Monday, December 31, 2007

Brother Odd in Lapland

Today, gray and rainy, the house peaceful, clean and still glowing with Christmas lights, I had the physical sensation of my heart centering itself in my body, my racing brain at rest. Maybe it was that everything extraneous has been put away: the house felt serene with the rugs vacuumed, tables polished, the Christmas reindeer in their place (see last year's post). The cats snoozed on the couch and the bed, full grown girls now, stretched out, paws and legs akimbo, in their fur-abouts, as Dylan Thomas once wrote. And I was in the kitchen, having polished off my two cappuccini under the sway of the still present scent of the chocolate chip cookies baked yesterday afternoon. The mixing bowls, still in the dish drain, did not stand a chance: lemon biscotti were a perfect excuse to turn the oven on again (the cats turned over on their backs, a display of belly fur). I made my way through the newspaper between batches, wrapped ham and cheese in pastry dough for savories for New Years, and so kept the oven going well through the real estate and magazine sections. If you count the paper, I read a lot. If I think of how I used to devour books, my overloaded brain and body have barely managed it. It really was the first day in a long while that I felt that I could breathe. A trip to the bookstore was in order.

Naturally, the minute I started the engine, rain and little shards of hail poured down on my car, but this only made the vision of sitting at home again with a new book and a cup of tea more appealing. I had a list, but, good news for those who think reading is going the way of the Smith Corona, the bookstore was out of stock when it came to a good number of my choices. And so I left with two, Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name, by Vendela Vida, and Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz. The second is a stretch for me; I am not much for horror or mystery, and haven't read the other Odd Thomas books. A review from a while back had made it intriguing, and there it was. Home again, tea made, feet up, cats unchanged but for a reinterpretation of what was akimbo where, I settled in. Never one to have two books going at once, I did sample up to Chapter Three of Brother after giving the first twenty pages of Northern Lights a go. The latter's opening of landing in Helsinki in the winter drew me in (that is one of my fantasies), but not before I had a good, satisfying taste of the Koontz. Hours later and Let The Northern Lights... finished, I have realized that I quite inadvertently brought home two books in which the protagonists are chasing ghosts, whose lives are riddled by and with eidola* whose substance cannot be grasped for what they are, but lead the main characters in each toward the promise of being able to grasp them quite clearly, and, at least in the case of Vida's book, denies itself before her eyes. I shall have to finish the Koontz book (I am deep in, but need sleep and wanted to write, and must get up early to dip the biscotti in melted chocolate and start the fruitcake) before I can see how far I can/should take this aleatory opportunity for comparison, but so far, I find it quite compelling to think about them side by side: Vida's, for example, takes place mostly in the pure white landscape of northern Finland and Norway, then Lapland (Finmark), in blankness and muteness (the main character cannot speak the language), and all the while, or most of the while, since it is winter so far north, it is dark, and every time she lays her hands on something she thinks is real or true, it slips away from her. Brother Odd, as far as I have gotten, starts out chasing bodachs (slithering shadows that portend disaster and feed on doom) through the dark winter night of the monastery. Odd's quarry is not at all figurative: symbolic, but not figurative. He sees the dead in their unrest as well, truly mute and not held back by a language barrier. How strange, to have carried home two books where the characters crunch through the snow in the dark and cold night, chasing a glimpse of an apparition, fearful to find it, fearful not to. One may reply that this is an archetypal plot, and this I certainly know, but the fact that I ended up with these two books, both winter landscaped quests for, ultimately, identity, that is resonating with me, as my own quest of late has been haunted by winters or the longing for one.

[*The term eidolon (pl. eidola) is (Classical) Greek for apparition, an appearance, a phantom. It appears in Plato, and in Gorgias, the Greek sophist, who wrote the Encomium of Helen, and in other places. So far, the concept seems applicable to both novels.]

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Farewell, Benazir

This morning, I was so stunned to read the headline on my news feed, "Bhutto's Assassination..." that I checked the Times website, thinking I could not have missed something like that. According to the reports, Bhutto was murdered a mere thirty-six minutes before I came upon the news, probably while I was padding around the kitchen, sipping my cappuccino. The snippet of an interview that she had given to Ann Curry, played this evening on NBC, was heart-rending: what if, Curry asked her, she died ? Would the return to Pakistan have been worth it ? Two women, sitting in comfortable chairs at the moment, but who had both in the past taken risks with their lives. A look passed between them, and Bhutto answered by recalling her father, to whom she spoke the day before he was executed. He regretted, he told her, that he would not see his children marry, that he would not see his grandchildren. She hoped, she told Curry, that god would protect her, that she would live to see those things. A well-spoken, articulate woman who clearly loved her country, she will see none of those things. I am deeply cynical about the US's sudden fearfulness about Pakistan's stability in the aftermath of her death. It seemed that they had given up on her, favoring the other opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, who has now apparently pulled out of the elections. Bush ("grim faced" they said) was quick to denounce this terrorist activity, but I wonder if Bhutto's strong faith in actual democracy had become inconvenient. I remember when she was elected Prime Minister, a role model for many women of all faiths and political stripes across the globe. Goodbye, Benazir, may the God who knows all and any faiths rest your soul and bring your children and husband peace.

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's A Long, Long, Island

Yesterday was the annual family trek out to a remote spit of Long Island, way out there, exit 60 something or other. We went into Manhattan to pick up some city relatives, then out onto the island, where, on a beautiful warm and sunny day, we whiled away what should have been several hours of drinks in front of a fireplace in some of the worst traffic we have ever hit, right out of the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Arrived at last, we sensed, rightly or wrongly, as we slugged down our wine, snarfed cheese and crackers, and huddled near the fire (the warmth had gone out of the day in more ways than one) that we were being secretly held at fault. We had arrived before the stated dinner hour, but not in the usual timeframe of leaving several hours before it to watch a game, kick back on their enormous couch (= size of flatscreen), and refuse voluminous trays of appetizers (the best, alas, had seen a better hour by the time we made it through the door). I did, in a way, miss that precious time to relax, but did have a much better appetite for the real feast, and that it was, traditional turkey, stuffing, too many scrumptious side dishes, and seven pies to choose from for dessert. Then a repeat return trip, minus most of the traffic. Many of the local relatives were talking of going out to outlet stores at midnight or getting up at three to shop at four, whereas my immediate branch of the family, being hibernators instead of hunter-gatherers, had a) already shopped in October; b) lightning-quick dsl and a shopping list set to go; c) no intention of shopping until a few weeks before Christmas.
I love the Friday after Thanksgiving for a reason that is apparently disappearing: it is a beautiful quiet day. To wake up in one's own bed, have cappuccinos and breakfast slowly, call friends, read the paper section by section; by afternoon, a little Christmas music, a little lazy cleaning, maybe. The sun was streaming in through the windows, my Thanksgiving cactus had opened two pink flowers, cats were playing and then contentedly dozing.... marvelous. Now, time to write, call another friend for a telephone tea time, and maybe, just maybe, a little internet shopping/browsing. Manhattan reminded me that I do miss living in a city. If I were living in a good walking city, I'd be out tonight, probably would have been out today, just walking and looking. It was fine, though, to slip into a late afternoon nap with the cats nearby, an option in city or country. How is everyone else's day after going ?

