25 December 2019

On the 25th day of ...

Breakfast over.
Presents unwrapped.
House tidied again.

And the girl and I are off to the movies. I think it's a new tradition - last year, she and I saw Mary Queen of Scots on Christmas Day.

Today, we are seeing Little Women.

A happy Christmas to you, and a merry New Year too!

24 December 2019

On the 24th day of ...

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care...

Right now feels like the calm before the storm. The stockings are up, the cookies are made. Yes, I made those crazy beautiful striped cookies from the Times special insert - using green instead of red for the stripes because I've got pink pigs and candy cane crisps and green coordinates better.

The house is sort of a little tidy, but for the wrapping paper that is inexplicably shedding its tiny HO HO HOs. I keep finding HO in random places, usually the floor.


The fireplace log plays on the TV (I had to get my husband to add an app to the Apple TV), and the curiously pyramided paperwhites are happy.

And I am drinking the 24th tea from my Advent calendar of tea.

22 December 2019

On the 22nd day of ...

Another perennial family favorite Christmas "cookie" is the cinnamon toast. I know, right?

It is improbably wonderful, kind of in the matzo crack department in that it relies on a base of commercially available bread, but without chocolate.

(I might be a heretic; I don't do chocolate cookies or chocolate anything as Christmas sweets.)

Every time I set out to make it, I have to call my sister and ask her for the recipe because I think I've never written it down and she makes it more than I do and therefore can actually remember the details.

Yesterday morning, I texted her a picture of the loaf of bread at the ready. (I should point out that it's actually the wrong kind of bread - ideally you want Pepperidge Farm Very Thin - but regular sandwich bread will do. I suppose you could be fancy and make your own, or buy some artisanal pain de mie, but Pepperidge Farm is fine.)

My sister promptly called me back and this is what I wrote down.

To be a little less cryptic, here's how to make Cinnamon Toast:

Buy a loaf of Pepperidge Farm Very Thin. Working with 3-4 slices at a time, carefully (gingerly) cut off all the crusts. (Save them for breadcrumbs or to feed your local opossum.)

Mix together one stick of well-softened butter, 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Gently smear this on the bread - the Very Thin is fragile so you really do want your butter soft. Cut the squares into halves - either triangles or just rectangles. Spread out on cookie sheets and bake for an hour at 275°F.

21 December 2019

On the 21st day of ...

I cannot explain this, but one of the family holiday traditions was pigs. Sugar cookies, dough tinted pink, cut out in the shape of pigs. With blue eyes.

No one has made the pigs in a long time. But a couple of years ago, my sister boxed up the cutters and gave them to me for Christmas.

I decided this was their year.

First though, I had to find some blue eyes. My mother had this container of flat sugar disk sprinkles, in mixed pastel colors, and she painstakingly pulled all the blue dots out.

I went to New York Cake, figuring that a crazy obsessive store would have flat blue sprinkles. I was wrong. They had green, and they had a mixture of yellow, black and blue. So I got the yellow, black and blue and painstakingly sorted out enough blue for pigs' eyes.

The dough is always a plain sugar cookie from the original New York Times cookbook, with a healthy dollop of food coloring. Because the recipes includes a quarter cup of milk, it's best to add the color to the milk - it disperses into the dough better. There is something ineffably lovely about dropping food coloring into milk. It blooms into a sort of flower.

Today I rolled and cut the pigs. The girl placed the eyes.

A box of them is going to family Christmas tomorrow. They've been missed.

20 December 2019

On the 20th day of ...

For rather a while, the default email signature in my phone's settings has been:

(sent by my steam-powered mechanical pigeon)

Mostly, either people have seen it and don't need to ask about it, or don't notice, or keep it to themselves that they think I'm some kind of ridiculous poseur.

But sometimes someone asks. And it delights me to tell them that I learned, in a 2012 New Yorker article by Nick Paumgarten called "Here's Looking At You: Should we worry about the rise of the drone?", that there really may have been such a thing, a really long time ago:

The prospect of unmanned flight has been around—depending on your definition—since Archytas of Tarentum reputedly designed a steam-powered mechanical pigeon, in the fourth century B.C.,

You know you want to know more about Archytas of Tarentum. Ancient Origins can help.

19 December 2019

On the 19th day of ...

I think I am running out of steam.

