26 April 2013

An Explanation Of My Absence

Busy busy busy.

Reading a 962 page library book.

Busy busy busy.

Running for the library board.

Busy busy busy.

Discovering rot underneath the failed stucco while the house is being worked on.

Busy busy busy.


Busy busy busy.

Having a much-needed and totally fun party to show off the WiiU and drink wine with friends on a Saturday night. (Thanks, Nintendo!)

Busy busy busy.

18 April 2013

12 April 2013

Good Wives

If you want to get my dander up, all you have to do is buy a package of puff paste and stick it in my freezer.

I mean, not that I have anything against puff paste - other than I think it's often used as a misguided replacement for pie crust and is better suited to palmiers and vol-au-vents - but um, Good Wives? What the hell is a good wife?

Good: a general term of approval or commendation, meaning "as it should be" or "better than average"

Wife: 1) a woman, 2) a married woman; specif., a woman in her relationship to her husband

I am certainly a better than average woman, but if the puff paste in my freezer is called Good Wives, is that not attempting to replace me? Is that not suggesting that I am not a better than average woman?

Not content with spewing venom at my good husband, I looked up the brand on the intertubes:

In 1979, the two wives who started making these hors d’oeuvres in their homes thought the name "Good Wives" would be appropriate and fun. "Good Wife" was a term applied to a married Puritan woman, implying industry and integrity.

Okay. Puritans. Gauntlet thrown.

Goodwife: a wife or a mistress of a household" or "a title equivalent to Mrs., applied to a woman ranking below a lady

Not content with a mere definition, I moved on to what turned out to be a great book, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Good Wives (Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650 - 1750). Why yes, a scholarly tome about Puritans, but accessible and fascinating. From the preface: "To write about good wives is to write about ideals; to write about goodwives is to write about ordinary women living in a particular place and time."

You know what? Those women had it hard. Housekeeping was arduous, childbearing was dangerous, church going was de rigueur.  "A married woman in early New England was simultaneously a housewife, a deputy husband, a consort, a mother, a mistress, a neighbor, and a Christian. On the war-torn frontier, she might also become a heroine". She was powerful, she was burdened. If her ordinary honorific was Goodwife, so be it, and the more power to her.

So I've simmered down, and I'm no longer offended by the poor innocent puff paste. But it took a couple of hundred pages for me to get there.

NOTE: All definitions in italics are from the Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, ©1970

08 April 2013

Chicken Legs and Iron Pestles

I can't put a finger on why I love this image so. Is it the chicken feet? The magical triangles emanating from her fingertips? The bird on her head (which I like to think is a magpie)? Was I Lithuanian in another life?

It's a Lithuanian man-eating wood nymph, says Rima, but I can't help but think of Baba Yaga - she who flies around in a mortar and pestle and lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs. I always loved that story - but Baba Yaga isn't Lithuanian. Granted, in the case of Baba Yaga, it's her house that has the chicken legs, not the lady herself.

Come to think of it, the moving castle in my favorite Miyazaki movie also moves on chicken legs. So maybe it's just that I have a great affection for chicken legs, chicken feet? I know I always want to take a picture when I spot a tray of them in the Asian grocery store.


In my kitchen, I have my mother's mortar & pestle. Where she got it, I don't know - maybe family, maybe a flea market. But it's cast iron, with shapely mortar well suited to the hand, and a barbell-shaped double-ended pestle. Grinding spices in it sets up an industrial musical hum, and I think of Baba Yaga beating her pestle against her mortar - "fly faster!" she says, "we've children to eat!"

Rima's wood nymph, Howl's moving castle, my little mortar & pestle - disparate notions, yet so oddly interconnected. My mind is a weird place.

05 April 2013

Dawn to Dusk

An imaginary friend. Cancer. Death.

Sweet & caring, Dawn was. I never met her. I knew her via Twitter, Facebook, blogging, email - all those ephemeral vehicles, except that they aren't, they're real, my imaginary friend was real. And now she's gone, too young, too soon. I'm sorry I never met her.

These moments, such deaths, they demand something - or they feel like they demand something from me, anyway. Why? What?

Say it with me now: Fuck Cancer.

02 April 2013

The Things We Have Around Us

I just finished reading The Hare with Amber Eyes - a fascinating, hard to describe book. It starts in the late 1900s, and meanders from Paris to Vienna to Japan, and ends in the present day. Along the way, it follows a collection of netsuke and tells tales of the family that owns them, and how they've passed from generation to generation, and the attendant political and social history.

The author, who is the current day family member with whom the netsuke presently reside, is also a potter, a creator, a maker of objects.

