31 December 2012

The Cranky Philanthropist

A year ago, after sending out a raft of little charitable contributions at the end of 2011, each with its own little admonition, please do not solicit more than once a year, please do not sell or rent my name, I decided to conduct a small experiment. For the whole of 2012, I kept every piece of mail that came in asking for money - snail mail, not email. By the middle of December, it amounted to a goodly boxful. I sorted it, tallied it, and - I'm sorry to report - was forced to add a few charities to the naughty list.

Most organizations are either sophisticated enough to flag their database in such a way that they did not, in fact, send out multiple solicitations. Others are so unsophisticated that I never get, nor expect to get, more than one or two a year - the local volunteer fire department comes to mind.

After the great sorting, we sat down to discuss the various solicitations, en famille. Some were rejected:

  • Boys & Girls Club: "I don't swim there anymore."
  • Care: Seven solicitations in one calendar year is too many, especially since we've never given to you.
  • The local Police Benevolent Association: "They can always ask the Girl Scouts to fundraise for them." (Um, huh? Don't ask me, I'm just reporting what the nine year old said.)

Some were newly added to the list:

In the end, we sent contributions to a mixed bag of local organizations (the afore-mentioned fire department, the local historical society, the day care center the girl attended) and bigger ones (Planned Parenthood, Unicef, International Rescue Committee), domestic and international.

And, because I am a crank, I sent notes - without contributions - to four organizations that we've supported in the past, because they really irritated me.

  • The NRDC sent us ten pieces of mail in 11 and a half months. Six of them included a return envelope with a live stamp - 45 cents right there in each solicitation! I used one of those envelopes to ask them to take me off their list, and had no compunctions about readdressing the remaining five to use to give to small charities who didn't waste their money giving me a stamp.
  • Doctors without Borders sent us six pieces of mail, and they get extra demerits because not one of their envelopes included a return address, which is a sneaky way of getting someone to open your envelope in the first place.
  • Partners In Health sent us five pieces of mail, three too many. (Even though I asked for only one solicitation a year, two doesn't offend my sensibilities hugely because, well, I'm not that rigid, and anyway, the lists do get prepped in advance.)
  • Riverkeeper sent us four pieces of mail - too much mail, compounded by the fatal error of not having thanked us for last year's gift.

When I ask that a charity only solicit us once a year, I mean it. I don't want paper and stamps and time wasted on asking me for money; I want the money spent on the cause that I'm supporting. It's simple, really. It's all about stewardship.

You can, though, be sure that I'll keep opening the envelopes from the NRDC. I mean, you can always use a nice first class stamp to pay some bill or another, right?

29 December 2012

Two times Two times Thirteen

A deck of cards (without jokers).

The white keys on an 88 key piano.

Weeks in a year, rounded off to the nearest week.

And me.

I'm divisible by 13 (and 2 and 2), and sometimes added into metal alloys.

I'm 52 today, and as I always do, I sent off a check in the amount of my age, to the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. It's my little way of marking my birthday.

21 December 2012

Great Mysteries of Blogdom

Sometimes - but not very often - I look at my blog stats, the ones that Blogger provides. You can't drill too deeply (or I don't know how), and sometimes the results are just weird and mysterious.

Here are the top 10 search keywords, as of the other day:

  • bruce the shark
  • monkey bread
  • cats in hats
  • mix and match ideas for school
  • need christmas certificates
  • reading log
  • azalea
  • boredom
  • underpants enema
  • apple clafouti julia child

At the same time, the post with the top number of hits was one titled IVF Shoes - about the shoes you buy as a treat for yourself while you're in the middle of your in vitro ferilization cycle. How those two things - those keywords and that top grossing post - are related is a mystery to me.

Also, "underpants enema"? WHY?

20 December 2012

Instead Of An Apple

I confess to a great distaste for giving gift cards or money to people at Christmas time. In fact, I'm not really a fan of tipping in general. I do it, because one must, I tip in restaurants and taxi cabs, and I mailed a Christmas check to the newspaper delivery person who I've never laid eyes on, and certain young people of my acquaintance are getting Amex cards, but I've never felt inclined to give a cash gift to my child's school teacher - it's too much like a tip, and Amy Vanderbilt says you don't tip professionals. I know, it's just me, and you may well have lots of arguments as to why the teacher needs the money, and how it's likely that that money will be spent back into the classroom. That said, I very much like giving little gifts at Christmas to people who are important to me and to us, and my kid's teacher certainly falls into that category.

Remembering that on open school night my daughter's teacher had confessed to an Amazon habit to feed her classroom library, and knowing that she had a Scholastic wish list, I decided that a book would be the right gift. I ended up getting a copy of The Doll People, a book my daughter had recently read and loved, and which I knew (from her) not to be on the classroom shelves.

To gussy up the gift, I printed a set of bookplates using art work from Helen Dardik's Orange You Lucky blog. I cut and pasted the art (free to use as long as it's credited back to Helen, thank you Helen!) into a Word template for Avery 5163 labels, figured out how to type on top of the image (so they could be personalized), printed them out, and whacked them a bit with the paper cutter. A spare label (from the outtakes) went into the book; ten more bookplates were tucked into the card. I was really pleased with the end result.

Happy Christmas to a super wonderful teacher!

18 December 2012

The Holy City, O Holy Night

For a good 35 years, most of my life, the Christmas celebrations included a big, raucous Christmas Eve party. Everyone came - kids, neighbors, boyfriends, grandparents, friends from here, friends from there. We'd make lots of Christmas cookies, and buy lots of cheese. My mother would make chicken liver pate, the kind that's so not kosher because it's got two sticks of butter in it, and pack it into a small brown crock with a lid, a crock that wasn't ever used for anything else. [That crock now lives in my kitchen; I'd better lay in some chicken livers.]

Eddie, the Joyce scholar from down the street, banged out Christmas carols on the piano, never stopping even when he'd miss a note (a blessing, that ability to keep going, the sign of a good accompanist). And everyone sang, at least everyone who wasn't in the kitchen with the red wine and the pistachios. Jingle Bells, Angels We Have Heard On High, Adeste Fidelis, O Little Town of Bethlehem. Sometimes people would get fancy and sing harmony or descants; I've always been partial to a descant in the second verse of Stille Nacht, even though I'm really not a soprano by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually, Eddie would get around to playing O Holy Night, out of a book called "Sing For Christmas" where it was inexplicably in something like G flat major, or maybe it was C flat major. In any case, it had way too many flats in the key signature, but Eddie courageously soldiered on. We'd belt it out, and move on to The Holy City, not really a Christmas carol, but full of great thumping Jerusalems.

