28 December 2013

The Gingerbread House, part 2

Okay! You've got a big bowl of chilled dough, templates, parchment, a Silpat, cookie sheets, an icing syringe, the ingredients for the glue, a mess of candy, and the patience of a saint? Good. If not, re-read the previous post. I'll be here when you're ready.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Lay out your Silpat, and lay a sheet of parchment on top. Using a rolling pin with a nicely floured sleeve, roll out a blob of dough on the parchment until it's big enough for your first house piece and about 3/16" thick. Using a pizza wheel, or a gently wielded table knife, cut out your piece. With the knife, nudge the scrap dough away from the house piece.

Gingerbread house in the works

Trim the parchment if you'd like, and transfer the dough - ON THE PARCHMENT - to your cookie sheet. Repeat until you have all of the pieces made - and don't forget to make two roof panels, two pieces for the front/back, and two gable end pieces. [Note - you're actually not using the Silpat for cooking. I find that it has a nice stickiness about it that serves to hold the parchment in place on the counter while I'm rolling out the dough. I used to try to glue the parchment to the counter with dabs of shortening, but the Silpat works much better.] If you don't have enough cookie sheets, colonize all the flat surfaces in your house with dough-covered parchment, until the cookies sheets are free again.

You want doors and windows, right? Before baking, cut out window openings, and a door. You can use some of the scrap to make shutters, you can roll scrap into little balls for decoration, you can gently score the chimney sides to make the dough look like bricks. If you're crazy, you can even make window muntins out of thinly rolled bits of dough. You might want to keep the piece you cut out for the door, so that you can later glue it in place propped open. [I used the wrong sized platform this year, and so there was no room for the door. It got eaten by someone.]

Gingerbread house in the works

Bake the pieces in the 375°F oven for about 10 minutes. You want the pieces to be well-baked, and nicely dry, but not burnt. Cool on the pans. The pieces are big enough that you don't want to risk having them sink - even a little - into the spaces on a baking rack.

Gingerbread house in the works

Stained glass windows are a delightful thing to include in your house, but making them isn't for the faint of heart. I always used to do it by smashing up the sour balls and carefully filling up the window openings BEFORE baking. It was always kind of messy looking though, and when I did it this year, the candy didn't melt properly. So we cut that window out, and hit the google looking for a solution. Ta da! The microwave! Thanks to Heart of Light, we used the microwave to melt the crushed candy in custard cups - which we then spooned into the window openings. Again, stained glass windows are not for sissies - and not for children. Melted sugar is dangerously hot, so be careful.

Gingerbread house in the works

Gingerbread house in the works

Once all of your baking is done, and your stained glass windows are fabricated, make the royal icing, and find a big board or huge platter to build on. This would be a good time to enlist a helper monkey, like your ten year old.

Also, if you're planning on putting a light inside that requires a cord to exit the house discreetly at the back, you'll want to position the light and make a little cut-out for the cord. This is completely optional, by the way.

Load up your icing syringe and pop on a small plain round tip. [Or use a piping bag or a ziploc - I prefer the syringe.] Peel the parchment off of the back of one of the four sides of the house and run a bead of icing along the bottom. Position it on your board, and get your helper monkey to hold it in place. Find the adjacent piece, run a bead of icing along the bottom and the side that will be adjacent to the first piece. Maneuver it into position, and help your helper monkey hold it in place. Continue around until your four walls are up. If your husband is a wood-working model-builder, he may try and "clamp" the house together with string.

Gingerbread house in the works

Use the icing like caulk and make sure all the gaps between the walls are sealed. Not only does it help with the aesthetics, the icing is structural - it dries like concrete and will help hold your house together.

I cheat at the roof. Using dental floss and a blunt needle, "sew" the roof together with two loops, hinges, if you will. Run a bead of icing along the tops of all of the walls and gently place the roof. Take a deep breath, and pause for a cup of tea. Once the icing is good and dry, add your chimney (if you made one).

Meanwhile, have your helper monkey start unwrapping the candy. I always start with the roof. We used to do it with rows and rows and rows of mini-marshmallows, but Necco wafers are really the best roof tile ever. Work two-handed, and squirt a blob of icing on each wafer as it goes on the roof. Work from the bottom up, just like a real roof.

Once the roof is done, get to work on the rest of the house. I like doing rows of spice drops like quoins, and candy canes can be broken into lintels. I also have OCD control issues, but I did hand the syringe over to the helper monkey. In fact, she did the whole Mike and Ike application for the chimney bricks.

Gingerbread house in the works

You can also tint some of your icing. This is nice if you want to make vines, and morning glories, and Painted Lady Victorian doodads around doors and windows.

Gingerbread house in the works

If you happen to have access to cotton candy of some sort, it makes nice smoke coming out of the chimney. However, it has to be replaced periodically, because it tends to absorb moisture out of the air and collapse into itself.

Gingerbread House

When you're all done, have a party, because you're totally going to want to show off your house. And when the kids go back to school in January, the whole thing is edible, so break it up and pack it off in their lunch boxes.


The Gingerbread House, part 1

For years, starting when I was about 12, and annually until sometime in my 20s, I made a gingerbread house at Christmas time. It was a major production, and got to be a thing - people expected it, so you did it, so people expected it. I think I've been asked about it every year ever since.

This year, what with the girl having turned 10, I thought it was time to resuscitate the tradition, and so we did. We laid in candy. I located the templates - which had surfaced as we were cleaning out my mother's house. [Have I mentioned that she kept everything? She did.] I made a batch of dough. I dug out the frosting syringe; I got out all the cookie sheets. I convinced my husband to wire an extension switch onto a little battery powered light, and several days later, we were done.

You want to make one too, right?

Here goes. [And if Christmas is twelve days, this post isn't too late!]

Necco WafersYou'll need candy. I'm very particular - no chocolate allowed, fruit flavors only under duress. It's a gingerbread house; the flavors need to be complementary. Or something. So:


  • spice drops (spice flavored gum drops)
  • Necco wafers (7-8 rolls - for roof tiles)
  • cinnamon red hots
  • wintergreen Lifesavers (or another solid white flavor)
  • green & white starlights
  • candy canes
  • red Mike and Ikes (chimney bricks)
  • sour balls or five flavor Lifesavers - or other multi-colored hard candy (for the stained glass windows)
  • mini marshmallows

You'll need dough. Make it today, bake it tomorrow.

