31 January 2011

$2,747 and A Princess

"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together."

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One of the things about blogging, for me anyway, is the connections I've made to far-flung people who I'd never otherwise have met. Some of those connections are just bits and bytes - I might know real names and mailing addresses, but we've never been in the same room. But others have morphed into real life - we've shared meals and exchanged birthday presents and talked on the phone and hung out at BlogHer. Apropos of I can't remember what, I said to my husband one day "I have a rich on-line life" - he laughed at me, because of the pomposity of my delivery, but really, I do, I have a rich on-line life. Don't get me wrong - there are terrific people in my real life, in my neighborhood, at work, but the people I've met here in this little forum have added something tangible and wonderful, I've found my tribe.

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

Remember how I wouldn't shut up about my birthday? This is the last post, I promise, but I just had to say this: I'm really thrilled to have raised more than $2,700 for my two Crowdrise projects - $1,958 for my workplace, and $789 for the daycare that my daughter attended. And the contributions came from all over - from family, from old friends, from new friends, from on-line friends. Thank you all - you know who you are - my posse, my family, my tribe.

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

Do you know Susan? Do you know Susan's Princess-Who-Can-Defend-Herself? Susan has a tribe behind her, because no princess fights alone. See look, over to the right? Tribe member, reporting for duty. Because of Susan, I also joined the Army of Women. Somehow they work together: Princess-Who-Can-Defend-Herself in the Army of Women Tribe.

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

Somehow, the threads always weave themselves together - into a tangled mat, or a glorious tapestry - but they come together always.

26 January 2011

Snowing in Manhattan

The Union Square Greenmarket is up and running, though the snow is blowing under the tents and onto the produce.


And the rooftops out my office window are perfectly lovely.


How is it in your neck of the woods?

25 January 2011

In Which We Rant Affresh

On October 11, I got an email from a PR flack, asking if I’d like to do a review/giveaway of products to clean dishwashers and washing machines. Yes, someone out there thinks you need to wash your dishwasher, and wash your washing machine.

Given that in all my born days, I’ve never noticed smelliness emanating from any of my washing appliances, I ignored the email.

On December 14, I got a follow-up email, which I politely replied to:

Thanks for being in touch, but I think I'll skip this one.

On January 12, I got yet another email – this time referencing someone else’s blog:

I work with Whirlpool Corporation and came across your blog Gray Matter Matters. I thought you might be interested in learning more about the affresh brand of cleaning products.

I ignored it, especially since it wasn’t for me.

On January 21, I got a FOURTH pitch from the same people. I bit my tongue, hard, and restrained myself from responding to this email in the way in which I was inclined.

Methinks they are desperate. And I have to say, it warms the cockles of my little black heart to think that they must try so very very hard to sell their product that no one needs and which may not even work. No one! It’s like the unneeded Vagisil Feminine Wash and the dangerous Feminine Deodorant Spray. Because if they have to work so very hard to sell their unnecessary product, it must mean that the general public realizes that it’s an asinine waste of time and money and chemicals. It’s such a comfort to know that Americans are getting brighter.

24 January 2011

The Contraction Homonyms

At work, not so long ago, I came across a fairly scandalous typo of the damn you spell check homonym variety. I mean, the manager of a theater ought to know that the passageway between the seats is spelled AISLE, not ISLE.

And trust me, he was talking about the aisle, not some strange island in the middle of the theater.

Being that my clever book-making sister-in-law is a fan of words and word games and homonyms, I promptly sent her a pdf of the offending letter. This sparked quite a back and forth with her and others, bandying about yet more homonyms, and flinging contractions into the mix. Because, think about about it: a third homonym in the AISLE - ISLE family is I'LL.

As George said, "why WOULDN'T contractions be allowed? They're perfectly good English words. Nothing "tricksy" about ’em. Yule never know. Heel like it. In days of you're. Aisle stop now."