A later PS: And I learned a new word that I like a lot, via a blog called "Ankle Biter:" kleptocrats. According to the blog, these are the folk who confiscate the security risk objets du jour at the airport, and, yes, sell them on ebay.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Delocation, Dyslocation, Dissed Location

That is, "dys-" from the Greek, meaning "bad." Burned your tongue lately at the 21st century's equivalent of Chock Full O' Nuts ? (Actually, Chock is looking better and better these days. Look here.) Before their rampant ubiquity and super-size mentality took hold, Starbucks had great coffee. I lived in the Pacific Northwest when Starbucks essentially was the local coffee shop. Now, alas, far from its native home, it seems to serve up milky diluted brews and scalding teas in only paper cups (Starbucks used to have real plates, real cups, real silverware). So:

How did I not know about this, a "Delocator" that will take you away from the neighborhood Starbucks (not that there is anything wrong with some rare Starbucks, where they still know how to make coffee, but when, you know, you need a real cappucino made by independent folk who want to make good coffee and a living), and to a list of real neighborhood coffee shops ? Its content is user-created, and it includes cinemas and bookstores, too. You can go mobile with it, perfect for long days in unfamiliar towns. Found via Slate. I sense that my few readers are coffee hounds. Get to it, you folks, and add some content. I'm counting on you !

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

White Rabbit With A Pocketwatch, Bottle That Said "Drink Me"

Well, metaphorically anyway, life has been like that. Luckily, no rolling up of the hedgehogs for croquet. At this point, I would most likely be a hedgehog in that scenario... As usual, I'm very short on sleep and even more short on free time. The science section of the Times is sitting next to me, unread, for one thing. Will read with morning cappucino at five. Check. Piece of chocolate chip pound cake before bed will cost a bit of sleep, but worth the cost. Meanwhile, after hearing about it ad infinitum, I visited the Radiohead site and downloaded In Rainbows. I had no problem accessing the site (the hype must be past); the dilemma, as everyone knows and if you experience it as one, is what to pay, since that is what the buzz is all about: you pay what you think it is worth. From what I have seen on the net, people have apparently been conditioned by itunes to pay 9.99, as if this is a fair market, standard, or "honest" price. I paid nothing, being a) not a Radiohead fan, and b) ---as we all know--- too short of time to listen before purchasing. The thrill of legally adding so many free songs to my itunes and pod has made me look favorably upon Radiohead. And, I actually like the songs. So I'm wondering: will they add a "Buyer's Remorse" button where those who feel they should have paid more can pony up, and those who overcharged themselves get a refund ?

Friday, August 31, 2007

President Bushed

I had occasion to dip into the fall Phi Beta Kappa Key Reporter this morning, and on page eleven, under "Phi Beta Kappa in the News," found the following intro to an item," President Bushed announced May 30 that..." Typo, yeah, I'll bet. Giggle. PBK doesn't strike me as particularly liberal politically. Liberal arts defenders, yes, but I'll bet the old guard is not amused. I am. They'll blame spell check, right ?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cones, Repurposed

Hurricane Dean has brought in a new phrase along with its class-4 destruction: the weather forecasters keep talking about the cone of concern. This "cone" is a modeled projection of the anticipated sixty-five mile radius (I use that term very loosely) of a hurricane's striking distance, the cone shape being produced by, one assumes, force vectors. The term has been used at a specialized level for years, but forecasters across the nation must have had a seminar, as a quick google 'round the block will reveal that Hurricane Season 2007 is the moment that the "cone of concern" has emerged among the hoi polloi. I think it is a marvelous term, and will have immediate application to venues outside of meteorology, e.g. I'm sorry, but that's not within my cone of concern. Or , if that strays too far from analogy, I suspect it will make itself a presence in political/military strategyspeak, where the phrase can still invoke its reference to an approaching threat e.g. The increased presence of insurgents has created a cone of concern reaching from Fallujah to Baghdad.

The word "repurposed" is here for John B, who lives in a place that has apparently been blessedly free of corporate edu-lingo.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

An Evening at Home

The cats and I are watching Guarding Tess (1994). In the scene where Tess has the chauffeur take off from a gas station without her security detail, you can see the prices at the pump. Regular: 1.09; premium: 1.24. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Playing Tag

I've gotten my first tag, courtesy of John at Blog Meridian, who was himself tagged as an "Indie" Blog, which his tagger, Bittersweet Blue, describes as meaning "quirky and unknown." John makes a point of saying that my blog is not quirky, so I suppose that leaves us with "unknown." Uh, thanks. Not to leave my reader(s ?) with the wrong impression, John B does compliment the writing here, and that is very nice of him. So, since I have been given the task of tagging at least five, here are mine, no surprises, since I don't have a secret list of faves that I've been hiding from everyone:

Commonplace Book, written by Steph Mineart, is not unknown, at least not as unknown as some branded awarded the Indie badge, but tracks the quirks of human existence and her own adventures in life with her partner, also named Stephanie, her good friends, a few cats, and a VW Bug named Phoebe. A marvelous collection of her own book reviews, recipes, links and images, bound in among the details of her daily life: am incisive and witty mind lurks here. Read it. Steph is "Indie" in the truest sense, since she lives in Indianapolis !

Then there is Snarling Marmot, from Springfield, MO. a lovely place tucked away in the southwest corner of the state (you can get to Eureka Springs, AR or Tulsa, OK faster than you can get to St. Louis from there). "La Marmot" snarls when necessary and celebrates when called for. Life: what to do about it.

