31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

This reminds me a little of a supermarket display I saw in New Mexico once. In that case it was lard: in the one pound box, the two pound box, the five pound tub, the 10 pound tub and the 25 pound pail.

Here we have champagne for a taste, for one, for two, for a party.

I hope your new year is bubbly.

29 December 2010


Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday dear Magpie,
Happy birthday to me.

I didn't get everything done.

I stalled a third of the way into Gödel, Escher, Bach. I looked at the patchwork baby quilt, and bought the rotary cutter that I needed, but I've not done anything more. I crumpled halfway through Couch to 5K because it got too hot. The ukulele mocks me. The printed blog books frustrate me. We didn't make it to DC.


The sweater is approaching completion - I've half a sleeve and the plackets to go. I cleaned out my closet. We went to the Canadian Maritimes. We had three potluck parties, and will do more. And the croissants were divine.

But now I am Fifty,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be fifty now for ever and ever.

Continuing my charitable giving impulse, I created two projects on Crowdrise - one for my workplace (a non-profit where I've worked for the past 14 and a half years), and one for my daughter's daycare (also a non-profit, and where I'm on the board). I then sent out a long email to a lot of people, which began as follows:

If you’re related to me, or grew up with me, or went to school with me, or have been otherwise paying attention, you probably know that I’m turning fifty next week. Because it’s such a tricky time of the year, what with Christmas and New Year’s and school vacations, I’m not having a real party (and anyway, I don’t need any presents and my birthday falls on a Wednesday). If you, however, were thinking of marking this auspicious event somehow, perhaps you’d like to make a charitable donation to one of two charities that are near and dear to me.

I'm pleased that, thus far, there have been more than $1,000 worth of contributions to the two organizations (and that's not counting any checks that may have been mailed directly to either charity).

Thank you all for cheering me along this year, for being a part of my first half century, and for celebrating with me today.

27 December 2010

Doing for Others

I'm very pleased and kind of tickled that my post about charitable giving with children got picked up by BlogHer. If you missed it here the first time, go check it out on the BlogHer site.

And if you need an idea for a lovely, inexpensive way to help feed the hungry, read my friend's Cookie Project post. Maybe you and your kids could organize an Awesome Cookie Project for Valentine's Day.

25 December 2010

24 December 2010

Visions of Sugarplums

Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the house
Lots of creatures were stirring,

and Barbie was riding round and round under the tree, perched regally in her flatbed car, without pants.

A Peal for Peel with Appeal

In the event that someone gives you a box of grapefruit for Christmas, think about saving the rinds. Candied grapefruit rind, or peel, is easy to make, and kind of wonderful. It's like turning a sow's ear into a silk purse, trash to treasure.

I had some supermarket grapefruits earlier in the month - after I'd eaten a half for breakfast, I tucked the shell into the fridge in a plastic bag. Once I had four halves, I was ready to go. Basically, you boil the quartered rinds in plain water, twice, to reduce the bitterness and soften up the peel. Then you boil them again in a simple syrup (half sugar, half water). Finally, you cut the quarters into strips, let them dry overnight, and toss them in sugar. I use the recipe from The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook, though I tend to cut my strips fatter than 1/8" - mine end up more like grapefruit gumdrop batons (thinner strips would be drier and chewier). Also, I find they work better if you cut the strips before drying them overnight.

If you're energetic, and in need of little house presents for all the holiday parties you're traipsing off to, you bag them up and hand them out.

If you're really energetic, you can dip them in chocolate, but I prefer my fruit straight up.

And if you're a little bit crazy, you save the excess sugar that you tossed the peel in because you hate to waste it and you use it in shortbread.

Happy cooking!

22 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Angel

(10 points if you can identify the location.)

20 December 2010

Make Glad the Heart of Childhood

We drove into the city yesterday, to take two seven year olds to see Stomp. Somehow, even though it's been playing in the same place for sixteen years (!), we grown-ups had never seen it either. It was a whole lot of fun - good-natured, energetic, boisterous, witty and playful - and it was kind of perfect for a Sunday afternoon. Besides, someone tap dances on bubble wrap - don't you always do that? I was tap dancing on bubble wrap as I worked my way through the presents I was wrapping the other day; it was all over the cellar floor.

On the way into town, I had the iPod with all-Christmas-all-the-time going, because you know, it's almost Christmas. At one point, Mir asked me to put on Santa Baby. Her friend said "what's that?", to which Mir replied "it's a song by Catwoman". Child has her cultural references down pat. Later on, she confided to her friend "the woman in the song thinks Santa is her rich boyfriend". I love eavesdropping on those backseat conversations, though this one devolved into "Santa Claus doesn't exist" - "yes, he does" - "no, he doesn't". Eventually I told them that they'd have to agree to disagree. I don't know if they got that, but they did move on from the Santa discussion.

I've wrapped all of the presents, except those from Santa (one of which I still have to buy). We laid in special paper for the Santa presents - but I've been wobbling about whether Daddy/Husband's presents should be in Santa paper or not. I mean, we'll go to bed on Christmas Eve with a few stray presents under the tree, so everything that'll be there the next morning will be from Santa, right? I think I just answered my own question.

Yes, dears, there is a Santa Claus.

16 December 2010


My mother did Christmas right. The house was decorated just so, a garland at the door, swags over the fireplaces, the golden rope across a mirror. A little tree stood in the dining room window, the big tree, always a balsam fir, held court in the corner of the living room. Red votives marched along the mantle, red ribbons bedecked the chandelier. Tinsel wasn't allowed. Wrapping paper and ribbons had to be red, white, green, silver or gold. With a few exceptions, the only ornaments on the trees were antique glass balls.

Every year, I'd ask if I could decorate my room - "a little tree, just for me? a wreath?". No. Christmas stayed downstairs.

I bought a tinsel tree some years ago - I can't remember if it was before or after the child was born, or where we were living at the time. But, it was on sale dirt cheap at ABC Carpet (where nothing is ever less than expensive, much less $13 for a four foot high tree) and it had a certain kitschy charm. I carried it home on the train, shedding bits of gold tinsel with every jostle.

My husband hates it; its shedding puts it in the category of "fucking glitter". My mother hated it; it was far too déclassé. It makes me perversely happy, and my daughter loves it with the passion you'd expect of a seven year old girl.

