31 July 2012

Red White Blue

We're all watching the Olympics, right? We all hate NBC, we all loved the James Bond meets the Queen skit during the opening ceremony, and we're all atwitter about the skimpy bathing suits on the male divers. Oh, that last one is just me and my sister? Okay, then.

The bathing suits fascinate me. Like, what's with the long legs? I suppose it's something aerodynamic, but don't you kind of miss the old Speedos - the kind with no Lycra, the ones we had back in the day, the kind you had to tie the straps together in the back with a shoelace because otherwise they were forever falling off your shoulders? Maybe that's part of my affection for the suits on the male divers - it's like what a bathing suit looks like in my mind's eye.

In 1972, when Mark Spitz won his seven gold medals at Munich (with no goggles and a mustache, by the way), he wore a red, white and blue Speedo - a patriotic pattern that became de rigueur at the pool we frequented. My father even had one. And all summer long, a pale freckled 10 year old boy we knew wore one of those iconic suits day in and day out - I think it was the only bathing suit he owned. By Labor Day, the sun had oozed through the white parts of the bathing suit, and his butt was tanned with stars and stripes.

I always wondered how long it took for that tan to fade.

30 July 2012

Let's Review: Wunderlist

I was whining to a friend, over a glass of wine, that I couldn't keep track of everything I needed to be doing, and that I wanted was the perfect list.  Scraps of paper weren't cutting it. Nor were little notebooks. TeuxDeux was clean and snappy but not enough, and neither was the built-in Reminders app on my phone.

In a fit one afternoon, I turned to the google, and I found the holy grail: Wunderlist.

It is well-nigh perfect. It is:

  • Free
  • Available on the web
  • Pretty
  • Available as a desktop application
  • Clean
  • Available as a mobile app
  • Free

It syncs across all platforms. It lets you have categories of lists, with sub-lists. It has little tick boxes to check off your things. Items can have dates, if they need dates. Very Important Things can get a star. You can PRINT your lists - that might be the part that I actually swooned at. You can email your lists. You can even add items by emailing them to Wunderlist.

Two caveats - though you could have others: it doesn't let you sort your lists, and there's no way to add recurring tasks.

Overall? I love it.

Nope, no one paid me for this. I just like the app, a lot.

24 July 2012


You know what's crazy? A couple of years ago, I had to buy a couple of cap guns for work, you know, props. I found just what we needed someplace online; they looked like something you'd see in an old Western, and did nothing more than go snap! and pop! when you shot them. Toys, you know. But because New York City, where I work, has strict rules about guns, I had to have the toy guns mailed to my house, outside the city (so I could hand carry them to work with me on the train). [Should I be admitting that?]

Last week, as you know, unless you live under that proverbial rock, someone shot a whole mess of people at a movie theater in Colorado, and killed twelve of them. Twelve innocent people, shot by a madman (a "fiend" in a New York Post headline I read over someone's shoulder).

And that madman bought all of his ammunition on the internet:

In the four months before the shootings, he also bought 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 3,000 rounds for a semiautomatic rifle and 350 shells for a 12-guage shotgun, all over the Internet.

Six Thousand, Three Hundred and Fifty. That's a big number. That's a lot of ammo. It's mind-bogglingly crazy that anyone can buy any ammunition on the internet, and you can't even buy a toy gun to be shipped to Manhattan. And that's not even addressing the weaponry issue.

Jason Alexander wrote a rant about the weapons. In case you missed it, here, here's a quote:

These weapons are military weapons. They belong in accountable hands, controlled hands and trained hands. They should not be in the hands of private citizens to be used against police, neighborhood intruders or people who don’t agree with you. These are the weapons that maniacs acquire to wreak murder and mayhem on innocents. They are not the same as handguns to help homeowners protect themselves from intruders. They are not the same as hunting rifles or sporting rifles. These weapons are designed for harm and death on big scales.

I actually do understand that some people want to own guns for the purposes of deer hunting or target shooting. Hell, there are shooting sports in the Olympics. But assault weapons in the hands of ordinary folk? No, no, no.

What in hell are we going to do about this?

23 July 2012

From a Death Sentence to a Surplus of Wonder

Because, as you know, I can't stay away from the medical non-fiction, I was inexorably drawn to Susan Gubar's "Memoir of a Debulked Woman".

Oof. And, wow.

"Doctored, I am a maundering wreck of the woman I had been." (p. 182)

It's her telling of her travails with ovarian cancer - diagnosis, surgery (the debulking of the title), chemotherapy, remission, recurrence. And because she's a scholar, it's laced with quotes from a huge array of books and articles - from writings about medicine to poetry, fiction, memoir. Because I'm me, and was astounded by the ten tiny-type pages of "works cited", I counted them. 177, ranging from W.H. Auden and Margaret Atwood, to Gail Goodwin, Philip Larkin, Oliver Sacks and Virginia Woolf. It's kind of a tour de force.

