiero or Armitage at a moment's notice. There are more gardening books elsewhere; these were later arrivals and don't fit on the shelf where the others reside.
Here's a tiny selection of cookbooks, with Joy, James and Julia right there in the middle. That particular copy of Joy was my maternal grandmother's - it has little notes of hers in pencil in the margins.
Lastly, and sadly, here's one of the many boxes of books that are still living in the cellar. Yes, we have no bookcases. Buried in those boxes are things I need - my dictionary, a one volume edition of all of the Mapp & Lucia books, an extra copy of Mistress Masham's Repose to give to my niece, etc. Sigh. Not only would getting the books out into the open air be good for my soul, it would free up so much space in the cellar. Someday, someday.

What's on your bookshelves?

29 March 2008

Septuple-stuffed Oreo

I don't love an Oreo cookie the way others do. I really don't like the white stuff. If they appear in the house, which they do periodically, thanks to my husband, I occasionally screw the tops off and eat the cookie only - giving the remaining cookie plus white stuff to said husband. Because I do kind of like the puritan plain chocolate cookie part.

Tonight, I went overboard. He'd bought the double-stuffed kind (double yuck on the white stuff). And there were maybe seven left in the package. I went to work with a butter knife, and de-stuffed most of the Oreos, to create a single over-the-top septuple-stuffed Oreo.

Even W. thought it was excretory. But he ate it anyway.

28 March 2008

Put the milk in the coffee!

Starbucks is falling all over themselves to try to "reconnect" with their customers. They've now set up a website soliciting feedback; here's the pet peeve I posted the other day:

Dear Starbucks:

You want to provide service to the customer, right?

Well, if I ask for a cup of coffee with milk, put the milk in the coffee. Don't make me do it. Don't make me put all my bags down on the dirty floor, let go of my child's hand, wrench the lid off the top, locate the milk and unscrew its top, add milk (after spilling out some of the coffee), replace the lid, and gather up all my possessions.

And, lest you say that "everyone wants a different amount of milk", 1) you add the milk if I go through a drive-through, and 2) you put in the milk when you make a latte.

It makes me nuts.

It makes me want to go to a run-of-the-mill deli for lousy coffee, because THEY WILL ADD THE MILK FOR ME.

Service, people, service.

Do you have a pet peeve that you'd like to share today?

27 March 2008

Oh the Google, the Google searchers..

Time for another edition of peculiar Google searches that landed people on my site:

1. my baby loved squash now all of a sudden he is gagging on it.

Okay, don't feed him squash. Try peas.

2. pumping musing

Pumping, being the most boring activity on the planet, does lead to musing. It is not, however, amusing.

3. annie's macaroni and cheese is gross


4. mom dad enema remembered

Um, I really don't want to know what you were looking for.

5. i am sorry what happened to your mom. i hope

You hope what? I hate being left hanging like that.

6. phobia of blood and organs

Then don't go into medicine; it's probably the wrong field for you.

7. teenage crisis

Sorry, I can't help - I have a four year old, not a teenager. Come back in 10 years.

8. plumb bob barbara

She sounds like fun.

9. pancakes for people with no gallbladder

Hmm, since there really aren't dietary restrictions on people with no gallbladder, any pancakes should be okay.

10. colcannon poem

Since you asked, here's a haiku:
The sublime marriage
of potato and cabbage:
Irish colcannon

11. facts about Princess Diana in bullet points

This site is not about Princess Diana. Try wikipedia. They've got her in outline form.

12. riddle with 10 candles and open window

What happens when you have your tenth birthday party in a room with open windows? Your wishes don't come true, because the wind blows out the candles for you.

13. girl Pirates

Yes, girls can be pirates. I have a girl pirate. Want to make something of it?

26 March 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Bowling

I remembered to bring my camera (cell phone) to the bowling alley birthday party we went to the other day. A mess of four and five year olds bowling is a sight to behold. My favorite part was at the end, when they started throwing (well, as best as a four year old can throw a six pound bowling ball) multiple balls down the lane. I'm sure the staff was delighted. Miss M. decided to lie down to watch her ball go; I was worried that she was going to get beaned, but I took a picture instead.

25 March 2008

Naptime Is The New Happy Hour

There are umpteen parenting books out there. Lots of them are general, trying to cover all the bases. Some of them are specific, focusing on breastfeeding or sleeping. Most of them are earnest and serious.

