31 July 2009

Let's Review: Swag

In the aftermath of all the BlogHer swag hysterics, I thought I’d review some of the swag that I came home with. No one paid me to do this, I didn’t buy any of these products, and none of them cost more than a token amount of money. But I know that you want to know what I think, right?

Wiley Day-Glo Orange Luggage Tag: I <3 Blogging

I flew out to Chicago with a carry-on bag that’s my husband’s. I’ve never used it before, and it’s black, and everyone else’s bag is black, and when I was getting off the plane I was pretty sure I had the right bag, but not sure enough that I didn’t have to check the address tag that he’d hidden. So, on the way home, I dangled the Day-Glo Orange Luggage Tag off the handle, and bingo! No chance of missing my bag. Thanks, Wiley!
Eucerin Everyday Protection Face Lotion SPF 30
For years I’ve been using a moisturizer from Kiehl’s. My father, who travels all the time, always brings back sample size bottles of the Kiehl’s from some swanky hotel. I swipe his bottles, all’s right with the world. But I ran out, and I haven’t been able to find a moisturizer that I like. I think the Eucerin might be it. It’s a drugstore brand (so it’s cheap), it feels nice on my face, and it’s even got sunscreen (which my dermatologist will be happy about).
Blue Avocado BlogHer Conference Bag
I've written before about my love for carabiners, and although I’m long on reusable bags for shopping and groceries, the nylon sack handed out at check-in is a keeper – inside it’s got a little attached stuff sack with a carabiner! That wasn't the only carabiner I got: Karianna was handing out "karibiners" clipped to her business card.
Bounce Dryer Bar
“Stick it and forget it”. I don’t know about you, but the thought of gluing a waxy bar of chemicals to the inside of my dryer completely skeeves me out. I’m kind of in the dryer sheets are unnecessary and environmentally incorrect camp, though I often use them because they help with the static business. I find that a whole sheet leaves too much scent, so I cut them in half (which has the added benefit of making a box last twice as long). But I don’t like touching the sheets – they feel gross and leave a residue on my hands (especially if you’re cutting up a whole box – I’m a weirdo, what do you want?). Anyway recently I’ve switched to using Method’s dryer sheets – they smell better and I got sucked in by their holy green no-animal-fat product description. So the Bounce Dryer Bar? Thanks, but no thanks.
Tag Reader Spiderman Book
I was a little irritated to get a Tag Reader Spiderman book in one of the swag bags, along with a coupon for a discount on the Reader – it seemed like giving away a razor blade to force you to buy the whole razor. But then I realized that the book stands along, and doesn’t need the Reader at all. Besides, the girlie loved the book. It’s not fine literature, but if she likes it, I can’t complain.

29 July 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Nora Goes Bowling

Nora Goes To Bowlher
Nora couldn't be at BlogHer in the flesh, but she got there on a stick. She went bowling, she went out to dinner, she napped, she saw friends, she ate cheeseburgers. She even got stuck in my cleavage. If you need more photographic evidence as to Nora's travels, check here and here.

27 July 2009

The requisite BlogHer post

Maggie Dammit describes it as akin to Alice in Wonderland, down the rabbit hole. I think it's kind of like a college reunion - lots of people with whom you have commonality, but don't see very often or even like very much. For a few days, real life paused and I found myself in some parallel universe.

I had a great time meeting and seeing people - wonderful warm generous lovely smart people - like Cecily and Mel and Aurelia and Annette and Amanda and VodkaMom and Marinka and Jean and Lori and and Becky and Becky and Catherine and Susan and Ree and IzzyMom and Grace and Emma and if you're not listed, it doesn't mean I don't love you. I met Lisa Stone when I didn't have any cards on me. I gave Kelcey a ride to the airport and never saw her again - her humor panel room was overflowing. I met Florinda for the first time and she was a perfect roommate.

I found the sessions I went to inspirational - I wanted to give Kelly a standing ovation when she finished talking about the "transformative power of blogging", the community keynote made us laugh and cry, and the mommyblogging panel on balance with Lisa Belkin wasn't nearly as annoying as I thought it would be.

I was delighted to meet the Johnson & Johnson people who sponsored me; they were lovely and seemed genuinely happy to have been able to support the random handful of bloggers who won their sweepstakes.

I was happy to wear another hat when I got to thank the representatives from Method and Sprout. Several months ago, they'd come through generously when I asked for product for a silent auction charity event I was working on.