"When is an ache an ache, and not the sign of a recurrence or a metastasis?" (p. 210)

All through, though, Gubar pulls no punches - chemo is described as the horror that it is, drains and ostomies are excruciatingly detailed. And ovarian cancer is lamented as a silent killer. It may or may not have symptoms, its symptoms may be disregarded as "other, more benign ailments", and there is no reliable test or screening tool for early detection.

"Cancer is paranoia's dream come true; there's something in there that I cannot see or feel or imagine, trying to murder me." (p. 64)

Reading Gubar provoked an awful lot of what my kid's elementary school teachers would call text-to-self connection. Every intestinal twinge convinced my inner paranoiac that cancer was masquerading as indigestion. The several friends I've known who've had ovarian cancer? I wept for them. My mother - who endured several regimes of chemotherapy and two different courses of radiation - was not far from my mind, ever. [And Gubar's own elderly mother makes numerous demanding appearances through Memoir of a Debulked Woman.]

"As in childbirth, I speculate to Jo, in dying we may need a doula." (p. 226)

Gubar's book is grisly, and not particularly hopeful - because most cases of ovarian cancer are not diagnosed early enough, treatment is too often not very successful. She anticipates death, spins beauty and understanding out of bits of poetry and prose. It's heart-rending, and clear-eyed, and makes the point that our "social prohibitions against acknowledging dying or mourning" mean that we shy from hospice, rail against "death panels", and spend countless dollars keeping the very sick alive. But she's alive, nearly four years past diagnosis, and writes with a fluid underlying joy. It's a gift, this book.

20 July 2012

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

I walked through the diamond district the other day. It's a single block, 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth, chock-a-block with jewelry sellers. Wholesale, retail, guys with diamonds jingling in their pockets, a ingot of armored trucks idling at curbside. I've never shopped there, not being a diamonds kind of girl, but it was between Grand Central and where I was going, so on Thursday morning before nine, I found myself thinking about linoleum.

See, my mother had known a guy who'd been in the jewelry business forever. It was a family business, and they made fancy, high-end baubles for fancy, rich women. After years and years in one location, they saw fit to move their shop, and in the process of packing up to move, one of the things they did was sell the worn linoleum floor. You see, the old floor had so much gold dust ground into it from so many years of fabrication that it was worth money to someone who was going to reclaim the gold, a modern day prospector if you will.

Did you know that a jewelry maker's linoleum floor could be worth a fortune?

17 July 2012

BPA Killed My Horse

So, good news, right? The FDA banned bisphenol A, or BPA, from baby bottles and sippy cups. Yeah!

But wait, read the details. There's a long article in the New York Times, and a nice concise one by the AP.

Here's what really happened. Consumers got up in arms, manufacturers voluntarily stopped using it, the chemical manufacturers asked the FDA to ban it AFTER "determining that all manufacturers of bottles and sippy cups had already abandoned BPA due to concerns about its health effects", and THEN the FDA acted - simply codifying "what the industry was already doing based on the preference of consumers".

Frankly, this is a totally disingenuous action. The chemical industry gets to bat its eyelashes and say oh yes, we were behind the ban and reap all kinds of good publicity for its selfless rejection of a chemical that the National Toxicology Program has "some concern" about.

And banning something that manufacturers had already stopped using is kind of like beating that poor dead horse.

Canada declared BPA a toxic substance nearly two years ago. A better action on the part of the FDA would have been an outright ban on BPA, instead of this namby-pamby innocent until proven guilty or the consumers do enough cage-rattling.


16 July 2012

La Bella Luna

Even though I say "no" a lot, sometimes I do actually say "yes". And so it was that the girl and I ended up going to a movie at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon, beautiful sunny day notwithstanding.

We saw "Brave", which was excellent but a little scary; my fierce eight and three-quarters year old whimpered a couple of times "I don't like this movie" and hunkered down under my arm. The story begins much like "The Princess Knight" - feisty girl bests the boys who are competing to win her hand in marriage. But it goes on to an epic battle, and a witch and a spell, a need to "mend the bond torn by pride", and healthy doses of girl power, love and family ties.

However, the excellent thing about the movie was that a) there were no previews and b) there was a short. I can't remember the last time I saw a short, in a theater. I don't think I've ever seen a commercial release without being assaulted by previews. And, the short was fabulous. Animated, with just some grunting in lieu of words, it's a little tale of three generations - father and grandfather teaching a boy to take care of the moon.

And later in the day, we went to the pool and I dived in, and I went down the slide, and I let myself be dragged around the shallow end by two strong little swim team girls. Because, one does need to say "yes". It's where the magic lies.

