15 October 2017

The Health Insurance / Care Morass

A several weeks old issue of the New Yorker has been sitting on my desk, folded open to a page from an essay by Atul Gawande titled Is Health Care A Right? because I keep re-reading one paragraph:

The reason [that health care is so broken] goes back to a seemingly innocuous decision made during the Second World War, when a huge part of the workforce was sent off to fight. To keep labor costs from skyrocketing, the Roosevelt Administration imposed a wage freeze. Employers and unions wanted some flexibility, in order to attract desired employees, so the Administration permitted increases in health-insurance benefits, and made them tax-exempt. It didn’t seem a big thing. But, ever since, we’ve been trying to figure out how to cover the vast portion of the country that doesn’t have employer-provided health insurance: low-wage workers, children, retirees, the unemployed, small-business owners, the self-employed, the disabled. We’ve had to stitch together different rules and systems for each of these categories, and the result is an unholy, expensive mess that leaves millions unprotected.

Employer-provided health insurance is the problem.

If you have employer-provided insurance, do you know what the premium is? Not the premium you pay, that gets deducted from your check, but the underlying premium that often an employer splits with you. Or doesn't. My employer pays 100% of the premium for the individual employee - but if the employee has a spouse and/or children to add onto the plan, the employee pays that difference. That's a good chunk of change.

Right now our rates are:

Each employee gets the same benefit from the organization - an untaxed benefit of almost $700 per month.

What if it were different, and the organization paid 80% of the premium no matter what spouse/children were covered? The rates would look like this:

In this iteration, the single employee pays something, and the employee with any dependents pays a lot less than in the first version. On the other hand, the employer pays a lot more for an employee with a family.

[I lay these numbers out, because it seems to me that a lot of people don't realize that the $xx per pay period that's coming out of their paycheck is not 100% of the premium.]

Which is fair?  Consider it this way. If your employer coughs up $1600 a month for an employee with a whole family on the plan, isn't that shorting the single employee for whom the employer is only paying $560? Would it be fair for an employer chose to hire the single employee over the married with children one, because the cost to the employer is lower? Of course not - and it's probably discriminatory.

I don't know what the solution is, but I firmly believe that health insurance ought to be severed from employment. You're a person, your kid is a person, your mother is a person - all of the people should be provided for. How that happens, I don't know. But the patchwork we've got going on - where some people are on Medicare, and others covered by employers, and others elsewhere - is not cutting it.

Consider this: when you are on Medicare, Medicare is only covering you. Not you and your spouse, and certainly not you and your children. Just you. Your spouse has his/her own plan. Doesn't that make more sense? Each person on their own plan - a baseline provided by the government and the choice to buy-up via a wraparound plan. Each to his own.

How do we get there?

13 October 2017

Jeans, Genes, Jean

Yesterday's New York Times crossword was all about the homophones, but jeans/genes wasn't in it.

Jeans
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an ordinary woman in possession of a need for new jeans must be in want of a pair that fit.

And yet, it seems impossible.

I ordered several pairs online – different styles, same size. I decided one pair was okay. I wore them a couple of times, and they stretched out in the waist so much that they started falling down. I could take them off without unbuttoning and unzipping. Hiking up your pants every few minutes is not conducive to living one’s life. I got out the big shears and the sewing machine and took a triangle out of the center back and put it back together like Frankenstein. That worked…for a while. I don’t know, they stretched out again? The thing is, they fit through the hips and thighs, but the waist is too big.

In desperation the other day, I reached around and gathered up another fold, marched over to my husband with a binder clip, took the pants off, and crudely hand-stitched the pleat with black button thread. I have never been so happy with a crude repair as this has made me.

jeans, repaired


But I would rather have a pair that fit without alteration. So – if you have any suggestions about where to find a pair of jeans that have an actual waist, I would be delighted to hear them.

Genes
Every so often, I get the genealogy bug. It’s been in the back of my mind that I’d like to go to Europe and visit the German island that my maternal grandfather’s family was from. He was born in the US, not long after his parents moved here from Föhr. Down the rabbit hole I went, and I was thrilled to find my grandfather’s paternal grandparents on Find-A-Grave! They're buried in the Friedhof Nieblum auf Föhr cemetery.

