30 October 2009

The Nightgown

She went off to the undertaker in a nightgown. A soft cotton-knit nightgown from Lands' End. Heather grey, with a henley neck and a handful of buttons and long sleeves. It hung to below the knee, and had side slits at the hem.

I'd bought it for her around the time she started sleeping in the living room. All of her other nightgowns were cotton flannel, and harder to get on and off; the stretchy knit was easier. Over time, though, both side slits tore farther up the seam. All of that pulling and rolling and tugging - to change the diaper, change the bedding, get her positioned in her bed just so - took its toll on the fragile seams, already weakened by the slit running up from the hem.

She went off to the undertaker in a nightgown with ripped seams. I wonder, did they take it off, that nightgown? Did the funeral home send it off to St. Vincent de Paul? Or did she go to the crematorium in that nightgown?

It was one of the last things that I bought her.

27 October 2009

Stories that Stick

Books. I surround myself with books. There are books in every room in the house, save the bathrooms, because I think reading on the toilet is wrong. There's a pile next to the bed that'll hurt if it falls over, there's always a book in my bag, and my Amazon wish list (which is more like an aide-mémoire) is longer than my arm. I compulsively catalog books read via Good Reads because I like making lists, and I like spending time on my couch dipping into long ago read books as though meeting old friends.

Some number of times in my recent wanderings in cyberspace, I've come across the meme that Sweet/Salty Kate started in connection with the imminent release of her pirate book, The Dread Crew. Reading these posts is kind of exhilarating, and daunting. Huh, I never read that, it sounds great. And, yes, I loved that book. But, no way, that's a terrible piece of dreck.

So you know I had to do the meme:

1) You are facing an epic journey. You may choose one companion, one tool and one vehicle from any book or film to accompany you. Or just one of the three. It's up to you. What do you choose?

As companion, I'd take Stephen Maturin (from the Patrick O'Brian books), because he's smart and sensitive, and a spy and a doctor, and he plays the cello in his spare time. As tool, I'd take the alethiometer from The Golden Compass - after all, it tells the truth. The vehicle would have to be one of James Bond's cars as breathed upon by Q.

2) You can escape to the insides of any book. Where do you go, and why?

To the estate of Malplaquet, in Mistress Masham's Repose. The heroine is an orphan, doing battle with her evil governess and a dastardly cleric, with the help of the kindly cook and a distracted professor. There are Lilliputians! And maps for endpapers! It's magic.

3) You can bring one literary character into your current life. Who do you choose, and why?

Lord Peter Wimsey would be fun to hang out with. He's smart and rich and cultivated, and he drives a fine car.

4) The 27th Kingdom is my go-to book. I could read that book fifty-seven times in a row without a break for food or a pee and not be remotely bored. In fact I’ve already done that but it wasn’t fifty-seven times. It was sixty-four.

5) Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most enviable?

I wanted to be Claudia, in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She runs away, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and then solves a mystery.

6) Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most frightening?

I read The Crying of Lot 49 when I was 16, and it terrified me. And I can't remember why. I sort of want to re-read it and see if it's still terrifying, and I sort of want to let sleeping dogs lie.

7) Every time I read A Room With A View, I see something in it that I haven’t seen before.

8) It is imperative that The Dread Crew be made into a movie. Now. I am already picketing Hollywood for this—but if they cast Hugh Grant as Johnnie Golden, I will not be happy. I will, however, be appeased if they cast Peter Stormare.

9) A Suitable Boy is a book that should never be made (or should have never been made) into a film.

10) After all these years, the gynecological instruments scene in the book/movie Dead Ringers still manages to give me the queebs.

11) After all these years, the wedding scene in the book/movie The Philadelphia Story still manages to give me a thrill.

12) If I could corner the author Charles Palliser, here’s what I’d say to him in one minute or less about their book, The Quincunx: But what about Johnnie's inheritance?

13) The coolest non-fiction book I’ve ever read is Water in the lake. Every time I flip through it, it makes me want to put a book in the freezer and add mindful whimsy to my life.

Here's hoping that Kate's book is a story that sticks!

26 October 2009

Honestly Honesty

Nora thought I might have something interesting to say.