13 July 2012

Red Fruits of Summer

So. It's summer. It's too hot to cook. But there's all that lusciousness at the greenmarket, blueberries and peaches and raspberries and apricots and plums and strawberries and maybe even gooseberries. And you want to use it.

Instead of heating up the kitchen with a 400° oven for that shortcake I told you to make, all you do is hull the strawberries and cut them in half, add the currants, add the raspberries, add a tablespoon of sugar. Toss it gently and put it aside until it's time for dessert - an hour or two will do. What you want is for the strawberries to give up some of their juice - the sugar helps that along by pulling the juices out of the berries. Then, all you need is some good vanilla ice cream. A blob of ice cream covered with the juicy berries? That, dears, is summer.

12 July 2012

Waffling Hyperbole

Oh, oh, oh. Great sadness in the world: Marion Cunningham has died. And while her New York Times obituary came complete with a recipe, it wasn't the recipe, it was one for coffee cake. Now, honestly, there's nothing wrong with coffee cake - I could do with a slice at about 4:00 most afternoons - but her hands-down absolute-best make-this-Sunday-morning recipe was the waffles. Raised waffles. Crispy, tangy, light, tender, thin, buttery, yeasty waffles, like nothing you've ever had before. They're easy, too, but you have to start them the night before - mix up the batter, let it sit, add some eggs in the morning and go to town. Yes, you need a waffle iron, but don't you have one? Everyone should have a waffle iron, preferably a vintage one, chrome, with a cotton-covered black and white cord.

I first had these at a bed and breakfast in California, the kind of bed and breakfast that hands out copies of the recipes for the home-baked goodies they fed you that morning. There were two winners, an apple French toast, which I make for Christmas breakfast almost every year, and these waffles, which we make about once a month, just because.

Promise me this: you'll try these waffles, and you'll toast Marion Cunningham with your morning coffee. Even though I never met her, I feel confident in saying it's what she would have wanted. Besides, they really are the best waffles ever.

Marion Cunningham's Raised Waffles
[originally from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and now all over the intertubes]

1/2 cup warm water
1 package dry yeast
2 cups warm milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Use a rather large mixing bowl — the batter will rise to double its original volume. Put the water in the mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand to dissolve for 5 minutes. Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour to the yeast mixture and beat until smooth and blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.

Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs, add the baking soda, and stir until well mixed. The batter will be very thin. Pour about 1/2 to 3/4 cup batter into a very hot waffle iron. (Use a regular one, not one of those very deep Belgian waffle makers.) Bake the waffles until they are golden and crisp.

Theoretically, the batter will keep for a couple of days in the fridge. We prefer to bake it all off, and freeze any extra waffles, because, it probably goes without saying, we don't buy frozen waffles in our house.

11 July 2012

Little Is Better Than Nothing

I finally cleaned out "my" closet at my mother's house, the closet in what had been my bedroom. There was stuff in there that had come home with me from college, and hadn't been touched since. There were boxes marked "treasures" and others full of letters from old boyfriends. There was a box labeled "three mink stole", containing, yes, a three mink stole just like the one your grandmother probably had.

Some stuff I fondled and threw out. Some stuff I packed up again and sent to storage. And some of the "treasures" I felt compelled to photograph and catalog before I tossed them:

  • wicker tea strainer
  • empty drawstring bag marked "bathtub playmate of the year"
  • 1983 Cats playbill
  • Silly Putty, still putty-like
  • the glasses I wore in fourth grade
  • a Kent comb missing a tooth
  • a brass nut & bolt
  • a brush with which to clean a record
  • 790. Little is better than nothing (fortune from a fortune cookie)
  • a really ugly Christmas ornament
  • the plastic cup from a container of strawberry yogurt from "The Loseley Herd of Pedigreed Jersey" - which I think was bought in England in 1978
  • an almost full box of business cards from a job I had in 1982
  • my first ATM card, from college
  • a cancelled check, to the college bookstore for $1.14
  • an almost full bottle of salt tablets, dating to when I first got contact lenses in high school and before you could buy ready made saline solution
  • a souvenir yarmulke from Suanne's 1983 wedding, and a little tulle wrapped bundle of rice
  • the kind of plastic mermaid who perches on the edge of a glass
  • a wire and tissue paper flower that I made, oh, 42 years ago?
  • a plastic ruler
  • one formerly white pointe shoe that my mother had picked up on a backstage tour at the New York State Theater - Freed 6X, maker X, Sara Leland - sliced to accommodate a bunion.
  • the erasable memo board that had graced the door of my college dorm room - with the last notes as we were about to graduate, including the address of the restaurant where we had our Chinese banquet with Bing.
  • a notebook from the time I spent four months in London, with this jejune note about Bruce:

I also found my first pair of glasses, the ones that I had in kindergarten. Alas, the plastic had turned green and crumbled to bits.