But there are a handful of parenting books that offer advice couched in humor. A couple of years ago, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor took on infancy with Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay. I never read it (and actually, I'd rather have a nice muscadet than a chardonnay, but I digress) so when Mother Talk offered up a chance to read her toddler years sequel, Naptime Is the New Happy Hour, I raised my hand.

I found it both entertaining and infuriating. Wilder-Taylor makes one too many cracks about her avoidance of the kitchen, and her hope that her child doesn't come to expect a home-cooked meal. Her list of warning signs that your kid is watching too much TV includes "she watches more TV than you do" - which bugged me because honestly, my kid does watch more TV than me, but that's only because I watch none. On the other hand, she nails toddler bathtime ("they act like having their hair washed is against the Geneva Convention"), toddler energy ("the attention span of a house fly, and they're much more destructive") and toddler eating habits ("it's normal for them to go an entire day eating nothing but a peanut M&M they found on the floor of the car"). And she has a wonderful quiz to use to vet potential play-date moms, which start with:

I show up at your door with a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Your response:
a) What kind of a mother are you?
b) Oh, I would never drink this early, but I'll store it for you in my Sub-Zero fridge.
c) Pop that sucker open, bitch.

Naptime Is The New Happy Hour is not the book to turn to for practical advice when the kid is screaming in the middle of the night. Rather, it's imbued with a laissez-faire slacker mom mentality. The message is basically loosen up, have a drink, your kid will be fine. And frankly, that's pretty good advice.

* * * * * * * * *

Edited: The random number generator chose FreshHell!

24 March 2008

The Wonders of NYC

Mommy, the sidewalk is sparklelous!


Look, skyscrapers!

Mommy, what's that man doing in that box?
One tends to take one's surroundings for granted. When you walk down the same sidewalk every day, you stop noticing the small things, the details that give texture and beauty and whimsy to the world around us.

Coming back from lunch the other day, Miss M. stopped in her tracks, smitten with the sparkling sidewalk ahead of us. Most of the time, concrete is just concrete, drably providing a smooth surface to walk on. Sometimes, though, the particular admixture is full of shiny stuff that picks up the early spring sunshine, and looks for all the world like diamonds twinkling at your feet. The four year old sees the diamonds. And I remembered the snow fall in the town of fools, in Zlateh The Goat. Do you know that book? It's short stories for children by Isaac Bashevis Singer. And every time the sidewalk sparkles, whether with "diamonds" or broken glass or snow fall, I think of that book, which I read as a child.

My office is in a fairly low-rise section of the city - our building is 8 stories, many are only 4 or 5, and the tallest are about 20 stories. But, to a child who lives in a two story house, surrounded by two story houses, who attends daycare in a two story house, anything bigger than that is a skyscraper - including the modest 6 story office building at a corner where we were waiting to cross the street.

And the pigeons. At every pigeon we saw she bellowed "pigeons!", delighted when they flew up and away from her. Most people seem to think pigeons are "dirty, disgusting, filthy, lice-ridden birds" - but not the small child. She's thrilled to see them - they're animals, up close and chaseable.

As we were returning to the subway to return home, she said "Mommy, why is that man in a box?" in a loud voice. I turned with rising mortification, to see a young man sitting up in a not large cardboard box, laughing. Somehow, the direct question, the question one usually scurries past, completely disarmed the man in question and the pedestrians behind us. He grinned at her, and me at him. Was he homeless? Disabled? Strung out? I don't know. I've never seen someone tucked in that spot before, and he had no pan-handling sign. But he had a wonderful spirit in a potentially awkward moment.

I hope that the people near us when she wondered at the sidewalk, gaped at the tall building and shouted at the pigeons were amused, just as I hope the people near to the man in the box noticed him instead of turning a blind eye.

23 March 2008

Feckless Draconian Podiatrist

The children are downstairs dyeing Easter eggs. I'm consolidating little pieces of paper in my mother's office - creating an up-to-date phone list.

On one scrap, in my mother's handwriting (blue):

The note added below in black is from my sister. Do you think that she thinks we need a whole list of feckless draconian podiatrists?

21 March 2008

I am a bad mother

Miss M. is in the office with me today, as her daycare is closed for Good Friday. She's running around in her ballerina suit (a pink leotard with an attached skirt) and some ballet slippers, watching movies and making a mess.

A little while ago, she asked if we could go visit the "sewing room". So we trundled off to visit the costume shop downstairs, where one of the drapers showed her Ariel's "sea bra" from the Broadway production of Little Mermaid and asked if she'd like to wear it. The way her face lit up was priceless. She got pinned into the sea bra and made a circumnavigation of the shop in it - all the stitchers and drapers were grinning from ear to ear.