GINGERBREAD DOUGH (adapted from the New York Times cookbook)
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 T. ground ginger
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 1/2 t. salt
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Cream together the shortening, brown sugar, spices and salt. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Add the molasses and blend. Stir the baking soda and baking powder into the flour; add flour to wet ingredients and stir well until blended. Chill overnight. [Note: this will make enough for the house - if you want to make gingerbread trees or people or stars, bump it up by 50%, or double the recipe.]

You'll need glue, to glue all of the pieces together and to attach all the candy. Make it last, though, right before you want to assemble the house.

ROYAL ICING (a/k/a glue)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg white
1 t. lemon juice
pinch of salt

Put it all in a standing mixer and beat the hell out of it - it wants to be smooth and white and it will look almost like meringue. Seriously, 5-7 minutes in the standing mixer. Sure, you can do it with a hand mixer, but you'll get bored and tired. Use the stand mixer. After you've loaded up your frosting syringe, keep the bowl covered with a damp towel while you're working on the house. Otherwise the icing gets crusty. [If you're squeamish about the raw egg white, it is possible to make royal icing with powdered egg whites, but you're on your own for the recipe.]

You'll need templates. Use mine - print out the pdf onto card stock, or trace it onto shirt cardboard. Make sure you note which pieces you need two of - nothing worse than having all of the dough baked and realizing that you've forgotten one of the four sides of the house. Or be adventurous and design your own house. You might should make it simple the first time out, though.

Lay in some parchment - it's essential for transferring the dough onto the cookie sheets. Lots of cookie sheets help, as does a Silpat.

Okay - you have everything in hand?

The instructions continue here: Gingerbread House, part 2

17 December 2013

Facebook: Good or Evil?

Because part of what I do with my life has to do with not-for-profit organizations and raising money, and because I am as bemused by Facebook as everyone else, I found it interesting that Facebook has decided to help out non-profits by adding a "donate" button to a non-profits Facebook page. Good or bad?

Well, driving donations is good, and Facebook is even picking up the vig - meaning that 100% of the donation is going to the charity. [When you give by credit card, the charity normally pays about 3% to the credit card processor, so your $100 gift is really only $97 to the charity.] On the other hand, Facebook isn't telling the charity anything about you - so from the charity's point of view, not so good - if they don't know who you are, they can't ever solicit you again. Granted, maybe that's what you want, as an individual.

Just to test it out, someone in my office made a little donation to the World Wildlife Fund, through that organization's Facebook page.

Here's the email receipt that she got from Facebook:

From: "Facebook"
Date: December 17, 2013
To: [redacted]
Subject: Facebook Payment Receipt #[redacted]

Donation Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 12:50pm, Receipt Number: [redacted]
Hi [redacted],
Thank you for your $10.00 donation to World Wildlife Fund. On behalf of World Wildlife Fund at 1250 24th Street, NW, Washington, 20090, we thank you for your generous support. You may print this receipt for your records. This receipt confirms that you have made this donation as a charitable contribution and you are not receiving any goods or services in return. As the tax laws vary by state and by country, please consult a tax professional regarding the deductibility of this donation.
The Facebook Payments Inc. Team

The thank you from Facebook - not from the WWF - is awfully sterile, and it seems to be the end of the interaction. Also, at no point in the transaction did she get notice that the WWF wouldn't know that the gift is from her. Also, even odder, she had no option to "share" the donation event with her Facebook friends - and since Facebook is always all about the share and the self-glorification, that's a little peculiar. The Facebook help page for Charity Donations says that there's a "share" option, so maybe she missed it, or it was a glitch.

From the point of view of a non-profit administrator, I want to know who my donors are. I want to be able to thank them, personally, in our own idiosyncratic style. I want to be able to invite them to things - paid things like performances, but also unpaid things like open class day. I want them to know about us. Yes, some of that can go on our website, or our Facebook page, but special invitations to donors only? That needs to be more controlled than Facebook allows.

I don't think this is going to be a great tool for the non-profit world. But I'm curious - how do you, as individuals, feel about it? Do you like the "make a gift without leaving Facebook" friction-less-ness of the transaction? Do you like the anonymity of it? I'm genuinely interested in your thoughts, so leave a comment, pretty please?

16 December 2013

Perplexing Packaging

It's cold. So, I stopped at the Greenmarket for a hot cider on the way into the office, as I am wont to do. The guy put the cup down in front of me, while I fumbled for some money. And out of the corner of my eye, I read the numbers on the (unsidedown) lid.

today's date on a cup lid

12/16? Why's today's date on the lid? Is it an expiration date for what, the cider?

It took longer than it should have for me to realize that it read 12/16/20 - as in, what size cup in ounces the lid was for. I probably should have been at Starbucks buying coffee.

* * * * * * * * *

Puttering around my kitchen this weekend, I was bemused by the labeling on two household staples.

The bacon was marked as gluten free.

gluten free bacon

The sugar was marked as fat free.

fat-free sugar

Am I especially enlightened in that I already knew that bacon is gluten free and sugar is fat free? Because, frankly, I thought everyone knew that, in which case, WHY ARE THE PACKAGERS TELLING US THINGS WE KNOW?

04 December 2013

When It Rains...

I was sitting around chewing the fat with my father the other day when the subject of "It's Raining Men" came up - why, I can't say. It turns out that he loves that song, and knows all the words, and plays the CD in his car all the time - this, my seventy-eight year old, Fox-watching, conservative father, who voted for Nixon in 1960. I mumbled something about "gay anthem" but he dismissed that notion - "it's sung by some women", he says, "the Weather Girls". Then he tells me that he played it for my even older, even more conservative uncle while they were making Thanksgiving dinner, and that my uncle was "dancing around the kitchen to it like a maniac".

I'd like to say there's hope for us all, what with my father and his brother singing "It's Raining Men", but...

At least they know how to cook.

03 December 2013

Giving Tuesday

I had this idea that I was going to do a Giving Tuesday post about how to read a 990, and why you'd want to, and what you might want to look for, in case you wanted to check out how much net profit your local non-profit hospital was making and what the percentage of contributed income was, but instead, I decided to ask you to support a cause near and dear to my heart.

It's a tuition-free ballet program for New York City public school children. With an on-site public school. And an awful lot of laundry to do, each and every week.

Support Ballet Tech on Crowdrise

The 990 dissertation will have to wait. Just for the record though, Guidestar is a great resource where you can download 990s - which are the non-profit equivalent of an individual's 1040, also known as a tax return - for free.

So, if you're into Giving Tuesday, assuming you survived Black Friday and Cyber Monday, won't you please support Ballet Tech?