I've been scratching my head ever since, and although I rejected KNEE'D as too twee, I've come up with the following list of contraction homonyms.

can’t – cant
e’er – air – ere – err – heir
he’d – heed
he’ll – heel – heal
I’d – eyed
I’ll – aisle – isle
it’s – its
let’s – lets
she’ll – shill
there’s – theirs
they’re – their – there
we’d – weed
we’ll – weal – wheal – wheel
we’ll – will
we’re – weir
we’ve – weave
where’s – wears
who’s – whose
y’all – yawl
you’ll – Yule
you’re – your – yore

Anything to add?

21 January 2011

Fop With A Wedding Ring

If you turn off the sound on the iPhone, it's not hard to take surveillance photos on the train.

Because sometimes you just have to document what people wear on the morning commute:

  • Blue rimmed glasses.
  • Multi-colored striped scarf.
  • Black and brown micro checked velvet jacket.
  • Pucci-like silk pocket square.
  • Grey sweater vest with white chalk stripes.
  • Bold blue/white striped shirt.
  • Cuff links.
  • Grey and white window-pane check wool pants.
  • Purple patterned socks.
  • Brown wingtips.
What do you think he does for a living?

19 January 2011

Whimsical Wednesday: Arch

One of the little pleasures in my work is that I occasionally get to go to meetings at the old Tweed Courthouse, which is not generally open to the public. It's a grand building. While waiting one day, I amused myself with Hipstamatic.

That's a huge sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein running up through the middle of the Italianate-style atrium.

17 January 2011


It was supposed to be me and my father and my sister, flying to California to visit his brother, our uncle, who's not well with some ill defined progressive neurological deterioration. But two days before hand, Pop canceled out sick, leaving Pinky and me to go it alone.

While this was kind of a bummer - it would have been nice if he'd been with us - it did open up a world of possibility. Three people meant we needed to rent a sedate sedan; two let us get a convertible. Pinky dubbed it the Snooki-mobile, but no matter - we had the wind in our hair (and cooperating weather). Pop might not have wanted to detour through Santa Cruz for lunch with an old college friend of mine; Pinky was game and we ended up walking along the ocean and spotting surfers in the waves. We stayed overnight with our aunt and uncle, happy to spend time with him on their deck high in the hills with a panoramic view of the Pacific, delighted to try on her tap shoes and learn brush step / brush step / brush step / ball change from her, the old show girl, still spry at nearly 90.

We bid our adieus, and headed north - choosing to forego the direct route offered up by Google maps in favor of a trip on twisty mountain roads through the redwoods. Serendipitously, we came across a splendid overlook where the ocean was visible between distant mountains, and Monterey rose up in the south.

Descending back into the developed valley, we Yelped up some tacos for a late lunch on our way to see our step-sister. I've seen and been in touch with Helen in recent years; Pinky hadn't seen her in 25-odd years. Dinner, Scrabble Flash, wine, and reminiscing - with lots of talk of our father, her mother, their marriage, and Helen's extended complicated family - ensued. (Helen's family is so complicated that when her children were asked to do family trees in elementary school, she told them to just make something up - there's no way a child could grasp the intricacies of who was married to whom how many times, not to mention the step-siblings that were also second cousins so that when they were no longer step-sibs they still retained family ties. Et cetera.)

Alas, our last day dawned foggy and chilly and we were forced to return to the airport with the top up on the convertible.

All told, though, it was a perfect whirlwind trip to California - 48 hours on the ground, 60 hours away from NY - chock full of novelty and nostalgia - punctuated by texts from home cataloging the dipping temperatures in the East.

13 January 2011

The Dolls Have Dolls

The girl is now the happy possessor of two American Girl dolls.  She got Julie, the hippie chick from 1974, for her birthday, and Julie's best friend Ivy for Christmas.  She takes them everywhere. They sleep with her. They come down to breakfast with her. She changes their clothes; she does their hair. She brings them on playdates, because her friends all seem to be as enamored of them as she is.

I confess, it's kind of charming. She's far more attached to Julie and Ivy than she's been to any Barbie or Polly Pocket, or even any of the zoo of stuffed animals.

The other night, I went in to turn out her light and found her sound asleep, the two dolls alongside her, Julie cradling a mermaid, Ivy with Anne of Green Gables.