Christmas was also a time for iconic records: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Britten's Ceremony of Carols. The Messiah. Luciano Pavarotti. The Nutcracker. Jessye Norman. Kathleen Battle. A Music Box Christmas. The Robert Shaw Chorale.

Two of those iconic records included those two oft-belted carols from our Christmas Eves. Pavarotti does a thoroughly charming and idiosyncratic O Holy Night, sung in English, with a heavy Italian accent and prodigiously rolled Rs, it is the night of the dear Savior's bert. Jessye Norman sings The Holy City tenderly, not bombastically, a lovely rendition.

Funnily enough, I have but two copies of The Holy City in my full-to-bursting list of songs tagged "holiday" in iTunes: the afore-mentioned Jessye Norman, and Herbert L. Clarke (the cornet soloist of the Sousa band). But I have 29 versions of O Holy Night - ranging from Pavarotti and Anne Sofie Von Otter, to Dave McKenna, Aaron Neville, Ella Fitzgerald and Sufjan Stevens. Presumably that's because The Holy City isn't really a Christmas song at all; it's just a bit of religious Victoriana. But it feels like Christmas to me, because Jessye Norman's Sacred Songs had been absorbed into our family's Christmas music collection, and because Eddie almost always played it on Christmas Eve, the thundering triplets shaking the very floorboards of the house I grew up in.

This post is part of a blog chain about holiday music. You can read more about the chain here, or just check out all of these links:

17 December 2012

What Do We Want?

What is there to say that hasn't already been said?

* * * * * * * * * *

We don't watch television news, and we rarely listen to the radio, and we read the weekend's newspapers carefully, furtively. We needed the time, to process the shooting ourselves, to wind around what to say to our nine year old. And I think we worried for naught, for her stoic little practical nature shone through when we talked about it at dinner last night: he killed himself? okay, we don't have to worry about him.

But that it were so easy.

* * * * * * * * * *

The thing is, there are a lot of way to analyze this situation. Do we need better treatment and resources for mental illness? Yes. Should we clamp down on guns and ammunition? Yes. Are video games too violent? Who knows? But to try and use the excuse that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" as a deflection away from the very politicized gun control issue is missing the point. A crazy person in China went on a knife attack on Friday - but because he was using a knife, those 22elementary school children were injured, not killed. Guns kill people. As Nick Kristof pointed out in the Times the other day, we regulate the hell out of cars and buildings and food, but "the only things we seem lax about are the things most likely to kill."

What do we want? Gun control. When do we want it? Now. How are we going to get it? I don't know, but I emailed President Obama (via the White House website), and I signed a petition to "address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress", and I signed an open letter to Congress and the NRA to "make today the last day that they block common sense gun regulations that protect all of our families". I'll probably write to my congressperson and my senators, even though I'm pretty sure they're already in favor of gun control. Because what we need is a good strong gun control policy, complete with background checks, waiting periods, restricted access to semi-automatic weapons, ammunition microstamping, a ban on high-capacity clips, and halt to gun sales at gun shows. And you know what? A CNN poll from a couple of years ago shows that a majority of the American people want a ban on semi-automatics (61% in favor) and background checks before gun purchases (94% in favor). I'd venture that those poll numbers would be even higher today.

* * * * * * * * * *

I was a little stunned to learn, over last night's dinner, that they do in fact have "lock down drills" in my daughter's elementary school. Fire drills? Sure, I get that. But lock down drills in my bucolic suburban town, where the kids huddle in the corner away from the windows and the door, just for practice? The innocence of childhood is gone.

11 December 2012

Enormous Balls

We decked the halls the other day. There's a wreath on the front door, some new lights around the front entry, and new "candles" in the upstairs windows. I always wanted some of those dorky candles but I'd never gotten around to getting any. The opportunity presented itself when I had to make an emergency run to the hardware store for a new string of outdoor lights since the ones that had been stored away last year were toast. The battery-powered “candles” are crappy looking if you actually look at them but from a distance, like from the road looking at the house, they look great and have an eerily realistic flicker.

And the tree is up. After my husband and I got the lights on, the girl helped me hang the ornaments. This meant that we completely forgot the glass beads, and the ornaments were allocated without much regard to let's finish one box before we start the next, shall we? As a result, there are several half full boxes back down in the cellar, because I have more ornaments than tree. I’d have done it differently, but hey. She’s nine. She was having a good time.

Because I'm me, I narrated the history and provenance of nearly every ornament.

  • Aw, Granny bought this at Martin Viette's, it was a fund-raiser.
  • This box came from my grandmother, look, here's her handwriting on it.
  • Look, it's a pickle! Look, it's another piece of cheese! Look, it's a potato!
  • Pinky gave this red one to me.
  • I love this really old one even though it's broken.
  • Here’s the box of the really big balls that Daddy's mother brought back from Poland.

While I tend to contemplate the appropriate placement of each and every ornament, small and antique up high, large and less fragile down low, really heavy ones on a sturdy branch, the girl was kind of hither and yon. One thing lead to another and I found myself saying hey, that enormous Polish ball is too close to the floor, and somehow from there I ended up teaching her "do your balls hang low?" It may be our new Christmas-tree-decorating anthem.

08 December 2012

All I Want For Christmas...[redux]

Incidentally, until I looked it up, I had no idea that Mariah Carey had written All I Want For Christmas Is You. Maybe that's partly because I've never paid any attention to Mariah Carey ever at all, but it also speaks to the fact that the song feels old, it feels like a standard from decades ago. Even The New Yorker thinks so: Sasha Frere-Jones called it "one of the few worthy modern additions to the holiday canon".

I think the only version of it that I have is a charming and perky cover by the Puppini Sisters - and I do have a lot of Christmas music.

Part of my Christmas music obsession is that I really like listening to covers, versions of things I know well. When you listen to 47 different versions of a really simple song like Silent Night, you really start to hear what's going on. Lyrics morph, rhythms shift, tempos change. Poking around the 'tubes today, I found a site that may lead to a complete and utter trip down the rabbit hole. Called Who Sampled, it's a "site for discovering and discussing sampled music, remixes and cover songs...about the discovery of new and old music, the exploration of musical influences and the sharing of knowledge". Plug in a song, and get a list with a whole mess of other versions. Click through to one of them, and you get a page with YouTube links of cover and original side by side.

Who Sampled lists twenty four covers of All I Want For Christmas Is You. Most of them are probably execrable, maudlin twaddle, but twenty four! A person could really get lost.

Tell me, what song are you going to look up?

07 December 2012

All I Want For Christmas...

