29 April 2011

Spring or Fall?

In the fall, everyone goes on about the autumn leaves, the gaudy reds and fiery oranges, the blazing hillsides. But it’s coarse, and it presages death – that ferocious color a last gasp before the end.

But spring! Spring is a far subtler beauty, all pastel and fluff. The yellowy green of the early willow. White flowers on the callery pears, as white as snow. The nascent pink swellings on the maples and the redbuds. A chalkier green here, a ruddier bud there. Great swaths of exuberant forsythia, harbingers! Summer is coming – the leaves will fill out, the flowers will bloom, the fruit will set, and the tomatoes will be everywhere.

Which do you prefer? Spring or fall?

28 April 2011


I love the idea of a hydroponic garden in my house, though I don't think I'll actually do it, given that we've got a CSA and multiple farmer's markets supplying our vegetable needs. But still:

Window Farms

I am very glad I don't work for a Koch brothers company, and I'm even happier about the fact that we prefer Scott toilet paper around here:

Big Brothers: Thought Control at Koch

I wish Matt Taibbi wrote his banker eviscerations for the New Yorker, but since he doesn't, I might have to buy a subscription to Rolling Stone:

The Real Housewives of Wall Street

Apparently, the State Department thinks that they might want to know things like the circumstances of one's birth (and names of people present) and one's every residence from birth to present in order to issue a passport - at least according to a proposed new biographical questionnaire:

State Department Biographical Questionnaire Proposal

I kind of want a kidney-shaped wooden phone. Or maybe I just want a marimba running down my backyard hill:

Touch Wood

27 April 2011

Damned Squirrels

Heidi loves crack plants. They show such tenacity.

I'm mystified about how this squill ended up alongside the house, tucked under the sill of the sliding glass door. Oh, I'm sure it was squirrels or chipmunks or some other varmint, but I don't know where the squill came from in the first place. There isn't any anywhere nearby.

26 April 2011

Delicate Steve has Rheumatoid Alzheimer's

Is your in-box full of pitches for products and public service announcements?

  • I am contacting you today on behalf of the Arthritis Foundation, asking you to spread awareness to your readers about rheumatoid arthritis to help facilitate early diagnosis and treatment.
  • Today is the long-awaited release date for the Blu-ray and DVD of The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
  • I wanted to update you on what the Power Rangers have been up to lately.
  • We'd love your help in getting the word out on Magpie Musing about the important information in Generation Alzheimer's, so we can make sure the public understands what can be done to conquer this devastating disease.
  • Have you ever considered buying all of the moms in your life the amazing Vizit frame?
  • You probably already know that college students often engage in risky behaviors and gambling can be one of them. With the NCAA Basketball Tournament well underway, this is the right time to raise awareness about gambling on college campuses.
  • The reason I´m writing to you is to inform you about a matter that I believe and hope will interest you and your readers. Today, in the year 2011, the struggle for equality has come a long way. But there are still many women-related taboos in our societies. One of these is menstruation.
  • I'm contacting you today on behalf of Mount Sinai Medical Center, to introduce you to Dr. Eva Dubin's state of the art Dubin Breast Center in New York City and invite you to take a tour.

Mine is, and I usually just delete delete delete, except when I pause to wonder what list I ended up on that someone might think my blog was a good venue for a discussion of gambling on college basketball.

But here's the thing - if I were going to tell my readers all about rheumatoid Alzheimer's, wouldn't you think I'd want to learn something about the Vizit frame, so that I could understand why I was visiting a breast center in search of the Dawn Treader?

Yeah, right.

I was thinking about the whole blog/advertising/PR nexus, which I'm not going to get into because plenty of other people have done it. But look at it this way. If I'm a publicist sending out a press release to the Times to announce a performance season by a small dance company, do I expect them to run my release as is? No, of course not. I expect them to put it in some kind of context that means something to their editorial staff. Or, more likely, ignore it all together, unless the listings are thin that week. And if I'm lucky enough to get a review, the reviewer's just going to say what the reviewer's going to say, press release or no press release.

The reason I was thinking about this was because I happened upon an NPR story last week, a story about a band and a press release - a press release that turned out to be a bunch of fake bios and a big dose of loopiness: "The critics unilaterally concur: Delicate Steve is a band who creates music." This essentially fictional release got picked up, whole cloth, no questions asked, by venues where the band was performing and writers who cover the music business. It's a real band - Delicate Steve - but the record label's take was that the band's lyric-free music was kind of esoteric and they wanted "music writers to pay attention". So they hired Chuck Klosterman, and had him write whatever the hell he wanted:

"You mean I don't have to talk to the band or listen to the record? That's AWESOME! OK, I'll do it!"