Also, I seem to have left my phone unattended on the coffee table, because there are umpteen selfies of the girl - alone and with her father/my husband. And because she took them and didn't delete them, I think they're fair game.


Maybe I will be more inspired tomorrow.

18 December 2019

On the 18th day of ...

The thing about my magpie tendency is that I have two stashes of ribbons - one in Christmas colors of red, green, white, silver and gold - and one for all the other colors. And because I have hoarding tendencies, some of those pieces of ribbon are really too short for much of anything.

But the other day when it came time to package up a mess of little gifts* for staff in my office, I was able to drop each one into a little paper gift sack, fold over the top, punch a hole or two near the top, and tie a different ribbon onto each of the 16 bags. So, they're the same - but not the same.

And my ribbon stash is just that much more manageable.

*candles, if you must know.

17 December 2019

On the 17th day of ...

This never fails to amuse me, this being addressed as "The Honorable".

Tonight, though, was supposed to be my last meeting as President - an ice storm postponed the meeting until after Christmas. Next month, I'll be past president, and when my term ends in June, I'll be a mere former board member.

16 December 2019

On the 16th day of ...

I take the subway to work every day. And whenever I find myself parked in front of one of the posted subway maps, I marvel at it. So many miles, so many stations, so many places to go.

And then I look for my pet dog. The mapmaker has shaped the East and Harlem Rivers into a dog - tail to the left, snout to the right, back legs straddling Roosevelt Island, front legs dipping into Flushing Meadows. One beige belly spot courtesy of Rikers Island.

See him?

Of course, it's all the subway map designer's doing - because the subway map has been skewed and tweaked and distorted so that everything fits. (For a really cool look at the subway map, check this out: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/02/nyregion/nyc-subway-map.html)

Google Maps is more representative of the actual geography - and if you can find a dog in the East River, you've been imbibing too many George Booth dog cartoons.

15 December 2019

On the 14th and the 15th day of ...

Yeah. We got distracted.

In fact, we were supposed to go to an afternoon tea yesterday and didn't.

Let's back up. The kid and the husband were out all day, and I was home alone, so I started wrapping presents. And - like eating peanuts - I just kept going. And didn't go to the party - and finished all of the wrapping except for a few things that have not yet shown up in the mail.

Why yes, I am working my way through an old California road atlas. It's mostly green, so it counts as Christmas wrapping in my book.

Next up? Christmas cookies!

13 December 2019

On the 13th day of ...

I put my toasty winter coat on the other day and found stuffed in a pocket a crumpled piece of paper from the holiday tree-lighting / sing-a-long. Oh right! What are the words to that song again?

I have sung Deck The Halls countless times in my life, and never before noticed that after one dons some gay apparel, one trolls the ancient Yule-tide carol. As we were singing, en masse, I caught the eye of a fellow townswoman. We are both well aware of the significant local sniping and trolling that goes on on the internet, and troll jumped out as a typo.

But! It is not! In fact, thank you Mental Floss, troll is a good old word well utilized in Deck The Halls:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), one of the meanings of troll, in use since the 16th century, is “to sing in a full, rolling voice; to chant merrily or jovially.” It’s related to the sense of rolling, or passing around, and probably came to be used to mean singing because of rounds, where the melody is passed from one person to the next.

Go figure. Troll on.

12 December 2019

On the 12th day of ...

We have things. We have things that were from my grandparents, and things that were from my husband's grandparents.

The fireplace tools live in a big stoneware crock, the kind someone would make pickles in. It's been prone to scratching the hearth, so I asked my husband to put some felt pads on the bottom. He hauled it downstairs, and lo and behold:

His grandfather - Mr. P. - was a fan of the black permanent marker, and a fan of marking everything with the purchase date and price. We're thinking Mrs. P. bought the crock in the fall of 1932 and that Mr. P. added the estimated price later. I never met Mr. P. but I did have the great joy of visiting his cellar once. They lived in coal country and the house was heated with coal and every time they got a delivery of coal, he wrote the date and the quantity and the price on the wall. The wall was COVERED with black writing, like some form of performance art. I wish I had a picture of that.

11 December 2019

On the 11th day of ...

We pause to revel in an orchestra, a leaf orchestra.

It was a set of captivating spot illustrations in the New Yorker, by one Marie-Helene Jeeves. Leaves as cymbals, string instruments, winds, and a music stand.