And me, the bad mother? I didn't have a camera.

20 March 2008

Three Cornered Hat

I think you could safely say that I was a nerd in high school. I was a band geek, I dabbled at chess, I got a 5 on the AP biology exam. I hung out with people who liked (and played) classical music, and we'd bake together for fun. Pretzels were always entertaining, because you get to shape the dough, into shapes that weren't necessarily pretzel shapes. [Go ahead, think about teenage boys making pretzels.] And more than once, we made hamantaschen. Recently, in trying to organize the MANY recipes floating loose around my house, I found the handwritten recipe for the hamantaschen we made some 30 years ago. Since Purim starts tonight, I thought I'd post it. And, just to make sure they were okay, I made some last night.

They're good, but not as good as I remember. The filling is a little bit too sweet, and I really do like apricot better than prune.

Looking over the old recipe is funny. It was written out by one of my best friends from high school [who has her own blog], but it's got little handwritten notes from someone else who I think may have been an old boyfriend. It also has admonitions, like "don't eat the dough!"

Go out and make some noise! Or go home and make some hamantaschen!


  • 1 ½ sticks of butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ t. vanilla extract
Cream butter and sugar in a standing mixer, until light and fluffy. Beat in ¼ cup of the flour, and then the egg. Mix vanilla into milk. Alternating dry and wet ingredients, add a third of the remaining flour, half the milk mixture, another third of the flour, the remaining milk and then the remaining flour. Beat well after each addition. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.

  • 1 cup lekvar (prune butter)
  • ½ cup finely chopped blanched almonds
  • 2 T. grated orange rind
  • 2 T. sugar
Mix all together and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 4” circles with a biscuit cutter or a glass. Reroll scraps as necessary, to make as many circles as possible.
Put a scant teaspoon of filling in the middle of a circle, and form into a triangle (like a tricorn hat). Pinch well at the corners so they don’t open up in the oven. Leave the filling exposed in the center. Transfer to the cookie sheets. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a rack, and let them cool before eating.

If you’re viscerally opposed to prunes, you could use apricot preserves instead. If you're feeling fancy, you could do an egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed up with 2 T. milk, brushed on the pastry before baking).

19 March 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Dancer/Tulip

I don't know where this came from, but I think it's lovely.

18 March 2008

Punctuation Errors

Several weeks ago, there was a flurry of hoopla about a semicolon, a particular semicolon that had appeared on a NYC subway placard and was lauded for being a properly used "pretentious anachronism".

Being the crank that I am, I could only think of all the many transit placards with errors in punctuation. The consistent error that particularly galls me is that their graphic designers seem to have decreed the period verboten, so there are no periods at the ends of the instructions as to what to do in an emergency. However, for some inexplicable stylistic reason, they deign to use internal punctuation. So, if an emergency command is a single sentence, it gets no period at the end. But if the command is in two parts? The first part ends with a period and the second doesn't. It makes me nuts.

Yesterday, I happened to be standing on the subway in front of one of those signs. I took a picture (oh hail the iPhone!) so I could present you with evidence. Please review the punctuation, particularly in the third box.

16 March 2008


Dear Mr. Novelli,

Thank you ever so much for your invitation to join AARP. While I love the idea of retirement, I'm only 47 and don't expect to actually retire for a good 20 or 30 years. Furthermore, the fact that I have a 4 year old means that I won't be able to retire for some time - I need to be able to put the child through college, and that will require an income.

About that 4 year old - I suppose I might join your illustrious organization if it were providing some useful information on the care and feeding of small children. However, it appears that you're trying to protect pension rights and supplying long-term care insurance and offering discounts on cruises, rather than advocating for early childhood education and mandated maternity leave coverage and flexible work arrangements for parents and excellent childcare for all.

And while you're at it? Your letter talks about making "the most of life over 50". Since I'm not yet 50, you might want to look at your database. It can't be cost effective sending mailings to people like me. Hell, you might as well try to enroll my child! I've got it: change your name to American Association of Rambunctious Pipsqueaks and Retired Persons, and then everyone can join. Let me know when you've done that. In the meantime, I'll stick to Moms Rising. It does a better job of advocating for me and my needs.

All best,


14 March 2008

Scent memory

I got off the train this morning in Penn Station, not my usual entrance point to Manhattan, and immediately recognized the smell. It's not a bad smell, but a curious one - no matter the time of day, Penn Station always smells like fried food with an overlay of mustiness. And it's a powerful memory provoker. I think if you deposited me blindfolded on the platform for track 18, I could tell you where I was, even though I haven't commuted through there on a regular basis in about 25 years. It's that distinct a smell.