Two Dishes But To One Table I consider to be a great find. I have no idea how I found it, but linked to it immediately and haven't stopped reading it since. Evan Genest, a high school science teacher in NYC, has a fine eye for things that should not escape us. I suppose that, given his profession and his love of science, it should not be surprising that this blog has a great, "hey look what I found" kind of tone. When the author encounters something, he is interested.

Willoboe (the title is the author's first and last name, run together) is a blog from Omaha, Nebraska, with roots in the Dakotas and other plains states. Willo writes eloquently about her life and the family, neighbors and friends who populate it. A beautiful sense of place permeates this blog: Willo's sense of the geography and history of the plains and her personal relationship to it makes her a distinctive voice.

It was hard to make a fifth and final choice, but I decided to go with Dave in Suomi. Suomi, for those who may not know, is Finnish for Finland, and Dave Schultz is a professor/researcher in meteorological sciences, usually from Tulsa, OK, but currently living and working in Finland. He decided to start a blog specifically to record his adventures in Helsinki and environs. He is not a daily blogger, but writes on a regular basis, has a sharp eye, loves his work, and, it seems, the Helsinki Testbed. An Oklahoman among the Finns, serious science, a language with more vowels than consonants in any given word almost guaranteed: how is this not quirky, aka fiercely unique ?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Finis Legendi

I read straight through, forays to the kitchen for slices of blueberry poundcake and cups of tea the only interruptions, until about 2:30 am last night (yes, technically this morning). No spoilers here. I found it a very satisfying read, though since I was drawn into more and more suspense about how it would all turn out, the later twists and turns of the plot started to make me impatient, and I had to ramp it down a bit and remember to take in every moment, that the end, well, would come only as the plot and details bid it. I do not mean the outcome, i.e. the burning question of at least one fact that could be discovered by a quick dip into the last chapter. (I did not look, to be clear.) I mean that, for the reader, the richness of the ending is only to be found in the fullness of the reading that preceded it. Not to be missed, that. As in all epic tales, a reader might be disappointed by skipping to the end in order to find satisfaction. Consider the very, very, very end of the Iliad: the brooding vengeful anger of Achilles is hardly unknotted in the lines that tell us the battle will continue after a break for the funeral games for Hector. Do we know, depending on where we left off, how/if Achilles got his revenge on Hector ? How/if the body was returned ? Do not, dear reader, take this example as an allusion to HP and the Deathly Hallows. This is not about literary merit, either; merely a brief aside on the pleasure of reading. It just seemed the right moment to think about reading, impatience, and pleasure. Enjoy HP, if still reading, and take to heart this bit of Rowling's dedication "and to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end." Stay by him and take it all in. Every page now. Every page.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Picked up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this afternoon, one day after the rush, and have been reading since early evening. On page 477, so should finish tonight. I have no idea how it turns out. I've read most of the HP books, and wasn't particularly aiming to read this one, at least so soon. I actually thought well, once Saturday passes, I'll look at some spoilers and find out how it all ends. But I didn't and there it was in the store, and here I am, reading like a fiend. What a wonderful feeling !

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Lake

This is the lake out in the pines where I have spent some lovely afternoons this summer. It is a small place, tucked away off of a two lane country highway, picnic benches, grills for barbeques, lifeguarded but not forbidden when not. For residents, five dollars for the summer. There is a day pass for those from out of town who happen by. I think it is two or three dollars, and, given what urban types on the east coast are used to paying, I always hear murmurs about what a bargain it is, and it truly is: children can drag their floats and tubes and floating alligators and sand pails and shovels into the water while their parents and grandparents can plunk their beach chairs right in the shallow water, eat their sandwiches and oranges, and the lifeguards don't yell and there is no ten foot tall sign about restrictions on no tubes, no Marco Polo, no having fun, as seem to be so common everywhere (say, at my community pool). You almost never hear a radio, and if you do, it is back from the beach under the shade trees by a picnic, turned low, usually to a ball game, a horse race, or some quiet music. There is an ice cream stand, and children brave bare feet across the parking area, dollars clutched in wet and sandy hands. Okay, not only children. Much older folk circle their lawn chairs in the shade, some groups speaking in a mixture of English and the German of their youth.Every once in a while, the local patrol car circles both sides of the lake, the young officer enviously eyeing the water and the dock where, all day long, long legs and short legs, old and young, run, walk, or skitter to the edge and over the side in a polished dive, the belly flop, a cannonball, the nose-held-legs-first jacknife, all in all the perfect splash.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Middle Age

Mmmm... Cosmopolitans at a restaurant on the lake, appetizers, a drive home through the country in early evening. Friday.
Mmmm... Extra strength Excedrin, strong cup of black tea with extra sugar, good movie on tv. Fresh sheets on bed.
It's all good.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Eureka Music Update

Well, I have to say, this is the fastest (maybe the only) personal reply I've received from a website like The managing editor, Ian Mullen, returned an e-mail within an hour or two, and then another later. To my list, he added one more song, from the episode "Once in a Lifetime." If he's right, there are only three songs, and we've found them. What I called "The Ride of the Valkyries," he titled "Cavalcade of Brunhilde's Sisters;" another name for the same piece (I'll double check). There is still some background music, I think, to be listed, so let me know if you hear something familiar and have, uh, a Eureka moment. Really, the drugs are wearing off, I promise. See list in previous post for udpate.
7.6.07 Confirmed: "Ride of the Valkyries" and "Cavalcade for Brunhilde's Sisters" are the same piece. Thought so. My father liked to mow the lawn to it, but that's another post.

Hungry and Dopey are not the Seven Dwarves

They are instead the effect of antihistamines, shovelfuls of which I have been consuming since last night, when some sudden but quite real allergy attack visited upon me the whole demonic scenario of fits of sneezing, itchy, itchy eyes, face, mouth, and general pre-anaphylactic malaise. All the while, thunder menaced our little nostalgic barbecue. Okay, perhaps not "shovelfuls" of antihistamines, but it feels like it: I started in on Zyrtec, but that takes a while to build up in one's bloodstream, so it was recommended that I supplement with something quick-acting, like benadryl. You can only imagine: I'm starving, but just about too sleepy to eat. Trying to stay awake long enough to devour the goat cheese, pesto, and pinenut ravioli simmering on the stove. Downloading a movie while I write. Can nap while it downloads. I wish I could set an alarm for the end of a long download. There must be widget for that somewhere, right ? If anyone out there is creating one, please make pleasant sounds for the alarm. No screaming chickens, Homer Simpson, or rap-oxious beats, ca-va ?
Speaking of charming sounds, or sound at least, in my doped and insatiate state, I spent some downtime on the couch rewatching an episode of Eureka (the sci-fi, not the anime). The episode, called "Dr. Nobel," has a song on it, that after much jumbling of keywords on a few search engines, I discovered (eureka ! sorry) to be "Eve of Destruction," performed by Novillero. It's not available on itunes, but their website (see below) supposedly has a link to their Facebook page where one can find the song (I couldn't). I have liked a few other tracks that I've heard on this series, but I haven't been able to find out what they are. Novillero, for example, is not credited with the song in the credits for the episode. Official and unofficial websites didn't have any info either (yes, I've been on the couch a long time today). Anyone out there with either the dvd of the season or downloaded episodes who can add to my three item list below ? Thanks to John of Blog Meridian, I'm working my way through a very cool list of music from all places around the globe, particularly French speaking Africa. John ? Anyone ? Good ear, has seen Eureka ?