I didn't win a netbook (which I don't need anyway) or a washer/dryer (which I do). And I didn't win new tires, but I did have my picture taken with the Michelin man (and anyway I need two new cars, not four new tires, thank you very much).

I was tickled to be invited to a private party given by Nintendo, a swank party complete with horse-drawn carriages and a spectacular view of Chicago from the 95th floor of the Hancock building. Nintendo's outreach reps are charming, and all of the guests got a DSi in the slickest gift box ever - it opens up to a vanity mirror, with lights and applause.

That gift box was one of the best things I brought home for the girlie, but she did like the Strawberry Shortcake dolls and the Schleich white tiger and the toy car and the clown nose and the coloring books and the chocolate lollipop. And my husband ate all of the chocolates that came from the Room 704 party (but he hasn't seen the vibrator yet).

I even left the hotel on Saturday morning, and - with Gwen - went to the Art Institute of Chicago and walked back along the lake.

And there's a lot of shite floating around about swag and marketing and PR, but eh. For me, the weekend was fun, and maybe I'll post some pictures tomorrow. After all, I've got some downtime tomorrow - I'm detoxing from BlogHer by having a colonscopy. Joy.

23 July 2009

Starting And Flying

My first blog posts were on 23 July 2006 - three years ago today. Somehow, it seems fitting that I'm getting on a plane to Chicago later, to fly to the BlogHer conference for the second time. What's more: I am tickled and grateful to have won one of the Blogher Johnson & Johnson sweepstakes - so my trip is covered. Phew!

Despite Thoreau's admonition to "beware of all enterprises that require new clothes", I've done something I've never done before: I had a pedicure. Somehow, it seemed like the right time to use the gift certificate I got for Christmas.

To keep you busy while I'm gone, I filched a meme from Schmutzie: please, if you would be so kind, leave me a comment answering these three four questions.

  1. What is your website url?
  2. Where are you from in real life?
  3. What do you want to be when you grow up?
  4. Should I keep my blogroll? It's gotten out of hand and out of date.

And, if you're going to be in Chicago, find me!

22 July 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Anonymous

There are graves in Boston's North End cemetery that are worn, flaked, erased to the point of anonymity, but still standing. I like to think that the second set is a mama and her baby, mama still protecting her baby.

21 July 2009

Nature > Art :: Art > Nature

Sometimes, there are moments of serendipity.

One of the stops on our little Boston jaunt was the art museum at my alma mater, which had a small installation by Kiki Smith, "Artist as Curator". It was the kind of installation that really appeals to me - a mash-up if you will - in this case, many many vessels arrayed in cubbyholes. The vessels were varied in size, material, age, color, purpose - but all of the objects could be construed as a vessel, a container of some sort.

Ca Mau porcelainThe object in the array that I came back to several times is no longer a vessel - instead it's a now fused stack of broken Chinese porcelain, found at a shipwreck*. It's crusted with barnacles, and it's taken on a whole other aspect, somehow organic, with insect-like articulation along the stacked bowls. Nature has created art from a man-made thing.

Later during the weekend, we saw a documentary, something that I've been meaning to watch for about two years. I'd thrown the DVD in my bag thinking if there were downtime in the hotel, it might be perfect. And it was.

Rivers and Tides is about Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor who works with natural materials. Sometimes he builds things, permanent things, like the serpentine rock wall at Storm King or the many ovoid cairns he's done in different places. But lots of his work is ephemeral - it lives for moments, or a day, recorded in memory or through photography. He'll pin leaves together with pine needles, sewing a long ribbon, which he then sets loose on a river. He'll build driftwood arches where the tide will wash them away. He breaks and re-forms icicles to create loops round a tree - until they melt. It's breathtakingly creative and a little bit crazy. And it's kind of the opposite of the Chinese porcelain sculpture - it's man turning nature into art.

Somehow, the juxtaposition of experiencing that Chinese porcelain in the museum and the ephemeral natural art in the documentary sparked all kinds of creative juices in me. It's related to my impulse to knit hats out of scrap yarn, or make blankets out of old t-shirts. It's the revisiting of a material and giving it new form, new life.

*Sotheby's auctioned off many of the salvaged pieces; their press release on the shipwreck and the sale is here (it's a pdf).

20 July 2009

Trot, trot, to Boston...Home, home again

We had a whirlwind trip to Boston - entertaining to a fare-thee-well.