I liked them so much that I ripped out every single page. Maybe I'll Mod Podge them into a something or another.

10 December 2019

On the 10th day of ...

Sometimes, there's "nothing" in the house for dinner.

Last night, my husband suggested making cabbage omelets. There was an arrowhead cabbage; there are always eggs. I'm not sure what he was actually planning to do - maybe he was going to sauté the cabbage, make an omelet, and fold the cabbage inside? Frankly, it sounded sort of nasty.

But it got the wheels spinning in my head.

I shredded the cabbage and a carrot, and my husband set to sautéing. Meanwhile, I minced some garlic, and got out a handful of frozen peas, and beat up a few eggs. When the cabbage was good and wilted, we tossed in the garlic and peas, and seasoned the lot with sriracha, sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger Momo dressing. Lastly, we stirred in the beaten eggs. And, lo! We had something that was kind of like low-carb fried rice, hot and tasty.

I was reminded of this meal when Mark Bittman's enewsletter slipped into my inbox this morning, with Dinspiration in the subject line.

His 10 recipes are a bit like this one of mine - take what you've got and turn it into something. Often, the best results are the ones where you let your imagination fly.

09 December 2019

On the 9th day of ...

I have a lot of ornaments. Really.

Many are old, almost all are glass.

Every year for the past few years, as I've pulled out the ornaments and fondled them, I've thought I should segregate out the foodstuffs and give them their own tree. But I live in a tiny house! I don't have room for a second ...

Oh wait. I have a tiny tinsel tree in the attic. Aha!

The food ornaments have now been duly assigned to a tree in the dining room.

Four pieces of cheese, four little squashes, a green pepper, a red pepper. A tomato and a potato. An ear of corn and a carrot. Several bunches of grapes, a fruit basket, and a plum. Two acorns and a walnut. A lemon with a Santa hat, and one without. A pig, a hot dog, and a slice of bacon. A head of garlic. And a pickle, of course.

I cannot tell you how happy it makes me.

08 December 2019

On the 8th day of ...

We bought the tree a week ago, and managed to get lights on it yesterday. That, of course, was a production, because half of one string was out and although we fiddled with all of the bulbs and replaced the teeny tiny fuses, nothing worked and so we had to trot off to the hardware store. (Before we threw the bad string out, I pulled all of the bulbs out of the good half, in case I need them next year.)

It was almost like a reprise of last weekend, when half of one string for the outside garland turned up kaput and we had to go to the hardware store and then come home and rebuild the garland that we'd fabricated with measured rope and fixed hanging points (and lights and fake evergreens) so it would be easy to put up over the front door. Easy ... until the lights don't work.

What is with these light strings where half works and half doesn’t?

Anyway, I finally got the ornaments on the tree today.

Unpacking the ornaments is always an exercise in nostalgia. There are boxes and boxes of ornaments, including boxes that have my grandmother's handwriting, and probably date to the 1940s.

What's in the box isn't necessarily what she's written. But that bell in the middle of the bottom row? That was definitely her bell.

My mother stored tiny glass ornaments in egg cartons. I once took a Bloomingdale's gift box (back when gift boxes were sturdy and worth keeping) and made dividers out of shirt cardboard. At this point, I think that box is 30 years old.

I do still need to address the mantle, and vacuum up the needles, and install the skirt, so no tree picture. Yet.

07 December 2019

On the 7th day of ...

My kid is taking the SAT today, December 7th.

She took the PSAT on October 19th.

If SAT scores are generally available three weeks after taking the test, when are PSAT scores available?

a) three weeks after the PSAT
b) 17-22 days after the PSAT
c) on or about November 9th
c) on the 7th day of never
d) on December 11th


If you answered a, b or c, you were being logical, thinking that the PSAT scores should come back in a similar time frame to the SAT scores. If you answered d, there's no hope and you are not going to a college that isn't test-optional. The correct answer is e. Why does it take longer to score the PSAT than the SAT, and why are the scores not available BEFORE the poor child has to take the SAT?


06 December 2019

On the 6th day of ...

Overheard one day:

Oak trees drop half their leaves in the fall and the rest in the spring. And then there's the spinners, crappers and nuts.