And...it is December. It is December 7th, even. There are two full work weeks, or 17 calendar days, before Christmas. Most of my shopping is done, though not all of the packages have arrived. Nothing has been wrapped, though I got some new Happy Tape in the mail yesterday. The cards are in hand, but only a small handful have actually left the premises. We plan to get a tree and a wreath tomorrow, and to put them up on Sunday. (Well, I could put the wreath up tomorrow, but I always like to wait a day for the tree to relax. After all, it'll have been tied up with twine for who knows how long.) The cats don't have stockings, yet, and the nine year old is concerned about this lack of readiness, so perhaps we'll do a bit of sewing tomorrow. I've even converted the car's iPod to all Christmas music all the time, but, I don't know, I'm just not feeling it yet. And I want to be.

That said, there's a video clip of Jimmy Fallow and Mariah Carey and The Roots singing All I Want For Christmas Is You making the rounds. It's kind of genius and thoroughly goofy, and it totally put a smile on my face.

Go ahead. Watch it. Grin a little. Christmas is actually on its way.

28 November 2012


Oh how I love to read the obituaries in the good grey lady. Today's was a gem.

From the second paragraph:

"The cause was complications of liver cancer..."

From the third paragraph:

"Flamboyant and loquacious, wealthy and generous, Mr. Richards was a high roller in the theater world, and a high liver..."

Swoon. Liver, liver.

21 November 2012

Give On Tuesday

Over dinner, while she was inhaling some pasta, the girl asked me "when's Black Friday?"

I immediately thought shopping frenzy, day after Thanksgiving, oh no, how do I get out of this and asked her, blandly, "what's Black Friday?"

"Oh," she said, "it's the day we can send our letters to Santa Claus."

Oh that. That I can handle. Going anywhere near a mall, a big box store, a national retailer on the day after Thanksgiving? No can do. Hell, I avoid all of those places pretty much all the time.

It's funny how the few days after Thanksgiving have become an all out shopping frenzy, with a different shtick for each day: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, [Blue Law Sunday], Cyber Monday.

As an antidote, we've got a newly minted concept: Giving Tuesday. I know that I don't need to be reminded to give, but maybe other people do. Do you?

Giving a bit to charity each year is a good thing. It's good for you, and good for the recipients. Think about it. And maybe, just maybe, set aside some of that money you save at the mall on Black Friday, or the $25 rebate from American Express from shopping locally on Small Business Saturday, and sit down and write a check to a charity on Tuesday. If it's something you've never done, and don't know where to begin, start locally. Do you have a local animal shelter? A food pantry? A daycare? How about a nearby historic site, or the volunteer ambulance corps? Does your high school have a scholarship fund for kids who need help paying for college? Is there a center for victims of domestic violence in the next town? Maybe there's a little county-wide orchestra - they need your help to keep playing Bach, Beethoven, Monteverdi. Really, if you just look around, there's a place that needs your help.

The Giving Tuesday site has a list of ideas - talk through the list with your family.

And remember: every little bit helps. I know this in my bones; I've spent my life working for non-profit organizations. We love your contributions - big and small. They validate us and our work, and we appreciate you every single day.

Give. Next Tuesday.

19 November 2012

A Weekend In The Country

I'm not sure that there is anything more exhausting than spending three days on your feet selling the contents of the house you grew up in to friends and strangers. It is also cathartic, sad, funny, and odd. But most of all, it's exhausting. I got home at 7:00 last night, and was in bed by 8:00.

While the chief proprietors of the estate sale were me and my two siblings, lovely friends came and helped out, like the (gay male) matron-of-honor from my wedding, and my (also has a blog) best friend from college. Neighbors floated in and out, bearing cream cheese be-smeared bagels and pumpkin oatmeal cookies. Old friends carted away trinkets and clocks. More than one person needed stuff to replace stuff lost in the hurricane. A lady bought two percolators and two coffee grinders, and told me she was going to mail them to family in South America - so my sister threw in some coffee filters. One woman was the first one in the door on Saturday morning, and berated us because the cast iron skillet she'd seen hanging on the wall (in a picture on the internet) was no longer there. Sorry, lady, we sold it! You should have come on Friday!

Friends from inside the computer showed up - and tweeted and blogged about their purchases. Nice to have seen you, Jean! Great to have met you, George! Thanks for hanging out, Heidi! Glad you got that shell, Jane!

A strange woman came up to me and told me that Kathy from California had sent her. I was momentarily flustered, until the gears clicked into place and I blurted out "Kathy With Cats"? Yup - someone I know on Facebook had forwarded a link to a friend of hers who lived not too far away. It was like Kathy by proxy.

Tom came a couple of times and bought a mess of stuff. I'm sure he made out like a bandit, but whatev. Somehow, I can't remember why, he ended up with my phone number. My cell rang at about 9 on Saturday night; it was Tom. "I unpacked all my stuff, and remember that little pepper mill? It's not there. Remember that guy who picked it up from my pile? I think he boosted it." Tom wasn't calling to ask for his money back or anything - he was calling to caution us about the people who don't want to pay for anything, "they boost stuff all the time". [There was a little racial profiling going on, but his impulse was well-meant.]

Amanda came a couple of times and told us her entire sordid life story, and bought a mess of stuff. She might have boosted something; we know she dug the sterling ice bucket out of the liquor cabinet, but we reclaimed it.

Tracy came back three times, the first two times buying for her boyfriend, the third time WITH her boyfriend. They were great and enthusiastic and charming. Also, I loved her raincoat. They probably took us for a ride too, but again, whatev.

My high school flute teacher bought my grandmother's punch bowl and its dozen matching cups. Someone I babysat for bought the dresser from the front hall. Darius, who I'd never met before, but whose sister went to college with the woman I babysat for, asked me if I thought he could sew a cell phone case from a piece of leather he scrounged up. I told him how, and gave him the leather.

When we weren't selling and schlepping and talking and learning the names of almost every single buyer, we were running up to Starbucks and the train station and nailing signs to trees. Starbucks was supposed to be open at 6 on Sunday morning but when we got there at ten to 7, they were locked up tight - with all the lights on. I banged on the door, needing that double shot skim latte, stat. Finally, a woman came to the door. Apologetically, she told us she couldn't let us in, because no one else had shown up to work. But she took our orders, locked the door again, made the coffee, and came back with the two cups. Free! Brownie points to Starbucks for doing the right thing.

And in a fit of debauchery after dark, we drove around town with a slit-open dead feather pillow, sprinkling feathers up and down the streets, hoping people would think some chickens had run amok. Some of them are still there.

Almost. We're almost done.

09 November 2012

Three Squared

Tomorrow, the girl turns nine.

