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.

10 October 2019

Oh To Be An Undergraduate Again. Or Not.

Death on the Cherwell

Death On The Cherwell, by Mavis Doriel Hay, was a fun read, perhaps because I'm a sucker for books set in colleges - especially Oxford ones. It grabbed me from the second paragraph, which so beautifully describes new college students - past and present:

Undergraduates, especially those in their first year, are not, of course, quite sane or quite adult. It is sometimes considered that they are not quite human. Emerging excitedly from the ignominious status of schoolgirl or schoolboy, and as yet unsteadied by the ballast responsibility which, later on, a livelihood-earning career will provide, they enter the university like beings born again with the advantage of an undimmed memory of their former lives. Inspirited by their knowledge of the ways in which authority may be mocked, they are at the same time quite ridiculously uplifted by the easy possibility of achieving local fame in the limited university world during the next three years. Conscious of the brevity of their college life, they are ready to seize every opportunity to assert their individuality. The easily acquired label of “originality” is so much more distinguished than the “naughtiness” of their outpassed schooldays, and quite a lot of wildness may be mixed with a modicum of work and form a sound basis for a highly respectable later life.

It's a twisty silly mystery, but enjoyable - and sometimes that's just the ticket.

06 October 2019

Four Days In Montreal

As you will remember, I have an internet friend, one of those people I’ve never met, and yet – YES, SHE IS MY FRIEND. The internet is awesome. Anyway, said friend and her husband jet off periodically for long weekends, and call them “Crazy Trips™”. I like that designation.

We – my kid, my husband, and I – made a Crazy Trip™ last weekend. We left Saturday, returned Tuesday, and spent three nights in Montreal. I had never been there before, the child had a four day weekend thanks to Rosh Hashanah, and she had expressed interest in visiting McGill so…

We stayed in an unremarkable hotel in the downtown, walking distance to both McGill and old Montreal.

The child practiced her French – reading the instructions on the parking meters, transacting business in shops, ordering Timbits in a Tim Horton’s. (Despite taking French into college, mine is now non-existent.)

We ate well:

  • Oysters and grilled octopus at Belon
  • Viande fumée (smoked meat) sandwiches at Schwartz’s
  • Bagels (natch) at St-Viateur
  • Coffee at a seemingly unnamed coffee shop a few doors away from the bagel place (it must have a name, but it wasn't on their business card or on the credit card receipt)
  • Breakfast (pastries, and yogurt/granola/fruit) at La Finca
  • Sandwiches in a funky garden at Café Santropol (it seemed like the sort of place that would have alfalfa sprouts on the sandwiches but no sprouts!)

The best meal was at larrys – it was a hodgepodge of little dishes: a pork chop, some roasted cauliflower, a flammkuchen, a salad of peaches and corn and feta, and some warm goopy eggplant. And maybe some other things that I can’t remember. And a lovely unfiltered white wine from Germany that I need to chase down.

Shopping was fun – we wandered up and down Saint-Laurent marveling at the many small clothing shops selling stuff manufactured in Montreal, and the myriad vintage shops, and a French language bookstore (where the kid picked out a copy of La Nausée). We stumbled into the Montreal outpost of Fluevog; the kid didn’t want to leave. I bought a tiny little silver necklace at Boutique Unicorn, the child got a fuzzy bucket hat at Ophelie Hats.

And we succumbed to tourist expérience immersive: the entirely kitschy yet exceedingly well executed sound and light show – Aura – at Notre-Dame.

Notre-Dame is lovely.

Of course, we went to the top of the mountain.

We also did a drive by of Habitat 67. (I wanted to go on a tour, but it was sold out.)

We sort of kind of accidentally ended up on the F1 track, which caused great joy for my husband.

I was amused by a sod failure.

The city has an enormous amount of construction going on, and still has evidence of manufacturing including flour mills and silos. I don't know what this even is, but I liked it.

We visited McGill which is rather enormous. 28,000 undergraduates!

And then we came home.

La fin.