When NPR interviewed him about the release, Klosterman said:

"The whole idea of public relations is to stop journalism. It's to basically give journalists an opportunity to write something without really asking any critical questions or investigating at all. It's really antithetical to journalism...One person asked me, 'Will you feel bad if someone goes to this show or buys this record based on the fact that you wrote this fictional piece? And then you're kind of ripping them off in a way.' I'll be honest — I don't feel bad. Because to me, I've probably helped that person to learn that you should not make consumer decisions based on some random media message that someone just fabricated for no reason. And I'm just not talking about my press release, I'm kind of talking about all press releases."

Hear that? Press releases are antithetical to journalism. Don't make decisions based on press releases, don't reprint them word for word. Stand on your own feet, use your own cognitive powers to know what you're getting yourself into. And don't believe everything you read. And apply all that to the blog world as well as old-school and on-line media.

25 April 2011

Easter Monday

What has happened to egg dye? I didn't use food color, I didn't buy some off-brand dye; I bought a Paas dye kit, the kind I always buy.

On Saturday, we dyed 2 dozen (well, minus the one that burst out white stuff in the boiling). They were tidy and clean and solid shades of fuchsia and turquoise and sunshine and lavender, except for the few that we attempted to turn Lithuanian with melted wax and crayon. No stickers. No plastic "egg wraps". Nothing fancy. We stored them back in their cartons until the Easter bunny could have at them.

Yesterday morning, said Easter bunny hid them 'round the lawn and the girl went hunting. And when she was done finding 22 of the 23 eggs, we spread out them out so we could admire them and I was perplexed and disappointed because the dew had made the eggs all mottled, speckled and smeary and the damp dye was coming off on our fingers. Is nothing what it used to be?

Next year, no artificial colors. I'm wrapping them in onion skins.

Oh, and not to worry. We found the 23rd egg and it won't turn up putrid in July.

22 April 2011

B Kind 2 Earth Day

Yesterday, we made little pots out of strips of newspaper.

Yesterday, we filled them with potting soil.

Yesterday, we planted sunflower seeds in our little homemade pots.

Today, we will be kind to the earth.

Tomorrow, we will plant our sunflowers, so that they may grow nine feet tall and grace our garden with their yellow faces and provide seeds for the birds next fall.

What will you do?

21 April 2011

Extra Pizza Fun

Remember how I said that the pizza came in a box with dry ice? That was totally fun, because, well, dry ice!

After unpacking the pizza, we dumped the dry ice in a big flower pot saucer and added water. Instant ground fog! Hours of entertainment!

And the next morning, because we still had some dry ice left, Daddy carried a galvanized pail of fog up to the bus stop, to the amusement of children and parents alike.

We know how to have a good time.

(If you actually watched the video, and are now wondering why she wanted to add vinegar, you'll have to go back to my Fun With Science For Susan post, in which we experimented with vinegar and baking soda. The kid loves vinegar. When we serve her cucumber spears for dinner, we give her a shot glass of vinegar on the side. After she's done dipping the cucumber in it, she drinks the remaining vinegar. Go figure.)

20 April 2011


It was maybe a little like Wednesday Spaghetti, writ small and on Monday. Alejna was visiting relatives not too far from my house, and came over at almost the spur of the moment, for pasta and brownies on Monday night.

After dinner, the happy dressed-up children (one of mine, two of hers) were a whirling heap of color and tulle:

3 kids x 4

In an oasis of calm on the other side of the room, Alejna was trying to take their picture:

Chaos, spontaneity, friends. And a good reason to have homemade tomato sauce in jars in the cellar.

I think it's time for another potluck. You'll all come, right?

19 April 2011

Instant Dinner

For years, I've seen Dr. Oetker products in the baking and dessert aisles at the supermarket - glazes, flavorings, puddings. But until The Motherhood asked me to participate in a Valentine's Day chat, I had no idea that they made frozen pizza. But they do! (read more)

18 April 2011

Guitar Types

So, in a fit of madness, or (thinks my husband) subconscious evil (because she has the week off and I'm at work all day), I bought the girl a Paper Jamz guitar yesterday. I honestly don't know what possessed me, but lordy me - it ranks right up there in the annoying toy pantheon, and the child loves loves loves it. We have heard the chorus of One Way or Another so many times that I think I'm in college again.