I had to restrain myself from tucking a Polly Pocket under the mermaid's arm, and another under Anne's. Because, you know, where would it stop?

11 January 2011

Another Suggestive Recipe

There was a cauliflower. There was a need for comfort food. There was cheese on hand. And drifting around in the sea of paper on the dining room table was a recipe from Mark Bittman that called for a whole cauliflower, in which said cauliflower is puréed to become the sauce for a baked macaroni and cheese.

I liked the sound of it, but as I am incapable of following directions and recipes are usually just suggestions to me, I adapted it.

If you want to see the recipe as I found it, it's here. But what I did is below - it's got more cheese than Bittman's version. It's pretty good, though the girl child took one bite and spat it out, crying "vegetables!". There you have it - I guess this one didn't make it into the Jessica Seinfeld book.

Creamy Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cookbook

Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 45 minutes

Oil for the baking pan
2 cups water with a spoonful of Penzey’s Ham Base mixed in - or use chicken or vegetable stock
1 cauliflower, cored and separated into large pieces
8 ounces pasta
2 cups grated cheddar
1 T. dry mustard
Black pepper
four or five slices of mozzarella
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup or more bread crumbs, preferably homemade

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish with a little oil. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. If you have one of those pasta pots with an insert, now's the time to use it.

2. Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon - or just lift the insert out! Transfer the cauliflower to a blender or food processor. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until still somewhat chalky inside and not yet edible, about 5 minutes. Drain it, rinse it quickly to stop the cooking, and put it in a good sized bowl.

3. Carefully process the cauliflower with the stock, mustard, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. (You may have to work in batches.) Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the sauce and the grated cheese to the pasta, toss together, and spread the mixture evenly in the baking dish.

4. Lay the slices of mozzarella on top of the pasta. Mix the parmesan and bread crumbs together and sprinkle over the top. Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, 30-40 minutes. Serve hot and hope the seven year old likes it.

The principal changes that I made were as follows: I took out the fussy step of boiling a couple of bay leaves, I added more cheese to the mix, I added the mozzarella to the top (because we had it), I left out the nutmeg (only because I forgot), and I used dry mustard instead of prepared (because I wasn't paying attention to the recipe). I also lowered the oven temperature and lengthened the cooking time. Oh, and I made the bread crumbs non-optional - which is ridiculous when you think about it, because what I'm kind of saying here is that EVERYTHING IS OPTIONAL.

10 January 2011

The Gutta Percha Synchronicities

I had a root canal in November. It was kind of an ordeal, because the root canal led to needing a crown, and the temporary crown fell out on a Friday night, and then the tooth next to it decided to be unstable and an old silver filling fell out of it, necessitating another crown, but that all led to me saying to my dentist that I thought two crowns should get a bonus tiara - and I have an awesome dentist because he actually gave me a tiara when I went back to get the second permanent crown put in. (Was that a long enough sentence? Good, because sometimes I like run-on sentences.) Anyway. After I had the root canal, I went poking around on the intertubes, as one does, and discovered that the rubbery stuff they stick down into the canals after they remove the dead nerves is gutta percha - a bio-inert natural latex.

Gutta percha? Huh, I thought. I had, just the month before, read a book in which a character "chases a piece of gutta percha round a golf course." That is, gutta percha = golf ball.

After going through my GoodReads account, to see what I'd been reading, because who can remember, I figured out that the gutta percha had been in Josephine Tey's book, The Franchise Affair.

So, the same stuff inside my tooth is what's inside a golf ball, or was, anyway. Miracles of modern technology.

Then, it was time to mend the girlie's jeans. Why she only gets holes in the right knee, I'll never understand. I pulled open my drawer of odd sewing notions, like zippers and twill tape and pellon and snaps, and found an unopened package of vintage carpet binding, dark green. Idly wondering whether it would work in lieu of iron-on mending tape, I read the label and discovered - oh, for heaven's sake - gutta percha! The melty stuff on the tape was made of gutta percha. I didn't use it because the label said it wasn't washable, but what on earth is the chance that I would encounter gutta percha three times in as many months?

