31 January 2009

Aimless Archeology

Someday, I'll organize my photos, the old ones, the pre-digital ones (not that the digital ones are in much order). Right now, some of them are sort of sorted, but most of them are just randomly tossed in a big plastic storage box.

In some fit of madness this afternoon, I rummaged around in that box. I found a vast, odd range: baby pictures of me, stuff from college, old boyfriends at the beach, the dear departed cats on vacation in Maine, wallet sized school photos of me and my siblings.

My mother always had a good eye. She dabbled in photography, her father was a commercial artist with a dark room in the cellar, and she had a pretty good Leica camera. One day, when I wasn't yet a year old, she tied me to the high chair and took a series of arty black and white photos of me in an antique baby dress. Eventually I got bored; this is the last in the series.

That high chair is still at my mother's house. Her little grandchildren have all used it; Tiny still does from time to time.

But I wonder where the dress is.

30 January 2009

Separation of Church and State, and Why I Would Like a Fortuny Gown

Maira Kalman did a whimsical and moving essay on the inauguration, on-line on the Times site.

In it, she draws a picture of the Lincoln bible that Obama used (and which she got to hold). But she also says this:

And a woman named Renata asked:
"Why on the bible? Why not on
the constitution?" And I think
that is a VERY Good Question.

I too think that is a Very Good Question. If one of the general principles of our country is the separation of church and state, why then is religion so much a part of of the inauguration of the president of the "state"? There was an invocation and a benediction, with a bible in between for an oath that ended with "so help me god".

In the constitution, the oath/affirmation for the President is set forth as follows:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

No "so help me god".  Please tell me why our politicians feel the need to add "so help me god" and "god bless America" at every turn?  Why do they swear on a bible?

I always say that I'm going to use a dictionary when I get sworn in.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Another panel in Kalman's essay is a drawing of a red Fortuny dress. When I win the lottery, I want one. I've wanted one ever since the first time I ever saw one, a long long time ago. Sigh. Something about the pleats makes the dresses flattering no matter what the body shape. The colors are always fabulous. The simple little details. Sigh. I could wear it to my inaugural ball.

29 January 2009

And More I Want To Read

An embarrassingly long time ago, someone contacted me and asked if I wanted to review some kid's books - a series called The Fairy Chronicles. I said "sure" and two books arrived in my mailbox.

I read the two books (Marigold and the Feather of Hope, Dragonfly and the Web of Dreams) and thought they were sweet, if somewhat pedantic and rather earnest. I loved the vaguely Victorian illustrations, which remind me a little of Arthur Rackham. And both books ended with an activity at the end - a recipe in one, directions for a woven bracelet in the other.

But I felt ill-equipped to "review" the books. At the time, my child was about three and a half, and they were way beyond her comprehendibility. So I shipped them off to my then five year old niece, who was just beginning to read, and asked her to review them for me.

The books were a little advanced for her, but with the help of her mother, she managed to read them. Eventually, she even wrote the book review I requested, but then the piece of paper disappeared - and didn't reappear until last week. By now, my niece is almost seven, and told her mother "I write so much better now!".

When all is said and done though, I think her "reviw" demonstrates that this series of books (there are about 14 books so far) is very appealing to the fairy-besotted elementary school girl.

28 January 2009

Grace #2 = Flowers on a Snow Day

I almost never buy flowers. I'm generally too abstemious to spend money on that kind of frivolity. But a couple of weeks ago, in the supermarket, at the urging of the girlie, I bought a $5.99 pot of daffodils, sprouted but barely even in bud. They've sat on the kitchen table since then, and we've watched them grow, seen the buds develop, guessed which one was going to open first.

Mad's in the throes of renovating her kitchen and today queried as to decorating tastes. My house is your basic eclectic mix, but I find the kitchen eating area very pleasing. It wasn't planned, it just fell into place. There are lots of casement windows with white painted wood work, green paint on what little wall there is, an old dark wood table, green chairs from Ikea, blue/green tapestry placemats, and a green pot holding the afore-mentioned pot of daffodils, now on their last legs.

I highly recommend potted bulbs in the mid-winter - it brings grace indoors, even on a snow day.

27 January 2009

Five Words, Redux

There were only six entries in my five words contest - the one where I asked for a paragraph using chthonic, liminal, punctilious, quincunx and usufruct. And they were all good!

Two of them, from Heidi and Vodka Mom, were cleverly subversive by making the words themselves the subject of the sentence.

The others - from Jenn, Liz, YourFireAnt, and Kelly - were great and varied attempts at making sense of nonsense, with wit and style.

So I resorted to the old random number picker.