  1. There's a "flat cat" on the shelf in my office. She's been with me in every office I've worked in, for more than 20 years.
  2. I came with only two wisdom teeth. They're dormant and non-threatening. I like to tell my husband that I'm on the cutting edge of evolution, because we don't need wisdom teeth.
  3. My daughter asked me last night if I ever wore shirts that weren't either black, or white. Rarely! I pointed out that I'd had a grey shirt on last week, but then we discussed that grey was a mix of black AND white. So, she might be right. Is it because of children that people decide to dress more colorfully? I am wearing a green sweater today. With a white shirt and jeans.
  4. I do have a pair of red shoes.
  5. After breakfast, and before getting dressed, I like nothing better than to crawl back into my still warm bed with a cup of coffee, just for a few minutes, alone.
  6. The only team sport I have ever done was crew, and it wasn't even real crew. It was in college, and it was intramural crew, in bargelike training shells. But the feel of slipping across the water, pulling, pushing, all in unison, was magical and exhilarating.
  7. Sharks patrol these waters.
  8. There are two suction lizards on the tile walls of our shower. I get sad when one falls off and gets scooped up into the bucket of the girl's bath toys - I think it's lost and gone for ever.
  9. I feel banal today.
  10. But perhaps I am a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.


23 October 2009

With My Friendship For This Reason

Great gems sometimes drop into my lap, like this letter that arrived in my office yesterday, from an autograph seeker in Spain (seeking someone else's autograph, not mine).

It reads as though it was badly translated by a robot, so to amuse myself, I stuck it into Babelfish and translated it from English to Italian and back again. Herewith:

Me a lot and series a great relative honor that has the company/companies and that it designs nell' accumulation of the artists of the dance, thus attached he it corresponding paper so that I pray me that it compliments. Un' illustration its has dedicated un' image to me. Thanks a lot for that reason and to attend its news much pleasant he salutes with my friendship.

You could do it all day long, like some demented electronic game of Telephone. I did wend my way through to German, back to English, to Russian, back to English again.

With thanks are much its pleasant communications themselves in order to ensure much [gostepriimsva] it with my friendship for this reason i.

With my friendship for this reason. It's the found poetry at the end of the exercise.

22 October 2009

Thursday Thirteen In My Pants

When Alejna commands you to add pants to everything, one must obey. More specifically, her edict was to append "in my pants" to a random selection of song titles obtained by using the shuffle feature in iTunes. So I did.

  1. Speeding Motorcycle In My Pants (Yo La Tengo)
  2. I Cried Last Night In My Pants (Junior Kimbrough)
  3. Heart of Stone In My Pants (Rolling Stones)
  4. Shine On Harvest Moon In My Pants (Leon Redbone)
  5. April After All In My Pants (Elvis Costello/Anne Sofie von Otter)
  6. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright In My Pants (Simon & Garfunkel)
  7. Love Is For Strangers In My Pants (Luciana Souza)
  8. Because The Night In My Pants (Bruce Springsteen)
  9. Freight Train In My Pants (Peggy Seeger)
  10. Big Yellow Taxi In My Pants (Joni Mitchell)
  11. Private Idaho In My Pants (B-52s)
  12. I've Got To See You Again In My Pants (Norah Jones)
  13. The Valley In My Pants (k.d. lang)

The performing artist is in parentheses. The composer/songwriter is not listed.

A pants-less aside: It is a frequent frustration for me that the performer is supreme in the iPod metadata - while the composer can be included in the "info" panel of iTunes, that information doesn't flow over to the iPod. So, while I have two copies of April After All on my iPod, one by Elvis and Anne, and the other by Ron Sexsmith, there's no way to know that the song was written by Ron Sexsmith and and, therefore, that the Elvis/Anne version is a cover. Although I do know it. But I digress. Though while I'm at it? Freight Train was written by Elizabeth Cotten. And The Valley was written by Jane Siberry. In fact, only six of the above songs were written by the above listed performers. Which six? For bonus points, discuss the history of #8.

If you want to play, consider yourself tagged, in your pants. You can skip the singer/songwriter/composer performer discussion.

21 October 2009

Wardrobe Pink Wednesday

Stripes and flowers and ruffles and ears. Pink goes with pink, right? This outfit, sans kitty ears, was what she wore for picture day at school. And I'm sure that she would have tried to wear the kitty ears for picture day, except they only just came in the mail from the pinkalicious Painted Maypole!

20 October 2009

Why do we get disturbing thoughts?