I haven’t found his maternal grandparents yet, but the internet is a deep and wide place, and Föhr is a small island.

Jean
My aunt Jean died recently, at the age of 96. She was a total pip – tap dancer, showgirl, puppeteer – and a delight.

When she was 89, she gave my sister a tiny little tap dance lesson. (She didn’t try and teach me, because she didn’t have any shoes that fit me.)



Here's to tap dancing in jeans.

22 September 2017

And Cancer Sucks

I confess that I wrote yesterday's post a week ago, scheduling it to run yesterday because yesterday would have been my mother's birthday.

But on Tuesday - two days before Moky's birthday - I learned that an old friend had died. She had had lung cancer for years - almost a chronic condition. She was in good shape, making plans to travel to Europe, volunteering as an archivist, doing what she did. And Monday morning, she woke up and had trouble breathing and called 911 and died.

She's the one that told me about Lungevity when my sister was diagnosed and was looking for support. She contributed to my Lungevity walk-a-thon with a donation a couple of weeks ago. She'd never smoked.

I am just shattered.

Lung cancer sucks.


Arlene, I miss you.

21 September 2017

Birthdays Are Hard

A couple of weeks ago, my sister gave me a bag of ephemera: my baby book, a box of our grandfather's letters & schoolwork in German, a folder of congratulations on the 1925 birth of a baby girl whose mother once upon a time lived across the street from my mother, and an envelope of photos. This here picture is my mother, in about 1995, with my cat Yoyo. I think it was taken in the crazy days leading up to my wedding, because it was in with some outtakes from that event.

Today would have been my mother's 82nd birthday, but that she hadn't died 8+ years ago, of lung cancer.

In her memory, and because cancer sucks, and because my sister has lung cancer, I'm doing something I have never ever ever done before: I'm participating in a walk-a-thon, raising money for Lungevity.


If you know someone who has had, or who has, or who has died from lung cancer - and you surely do - please help. Lungevity funds scientific research, educates on early detection, provides patient support - helping "people live better with lung cancer and dramatically improve on the current 18% five-year survival rate", and they have a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.



Click the Donate button above, or use this link: https://lungevity.donordrive.com/participant/36990

When you've done that, treat yourself to a popsicle. Red. In memory of Moky.

And thank you.

01 September 2017

The Stories I See

My commute to NYC is not short, but it affords me the luxury of time to read. I read the inky, unwieldy Times, I read books from the library. I read long form articles that I print on the backs of discarded spreadsheets and copy drafts, because I digest paper words better than digital. I do the crossword, easily on Monday and sometimes with glee on Friday (though I occasionally cheat and check cranky Rex, justifying it as a learning tool - cheating today will mean more chance of success tomorrow.)

Today, I pulled a paperback out of my bag - not a library book, but something I'd bought at a warm and funky independent bookstore in Saugerties. Because it's mine, I felt no compunction about marking a phrase that jumped off the page at me:


"It was interesting to consider ... that a story might merely be a series of events we believe ourselves to be involved in, but on which we have absolutely no influence at all."


The subway pulled into 14th street. On the platform, I could see a 20-something couple, lips locked in a theatrical embrace, one of her feet in the air. They stood rock still, like they were posing, and as I exited the train, I looked for their photographer. But there was only me to record the scene.

Later, as I walked up Broadway, I mentally dress-coded a young woman 10 feet ahead of me. Tight black knee-high boots, black t-shirt, and tailored plaid short-shorts, her butt cheeks were visible at every step. Between us, an older woman in jeans delicately reached back and traced the arced outline of her own butt cheek. I wondered - was her action a subconscious reaction to Plaid Shorts? Or merely an itch?

The passage above, from Outline, came from a bit where the novelist/narrator is teaching a class in creative writing, and has asked her students to "tell me something they had noticed on their way here".

Reading begets noticing; noticing begets writing. I stand outside myself, etching stories into my head, speaking them softly into my phone, involved yet not at all.

When Plaid Shorts turned into my office building and got on the elevator with me, I refrained from commenting on her attire. Because her story is hers to tell and my place was not to interfere.

And yet I am involved.

14 August 2017

Today, I'm Robin

Since yesterday, I've been mulling the pledge I made to donate $24 to a good cause. At first I thought about funding a bit of a classroom project, given that the whole thing came up because of back-to-school shopping.