Last year, we let her have it in her room. I gave her a shoebox of ornaments to call her own - ones she's made, some weird old plastic bells, a Mexican tin heart, the fabric angel her uncle gave her the year she was born, a ceramic chef - found an orphan string of lights, and let her go to town. It's her tree now.

Because some Christmas traditions are made to be broken.

15 December 2010

Wordful Christmas Cookies for Wednesday

Hiding in the back pantry at the party the other night, so as not to offend the sensibilities of those who might be offended, were some Christmas cookies that my sister-in-law made.  (Avert your eyes if you're liable to be offended.)

Happily, an upstanding young man for whom I babysat a long time ago took some lovely pictures. We're hoping his mother hasn't seen them.  The pictures, that is. We know she didn't see the cookies.

14 December 2010

How to Play Santa

It's always fun to play Santa Claus, but it's really fun to do it unexpectedly.

I was offered the opportunity, as (read more)

13 December 2010


It's that time of the year. I work for a non-profit; our end of year appeal letter just went in the mail. I'm on the board of another; I had to write that letter. At the same time, I'm bombarded at home with mail solicitations from charities of all stripes, ones we've supported in the past, and ones we haven't.

This year, I decided to do something a little different. Usually, I just sit down and write checks as I see fit, with little or no input from my family. But I thought it was time to involve the seven year old in the charitable giving, to try to get her to think about something other than buying more things for her.

We keep a container of pennies in her homework caddy, because they are easy to manipulate when discussing how 5 + 5 = 10, but 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 also equals 10 (and so forth). I rounded up all the rest of the pennies I could muster - and counted them: there were 79. The pennies were to be the stand-in for the donations - so that we could allocate our giving budget in a visual fashion.

I then took a stack of index cards, and wrote down the names of a bunch of charities that we've supported before and that I felt pre-disposed to, pre-selected, if you will. We all sat down at the table, and I talked through each of the organizations: this is where I work, this is where you swim, this is where you went to day care, these guys help feed hungry people, this place helps women internationally, this one vaccinates poor children around the world, and so on.

I then started the allocation by placing 10 pennies on the card for my college. The seven year old then made all of the rest of the allocations - 2 pennies here, 5 there, 6 for that one, 10 for another - until most of the pennies were accounted for. At that point, I asked her to talk about what she thought was missing, and as a result, we added in the library in our town, as well as the library in Granny's town. My husband asked that Greenpeace be included, and we were done.

I'm not sure that she completely understood what we were doing, but she did get a chance to voice her desires and move pennies from one organization to others, rebalancing our giving portfolio. Because we weren't working with real money - the pennies could just as well have been buttons - it was perhaps too cerebral for her.

On a somewhat related tangent, there's a YouTube video that's been making the rounds in my arts-related non-profit world, called Explaining an Arts NonProfit. It is hysterically funny and painfully sad as it points out the disjunct between what an arts organization needs, and what the public understands.

After watching it, I added the Octarium to my list - not least because hardly any of our budget had been allocated to arts and culture.

I was syndicated on BlogHer.com

10 December 2010

Push My Buttons

We were perusing the aisles at the Container Store the other day, and landed transfixed in front of a display of magnets in all shapes and sizes. [I am always looking for really good strong magnets so all the crap on the refrigerator doesn't keep falling off.] I looked at these earnest reminder buttons, and said to my husband "what it's missing is a WTF". The stock person behind me howled with laughter.

I mean, don't you need a WTF magnet?

You know that line from Field of Dreams?

If you build it, he will come.
If you think it, you will find it, at Zazzle.

< rant > And no, no one paid me for blathering about buttons. Did I need to say that? I totally understand disclosing relationships - but do I also have to disclose that there is NO relationship if I talk about any kind of product at all? If I tell you that I'm sitting here wearing Danskos, is that a product placement? No, of course not. I bought the damned shoes. I can't even remember where. And quoting a 1989 movie? Sometimes this stuff makes my head hurt. You know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, right? You know that I'll tell you if someone pays me a huge amount of money to write a post, right? Okay. I'm glad to have that off my chest. < /rant >

09 December 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Catalogues received 12/6/2010

LL Bean (holiday 2010)
Hearthsong (ditto)
Hickory Farms (ditto)
Patagonia (holiday favorites 2010)
REI (where gift giving meets woohoo!)
Bluestone Perennials (spring 2011)

Ack. Much as I love the anticipation of spring engendered by garden catalogues arriving in mid-winter, I do not appreciate them in early December, when I still haven't cut down the buddleia, much less put up the Christmas tree.

07 December 2010


This kid? This kid is going to be a lawyer. She wrote the contract on the left a few days ago, when Daddy put her to bed without dessert (only because it was late, not out of some sort of punishment). She called him on it the next morning, you can be sure. I believe the scribble at the bottom is a drawing of a bowl of sorbet - which, incidentally, she spelled right while getting breakfast wrong.

The right hand contract was drawn up last night. I finally got a new phone - which is a long complicated story about MobileMe and obsolescence and my first generation iPhone that refused to even think about letting me have a calendar anymore - and the girl decided that she wanted my old one so she could play Plants vs. Zombies "because I just got two more plants, Mommy".

I did take a moment to point out to her that neither was a valid contract because of the lack of consideration - never to early to learn the basics of contract law, eh?  On the other hand, all she's asking for now is a discussion. If we get to the next step, we could agree that she could have the old phone (which will work like an iPod Touch because it's been deactivated) in return for

  • Cleaning up her room
  • Setting the table
  • Sleeping in her own bed
  • Eating vegetables

06 December 2010

Love Me To Used Well You

I am generally too literal minded for poetry. Oh, once in a while, something strikes my fancy or hits my synapses just right, but generally speaking, I skip over the poems in the New Yorker.

Recently, though, they printed a poem which totally charmed me with its seductively witty and spare construction.

When I googled it, to see if I could find it for you, dear readers, I discovered that the poet - Ciara Shuttleworth - had tossed it off in her graduate Prosody and Form class, during class. Furthermore, it's a thoroughly rigid poem form, here wrought with great precision and economy.