28 November 2013

A Cranberry Manifesto

I can't abide cooked, overly sweet cranberry sauce - you might as well put a jar of strawberry jam on the table with your turkey. I have no time for the cranberry sauce that plops out of a can, ridges and all. The raw cranberry orange relish? It's the only kind of cranberry sauce that graces my table. Cold, tangy, a nice biting edge, a good texture, it's the one I grew up on. See? Here's the recipe, in my mother's hand:

See her penciled notes? I can only assume - because I can't ask her - that once upon a time, cranberries came in a one pound bag. She had to adjust the recipe when they got downsized to 12 ounce bags, but you'll note that she dialed the sugar way back, catering to her own not-sweet tooth. It's better that way - brighter, bracing, an anti-dote to the heavy, rich gravy-mashed-stuffing-turkey assemblage on the Thanksgiving plate. It's why I like salad with my turkey - a bitter watercress and endive salad, dressed lightly with my favorite moscatel vinegar and some good olive oil, Sam Sifton be damned. (Also, Sam Sifton has never had Julia's purée de pommes de terre à l'ail or he wouldn't be all NO GARLIC IN THE POTATOES. I like a person with opinions, but I think he's got some funny ideas about Thanksgiving.)

Back to my mother and her cranberry recipe. Nowadays, you'd use a food processor, whirling electro-powered blades. But she says "food chopper". And what I remember is that she used an old-fashioned hand-cranked screw-onto-the-countertop meat grinder to make this, back in the day. If I were making the cranberry sauce, I might be tempted to dig out the meat grinder that attaches to the KitchenAid mixer, just to see, except that our mostly white kitchen would probably look like a crime scene afterwards. But I've no need, because my mother-in-law is bringing the cranberries - happily, she has no truck with the cooked stuff either.

Here's to you, and you, and you too. I'm grateful for all of you.

27 November 2013

The Aesthetics of The Innards

When you're rummaging around in your turkey tomorrow, see if you turn up one of these:

It's cool, isn't it? The farmer/lawyer/blogger we got our turkey from does his own butchering, and waxed rhapsodic about the loveliness of the gizzard.

When opened this way, the gizzard is an object of considerable beauty. The inner sac, with its ridged membrane, resembles a taupe-colored squash blossom. Once removed, the sac leaves behind a ridged slightly yellowy, flower-like impression, which contrasts with the deep red of the surrounding, pleasantly symmetrical muscle. The opened gizzard is as colorful and pleasingly symmetrical as any still-life subject—an opened fig, an oyster, or a skull by Georgia O’Keefe.

Alas, too often a supermarket bird comes without the usual innards: neck, liver, heart, gizzard. Besides being tasty additions to your feast, they're lovely and interesting. The neck reminds you that the chicken or turkey had a head, the neck reminds me that my grandmother always said it was the tastiest meat on the bird. The heart of a big bird? Feed your brain two ways, by poking it through with chopsticks or small fingers to figure out which chamber is which, and then by tossing it in your stock. And contemplate the beauty of the gizzard, and contrast that to its hard work of grinding: strength disguised.

Happy Thanksgiving!

25 November 2013

Gravewalking, Or, Maybe I Am An Inappropriate Parent

The girl's birthday was earlier in the month, and in a fit of madness, we took her and six friends up to my father's house in the Catskills for an overnight. A slumber party, if you will, but two hours away.

The kids had a delightful time - and actually? We did too. We fed three meals to the seven girls, they got back rubs from my father's masseuse (and I got a full-on hot-stone massage), we drove them up the valley (illegally!) in the back of the pick-up truck, they fed carrots to an elderly horse, they collected rocks in the stream, they went in the hot tub, I made them wander around a cemetery, and they had cake for breakfast.

Yeah, a cemetery. It's a small cemetery up the road a piece, old but still conducting burials - someone was planted there this summer, and Trowbridge Milk was born during the American Revolution.

trowbridge milk

I'd wanted to show them the grave I go back to visit at least once a year, the grave of an infant, born and died on the same day in 1857. So we located that grave and I got all didactic about infant mortality and antibiotics and modern medicine, and then they wandered off...


and found another unnamed infant, also born and died on the same day - this time in 1871. Said infant's grave marker included his/her two brothers. The siblings lived long enough to be named, Wesley and Gamaliel, but only lived about three weeks each, in 1874 and 1876. More didacticism. More reflection.

infant wesley and gamaliel

After that, the girls wandered off; they were the ones who found the woman who died in 2013, whose grave was marked with a modern granite stone. I looked at the beautiful, fading marble stones, like Eliza Middaugh's - look at the swooping treatment of her name, and "his wife" in italics, and "born" in boldface type. [Is it "type" if it's carved in stone?]

eliza middaugh

And I looked at the beautiful homely, practical repair on Ron B. Dunham's stone, metal braces unabashedly holding the top of the stone in place - though concealing his death date - sometime in the 1880s, eh?

ron b dunham

I think it's unlikely that any of the girls will remember anything about the weekend beyond the cake and the hot tub, but the cemetery is going to be an indelible part of my memory of my girl's tenth birthday.

w g van v

22 November 2013

Holy Bagumba! or, Small Delights.

It's rainy. And gloomy. But warm. Which is good because apparently it's going to be frigid in a day or so and there might even be SNOW for Thanksgivukkah. And I'm finding charming things left and right.

1) My father's girlfriend sent me an email. This is remarkable because he does not email. Or text. He still loves his fax machine and has no computer or internet access or smart phone. I was oddly delighted to get her email.

2) On the downtown train, when the doors opened at 34th Street, in wafted the dulcet tones of a steel drum playing "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da". I've been humming it happily ever since.

3) I splurged on set of cunning twinkly lights - little light-up lumps on delicate copper wire. I shoved them into an amphora-shaped wedding present vase that lives on the mantel and it pleases me enormously even if it is rushing the season a tiny bit.

4) There's a cheese encyclopedia on line! I was looking up my favorite cheese so I could send a link to someone, and there it was: The Cheese Library. Swoon. I love cheese.

5) I think I'm completely alone in this, but I rather love the deeply subversive and quite demented portrait of the Danish royal family.

6) My sister-in-law sent a book to my daughter for her 10th birthday. It's called Flora and Ulysses, and it's by Kate DiCamillo, and it is completely wonderful. I've been reading it aloud to the girl, and I'm captivated by how nicely the words flow off the tongue. You should put it on your shopping list, assuming you have a 9 to 12 year old who needs a present.

What are you finding charming these days?