Number 4! And the book goes to Liz!

I have to start making a new list...

26 January 2009

Tickled Pink

I would just like to go on record as stating that I am not a lady. Or a Lady. I'm far too foul-mouthed for that - in the flesh anyway, though rarely on "paper". And I don't own any white shoes. And, while I do own a string of pearls, I can't remember the last time I wore them.

That said, I'm still tickled pink to get a little award of appreciation from Kyddryn, notwithstanding the fact that its qualifications could really be extended to just about every single blogger about there:

The Dardos Award is in appreciation of the merits - cultural, literary and individual - of every blogger who expresses him/herself on his/her blog.

The conditions are to:
Be tickled pink,
Copy and paste the award picture to your blog,
Include the rules,
Link the blog who bestowed you the award, and finally
Nominate 15 blogs for the award.

And you know what? I may not be a lady, but today I'm going to play by the rules, sort of. I hereby nominate 15 blogs from my reader, all of which begin with the letter M.

  1. Magneto Bold Too
  2. Marmite Breath Slept Here
  3. Mayberry Mom
  4. Meno's blog
  5. Mental Pause Mama
  6. Merlot Mom
  7. Midlife Mama
  8. Mom, Ma'am, Me
  9. Mom-101
  10. Moments of Perfect Clarity
  11. Mommy Wants Vodka
  12. Mothergoosemouse
  13. Motherhood in NYC
  14. My Level of Awareness
  15. Mystery Mommy

What can I say?  I have a fondness for the letter M.  Mwah!

25 January 2009

Grace #1 = Hand-Me-Downs

I love hand-me-downs. I love that clothes get used to the best of their ability, that many children wear a given item, that things stay out of the landfill for a while.

Last week, we got a box in mail from my cousin, with a bunch of dresses and shirts and leotards and tights, all outgrown by her little girl. I know that the hand-me-downs went back and forth among my cousins when I was a kid; now they're migrating among the second cousins.

And recently, though coincidentally, I shipped off some of Mir's old clothes to a neighbor, to a blog friend, and to an old friend (who reminded me that she grew up wearing my hand-me-downs). Another batch was delivered to some people who were collecting kid's clothes for a nearby maximum security women's prison, under the aegis of the pre-inauguration Day of Service.

Hand-me-downs come with love, and serendipity, and grace.

21 January 2009

Five words that I've had to look up recently






It's not that I didn't know "punctilious", it's that some news commenter made a comment yesterday about Obama's parade running late, and said he wasn't as punctilious as Bush. I looked it up to confirm that, in fact, punctilious is NOT a synonym for punctual. Damn newscasters, using four syllable words incorrectly, when three syllables will do.

Anyway, here's a contest. Best paragraph, of less than 50 words, to use all five of the above words, gets a copy of The Mammoth Cheese. Have at it!

20 January 2009


At last, change is moving to the White House.

(New Yorker cover, issue date 1.19.09)

19 January 2009

Porcupines at 3:15 a.m.

I couldn't sleep last night. I'd woken up around 12:30 with an attack of heartburn that ended with vomiting, and then I couldn't get back to sleep. I lay there, under the duvet, listening to the gentle snoring from beside me, thinking about babies and baby showers, and wondering why there was no Tums in the house.

Suddenly, I heard little feet running across the hall. Without a word, she climbed up, kneed me in the chest as she scrambled over, and burrowed under the covers between us.

This morning, the first words out of her mouth were "do porcupines run?"

I don't know. Was one chasing you last night?

17 January 2009


Multiple choice:

Snow falls in winter. How does snow feel? Circle the two words.

Cold     Dry    Wet     Hot

Blonde. No question about it. Though, when I asked her later, she gave me the same answer: Wet and Hot. I'm sure she's just yanking my chain.

However, the query "how does snow feel?" could be part of the problem. The question ought to be "what does snow feel like?" because the way it was phrased on the Weekly Reader handout, it sounds like it's looking into the psychology of snow. Let's try this again:

Snow falls in winter. How does snow feel? Circle the two words.

Angry     Playful     Happy     Vengeful

How do you think the snow feels?

16 January 2009

A Paean To Porridge

Porridge, by Spike Milligan

Why is there no monument
To Porridge in our land?
If it's good enough to eat,
It's good enough to stand!

On a plinth in London
A statue we should see
Of Porridge made in Scotland
Signed, "Oatmeal, O.B.E."

I never used to like oatmeal. It was served periodically when I was a kid, and I remember it as mucilaginous.  I far preferred Cream of Wheat and even Wheatena.