Part of me wants to write a six word sestina myself, for the intellectual exercise. Most of me is happy to know that someone else has done it with such aplomb.

03 December 2010

Down With Dust Jackets!

Right now, the book that I'm reading to the girl each night is called Carbonel, and it's about a magic cat and a witch and a broom that can fly and a girl and her friend. It's pretty terrific and you should run out and get it for your kid (or yourself), but that's almost besides the point.

One of the reasons I like it so much has nothing to do with the words, and everything to do with the binding - that is, the physical object. It's hardcover, quarter-bound with red cotton on the spine and full color panels, and it came with no dust jacket. No dust jacket!

I don't know about you, but I hate dust jackets on kids' books. Most kids aren't dexterous enough to read books with their dust jackets on, so you have to take them off and store them, which is just a pain in the ass.  And then when you pass the book along to your nieces or nephews or neighbors, you have to remember to find the dust jacket lest you end up owning a dust jacket without its book.  Of course, I guess you could toss them, but I am categorically unable to do so, and so I have a couple of boxes of dust jackets kicking around in an upstairs closet.

And what's the point of a dust jacket in this modern age anyway? To make the book more attractive? It's wholly possible to print lovely covers, just like on Carbonel. To provide a blurb on the inside front jacket flap? No kid is going to read that. So there's space for an author bio and photo on the inside back flap? They usually get printed in the book anyway, in case the dust jacket disappears.

What do you think? Thumbs up or down for dust jackets on books for kids? I say we start a revolution.

02 December 2010

PSA: What To Do About A Not-Okay Touch

After last week's Zygote Nephew post, you know, the one about, um, masturbation, I got an email from someone who preferred not to comment. I could have asked her to add the comment anonymously, or I could have done that for her, but I think it's a point that needs to be made and therefore deserves the spotlight of a post.

Good call on the zygote conversation. But as the mom of a child who was sexually molested, I'd say that when you have those conversations about what's an okay touch and what's not, it's important to realize that knowing something isn't okay doesn't mean a kid knows what to do to stop it. You need to say, "What would you do if someone touched you in your private places?" and "What could you do if the person didn't stop?"

The key line is something like this: "No big kid or grown-up needs you to keep a secret from your mommy. If someone touches you and then tells you not to tell, that is a SURE SIGN that you need to let me know." It was shortly after my annual conversation about private parts being private, in which I (for reasons unknown) emphasized the need to come to me *especially* if she was scared, that brought our unhappy situation to light. It's not that I hadn't talked to my daughter before, but that I hadn't discussed how to handle the situation if it arose.

Thank you, anonymous non-commenter. I'll be having this conversation with my seven year old, soon.

Also, if you're having these conversations with your kids, and would like the support of a book that the child will read over and over again, It's NOT the Stork, the book that prompted this in the first place, does talk about "okay" and "not okay" touches.

01 December 2010

Eccentric Eclectic Xmas List

Since *everyone* does a holiday round-up about now, I figured I'd get in on the act with a list of some things that people I know might be getting for Christmas:

1) Wandering around Portland last weekend, we stopped into a shop selling flavored balsamic vinegar. It is oddly delicious, and I imagine that the espresso balsamic drizzled over a pork chop will be divine.

2) The girl child got an American Girl doll for her birthday, but it only came with the clothes on its back. Instead of spending an arm and a leg on actual American Girl pajamas, I found some on Etsy - they're cute, they were cheap, and the money goes to a person instead of to Mattel. There are lots of people selling doll clothes on Etsy - just search for 18" doll clothes if you need some.

3) My very wonderful friend Very Mary makes very charming necklaces, personalized to order. She wraps them beautifully, and her handwriting on the package is just splendid.

4) I've been eyeing Happy Tape forever; I finally bought some to wrap with and some to give away.

5) Somehow, we ended up with two copies of The Magic Pudding because I'd bought one and squirreled it away a long time ago, and then my sister-in-law gave a copy to my daughter for her birthday last month. So the original copy is now destined for another child - that's not re-gifting, is it? Incidentally, if you don't know about the New York Review Children’s Collection, you might want to buy one of each.

6) I had a credit for a dozen free note cards at Shutterfly, so I had some printed using an image from my decay blog.

7) As soon as I saw the solar queen, I knew I needed one. Her purse is a solar cell! She waves in the sunlight!

8) It is impossible to buy anything for my father; he has everything. So, instead, I'm adopting him a golden eagle through the Delaware Valley Raptor Center. I could adopt a bald eagle instead, but the golden is BIGGER!

What's on your list?

30 November 2010

North Korean Rockettes

I was mesmerized this morning by a photo in the Times which someone saw fit to give a half a page to, in color.

Look at them! Look at the toes of the standing legs, all lined up just so. The working legs, all extended at precisely the same angle. The heads, slightly tilted to the right.

But why are all their ankles taped?

29 November 2010

Eleven Into Fifty Minus Ten Equals ONE

ACK! I have only a month left to:

1. Finish Gödel, Escher, Bach, which means reading about two-thirds since I'm stuck at about a third of the way in.

2. Finish the damned baby quilt.

4. Run more - I got hung up on about week 5 of Couch to 5K in 9 weeks.

5. Pick up the damned ukulele.

6. Order the damned blog books from Blog2Print.

7. Finish the sweater! This might actually happen: the body is done, and I'm about halfway down the first sleeve. The buttonholes will probably be my undoing, unless I back the placket with grosgrain and put the buttonholes in by machine.

10. The likelihood of getting to Washington, DC before the year is out is extremely slim; but it's not going anywhere.

11. Have one more potluck party - either something Christmas-y, or maybe a 50th birthday party. You'll come, right?

25 November 2010

Mummers and Man-made Monstrosities

My clever sister-in-law was reading the Times on-line the other day, an article about unlearning a New York accent, and got sidetracked by a sidebar containing the 1938 Almanac for New Yorkers. I am thankful that she passed it along to me, because it is a thing of great beauty, full of gems and sarcasm. Here are the pages from Thanksgiving week of that year.

Thanksgiving Day:
Mummers and manmade monstrosities parade the streets for the greater glory of Macy's.

The day after Thanksgiving:
Bicarbonate-of-Soda Day

But see for yourself. You might find yourself reading aloud to the assembled masses at your Thanksgiving feast.