How objects are handed on is all about story-telling. I am giving you this because I love you. Or because it was given to me. Because I bought it somewhere special. Because you will care for it. Because it will complicate your life. Because it will make someone else envious. There is no easy story in legacy. What is remembered and what is forgotten? (p. 17)
Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost. People have always given gifts. It is how you tell their stories that matters. (p. 348)

I sit here writing at the desk that was my mother's, and before that, in my father's family. It's an Eastlake cylinder front desk, with burled insets, and a glass-fronted bookcase on top, and a cornice atop that which is missing its finials - and it dates to around the time in which The Hare with Amber Eyes begins. How do I tell its story? What are the important parts? When was it built? Who was the first owner? Who else has sat in front of it, tucked notes in its cubbyholes, fiddled with its hardware?

Tucked in one of its little drawers is a scrap of paper ripped out of a shelter magazine. Once upon a time, before Antiques Roadshow, you could send in a picture of your antique what-have-you and get an expert opinion on its provenance. Someone, not my mother, because it isn't this desk, had asked about a similar desk; my mother, pre-Evernote, clipped the column as an aide-mémoire, and tucked it in its twin.

I don't know who bought this desk, but it's likely - given its age - that it was my great-grandfather. At the time that my grandfather was born, in 1900, the family was living in a white, shingled farmhouse. My grandfather went to college, got married, moved to a small house in the same town, and later - after his father died in 1933 - moved back into that family house with his wife and older children. At some point, the Eastlake desk was moved into storage in the garage attic. Before my great-grandfather died? After? Later, after my parents were married, and after they'd become homeowners in the early 1960s, my mother - in need of things with which to furnish their house - discovered the desk and convinced my father and his brothers to lower it down from the attic by block and tackle. She refinished it, and it stood in the dining room of their first house, and in the front living room of the house they moved to in 1972.

In 2012, the desk arrived in my living room. Gently, and with the great understanding that we were making an irreversible alteration, my husband drilled several small holes in the back - allowing me to snake a power cord and ethernet cable through onto the desk surface. Built around 1870, it suits my 1920 house and 2013 connectivity, still relevant these many years later.

I tell its story, because it will go on.

As I was reading The Hare with Amber Eyes, I found myself thinking that it was a peculiarly idiosyncratic book, one that wasn't right for everyone - though two different people had recommended it to me, both rather out of the blue. Oddly, though, since I've finished it, I've urged it on a surprising number of people: friends, co-workers, imaginary friends, and family. Maybe it's because it has something for everyone: a little art history, Jews in Vienna in WWII, lovely writing, expats in Tokyo, supple charm, aristocratic bankers in Paris, a family tree. I hope you'll read it too.

01 April 2013

Pill Pushers

Like lots of people, I spend a good deal of time scratching my head about health care costs. I'm particularly sensitive on a personal level, because the health insurance that I have has a very high deductible - $10,000 a year for me and my daughter. We get a handful of things "for nothing", that is, outside of the deductible - like well visits, flu shots and mammograms - but we pay the "contracted" rate for everything else. That's things like sonograms, sick visits, lab work, prescriptions, casts, colonoscopies and all those other things one might need.

I recently had to refill two prescriptions for maintenance medications. I usually just get them at CVS, but I thought I'd check out the mail order website offered by the insurance company. Back in the day when I had an insurance plan with co-pays, you could get mail order drugs for less. One co-pay would get you 30 days at a retail drugstore, but two co-pays (double, that is) would get you 90 days worth of meds by mail order. Since there was a decent savings, it was worth the hassle of doing it by mail order.

Alas - it's not like that anymore, at least not through my insurance. While the pricing on the brand name versions of the two drugs was more or less comparable between retail and mail order, with mail order coming in slightly lower on the price per pill, I was a bit dumbfounded to find that the generic versions of the mail order drugs weren't less, they were actually A LOT more.

SourceQuantityPatient’s CostCost Per Day
DRUG AMail-order pharmacy90$58.94 $0.65
GenericRetail31$9.22 $0.30
DRUG AMail-order pharmacy90$400.49 $4.45
Brand NameRetail31$151.31 $4.88
DRUG BMail-order pharmacy90$101.85 $1.13
GenericRetail31$2.52 $0.08
DRUG BMail-order pharmacy90$474.12 $5.27
Brand NameRetail31$178.90 $5.77

In fact, it's so much more that I can't see how anyone would actually want to buy their (generic) drugs that way. Besides, even though CVS isn't exactly a local company, buying my drugs at the CVS that's down the road apiece keeps some of my money local, in the form of employee salaries and rent paid.

What is going on here?