A couple of years ago, I discovered that my favorite sandwich shop served divine oatmeal - steel cut oatmeal, topped with cinnamon brown sugar butter, toasted nuts and/or dried fruit - I get everything, and it doesn't even need milk. And then the cook at the girlie's (former) daycare began serving oatmeal to the kidlets every morning, and Mir started asking for it in the morning.

So I started trying to make oatmeal at home. I tried a bunch of brands, trying to avoid the mucilaginousness I grew up with. The Silver Palate oatmeal cooks up nice and toothy, but it's hard to find. The McCann's steel cut is awesome, but spendy, and it takes a half an hour to make.  Good old Quaker Oats is fine if you use the old-fashioned variety and cook off all the water.  And hallelujah, I've just discovered that Quaker is now selling steel cut oats in the supermarket, for half the price of the McCann's.  

Now, on the two days a week that she takes the bus (and that we therefore have more time in the morning), I make a bowl of 5 minute oatmeal for the girl, and on Saturday or Sunday morning, we make a batch of the 30 minute steel cut for the whole family. It's a nice warm way to start the day in the midwinter.

* * * * * * * * * * *

This post was written for the Parent Bloggers Network as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by The Quaker Oats Company. Quaker is being a good corporate citizen: from now until February 28, for every UPC from a Quaker Oatmeal hot cereal product that you enter at Start With Substance , Quaker will donate one bowl of oatmeal to Share Our Strength, a childhood hunger organization. One hitch is that you need to be a Facebook member to participate. I didn't really follow the rules (so what else is new), because I was supposed to tell you all how I help other people, but I've been down that road recently, so today you just get to hear about oatmeal. Okay by you? Don't forget that nice poem I found you. Does anyone read the fine print? 

14 January 2009

Wordless Wednesday: (Dress-Up) Shoe Maven

Purple skirt, orange tights and fuchsia peau de soie spike-heeled pumps, with silver lame pumps in one hand and a snow leopard in the other. Fierce, no?

13 January 2009

She Didn't Just Say That, Did She?

O The Joys isn't the only one with a child who says awesomely inappropriate things.

The other night, we went out to dinner, to a Japanese restaurant in town. Whenever we go to a "fancy" restaurant, the girlie orders a Shirley Temple.

We had a chatty, solicitous waitress, who - without being asked - brought a little dish of extra cherries along with the Shirley Temple.

The girlie spent some time dropping the cherries into her drink and trying to fish them out with her chopsticks, until she gave up and asked Daddy to help. Daddy took the chopstick and prepared to spear a cherry, at which point she cried out "Daddy, don't pop my cherry!"

Her mortified parents wanted to slide under the table.

Pre-Sleep and Dream Sleep

Before bed:
I don't wanna go to sleep, it's so boring. I'm bored, bored, bored. Sleeping is so boring.

Talking in her sleep:
I really need help. I want to make it.

What goes on in there?

12 January 2009


A couple of months ago, I signed the girlie up for an after-school cooking class - something sponsored by the school's PTA, to occur on-site, geared to kindergarteners and first graders. It starts today.

This morning, I reminded her that she'd be going to it this afternoon. She burst into tears, wailed, rent her garments, kicked me, complained that she wouldn't know anyone, and insisted that she didn't want to learn to cook.

I changed the subject, and eventually we got out of the house, reasonably well fed and clothed.

As I pulled into the school parking lot, she said "it's okay, Mommy, I'll try the cooking class". Without prompting. Without me having brought it up again.

She is going to be a fierce teenager.

* * * * * * * *

On a vaguely related note, Tracee Sioux has relaunched her site - it's now The Girl Revolution, and it's all about empowering girls and bashing sexism over the head. You have a girl? Go check it out.

11 January 2009


So we finally (a month late!) got the Wii and Wii Fit hooked up. And, we seem to be hooked. The first words out of the girl's mouth this morning were "can we go exercise?"

She generally prefers to sit on the couch and watch me, because she's too uncoordinated to do anything right, but she did run around the house several times, running running running, carrying the little remote.

We all went through the Wii Fit calculations. Husband isn't going anywhere near it ever again, because it told him he was 57. I was tickled to be thought 36; and hysterical when the 5 year old was deemed to be 30. Because, you know, it's entirely possibly that I had her when I was six, right?

It's altogether amusing.

08 January 2009

A Just Post Call For Help

Those fine Just Post women are hanging up their hats this week. For the final Roundtable, they put out this query:

Dear Readers, What say you? Are you a pragmatist or a Heart of Gold? Or are you some other kind of hybrid altogether? Will you join us in becoming an ongoing financial supporter of a cause you believe in? Will you write about it on your blogs or in your tweets? Will you help to raise money AND the profile of organizations that desperately need aid?