Because I categorically refused to put the batteries into it in the Target parking lot, she was forced to read the packaging in the car on the way home. From the backseat I heard "there's a regular one, and a rock band one, and the one I have, and a vee-shaped one and one shaped like a dress and one shaped like Batman's head."

I'm thinking there's a market for a guitar shaped like Batman's head. Or does one already exist?

15 April 2011

Reading Hither and Yon

I like books. I like newspapers, I like magazines. I like turning pages, and how the magazine doesn't wake you up when it hits the floor, and how you don't need to worry about running out of batteries. I like ripping scraps out of the Times while I'm on the train in the morning; just this week I did that to remind me to put The Coffins of Little Hope on my Amazon wishlist (which I use as one of several "books to read" lists).

But I see the utility in electronic books, really I do. I've had an iPad since Christmas, and I kind of love having the ability to download the beginning of almost any book. Of course, after I read the beginning of The Emperor of All Maladies, I took the book out of the library instead of paying $14.99 to get the rest of the ebook, but that's not really the point. Or is it?

So far, the only ebook I've paid for was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I bought it before I went out to Seattle a few weeks ago, knowing that I'd need something diverting to read, and wanting to keep my baggage at a bare minimum. It's a book that I wasn't sure I'd like - besides my general avoidance of anything that hits the top of the best seller lists, I was expecting to be put off by the myriad acts of violence against women, but it turned out to be an engaging page turner, and the bad guys got taken care of.

It was an interesting experience, reading that book that way. On the one hand, I used the highlight and note features to flag particularly annoying words and phrases. Like "anon" - used three times. Once, okay. But using an archaic word three times, when "soon" would have done? Feh. And "a real smack in the nose" and "moved like a scalded cat" - contextually awkward turns of phrase. I also flagged bits that I liked, like "Norsjö Snickerifabrik", and "here she was, hunting a madman out in the back of beyond". So that was nice - the ability to take notes without scribbling in the book.

But. The book has a family tree right up front, and a couple of other charts within, and you want to be consulting them regularly. (Or is that just me?) And the problem is that it's really cumbersome to page back and forth to the family tree - the electronic "dog ear" just isn't as efficient as a post-it stuck there in a real live book. And maps - it's the kind of mystery where I found myself drawing maps in my head - who lives where, how far away is that - well, it turns out there are maps in some editions of the book - but not in the ebook! I found the maps on line and resorted to printing them out - so much for saving paper.

I still prefer real books.

14 April 2011

Poem on My Blog day

It's Poem in Your Pocket day today, and spring is upon us, so pretend I just pulled this poem out of my pocket, just for you.


If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
-Billy Collins

(with thanks to the Poetry Foundation for having such a nice website)

13 April 2011

11 April 2011


The other night at dinner, my child told me that someone in her class was her "frenemy". My child is 7. She is in second grade. Second graders do not have frenemies. Oy.

When pressed, she told me that the boy had made up the word "frenemy". It's friends and enemies put together, mama. No dear, he didn't make that up; Jessica Mitford's sister did.

08 April 2011


Sometimes it gets interesting at the farmers market, like the day someone was selling warm delicious pancakes.

I had to tweet about it.

The Twitter and Facebook consensuses* were that they were, in fact, pulling my leg, and when I emailed my husband, he thought so too. That is, until curiosity got the better of him and he found that yes, yes there is a leavening made of reindeer horn:

Salt of hartshorn (Ammonium Carbonate)

Hartshorn is one of the oldest of "chemical" leavens. It was actually in use for many centuries before the predecessor of modern baking powder was developed in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The original hartshorn, as its name implies, was ground from deer antler and used primarily in Scandinavian countries. Today it is almost unknown although there is a chemical version of the original, better known as "baker's ammonia," available from King Arthur Flour.

A dough that contains hartshorn produces a strong smell of ammonia when it's in the oven, but the ammonia dissipates completely during the cooking process leaving no aftertaste or odor. Its unique action makes extremely crisp cookies and crackers.

Go figure.