  • On the way there, we stopped to wander around "my" college campus, grabbed a cheap lunch in the student center, and scampered through the art museum - where Mir announced that she wanted to marry a sculpture, a non-figurative sculpture that took up a whole gallery.
  • After checking into the hotel, we looked at the swan boats in the Boston Public Garden, before embarking on the corny touristy but lots of fun Duck Tour.
  • At a steak house near the hotel, I had a sublime goat cheese croquette with tomato and chorizo - and the girl had plain pasta. Yes, I know it was a steak house.
  • We splurged on room service for breakfast on Saturday before heading out to the aquarium to see sharks and seals and starfish.
  • On the recommendation of the hotel concierge, we had lunch at a fish place in the North End, where we perpetrated a most extreme fraud on the child: we ordered her a plate of fried clams, and told her they were chicken nuggets. And she ate them, and loved them, and they were really good, as was absolutely everything there.
  • We hiked a teensy bit of the Freedom Trail, including the Paul Revere House, The Old North Church, and the Copp's Hill Burying Ground. We ended up at the USS Constitution - which we skipped because the line was way too long.
  • After being out all day, we relaxed in the hotel pool - and W. and I took turns in the saunas and steam rooms, while the girl bobbed in and out of the water.
  • Because we were beat and lazy, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant on Saturday night, where we had a charming and chatty waiter who reminded me that you can buy wine at Trader Joe's on Sundays in Massachusetts!
  • Sunday morning, we checked out and drove to Cambridge, where we had crepes with a blogger (and her little fat baby).
  • The glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History were next - and the girl got to hold a chunk of coprolite, "ew, dinosaur poop!"
  • The girl got soaked running through a fountain, so we changed her clothes on the sidewalk, and she rode all the way home without underpants.
The end.

Oh, the moral of the story? When the kid announces that she has to pee, shamelessness helps. We availed ourselves of the kindness of a real estate agent and a church gardener.

The end, really.

Oh, and I did buy two cases of wine at Trader Joe's. Best souvenir ever.

Now, the end.

Although I forgot the part where we went to Providence on the way home, because we had to give equal opportunity visitation to Daddy's alma mater.

The end?

17 July 2009

Almost My Sentiments

The first words out of the girlie's mouth this morning were: "Are there going to be bunkbeds at the hotel?" A couple of years ago, I'd taken her with me to my college reunion. We'd stayed in a dorm room with a bunkbed, and she's never forgotten it. She's been asking to go back and visit the campus again, and we needed a weekend away, so we asked my sister-in-law for a favor. She nabbed us a great deal in a swank hotel - without bunkbeds - so we're getting on the road today, for a long weekend in Boston.

I don't know what all we'll do there, but we are not going to a Red Sox game. I can't see taking the kid to a major league game yet (way too much money for someone who won't appreciate it), and when I do? It'll be a Mets game. I grew up in New York, and we'd go to Mets games once in a while, but no one was a big fan or anything. It was just one of those things you did in the summer.

Then I went off to college, in the Boston area as you may have surmised, and somehow ended up at Fenway for a Red Sox / Yankees game, where, I confess, I rooted for the Yankees. It was a freshman transgression - really, your Honor, I was just supporting the New York team, not knowing any better - and that was it. I immediately saw the error of my ways.

That said, this guy's shirt made me laugh. After I took the picture of his back - at the Central Park Zoo - I tapped him on the shoulder and told him I liked his shirt. He looked a little sheepish, and told me he was worried about wearing it out in public in New York.

When it comes right down to it, I think I hate the Yankees more than I root for the Mets. Just on principle.

And anyway, the Red Sox are elsewhere this weekend.

15 July 2009

Crystal Ball

When the gypsy tells your fortune by gazing into her crystal ball, is everything upside down?

Crystal Ball Elephant Finial
I had half a mind to filch Fond of Snape's "What Is It Wednesday" conceit, but I haven't the energy. Anyway, the crystal ball above isn't actually cropped from a bigger picture, instead, it's a detail of a bigger object.

Elephant TopiaryPerhaps the most stunning topiary that De and I saw the other day was a huge boxwood elephant that you can sit on. It's got iron steps up to an iron howdah, complete with cushioned seat and crystal finials, and it squirts water out of its trunk. My five year old would have climbed up and not come down. It was fetching. And I loved the way the finials turned the house upside down.

13 July 2009

Garden Hopping with Nora and De

My mother would have had a good time yesterday. It was a beautiful clear summer day, perfect for garden hopping in a shiny red convertible. She'd have liked the gardens, she'd have loved the wind in her hair, and she have relished the fringe benefit of dissecting how the other half lives.