14 November 2013

Dirty Little Secret

It snowed the other day. Not a lot, not so much that oh my god we have to shovel the driveway or yes you have to wear snow pants today, but enough. My sister whined on Facebook that she was having snow envy, not having any snow where she was, so I posted a picture to her, captioned "the view from my bed".


Of course she asked me what I was doing in bed. Well, first of all, I wasn't really in bed - I was standing at the window with the phone pushed right up against the glass - though if I'd backed up about eight feet I'd have had my head back on my pillow. Second, moments before I took that picture, I had been in bed, because my dirty little secret is that every morning I get up, go downstairs, eat my breakfast, and drink some coffee. Then, I fill up my coffee cup and head back upstairs "to get dressed". But really? I get back in the still warm bed just for a few minutes and fart around on Facebook or play Words With Friends or delete unnecessary email until oh no, I really need to get dressed and leave right this very minute.

It's gotten worse, too. It used to be that I'd leave for work before the kid had to get to the bus, but now, now that's she's in middle school? She's out of the house about an hour earlier than I am, which means less guilt about all that lounging about.

What I ought to do is take the screens out of the windows. I mean, it's not like it's flying insect season anymore.

little yellow house in the snow

Maybe tomorrow morning.

10 November 2013


Happy birthday to my favorite baby.

How did she get to be ten?

05 November 2013

Leaves...of Absence, of Trees, of Books

Last week, I went to a seminar, a day long thing on human resources issues for non-profit organizations. Because, in addition to being one of the accidental techies in my office, I am also the accidental HR person. And, while most of the time, I'm good with making it up as I go along, sometimes I think I ought to have a bit of practical knowledge.

It was useful enough.

But my absolute favorite moment during the day was an unexpectedly poetic PowerPoint slide title:


Is that not beautiful? All around, the leaves are changing falling crunching swirling, falling swirling crunching changing, and now it is darker earlier earlier, and soon it will be winter. Of course, they were talking about a different sort of leave altogether.

* * * * * * * *

I've been reading a lot. Right now, I'm in the middle of three books, one fiction, two not. As happens, as it always happens, there are odd parallels and coincidences among them.

Though I'd read Tracy Kidder's profile of Paul Farmer in the New Yorker, oh, 13 years ago, I'd never gotten around to Mountains Beyond Mountains. Wow. It's kind of fabulous and now I feel a little bad that Partners in Health went on my bad charities list because they sent me way too much mail. Paul Farmer's administrative partner in Partners in Health is Ophelia Dahl (as in, daughter of Roald, but that's just an interesting aside). And because I am easily amused, I find it funny to be contemporaneously reading Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. There's no real connection between the books, other than the Ophelia, but how often do you run across an Ophelia in your day to day life? The fiction rounding out my current reading is The Poisonwood Bible, and it ties closely back to Mountains Beyond Mountains - it's in the Congo, everyone is poor, lots of people are sick. But it also resonates with Reviving Ophelia, what with those four daughters, growing up.

* * * * * * * *

Books. It comes around. My sister-in-law is helping raise money to buy books for a children's library in Africa, Zambia, to be precise. Clearly, my current reading and her current project have a connection - books, children, Africa. "It is a proven fact that higher levels of literacy are associated with the availability of classroom libraries with a sufficient quantity of books, providing children with the opportunity to read." Won't you help? Melissa set up an Indiegogo campaign, which you can get to by clicking the photo, right there, to the right.

And when you're done, you can have a book for your troubles. My friend Emily wrote an irreverent guide to Disney World called Princess Wishes and Monorail Dreams. She's giving the book away - but asking that people donate to charity in return. So I've got it a little backwards here, by asking you to donate to charity and then go "claim" your copy of her book, but I think we're on the same page in spirit.

* * * * * * * *

Books. Each page is a leaf. Turning leaves, turning pages, and so the circle continues, unbroken.

16 October 2013

Affected by the Hearsay Minions

I've been decidedly out of sorts recently, and no, it's not about the headache - I've recovered from that, although I am dreading the bills. Whatever. It's only money.

Partly I'm feeling a generalized existential dread, and partly I'm just annoyed with so many people around me. But my friend Julie (a crafty American who lives in Denmark) posted something on Facebook the other day which seemed like a perfect call to action.

So, in lieu of actual voodoo dolls and actual pins, I'm going to air my grievances, even though it's not the 23rd of December yet.

1) One of the people running for supervisor in my town posted a "oh how wonderful you are" comment on Facebook, that included "Kudos to you and the minions of special people who helped you." I restrained from public comment, but I did send her a private message:

you maybe didn't want to call [the] book fest helpers "minions" - it has a rather negative connotation:
nonn: minion
plural noun: minions
1. a follower or underling of a powerful person, esp. a servile or unimportant one.
synonyms: henchman, flunky, hanger-on, follower, servant, hireling, vassal, stooge, toady, sycophant

She had the courtesy to thank me for the correction. But does no one know what a minion is, because Despicable Me sowed confusion?

2) Tutoring comes up as an issue in our school system all the time. Sometimes it seems like every single kid in town has a tutor, just because their parents are Strivy McStriverpantsers. I totally understand that there are times when a kid needs to be tutored. But I got in the middle of a Facebook discussion (on a private local page) about tutoring / bad teacher / not enough tutors - where a teacher seems to be so bad that every kid in the class has a tutor. And I gently suggested to one of the school board members, who frequents that group, that she relay the conversation to the superintendent and the rest of the school board. Her response?

It is not a best practice for board members to report a conversations that happen on FB. It becomes here say. If there are issues with a teacher, the best course is to discuss it with a counselor at that particular school. If that does not provide an answer than please make an appointment to speak to the principals.

Multiple errors in her few sentences, but "here say"? That sent me over the edge. I made sure to work "hearsay" into the email I sent off to the superintendent, to which I had a thoroughly unsatisfactory response.

3) The almost ten year old has been learning about landforms in social studies - like archipelago and delta and isthmus and peninsula. And part of the work has been to describe the way in which a particular landform affects the people. But she keeps using "effect" when she should be using "affect". And maybe vice versa. And then I found that another of the teachers on the team (her math teacher, who teaches social studies to a different group) had used "effect" incorrectly in her posted homework:

"Social Studies: Finish first 3 landforms: archipelago, delta, plateau (name, picture, definition, and how it effects the people who live near that landform)"

I queried my Facebook friends, and they were about equally divided as to whether or not I should call the teacher on it. I decided against it, partly because technically the teacher who made the mistake isn't my kid's teacher for that subject. But the kid keeps making the same mistake, and got all defensive and said "my teacher didn't say anything" when I tried to talk it through with her. Now, maybe I'm just being a stickler, but this is annoying the hell out of me, so I did send the actual teacher an email today, putting all the onus on the kid and wondering whether fifth grade was just too young to finesse something as delicate as affect vs. effect.