But here's the really pressing question, courtesy of a comment on Facebook:

I'd love to know the backstory of how the baking properties of ground up deer antlers were discovered. What happens if I stew porcupine claws? Are discarded nail clippings the secret to a nice souffle? Hard tellin' not knowin'!

Would you all like to chime in and hypothesize as to just how someone found that ground reindeer antler would work as leavening?

* Doesn't that look wrong? I think it should be "consensi".

07 April 2011

The Petting Zoo

Cathy owned a little private zoo. It had been around forever, or since the 40s anyway, and my father knew her - he'd done legal work for her family. So, periodically we'd take the kiddies up on a summer weekend and go wander around looking at giraffes and rhinos and lions and zebras, and we'd feed the little animals in the petting zoo. They had a handful of electric golf carts for getting around, and Cathy would drive us around on them, because, hell, she owned the place.

One visit, we were tooling around in the golf cart, piled high with toddlers and diaper bags and giddy adults revisiting their childhoods, and some paying customer asked Cathy where he could rent one - a golf cart, that is, not a toddler. She nicely told him that she owned the zoo and the carts weren't for rent, they were for staff. He turned away, disappointed, and Cathy stage-whispered to me and Pinky can you imagine what a clusterfuck that would be?  I think of Cathy every time I hear or use the word clusterfuck.

I also think of her every time I eat a lamb chop. She had that petting zoo, see? There were baby potbellied pigs, and goats, and little spotted fawns, and lambs. You could buy special crackers to feed them, or you could get little bottles of milk with huge nipples that the animals went wild for. But think about a petting zoo for a moment. Eventually, the animals get big and they aren't cute anymore and they're liable to knock over your toddler clients. So what do you do?

Lamp chops. Tiny baby lamb chops, milk fed by children. From time to time, Cathy would send my father a box, two to four butchered lambs, racks and legs and chops. Best lamb I've ever eaten.

She went out of business a few years ago. Nostalgia wasn't cutting it anymore, people want the tidiness of Disney.

No more baby lamb.


06 April 2011

A Diversion

How is it that it is now Wednesday? How is that even possible?  I got on a plane last Thursday, and came home on the red-eye on Saturday night, and climbed into my bed when I got home at about noon on Sunday, and now it's Wednesday.

Oh, I got up and went to work on Monday, and on Tuesday, but I was catching up from two days away and my assistant was out having surgery, so here it is Wednesday and I sort of have my head above water. A little.

Seattle was great. It was wonderful to be away, terrific to be there, lovely to be alone, awesome to be surrounded by bloggers - a complete mixed bag of bloggers, all there because we're Nintendo Brand Ambassadors. I got to spend time with Amie and Stimey and Ilina and Julie and Aimee and Kim and Cooper and Emily, and I met two food bloggers at dinner, Marisa and Jen. Jen took pictures of our delicious meal at Black Bottle, and I'm in some of those pictures. (And if you want to see me in action on the 3DS, I'm in a couple of the photos in Rachelle's post.)

We were in Seattle for a "summit" - basically a day of hanging around the Nintendo headquarters playing video games on the new Nintendo 3DS. 3D + DS = 3DS, get it? It's kind of amazing that you can have dogs jumping out of the screen without having to wear funny glasses. It has motion and gyro sensors, for games like the mesmerizing Steel Diver where you're manning a submarine periscope and shooting down boats. The "augmented reality" games are kind of wild - and actually make you get up and dance around the table as you aim at little moving targets.  I bought a copy of Nintendogs (+ kittens) because I knew the girl would love it, even though I think it's tediously boring. I didn't love all of the games, but I was oddly captivated by Street Fighter, because I was like an idiot savant at punching the lights out of bad guys. Steel Diver, though, I could play that on my swivel chair in the basement...

The device has hands-off features that work when you're just walking around - if you're carrying it, and it's in sleep mode, it counts your steps like a pedometer. It also "talks" to others of its kind - and exchanges miis. I collected a mess of miis in Seattle, even outside of the hotel we were all at, but I think no one in NYC has a 3DS because I haven't picked up any more. And yes, I'm carrying it around with me, for research, you know. Apparently, this irritated my kid yesterday when she got home from school and couldn't show it to her friend.

Now? Back to reality. Or something

Disclosure: Nintendo provided the airfare, accommodations, meals, a Nintendo World gift certificate, and a Nintendo 3DS. No one paid me to write about the trip or the DS, in fact, they didn't even ask.