12 July 2019

Scenes From The Road

Last weekend, we undertook a five day, 1500 mile road trip, to drop the kid off at a summer program in Nova Scotia. Yes, it was arguably insane. On the other hand, it was delightful.

* * * * * * * * *

Somewhere on I-495, a woman was reading a book on the back of a motorcycle.
This may have made my day.

* * * * * * * * *

Because there is currently no ferry from Maine to Yarmouth, we had to drive to Saint John and take the ferry from there to Digby. It was completely socked in on the way to Nova Scotia.

And brilliantly clear on the return.

I love ferries.

* * * * * * * * *

The western end of Nova Scotia - between Yarmouth and Digby - is lovely, lightly populated, and seems to have had a Radio Shack once upon a time.

And NO, I did not flip the photo.

* * * * * * * * *

On the way home, we sailed through the border crossing at Calais and stopped at the first rest stop in Maine, an Irving. We pulled into a spot next to a parked SUV with New Jersey plates. As I was getting out, I spotted a large parrot, sitting on a cage in the passenger seat of the SUV. Then, I noticed that there was a woman in the driver’s seat, with a smaller parrot perched smack dab on top of her head. She was reading something on her phone, and never looked up, or I might have tried to chat with her. I went off to do my business, and when I came back, she was still there.

But what I really want to know is, does she drive with the parrot on her head‽

* * * * * * * * *

The car has a GPS system, and I have Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Waze on my phone - so we weren't suffering from lack of direction. But here's the thing: a paper map is really nice. It gives you a far better sense of where you've been and how far you have to go - namely, in this case, nearly all the way across the widest part of Maine. Happily, Maine was handing out free maps at a rest area/info stop.

The map folded into six panels, so I could announce "we're two and a half panels across the state!" or "just one panel to go!". It amused me, at any rate, and kept me from being ridiculously bored.

02 July 2019

Winners Take All

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the WorldIn May 2019, there was an op-ed in the New York Times by Anand Giridharadas – in which he talked about tainted money and the “growing awareness that gifts to the arts and other good causes are not only a way for ultra-wealthy people to scrub their consciences and reputations. Philanthropy can also be central to purchasing the immunity needed to profiteer at the expense of the common welfare. Perhaps accepting tainted money in such cases isn’t just giving people a pass. Perhaps it is enabling misconduct against the public.”

Working, as I do, in the non-profit sphere – I decided I needed to read his book, Winners Take All.

It isn’t just a take down of a certain kind of philanthropy – it’s also a take down of the idea that “world citizens” will change the world through apps and shoes and other feel-good entrepreneurial activities. Because, in point of fact, all of that activity is occurring in an unregulated, unaccountable arena, and it would be better to accomplish problem solving through civic life: “It is the habit of solving problems together, in the public sphere, through the tools of government and in the trenches of civil society. It is solving problems in ways that give the people you are helping a say in the solutions, that offer that say in equal measure to every citizen, that allow some kind of access to your deliberations or at least provide a meaningful feedback mechanism to tell you it isn’t working. It is not reimagining the world at conferences.”

Here’s a concise summation, from page 246:

"If anyone truly believes that the same ski-town conferences and fellowship programs, the same politicians and policies, the same entrepreneurs and social businesses, the same campaign donors, the same thought leaders, the same consulting firms and protocols, the same philanthropists and reformed Goldman Sachs executives, the same win-wins and doing-well-by-doing-good initiatives and private solutions to public problems that had promised grandly, if superficially, to change the world-if anyone thinks that the MarketWorld complex of people and institutions and ideas that failed to prevent this mess even as it harped on making a difference, and whose neglect fueled populism's flames, is also the solution, wake them up by tapping them, gently, with this book. For the inescapable answer to the overwhelming question-Where do we go from here?-is: somewhere other than where we have been going, led bv people other than the people who have been leading us."

We need a society with laws, with rules, with a civilized infrastructure. It’s not enough to address a problem without looking at the large scale root. “Think of the person who runs an impact investing fund aimed at helping the poor, but is unwilling to make the connection, in his own head or out loud, between poverty and the business practices of the financiers on his advisory board.” We’re all in this together. And Giridharadas’s book is worth reading.