The list:
Theme Song for Series: performed by Mutato Muzica:; I have an mp3 of the theme, but that's too much up/downloading for me right now.
Dr. Nobel Eve of Destruction, Novillero (not on itunes)
Purple Haze Ride of the Valkyries, Wagner
(Hendrix’s Purple Haze is not played in the episode)
Once in a Lifetime Can't Find My Way Home, Steve Winwood (this find/update courtesy of Ian Mullen, managing editor of

Friday, June 29, 2007

Cordelia Learns A New Word And An Unrelated Annoying Fact

Googie. I have been following Steph Mineart's tales of being part of a (new) VW Bug inspired, tongue-firmly-in-cheek pilgrimage to Roswell, NM, at Commonplace Book. Firstly, I have learned that the new bugs are referred to by their loving owners as "pods." Better, she kept referring to things, buildings, sites, as "googie." After the third or fourth "googie," I realized that the old fallback of using context clues was not making me very clueful, so I looked it up. I quote from

"Googie" describes a futuristic, often outrageous, building style that evolved in the United States during the 1950s. Googie architecture was designed to attract customers. The name "Googie" comes from a famous coffee shop in Los Angeles. Like the shop, Googie buildings often have flashing lights, sharp angles, boomerang and flying saucer shapes, and lots of glass and steel. On the east coast, googie ideas were expressed in the zig zag rooflines of coffee shops.The Googie style is sometimes called called Coffee House Modern, Doo-Wop, Populuxe, and Space Age.
---The article is attributed to Jackie Craven.

Annoying Unrelated Fact: One cannot download Jackson Browne's "The Load Out" with its companion piece, "Stay," from the itunes site. For people who may know the song only from hearing it on the radio, this is the song about packing up from a performance and getting ready for the next road show that completely transforms the familiar lyrics "stay... just a little bit longer..." into something more bittersweet. As several reviewers on the itunes site noted, they had not realized that there were two separate tracks involved; it is always played as one.
But downloading Smashmouth's "I'm a Believer" (hey, it's catchy) suddenly made clear the joke in the Clinton Sopranos spoof: Journey, "Don't Stop Believin';" Clinton: "I'm a Believer," holy crow, I must have been really tired these past few weeks. Ha, ha, okay, now it makes sense why Bill's got his money on Smashmouth. Beautiful that the name of the band gives it a dark side, too: I'll bet there are a few mouths he'd love to smash. And I mean the old-fashioned kind of smashing, punching, not the urban dictionary definition. Hopefully, the writers of the spoof weren't implying the latter either.

Googie, good. Missing "Load Out," bad. Friday, excellent.

Friday, June 22, 2007

15.2 Hours

More or less, give or take, in the place where I currently find myself, 15.2 hours constituted my official longest day of the year yesterday (though today will hardly be noticeably different). We've had beautiful weather, and I am now officially on about six weeks vacation, so I had it in mind to do something special with the day, or at least to be awake for all of it. It started out quite well, with a jolt of cappucino:
This was shortly after dawn, and another dose cup followed soon after. I soon had breakfast on and laundry going, not the stuff of a legendary day, but I wasn't out for that, wasn't looking for the big trip, the special event, the dawn or evening plunge into the sea. A nice bike ride in the afternoon would have been nice. My one ambitious project was to force myself to actually go to the dealer of a certain type of automobile, as my current beloved vehicle is still beloved, but rapidly showing the signs of having exceeded its natural lifespan some time ago. I would see to it, do the test drive, play those preliminary car-buying games, and then have enough natural daylight left to recover. The dealer is some ways away, so I called before setting out, only to find that the agent I'd been talking with was out for the day. I suppose I could have gone anyway, but I'd dealt with him on the phone, etc. etc. So I didn't go. I ran some errands out in the bright day instead, breezes sweeping the trees and flowers around, sun everywhere. Perhaps it is the relief of vacation finally here, compounded by having survived a trying round of cutbacks at work, perhaps it was the idea of all that time, all that luxurious time. I bought some birthday presents for a soon to be eighty-one year old friend of my mother's, groceries, finally my own copy of The Kite Runner, which I have picked up and put down at least twenty times since last summer, thinking "wait until you have time" (am I the only person out there who admits to just getting to this book ? I admit it with genuine happiness that I now have time to really dig in). By the time I came home, my plans for late afternoon cookie baking and then a foray out to the local lake were being countervailed by heavy legs and a webby brain. Not coincidentally, I assume, had come along a mass of dark thunder clouds, thickening the sky, dropping the temperature, ratcheting up the breeze to something more menacing and imminent. Scarcely had the tea been made, the laptop and other assorted electronics been unplugged or surge protector assured than did the lightening crack right next to boom after boom, did the cats affix themselves to the carpet fibers under the bed, and I ----. Cup of tea in hand, blanket fetched from bed, body on couch (it was by now very dark), The Kite Runner clearly demanding more energy than I had, I kept hearing in my head, Dream of Thunder, Perfect Mind. That's the coptic, not the film or, I take it, the band. I don't know were the "dream of" part came from, it doesn't seem to be part of the title, though I think I remember it as the title in one of my textbooks in college or elsewhere. It was the title that kept repeating itself, though I looked up the whole text today (linked above), and, of course, how apropos it was, at least the first lines, for such a display of force going on outside of my window. I am often energized by thunderstorms, and have vacuumed, showered, written, and/or baked when conditions have suggested otherwise: the real electricity (or is it nitrogen ? or both ?) in the air, the cooling and clearing sky: I've gone out to meet it. Nothing so rash as dancing around in an empty field, but something so foolish as sitting out on my porch, rain drenching me, lightening flashing away. Only when I lived in a tropical climate did I find disappointment with thunderstorms. The huge rain and enormous crashes of light and sound seemed to bring only more humidity and steaminess, as if some giant had taken a shower and we were trapped in its bathroom. I would dearly like to experience thundersnow, a phenomenon known to occur in the midwest where I lived, but not one that visited during that time. Thunder, I thought, perfect mind.... A mantra or, more likely, a koan, reverberated, and my own consciousness fell away. From my 15.2 hours, subtract three, which, to judge from the gray pallor of the sky to which I opened my eyes, seems only to have been day in technical sense. The rest of the day/evening revived itself: the cats emerged, I put on another cup of tea, started dinner, and tugged my laptop out to the balcony to watch the sun go down, the neighbors' lights go on across the little woods, the birds coming home, the summer settling in.