What's annoying you? Air your grievances. It lets you let them go.


06 October 2013

Weather System

It started in my shoulder, crept up through my neck and settled into my head - a dark cloud encompassing two thirds of my grey matter.

I need an ambulance; no sirens please.

A cop and four other men clattered into the house, and bundled me out. The thing about living in a small town with a volunteer ambulance corps? We knew most of them. The father of one of my girl's classmates held my hand as we bumped down the state road that needs repaving. He assured me that the ride would be bumpy even if the road was as smooth as silk.

In retrospect, it seems crazy, going off to the hospital like that. But one minute I was calmly brushing my teeth, and the next I was hyperventilating from the pain, a headache like none I've ever had before. In short order, I had dilaudid, a CT scan of my head, an MRA of my neck, and a spinal tap. Nothing, nothing and nothing, except for some drug induced loopiness.

Please, take a picture of that sign; I'll know you love me if you do.

I'm still fascinated by that sign. My knowledge of Spanish extends to my (inadequate) ability to read ads on the NYC subway. Why is there only one Spanish word? Vocera = Spokeswoman. Said spokeswoman, the MRI tech, was all alone in the MRI suite. She was as fascinating as the sign: a pale, golden-tressed pre-Raphaelite maiden, consorting with her chirping whirring clanking dæmon.

Sometime in the middle of the night, there was a commotion in the ER: a stabbing victim. They packed him off to another hospital, the county hospital that's equipped for that kind of trauma.

Eventually they sent me home with a script for Fioricet, and instructions to follow up with a neurologist. As the Filipino transporter wheeled me out to the sidewalk, she spoke to the three men waiting in the lobby. He's not here, they sent him to the other hospital, he's not here. No one had told the friends, the ones who brought him in by car, that the stabbing victim had been moved down county. They got up and shuffled off; I went home and went to bed.

I spent most of Monday asleep, having gotten no sleep in the ER. At some point during the day, I emailed the office.

Hi. I believe I've been run over by a truck. But I'm not dead, so there's that. I think maybe you should look into choreographing to the noise of the MRI machine. It wouldn't be for kids though. Too hard to count.

And I found my jewelry on my bedside table.

I dimly recall taking off my jewelry before the MRI but I didn't know that the nurse had handed my husband a little ziploc specimen bag for storage.

I did feel well enough well enough to take a short walk in the late afternoon, and to eat dinner, before heading back to bed at about seven.

Oh my god the pain. I burst into tears at the breakfast table and went back to bed, in too much agony to even drink the coffee with the caffeine that might have, should have, helped. My husband called the neurologist and, happily, got me an appointment shortly after lunch. The neurologist called it a spinal headache, pressure gradiant, and sent me back to the ER, because the pain management doctor had gone home sick.

I emailed a few people.
In the department of things I really didn't want to be doing on a Tuesday afternoon I am back in the ER waiting for the on call anesthesiologist to come and give me a blood patch because I have a spinal headache from the lumbar puncture I had the other day.

I did the worst crossword puzzle I've ever seen.

Clue: full of elms
Answer: ELMY 
Clue: telephone
Answer: TEL

Yes, it wasn't the New York Times.

Two liters of saline (along with dilaudid and toradol) helped enormously; I was able to walk out of the hospital with the spinal headache about 80% abated - and without having the blood patch.

It didn't last. By breakfast, the vertically induced headache was back. But the pain management doctor could see me at 2:00, for a blood patch. A blood patch is bizarre. On the one hand, it seems positively medieval - on the order of leeches and blood letting. On the other hand, miracles of modern technology. An x-ray guided needle is placed in the spine, near where the spinal tap went in. Then, and only then, fresh blood is drawn from a vein in my hand and immediately injected into the spine. A half hour later? The blood clots and seals the hole where the cerebrospinal fluid has been leaking. Magic.

I emailed the office again.
I am home and the blood patch seems to have worked. I am a little loopy and my back is sore but, barring any unpleasantness, I expect to be in the office tomorrow.

It has been a long week.

02 October 2013

The Jungle Books

It's funny, synchronicity. You decide to read a book, and then another falls in your lap, and they're both about the jungle.

If it hadn't been for Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, which I loved, I'd never have heard of the anti-malaria drug Lariam, the side effects of which are a recurring thread through out the book. So I wouldn't have been so fascinated by an op-ed piece in the Times about Lariam, which appeared right after I'd finished the book. And if I hadn't first read State of Wonder, set largely on the Amazon in Brazil, would Ingrid Betancourt's Even Silence Has an End - set in the Colombian jungle - been as interesting? Actually, it's kind of long-winded, and not a little tedious, so much so that I almost ditched it halfway through. I was this close to leaving it in the laundry room/swap shack at our Cape Cod vacation rental, but instead I took it home and finished it. And frankly, I was really moved by the end, even almost a little weepy when Betancourt finally gets rescued from the FARC. More than six years in captivity? Emerging from that largely intact, physically and mentally, is a feat.

But still. What's the likelihood of reading two books about the jungle just coincidentally?

And who was the father of Dr. Swenson's baby anyway?

30 September 2013


The world is complicated, and sometimes things are not as they should be.

Today is the last day of September. Yesterday, we picked apples and pears, we enjoyed the brilliance of the changing leaves, we gloried in a chairlift ride up Hunter Mountain on a perfect fall day.

And I took pictures of some of the flowers around in the yard:

Flowering Quince



Mountain Bluet

Why yes, they aren't supposed to be blooming now, in the fall, on the verge of October. It's supposed to be in the spring that cuckoo-buds of yellow hue do paint the meadows with delight...

But aren't they lovely?

27 September 2013

Let's Review: Baby Bangs

You've probably seen baby girls wearing head garters, you know, elastic bands with a big bow or flower, a sad attempt to disguise the fact that the kid is bald. Those things are bad enough, but it gets worse. You can actually get headbands for babies with hair attached, so your bald baby girl doesn't look bald and, I guess, looks more like a girl.

My kid wasn't exactly bald, but she had a bad greasy comb-over for a while. Still, I never stuck a head garter on her. Yuck! Gross! Ugly! Plus, in some dark anxious corner of my soul, head garters will slip down to the baby's neck and hazard! Strangulation will occur! (And I'm not even a helicopter parent.)