We have a big oak out in front of our house. I don't mind the leaves, but wow this was a banner year for acorns. I got beaned outside a couple of weeks ago - ouch! And I found one in the cellar the other day. How. Did. It. Get. There? I especially like to crunch the acorn caps - I will serpentine up the driveway to make sure I step on all the upside down caps, because it's fun and I haven't grown up yet.

05 December 2019

On the 5th day of ... Sniffing

You know what's creepy? The US Postal Service scans all of our mail (the envelopes, not the contents) before it ends up in our mailboxes. And if you sign up for "Informed Delivery", you get an email every morning with pictures of the envelopes, so you know the Christmas card from Great Aunt Margaret is gonna be there when you get home.

I get those emails - which I do not remember signing up for. I find it both really creepy and a bit akin to rubbernecking past a car wreck. Like, I'm not going to unsubscribe, and I do generally look at that email in the morning, but... It's one thing for the post office to scan all the mail, but then to email it to me (and you and everyone else)? Now everyone who is reading my email knows what snail mail I'm getting.

I don't mean reading my email, like reading over my shoulder or something - but any unencrypted email sent from here to there can be picked up and sniffed by who knows? I'm not really a conspiracy theorist, but occasionally the very idea of the cloud and the data swirling around "out there" gives me pause. Now that the USPS is sending out millions of emails like this, some hacker is gonna have a field day.

So much for privacy.

US Airmail inverted Jenny 24c 1918 issue

04 December 2019

On the 4th day of ...

Half an index card has been tucked into the spiral bound blank book I carry around, the one where I jot down Broadway shows I want to see and the dimensions of the dining room table and lists of colleges the girl might need to go visit and reminders to transfer money so that the mortgage payment is covered. The half index card says, in my handwriting: "after dining on swan". (The reverse has the address of a woman who lived in such a small town that she had no street address - just her name in Denmark, ME.) (Wait, that probably needs an additional aside: my mother ran a mailing list and index cards were part of the complicated process by which people were added to the mailing list and she couldn't toss an index card with one clean side and forever and ever I will have a stash of blank-on-one-side index cards harvested by Moky because they are both insanely useful and completely full of nostalgia.)

I, of course, couldn't remember WHY I'd written "after dining on swan" on an index card, but clearly it was from something I'd been reading. Oh hail Google Books! Lo and behold, it's a throwaway phrase from The Club (Takis Würger):

Funnily enough, I hated the book - the entirety of my Goodreads "review" is "Eh. I didn’t need to read that. It’s rather ugly."

But that phrase - especially as it sits in the whole sentence - is lovely and evocative. Did she just happen to die following a swan dinner? Or was she poisoned by the swan? What happened to Lady Margaret? And who eats swan anyway‽

03 December 2019

On the 3rd day of ...

Today's #GivingTuesday.

I'm all in favor of charitable giving, but it's one area where I vastly prefer to pay by check. One, I know that the organization is getting all of my money without a fee to the credit card company, and two, it cuts way down on email. So I'll probably ignore the eleventy-seven emails I get for #GivingTuesday, tugging at my heartstrings and requesting the honor of my credit card. I might be a crank that way.

I'm also the crank that requests no tote bag, tee shirt, tchotchke (though I will use your address labels if you send them to me, thankyouverymuch).

There is a newish phenomenon that I've noticed, in the team centered fundraising events, wherein the token gifts are somewhat elevated and are tied to the dollars raised by participants. The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life does this, and the LUNGevity event does this. (Surely others do as well, but those are two I'm familiar with.) You get to choose - a backpack, a coffee mug, an Alexa Dot, a warmup jacket, an Apple watch. Here's the thing - those prizes cost money. Why is the money I raised being used to give me a prize? I want all the dollars to go to research. Sure, I can simply forgo the prize. But what of the others? Why is this even an option?

A couple of months ago, my non-profit employer got an unsolicited contribution in the mail, with the most charming letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

We are a dance competition located in Massachusetts. We host events and invite dance studios to participate in local dance competitions. We have a program that allows the dance studios to donate the funds that would have been spent on their trophies to a special charity of their choice.

We are pleased to present this check as a donation to you on behalf of (__________________).

The check was for an odd amount, slightly more than $100, and we were delighted! Such a win/win - one less tacky trophy out there in the world, and a charitable contribution to boot.

Consider your giving carefully.

02 December 2019

On the 2nd day of ...