Last night, after a day of schlepping the gimpy Moky to doctor's appointments and tests, I thought a wee dram was in order. I opened the pantry liquor cabinet at my mother's 1909 house and was transported to every liquor store I've ever been in, again, by the smell. The liquor cabinet smells of wood and old dust and the essence of whiskey with a veneer of cork. And that wee dram, of Irish (not Scotch) whiskey, tasted oh so very good.

And this morning, as I helped my mother in the bathroom, I thought about the difference between baby pee and adult urine. Somehow, the baby pee never seemed to smell. Are the diapers that good? Is it just that there's so little of it?

The circle of life - from the mewling, puking infant to the second childishness born of aging. My mother diapered me, I diapered my child. The child is toilet-trained, my mother is regressing.

All things considered, her doctor's appointments were okay. Her general weakness is probably all steroid related, but she's tapering them off now. There's no evidence of blood clots in her legs, just edema. There's no evidence of a spinal tumor. Her blood work was perfect. We're keeping our fingers crossed that going off the steroids will result in a general improvement.

12 March 2008


Cream cheese and jelly?

Tomato and goat cheese?

Ham & swiss on rye with lettuce and mustard?

Nope. 47 between 72 and 4.

My mother's not doing well. My brother and sister and I are juggling our own families and work so that someone is available to help Moky. Tomorrow, she has an appointment to see the oncologist - her first visit since the hospital stay and the three weeks of whole brain radiation.

So the other day, I arranged to take tomorrow off. And to allow me more time at my mother's house, and to cut down on my travel time, I decided to stay at her house on Wednesday and Thursday nights. So: work Wednesday, take the train to her house Wednesday evening, take her to the Thursday appointment, return to NYC and work on Friday, and return home on Friday night.

I packed a bag last night.

This morning, Miss M. woke up running a fever of 100.5°. W. had already left for work and I couldn't take today off (nor can I take off Friday). Luckily, Grandma was able to come to the rescue.

I'm going through with the Moky plan, because it's imperative, but oh the guilt of leaving the little sick chicken home.

I now understand why I'm called the "sandwich generation".

11 March 2008

The Disconnect

Okay, my hometown paper, and probably yours, is full of stuff about Eliot Spitzer today. Understandably.

But a comment from Alan Dershowitz rather puts the whole thing in perspective:

“I always thought he was somebody who would come down on crimes with real victims,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “Prostitutes aren’t victims — they’re getting paid a thousand dollars an hour, and the johns aren’t victims. What upset me the most was that they wiretapped thousands of e-mails and phone calls. In an age when terrorism needs to be stopped, they’re devoting these kinds of resources to a prostitution ring?”

I'm in no way condoning Spitzer's behavior. But was this really a good use of taxpayer dollars?

* * * * * * * *

In a weird synchronicity of disconnect, yesterday's Times had an article on getting married with no one present, and another on making a baby with no one there.

In Montana, it's possible to have a double-proxy wedding. The groom is hither, the bride is thither, and random strangers say the vows for them in a Montana courtroom. It's one thing to have a wedding where one of the parties appears by proxy - it lets a soldier marry a hometown sweetheart while deployed. But two proxies? It boggles the imagination.

And in India, commercial surrogacy is legal and, because of the (low) costs involved, is attracting foreigners. So you get scenarios like this one:

Yonatan Gher and his partner, who are Israeli, plan eventually to tell their child about being made in India, in the womb of a stranger, with the egg of a Mumbai housewife they picked from an Internet lineup.

There's no relationship, no connection, no contact, nothing but a contract and some consideration. I have no problem with surrogacy, but this too boggles the imagination.

I'm not condemning either of these practices; I find them fascinating examples of a lack of barriers engendered by the global economy, the internet and modern technology. And I read both of those articles word for word, reveling in the fact they were both in the same section of the same paper on the same day.

* * * * * * * *

Back to Spitzer: he is suffering from a disconnect. From his wife and family, from his own high-minded ethics, from his constituents, from common sense. What was he thinking?

10 March 2008

An Unanswerable Question

Why is it that her wind-up giraffe plays “Happy Days are Here Again”? It’s a kid’s toy. All she knows are happy days.

08 March 2008

The Lure of the Limerick

I love limericks. We had books of risque limericks floating around the house when I was a kid, I once posted my favorites, and my husband is holding his breath for the day that the rumored-to-be brilliant limericks of T.S. Eliot are finally published (they are allegedly embargoed until his wife has died).