Update, 6.23.07: I was intrigued, when I browsed for the text, by the mention of a "Thunder, Perfect Mind" short (6 minute) film, by Jordan Scott (daughter of Ridley). An even shorter version (4 minutes) was used for a Prada perfume commercial, though I found the original (?) version of that, fully credited to the director and with rolling credits at the end, on YouTube. It was filmed in Berlin. It juxtaposes a woman on a train reading the text of the Nag Hammadi poem (voiced over in English) with vignettes of a woman in situations related to the words, or meant to relate to the words. The perfume image at the end is jarring. It's a very poetic piece. Commercialism, the arts, the twenty-first century: whose product placement is whose here? The film.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Human Beauty

Tonight I came across a wonderful blog, quite by accident. Perhaps I really ought to take up surfing (the in the water with a board kind), since recording my way to this fantastic photoblog is, uh, revealing. Perhaps this stream of consciousness will be valuable to those of you out there for whom this is meaningful information: I was looking for confirmation that the gruesome bug I found crawling on my couch was (actually, is, since the cats have not had their way with it yet) an earwig. Confirmed. Apparently, there is also a band named "Earwig" and a slew of blogs which also incorporate "earwig" in some form into their titles. I didn't click on any of these, or the band. Instead, for some odd reason, the search also brought up an entry in Dave Barry's blog from 2006 on a Folger's commercial called "Happy Morning" that has quite the cult following. Thinking that there must be a more recent "Happy Morning" episode, I googled that title and among the blogs and other arenas mentioning the same piece over and over (apparently there is no sequel), I found, several entries down from the link to Happy Morning, a link to Parigo Studios.

They are based near the Kansas City area in Lexington, MO. They do wedding portraits, but these are perhaps some of the best photographed you will ever see. There is a real artistry here, a real feel and eye for the human condition: this is art in every sense. Do not be misled by any associations you have with the words "wedding photography." The photographs happen to be mainly from weddings; they are about all other sorts of things. I've copied this one, from the wedding of "Joe and Julie," who, the blog says, met on their grade school bus. I love the photo on the left--- (the bride looks so young !): it captures the lovely quirk to her smile, lights upon the je ne sais quoi of her attractiveness, all in a glance. her joy in this and several other photos almost brought tears to my eyes. One should be so lucky to be photographed like this in one's lifetime. I've added this site to my list of midwest blogs.

For contrast, here is "Happy Morning." Blogdom seemed agog at its genius and its truth about us humans. Again, justaposition works best here; I need say no more. I'd rather reuse my Illy grounds than drink Folgers, so I may be biased.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pie Weights and Spring Cleaning

On June 3rd, I wrote optimistically, I cannot believe it has been almost a month since I've posted, especially since I visit my blog often to use my own links to stay up to date on what everyone else has been writing. There will be a real post here by the end of this weekend. Off to garden before the rain hits first.

Right. It is a very, very busy time at work, and truth be told, I've been paying more attention to other people's blogs than my own. I've also been trying to bring my very rusty French up to speed via everything that is available on the web. Even compared to five years ago, the increase in the number and quality of resources available on the internet is wonderful and astounding. I wonder if this has to do with the Barcelona Accords (link to be posted), since a number of the best sites are from within the EU and are aimed at getting university level students ready to function as students or perhaps even in entry level business positions in other countries within or bordering the EU. I have been listening to French audio at RFI, and taking the little quizzes on aural comprehension is humbling. I'm at about 65%, maybe 75% when I am not tired. Alas, I have never had the opportunity to live in a French speaking country, but I am getting ready to travel again, and with middle age comes boldness.The desire to communicate and comprehend simply quashes the fear of messing up and the imagined horror of one's own incomprehensibility. I'd forgotten how happy the very sounds of other languages make me (as you can tell from at least one posting, I know Latin, but that is not the same sort of thing). I had also planned to learn another language, just for fun, something for me. For a long time, I thought maybe Irish Gaelic, since we have family on the west coast of Ireland and when I was very young, my cousins used to speak to me in Gaelic. Perhaps on that note, it is not new enough, or exotic enough, but it will have to wait. I actually window shopped for languages the new-fangled way: I went to sites on the internet such as omniglot, and listened to samples of languages I thought I'd like to know. I hit up Rosetta Stone's site, as that is actually a very good method for learning a language (they're not kidding in all of those ads). For a long time, I have been interested in northern Europe, and so I listened very carefully to Swedish (also a maybe), Danish (didn't like it as much as I thought I would). I did more than this, of course, but perhaps this aspect is the most interesting part, that one can sample grammars and lessons on line, one can see if there is a real aural appeal. Naturally, there are many reasons people learn a language. In my profession (sorry, yes, the vagueness will have to stay), the Northern countries also would offer some practical opportunities. Finnish. Yes, it has fifteen cases and vowel harmony, but I've encountered cases and spelling shifts in other languages. I have found an excellent course, Finnish for Foreigners online, and have been working through it at a leisurely pace. There, all in one breath, is what I have been up to in my spare time. yes, of course I plan to go to Finland...

Maybe there is a connection here to the picture I posted. In late May/ early June, I spent some time getting my apartment in better shape. Even after a few years, I find that a number of things are parked exactly where I (mis)placed them "temporarily" immediately after I moved in. So it was a surprise, and a pleasant one, when in the middle of making a pastry crust for a peach tart, I thought, "oh, I wish I had those beans I used to use for pie weights [to keep the dough from rising up when the crust cooks]," and I reached down to where I would have kept the can in the old place and put my hand directly on the right thing, which had been sitting there waiting for me all that time. So I had all of these thoughts about how spring cleaning, or even hunting about in a cabinet for a specific thing, can suddenly raise or lift a weight from the past. No puns on pies or gaining weight, which, uh, I don't really do.