Why oh why did someone visit my blog early this morning using the search terms "review best pomegranate juice" and then, instead of leaving a comment on a post that’s two months old, send me a 532 word email about research done in Israel on the benefits of pomegranate juice?

What is it with Amanda Hesser and her twins? Just today, someone was looking for "'amanda hesser' twins preschool" – I hope they aren’t planning to stalk her, not that they would have found any information on my site. And it’s not the first time – according to Google Analytics, Amanda Hesser is one of the top ten searches that land on my blog.

Four of the top ten searches are for Lava Girl costumes. And I’m terribly sorry, but our Lava Girl costume doesn’t have anything to do with the Lavagirl character. Kid told me she wanted to be Lava Girl, and described the costume she wanted. She’d never seen Lavagirl, I’d never even heard of the character. But apparently, a lot of people want to be Lavagirl for Halloween.

Checking Sitemeter this morning, (because of the pomegranate email, I rarely bother unless I want to try and pinpoint a recent comment), I found that three of the 100 last visitors reached my blog because they were looking for information on the price of a colonoscopy, or how much insurance would pay. That’s sad, and speaks to the incredible lack of transparency in the health care industry.

And if you're wondering about the post title, it was another Google search. Go figure. Why do we get disturbing thoughts, anyway?

19 October 2009

Monday Mission: Nonet

Beige grains in the old green Mason jar
In suspended animation
Await warm water and food.
Feed them the miller’s wheat,
Flavor them with salt.
Knead, rest, rise, bake:
Crusty joy,

This post has been a Monday Mission, this week's mission being to write a post in the form of a Tanga or a Nonet. I think I'm done writing about bread, at least for a while.

16 October 2009

The Staff of Life, part 2

The close reader may well have wondered why I made two different loaves of bread the other day. One was the crusty little boule that accompanied our soup and salad dinner; the other was a basic sandwich loaf for school lunches and toast breakfasts.

I can, and do, make a nice plain white bread by hand, with the usual kneading and whatnot. But more often, I rely on a shortcut - a homemade mix done up in the bread machine.

The recipe is pretty basic - the only non-dry ingredients are water and butter. In assembly line fashion, I measure out all of the dry stuff (flour, salt, yeast, sugar, powdered milk) into one quart plastic containers. Usually I batch up four quarts at a time, in addition to making a loaf right then and there. The mix gets stored in the fridge - which isn't completely necessary, but yeast keeps longer at cold temperatures. (I buy yeast in bulk and keep it in the freezer.) When it's time to make a loaf, I just need to add water and butter. Most of the time, I use the bread machine only for the knead and first rise - because I don't love the way it bakes the bread. It's easy enough to plop the dough into a bread pan for the second rise and bake it in the oven.

Why bother? Because it's cheaper than buying supermarket bread, and it's not full of ingredients that I can't pronounce.

15 October 2009

Turn Down Your Thermostat

Did you know that is Blog Action Day, and that this year's theme is Climate Change? I'd forgotten until Ilina posted a list of simple ways to be more environmentally conscious. Her list is pretty comprehensive, but she forgot one thing: turn down your thermostat in the winter. She's forgiven, though, because she lives in the south.

We haven't yet turned on the heat in our house - partially out of frugality, partially out of energy consciousness - even though the early morning outside temperatures have been in the 30s, and it is decidedly chilly in the house. (There hasn't yet been a frost.) Last year, we made it to the beginning of November; the other day, my husband quipped that we should aim for the first of December.

Once we do deign to put the heat on, we use a programmable thermostat that keeps the heat at 55°F at night and during the middle of the day. For the morning and evening rush, the temperature spikes up to 64°F. On weekends, we compromise at 60°F during the day. Yeah, it's not toasty warm in the house, but move around! Wear a sweater!

Tonight, I'll probably dig out the second duvet - I layer a newish medium weight one with a worn out thin one to get a nice winter weight down comforter.

And I'm not going to turn on the heat until I have to.

Edited to add - Apparently, it's snowing big juicy clumps at home. At work? Just rain. Perhaps we won't make it to the end of the month...

14 October 2009

Wisdom and Knowledge

There is something magnificent about the (biblical) slogan above the entrance to the RCA Building, also known as 30 Rock or the GE Building. Alas, wisdom and knowledge have been denigrated and are no longer held in esteem. When wisdom and knowledge are again admired, will stability return?