I've never been a girlie-girl, and one of the reasons we kept our child's sex a secret was to minimize the pinkalicious pink pink pink that revealing her to be a girl would have caused. But after she was born, and announced as a girl, the little pink dresses and footies and hats and blankets came rolling in. So, she wore plenty of pink in those early days. It's kind of unavoidable.

One day, when she was about six months old, in those halcyon period when she went to work with me every day, I went out to get a sandwich for lunch. She was wearing a pink sundress and a pink hat and strapped on my chest in the Bjorn. As I was paying for a my sandwich, the guy asked me how old HE was. I said "she's a girl!" and he asked "but where are her earrings?"

A head garter with bangs would not have done the trick.

23 September 2013

Skim The Fetid Scum

I was at the Strand the other day, hoping to find a nice old copy of The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, because I need to read it for the library "Farm to Table" book club, and somehow, I don't already own it. I was a tiny bit disappointed that they only had a newish paperback edition, but I was intrigued by another book on a nearby pile, called A History of Food in 100 Recipes, especially when I flipped to an Egyptian meatball recipe from 1250:

I'm so fascinated by recipes like this. It's so sketchy, and leaves so much to the imagination. And, of course, it assumes that the cook already has the basics down.

Cut the meat into pieces, put in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil while removing the fetid scum. 

What kind of meat? How much? What size pieces?

Next add small meatballs the size of a hazelnut. 

Are these meatballs made from the just cooked meat? Or are they meatballs from some other recipe?

The quantity of broth must be reduced so that when the cooking is done only a residue of light and velvety juice remains. 

Is the broth to be reduced with the meat/meatballs in it? Or is the meat removed, and then the broth is reduced?

In the meantime, take some sour pomegranate juice, sweeten it with rose water syrup, 

How much pomegranate juice? How much rose water syrup?

add some mint leaves and pistachios crushed in the mortar to thicken it, 

How much mint? Fresh or dried? How many pistachios? Are the pistachios crushed alone, or together with the mint?

colour it with a little saffron and season with all the [ingredients of] atraf tib [a mixture of spices including black pepper, cloves and ginger]. 

Again, how much saffron? And, do you add all of these ingredients to the broth and that's it? Or does the broth need to be cooked with the flavorings? Further, if you removed the meat before reducing the broth (and adding the flavorings), when does the meat get returned to the sauce?

Sprinkle with rose water and diluted saffron and serve.

What is the saffron diluted with?

It's tricky, reading old cookery books.

Incidentally, I had always thought that that Alice B. Toklas had included a recipe for pot brownies in her Cook Book. In point of fact, they aren't brownies at all - they're called "Haschich Fudge" - and actually, it's not really fudge, either. For one thing, there's no chocolate. It's more like some kind of middle-Eastern sweet, made from crushed dried fruit, sweet spices, and nuts. And hash.

Somehow, I don't think there's going to be any at the library book club meeting, but wouldn't that be kind of awesome?

20 September 2013

Green Soup, Or What's All This About Yogurt Anyway?

Once upon a time, I talked incessantly about my CSA. We still belong, and I still love it. I love that it challenges us to prepare and cook and eat vegetables that we'd otherwise pass up at the farmers market. I love knowing that our food comes from not too far away, from people who care deeply about their role in making the world a better place. And every year, they try growing things that they'd never grown before. This year, it was tomatillos. And I had no idea what to do with them.

Sure, I could have made a salsa, but something sent me to the cookbooks, and something impelled me to pull Annie Somerville's Fields of Greens off the shelf. And there I found a recipe for the unprepossessing sounding "Green Corn Soup". I had the corn, I had the tomatillos, I had an approximation of most of the other ingredients, and so I set to work.

I suppose I could have fed it to my husband and child, but instead I brought it to work, along with a bunch of cilantro, and a container of plain yogurt, and for three days running I had a glorious, virtuous, delightful soup for lunch. Hot, as a nod to fall, but garnished with fresh cilantro and creamy cold yogurt, because summer's still hanging on, it was just what I needed to be eating.

Speaking of yogurt, what is going on with the yogurt explosion? It used to be that there was yogurt, silky, low fat, not especially dense. You know, just yogurt. And then came the "Greek" yogurts, like Fage (which is now based in Luxembourg) and (moldy yucky Greek-style US made) Chobani. And if you're paying attention, more and more countries are getting into the yogurt game. I've seen Australian yoghurt (note the H spelling) and some Icelandic yogurt ended up in my fridge not long ago. In point of fact, Smari, the "Icelandic" yogurt, is actually made in the United States, from milk from cows from Wisconsin, by bosses in California. Whatev. I like their plain yogurt. It's thick, to be sure, but it stood up to being plopped into a bowl of hot soup. And it has an appealing gaminess about it - it's not a bland, boring yogurt. [I didn't much care for the Smari fruit flavors, but I nearly never buy anything but plain yogurt anyway. You want fruit flavored yogurt? Stir in some jam or a cut up peach.]

Corn and Tomatillo Soup (adapted from Fields of Greens)

1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cobs
3 cups chicken stock
1 pint tomatillos, husked and halved
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
fresh cilantro leaves (for garnish)
yogurt or sour cream (for garnish)

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and corn, and cook until the corn is heated through. Season with salt and pepper, and add 2 cups of chicken stock, cover the pot, and simmer until the corn is tender (about 20 minutes). Add the tomatillos and poblano, and cook until the tomatillos are falling apart tender (5 to 10 minutes). Puree the soup with a blender (a hand blender in the pot would be perfect). Add chicken stock if the soup seems too thin. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve hot, garnished with a handful of fresh cilantro and a blob of yogurt or sour cream.

Makes enough for three lunch sized portions.

Disclosure: The publicist for the Icelandic yogurt had some dropped off at my house. My opinions are my own, and no one paid me to talk yogurt.

13 September 2013

Let's Review: Bamboo

Okay. "The Snugg". What do you think that is? Honestly, the name makes me think it's gonna be one of those blankets with arms, for when you have to be a couch potato. Or maybe some kind of body pillow, if you like to curl around something when you sleep.

Actually, though, it's the brand name for a line of cell phone and tablet covers. And because I was on the verge of upgrading my phone - and therefore was going to be needing a new cover - I said sure, send me a case when the PR rep emailed me. Timing is everything.