This day is solemn and historic
Mother, pass the paregoric.

May your Thanksgiving be all you want it to be.

23 November 2010

Nephew Zygote

Mommy, are you going to bed at the same time as me?

You bet, kid. The root canal was still bugging me and the bed with fresh sheets and the doubled up duvet was calling to me. I read her a chapter of Julie Tells Her Story (because she has entered that American Girl doll obsession stage) and then she picked up her book and I picked the Sunday magazine.

Mommy, what's z-y-g-goat?

Zygote, I tell her, and then I ask What's a zygote? knowing that she knows the answer, because she's reading It's NOT The Stork.

She tells me that it's the combination of the egg and the sperm and goes back to her book.

Mommy, can I read something to you?

The parts of our bodies that are under our underpants or bathing suits are called “privates” or “our privates”. If you touch or rub the private parts of your own body because it tickles and feels good, that’s an “okay touch”.

I do that!

I put down my magazine and we have a little talk. It's okay to do that, but it has to be in private, and you're the only one that's allowed to do that.

She goes back to reading, I pick up my magazine again. She moves on to her next book.

Mommy, what's n-e-p-h-e-w?

Phew. She doesn't ask me to explain Zen. No more hard questions for one evening.

22 November 2010

Cranberries and Brussels Sprouts

I know, most people think Thanksgiving is all about the turkey. And gravy. And mashed potatoes. And wet bread, also known as (yuck) stuffing.

Sure, a bit of turkey with a swath of perfectly cooked skin next to Julia's garlic mashed potatoes napped with my husband's gravy is a great thing. But to me, it's not Thanksgiving without cranberries in some form along with a cruciferous vegetable from the Brassica oleracea group.

I'm partial to the uncooked cranberry sauce where you fling an orange and a bag of cranberries into the Cuisinart, and add sugar to taste. But a beautifully simple way to get cranberries on the table is at dessert, in a "pie" that's really a cake. If you're having pumpkin pie, which you probably are, the cranberry cake makes a nice complementary dessert.

As for the cruciferous vegetable, it could be kale or broccoli or cauliflower (or collards or kohlrabi or cabbage). But some years back, I happened on a fine recipe for hashed brussels sprouts, the kind of preparation that is lightning fast and will make a convert out of almost any professed brussels sprouts hater.

The recipes follow - because although I've been making them for years, I've never passed them along to you.

What do you make, year in and year out?

Nantucket Cranberry Pie/Cake (adapted from Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking)
2 cups chopped cranberries
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional; I never use them)
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
¾ cup melted butter (1 and a half sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 t. vanilla extract (or almond, or ½ t. of Fiori Di Sicilia)
Gently mix the cranberries, walnuts and ½ cup sugar and spread in a 10-inch pie plate (without a crust - this is really a cake, not a pie).

Mix eggs, melted butter, 1 cup sugar, flour, and vanilla extract. Stir till smooth.

Pour over cranberry walnut mixture and bake for 40 minutes at 350 F.

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

Hashed Brussels Sprouts (adapted from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook)
1 lb Brussels sprouts
Juice of half a lemon
Zest of a lemon
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T. poppy seeds
1/4 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Cut the stems off the sprouts and halve them lengthwise. Thinly slice each half and toss them in a big bowl with the lemon juice.

Heat the olive oil in a big skillet (or wok) over high heat, almost to the smoking point. Carefully add the sprouts, garlic and poppy seeds to the hot pan (it'll pop and splash - don't get burned) and stir for about 3 minutes, until the sprouts are bright green and barely crunchy. Add the wine, and salt and pepper to taste, reduce heat to low and cook for another minute. Transfer to a bowl, toss in the lemon zest, and serve.

19 November 2010

Many Things

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."

I have ever so many things to talk about, but work and life and a root canal have all gotten in the way. Not to mention the two different volunteer gigs which are eating away at my spare time.  And let's not forget Thanksgiving to be thought about (and traveled for, to a place where the sea will be icy cold and the bacon will not have wings).

And ideas for Christmas are sloshing around in my head.

I can't wait to climb into bed with my friend Vicodin.

Happy weekend, all.

16 November 2010

Ice Cream Before Noon

What kind of a birthday party do you want?

A pajama party!

Since there was no way in hell that we were having a slumber party, we decided that the best way to incorporate pajamas into the party would be to have a breakfast party. We brainstormed ideas and settled on waffles at 9:00 on a Sunday morning.

Pajamas were worn, many waffles were made, three pounds of bacon was eaten, much drama ensued, one conference was held in a closet, several children were dragged out from under a bed, one small boy came downstairs and told me very seriously that "bad words are being said upstairs", umpteen cardboard blueberries were stuck onto a three foot square waffle poster, Twister was played, and there was cake.

But oh, it wasn't just any cake: it was ice cream waffle cake, four chocolate waffles, with chocolate and vanilla ice cream in between - for a total of seven layers for a seventh birthday.

We have a big square waffle maker, so we made big square waffles, and then used a 9" cake pan as a template to cut clean circles out of the squares. Then we lined three 9" cake pans with parchment and filled them with softened ice cream. Those went into the freezer for a while, so they were firm enough to handle and peel. Last, we stacked (and photographed in series). The chocolate waffles were tasty and not too sweet, a good foil for the ice cream, though chewier than I thought they'd be. (I thought the waffles would soften up like the gooey cake on the outside of an ice cream sandwich.)

And for party favors, which I wouldn't mind doing away with altogether, but that's another post, my sister Pinky had a genius idea: waffle weave long johns on sale at Target. Pajamas! Waffles! All-in-one!

After everyone was gone and the house was sort of cleaned up and the girl was intently coloring, I took to my bed and had a nice nap, my version of Hide 'N Sleep, which never did get played at the party. What would the rules have been anyway?

12 November 2010

Step This Way

I was skimming through the paid obits in the Times, as one does, when a name popped out at me. Not the whole name, just the none-too-common last name. I then read the whole of that obit, and when I got to the name of the dead woman's dead husband, it fell into place: my stepsister's stepmother!

Mind you, I'd never met the woman.