Tonight, she's having a slumber party. Seven girls are camping out in front of the TV. There's ice cream cake in the freezer, and popcorn planned, and waffles on deck for breakfast. I even conjured up a perfect party favor: each girl gets her own travel sized pillow, with her name stenciled on the case.

Today, she took a mess of rice crispy treats to school. I only told my teacher what I was bringing; I wanted it to be a surprise for my friends.

Last night, the power was only out for an hour, and back on by the time we had the serious work of making the treats and stenciling the pillowcases. (Dinner had to be made in the dark.)

Nine years ago, I had no idea what was in store for us.

Happy birthday, girlie.

07 November 2012


You want to know how I know our kid is actually listening to us?

Every time we spy a full moon, we sigh and say "la bella luna". And sometimes we launch into a couple of lines of That's Amore, when the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie. It's just one of those things we do.

I finally got around to addressing the third grade pile - all the writing and collages and spelling tests and math quizzes and the report on the arctic hare. [Yes, she's in fourth grade, but I've been a little swamped. An unplanned week at home helped.] I was entirely charmed by a set of poems she'd written, and completely undone by this one.

Labelaloona. La bella luna. Oh beautiful moon. Oh beautiful child, you light up my sky night and day.

03 November 2012

On Dust Jackets and Snow

Sometime when the girl was quite small, I systematically took all of the dust jackets off of all the the books in her room, because she was doing it anyway. And my latent OCD was kicking in and I didn't want the dust jackets lost or damaged so I put them away for safe keeping.

In my enforced absence from the office, thanks to Sandy, I went on a clean-up-the-girl's-room rampage and, sigh, edited her library. In the process, I reunited all of the dust-jackets with their books.

I'm very conflicted about dust jackets.


They're usually pretty, and often a book without its jacket looks boring and naked. If they come with the book, they should stay with the book - it is as it was meant to be.


They slip around and make it harder to read the book. And you can't use the flap of a dust jacket as a bookmark because it distorts the dust jacket which then never lies quite straight again. (Oh, is that more of my OCD showing?)

It's quite possible to design a lovely book without need for a dust jacket - all the handsome hardcovers in the New York Review of Books Children's Collection have printed covers with red fabric spines. The worst are the picture books with jackets that are the very duplicate of the printed hardcover - it seems such a waste of paper!

Then again, once in a while, the dust jacket actually adds something wonderful to the book. A case in point is Eric Carle's Dream Snow. It has a clear acetate cover, printed with snowflakes, like the overlays within the book.

Without the jacket, there's no snow on the cover. With it, it's magic. Every year at Christmas, in the years after the great storing of the dust jackets, I'd pick up Dream Snow to read it aloud, and I'd cringe to myself about the missing dust jacket. Now, it's right again. I can't wait for Christmas.

So, dear readers, are you pro or con dust jackets? Do you keep them until they're tattered, and gently repair them with archival tape, or will you not have them in the house?

01 November 2012

Post Sandy

Storm. Wind, a little rain, a lot of luck. No trees down on our property. Power is still on. Internet/TV/landline phone still work. Cell service sucks; people who have Verizon instead of AT&T are in better shape in that regard.

But. Lots of power out in our town. Lots of trees down, roads closed. No school ALL WEEK. Halloween trick or treat theoretically postponed until next week, but essentially cancelled in my opinion. Really, who's going to have any candy left?

Con-Ed has one truck in the area - because, rightly, Con-Ed is focusing on that big swath of Manhattan south of 39th Street that is dark. Did I mention that's where my office is? Yes, no work for the weary.

Manhattan, like the part where my office is, may have power restored Friday or Saturday. But in my home neck of the woods? They're thinking maybe next weekend. This storm was a big deal; don't anyone tell you otherwise.

I have been cooking. It's therapeutic, and we need to eat. Since Sunday:

Chocolate chip cookies
Chickpea/fennel soup
Rhubarb/blueberry upside down cake
"Candy corn" cookies
Apple cider caramels
Unstuffed cabbage (in the crockpot)
Many cheese quesadillas for the girl and her friends

Happily we had plenty of butter, sugar, eggs and flour, not to mention apple cider, fresh sausage, heavy cream, plenty of vegetables, three stalks of rhubarb from the garden, lots of cheese, tortillas, and oddments in the freezer.

The caramels? Might be the best thing ever.

The unstuffed cabbage? I kind of made it up, and it tastes good but its consistency is like glue - I should have added the rice an hour ago instead of at 11 this morning. Oh well. Live and learn.

Here's hoping you are safe and sound and warm and dry and well-fed and well-rested whereever you may be.

31 October 2012

Happy Halloween!

Here's the dress:

Here's the make-up:

Here's the girl in costume:

Who is she?

28 October 2012

Why I'm Voting For Obama

See this picture?

What's missing? That's right, our Obama sign. For the past few weeks, we've had five signs marching up our curbstrip, exercising our right to free speech, sharing our support for the President, our congressperson, our senator, and a couple of local guys.

This morning, the Obama sign was in the middle of the road, and the wire frame that held it up was nowhere to be found. Now maybe, just maybe, someone had a need for sturdy wire in the middle of the night and thus liberated the frame for important purposes, but somehow, I don't think so. I think someone doesn't like the President and was offended by my yard sign.

No matter. I'm still voting for Mr. Obama. I think he's the best hope for our country, and I think Mr. Romney would be a mean-spirited, nasty-minded, destructive force should he be elected.

There are a lot of issues on the table right now. For me, I am horrified by the degree of inhumanity evidenced by Mr. Romney vis a vis women and gay people. I am dismayed at his lack of concern for the "47%". I am shocked by his poor grasp of foreign affairs, and the way he's put his foot in it over and over again. But one of the most important things to me is our domestic policy as regards health care. I wrote about this not too long ago, when I talked about how much it cost for us to have our daughter's broken arm attended to.

One of the issues for my family is that my insurance is a "high deductible" plan, which is supposed to make the patient be a better consumer. In point of fact, that is nearly impossible. James Surowiecki wrote about "Romneycare" in the New Yorker recently, and he explains far better than I did why patients don't make good consumers:

But the free market, though it may be the best way of allocating new TVs and cars, falters when it comes to paying for bypass surgery or chemotherapy. The reasons for this were established nearly fifty years ago, by the economist Kenneth Arrow, in a classic article entitled “Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care.” Arrow showed that health care is distinctive in ways that limit the power of the market. Because people don’t have the expertise to evaluate doctors, hospitals, or treatments, it’s hard for them to comparison-shop. Because they can’t pay for major care out of pocket, they must rely on insurance, thereby often losing the final say in what to buy or how much to spend. More fundamentally, markets work only when consumers have the power to say no if the price isn’t right. Yet it’s very hard for people to say no in the case of things like end-of-life care or brain surgery.