And that's what we are asking for as our farewell gift. Send us your link by the 8th and we'll include it in our last Just Post Roundtable on the 12th.

I've always worked for non-profits. Always. Except for stints at Publisher's Clearing House during summers in college, or part-time at a law firm while in graduate school, all of my employers have been non-profit arts organizations in New York City. All four of them (yes, four jobs in 22 years, I put down roots) have depended on the kindness of individuals (and corporations and foundations and government) for on-going support - because even though there's always a bit of earned income, it's never enough.

Can I tell you how much we appreciate that help? We really really do. Even a check for $5 means something - because that person took the time to sit down and write a check for $5, and put a stamp on the envelope, and dropped the contribution in the mailbox. And that $5 is going to be good for something - it'll buy some socks or a ream of paper. And if 13 people give us $5 each, we can buy a pair of pointe shoes for a twelve year old girl, who would never otherwise have the chance to dance. And 100 gifts of $5 - hey, that's $500 - pretty soon you're talking real money.

Opening up the return envelopes from our end of year campaign is one of the high points of my job, and it's not even my job. I just pitch in and help because I really like opening envelopes with checks in them, especially the ones from people just like you and me. Sure, a big check from a swank foundation is fun too, especially when it's for five or six figures, but the little ones really tug at the heartstrings.

As a result, I take my own personal charitable giving seriously. It's certainly not a lot of money - I haven't got a lot of money - but I try and spread it around to places where it seems like it'll do the most good, and that mean something to me.

In 2008, I made cash contributions to 34 different organizations (and dropped some stuff at the local thrift shop which benefits the American Cancer Society). One organization got three separate gifts, but that's because I'm on the board and there were several campaigns and an event. A few gifts were made because of specific requests by friends or acquaintances (like walk-a-thons, or the $50 gift to Rockefeller University requested in lieu of a present by a friend who turned 50). Others were completely local (the volunteer fire department, the library, the volunteer ambulance corp, the nearby hospital).

Some gifts were made as a result of news items. After the Hurricane Ike, I sent a bit to the Austin Food Bank. The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen was profiled in the New Yorker; they got a gift. Planned Parenthood got a contribution in memory of Sarah Palin. And I sent a bit to CIMIT after reading an article in the Times about their project to build incubators out of car parts.

Of the 34 organizations, 16 were repeat gifts - I've given to them one or more times in the past five years. I give to my college every year. On my birthday - which is just before the end of the calendar (tax) year, I send the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund my age in dollars. This year, they got $48. Next year, it'll be $49.

Oh, and I have rules. I always slip a note in the envelope asking that they not add me to their list, and that they don't solicit me more than once a year. If they fail to respect that, or if they don't send me a thank you note, I blacklist them.

I'm not telling you this to toot my own horn. I'm telling you this because a little here and a little there adds up, and giving becomes part of your life.

The Just Posts have been a wonderful spotlight on causes that move people, on issues of justice across the board, from access to health care to poverty to volunteering. And so in honor of one of the women who founded the Just Posts Roundtable, my first contribution in 2009 was a modest gift to an organization that helps the homeless.

You can help too. $5 really can make a difference.

07 January 2009

What A Day This Has Been...

It started with a 5:17am email from the school district: Schools CLOSED today. The girlie wanted to get up at six, and there was no cajoling her back to sleep, so there we were, up and at 'em. Once it was light outside, I ventured out to peer at the driveway, lusting for the New York Times which never did come. I made my way up our steeply sloped driveway only by climbing in the dirt along the edge; the driveway itself was a slick of ice. I determined the road to be treacherous, so I slid back into the house and emailed the office. I tried this again a couple of hours later - same result. I resigned myself to the fact that we weren't going anywhere beyond the painting easel in the cellar.

Then the phone rang. "Nothing's wrong" said Robin. Beginning a conversation with "nothing's wrong" always means that something isn't right.

Robin lives up the street from my mother and had been driving by, only to find my mother bundled up on her front porch, surrounded by firemen and EMTs and police. It turns out that there'd been a tiny fire caused by a clogged nozzle on the furnace. The aide called the fire department, who came and did what they do. And because there was carbon monoxide registered in the house, and my mother's blood oxygen levels were low, they ferried her off to the ER.

I hauled the girl out of the house, icy roads be damned, dropped her at her grandparent's house, and drove down to join my mother in the ER. I found her, still wrapped in six blankets from her own house, and we sat around for awhile - the lack of urgency in the emergency room is always stunning - eventually they did some bloodwork, gave her some albuterol, and sent us home.