But my father was his second wife's fourth husband, and her first husband had been the dead woman's dead husband. And my stepmother had two kids by said man (and another by her second husband, though that's kind of irelevant to this tale) and those kids are my stepsiblings. So their father's subsequent wife would have been their stepmother, and are you confused yet?

Good. Because here's an even weirder thing. If my father had been married to someone else BEFORE he met my mother, and had kids with that (hypothetical) woman, my stepsister's stepmother would be my mother.

Kinship systems are complicated.

10 November 2010


Seven days old:

Seven years old:

Happy birthday to my favorite baby. Your hair is much better than it used to be!

(And yeah. She had cake for breakfast.)

09 November 2010

Cars and Pasta

A quote from my husband: I think if Jeep is going to name a car the Rubicon, they should have another called the Styx.

Many years ago, my (blogless) friend Karen told my husband - who liked to dabble under the hood of my little Ford, and who still likes to cook - that he should open a car repair shop with restaurant, and call it Carbonara.

A quote from my child: God is a piece of macaroni.

And speaking of which, yes, I did finally put the Flying Spaghetti Monster on my car, albeit a little crookedly:

08 November 2010

She goes where angels fear to tread

I'm so glad I drink my tea straight up, because this is an actual email I had to send out last week:

Yo! Buy your own milk!

Someone opened a brand new unopened bottle of milk from Ronnybrook – and drank some. This was someone else’s milk! If you didn’t buy it, if you didn’t put it in the fridge, it’s not yours!

Be nice.

Besides, the office provides FREE coffee, tea and sugar – because they aren’t perishable. Milk is your responsibility.

There are now eleventy-four containers of milk in the office fridge. Do they behave better in your office?

05 November 2010

Look At The Heart

She was standing next to me, her hand just above above mine on the subway pole. If it hadn't been for the band-aid, I wouldn’t have looked twice at her hand. But I did. Just to the right, partly covered by the tape, there was a white scar, an X. And to the right of that? A faint white heart at the base of her thumb.

I looked at her wrist – another scar, just a thin white line. I wondered what was under the band-aid – more cutting? An O, perhaps?

Because what else would it be?

Still, the heart threw me. I love you, I harm you. I hate me, I love me. A hug, a kiss, a heart - carved right into the flesh.

Every day, there are stories, as long as you know where to look.

03 November 2010

My Cowgirl

Someone in my office gave her the Stetson last year; from it sprang a Halloween costume. We found cowboy boots at a consignment shop, and the black & white western-styled flannel shirt at Target. Jeans, bandanna, white undershirt, and horse were already on hand. The only thing I had to do was make the chaps; I cobbled them together using ultrasuede scrounged from my local costume shop and by looking at pictures on the intertubes. The only thing missing is a pair of six-shooters. They are more trouble to come by than they were worth.

At some point during the day, before we went out trick or treating, she called up and tried to borrow her grandmother's neighbor's horse. Grandma was supposed to tie the horse to the car, and drive it over to our house. Or something. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

Hope you had a nice Halloween and that all of the remaining candy has been distributed to the vultures in your office.

02 November 2010

Learning English Is Hard

Of course, to my chagrin, the errant apostrophe is alive and kicking in my house: the second grader has frequent lapses in which she turns plurals into possessives. To be fair, she’s also confused about which and witch, and your and you’re. But the extra apostrophe?

She had some homework last week which involved reading a poem, identifying words in the poem which had either a short a vowel sound or a long a, and making a list of said words on the page.  Despite the fact that the poem was printed out, right there, so all she had to do was copy, she managed to turn faces into face’s, and apples into apple’s.

I need to nip this one in the bud, like right this very minute.

01 November 2010

Its Precision, It's Complexity

I stopped in my tracks at the top of the subway stairs. There, pasted to the wall, was a huge billboard, all black type on a white background. I looked at it. I looked again. There in the middle was an errant apostrophe.

But it's not just any errant apostrophe: it was placed there after the billboard went up, carefully hand-drawn, in ink. Someone decided that "its" needed to be "it's" - even though "its" is right and "it's" is wrong. Please to note, also, that the artist didn't add an apostrophe to the "its" before precision.

So - instead of correcting an apostrophe abuse, the artist created one. Is it ironic and perverse? Or idiotic and unknowing?

There are mysteries everywhere.

29 October 2010

Eleven Into Fifty Minus Nine Equals TWO

Two months left.

2. I pulled out the baby quilt, and realized that I still needed to make border strips. But to make the border strips, I needed a rotary cutter and mat and ruler, so I had to buy them. Then the fabrication of chaps for the girl's Halloween costume took over the sewing area. But I'm ready now! The quilt might could get finished.

3. I made the croissants!

6. I really do want to get my blog printed as bound books, but Blurb requires a huge amount of fussing. Blog2Print is much much easier - but there is no way to get rid of the little line that says "POSTED BY MAGPIE AT XX:00 PM" on every single post. And since I'm the only author, and I don't care what time I posted, it's annoying me. I should just get over it, because I could have all four books (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009) delivered before the end of the year, if I just get over it.

7. I started the sweater! It's a top down cardigan, meaning that I started at the neck. I'm about 2/3 done with the body. It's not a short-sleeved sweater: the sleeves are on hiatus until after I finish the body. I still have to decide it I'm brave enough for buttonholes, which I've never made before. I could punt and put in a zipper instead.

11. So far this year, we've had three potluck parties at the house. Two were for friends and neighbors, the third was a mini-reunion of my college class. I'll have another party in December - hey, maybe I'll have a potluck birthday party! I really like doing a potluck - the food is varied and interesting, and there's a low-key gestalt about it. And it doesn't matter how many people show up - as long as they all bring food, there'll be enough for everyone.

28 October 2010

Unravel and Weave

I knit and daydream on the train. Oh, and I listen to music and eavesdrop on loud talkers and cast my eye over other people's progress through the puzzle, but mostly I knit knit knit and purl purl purl. This is on the way home, mind you. On the way into work, I invariably read the paper, cover to cover, and do the Ken-Ken and some or all of the puzzle. But homeward bound is knitting time, at least until I finish the sweater.