So there it was, my old Illy Cafe can, marked so that I didn't try to cook the beans, sitting on the counter next to the latest Starbucks bag, espresso the constant, a small bit of my past self refound as it should be. It all worked literally and metaphorically (it had been years since I made the peach tart). My reconnection with modern languages feels the same: I used to do this , I think, quite surprised, that I was understanding as much French as I did, that is is all still in there, somehow, and the sheer pleasure of that has taken the edge off not a few of my days.

I've added some links on the sidebar: a great and current blog by a meteorological scientist working in Finland Dave In Suomi, and that of a Finnish journalist and geneologist there who writes of her life and work, Daydreaming in Helsinki.
Thanks to Willoboe, whose blog brought Dave's to my attention. And now, I really do have to get my constantly sleep-deprived self back to some real work !

Monday, May 07, 2007

What Taste Loves and the Body Refuses

Crab cakes, homemade and simmering under the lid of the pan; Vietnamese coffee, served up as you find it in Houston and Saigon (Ho-Chi-Minh City to you little ones), sweet chilled condensed milk in a glass(in Houston, with ice), thick brewed hot coffee poured on top; almond torte for dessert; salad in between: spring greens, herbs, beautiful little tomatoes. I can't eat any of these things. I love them all. My only real allergy is to crab, an allergy now full blown to the point of meriting an Epipen, which I carry everywhere, in case of accidental ingestion. I grew up eating crab, fresh from the ocean, Mrs. Paul's, didn't matter, crab is good, delicious, sweet. Other foods are stuffed with it; can't touch those then either. The severity of the reaction apparently inched up as I aged, until one year in my thirities, I found myself driving myself to an ER around midnight, scratching fierely itching swelling palms and on my steering wheel, slipping off my sandals at a light to rub the soles of my feet on the clutch. I was taken in immediately, even ahead of a guy with his arm dangling at an inhuman angle who said "You go 'head, honey," as I pointed him out to a triage nurse, who, I was sure, had made a mistake. My whole body was red and swollen by that point. No more crab, ever. This allergy may migrate, expand, to other shellfish and maybe to salmon, I'm told (iodine is the common factor), and thus the secondary reason for the Epipen. With the coffee, it seems to be the condensed milk, or maybe the contrast of hot and cold. Cappucinos, as you'll see from several posts, do not bother me. The almond thing is fairly new, not as severe as the crab, though maybe related to it, but a flag of caution all the same. As if anaphylactic shock weren't bad enough, the severe intestinal distress brought on by the lot of these, and anything else my body's weak point can't handle, is, uh, gut wrenching (sorry, sorry, I know. Have blogs no boundaries ?). I've a long standing diagnosis and some remedies for the effects of my fickle system, though nothing to make it less fickle.

At the moment, I absolutely have to go to bed, so let me get to the first point, and return to others later in the week: due mainly to the first and severe condition, though somewhat due to the nature of the beast in its entirety, I have become one of those people, who query the hosts of parties, pass up what is termed "oh probably tuna salad" at potlucks, prods suspisciously at fillings, and after praising someone's garden to the skies, says no thank you to the salad, please. One of those. The rub of it all: I love food, I love to try new food, and except for the crab, which is so clear cut, other foods sometimes get a pass, so I sometimes forget and eat merrily away. If I am lucky, the awful spasms come later, when I am at home and have time, but I have sometimes been fantastically unlucky and nowhere near home. Sorry to break at such a cliffhanger, but I really do have to go to bed. Comments welcome, special diets and amateur diagnoses should know better.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Short Post: NHH's, or, Nausea Ad Nauseam

I will be catching up on things this weekend. The VTI tragedy is also very much on my mind. This post is really a brief interrogatory: re the Don Imus fiasco, how is it that this incident and its result, which was catalyzed by and continues to feed upon language deemed unacceptable in civilized society, seems to have given every journalist in the US and elsewhere permission to repeat the exact words of this slur ad nauseam ? Everyone in the media, it seems, can now use the phrase with impunity, except, of course, Imus. For the record, I am a very strong proponent of First Amendment rights. Rather than debating whether they apply in Imus's case per se, I am more interested in the disparity in the claims for legitimate use (or maybe, in the lack of them, since I have yet to see one news anchor or commentator defend, or be called upon to defend, the repetition of the offending phrase). The whole thing really feels like kids saying to an adult, "Tommy said it first. I'm just telling you what Tommy said..."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chemical Farms

I had wondered when we would find out who had supplied the poisonous wheat gluten to Menu Foods, the company that, as it turns out, manufactures a great deal of the "unique" and expensive (as well as generic) cat and dog food in the US and Canada. The latest link in what is now a devastating chain of broken trust between pet and owner, owner and brand name, brands and their suppliers, etc., has come to light. Though I did not see it in the print media, sites such as The Daily Kos were talking about it last week. I found it after checking the update on MenuFoods' site. It is a company called ChemNutra ("The China Source Experts"). The irony of the spliced "chem+"nutra" is now only too obvious, as the fact that one would buy wheat gluten, something so easily, but not, I'm sure, as cheaply ---and I mean in every sense of that word--- produceable in the US and Canada, from that slave-labor dependent, human-rights denying, dog-shooting nation. I suppose if I wanted a monolithic, but perhaps more famous theme blog, I would try to chronicle a year of trying to live without, or buy any products made in China. Trust me, I've given it a casual go, and it's not easy, except on the most superficial level. By-products are everywhere. For example, would you have known that Science Diet also used ChemNutra as its supplier for their one recipe that contains wheat gluten ? Read the package, and it seems as if it's all coming from the US, or at least places that respect human rights. The only good news ? Since ChemNutra is a US company, they can be sued and held responsible. Here is how their website describes the company:

ChemNutra imports quality ingredients from China to the U.S. for the feed, food and pharma industries. We are a professionally managed, American owned company experienced in negotiating, securing and delivering ultra-competitive pricing on high-quality chemicals and ingredients from quality-assured manufacturers in China. We bridge the business and cultural gaps…including all regulatory, compliance, import and transportation requirements.

We specialize in Taurine, L-Cysteine, Glycine, Vital Wheat Gluten, and Glucuronolactone, and we also handle many other ingredients.

ChemNutra imports over 4,000 tons per year, and our customers include several Fortune 500 companies.