You had any run-ins with gutta percha recently?

07 January 2011

Math Homework

You know, I like math. I was always good at it, well except for the fiasco of 8th grade algebra, which I failed because I didn't want to be there, because it was an accelerated class, and I don't know, I was rebelling against something. I took algebra again in 9th grade, when you were "supposed" to take it, and got an A+ and a 98 on the Regents. With the same teacher. It hadn't been him, it wasn't the material, it was me acting out stupidly. I digress. Except for that, I was good at arithmetic and algebra and geometry and trigonometry. I even tutored it in high school.

The 2nd grader's math homework is killing me.

A couple of months ago, there was the idiotic homework assignment of "using blue and yellow strips (and other nonstandard tools which can measure length, like pencils and linking cubes) to find approximate measures of length of objects in school and at home. The blue strips are twice as long as the yellow strips, so this gives students a natural opportunity to consider halves of units and to explore the relationships among the measurements with blues and yellows."

Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the homework assignment was to find a bunch of things in the house which measured exactly, say, 5 blue strips. As it happened, a blue strip was actually six inches long, so finding something that measured 5 blue strips meant finding something in the house that was 30" long (or wide or high). Do you know how hard that is? It's one thing to measure objects and record their lengths, but to locate something that's a predetermined length means that Mom is running around the house with a tape measure in advance of the girl so that Mom can suggest things to measure, because if Mom doesn't pre-select things for the girl, homework is going to take eleventeen hours. Royal pain in the maternal ass. Furthermore, it's a dumb exercise - it's not teaching anything at all. If you were to measure something with blue strips and then with yellow strips and compare your results, you might learn something about 2 times x = 2x.

I grumbled and tweeted and drank my wine, and then I put my homework antipathy aside. Until the other night, when a fresh new hell came home from school: Beat the Calculator.

The instructions that were sent home called for two players, one to add four single digits with a calculator, and one to add the same digits in their head. But the whole thing dissolved into tears and recriminations because 1) the game was played differently at school ("One player is the Caller, a second player is the Calculator, and the third is the Brain") and 2) there was no way that the child was ever going to win. Calculator or brain, I'm always going to be faster (well, maybe not a few years from now, but we're talking now now). So the kid ended up in tears because we weren't playing by the rules she'd learned in school and because I kept beating her. What kind of learning experience is that? Bad, bad, bad.

Frankly, I couldn't figure out the point of the exercise anyway, so I poked around on the web until I found a (cached) page from the Terc Investigations site explaining the use of calculators, including this paragraph:

In Grade 2 there is an activity called Beat the Calculator (see Coins, Coupons, and Combinations, page 39) which is a built-into-the-curriculum kind of example. Students have been working on solving number strings -- adding together several single digit numbers such as 7 + 4 + 3 + 4 + 5. Many students do this by adding together the numbers that equal ten (7+3), and/or doubles facts that they just know (4+4), and then adding those sums together along with any other leftover numbers (5). After they have worked on this a while, Beat the Calculator is introduced. One partner adds a number string mentally while the other tries to add the numbers in order on the calculator. What comes out of this, in the classroom, is that the child working mentally is almost always faster than the child with the calculator.

So the point is? Brains are better than calculators? Well, really they aren't. You can do a damned sight more calculating on a calculator. But you need to know the basics, and to know that for small stuff you don't need a calculator. But that's not what this dumb exercise was teaching. Oy.

Yes, I sent in a note to the teacher: "This caused unnecessary tears and no learning was accomplished, nor reinforced". To her credit, she called to apologize and told us to put aside tear-inducing homework in the future. But still. Oy.

06 January 2011

Suggestive Recipes

I was drooling over the Recipe Redux column in the Times magazine the other day, thinking about making the vintage chocolate rum mousse and wondering whether it was worth investing in a blender (because our ancient yellowed plastic one died and never got replaced because, well, we never use it). But then I got to the reinvented version of the mousse recipe, wherein it had lost the chocolate and picked up some beets. Yeah, beets for dessert. Not only that, it involved a cream whipper, one of those devices that uses nitrous-oxide to make whipped cream - kind of like home-made ReddiWip (but oh so much better).