Last night, I had this demented idea that there could be knitting on the Wii - if you can have cooking (chopping and stirring with your remote), why not knitting? The remote could be the  working needle, the nunchuck the left needle.  k2 p2, increase as necessary.  Right? Okay, maybe not.

There was a box on the doorstep when I got home - a Wii game. I opened it and the first word I saw was "yarn". Deja vu? A knitting game? I invented a knitting game in my head and it showed up on my doorstep? No, it's not a knitting game - it's called "Kirby's Epic Yarn" and it has a charming textile theme, all stitches and wool and applique. We haven't played it yet, but "Epic Yarn"? I'm still amused. Timing is everything.

27 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Geology of Cape Breton Island

Sights like this make geology tangible. What was the earth thinking?

26 October 2010

Christmas Comes Earlier Every Year

Even though it isn't even Halloween yet, I confess that I've been thinking about Christmas cards, because it's a tricky thing, getting the Christmas card picture just right. I definitely tend towards the offbeat; last year's card had the kid riding a tractor and when she was two, she was throttling Elmo. Let's put it this way: I'm never going to be (read more)

25 October 2010

Let's Review: Chop Chop

Did you know that there’s a cooking magazine for kids, called Chop Chop? I learned of it through a blog post on Mark Bittman’s site, and I was intrigued enough that I emailed them to ask for a sample copy. The kid and I read the issue cover to cover, and talked through all the food. The recipe that she was most interested in was sesame-crusted tofu – which, coincidentally, was the recipe featured in the Bittman post. I was a little surprised that she wanted to try it - it’s not like tofu is a staple in our house. In fact, I think I’ve only bought it once before in my life.

After her homework was done, we set to work making the tofu. Daddy helped her with the 8" chef's knife, teaching her how to keep her fingers away from the blade. [He is standing just beside her in that picture, hands at the ready.]

The recipe was bone simple - cut the tofu into blocks, dip it in sesame seeds, cook it up in a hot pan, and season it with a little soy sauce. The girl did all of the coating of the tofu blocks with the sesame seeds.

Daddy helped her put the blocks in the hot skillet and then he finished off the frying for her. [It took rather longer than the 4 minutes a side that the recipe indicated.]

The magazine is earnest and practical - with lots of recipes, some tips, a few puzzles, and a smattering of nutrition information. It's ad-free because it's published by a non-profit; the issue I received had one page of "sponsor" logos, and a single coupon for some Stonyfield yogurt. In my not at all humble opinion, anything that helps get a kid started in the kitchen is a good thing. Cooking skills are essential if you're going to be successful at feeding yourself real food.

And success! We had tofu for dinner! It was easy to cook, and made a nice protein addition to our plate of stir-fried broccoli and plain white rice.

While we were eating dinner, enthusiastic about the tofu, we all agreed that the girl would have the rest of the rice and tofu for her lunch the next day. Alas, Daddy forgot and ate the leftover rice in the middle of the night. As a result, Daddy had to make new rice at 8:00 this morning, because the proffered jelly sandwich was categorically rejected. You promised me rice and tofu! Do things like that happen in your house?

(No one paid me to write this, but I did get a single issue of Chop Chop for free.)

22 October 2010

Life Long Love of Reading

I like books. I like to read books. I’ve been reading books to my daughter since she came home from the hospital. I read to her every night before bed. Every single night. When she started learning how to read, I’d make her read a page or three to me, and then I’d finish reading the book to her. Now that she can read pretty well on her own, she reads the easy books to herself, and I read the longer harder books, a chapter or two a night, every night.

Towards the end of first grade, the teacher sent home a reading log. It was a simple form – fill in the date and the title of the book, return the form when it was filled in. No pressure, no needless detail.

But now she’s in second grade, and the reading log is now the READING LOG. It’s a comb-bound book with a plastic cover that lives in a special red nylon book bag. Every day, four books come home for her daily “read 15-20 minutes” homework assignment.

They are to fill out their reading logs for books read in school and at home – which means on a twice-daily basis – with an onerous amount of information: date – home or school – book title – reading level – start time – end time – pages read – parent initial.

It’s asinine. Not the assignment to read 15-20 minutes a day, but the damned log entries.

What is the point of the start time & stop time? Does it matter that she reads from 5:15 to 5:30 as opposed to 7:30 to 7:45? If she starts reading a library book on the way home, and gets off the bus with her nose in said book, then what? If she writes that she read “all” the pages in the book, what information does that convey to the teacher? If there aren’t any page numbers, how does she reflect the number of pages read? If four books come home, but it takes 20 minutes to read one, does she have to read the rest of them?

This endless list making turns reading into a chore, and inspires one to fudge because who can remember what time she started in on Poppleton. Busy work is not going to instill a life long love of reading. Isn’t that the point of it all?

Good readers record how many miutes and how many pages they read each day and each night to keep track of their reading stamina and volume.

I want her to read for the love of it, for the joy of discovery, for the ability to lose oneself in another world. I want her to read because it’s wonderful, not because it’s another box filled in on the log. I want to trust her when I ask if she "read for 15 minutes" and I don’t want to have to nag her about recording her stamina and volume in the log. I want her to read because she wants to read.

Can we opt out of the reading log?

21 October 2010


For some time now, the Times has had a weekly column in which a staff photographer picks an old photo and runs it with a little commentary. Last week, I opened the paper and my jaw dropped. Cats. On manhole cover. There's a framed 8 x 10 glossy of that very same photo in my mother's house. When it had run in the Times back in 1970, she liked it so much that she called up and ordered a print.

Did you know that manhole covers could be warm? The one and only time that I've ever been to the Macy*s Thanksgiving Parade, it was freezing and sort of drizzly. Somehow, I ended up standing on a manhole cover, a nice hot manhole cover. It kept my feet warm, though it kind of flattened the soles of my Keds.

And do you know why the manhole covers are warm? It's the dragon under Manhattan. Well, that's what one tells one's child, but actually it's the steam pipes leaking. Yup, 2010 and there are 105 miles of steam pipes running to buildings throughout Manhattan - for heating, cooling and power. Kind of amazing, huh?

So those cats? They knew what they were doing.

18 October 2010

Let's Review: Making Lists

Putting things on lists so that one may cross them off is one of life's great pleasures.

