30 March 2009


She smiled at me yesterday. It was a fleeting moment of consciousness; mostly she’s in a liminal state – not asleep, but not responsive, eyes open but focused elsewhere.

It’s been a long process – a year ago, I wrote "She's barely eating, and sleeping a lot." A year ago, she entered hospice.

Now she’s taking a little water by syringe, and an occasional spoonful of jello.

She’s had full time care, at home, for the past year. In that time, she’s had homecooked meals, and visits from grandchildren, naps on the porch, and car rides for a change of scenery. Until recently, she could be gotten out of bed, and into a wheelchair, to eat fruit and toast and eggs at the kitchen table, the same spot at the kitchen table that she’s occupied for all of the more than 30 years she’s lived in the house.

No longer. Ten days ago, the hospice nurse told me that she seemed "comfortable", a word that somehow sounded like code for "the end is nigh". Last week, the nurse suggested that she’d be more comfortable in bed – she’d begun listing in the wheelchair, too weak to sit up. Now she’s bedbound, not much aware of her surroundings, her visitors.

And I look into her open eyes, gazing off into the distance, and I wonder – what’s going on in there?

27 March 2009

Shoe Friday*

Pinky and I have been doing a tiny amount of anticipatory weeding at our mother's house - paint stained sweat pants with no elastic go in the garbage, clean, functional sweat pants to the thrift shop. Last weekend, we found a neatly packed box of summer shoes: flipflops, sandals, espadrilles. After I took a picture, we shoved the box back under the bed.

Because somehow, shoes that are never going to be worn again are ineffably sad.

*With apologies to Jodifur.

26 March 2009

Playdate Cards

Is this beyond queer? My five year old has business cards - she calls them her "playdate" cards. Back before she started kindergarten last fall, I ordered them for "free" from VistaPrint (I had to pay about $5 for shipping). They've got her name and our home phone number at the top, and my name/cell/email, and Daddy's name/cell/email. I figured they'd be useful because she hadn't learned our phone number back then, and still hasn't. Furthermore, they kind of act like a family calling card, and it's the only business card I have that has my home phone number on it (my blog card doesn't have a phone number at all, and my office card has my office number).

25 March 2009

There Are No Words But I Can't Be Wordless For Wednesday

I got home at almost 8 last night, and within a half hour I was upstairs reading Desperaux to the child (we've been doing two or three chapters a night). I then tucked her in, and left her contemplating what was going to happen next - "is Mig going to cut open the Princess?" she asked as I escaped down the stairs.

All was quiet as we ate our farfalle with homemade red sauce. All was quiet as I puttered around on the computer. All was quiet when I went upstairs to put myself to bed, whereupon I found that the quiet had been deceptive.

She'd constructed a fort for some of the dolls and animals, tucked others in on their throw pillow beds, dumped all of the animals out of the storage box, squished her bed pillow into the box, and curled herself up into the storage box.  See her there, between the chair and its cushion?

It's one of those situations where you just don't know whether to laugh or to cry, so you take a picture.

And then you scoop her up and put her back in her bed.

22 March 2009

Rainbows and Polar Bears

I don't pretend to be much of a photographer, at all. I take pictures, when I remember. I use either the camera in my cellphone, or a little Elph, and I just point and shoot and hope for the best. I do crop from time to time - in Preview if I'm lazy, in Photoshop if I can wait for it to load. But that's it - I can't be bothered to futz with color or exposure or Gaussian blur.

Last month, on a school break, we went to the Bronx Zoo. And the polar bear wandered around his enclosure, and I took this weird picture with my phone. And I can't say why, but I kind of love it. I liked it on the phone, and I liked it still when I finally downloaded in to the computer. There's a rainbow effect lighting the polar bear from the upper left and it just seems painterly and unreal to me.

Polar bear. Uncropped, unretouched.

20 March 2009

Eco-Monograms in the Lunchbox

Everything has a story.

Years ago, my sister-in-law was working for the company that was assembling the land to build what's now a fancy hotel in New York. One of the properties that got bought and demolished was an old, funky hotel. In the brief moment between the last paying guests and the wrecking ball, we got access to the hotel and swooped through - acquiring leaded glass windows, kitchen ladles, #10 envelopes, oval platters, champagne buckets, a ceramic table lamp, a mess of stainless steel flatware, and a couple of bricks of plain white cotton dinner napkins, still wrapped in plastic fresh from the cleaners.