13 October 2009

The Staff of Life

I spent yesterday puttering around in the kitchen, making two different loaves of bread, a pot of squash soup, toasted squash seeds (as a garnish for the soup), and a plum cake. I could go on and on about the mediocre soup, the awesome seeds, and the excellent cake which the child wouldn't eat. But I won't. I need to proselytize instead.

On a hunch not too long ago, maybe as a result of a stray comment from Mad, I bought a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It's seriously easy, and seriously wonderful. The basic recipe has four ingredients (flour, water, salt, yeast). There is no kneading, and no special equipment is needed. The five minutes a day part isn't hyperbole. And, as I said to my husband last night, there's no reason to buy bread ever again.

You could run out and buy a copy of the book - but if you don't want to spend the money, you're in luck! The good grey lady ran the recipe and it's available on the internet - for nothing! (Is it any wonder that newspapers and book publishers are struggling?)

In essence, you make a big batch of wet dough, let it sit for a while, yank off a piece, tidy it up and let it rest, and then fling it into a hot oven. The leftover dough goes into the fridge until you're ready for another loaf. That's it. A perfect crusty little boule.

What are you waiting for?

Tangentially, "the staff of life" popped into my head as the right name for this post and because I am wont to do so, I googled it. The phrase, that is. Luckily for me, I found a blogger who had tried to chase down that phrase already, because I was getting lost in the biblical and the Latin and the Hebrew. It's confusing, the staff of life.

09 October 2009

True Confessions

Laugh Mom's guest post at Aiming Low - in which she confesses to her small child that she, too, had peed in the pool - prompts me to reveal something that I've been holding close to my heart for a very long time.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I peed in Madeleine Albright's swimming pool. I was a mere child, and she was decades away from becoming Secretary of State.

Your turn. What's your true confession for today?

08 October 2009

I Never Learned How To Be A Girl

How is it that I never learned how to be a girl? A real girlische girlie girl?

When I was a child, my mother would get dressed up to go out to dinner, or to the ballet, and she'd put on make-up (and Youth Dew). Not a lot, but a spot of blush and some lipstick, and maybe a little eye shadow. And she always painted her toenails, and for a while she had a hairpiece, a fake bun thing that attached to the back of her head with a comb.

In the past week, two bloggers have posted about the contents of their bathroom cabinets: Mayberry's daughter had a "playdate makeover" which involved serious quantities of lipstick, eye shadow and nail polish, and Ilina catalogued the astonishing amount of "product" under her bathroom sink.

I confess to owning two bottles of nail polish - one pale pink for bribing the child ("I'll paint your toenails if you let me cut them first"), one dark metallic grey to horrify the husband. My usual morning toilette is simple: I take a shower, put moisturizer on my face and legs, brush my hair, apply deodorant, and I'm done. I'm semi-convinced that the reason that the skin on my face looks good is because I never wash it. Instead, I rely on the water rinsing off from the top of my head. I don't wear eye shadow, mascara, blush or lipstick; I never polish my fingernails; I paint my toenails with the afore-mentioned dark grey once every couple of summers; and though I did dye a blue streak in my hair twice this year, I've never otherwise colored my (greying) hair.

My daughter, therefore, is growing up with an unpainted role model. I dress casually, in jeans 95% of the time, I make my own pie crust, I patch and repatch her patchwork quilt. I'm some kind of quasi-hippie, crunchy around the edges. And I'm worried about backlash. Is my daughter destined to grow up and never leave the house without foundation and fake lashes?

07 October 2009


Last week's news that Chanterelle had closed made me sad. It's not like I was a regular or anything, but it's the only really high end restaurant that I've had the great good fortune to eat at more than once - maybe ten times in the past twenty years. Some of those times were galas; I work for a non-profit and for several years running we did a fancy fabulous dinner at Chanterelle as a fund-raising event. But some of those meals were just dinners out, for a birthday, an occasion, a celebration. And there are memory fragments from those evenings seared into my head. I can conjure up the taste of an appetizer, a layered terrine of 1/8" stripes of beef shin and foie gras, the unctuous foie gras contrasted with the meaty beef, enhanced with a dribbles of a vaguely Asian sauce. Squirreled away in my jewelry box is an irregular pearl - the bonus in a diver-caught Maine scallop that my husband ate one night. For a while, a good friend worked in the kitchen - which meant extra dishes just because, and once, a raucous late night game of ibble-dibble with the waitstaff after the restaurant had closed. Another night, it snowed. We sat snugly in the warm golden room, watching the snow fall through the big windows.