I'm actually very fond of bamboo. Unlike hardwood, it's a rapidly-renewable resource. It's got an appealing fine texture, with a plasticity about it that lets it take a good amount of detail. It's multi-purpose - it can be made into flooring, and cutting boards, and even bicycle fenders.

actual bicycle fender on a bike
parked down the street from my office

So, I picked the bamboo case out of The Snugg's line-up. Because face it, there's something delicious in juxtaposing the high tech glassiness of the iPhone with a tactile bamboo jacket.

actual cell phone case (on cell phone) sitting
on one of our bamboo cutting boards

You know what? It's a really nice case. It feels good in the hand, it snaps on pleasingly, the myriad holes are all well-machined. In fact, it's so nice that my husband, the appliance slut, stole it from me. That's actually his phone encased in the bamboo case above.

I've no idea how well it'll hold up, or how protective it is. But it's rather lovely.

And in a pinch, you could probably use it as a cutting board at a picnic.

Disclosure: Yes, I got a free case sent to me by The Snugg people. But my opinions are my own and they didn't pay me to talk about the case.

09 September 2013

A Question Without An Answer

If I write a post in my head, did I write it?

Spectacular getaway.

Were The Millers

Were the Millers the conjuring mortal instruments?

There are many questions.

There are only some answers.

"Okay, Mom, stop putting a downer on my logic."

Maybe I do have all the answers. And when I have more time, perhaps I will write some more posts. Lord knows, they're rattling around in my head all the time.

This is the end.

[It's never the end. Until, well, it is the end, which it isn't. Yet.]

And who the hell are the Millers anyway?

03 September 2013

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

Last week, I dropped off a bunch of board books at the daycare the girl attended from when she was 20 months old until she entered kindergarten.

And today's her first day of middle school (because in our town, for better or for worse, middle school is grades five through eight).

You've come a long way, girlie.

30 August 2013

Let's Review: Way Better

In the department of snacks, I am conflicted. On the one hand, I buy very little junk food. On the other hand, sometimes you just need a bag of Cheez Doodles. In my family, what you do is serve the Cheez Doodles in a blue enamel-ware bowl - just visualize those orange worms in a cobalt blue bowl - and call them Nassau County Snacks. Actually, you could say they were an homage to the Mets or the Knicks, but we were from Nassau County, and the county colors were blue and orange, and so...Nassau County Snacks. They must be the original Cheez Doodles. It must be an enamel-ware bowl.

I digress. The point is, I am not holier-than-thou, and I do eat chips (and Doodles) from time to time. But because I am conflicted, I was totally susceptible when a PR rep offered me the chance to try some "Way Better" chips.

Honestly? They're really tasty. They say they're laced with sprouted seeds, and while I'm not sure that I cotton to the idea that "sprouting provides increased vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, digestibility and nutrient absorption", who cares? They taste GOOD.

Besides, an ounce of Cheez Doodles has 150 calories and no dietary fiber, whereas the Way Better Simply Sunny Multigrain chips have 130 calories and 3 grams of fiber per ounce. Also, Cheez Doodles have MSG, several different artificial colors and so-called natural flavors. The Way Better chips have nothing unpronounceable - just corn, oil, salt and a mess of sprouted seeds.

Are they health food? No. Are they better for you than Cheez Doodles? Probably. Are they any good? Yes, actually, they are.

But they aren't ever going to take the place of Nassau County Snacks.

Disclosure: the chips were free, but no one paid me to talk about them.

28 August 2013

Let's Review: All Of The Things

What kind of a blog do I have? I wouldn't really call this blog a review blog. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to come up with an "elevator speech" for it, because really all I do here is ramble on about whatever detritus is rattling around in my head, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Okay, then, it's a personal blog.

Somehow, though, I've ended up on any number of PR lists - either because I've stuck it out here since 2006, or because I've been to BlogHer, um, five times. I trash most of the pitches instantly (though I sometimes daydream about eviscerating the really heinous, useless, misguided products). But once in a while I get offered something that interests me for one reason or another, and within the week, a box lands on the doorstep.

Ooh, what is it this time?

It's a conundrum though. I - by the very fiber of my being - must be honest in my opinions. So, when something turns up that sounds good on paper but turns out to be not to my taste, what do I do? I can choose not to review it. But an absence of critical attention to a product is almost tantamount to an endorsement.

I remember, years ago, having an argument with someone about the Nielsen ratings. It was back in the day when I lived in a tiny apartment, and had a tiny TV with rabbit ears, and once in a blue moon I'd watch David Letterman, through the snow. TV wasn't something I did, or do - it's just not a part of my life. But, I came home one day and found the Nielsen booklet in my mailbox, along with a crisp dollar bill. And when it came time to mail that booklet back, I found that in fact I'd never turned on the TV that week. So I sent it back blank. My co-worker, with whom I then argued, thought it was wrong of me to have returned the booklet, since I hadn't watched anything. But watching nothing is as valid a response as watching everything. Yes?

Not too long ago, a PR firm sent me a sample of some cookies. I wanted to like them: the brand makes other really good cookies, and they contained no untoward ingredients*. But I didn't like them, so I sent an email back to the representative, explaining why I wouldn't write about them on my blog:

1. The package is either too small or too big. It's too big for a lunchbox - in fact, it says the container has four servings in it. Better if it were a single serving container. Better still would be a big box, to pull a snack-sized handful out to be repacked into a ziploc.

2. I love love love (redacted), and I like lots of oatmeal cookies. I didn't really like these - I found them too sweet, rather bland, and under salted.

Should I name names? Just because I think the cookies were kind of boring, and in an idiotically sized package, doesn't mean that you'd agree with me. If I name them, they're getting free publicity (well, free but for the box of cookies they sent me). Don't forget what Oscar Wilde said: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

My local newspaper is the New York Times. In the arts departments, they review dance, musicals, books, movies. Sometimes they rave about something, sometimes they pan, sometimes a review is mixed - the point being that they don't hold their punches. Honest criticism. I may not always agree with them, but I appreciate that not everything will be said to smell like a rose.

What to do, what to do? It's easy to review things that you love. It's fun to review things that you hate. It's good to review things, because it engages your critical faculties. Besides, if you want the world to be a better place, you need to speak the truth. Let's review all the things.

No, I'm not turning this into a review blog. No way, no how. But I think I'll make "Let's Review" into a more regular feature. Anything you want an opinion on?

* Wheat flour, butter (22%), wholegrain oats (22%), sugar, golden syrup (partially inverted sugar syrup), raising agents (sodium bicarbonate, disodium diphosphate), skimmed milk powder, salt.

24 August 2013

The Idiosyncratic Librarian

Because we had the inside of the house painted, and many things had to be packed and moved and unpacked, I have been fondling my books, as one does. There's a stack to go to the daycare the girl attended, another for the library book sale (which isn't until June). There's a stack for my brother's little kids, and a box of children's books that I am constitutionally incapable of parting with. And as I shuffle, I reshelve. In some other lifetime, I may have been a librarian.