But Charlottesville has been on my mind. And so, with the help of a Medium post by Sara Benincasa, titled "What to Do About Charlottesville", I sent my little donation to Great Expectations, a project where foster kids in Virginia get help navigating out of the foster system into adulthood, through programs at Virginia community colleges.

The current overt burbling up of the alt-right, of racists, fascists, Nazis, Klansmen, is deeply disturbing. And yet, as a middle-aged white woman in a liberal NYC suburb, what do I do? Benincasa makes an apposite point:

I believe in the Superhero Sidekick theory of helping, which is to say that if you’re trying to ally yourself with the interests of an oppressed group of which you are not a part, you pull a Robin, not a Batman. You’re not the star of the show, so you don’t direct the mission. You listen, you learn, you assist. You definitely don’t lounge around and wait for the superhero to do all the work and then take all the credit. You also don’t throw up your hands and wail, “WHAT WILL WE EVER DOOOOOOO? THIS IS HOPELESS!” when Batman is right there going, “Um, Robin? There’s like ten things you could do today that would help everybody out. You listening?”

So, here's how I did my Robin part today:

  1. Little gift to Great Expectations
  2. Repost/amplification of Benincasa's "What To Do" piece
How did you do your Robin part?

13 August 2017

Back to school shopping, and how I regained my will to live

The child has been begging to go shopping. Yes, she needed new sneakers. Yes, she needed new bras. Yes, she needed new jeans. Yes, she starts high school and wanted a “first day of school outfit” and I caved in because sometimes I am nice (although I did think about invoking Thoreau's beware of all enterprises that require new clothes except that I thought she might take that to mean that high school was optional or something).

So, it was time to go to the mall. There are several malls not too far from us, but to hit all the stores one wants to hit, one needs to go to two different malls, and pay for parking at each, and paying for parking GALLS ME.

I elected to go to a farther away mall because 1) free parking and 2) everything under one roof and 3) a less crowded Trader Joe’s on the way home.

She got sneakers. We went into both Sephora and Ulta and walked out with only one hair clip, for me. We were sweet-talked by a cute young not-our-camp Spanish guy with terrific glasses, who was shilling expensive beauty products out of a kiosk; we bought nothing (hello $99 jar of goop), but he was amusing. We both got bra-fitted, at Soma, where they have wireless bras. She got an overall dress, and a sweater, and two pairs of jeans, and a tiny backpack.

And in Aeropostale, we were on line to pay for two cheap t-shirts, when the customer ahead of us at the register called to us: “I’ll pay for those shirts. I have $24 of credit that is just going away unless I spend it right now.” She had a pile of merchandise and some complicated return deal and was DONE WITH shopping. So my girl’s two shirts went into mall lady's pile, but she needed another few dollars worth of merchandise so another t-shirt and then a $4 tank top went in, and the whole total came to 63¢ due. I paid it, meaning that for 63¢, the girl got four new shirts. I told the other woman that I’d been on the verge of losing my will to live because 3 hours in the mall and that she had restored my gumption.


Today, in honor of mall lady, I’m going to donate $24 to a good cause.

But I'm not setting foot in another mall for at least a year, and the girl knows that.

11 August 2017

Do cats eat bats?

​At 12:15, I drifted from sleep into consciousness and noticed that a light was on - the girl was in the bathroom. I sleepily muttered "go back to bed" and with that, she let out a blood-curdling scream. "BAT, BAT, there's a bat!"

There is a little closet off the bathroom - a closet that's really a part of the crawl space that runs under the dormers on the front of the house. And while she was sitting on the toilet, a bat had slipped out from under the closet door.


And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, 'Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?' and sometimes, 'Do bats eat cats?' for, you see, as she couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way she put it.


My husband scrambled out of bed in a haze, I grabbed the hysterical child, the cats fled, and we pondered what to do about the bat careening around the upstairs of our little house. The girl offered to find her tennis racket, except that she would have had to cross the dangerous hallway with the frantic bat. I thought about calling the police, and eventually my husband towel-snapped it to stun it. He gathered it up loosely in the towel, and took it downstairs and outside; it flew away, apparently unharmed.