They're nothing special, the napkins. They'd look fine starched and pressed in a dimly lit dining room, but in the bright lights of my kitchen, lo these many years later, they're showing their liver spots, yellowy stains of indeterminate origin, resistant to bleach. I don't really care - I have so many that we can use freshly laundered cloth napkins with every meal and not run out before laundry day rolls round again. And given the amount of ketchup that gets blotted up on a regular basis, no napkin would emerge unscathed.

Back in September, when I was agonizing over what to do about lunch for the newly minted kindergartner, I assembled a bunch of plastic containers of various sizes, and some plastic utensils, and a little thermos - that is, lots of things to send back and forth to school. And I decided that, as long as the lunch box and all the bits and pieces were going back and forth, I'd send her to school with a cloth napkin.

I pulled out five of the hotel napkins, got some fabric paint and a stencil kit, painted her initials onto one corner of each napkin, and doodled on the other three corners with colored Sharpie. [Word of advice: Sharpie doesn't come out when you want it to come out, but it doesn't hold up terribly well in the way that I used it here - it bled a little and the color faded.]

You know what? It's March, and those five cloth napkins are still in circulation - which means that we've not used more than 100 paper napkins. Score!

These cloth napkins are brought to you by Nature's Source and the Parent Bloggers Network, and I approved this message.

18 March 2009

Wardrobe Wednesday

Last weekend, we went on a museum expedition - to a museum that had a dinosaur exhibit within, and a few large cast dinosaurs on the lawn. The child's outfit for the day: a lavender long-sleeved t-shirt under a demure, Easter-dinner-worthy, smocked dress of pink flowered cotton voile, with eccentric Hanna Anderson tights that are striped at the top and flowered at the bottom.

If I tried, I don't think I could put these outfits together.

14 March 2009

As American as Apple 3.14159

For some reason, driving around this afternoon I was thinking about pie - specifically whether a particular lemon tart could be halved to go in a seven inch tart pan, or whether it would just make sense to make two seven inch tarts, because the recipe calls for one whole lemon, or whether I should just go for the whole thing. And I remembered that once upon a time, I actually made (and saved) a little spreadsheet of the areas of round pans, because I am some kind of closet geek who scales recipes up and down using actual math.

Then I got home and puttered around the intertubes for a bit, and discovered that, according to Niobe and Nora anyway, today is π-day, as in "pi", as in 3.14159..., as in what kind of a weird coincidence is it that I was both thinking about pie, and thinking about the formula to determine the area of a circle which of course involves π?

And I never did make the lemon tart, which probably would have overflowed into the bottom of the oven if I'd done it in seven inch pans, but a recipe for a ten inch tart would halve nicely into a seven inch pan, in case you were wondering.

12 March 2009

What's In Your Freezer?

If you go back and read the comments to my post on the Kenneth Maue book, and further back to my post on the 14 year old grapes that I baked into a pie, you'll find that the same person twice confessed to having a bat in her freezer.  

I have a pig tail in my freezer.  It's not the kind of pig tail that you see on cute little girls.

A couple of years ago, we bought a whole pig. The whole thing - snout to trotters. We got the pig from someone we know, and visited it while it was still standing. He had it slaughtered for us, we had a butcher cut it up, and some of it got smoked. It was a bargain, and it kept us in pig for a good while.

All of the porky goodness is long gone, save the tail. The tail is still in the freezer, nicely vacuum sealed into sturdy plastic, looking for all the world like a pig's tail.  I'm kind of loathe to part with it, but what the hell do you do with one pig tail?

The other day, I checked my many cookbooks. I was sorely disappointed that the 1953 Joy of Cooking doesn't even mention pig tails (especially since it does tell you how to skin a squirrel), and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall just glosses over them in The River Cottage Meat Book.

But, as one might expect from a book subtitled "Nose to Tail Eating", I hit the jackpot with a recipe for Crispy Pig's Tails in Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast.  He waxes rhapsodic about the tail of the pig:

On other pages I have sung the praises of how the pig's snout and belly both have that special lip-sticking quality of fat and flesh merging, but this occurs in no part of the animal as wonderfully as on the tail. Like an ice cream on a stick, a pig's tail offers up all the above on a well-behaved set of bones.  By the by, dealing with any slightly hairy extremities of pig, I recommend a throwaway Bic razor (hot towels and shaving cream not required). You must ask your butcher for long tails.

The problem is, the recipe calls for "8 long pig's tails" to serve four people. To get eight tails, we'll need to buy seven more pigs.  We haven't got enough freezer space.