So when I found Niobe making up limericks about bloggers, in response to a challenge at Weebles Wobblog, I was ready. I printed out my bloglines list, and sharpened my pencil for the train trip home.

Aha! Crunchy granola. Five syllables = perfect.

Crunchy granola
is my favorite breakfast
day in and day out.

Um, oops. That's a haiku.

I scratched my head some more.

I'm not one for praying or mass.
I don't like sea bream or bass.
But I'm given to braying
A favorite saying
The apposite "this too shall pass".

However, granola had wormed its way into my head.

I know that she likes Coca-cola
and possibly crunchy granola.
But I never can tell
if blogger FreshHell
knows the difference 'tween shit and shinola.

How about you?

07 March 2008

Open, please

The dentist's office
always had one magazine:
Highlights For Children

The email the other day from the Parent Blogger's Network was titled Blast From the Past. And indeed, that's what it felt like. Because Highlights For Children was very much a part of my past: there was always a stack of them at the dentist's office. I don't remember seeing it anywhere else, and we never had a subscription, but it was a reliable treat when waiting to see the dentist - that and the cartoons in the New Yorker.

We had a great dentist, Dr. Eisenberg, a kind man who worked out of a suite of offices attached to his split-level suburban house. His wife, who dyed her hair black, was the office manager, and doled out little plastic toys when you were done getting your teeth examined. My mouth is full of fillings, all still intact lo these many years later. I think it's a testament to his skill that my original fillings are still solid - my husband is the same age as me and has had to have nearly all of his childhood fillings replaced; they just crumbled away in his mouth.

I hope that Miss M. is spared the drilling and filling - she brushes with fluoride toothpaste, drinks fluoridated water and has had one dentist office fluoride treatment. And I hope she grows up knowing that the dentist is nothing to be scared of. But most of all, I hope she never has to go to the orthodontist because those people are costly sadists who never have the good magazines!

05 March 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

A building fell down yesterday, causing the suspension of all train service in and out of Grand Central. So instead of getting to the station with no time to spare before my train, I found myself in the women’s room – a surprisingly clean and tidy public loo, in case you’re in the area. While ensconced, I heard a commotion outside – a woman cajoling, a child shrieking. I emerged to find a harried looking mother trying to get her child off the floor, and the bathroom attendant clucking nearby. Eventually, the attendant shooed the woman into the nearest stall and stood watching the child, trying to get him to stand up. As she closed the door, the mother said helplessly “he’s autistic”. The attendant bent down and asked the boy to show her the little truck he was clutching. And with that, the child calmed down, and pushed the truck along, but remained lying on the floor. Imagine that mother, snatching three minutes of time alone, a kindly stranger watching her child. It haunts me still.

And I wonder, does having a child of my own make me more attuned to that small drama, more sympathetic to that mama and son? For, though my child doesn’t have autism, she’s certainly pitched tantrums in public and lain on skanky restroom floors. And I could feel that mother’s desperation: “Get off the floor, I need to pee!”

To be dependent on the kindness of strangers – it’s both a blessing and a curse.

04 March 2008

Wiki Wiki Joy

I don't read the New York Review of Books with any regularity, but I come across articles from time to time and often really like them. Yesterday, I read a wonderful piece about Wikipedia, by Nicholson Baker, an idiosyncratic writer of both breadth and minutia.

Baker's piece is ostensibly a book review of a "manual" on how to contribute to Wikipedia, but really it's part history, and part personal chronicle of his own volunteer work inside Wikipedia. Baker dives in deep: he edited pages on bovine somatotropin, Sleepless in Seattle, and cobbler. He worked to save pages that were slated for deletion by editing in reputable citations and became thoroughly and compulsively enmeshed in the, yes, minutia of Wikipedia.

Have you ever edited a Wikipedia page? I have, and I can well see how one could get completely sucked into it. I've only brushed against a couple of pages that are work-related, but a comma here, a link there, and soon Pop Tarts need a little attention.

Where would your Wikipedia obsession begin? What do you itch to edit?

03 March 2008

Quote to Live By

When I was raising my kids, I used to say that work was therapy for home and home was therapy for work. (Eleanor Clift in an interview with Deborah Solomon in yesterday's Times)

I think she hits the nail on the head, even though right this minute I'd love to be home nursing my cold and reading Angela Thirkell in bed. I'm a better parent because I don't spend 24 hours a day with my child, and a better employee for having a life outside of the office.