Far too much drama for the middle of the night, but no one got carted off in an ambulance.

01 August 2017

Take The Girl To Work Day


Once upon a time, the girl child went to work with me every day.


Nowadays, she only comes on special occasions; later we are going to see a show together, and she opted to spend the day with me (instead of hanging out at home and taking the train in). (Really, she was hoping I would cave and take her to , which um, no, it's a workday, and besides, I can make cookie dough perfectly well at home and there's no standing on line there.)

One thing led to another, and BOOM. Causing a traffic jam yet again.

22 May 2017

Splatter Painting In New York

I go days without thinking of my mother. But the spring, with all of the outdoor plant activity? That makes me think of her. Yes, those were her irises, her hosta. Her double-file viburnum bloomed with abandon this year.

And then sometimes I'll be at someone's house and the blue spatterware bowl reminds me of her, or I'll want to share the witty/goofy sets and costumes that enliven the ABT production of Whipped Cream (which I got to see at a dress rehearsal last week), or I'll turn over an index card and there'll be her handwriting, correcting someone's address.

Yesterday, I was sitting around drinking coffee and reading the Times, and it was one of those Sundays with an extra Times magazine, perfect bound and 90% ads. But I flipped through because you never know and there was a story about splatter-painted floors.


The Times made it sound like splatter-painted floors are a thing only ever found in "no-nonsense summer bungalows in Massachusetts." My mother would have begged to differ. Hell, I beg to differ. The first house I remember - the one we lived in from when I was 3 to when I was 11 - was a little suburban house on Long Island, probably built in the 1920s. My parents had no money, but my mother was crafty. She did all of the painting in the house, she made curtains, she even made a hooked rag rug for the hall runner. And when she painted my brother's room, she painted the floor white, and spattered it with red, yellow, blue and black. A splatter-painted floor, not in Massachusetts.

She'd have had something to say about the Times article, I tell you.

16 April 2017

Easter Shenanigans

2015
Last night around 11 [that is, Saturday night], I was feeling disinclined to just leave the girl's Easter basket on the kitchen table. So I hid it in the car and made a treasure hunt. Clues in shoes and coats and drawers. A clue in the fireplace, another in the washing machine. One in the ice cube tray, one in the cat bed. I am feeling very Mother of the Year today. And I'm the only one who knows where the rest of the Cadbury mini eggs are.

2016
Sometime during the Saturday before Easter, the girl asked me if I was going to do another Easter treasure hunt. Gauntlet thrown, I did - again, at the very last minute, distributing some of the outdoor eggs in my nightgown in the morning.

2017
I am ON IT. Weeks ago, anticipating that she would again want a treasure hunt, I dug out the old list of clues and distributed it to some friends and family. I combed the internet for ideas. I settled on 16 clues, and printed out two copies of the list - one to cut up, and one for reference.

I surveyed my store of little plastic eggs, and discovered that I was short by five, so I made a trip to the town dump's Take It Or Leave It Shop. Not only did I find enough plastic eggs, but I scored a nice five foot high plastic skeleton (and a little square plate and a brand new picture frame). The skeleton, now named King Richard because we found him in a parking lot, is at present living in the backseat of my car.


We drove through town this afternoon, and I got a text from the mother of a friend of the girl:

Just saw you drive by - if that's [your child] in the back seat, you need to feed her!


But I digress. I did a spectacular job of hiding the clever clues, only to be met with an unparalleled expression of teenaged angst. She was CRANKY!

But she found them, including the one hanging in the redbud at the bottom of the hill. If you embiggen that, you will see that she is holding the clue up to the light - that was the one in mirror writing - which can also be read from the back side of the paper.


And she was happy when she finally located her basket, in the milkbox.


I need to remember that the last clue needs to point somewhere other than the milkbox next year, because I've now used it two years in a row.



If you are inclined to tormenting your children, here is my 2017 clue list.

19 March 2017

Gone To Ground

I seem to have skipped February because I was too busy #resisting to blog. I made phone calls, and I sent postcards, emails, letters, tweets, and faxes to Congress, the White House, and cabinet officials about the Muslim ban, the Affordable Care Act, Bannon, DeVos, the EPA, the tax returns, the Russians, libraries and the National Endowment for the Arts. And probably other things that I can't remember for the white hot fury that burbles up regularly.