11 March 2009

Wardrobe Wednesday

Bottom to top:
Brown cotton tights.
Pink striped shorts.
Black camisole pulled way down.
Pale blue embellished cardigan.

She wore this to school with black patent leather maryjanes.

She is nothing if not idiosyncratic.

(Wardrobe Wednesday filched from Heathen Family Revival.)

10 March 2009

Working Class Hero

Last spring, when Hillary was still actively running for President, the Times ran an article headlined With Right Props and Stops, Clinton Transforms Into Working-Class Hero.

What is a working class hero, anyway? If the definition of a hero is one who is "distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength", is not a working class hero a blue collar person evidencing those traits?

working class heroOn my commuter line, some of the older train cars have names. They’re named after historical figures, like Eleanor Roosevelt and Commodore Vanderbilt, or named for places like Peekskill and Putnam. They’re named for cultural figures like John Cheever and Thelonius Monk. And one of them is called “Working Class Hero”.

Each time I see it, I think of the Lennon song - more specifically, the Marianne Faithfull cover of the Lennon song, but that's just because it's the version I know best.

And I wonder - do the powers that be who name the trains realize that Lennon's lyrics are tacitly fomenting revolution?  Or did they just think that they were saluting the engineers and conductors and repairmen by calling the car the Working Class Hero?

06 March 2009

Grace #6 = Tea and Cubans

There's a tiny coffee stand in the train station in my town. It's tucked into what was the luggage room back in the day (the station was built in 1902), and it's run by an ebullient bald Israeli man, who has catholic tastes in music. I don't stop in often, maybe once every couple of weeks, but I always walk out with a smile. This morning I picked up a cup of tea, and a "roll with Israeli butter", chatted with him about the Buena Vista Social Club record he was blasting, and got the day started off just right.

04 March 2009

Sometimes You Have to Pee In the Woods

I realized recently - upon reading Redneck Mommy's post about peeing by the side of the road - that I never shared my best Christmas present with you.

The wrapped box was handed to me with much hilarity by my sister and sister-in-law - they went in on the gift together, because it was apparently too much for one person to be responsible for. There was also a feeble attempt to get the small children out of the room, but as you can see, said attempt was unsuccessful. The child eyeing the gift, however, is fondling a Whoopie Cushion of his own - we do Christmas right.

I haven't yet tried it - though I probably should have broken it out during one of this winter's nice snowstorms - you know, to see if I could write my name in the snow - but I look forward to taking it on a fishing trip or something - though it's kind of large and might be hard to carry around - though maybe I could attach a carabiner to it and dangle it from my creel - I dare say it would amuse the hell out of my father and uncles.

It's gold plastic. It's longer than my forearm. It's the Shenis. What more could a girl want?

03 March 2009

Snarky Dissection

I don't know why, but a full page ad in today's Times jumped out at me and slayed me with its inanity. Visa is flogging a "Black Card".

First, they claim that it's "not just another piece of plastic", it's "made with carbon". Well, credit cards are generally made out of polyvinyl chloride acetate, which in turn is made of vinyl chloride and vinyl acetate, and guess what? There's carbon in both vinyl chloride and in vinyl acetate, and therefore there's carbon in every damned credit card out there!

Second, they claim that it's "not for everyone. In fact, it is limited to only 1% of U.S. residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every Cardmember." Um, when I checked earlier, the population of the United States was over 300 million people. One percent of 300 million is three million people! A tiny, little, exclusive club of only three million of your dearest friends!

And, to add insult to injury, it costs $495 a year!

Who are they kidding?

At least they're buying newspaper ads and keeping the good grey lady afloat.

* * * * * * * * *

Edited to add: Colbert skewered the black card recently - the clip is here - thanks Julia!

02 March 2009

wrinkled up scraps of paper

Somehow it became March. Somehow it's a sixth of the way through the year. Somehow, I have nothing at all and everything to write. There are blog posts in my head, to do lists everywhere, piles of paper crying out for attention. I have thing to scan, things to sew, things to sell on eBay. I have to finish the taxes.

This morning, Laurie Anderson wormed herself into my head:

I don't know about your brain, but mine is really bossy.
I come home from a day on the golf course
and I find all these messages scribbled on wrinkled up scraps of paper.*

I don't play golf, but my head is full of wrinkled up scraps of paper.  Full, I tell you.

What's your earworm today?

*from Laurie Anderson's song Baby Doll