A couple of my Edward Gorey books had wandered off from their special shelf, and I decided to alphabetize them, though I had to leave out The Lavender Leotard (because it's staple bound, and has no spine to show.

Also, The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, which immediately precedes The Lavender Leotard, actually is a one volume edition of The Toastrack Enigma, The Blancmange Tragedy and The Postcard Mystery. I think it's okay that I filed it under Legacy.

What? You don't file books by noun? Where is your imagination?

Though I read them from time to time, I usually find books of collected letters to be rather tedious. But a couple of years ago, Pomegranate published a beautiful book of letters between Edward Gorey and a guy named Peter Neumeyer, called Floating Worlds. Gorey and Neumeyer had collaborated on a handful of little books for children, Neumeyer writing and Gorey illustrating. [Hmm, I have a copy of their Donald and the... - I need to find it and properly shelve it.]

Anyway, Floating Worlds is a delightful book: beautifully designed and full of reproductions of Gorey's envelopes to Neumeyer. Oh to have been his correspondent! He talks of going to the ballet, he's torn between life on Cape Cod and life in New York City. But I think I was completely won over and perhaps a little undone when I came to the letter in which Gorey makes a David Eyre's pancake, and includes the recipe. His addendum to the recipe is just perfect:

It is presumably Craig Claiborne who advises that one serve this while listening to Benjamin Britton's Ceremony of Carols.

And there you have it - my childhood writ small. George Balanchine, Benjamin Britten, Craig Claiborne, David Eyre and Edward Gorey.

No wonder I alphabetize by noun.

21 August 2013

Annals of Construction

Text from husband:

"Day began with Clover sheet rocked into hole in kitchen ceiling. (The 9yo) saw it and was understandably FREAKED THE FUCK OUT. Good thing we stopped there before going to horse camp. Otherwise the cat would have been taped and spackled too."

Yes, we have been living amid chaos this summer. Someday, all of the work will be done. Someday.

Happily, both cats are accounted for and all holes in walls and ceilings have been closed up.

But I will be happy when there aren't construction workers trekking through the house before I've had that all important first cup of coffee, and when I can start putting the garden to rights again.

19 August 2013

Simple Joys Of Work

I got a new stapler! It is chrome, and is heavy enough to be a weapon. My Chinese mermaid fairy likes it very much.

Also, a box arrived in the mail, from Taiwan.

Boxes from Taiwan are all well and good, but according to the customs form, this one contained wedding cake.

I was a little skeptical, but in fact, there really was cake inside, special Taiwanese wedding cake.

It got eaten before I could take its picture, but truly, there was cake in that sweet pink box.

Do you have any small joys to share?

14 August 2013

Exit Through The Gift Shop

It wasn’t my idea. In fact, it never would have been my idea. But my sister proposed it, and when I figured out that JetBlue flies non-stop to Orlando out of the micro-airport that’s 10 minutes from my house, I signed on.

I packed a bag, on the sly, and loaded it into the obscured way-back of the car. My husband announced that we had errands to run, a light fixture to return, groceries to buy and we piled into the car before 10 on Saturday morning.

hp car

It wasn’t until we’d stopped in front of the terminal that she looked up and said “where are we going?” I merrily refused to tell her, and led her into the airport, and up to the observation deck. She kept asking, and I kept grinning, until I suggested that she open her backpack and try to guess. Out came her wand and Gryffindor t-shirt: “we’re going to a Harry Potter convention?!?”


Well, not exactly, but close enough: we went to what I like to call Harry Potter Land, that theme park formally known as Universal Orlando. Three nights and two days, many roller coasters and countless foot-miles. Me and my sister, and our four children. Some tears, a lot of screaming, plenty of laughter and nothing but mediocre food. Still. It was fun, and exhausting, and butterbeer was had, and I never have to do it again.


My child, my nine year old child, turns out to be a thrill-seeker, speed demon. After whimpering in my lap “I want to go on it, but I’m afraid of the corkscrew”, she gathered up her courage and climbed on the “Rip Ride Rockit”. Midway down the first drop, she screamed “I LOVE THIS RIDE”.

Travel is good. Travel takes you out of your routine, into a world that’s not your own. And even though a theme park in Florida isn’t exactly a visit to an Etruscan ruin or a trip to Paris, it has a certain something. At one point, I found myself sitting on a park bench in the shade, waiting for the others, facing a New York City street facade. Oh, that’s what the movie people think is the distillation of New York?


Is it always winter at Hogwarts?

harry potter land

And how can it be winter if there are palm trees right over here?


The last two books I read were about travel. One was “Heads In Beds”, a snarky delicious horrifying look at hotels, from the point of view of a front desk manager. Believe me when I tell you that it spurred me to tip more generously than I’ve ever tipped in the past, and to examine – very carefully – the water glass in the bathroom. The other was “A Week at the Airport”, a contemplative meditation of that liminal space where people come and go and never stay. The airport isn’t your destination, it’s not your home, it’s but a way station – unless, of course, you work there. I will sit on that bench and watch the people come and go, until it’s my turn to get up and go, and while there, I’ll entertain a certain curiosity about the inner workings of the airport and all that needs doing to get us from here to there.


Travel with a child is altogether eye-opening. The first words out of the girl’s mouth, even before we got to the hotel’s registration desk, were “can we live here?” Was it the high ceilings, the men in pith helmets, the burbling fountain in the lobby? Was it the huge pool, with the noodles and beach balls and poolside drink service? Was it the amusement park a water taxi away?

mir on dumbo

It’s also thoroughly frustrating. Healthy food options? Not so much. Why yes, I am the mean mama who orders the side salad instead of fries with those chicken fingers. Nearly every ride exits through the gift shop. How many times did I say no? How many times did she ask me to buy her something? No. No no no no no. No. Okay. I did have to buy her a new bathing suit because the one I packed turned out to have desiccated, crunchy elastic. She was out of luck on underwear though - I somehow completely forgot to pack any for her, so she was forced to borrow a pair from her cousin while I washed hers in the bathroom sink. If the hotel boutique had had underwear for purchase, I would have bought some in a heartbeat.

We flew back to real life, spotting near-home landmarks from the air: the high school, her elementary school, the bike path/rail trail bridge across the reservoir. Daddy met us at the airport, and we were home, home again. And even though I didn’t buy her everything she asked for, like the iPad mini in a Best Buy vending machine in the Orlando airport, I think she had a splendid time.