And when I'm not complaining vociferously, I'm going broke. Of course I sent some money to the ACLU. I also sent something to Planned Parenthood because of the fury that a similar gift sparked in that outraged pastor. And I sent some money to the local Meals on Wheels chapter, because of Budget Director Mick Mulvaney's crack about it "not showing any results.” And the New Yorker piece about the refugee shelter in Buffalo prompted another little gift.

But my favorite gift might have been the one that I sent to Physicians for a National Health Program, in honor of Carol Paris - if you missed it, she's the one that stood up at the rally in Nashville last week, with a sign reading "Improved Medicare For All". She got walked out by security. I sent a little something, with a note calling Paris a badass for standing up to Trump. The best part? She wrote back:

Your contribution to PNHP in my honor is such an thoughtful gift. At 64, I think being called a “badass” is just about the nicest compliment you could pay me!


If you too want to resist, and need some postcards to support your habit, order Impeach Vladimir Trump cards from Zazzle.


And while it's great to use Wonder Woman stamps, do yourself a favor and buy postcard stamps. You'll save 15 cents a stamp - so you can afford more postcards.

#resist

24 January 2017

#RiseUp

Okay, you marched on Saturday. Your pussyhat is still on the dining room table. Now what?

Rise up.

The Women’s March is spearheading 10 Actions for the first 100 Days. Every 10 days, they’ll give you something to do – no sign up necessary. This week, it’s send a postcard to each of your two senators. There’s a downloadable pdf, which prints nicely on Avery postcard stock. Run it through once, then turn over and do it again. Tada, two postcards printed front/back - one for each Senator. What are you waiting for?

Subscribe to the New York Times and the Washington Post – and by subscribe I mean pay for what you’re reading with actual dollars. Today’s Times called Trump a liar in a headline on the front page. They aren’t perfect, but they need support. What are you waiting for?


If you need help or suggestions, there are tools springing up all over the place. What are you waiting for?

Check out Indivisible. It’s a guide, written by former Congressional staffers, which outlines practical steps and pointers for how to get elected officials to listen to us.

You can sign up for Congress.org. Each week that Congress is in session you’ll get a weekly vote monitor so you know who’s voting on what and how, and what’s coming up.

Bookmark The Sixty Five. It’s another tool for hot button issues coming up. Like today, it's encouraging us to call Senators on the Health Education Labor Pension Committee to oppose the nomination of unqualified Betsy DeVos.

Last night I got three emails from three different people - all women of my mother's generation - saying essentially this:

Listen up: The Republicans need to get the message from the majority of Americans that we value and need the benefits of Obamacare. Here's how we do that:
On January 23, everyone who feels that way (our numbers are legion) sends a note to Donald Trump with a simple message:
"Don't make America sick again. Improve the Affordable Care Act. Don't repeal it."
One envelope for every ACA supporter in your household...even if they are under 18 years old. Just that simple message. Put it in an envelope, and put a stamp on it. On January 23, mail it to:
President Donald Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Can you imagine the picture of millions letters arriving at the While House by January 26? It will be a mountain. That image might help deter the Republicans from killing the most substantial improvement to American healthcare since the discovery of penicillin.
Do it today! Drop it into a mailbox near you on Monday, January 23. Please send this email to 20 (or more) of your friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans. Ask them to do the same.


So yeah, I wrote a letter. I suggested that the Affordable Care Act be renamed "TrumpCare". (I'm sorry I am posting this on the 24th, but do it anyway.)



I put a letter to the President and postcards to my two Senators in the mail this evening. You?

Call your two Senators. Call your Representative. Write to the President. What are you waiting for?


22 January 2017

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Like millions of other people, I went marching yesterday, in New York City with my girl and a friend and the friend's daughter who is also my girl's friend. It was an amazing day. Calm, vibrant, focused, irascible, human. I'm so glad we went.

I was wearing my vintage "Save the NEA" button, from back in the 90s (I think), so I was pleased to see a "Save the NEA" sign.
My husband made this nice sign for us. He also stuck one on the car. Here's hoping the car doesn't attract untoward attention. There were many clever pussy hats - not all pink, not all knitted. I knit my hat; a friend from Seattle sent the hat my girl is wearing. It's made of a felted wool sweater, cut into a rectangle and sewn together. 