But keeping track of the things I have to do is a chore. My bag is full of little scraps of paper and the occasional notebook. My desk is covered with more scraps of paper. Periodically I try some form of computerized list making - but the programs tend to be too complicated or too messy or too stupid or too ugly, and I give up and go back to the little scraps.

Enter Teux Deux.

It is elegant, simple and clean. It is a free web application, with an optional $2.99 iPhone app. The iPhone app syncs to the web. It is delightful. If you don't do something on the day that you said it was to be done, it moves to the next day. When a task is complete, you cross it off with a tap. It's completely minimal and entirely intuitive.

And best of all? Now that I've told you about it, I can go cross paean to TeuxDeux off my list.

(No one paid me to write this. I bought the app with my own money. I've never even met Tina Roth Eisenberg.)

15 October 2010


It’s hard living with a six year old sometimes. She needs care and feeding, and has an ill-developed sense of proportion.

Last night, we curled up together and I read her another chapter of Betsy-Tacy. It’s nice, this reading aloud that we’re doing these days. It used to be that I read her three books every night, chosen from her many picture books. In the past few months, though, we’ve settled into a pattern where I read her a chapter or two of a long format book that’s a little ahead of her ability to read herself, and she works through a pile of “just right” books before she falls asleep.

After we were done reading, she sat bolt upright in my bed and said "Mommy! I have a surprise for you!" She tossed aside one pillow, then the second, and then burst into hysterics when she pulled up the third pillow. You see, in a misguided attempt to, I don’t know, play princess and the pea?, she’d stuck a lump of kelly green Silly Putty under my pillow. Without its protective egg. Upon which we’d been reposing for a half hour.

Yes. A great sticky gob of Silly Putty was fused to both my pillow and the bottom sheet.

She sobbed and sobbed, in a gasping, wailing, over-the-top fit of remorse and regret. She knew she’d done wrong, both by my sheets that had to be changed, and by the ruined Silly Putty. Lord knows if the kelly green Silly Putty will ever come out of the sheets. As for the Silly Putty? "It was special to me" she said over and over, in between sobs.

I tell you, it was all I could do not to laugh.

All she really needed to do was say "I’m sorry Mommy, I shouldn’t have put Silly Putty under your pillow" – and she did, this morning – but that epic fit over something so ridiculous was pretty stunning.

13 October 2010

Wardrobe Wednesday, at Brunch

Yes. She wore this to the brunch for her grandparent's anniversary, at the insanely expensive Bedford Post.

12 October 2010


So, you'll recall that on my list of things to do by the time I turn fifty was "Teach myself how to make croissants - probably with Julia's help."

That "teach myself" thing was a little disingenuous. I have attempted croissants before, a long time ago. By now, I can't remember what recipe I used that first time out - but it was probably Julia Child's (from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 2).  She was, after all, one of the kitchen gods in my childhood household. What I do remember was that that first batch was disappointing - they were too hard, too crispy, not nearly flaky and airy enough. They probably tasted fine, but the texture was wrong.

So, by challenging myself to "teach myself", I was really meaning try them over and over and over until I get them right - figuring that it was my lack of technique, not a flaw in the recipe.

I think I was wrong. Because the batch of croissants that I made, using the recipe in Baking with Julia, and following it to the letter? Hands down awesome. I mean, the best. I mean, equivalent to anything I've ever bought in a store, bakery, pastry shop, Payard, you name it. My husband concurred. He can't stop talking about them. They were that good.

Do you know how to make croissants? You make a yeast dough, with a little milk in it. You roll out the dough, spread butter on it, and fold and roll and fold and roll. The goal is to make many layers of dough and fat. After the last crumb had been sucked down, I went back and checked the older recipe. Julia in Mastering calls for 1 3/4 cups of flour in the bread dough, with one stick of butter layered into it. Julia in later life calls for 3 3/4 cups of flour and 4 1/2 sticks of butter. In other words, old Julia requires a lot more butter. That has to be a big part of why these were so so very good.

Incidentally, they are kind of a lot of work, but it's the kind of work that doesn't have to be done all at once. There's a lot of resting time - and there's no good reason why the rests can't be longer. I made the dough, and did almost all of the rolling and folding, over two days last weekend. I then bundled it up and left it in the fridge for a week. I cut the dough in half, and formed and baked 12 croissants, and packaged up the remaining half of the dough. It's in the freezer now, 'til we need another croissant feed.

Not that we need any more butter any time soon.

11 October 2010

It is still there, even now...

Sometimes, do you think metaphysics? Read this passage, a passage from an interesting enough book in which nothing happens. Read it through, and think about it.

Within minutes of starting to sing, she was transformed. It was like hearing a girl, dark-haired and lovely as the gopis Krishna had spied on from his tree-top hideaway. I had no idea what she was singing about, could not even tell when the words stopped being words and became just syllables, gliding sound. Her hands reached into the air above her as if the notes were growing there and, as long as they were picked endlessly, over and over, would always be there. Music people talk about perfect pitch, but what her voice made me think of was perfect posture: hair as long and straight as a supple back; bare feet moving so lightly they scarcely touched the ground. Her voice promised absolute devotion; but then the note was stretched further still, beyond this, until you wondered what you would have to do to be worthy of such devotion, such love. You would have to be that note, not the object of devotion but the devotee. Her voice slid and swooped, It was like those perfect moments in life, moments when what you hope for most is fulfilled and, by being fulfilled, changed - changed, in this instance, into sound: when, in a public place, you glimpse the person you most want to see and there is nothing surprising about it; the pattern in the random, when accident slides into destiny. A note was stretched out as long as possible and then a little longer; it continued, somewhere, long after it was capable of being heard. It is still there, even now.

Where’s that sound? Is it still there? Sound is energy. Does a sound wave ever end? Energy can’t be created or destroyed, but it can transfer from one form to another. So, if energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but can only change forms, into what form does sound change when you can no longer hear it?

And, when a tree falls in the forest, does it make a noise?

Note: The book this passage came from is Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer.

10 October 2010

Pulling A The David Cook For Just Give

The estimable Aunt Becky is full of the awesome and the prankdom. First she brought the internet to its knees with that Pulling a John C. Mayer business (and I have no idea who John C. Mayer is, but no matter). Now she's giving away ice cream for Pulling A The David Cook. Pulling A The David Cook, you say? Who the hell is The David Cook? Who names their kid The?