14 May 2019

Childhood Dream

When I was five, I used to walk around the house saying I wanted to be a philanthropist. Honestly. I have no idea how I knew that word, or if I knew what it meant, but that's what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I also had a baby doll named Howie Dirks. I named the doll after a friend of my parents' because I liked the way it sounded. Howie Dirks, Howie Dirks, Howie Dirks.

I digress.

This morning, I had the great good fortune to attend the New York Women's Foundation annual Celebrating Women breakfast. I've been hearing about it for years, both because they give awards to badass women, and because the event is at the ungodly hour of 7:30am. So, when someone I know invited me to be her guest, I instantly said yes, even though it meant getting on a train at 5:40am.

This year's awards went to a mix of women you've heard of and women you haven't:

Abigail E. Disney
Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Activist

dream hampton
Filmmaker, Writer, and Organizer

Cyndi Lauper
Co-Founder of True Colors United / Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning Artist

Rhonda Joy McLean
Attorney, Author, and Philanthropist

Sarinya Srisakul
First Asian-American Woman Firefighter of the FDNY / Former President of the United Women Firefighters

Dr. Marta Moreno Vega
President of the Creative Justice Institute / Founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

The whole event was inspiring and empowering; there was a warmth in the room engendered by 2000+ women supporting one another and good causes.

Rhonda Joy McLean, in the department of women I had never heard of, was terrific. In addition to ending her acceptance speech with a song, If I Can Help Somebody, she made my day when she said "you do not have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist!"

Because lord knows I'm not a millionaire, but $25 here and $50 there, and hey, I am a philanthropist - just like I wanted to be when I was five.

10 March 2019

Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax — Of cabbages and kings

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #3)The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

Because people I know and love love Louise Penny, I was happy to find a copy of one of her books in the library's free pile.

I confess, though, to being sort of not taken in for the first half of the book. Eventually, though, it clicked into place - especially when the intrigue surrounding Inspector Gamache started to emerge. So, it was okay but I'm not really feeling the need to be a completist and read every one of the Gamache books.

That said, I loved this one passage:
'As always. He came over for dinner last night, you know,' said Peter, opening some jam jars. One still had the wax on top and he needed to dig it out with a knife. 'Hardly ate anything.'

It threw me back to my childhood - my grandmother made jam, and sealed the jars with paraffin, as did the formidable Ruth Bogen, who lived across the street. And I can still remember the way you had to dislodge the wax, popping it in a bit so you could pivot it out in one piece. And then, because my mother never threw anything out, you washed the paraffin disk so that you could add it to the collection of odd candle ends and other bits of wax, for making candles anew one day. Who does that anymore?

18 January 2019

The Library Book

If you are a fan of books or libraries or Susan Orlean, you know that she came out with a book recently, called "The Library Book".

It's wonderful. It's shaggy, and erudite, and witty, and it rambles from library theory to arson to book conservation to the history of Los Angeles, with discursions hither and yon. Do not pass go; read it.

I was, however, stopped in my tracks early on, in a passage about the joys of discovering what books are shelved close to one another at the Los Angeles Public Library, based on their Dewey decimal numbers:

Do you see what I see? The numbers she's chosen are not in order:


This nagged at me, so I googled Gaydar. Or maybe I googled 306.7662. And I discovered that, in about 2015, the Los Angeles Public Library moved their whole LGBT section from Dewey Decimal 301.4157 to a new call number area at 306.76. Because, it turns out, what seems simple - the Dewey Decimal Catalog - is actually fraught with value judgment decisions about what books should neighbor what other books.

Orlean must have visited the stacks and made her list before the change, and a copy editor must have reviewed the list to check that the books and the numbers matched. And the copy editor found that Gaydar now had a new Dewey Decimal Number and so edited the book copy. But really, Orlean should have found a new book to stick in her list so that the numbers could stay in order. Erik Erikson's Childhood and Society, at 301.43, would have done the trick.

You know, for nitpickers like me.

I digress. The Library Book is a lovely paean to books and libraries and reading, and you should read it. Take it out of your local library.