Once we finally got out of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, and started shuffling along Second Avenue, the sun came out. There were people filling the street as far as the eye could see.

66 Countries Are Doing This Today
Donald You Ignorant Slut!

Fallopian Dude. There were a lot of men.  One nice chant was a call and response: "Our bodies, our choice" (by the women) followed by "Their bodies, their choice" (by the men).

I Am Now "Your" Boss DJT. Build Bridges...Not Walls!

Immigrants, We Get The Job Done! (This was far from the only Hamilton-riffing sign.)

Impeach And Convict
We Sing For LGBT Rights
(Alas, the Cabaret Singers were not actually singing.)

Melania, You Can Still Escape
(There was also a "Melania, Poison Him" and a "Tiffany: Blink If You're Okay")

Nasty Woman

This Pussy Grabs Back
There were A LOT of pussy signs.

Roses Are Red & Violets Are Blue...
Trump Can't Choose What My Pussy Can Do.

Seven Sisters Representing with Nasty Barnard Women. My 13 year old was wearing her Wellesley sweatshirt and was amused by an older woman who asked her if she was a student there. 

Truck Fump. This dude was just standing on the sidewalk, all dressed up like he was  going to a funeral.

We peeled off at Grand Central Terminal. We'd been on our feet for 5 1/2 hours - walking from GCT to 47th & Second, and back down Second and across 42nd. On a normal day, you could have walked that loop in a 1/2 hour. I loved that there were cheerers on the Pershing Square bridge over 42nd Street. 


And now, after today's day of rest, tomorrow we RISE UP.

20 January 2017

The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.

I have, for the past several days, been writing posts in my head about the "peaceful transfer of power" that occurred earlier today, and the frightening prospects for the short term future.

Shall I rail about the Affordable Care Act? I could, but instead I will send you elsewhere to read a letter my sister sent to her local newspaper.

Shall I bemoan the threat to public education? Betsy DeVos is not only unqualified to be the Secretary of Education, but she is clueless and claimed to a Senate committee that it was a "clerical error" that her name appeared as Vice President in the tax return of the family foundation bearing her mother's name. I can't even.

Shall I point out that the National Endowment for the Arts has a budget of $150 million - which is a drop in the friggin' budget so let's just leave the arts out of all this? I don't need to go on about it; the Washington Post did a fine job of pointing out that "cutting federal support for the arts and humanities is a way to fight the culture war, not to tackle the federal debt."

No.

Here's the thing. Pete Souza, who may well be a national treasure, hung around and took just a few more pictures of President Obama as he left the White House today. One of those pictures is an overhead shot of the oval office - where you see the rug. Did you know that the rug has words in its border?

The welfare of each of us is
dependent fundamentally upon
the welfare of all of us.

A photo posted by Pete Souza (@petesouza) on


Teddy Roosevelt said that in 1913, in a speech to the New York State Agricultural Association.

Remember our motto? E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

We - you, me, your mother, my boss, that guy who made your sandwich, your friend from college - we need to stick together and rise up as one. We. What I do affects you, what you do affects me, and together we can affect us all.

Yes We Can.

11 January 2017

Letter to the White House

11 January 2016

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

Thank you for 8 years of grace, intelligence, and empathy, and for your fierce drive to make our country better for everyone. These United States are immeasurably stronger because of your vision of economic prosperity, health insurance reform, racial justice, gender equality, peace. Two steps forward, one step back – governing America must often feel like a Sisyphean task, but you have borne it with elegance and dignity.

As I watched your farewell address last night and heard you say “Show up, dive in, stay at it”, I thought to myself this is not a farewell, this is a call to arms. You cemented that when you said “I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days.”

I look forward to your next chapter, and I assure you that I too believe that #YesWeCan.

Thank you.



Sincerely,



Me



(PS, yes, I put a hard copy of this letter in the mail, with a stamp, to the White House.)

08 January 2017

My 2016 In Books

As is my wont, I checked my Goodreads stats to see how many books I read in 2016, and I was kind of shocked to see that I'd not met my goal of 60. I was also shocked to see how far off of 2015 I'd been.


However!

