27 June 2012

St. George and the Very Small Dinosaur

St. George slew the dragon; Calvary St. George's seems to slay birds.

This is the second bird I've seen there, feet up alongside the steps. The first one was tiny; this one was bigger, almost pigeon-sized. I originally saw the bird on Friday, but when it was still there on Saturday, I stopped. My daughter was with me; instead of being grossed out by the dead bird, or bewildered by my photography, she was concerned that the flies weren't leaving it in peace.

Poor thing. And what is it about that church that keeps killing the birds?

25 June 2012


I know. Aimless archaeology. I discovered this scrap of paper when I was emptying out my mother's desk, in preparation for its removal to my house.

Before last month, I'd never heard of a transom being called anything but a transom, but Marinka's husband claimed that it was called a "vasistas" in French. And not that I'm trying to side with Marinka's husband or anything, but apparently one Neal Hitzig had heard this too and wrote to the New York Times about it ... eighteen years ago. Neal does call it "apocryphal" (and Neal's letter is footnote #5 in the wikipedia article which one of Marinka's commenters cited). Anyway, my mother saw fit to rip it out of the paper. She liked words. She also liked ripping things out of the newspaper. She kept everything. I just didn't expect to be reminded of Marinka while I was cleaning out my mother's desk. Go figure.

The desk, a beautiful Eastlake rolltop desk, with burled insets, and a glass-fronted bookcase on top, had been in my father's family. Family lore, if my memory serves, had it stored in the attic of my grandparent's garage/barn, from where it had to be lowered by block and tackle. Tucked in one of its little drawers is a scrap of paper ripped out of some magazine, lord knows when, with a picture of the desk's twin and notes as to its provenance. I'm looking forward to the its appearance in my living room. The desk, that is. The scraps of paper...? Big sigh. I think the rest of my summer is going to be an immersion in aimless archaeology. And shredding.

22 June 2012

The Last Day of Third Grade

Finally! Today's the last day of school for my girl. The end of third grade isn't actually a graduation, but her grandmother gave her the mortarboard deely boppers, so of course she had to wear them to school. Goofball.

This time of year, there's always a lot of blather about commencement speeches and what messages they send and "everyone is wonderful" (except for the guy at the high school graduation who went viral with the "you are not special" speech. The speaker at my own college graduation - on a beautiful June day 30 years ago - was Maya Angelou. I can't find her address online - but it riffed on her poem "Phenomenal Women".

I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

All anyone remembers about it is the phenomenal part - we are indeed phenomenal, each and every one of us (and you too). Be yourself, be phenomenal. Oddly enough though, when you actually read the poem, it's kind of all about her looks - she's not pretty, yet men are drawn to her, based on some inner light. She's not phenomenal for the things she does, the words she speaks, the life she leads:

It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.

Yes, joy in the feet is a wonderful thing but that's not all there is.

Last month, the commencement address at my alma mater was by Melissa Harris-Perry - Tulane University professor of political science, author, Nation columnist, MSNBC host, and "nerdland" icon.

Her charge to the graduates was far more provocative - and, dare I say, useful - than most:

Be ignorant.
Be silent.
Be thick.

Be ignorant - you do not know everything, and nor should you be expected to.
Be silent - because there are times when one must listen, and thinking before speaking is always a good idea.
Be thick - commitment and sturdiness will stand you in good stead, and besides "Thin women look great in bikinis. Thick women look terrific in history books."

My girl is finding her way, starting to assess her peers, navigating the rocky social straits, losing herself in books, and I'm sure she'll turn out to be a phenomenal woman. But I'm going to add silent, ignorant and thick to the agenda.

20 June 2012

Pink Suede Shoes

She intrigues me. I don't know who she is, I've never seen her on my train before.

She's wearing a fitted sleeveless dress, brownish beige, slightly textured. It's well cut, and makes me think of my mother's Anne Fogarty and Claire McCardell dresses - what one wore in the fifties. Her shoes are pink suede, with a high curvy heel and a little knotted ankle strap - they look a like a cross between character shoes and Fluevogs. And she's shepherding a bright orange folding Dahon. I can't imagine riding a bicycle in those shoes, but then, I'm not her.

Later, once she's settled in on the train, she takes a stainless steel tiffin box out of her snakeskin bag. Once breakfast is over - what she ate, I couldn't tell - she settles in with her knitting, an indeterminate object in pink wool.

Stylish. Environmentally correct. Crafty.

Does she live in my town? My town is so full of bankers and lawyers and people who wear suits to work. The mostly male commuters mostly drive to the train station. Who is she? Why did I find her so fascinating?