A couple of weeks ago, I'd emailed De to tell her about a Garden Conservancy Open Days event that was going to be near where she lives, thinking it might be something she'd like. One thing led to another and we ended up meeting at a diner just off a highway, piling into her shiny red car, and traipsing through the private gardens of three complete strangers, one garden more wondrous than the next.

By chance, Nora's head had arrived in the mail the day before (because I'm taking her to BlogHer next week), so I brought her (head) along for the ride.

Here's Nora on a fetching lichen encrusted teak bench, overlooking a marshy little cove.

Nora on the bench

And here she is in a topiary armchair, facing an inviting navy blue swimming pool (you'll have to take my word for that).

Nora on the chair
And last but not least, here's Nora cavorting with Atlas.

Nora with a leg

De organized the tour brilliantly. We started off at a lovely little garden, one that felt like home to me - I could have planted it, and maintained it, and enjoyed it. The next one was a far-fetched fantasy of topiary - a pair of lions, an elephant, the afore-mentioned armchair - on a not huge piece of land. It was done to a fare-thee-well, but was the garden of a person with a lot of help and the concomitant funds, and do you really want to live with all that topiary? The third garden was mind-blowing - secret paths through the woods, a koi pond surrounding a Chinese pavilion, fruit trees, a petanque court, sky blue lace cap hydrangeas at every turn, a grotto, sculpture tucked here and there, and a friendly orange tiger cat wandering through the bushes. As we were leaving, I told De I was going to go home and slit my wrists; she reasonably said that since it was so far out of the realm of possibility, there was no point to jealousy.

But I do have the urge to move the shrubbery around.

10 July 2009

Vanishing Point

Two parallel lines
Recede behind my train and
converge into one.

How banal. But I love watching out the front or back of the train, being mesmerized as the tracks go by. It's rare these days to get to watch out the front; they've got the engineer boxed into his* private compartment and unless he's breaking the rules by leaving the door open, we can't look out. So the end car, the erstwhile caboose, offers a more consistent view, and a more wistful one: where we've been, not where we're going. It also offers, on straight track, a perfect illustration of the powers of perspective. The parallel tracks appear closer and closer together, until they might as well be one.

*Always male - I think I've never seen a female engineer on one of my commuter trains. Conductors, yes - but not the engineers.

08 July 2009


We spent the Fourth of July making a loop up the west side of the Hudson, and back down the east side. One of our stops was West Point, where we actually took the tour (because it’s now the only way to get onto the base - you used to be able to just drive through). The tour isn’t much more than a narrated bus ride, though we did get to go into the chapel, which is rather lovely.

It had that familiar smell of dust and incense, and all the hymnals and bibles were lined up along the backs of the pews just so, looking kind of like the sea of white tombstones at a military cemetery.

hymnals in the chapel
The organ console is astonishing - it's got more stops than I've ever seen on an organ, and is said to be the largest working church organ in the world.

organ stops
We didn't get to hear the organ, alas, but we did hear and see the cadets march into lunch - three drums, one bugle and more than a thousand identically dressed impending soldiers marching like ants up the stairs into the mess hall. It was entrancing and transfixing, and heartrending too, the unison choreography of war.

I find myself drawn to patterns and textures - that sea of hymnals, the array of organ stops, the marching multitudes. I take pictures of moss, and of piles of vegetables. I don't wear clothes with prints, or fabrics with more than one color; my closet is a sea of solids distinguished by their textures. I'm partial to text-less magazine pages filled with pattern to their full-bleed edges - and I rip them out to use for collage or wrapping paper. I love an old brick wall, the bricks laid by hand, each a slightly different color from its neighbor.

I think there's something hard wired in me that wants to organize the world in a certain way. How about you? What would you have seen in that chapel?

06 July 2009

Cultural Enrichment

Back in January, I realized - with a shock - that we were going to have to send the kid to camp - you know, so we could go to work? So I set about researching local day camps and found one that seemed good, came well recommended, was only an arm and a leg (as opposed to the ones that are two arms and both legs), and included door to door bus service.

The only thing that stuck in my heathen pagan atheist craw just a tiny little bit was that it's a Jewish camp, run by a local JCC. Don't get me wrong - it's not the Jewish part that gave me pause, it's the religious part. But I got over it and camp started last week. The kid is happy, she comes home filthy and tired, and she's supposedly learning how to swim.