The food was perfect, the setting was elegant without being stuffy, and the waitstaff was the antithesis of supercilious. Thank you. We'll miss you.

06 October 2009

At the Intersection of Blog and Child Rearing

The first grader brings home an eccentric mishmosh of books from the school library. The other day, it was a book about Korea - a "photographic alphabet" called K is for Korea. I think she'd asked for a book about either China or Japan; somehow she ended up with Korea.

In any case, I duly read the book to her one evening, and was amused to find the entry for the letter G:
Perhaps my next blog should be called Ggachi Gamboling.

05 October 2009


Did you read the appalling story about meat and E. coli in yesterday's New York Times? You will never eat ground beef from the supermarket again. One of the most egregious comments was from one Dr. Kenneth Petersen of the USDA, who was quoted as follows:

Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that the department could mandate testing, but that it needed to consider the impact on companies as well as consumers. “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health,” Dr. Petersen said.

I'm sorry, but letting corporations dance willy-nilly on the packing house floor without putting public health first is criminal and cynical. The impact on companies should not be a consideration when addressing the health and safety of the food supply for the American public. I hope that Dr. Petersen has had his head handed to him and I faxed a letter to that effect to his boss.

Ever since reading Fast Food Nation, we've tried hard to eliminate supermarket meat from our diet. In each of the past two years, we've bought about a quarter of a steer - grass fed, locally raised, artisanally butchered, excellent beef. The meat is not hugely more expensive than what comes from the supermarket - we pay one price per pound, not less for ground beef and more for filet - though we do have to lay out the cash for a lot of meat all at once, and have freezer space to hold it all.

We know where to get live chickens in our county (though we opt for the recently dead ones), and I can find humanely raised pork and lamb at the Greenmarket. And since joining the CSA a few years ago, our diet - especially in the summer/fall - has skewed towards vegetables. Meat's become an accent, an occasional meal.

I don't think humans should forgo meat - animals eat animals, after all - but I do think that it's incumbent upon us to do it as graciously as possible, and to remember what Michael Pollan said: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."


01 October 2009

Why Yes, I Am A Nerd

Did you know I was a nerd? I kind of am. I like word games, like Scrabble (in the flesh and on FaceBook) and Moxie (on my iPhone). I spent countless hours in college playing Boggle with my roommate, while we listened to Springsteen and drank Black Russians. I think logic puzzles – the kind that you need a grid (and a pencil eraser) to figure out – are fun. Back in the day, I got an 800 on the analytic section of the GRE. Most mornings, I do the Ken-Ken in the Times, though it makes me crazy that they print it across the fold.

I have a Nintendo DS, but the games I had for it never really grabbed my attention. I tried MillionHeir/Mystery Case Files – but it’s kind of tedious, and not terribly challenging (and the music is annoying). Rhythm Heaven is fun, but it’s more about timing, not logic. But what’s really gotten under my skin?

Professor Layton.

I haven’t played the first one (Curious Village), but I’m in the midst of the Diabolical Box and it’s enchanting. It has a meandering little story line with a lot of puzzles – some tricky, some simple, many varieties. The scenery and people are somewhat reminiscent of those in the Miyazaki films. Sometimes the story advances through little videos, sometimes it’s more interactive in that you have to "talk" to the characters you encounter. I like that you can play it with the sound off because all of the dialogue is also shown as sub-titles - but the spoken dialogue is pretty well acted, with a mess of British accents. The puzzles are clever, and there's a "memo" feature that lets you scribble on the screen to figure out sums or paths. I did, however, resort to modeling a cube out of folded paper to solve one of the brainteasers.

The only bad thing? It's keeping me from reading! Instead of climbing into bed with my current book, I'm playing a video game. My husband thinks I've lost my mind. In point of fact though, I may be exercising it to enhance plasticity and stave off forgetfulness. Good justification, right?

Disclosure: The lovely ladies at Brand About Town sent me a copy of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box; I didn't pay for it. They neither asked for a review, nor paid for one.