18 June 2012

A Manifesto About Strawberry Shortcake

There is only one kind of strawberry shortcake. It does not use lady fingers, it does not involve angel food cake. Cool Whip is verboten, sponge cake is all wrong. The strawberries must be local, the cream has to be freshly whipped, and the shortcake is a biscuit.

If you’re me, you have a hardcover edition of The James Beard Cookbook found at a used bookstore and bought because you had to own a copy since your mother always had one. And when your mother made strawberry shortcake, she made it James Beard’s way, which is to say, one enormous shortcake, cut into wedges at the table. Little individual ones, plated in the kitchen, are all well and good – providing that they’re made with biscuits and good berries and real whipped cream – but there is nothing more jaw-droppingly stupendous than an exuberant pile of whipped cream atop an enormous craggy biscuit with pink rivulets flowing off the macerated strawberries.

This is it. This is love. And this is how we celebrated Father's Day.

Strawberry Shortcake (adapted ever so gently from James Beard)

2 cups flour
2 ½ t. baking powder
1 t. salt
4 T. sugar
5 T. butter
¾ cup heavy cream
~2 T. softened butter

1 quart strawberries
2 T. sugar

1 ¼ cups heavy cream
2 T. powdered sugar
¼ t. vanilla extract (optional)

Sift the dry ingredients together into a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, or two knives, or your fingers. Stir in just enough heavy cream to make a smooth, soft dough, not too sticky. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead gently for about a minute. Divide it into two portions, one a little bigger than the other. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the larger piece into a circle about 9” across and ½” thick. Gently transfer the disk to a greased cookie sheet. Spread the disk with soft butter. Roll the small piece of dough into a circle about 7” across and ½” thick, and transfer it to atop the first piece. Bake at 450° F for about 20 minutes, until nicely browned and baked through. Let cool.

While the shortcake is baking, clean the strawberries and cut them in half. Sprinkle with 2 T. sugar, stir gently, and set aside.

Just before serving, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla. Slip the shortcake onto a serving plate, and gently remove the top circle with a spatula. Cover the bottom with half of the strawberries and half the whipped cream. Replace the top circle, spread it with the remaining whipped cream and top with the remaining strawberries. Serve immediately.

13 June 2012


I made a quilt for our new nephew, my brother's child, who arrived not too long ago with aplomb and no warning. The quilt was, therefore, hastily done, but I think it's nice. A vintage green and white striped pillowcase opened up to just the right size for the backing; the pieced front is a bunch of funky damask towels cut into 6" squares (so as to avoid the stains and holes) and pieced together. My daughter embroidered his name and the year on one of the squares, and I tied the whole thing together with a bit of blue embroidery thread.

Midway through, I realized that the iron was hot - not just temperature hot, but electrically hot. Yeah. I gingerly finished the necessary ironing, but that iron is toast. And then the sewing machine did that clunk clunk sputter thing and I finally dragged it off to a repair shop, where the old lady chastised me for using the wrong thread and the wrong kind of needle. Whatev. Just fix it, 'kay?

My head is full of projects like this. I have plastic storage boxes galore - this one full of old t-shirts, a complementary palate of darks and jewel tones, the next filled with scraps of felted wool, leftovers from a while ago project. I could make a patchwork quilt of the t-shirts, a patchwork blanket from the wool bits.

But that I had more time.

At least my sewing machine works again.

11 June 2012


Heaven is an empty house. The other members of the household left me home alone yesterday, for a couple of blissful hours, while the girlie went and tried out for the swim team. Other people might use the time to take a nap, or catch up on Desperate Housewives. I embraced the chance for a bit of time to putter around my cellar.

There was a box in a corner, a box of odds and ends that I'd brought home from my mother's house a month or more ago. I emptied it, and put away the odd bits of fabric and paper, a jar full of paper fasteners, a small bone crochet hook. I was about to take the box upstairs, for the recycling bin, when I noticed that it wasn't just a plain white box that 10 reams of copier paper had come in. No, she'd decorated the side of the box, with a collage of paint chips, purples and teals and blues. A bit of matte board, cut to a small rectangle, labeled it "Patterns".

These are the things that rend the heart. This, this box, is a microcosm of her time, her sensibility. Someone else would have scribbled "patterns" with a black Sharpie. Who else would have used the paint chips for d├ęcoupage?

Now I have a 9" x 17" piece of corrugated cardboard, propped up against the wall by my desk. I can't keep everything. Where do I stop?

Or, where do I start?

08 June 2012


Busy, busy, busy - June is some month. I'll be back one day.

In the meantime, see if you can identify the common thread in these here photos.


Most creative answer gets a prize. Maybe. It's at the whim of the management.