I asked Talbot whether readers might be daunted by a recipe that calls for an ISI dispenser. “We’ve grown and matured,” Talbot said, “and realized any recipe you put out there, no one really follows it. All it is is a suggestion: you might want to do this.”

That's when I started thinking about cooking and recipes, because that's exactly it. That's what I do - I use the printed recipe as a jumping off point, a suggestion. I substitute, I omit, I add.

I did that over the weekend. We'd received a book by Nigel Slater for Christmas - his Kitchen Diaries, which he describes as "an account of more or less everything I cooked in the course of a year, presented as an illustrated diary". The book moves chronologically through the year, so I started with January, and decided to make the New Year's Day dal and pumpkin soup on New Year's Day. But it called for pumpkin and cilantro and chili peppers, none of which I had. So I winged it.

Here's my version:

Dal and Sweet Potato soup,
adapted from a recipe of Nigel Slater's

For the soup:
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
a walnut-sized knob of fresh ginger
1 cup + 2 T. red lentils
2 cups of water
4 cups of chicken stock
1 ¼ t. turmeric
1 ¼ t. chili powder
1 t. salt
5 smallish sweet potatoes (to make 2 cups cooked)

For the onion topping:
1 medium onion
2 T. oil
1 t. sugar

If you want to gild the lily:
¼ cup heavy cream

Peel the onion and chop it roughly. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and chop the ginger. Put the onion, garlic and ginger in a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan. Add the lentils and pour in water and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to an simmer. Stir in the turmeric and chili powder and salt, and leave to simmer, covered but with the lid cocked open, for 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, wash and microwave the sweet potatoes until they're done (you know your microwave - I used the "baked potato" setting, and a bowl covered with plastic wrap). When done, and cool enough to handle, peel them, and chop the flesh into fat chunks. Set aside.

Meanwhile, make the onion topping: peel the onions and cut them into fine rings. Cook them in the oil in a shallow pan until they start to color. Add the sugar. Continue cooking until the onions are a deep golden brown. Set aside.

Now, add the cooked sweet potato to the lentils, and puree the soup - either in a blender, or a food processor, or with a stick blender right in the pot. Be careful; it's hot.

Serve in deep bowls with a spoonful of the caramelized onions on top. If you're feeling indulgent, pour a spiral of heavy cream on top at the table.

Makes 4 good-sized bowls - or, serves two adults for dinner one night, and one adult lunch for the two following days.

The original recipe called for all water (no stock), pumpkin in place of the sweet potato, minced fresh cilantro at the end, but no heavy cream, and fresh chili peppers and garlic in the caramelized onions. So overall, I made rather a lot of changes, but I think the end result was very much in the spirit of Nigel's original.

I daresay that Nigel would approve.

05 January 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Smallfoot

Brave Smallfoot ran barefoot from the hot tub back to the house.

03 January 2011

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

I had last week off, and spent much of my time puttering around my house, putting things away, organizing, sorting, tidying. Part of that puttering was at the computer, "filing" things where they belong, moving photos hither and yon. In doing this, one finds oneself enmeshed in a sort of aimless archeology, drifting off onto tangents (oh, and just another round of Angry Birds).

One of the things I found was a photo of a poem. I'd seen the poem back in April, in a subway car, part of what used to be Poetry in Motion, which then became Train of Thought. I liked the poem, and wanted to remember it, which is why I'd taken the picture with my cellphone.

Walking down my street after the Boxing Day blizzard, there were no crows. But the joy in the girl's soul as she scrambled through snowbanks, and as flurries plopped off laden branches? That lifted my heart.

Alas, Train of Thought is no more. The MTA has decided that they need "to communicate with our customers about what we've done in the past year to improve the system". Instead of lifting our spirits and provoking thought, they'd rather toot their own horn. They probably think that people will appreciate the fare increases more.

As for me, I'd rather have some food for thought, to have Frost transport me from the #6 train to a path through the snowy, crow-filled woods.