Meanwhile, my brother called the oil company and met the repairman at the house.

In many ways, it was hugely anticlimactic - nothing was really wrong, nothing more wrong than is always wrong. The EMTs were right in sending her to the ER - she couldn't stay at the house until it had been aired out and the furnace repaired. The most bewildering part was that Moky was so out of it at the hospital - it's like she just tuned out as a coping mechanism. I think she knows where we were, but I'm not all that sure. She did perk up when we got home - it must have felt like a huge relief, even though the house was still cold, and smelled of fuel oil.

It was an awful lot of drama for a snow day.

05 January 2009

Groucho Moky

Last fall, I couldn't find my passport. And it was really eating at me, because it was expired and I wanted to get a new one, and get one for the girlie. You know, just in case we need to flee the country or something. Eventually it turned up, but then I started wondering where my social security card was, since those kinds of documents usually stick together. I knew I had one - the original one that I'd gotten in high school - but it was nowhere to be found.

I've spent most of the past two weeks away from home, mostly at my mother's house. In between bouts of incompetent nursing, my sister and I engaged in some aimless archeology (and surreptitious updating of one another's Facebook statuses).

Lo and behold, in a box of random treasures, I found my social security card. It was in one of those plastic card/photo holders that slips into a wallet, though the wallet is no longer around. The only other thing in the photo holder was the only picture of a family member that I can ever remember having carried around with me. These days, I've a handful of pictures of the girlie on my phone, and a couple tacked up around my desk, but I've never been the sentimental type that carries photos.

I have no idea when this picture was taken, or where. I don't recognize the house. But it's my mother. I love the ginchy hands, and the way she looks so happy under her Groucho glasses and the family wig.

When I slipped the picture out of its sleeve, it delaminated. It's an old Polaroid, and it had been cut to fit in the sleeve.  I quickly (and crookedly) scanned it and stuck it back in the sleeve.  You can see how the surface layer is cracked - from age, from being sat upon.  

It's a thoroughly goofy photo, and it was good to find it. Because the woman in the photo is now but a shell of herself - her fingers are gnarled, her smile is rare, her plastic nose has been replaced by an oxygen tube. But she once was.

01 January 2009

The Twelve Months That Were

I have been thoroughly betwixt and between for the past 10 days - a couple of days here, a night there - hither and yon from home to my mother's house, to my in-law's house, to my father's house - with stops at various and sundry holiday parties and dinners at friends. The Christmas presents received are piled up in the living room, as yet to be absorbed into their proper spots in the house. Don't ask me where the clean laundry is.

So, Slouchy's post today, in which she rounded up the year just ended by quoting from the first lines of each of the first posts of the twelve months of 2008, seemed perfect fodder for filching.


In November, the subway posters from Poetry in Motion were running a poem by Vera Pavlova, one that had been published in the New Yorker last summer.

The poem, about desire and regret, was completely apropos for each and every marking of the new year.


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).

Frightening. This was a post about a pile of books waiting to be read. Of the nineteen listed in that post, I've read five and I'm in the middle of two. So twelve of those books are untouched. Mind you, I've read plenty of other books that weren't in that pile, but still. First in, first out is apparently not the operating concept for my library management.


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)

Way to go - this post started with a quote. So here, I'm quoting a quote of a quote?


Every year, the pre-school class at Miss M.'s daycare hatches eggs into chicks.

And, yes, the eggs hatched. So what else would be new?


After some trial and error, we've found some good aides to help our mother.

Despite its quotidian beginning, this was a funny post - mostly acerbic anecdotes about the care of our ill mother.


Herewith let it be known that, if a four and half year old child eats Carvel ice in a not-found-in-nature shade of intense turquoise blue, it will stain her face and hands and legs, and, on the following day, it will cause her poop to be blue.

A two sentence post, the above being the first sentence.


Ooh, a pink popsicle from the queen of pink!

That queen of pink would be the inimitable Niobe, but that was probably supposed to be a secret.


I tend towards the stoic, I tend to hide my emotions.

Um, yes.


The first house that I remember living in was one of four nearly identical little houses in a row.

Gum. If you don't know what to bring to a potluck, bring gum.


Her: Mommy, why do you have hair on your parts?

Okay, I cheated. The first line of the post was actually a stage direction of sorts. But this is the first line of content.


Here’s the thing about meatloaf – it doesn’t need a recipe, it needs an attitude.

I could say that about a lot of things. I could also, and may, make some more exhortations about food.


Every year, I make the same three new year's resolutions:

Eat less
Exercise more
Dress better

And here we are again: New Year's Day.

I wish you all a lovely 2009, full of joy and peace and luck and love.