One of the books I read in 2016 was actually an omnibus volume of all six of the Mapp & Lucia books - 1,119 pages! - so really, the total should have been 62. And 2015 was clearly an aberration; how I read 79 books in a year is beyond me. Looking at 2011 to 2014, 60 books is pretty close to average for me. Here are some of the 2016 highlights, bookwise.

Non-Fiction that has totally stuck with me: M Train
Patti Smith's memoir completely got under my skin. I need to buy my own copy, and scribble in the margins. I did chase down some Weleda salt toothpaste, and I think of her every time I brush my teeth.

Non-Fiction that was everything I hoped it would be: Hamilton: The Revolution
The sound track is terrific, but it wants a libretto. (CDs and LPs are sorely missed in that regard.) Genius is all well and good for lyrics with annotation, but sometimes you want paper. The Hamiltome is pictures, essays, lyrics, notes - all in one glorious package.

Fiction that totally surprised me: The Girl With All The Gifts
Zombies! I'm not a sci-fi horror zombie aficionado. But several people, from different parts of my life, recommended this and I succumbed. It blew me away. Yes, the main character is a zombie. Put your preconceived notions aside and read it.

Delightful new-to-me author: Sarah Caudwell
Caudwell wrote four mysteries. Her master solver is one Professor Hilary Tamar (of indeterminate sex), the cast of characters includes a bunch of London Barristers, and the crimes all hinge on arcane points of British law. The dialogue is wry, the settings are fetching, and I have read three of the four and am saving Thus Was Adonis Murdered for a moment of great need.

26 of the books I read were library books. I didn't finish three, because they were too tedious for words. Only one book was a re-read (Supreme Courtship, and that was by accident on vacation, because I found something in the book swap in the rental house laundromat, but it was fun to read again and had an odd synchronicity to the presidential election). Another book was a suggestion from my (then) 12 year old daughter (The Memory Keeper's Daughter). And one book was edited by someone I know (Joanne Bamberger's Love Her, Love Her Not) and I met one of the other authors (Sari Wilson, of Girl Through Glass) at a work event.

And, because of all the new books for Christmas and my December birthday, the pile next to my bed is as huge as ever.

02 January 2017

Soup of the Instant Evening

I succumbed to the lure of the Instant Pot and gave it to my husband for Christmas. He hasn't actually used it yet, but I opened it up and inaugurated it with a potato leek soup. It worked admirably well even though I barely read the instructions and didn't really use a recipe. Well, the instruction book had a recipe for ginger butternut squash soup, so I kind changed out all the ingredients and used that. Does that count as using a recipe?


Potato Leek Soup, in the Instant Pot

1 medium onion, chopped
3 leeks, split down the middle and cut into 1/2" half rounds
1 parsnip, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer)
2 T. butter or olive oil
1 t. salt
a few good grinds of pepper
1/2 t. dry tarragon
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Have all of the vegetables prepped before you start. Plug in the Instant Pot, put the butter and onion in the pot, and hit "sauté". The pot gets hot very quickly, so have the ingredients in before you turn it on. Once the onion is starting to soften, add the leeks. Give the onion & leek a stir or two and once the leeks are wilting, turn the Instant Pot off (use the Keep Warm/Cancel button). Add the parsnip, celery, potatoes, stock, salt, pepper and tarragon. [My stock was frozen, and I didn't bother to defrost it - I just dropped the whole block in the pot.] Put the lid on, latch it in place, and make sure the steam release lever is set to "sealing". Then hit "manual" and set the time for 10 minutes. Wander off. The machine will heat up and pressurize; once at pressure, it will cook for 10 minutes. When it beeps that it's done, release the pressure - this will be a dramatic, noisy and unexpectedly long whoosh of scalding hot steam, so be warned and be careful. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup (or transfer to a blender or food processor). Add heavy cream, and eat. Makes about four servings.




01 January 2017

New Year

To kick off the new year, we went for a walk, in a park on the Hudson River. I was taken with the gnarled intrepid trees along the shore, unprotected from the elements and showing it.

This battered, misshapen tree was magnificent ... and then we noticed the hole in the side.


Not only was the hole nearly the entire diameter of the tree, you could see straight through.


Naturally, I took a picture looking back out.


Though assaulted, the tree stands. There is hope in the future.