For me, the health care issue crystalizes why I will vote for Mr. Obama again. I want the United States government to help people. Health care is a necessity for the collective good, for the whole of the country, just as national defense is something done for all of us, not just a lucky few.

And after Hurricane Sandy flies by, and assuming she doesn't take out the oak in front of my house, I'm nailing my Obama sign to the tree.

26 October 2012

The Bodies

I'm reading Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies right now. In one of those little frissons of synchronicity, she just won the Man Booker prize for it, and she was profiled in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. I feel so au courant; I'm rarely reading anything that in the news right this very moment.

But a curious little bit of Mantel's biography struck me in the gut, a bit that hasn't really anything to do with her book.

Allow me the liberty of a two longish quotes from the New Yorker profile by Larissa MacFarquhar:

She deduced that she had endometriosis, a disorder in which uterine cells are found in other parts of the body; the cells bleed each month and scar tissue builds up, and when that scar tissue presses against nerves it causes pain. Her pain was growing unbearable, but she had finally come to the end of her book, and she was determined to type out a fair copy to show to publishers and agents when she went back to England for Christmas. She spent weeks typing, finished, and collapsed.

In England, she saw various doctors. “I went into St. George’s Hospital,” she says, “and ten days later I came out minus ovaries, womb, bits of bowel, bits of bladder. Minus a future, as far as having children was concerned.” It wasn’t that she felt such a strong urge to have children—she had been married for seven years and hadn’t tried to get pregnant. She was good for more than breeding, she thought. But she’d always assumed that she’d have the chance to change her mind.

[....many pages....]

She is much calmer now than she used to be. She never thought that she’d end up so calm....She isn’t calm because she has reconciled herself to her medical fate: she has not. “I wasn’t certain, and I’m still not certain, whether I wanted children,” she says. “What I wanted was the choice. I have felt most sorrow in later life, over the last ten years, when grandchildren are being born, I suppose because I was very close to my own grandmother. Of course, it follows that if you’re not a mother you’re not going to be a grandmother, but that’s not something you think of in your thirties. So the loss keeps changing its shape.”

Infertility. The grief that keeps on giving.

In another bit of synchronicity, I just read a blog post at the Chloe Chronicles. Not only did Chloe have her own encounter with infertility, her daughter and son-in-law have now discovered that they can't have any biological children. So, Chloe is facing second generation infertility.

I just hadn't really thought about it before. If our treatments hadn't been successful, and we'd ended up a childless couple, my parents and my in-laws wouldn't have been grandparents to our feisty little girl. And, while I'm a long way from being a grandmother - she is only eight still - if I hadn't had her, I wouldn't have that possibility to look forward to.

You just never get away from it.

25 October 2012

The Good Mother / Bad Mother Thing

The other day, I got up and wandered into the kitchen, as one does. That's where the coffee is, you know? I found the girl there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, "Mommy, I made my lunch!". "Oh," I said, "whaddja make?" She waved various containers at me: "A hot dog bun with butter and cinnamon sugar, two Mallomars, and some apple cider!"

I groaned. On the one hand, initiative! On the other hand, not so healthy! Granted, it's a modest dilemma, as dilemmas go. I assuaged my guilt about the unhealthiness by insisting she take an apple with her, so I didn't feel like the worst mother in the world.

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

You know Emily, right?

Emily wrote a book. Emily wrote a book about childhood, her childhood. Emily had an evil stepmother, and Emily's memoir is called Behind the Woodpile.

If you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app for some other smartphone/tablet device, get her book. It's free today, just today. Tomorrow it'll be $7.99 again. Read her book. She wants you to read her book, because, as she says:

I’ve found that every time I speak or write about my childhood, it reaches people who are then able to finally speak about their own childhood abuse.

She's talking about it, to make it easier for others to do so as well.

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

You're probably wondering how I got from the buttered hot dog bun and Mallomars to Emily's book. Every day, every week, occasionally, we all think we're bad parents. But Emily, because of her abuse at the hands of her stepmother, has a particularly hard cross to bear. Here's a passage from her book:

     Despite the hours spent reading and the endless conversations about steam trains, I felt like a terrible mother. I also felt all alone. I could not tell anyone what a failure I was, because that would involve acknowledging it to myself. I had entered one of the biggest organizations around – the Terrible Mothers’ Club – but because membership is secret, I had no idea how many other people had joined along with me, or even that I was in the group. The club I had joined has a secret litany that its members chant to themselves so quietly that even they cannot hear.
     “I am not patient enough,” we whisper in secret.
     “I should be gentler,” we grudgingly admit.
     “He needs more consistency,” we desperately chastise ourselves.
     “If I had handled things differently, it would not have escalated into a tantrum,” we secretly suspect. These are the words we hear from inside and try very hard to ignore for fear of their strength.
     And, there are many of us who are Premium Club Members. We have a whole other set of voices, nastier than the first.
     “My childhood has left me unfit to be a mother.”
     “I am repeating the cycle.”
     “He will never know how much I love him.”
     And, the constant refrain, a phrase repeated so continuously that it becomes a hum of white noise we no longer acknowledge: “I am acting just like her.”

In light of that, in light of the literally rotten food her stepmother fed her, in light of the cruelties inflicted upon Emily and her sister, I'm pretty happy that my daughter had the unfettered room and comparative luxury to make herself a hot dog bun with butter and cinnamon sugar and be proud to call it lunch.

22 October 2012

My Little Immigrant

It's immigration month in the fourth grade. Last week, the girl had to bring a pillowcase to school, weighing no more than 10 pounds, containing the essentials you'd pack quickly if you had to make a run for the boat to America:

  • Toothbrush
  • Hairbrush
  • Soap
  • Washcloth
  • Spoon & fork
  • (Small) Blanket
  • (Small) Pillow
  • Picture of family
  • Grimm's Fairy Tales
  • The Tempest
  • Pencil
  • Notebook
  • Nightgown
  • Socks
  • Dress
  • Sweater
  • Scarf
  • Money (a fake $100 bill)
  • Jewelry (a "pearl" necklace)
  • Key (to the dacha, in case they return)
  • Doll

[She refused to bring underpants: "what if someone sees them?" No discussion of why you always travel with clean underwear would convince her.]

Today was the immigration simulation, where all of the fourth graders get off the boat and line up in the cafeteria to be admitted, detained or deported. For that, she was dressed up as her character, a Russian named Ekaterina Romanoff. [Actually, she started off as Maria Romanoff, until I suggested that Ekaterina was nice because it was the Russian version of her middle  name.]