Note, when you go to their products list, that the "chemicals" they are talking about are human and animal nutrients, including a long list of vitamins. Naturally, ChemNutra has been quick to name its Chinese source, a company one presumes is beyond the reach of true regulation and the law. Simply click on "Media Info" on their web site to read the whole press release, excerpted here: ChemNutra Inc. yesterday recalled all wheat gluten it had imported from one of its three Chinese wheat gluten suppliers – Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. [...]ChemNutra did not ship to facilities that manufacture food for human consumption, and the distributor ChemNutra shipped to supplies wheat gluten only to pet food manufacturers. The total quantity of Xuzhou Anying wheat gluten shipped was 792 metric tons. ChemNutra learned on March 8 from one pet food manufacturer that the wheat gluten it had sold them – all from the Xuzhou Anying - was among ingredients suspected as a potential cause of pet food problems.

That's seven hundred ninety-two metric tons. And "among the ingredients suspected as a potential cause" stills sounds too hopeful, doesn't it ?

Let me close this post with a report from the AP wires from today's local paper, as irony by juxtaposition says so much more than I might be able to sum up otherwise:

BEIJING: One person died and more than 200 people fell sick after eating food that may have been contaminated with rat poison at a hospital restaurant in northeast China, state media and the hospital said Tuesday.Xinhua News Agency said the victims included patients and staff at the Heilongjiang Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It said the victims all ate porridge for breakfast at the hospital's restaurant Monday, and investigators suspected the water had been contaminated by rat poison.
Mass poisonings are common in China.

Monday, March 19, 2007

My ipod's Five W's

First, I admit to owning one (30 gb video version, black), and second, confess to playing it more through my Bose or in the car (definitely not a Bose in there) with one of those fm transmit devices than to actually podding up with earbuds, though this may be due to the nature of my work and the hours I keep. I spent some excellent time during summer evenings watching videos on its tiny screen, earbuds in, podded out on my porch.

The point ? Over at Two Dishes But To One Table Evan, the author, has a response to someone asking how many songs on his ipod begin with the "5 W" question words: who, what, when, where, and why. This seemed interesting, especially as Evan termed it, these are "the questions I walk around listening to." As confessed, I haven't done much walking with them lately, but I was curious to see what would turn up. Alas, apparently there is a paucity of questions in the songs I spend time with, but here is the result of my search of my ipod library. Out of 316 items:

Who is this Man ? ; Bob Telson/Lee Breur Gospel at Colonus
What A Wonderful World; Armstrong
What a Bore; Muzzle
When We Collide; KD Lang
O Brother, Where Art Thou ? (Album)
Why do the Nations So Furiously Rage ? (Handel, Messiah)

•Unless you count the album title for O Brother, Where are Thou ?, it is interesting that the only two songs that actually ask a question come from oratorios.

•No where’s or why’s on my list, at least not as the first word or a question.

And so I decided to check for "how ?," the artful question that binds the five W’s into a narrative. I found three, but note that only one is interrogative, asking in what mannner; the other two express magnitude:

How Shall I See You Through ? (Gospel at Colonus again)
How Great Our Lord; Randy Newman’s Faust
How Far You’ve Come The Wallflowers, Rebel, Sweetheart

Image: St. Patrick's Day Ice Storm, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lapsed Blogging

Am exhausted. Working hard and on the hunt for my true work simultaneously. Am watching 24 and barely following, e.g. just figured out Charles Logan was the president last season. Will give this blog some time someday soon. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that porci gruniunt means "the pigs are grunting" in Latin and I could have lived quite well, I think, without knowing that.

No no info on my last post; I could never discover the story behind what I saw.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Late Sunday Afternoon Blogging & On (Not) Going Home

It is snowing quite nicely outside, chocolate chip cookies are fresh
out of the oven, and I've made my way to the couch with some of those
and a cup of tea. It's awful how fast the weekend goes, but perhaps
that is what makes this late afternoon time of greying skies and
swirling flakes so delicious. It is wonderful just to be in this moment
after a strangely tiring week.

On my way home midweek, Thursday, I went along the main road through town, which unlike Main Street, has become a busy road, splitting lakeside from countryside, and mixing little cottages with a Burger King,WaWa, MacDonald's and Seven Eleven, a Firestone, a gas station, and a generic autoshop in all of three blocks. There was a car pulled over to the side opposite me, also a police car, an older man in a yellow school crossing-guard poncho, and two young police officers standing next to a new-looking compact car, light metallic blue, whose passenger side door was open, and into which they were peering now and then. Traffic was stop and go and the speed limit is very low; I looked over at the car. At the wheel, eyes closed and head slightly slumped, was a fairly elderly man. There are a number of retirement communities in the area, and the car could have been headed back from the supermarket up the road back toward home. It had been raining, and now there was a sheen as the sun came out: kids were walking home from school, cars kicked up spray. The officers and crossing guard did not look anxious, as if they were waiting for an ambulance. Perhaps they had not determined what was wrong. The man's face was quite visible to me across the road: he was comfortably dressed, looked like flannel and a jacket; his skin had the pale softness that the old often have; pale lashes, red gone to grey. He had a cap on; some grey hair. It was a beautiful afternoon and the sun glowed on his skin, the closed eyes, the tilted head. The car was pulled over neatly onto the shoulder, perfectly straight, wheels aligned. Perhaps, I imagined, he felt something coming on, a diabetic sugar low, pulled over and had time to communicate and is now just resting. I hoped, but I saw no movement, nor did I see the officers attempting to get him out of the car. The scene was very quiet, a pause where only the slushing of car tires kept any rhythm at all.

I hoped, but as the light changed and traffic began its slow advance up the hill, I had such a powerful image of an old man, feeling well enough, gone to market in his little sporty car, all set for home, and then--- And then. Perhaps it was because I was on the last leg of my commute, having imagined for miles the cookies and tea I would soon be savouring, but the idea that he had gone out for a simple errand, had left his house, looked at the things that comforted him and that he loved, perhaps was already imagining returning to, was unshakable for quite some time. For a brief moment, as my car passed out of view of his, I wondered if a cat was waiting for him at home, a spouse, a loyal dog. How short life is; out for an errand, and you're gone. I've known people who have had terrible, protracted deaths, others who knew it was coming, others suddenly gone. Not the point to debate the merits of each here, and no point in that, really, at all. I don't know what happened to him; no has story appeared in the paper. I wonder, did he get to go home again ? For the sake of that gentle, sun-touched face, I hope so.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Stand in Awe

and sin not; commune with your own heart upon thy bed. And be still.