Actually, who The David Cook is is not material to Pulling A The David Cook. What is material is Just Give, more properly the JustGive 10 Year Anniversary Promotion. Here's the thing. You want to Just Give to charity, right? Well, if you Just Give at least $10, via the JustGive 10 Year Anniversary Promotion, Just Give will add $10 to your gift. So Just Give, to the charity of your choice, and the JustGive 10 Year Anniversary Promotion will increase your donation by $10. And because the minimun that you can Just Give is $10, when the JustGive 10 Year Anniversary Promotion gives another $10 - it DOUBLES your gift! Just Give $10, but it's really $20. Win, win.

You might think that $10 is nothing, but it's not. For you, it's a couple of trips through the Starbucks drivethrough, but for your charitable recipient, it's 300 sheets of construction paper, or 40 pens, or 400 bandages. You know, real stuff that people need and use.  And I'm not just saying that. I work for a non-profit and we love every single tiny gift - because though one might seem insignificant, pretty soon you're talking real money.

Just Give $10So Just Give, now. Incidentally, Just Give is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. I suppose you could Just Give $10 to Just Give and they'd give themselves $10. Wait, that makes my head hurt. Pick your favorite charity and Just Give them $10.

Oh, and yes, I did. I just gave $10 to the organization for which I'm on the board, and I emailed everyone on the board to get them to do the same. If they all do, the organization gets an extra $180.

To get the extra $10 given to your charity, you have to use this link:

Other terms and conditions are:
  • Donations made from October 10 through October 20, 2010 qualify for a $10 match.
  • Only one donation per charity per donor qualify for a $10 match.
  • Only donations made through http://www.justgive.org/10year qualify for a $10 match.
  • Charity gift card purchases do not qualify for a $10 match.
  • Only the initial recurring donation qualifies for a $10 match.
  • Donations will only be matched up to the $10,000 total gift.

08 October 2010

Pulling Teeth

The kid had another loose tooth. Every time one gets that way, we joke should we tie it to a string and a doorknob and just pull it out?

Well, I went in to brush my teeth the other night, and discovered a length of dental floss on the sink. The small person doesn’t floss, yet, though sometimes she uses one of those pre-strung plastic gizmos thanks to the dentist who gave her a dragon shaped one. And my tidy husband knows to discard the floss in the trash.

Upon questioning the next morning, it turned out that, yes, she tried to pull her own tooth out. It didn’t work. Did it hurt? I asked. She nodded sheepishly.

Clearly she’ll be taking out her own appendix in the arctic one day.

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

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

Yesterday afternoon, the tooth was out and she was more snaggle-pussed than before. At bedtime, we read some of Ivy and Bean, and she settled down to sleep in my bed, the tooth still on my bedside table.

At about 10, I headed upstairs and found her asleep in her own bed, the doorway curtains drawn and tied, the nightlight lit, the tooth under her pillow. I smiled to myself and went back down for a report to her father, and to retrieve a dollar. I slipped the dollar under the pillow, extracted the tooth, hid it in the archival jar of all baby teeth, and went to brush my own teeth.

When I was done, I was horrified to find her back in my bed sobbing where's my tooth? She hadn't been asleep at all, just faking it exquisitely.

I am a heel and the tooth fairy does not exist. Santa Claus is still sacrosanct though. He's not a fairy. The Easter Bunny was not discussed. Is the Easter Bunny a fairy?

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

As of this morning, she still loves me, and informed me that if I go to Target and buy fairy wings and a fairy dress, for me that is, I am still allowed to be the tooth fairy.

07 October 2010

Eat Real Food

A couple of months ago, I had a PR pitch land in my inbox, with an offer to send me (on dry ice, I guess) a frozen meal in a bag, the supermarket version of a dish from a mall chain restaurant. I toyed with the idea of accepting the frozen product, preparing it, and snarkily ripping it to shreds, for you, dear Readers. But I decided that I couldn’t live with myself for even having it in my house. I wouldn’t buy it, and I don’t want to eat it, and I don't want to feed it to my kid, and I never eat in those kinds of mall chain restaurants anyway, so why would I want to try it at home? And because I don’t want to give them any undue publicity, I’m not even going to name them.

I did, however, go to their website to check the ingredients list for one of the varieties, their General Chang’s Chicken, just to see.

  • Broccoli
  • Fully cooked crispy battered chicken breast meat [chicken breast meat, water, corn starch, potato starch, soy sauce (water, soybeans, wheat, salt), tapioca maltodextrin, sodium phosphate, garlic powder, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), egg white powder, ginger, xanthan gum. Fully cooked in vegetable oil (soybean oil, canola oil)]
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Red bell peppers
  • Soy sauce (water, soybeans, wheat, salt)
  • Concentrated chicken broth
  • Garlic
  • Canola Oil
  • Corn starch
  • Ginger
  • Chili paste (red chili peppers, distilled vinegar, salt, xantham gum)
  • Hydrogenated soybean oil
  • Oyster flavored sauce [water, sugar, salt, oyster extractives (oysters, water, salt), modified corn starch, caramel color]
  • Sesame oil
  • Caramelized onion juice concentrate
  • Distilled vinegar
  • Spice

You like that? That label is impossible to read, what with being printed in all caps and full of nested parentheses, which is why I took the time to type out the whole list for you, dear Readers. Yum, yum, yum. Oh, I suppose you could argue that it's not *that* bad, but do I want to be eating chicken that was raised in some god-awful factory farm, prepped and frozen a dozen moons ago, doctored with xanthan gum and caramelized onion juice concentrate, containing more sugar than soy sauce?

Furthermore, look at this picture. Isn't it pretty? Doesn't it look like it's got lots of red peppers in it? Yes, but look up at that ingredients list again: this here General Chang's Chicken has more sugar than red peppers. That's a lot of sugar, and here we could spin off into the whole industrial-food-complex-added-sugars-equals-American-obesity business, but we won't because it's been said in plenty of other places.

What it boils down to is this: I want real food - a fresh chicken from a clean local farm, with a side of broccoli from my CSA. And you should too.