I need to remember that I will exit this earth with naught but what I came with.

09 July 2012

The Hand-Me-Down Conundrum

What do you do with your kid's clothes when they don't fit anymore? You pass them on as hand-me-downs, to cousins and neighbors. If they're from Hanna Andersson and still in great shape, maybe you put them on eBay. My sister takes stuff to a consignment store, but they tend to pay you in store credit AFTER your stuff sells - that's not instant-gratification enough for me.

I first heard about thredUP a couple of years ago, and while I appreciated the idea behind it - swapping kid's clothes - it seemed cumbersome and unpredictable. However, they've recently revamped their whole model, and it seems pretty cool. In essence, it's an online consignment shop. You can buy stuff, and you can sell stuff.

The buying part is easy - you browse through a really stripped down grid of clothes that you can narrow down by size and/or gender. Sure, you're not seeing multiple pictures of that sweater, and you don't know exactly what it's made of - but a Carter's onesie is a Carter's onesie, and the prices are really reasonable.

The selling part is easy too - you order a "bag", you fill it up, you send it back by prepaid UPS or USPS. They inventory your stuff, and pay you - either by PayPal, or with a store credit - and there's no waiting for your stuff to sell. You'll probably get less cash than if you sold on eBay, but there's also no taking pictures, no writing copy, no keeping track of packages to ship - that is, no hassle.

I really like the idea of it, and I suspect that if you're in an area that is devoid of consignment shops, thredUP would be a great resource.

If you want to try it out, click here and use coupon code TU10 to get 10% off your first purchase. The code is good through Sept 1, and your kids probably need new clothes for back to school, right?

Disclaimer: thredUP offered me a store credit to try out the site. They didn't pay me to write about it, and there was no expectation that I would write anything. My opinions - as ever - are very much my own.

02 July 2012

Common Sense, Common Cents

In the department of ridiculously small amounts of money, I just received a check - in an envelope, by first class mail - for the total amount of zero and 07/100 dollars. Yes, seven cents.

Some mumbo-jumbo in connection with our mortgage refinancing had caused a credit of seven cents to appear in our long-dormant zero balance HELOC account. I wrote it off in my head, thinking seven cents wasn't worth any attention (though I did encourage my eight year old to pick up a penny in a parking lot yesterday, but then, she's eight and most of her net worth is in pennies), and being not quite sure that they really owed that money to me (there hadn't been any money in the account at the beginning of the refinance process). That Chase felt they had to clear the account by mailing me a check for seven cents astonishes me - not least of which is that Chase knows I have a Chase mortgage and a Chase checking account. Wouldn't it have been simpler and cheaper for them to have done a book transfer into one of those accounts? Besides the obvious - postage - how much did it cost for them to issue the check and clear it at the other end?

A little common sense might go a long way in these matters of dollars and cents.

01 July 2012


When in the course of blog events it becomes necessary for one writer to dissolve the advertising bands which have connected her with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's dog entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of wo/man-kind requires that she should declare the causes which impel her to the separation.

Okay, that's a little belabored. But, as of today, I've dropped the BlogHer ad widget from my blog.

I originally signed up for their ad program thinking that it would a) provide a little pocket money and b) drive a little traffic via the links to other blogs in the network. I also thought - misguidedly - that running the ads, with the implicit signal that I'd been approved by the network, was a form of validation - you like me, you really like me!

In point of fact, the BlogHer widget does diddly squat as to traffic, and made my whole site load slowly. The income isn't worth the trouble - and on a real estate basis, dollars per pixel, the few other ads I've sold have paid a lot more. Furthermore, the contract with BlogHer constrained me as to some content - not that I really care to do any sponsored posts; I just don't like being told what not to do. There's also the issue of the ads themselves - given my earthy-crunchy eco-frugal nature, what the fuck was I doing running ads for Olive Garden and Hellman's mayo and Tyson Foods and Venus razors?

My blog gets a reasonable amount of traffic; no, I'm not The Bloggess, but people read and comment and read and don't comment. And frankly, the amount of traffic is fine; I'm not hoping to quit my day job because I'm not using this as much more than an outlet for me, for the things I think about.

Just so you understand how ridiculously small the income stream was, in the six month period from June 2011 to November 2011, I earned a grand total of $26.48 - enough to buy um, not much. And BlogHer owes me about that much for the seven month period that just ended, meaning that the monthly average has actually gone down. If I were Anna Viele, I might go into enormous detail about this and ad sizes and that and conspiracy theories, but I'm not. Suffice it to say, it wasn't worth it.

So I finally pulled the plug. Hallelujah!