On the third day, I got a text from my husband:

She came home with a metallic-blue yarmulke and a small plastic shofar. Retaliation for the ham sandwich?

Yeah, he sent her to camp with a ham sandwich. Oh well. At the parent orientation, they'd said "no pork, no shellfish", but "if your kid will only eat a ham sandwich, it's okay." I guess that's the kind of concession you have to make when half of your campers aren't Jewish.

Anyway, there'd been a band there, playing for the kids, and handing out yarmulkes and shofars - kind of like Lester Lanin tossing out beanies at debutante balls - so, no cause and effect between the ham sandwich and the yarmulke. The yarmulke has since had red yarn attached to it by the child, who's taken to tying it on and wearing it around the house as a "helmet". The wrong person is going to ring the doorbell one day and have a heart attack.

Today, we had the following conversation in the car on the way home from hiking in the woods.

Her: You know what we say at camp in the morning? Boker tov, Camp Disco.* That means hello.

Me: In what language?


Her: Um, camp?

(Daddy nearly drives off the road.)

So, on the one hand, she's getting all kinds of cultural enrichment. On the other hand, she has no idea what any of it means. I guess that'll come. In the meantime, the amusement factor for her parents has been worth every penny.

* Pronounced "booker toe, camp dis-coe" with the emphasis on the toe and the coe.

05 July 2009

Setting the Music Free

I'm cleaning house and giving away some music - all on CD, all by women.

There are three packages, each with a different artist; leave me a comment and tell me what (who) you want - I'll pick three winners on Wednesday the 8th.

1. One CD by Natalie Imbruglia

Left of the Middle

2. Two CDs by Eileen Ivers

Wild Blue
Traditional Irish Music

3. Three CDs by Regina Carter

Motor City Moments
Regina Carter
Something for Grace

04 July 2009

My Country 'tis of Thee

Wishing you a happy Fourth of July, with coleslaw and fireworks and spirited renditions of all the great patriotic songs.

I've been teaching the girlie the true and correct version of "America The Beautiful":

O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above thy fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed her grace on thee
And crown thy good with sisterhood
From sea to shining sea!

After all, its words were written by Katharine Lee Bates, an 1880 graduate of Wellesley, and later head of Wellesley's English Department. Wellesley, as you may know, was and remains a women's college - and Bates had a long relationship with another Katharine. In my humble opinion, Bates undoubtedly would have used "sisterhood", had it been politically correct a century ago. In any case, it's the way the song is sung on the campus, and it's the version my girlie needs to know.

Sing out!

03 July 2009


I am kind of thrilled to hear that Vikram Seth is planning a sequel to A Suitable Boy. If you've never read it, it's a 1200 page Indian soap opera. I read it years ago, reading in little chunks every night before bed (because you do not want to be carrying a 1200 page hardcover on the subway, though come to think of it, a 1200 page book might be a good excuse for a Kindle), and when I was done, I was bereft. I missed them all. So yeah! In four years, they'll be back in my life.

01 July 2009

I'm Looking Forward To Another Nap

I have a little free-floating anxiety on the cancer front.

Because both of my parents had polyps discovered via colonoscopy, I was considered a candidate for early scopes, that is, before turning 50. I had the first when I was just past 40, and I had another a couple of weeks ago.

I laid in a supply of peach jello and lemon drops, and drank my cocktail, gallons of salty viscous liquid, like bad Gatorade, gagging all the way. The preparation for the colonoscopy is AWFUL, but the procedure itself is nothing. I had it done in the hospital, and spent the waiting time pre- and post-procedure eyeballing the nurses and wondering which ones were the drug addicts. (I’d seen Nurse Jackie for the first time the night before – have you seen it?)

My doctor found a tiny polyp, and removed it, and a larger one, which he biopsied. A week later, his nurse called up and said breezily “it’s benign, but he wants to see you for a follow-up”. Oh sure.

It turns out that the larger polyp isn’t a polyp at all – but a sessile serrated adenoma – something half way between a polyp (which is simply benign) and an adenoma (which is possibly precancerous) – and in fact, it’s a category of growth that didn’t exist until pathologists decided it really was different a few years ago.

So it might be pre-cancerous, and I have to drink another six quarts of salty viscous liquid, and it has to come out.

But, the nap I had after I got home from the procedure? Was the best four hour nap EVER. I’m looking forward to another one of those.