Tomorrow, they go to Ellis Island. Thursday and Friday are the performances of the class play - with, naturally, an immigration theme, and Friday is the international luncheon. Being Northern European mutts, I wasn't sure what to send in, so I'm going to make blitz kuchen, a "lightning" fast German crumb cake that my mother used to make.

The other night, just because, we poked around on the Ellis Island website, and found some relatives: my two grandfathers, and one of my husband's. None of those were immigration journeys, though - they were returning US citizens. Still, it was fun to find them there.

I have to say, it's a pretty wonderful immersion.

19 October 2012

Mormons and Boy Scouts

I can't resist sharing two nearly back to back stories from the good grey lady:

1) As Partners, Mormons and Scouts Turn Boys Into Men

Virtually every Mormon church, or ward, has a scout troop. Every Mormon boy is automatically enrolled, and the vast majority participate.
2) Boy Scout Files on Sex Abuse Detail Decades of Accusations
A familiar local scout leader, referred to only as Joe, had sexually abused boys in his troop, including the writer’s own sons, and yet was still being allowed to have contact with boys.

18 October 2012

The Head Spins

I'm still trying to process Tuesday's debate. The whole Women In Binders thing has gotten lots of ink, but I'm hung up on a few other things - like the question about how to "limit the availability of assault weapons" which Romney failed to answer in the most meandering fashion ever:

ROMNEY: Yeah, I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on -- on guns...change the culture of violence that we have...good schools...do a better job in education...perhaps less violence from that...We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids. Wherever possible the -- the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that's not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that's a great idea.

Right. The way to limit the availability of assault weapons is to have married parents. How about we BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS?

And then there was that whole thing about workplace flexibility:

ROMNEY: I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

Hey! What about the fathers who cook dinner? What about the employees who need flexible schedules to accommodate medical needs, like chemo or radiation? What about middle-aged people taking care of elderly parents? Everyone needs flexibility, and you know what? A low-key attitude towards flex time makes for happier employees. In my admittedly idiosyncratic office, we just let someone take off three and half weeks so he could go tour coffeehouses and music festivals in Europe, because if you don't get to live your artistic dreams now, when's it gonna be? It was more work for me and my assistant, but I'm so glad we were able to be flexible and let our guitar player go play his heart out.

And you know what else?

ROMNEY: I know how to make that happen.

If you know how to make that happen, share it with us. Let us decide whether it sounds like a good plan. Because right now? It doesn't sound like you have any concrete, well-thought-out, workable plans, Mr. Romney. I've tried and tried to understand the magic math of lowering tax rates and scaling back deductions and how that could possibly help small businesses and it just doesn't make any sense. And if you just keep saying "I know how to make that happen", it's not helping.

17 October 2012

And the answer is...

Ezekiel. Actually, it's Ezekiel's toes, in a close-up from one of the Chagall windows in the Union Church of Pocantico Hills.

Marc Chagall's Ezekiel window, from the Union Church of Pocantico Hills

Despite having lived near this church for the past 8 years, and in the same metropolitan area for my entire life, I'd never been in it before last month. It's extraordinary, with a rose window by Henri Matisse, and nine stained glass windows by Marc Chagall.

Because you can get right up close to most of the windows, you can really see the paint and the lead work and the etching in the glass. It's magnificent.

15 October 2012

English Orphans

It's gotten to be a little private joke between me and the girl. I'll pull out a book to read to her, and she'll say "what's it about?". "Well", I say, "the main character is an English orphan." And then we howl with laughter about those pesky orphans.

In point of fact, a few of them haven't been English orphans - Anne Shirley is Canadian, Dorothy Gale is from Kansas, Pippi, Hugo. But that's splitting hairs, I think. What's with all the orphans in children's literature?

Here's a few of the books I'm thinking of:

What's it all about? No parents to guide you mean you need to find your way in the world much earlier. Get rid of the parents and the powerless-ness of the child is catapulted into high relief. Grow up kids, parents just get in the way. It's kind of a sad message, but yet, these are some of my favorite books. The spunky children in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and The Secret Garden are fabulous. Pippi Longstocking is the embodiment of question authority. The orphans triumph over adversity, letting the little children tucked into mama's arms see that life is not so bad, and it'll be easier with parents in the background.

Can you think of some more English orphans?

12 October 2012

The Broken Arm, The Broken System

A Saturday in August
She broke her wrist, ice skating - a buckle fracture. Because the pediatrician was about to close for the day, and they had no orthopedist on anyway, we went to the ER. She was seen by two nurses, a nurse practitioner, and an x-ray technician. And someone - who we didn't see - read the x-ray. She was sent home with a splint, and instructions to see an orthopedist on Monday.

Out-of-pocket cost: $1,572.94

Monday, Two days later
The physician's assistant at the orthopedist's office put her in a cast. They didn't need new x-rays, because they could access the ones at the hospital.

Out-of-pocket cost: $215.48

A Wednesday in September, 3 1/2 weeks later
Back to the orthopod. Again, the PA saw her. He took off the cast, sent her for a new x-ray, and put her in a (new) splint for another two weeks.

Out-of-pocket cost: $177.28

Total out-of-pocket cost to us for this minor little buckle fracture: $1,965.70

So. Is this a lot, or a little? If she'd broken her arm in the middle of a weekday, we probably wouldn't have had to go to the ER and the cost for that initial visit would have been a lot lower. In that case, the overall cost might have been more like $600 (assuming that the first visit was in the $200 range of the subsequent visits). And, this is with insurance. My insurance has a HUGE deductible, so high that if we meet it, it means that something really bad has probably happened. The benefit to having the insurance is that we get a few routine visits covered in full (a general physical and a GYN visit for me, an annual physical for the girl, flu shots, my mammogram). And when we have to pay for stuff, we pay the insurance company's contracted rate. For the above stuff, without insurance the Monday visit to the orthopod would have been $677, and the total out-of-pocket would have been a good amount more than the nearly $2K it was. [I can't compare all of the billed vs. approved costs to the penny because the hospital is smart enough to bill the insurance company what they know they're going to get. So my explanation of benefits looks like the insurance company approved what the hospital billed, but I know better.]

So, is this a lot or a little? In the entire treatment course for this minor bone break, the girl was never seen by a medical doctor - only by nurses and a nurse practioner and a physician's assistant. I'm not complaining - it was a minor break and the professionals that cared for her did a fine job - it didn't need a doctor.