With four days off for Thanksgiving, and a winter storm threatened, we finally cleaned up outside. We emptied and stacked the outdoor pots, we put away the porch umbrella, and I cut out the paper wasp nest that got fabricated in the doublefile viburnum.

Up close, it's beautiful, almost like banded sandstone, what with the color changing layer by layer.

I, peculiar, decided to hang it up with a bow - call it a kissing ball!

Christmas is coming!

01 December 2019

On the first day of ...

Despite the fact that our mother was the queen of Christmas, we were - oddly - deprived of the Advent calendar tradition. It is possible that she felt that an Advent calendar tipped too far into religion, given that we were complete and utter heathen pagan atheists.

Last year, in a fit of who knows what, I sent my sister an Advent calendar - 24 days of tea.

Every day, she opened it, and every day she texted me a picture of that day's tea.

This year, she returned the favor: 24 jours de thé à déguster.

I am delighted. And later today, I will have a cup of thé du Louvre - a green tea with apple, plum & quince that calls "to mind a stroll through the Tuileries Garden."

Onward to Christmas!

21 November 2019

Mother and Child

14 years ago, she was lying in a pile of leaves with me.

Now, she's a junior in high school, taking a humanities class. It's an interdisciplinary class, on what it means to be human, team-taught and stretching across literature, philosophy, visual arts, film, and music. I mean, I kind of wish I were taking it:

1300 HUMANITIES I (Fall Semester)
Focuses on themes of Self, Creativity, Freedom, Love, and Death. Readings, art, and music span different cultures and range from the classic to the contemporary (texts may include Plato, Aristotle, Buddhist philosophy, Sartre, Sigmund Freud, Derrida, Oliver Sacks, Tolstoy, Kafka, various poets, Alice Walker, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Giacometti, Lucian Freud, Wim Wenders, various artists, Mozart).

For class last week, she had to bring in a family photo, and she picked this one. And then this is what she said about it:

The photo reminds me of the two Madonna and Child paintings that we looked at in class. The first was very formal, the second much more informal but still older, mine seems like the modern reincarnation where all formal “rules” between mother and child are broken.

She slays me, my girl.

27 October 2019


I was on the way to work the other day, when I walked past five tidy tree pits, freshly planted with ornamental kale. In the middle of each pit, nestled up to the tree, was a plastic rock.

I've been thinking about how one waters new trees in tree pit street plantings, because our town has just planted a whole lot of new trees as part of a street-scape rehabilitation. There are no visible watering devices, but the town claims that the trees are being watered by hand. I hope so.

What I've seen in the past are those cone-shaped plastic bags that wrap around the tree. The water seeps out slowly and the bags need to be refilled periodically.

The rocks were, arguably, less unattractive.

I mean, it's clearly a PLASTIC rock, but it's not that awful.

Idly, because I have eclectic interests, I googled "tree watering rock" (as one does) and found the manufacturer of those very rocks!

I confess to unmitigated glee when I learned that said tree watering rocks are good for admonishing existing sprinkler systems. Enhancing? Augmenting? Intensifying? No, admonishing.

Herewith, I admonish the copy writer. Use the right verb!

13 October 2019

Not So Blank Books

I confess to being a sucker for a blank book. So, I wasn't surprised when I spent time cleaning out under the packrat child's bed and found, oh, upwards of twenty of them.

Some were untouched.

And some had two or three or seven pages written or drawn on, and then ... nothing.

So - I put a few of the virgin ones aside, and set to ripping out the marked up pages of the others so I could put them in the Take It Or Leave It pile.

But ... but ... but ...

I couldn't not "keep" a few things.

From a book of "lists", I learned that she wants to take a road trip to the Mid West, that she doesn't plan to marry Marquise or have 20 children, and that she needs to go down a zip-line at least once. (Also, she used to spell poorly.)

I am happy to report that she has, in fact, been down a zip-line at least once.

A book with a wolf on the cover, a book that I remember to have been bought in Yellowstone, where we heard a lecture about wolves, included a poem.

in and out of trees,
a White Ballet,
Flying over the fresh snow,
the king of the forest,
Protecting his family for Life.

And finally, one book included a list of cat names - for girl cats and boy cats.

My mother always said she was going to name a cat Puifor, as in Puiforcat, the French silver company. How delightful to find Puifor on the list.