A lot or a little? If we didn't have insurance, we would have paid more for treatment. If we had insurance with a lower deductible (and a higher premium), we would have paid less for treatment (but we'd be paying higher premiums each and every month). The huge deductible* that we have is supposed to force the insured people (in this case, me) to be better consumers. But the only way to be a better consumer is to know what the costs look like and have a way to make rational choices. In this particular case, the ER was the only rational option, but it was certainly not the cheapest solution. But what were we to do? Our child broke her arm, she needed to be treated. In an emergency situation, you can't make a rational choice. Maybe you can comparison shop for a colonoscopy, but you can't be choosy when you need an emergency appendectomy.

The system is broken, in many many ways. Above all, there are way too many options and choices regarding health insurance. People need health insurance, and if everyone has it, the costs are more rational - because yes, the young healthy people underwrite the older sick people. People need health insurance, and it shouldn't be employer based - because some people don't have jobs. People need health insurance, and it ought to be single payer. It would be simple, efficient, and fair.

*Because I know you're wondering what I think is huge, it's a $10,000 deductible for me and the girl. My husband has coverage elsewhere.

10 October 2012

What Is It? Wednesday

So, what is it? Tune in next week for the answer.

(What Is It Wednesday shamelessly stolen from Fond of Snape.)

09 October 2012

Debating the Presidents

Just in case you've been under a rock, we're in the middle of one of those quadrennial circuses that will result in a presidential election in November. Remember? They're even getting into it at my kid's school, what with the 4th graders running a shadow election, polling everyone else in the school. The other night, my kid was thrilled to announce that her homework was to Watch Television! This made her day. School sanctioned late night TV trumped the fact that she had to answer questions about the event, like "what were you wondering about when you listened to the debates?"

If you can't read it, her answer was:

I don't know how Mitt Romney thinks we need to drill the oil in Alaska. That will kill animals and create pollution.

* * * * * * * * * * *

No matter what side of the race you fall on, if you have kids, you probably want them to be versed in American history, and to know something about the presidents we've had, from Washington to Obama. And hey, there's an app for that. Basher Presidents isn't much more than a set of virtual baseball cards with a fact or two about each president, and a little game where you have to plop them into chronological order.

It's fun, and probably worth the $1.99, if only so that your kid can tell you from the back seat that George W. Bush "nearly choked to death on a pretzel while watching football on TV".

Disclosure: I got a free copy of Basher Presidents, but my opinion is my own.

05 October 2012

On Formula

You know how it is, right? On Twitter one night, I fell into a conversation about homemade baby formula.

I don't even know how it started - ask Beck - but I was able to get myself out of a warm bed and pad down to the cellar, where I unearthed the baby care instruction book that my mother had gotten from the hospital when she was there after having birthed me. Vintage child-rearing instructions! In my very cellar! Courtesy of New York State! Complete with the instruction that "sun baths are not necessary"!

I was able to answer Beck, sort of. It turns out that the proportions for making homemade formula are based on the size of the baby. But that's not really the point. In 1960, baby formula may well have been homemade, and consisted of nothing but canned evaporated OR fresh whole milk, plus sugar or corn syrup, plus water. I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of baby feeding, and learned any number of interesting things - including that in 1960, "it is estimated that 80% of bottle-fed infants in the US were being fed with an evaporated milk formula" - that is, not a commercial product.

Back in the day, like Colonial America, "if a mother's milk supply was inadequate or she chose not to nurse, the family often employed a wet nurse to nourish infants." When wet nursing fell out of favor, "the practice of feeding human babies milk from animals, called dry nursing, began to flourish".  Isn't that fascinating? Wet for human milk, dry for goat/cow/mare/donkey milk, even though at the beginning, the animal milk would have been fresh and therefore a wet liquid. This bit about wet vs. dry came from a fascinating article in Contemporary Pediatrics, called "A Concise History of Infant Formula".

According to the Food Timeline, ready-to-serve formula was introduced in 1964, already sterilized in a glass bottle, able to be kept unopened without refrigeration. "All you have to do is replace the bottle's cap with a sterilized-sized collar." Commercial formula, a liquid or powder to be mixed with water, had made inroads by 1964: "only one mother in five now fixes the baby formula using the traditional evaporated milk mixed with carbohydrate modifiers...half of today's mothers now use a prepared infant formula, either a powder or liquid which is mixed with water...one baby in five gets whole cow's milk...only one in 10 is breast fed, still the safest, most convenient and least expensive method of nourishing an infant."

I do find it fascinating that in my lifetime, baby formula has gone from a simple concoction of evaporated milk, water and sugar, to a highly-processed exactingly-contrived product with many variants.

Mind you, none of this is meant as commentary on breastfeeding or formula feeding. I did both, I'm happy I did both, she needed formula both for convenience and because I did not have a robust milk supply. But I'm damned glad I didn't have to boil and sterilize and weigh and measure. That powdered stuff out of a can, mixed with tap water? That's a good modern convenience.

03 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Down to Here, Down to There

Or, what my girlie did on Saturday:

I was really tired of the fighting about the brushing of the hair, and she was really tired of the knots knots knots. We talked about it, and she decided that a haircut would be okay, and that she would like to donate her hair for a wig for someone with cancer. I was vaguely leery about Locks of Love, and was leaning towards the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, but it turned out that the salon owner was about to take a huge bag of hair down to a local wigmaker, so into the bag went my girl's tail. It was the only blonde hair (with a faint blue streak) in the bag.

01 October 2012

Time to Plant the Garlic

A couple of months ago, I came home and found my garage redolent of garlic: my husband had harvested the crop.

Here's the thing - it's incredibly easy to grow. You take the whole head, separate it into cloves, plant it in the fall, and dig it up in July. Two heads turn into twenty - can you think of a better return on investment? Oh, and there's a dividend: garlic scapes in late May or early June.

So, right now, go buy some garlic. Not at the supermarket, no, that garlic is often treated so as to hamper sprouting. What you want is seed garlic, from a local farmer who's planting their own for next year, or from a mail order house like Seeds of Change or Filaree. Ours was from a small vendor who had a stand at our farmer's market.

How did I know it was time? Well, my CSA is doing their garlic planting on October 6th, and what's good for them is likely good for me.

Tuck it in alongside where your tomatoes are going to go, or as edging for your herb garden. It might put up some greenery before it's too too cold, but no worries. Give it a little fertilizer - a top dressing of manure would be nice. Keep it watered. Give it some more food in the spring, and watch for it to send up scapes. Cut them off and eat them - chop 'em into a stir fry or make 'em into pesto or add them to greens and potatoes for a kind of demented colcannon.

Once the tops start browning, and your CSA sends out the email asking for volunteers to harvest their garlic crop, dig it up, using a garden fork to help loosen the soil. Brush off the loose dirt, and hang the garlic in your cellar for a couple of weeks; it needs to cure. While you're waiting, read Stanley Crawford's A Garlic Testament - a lovely meditation on growing garlic in New Mexico.

There is nothing easier or more self-satisfying than growing your own garlic.

28 September 2012


You're probably registered to vote. But if you aren't, use this little widget to get started, or share it with a friend, a fresh 18 year old, a new neighbor.

Remember, you can't vote if you aren't registered. Do it soon, because the deadline in some states is as soon as October 6. (And don't give me any grief about the fact that the widget is from the Obama campaign. You can use it even if you want to vote for the other guy.)

26 September 2012

Cakes and Pies

I was puttering around in the kitchen the other day, trying to figure out what to have for dinner that would use up lots of things in the fridge. It being high CSA season, we're long on vegetables, and there was some swiss chard that was calling out "eat me"! Yotam Ottolenghi gave me the jumping off point, with a recipe for some little swiss chard cakes. I thought they wouldn't be enough for dinner, but there was a tart shell in the freezer, some mozzarella going begging and a pile of tomatoes on the counter, and thus was born a tomato pie. So when the child came into the kitchen and whined "what's for dinner?", I answered her with a straight face "cakes and pies". I do amuse myself. She was not amused when it came time to sit down at the table and it was all vegetables and cheese.

Do you know Ottolenghi? I don't mean him personally, like you have him over for drinks, but do you know his cookbooks, or his newspaper column? His recipes are mostly vegetarian, and veer towards the eccentric, but I've made two things recently that were good. First was some baked orzo with mozzarella and eggplant that I found over on Smitten Kitchen - it was easy, especially insofar as the orzo went into the oven uncooked, we like that one less step. Also, it made a lot - so I had nice leftovers for lunch. Second were these swiss chard cakes - bound with egg, fried to crunchy goodness. I skipped the yogurt sorrel sauce he suggested because I had neither sorrel nor yogurt (does anyone ever have sorrel just lying around?). No matter, they were nice on their own.

Incidentally, the girl ate the swiss chard cakes, and rejected the tomato pie. Go figure. Then again, she'd probably eat a fried shoe, if there was enough ketchup alongside.

Swiss Chard Cakes (adapted from Ottolenghi)

a bunch of Swiss chard
2 T. pignoli (pine nuts)
1 T. olive oil
4 ounces cheese, coarsely grated (see note)
1 egg (or 2)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup cooked corn off the cob (optional)
½ t. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil & olive oil, for frying

Clean and stem the swiss chard. Boil a big pot of water, and blanch the leaves for about three minutes. Drain and leave to cool down slightly. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze as much water from the leaves as you can (work in golf ball sized lumps) - then roughly chop the leaves, and put in a bowl.

In a small pan, fry the pignoli in the tablespoon of olive oil for a minute or two, until light brown - don't burn them! Add the nuts and oil to the chard, along with the cheese, egg, breadcrumbs, corn, salt and pepper. You may need to add more crumbs if the mix is very soft and sticky. If it doesn't seem to hold together at all, add another egg - at which point you probably will need some more bread crumbs.

Use a mix of vegetable oil and olive oil, and put a couple of good glugs in a nice frying pan. Heat  the oil until a drop of water sizzles. Shape the mix into little patties about 3/4" thick. Fry these in batches for two minutes a side, until golden brown. Transfer to a plate covered with paper towels, to absorb the oil, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: Ottolenghi calls for kashkaval, which I confess that I had never before heard of. And I like cheese. His alternative is mature pecorino. I used gruyere because there was a block turning green in my fridge. Yes, we're fast and easy in the kitchen.

Tomato Pie

1 unbaked 9" tart shell
1 T. minced basil
2 plum tomatoes, sliced
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into smallish chunks
olive oil
salt & pepper

Line the tart shell with foil, and fill with pie weights. Bake at 400F for 10 minutes, remove the foil and weights, and bake for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle basil in the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange sliced tomatoes in one layer. Add salt & pepper to taste. Cover tomatoes with mozzarella. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes - the mozzarella will melt together to cover the tomatoes, and will be beginning to brown. Remove from oven, and let cool for a few minutes before slicing and eating. It's like a margarita pizza in a pie crust.

24 September 2012


Obituaries, especially the kind that run in the backs of alumni magazines, or as paid notices in the good grey lady, tend to a certain formality.

Obituary: A notice of a death, esp. in a newspaper, typically including a brief biography of the deceased person.

They tend towards platitudes and encomiums, and dry recitations of surviving family members. The cause of death is often mentioned, except when the dear departed has committed suicide. Then, it's delicately omitted, except perhaps in the cases of famous celebrity types, where the cause of death is part of the news of the death. I was, therefore, dumbstruck by an obituary I read in my college alumnae magazine:

Jane Doe put an end to her life on __/__/20__, leaving many speechless.

No, I didn't know her. But I too was left speechless - both because of the bluntness of the message and the editorializing in its conveyance.

21 September 2012

Remembering Moky

Once upon a time, in 1986 to be exact, we got my mother dressed up in a white tee-shirt, and Ray-Bans, and a leather jacket that my sister had appropriated from an old boyfriend. And we punked up her hair and gave her some big dangly earrings, and took her picture on the front porch of her house.

She was awfully game about the whole thing, even while there were neighbors driving by.

Today would have been her 77th birthday. I miss her.

19 September 2012

The 100%

I am the 53%. I pay federal income tax. I also pay state income tax, property & school tax, FICA tax, and sales tax, not to mention hidden taxes like that on gasoline.

And I am the 47%, because I depend on government.

Today, I drove on a public road. I took two forms of public transportation to get to my job – a commuter rail line, and the NYC subway. I work for a tax exempt not-for-profit organization – we don’t pay any income taxes, but we work in the public good and when we have a good year and don’t incur a deficit, our surpluses do not accrue to the benefit of any individual. My child rides back and forth to her public school on a school bus. Last month, when she broke her arm, we took her to the emergency room at the local non-profit hospital. The yogurt I ate for breakfast was made in a plant that’s inspected by the government. My bank account is guaranteed by the FDIC. The mammogram I had last night was covered by my insurance – with no co-pay – because of the Affordable Care Act.

I believe that food should be safe, health care should be available to all, and roads should be maintained. I believe in the National Endowment for the Arts, and Acadia National Park, and National Public Radio. I appreciate the work that NOAA and the FAA and the NTSB do, and I mail letters and packages and postcards through the Postal Service all the time. Above all, I believe in the social compact.

I guess this makes me 100% in support of President Obama.