For the record, I am Episcopalian, so ecumenical as might be construed as heretical, sometime church-going. It may be that nostalgia for the beauty of the King James, the comforting familiarity of ritual have as much or more to do with my religious self than any firm sense of God (or god, or gods). I do not struggle with this. This little bit of Psalm Four, though, stumbled upon a few years ago, often presents itself to me in times high emotion, good or bad. I realize that I have tried to make it, stripped of any particular theology, a rule for living: awe is not a bad stance, a transmutation of fear or surprise into something more conciliatory. "Sin not:" don't do what you shouldn't. And communing with one's heart covers sleep lost to anxiety, thanks before sleep, dreams of all kinds. It is the last that is the hardest: how to be still, when and how to quiet one's soul.

And so this question has come to me recently. Things are tense at the job I do not like; cuts are imminent, and I am practical enough to appreciate an unloved job that brings financial security as opposed to no job. Which brings us to this post's real topic: fear, the taste of fear. I mean this literally. I had no sense of this until about five years ago, when I was suddenly and cruelly upended by someone --- by several people, but someone in particular--- in whom I had placed much trust. The result of my loss was shattering, and physical: a long-distance and excellent driver since I got my license, I could not go through an intersection, even on a green light, without fearing that cars would suddenly come across. I did not trust cars to stay in their lanes, and even now I tense when I see a car waiting to enter the roadway, so shaken has been my sense of how reality operates. And there were ---and are--- physical sensations, face feeling hot, body feeling weak, a buzz in the ears, and most of all, a strange and lingering taste in my mouth that has returned as late, one that, when I first tasted it, took months to identify: fear. The taste of fear.

Having read about it in novels, accepted the phrase as a reality with no experience of it, I found it in my own mouth. I do not think I can do better than the clich├ęs I have encountered: a tang, an odd metallic flavor tinged with bitterness, no dry mouth required, though often present. When I was younger, though I had occasions that ought to have begotten it (such as, e.g. having a gun aimed at me by someone who thought my lover was sleeping with his wife. Yes.), that taste did not come to me. Other anxieties, less dramatic, but certainly worthy of it, deaths in the family, not getting a wanted position, nose-diving in an airplane, did not awaken it. My young self perhaps had other options: anxiety shaped itself into lustful desires, high states of excitement, tolerance for alcohol, long walks through various cities in the night, depression, aches in the legs. I wonder now if this taste of fear comes with age and/or with an internal clock that tracks an evolutionary urge for survival. For example, I'm quite sure young people serving in Iraq have tasted fear. Younger than myself, they've found it can't be washed away by cigarettes or beer, I've no doubt. Extreme situations would find their way to a primal response. But for myself and others who have led relatively unextreme lives, I wonder if this mechanism, this taste, presents itself with age. Should I say mechanism ? I don't know what it would have me do but swish my tongue and feel anxious. The peculiar tang is no mystery: it is adrenaline. Maybe in youth it channels itself into alternate forms of action; in middle age, its presence seems far less veiled: danger it calls, warning. Middle age, like it or not, not as many chances. The primitive ---or primal--- brain isn't fooled by "you're as young as you feel" stuff. Fight or flight drips down my throat, a raw bitter substance whose alchemy seems to depend more and more on the force of my conscious will than any subconscious interpretation and transmutation of it. Itaque haec habent. It's a simple question I wanted to articulate in this post: does fear present itself to us more physically as we age/run through one too many encounters ? Does this arise out of a deeply ingrained survival mechanism of our species ? If so, how to act on it, how, as we began, to be still ?

All double entrendre intended in this last---

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


File under "heirlooms, one:"

This weekend, I inadvertently celebrated Candlemas in a very traditional way. Due to the sheer arduousness of recent weeks, I had left a few Christmas decorations here and there, especially my small collection of reindeer decorations: among which, a beautifully painted hobby-horse style toy that sits on the mantle, and a silver candelabra in whose antlers tea lights may be placed. The most precious is pictured below, the the photo does not do it justice, and as soon as I can find and scan in a better photo, this sentence and the current image will disappear.

This "electric candelabra," which is made of, it seems, wrought iron with plastic candles, is, I realized, my true and only family heirloom. Worth little economically as far as I can tell, these little reindeer pre-existed me and were part of our family's Christmas throughout my childhood. They are the bearers of a love story: on their first Christmas as a married couple, 1960, my parents, not yet my parents, my mother, thirty two and father , forty three, having met , fallen in love and married after prior and separately enduring divorces, were walking down Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn when they saw these reindeer in a shop window. They took it back to their apartment on Clinton Avenue, and it was lovingly assembled and lit every Christmas season thenceforth, with the story of its origin repeated with every unpacking. Looking closely, you will see that time has made its mark on this set: the plastic "halos" are dulled and slightly scratched; one Christmas, the middle deer lost its antlers, and in spite of my father's efforts to restore them, became a doe instead. Of late, the sleigh runner has fallen off each Christmas, and super glue seems to hold it for the season only. When my parents retired and moved to another house, I returned one Christmas and did not see the reindeer. In the new house, its traditional place on the harvest table not easily replicated by the new dining room table, it had remained packed in the box. I remember mentioning several times that I missed the reindeer, and my parents offered to send it to me by post when I returned home. A few weeks after I flew home, a box arrived in the mail: the reindeer in their original packing box, with a note from my father retelling the story of that Christmas Eve on Myrtle Avenue. I never saw my father again after that Christmas: he died in September of that same year, and so when I take out the reindeer every year, and unfold the note, now preserved in archival sheeting, but still tucked in the box, there is a moment of such poignancy, of stillness, a sacred (if I may) connection between my mental image of my young parents in Brooklyn and the onward rush of lives and years. Childless, I ponder the fate of my heirloom as I unwrap, then later disassemble the deer from the base, and rewrap in fresh newspaper, this object most precious to wait another year.

This year, this weekend, the rewrapping of the reindeer took place on Candlemas, though only later was I reminded of the old saying that Christmas decorations not put away by Epiphany should wait until Candlemas. Candlemas is the traditional day for the church's blessing of the candles to be used later in the liturgical year, so it seemed right all around that that my private ritual had accidently taken place on that day. This weekend, I also realized with much misgiving that the original box (pictured below) will not last many more years. The box, also part of the story, the ritual, the beautiful glowing reindeer made in Saint Joseph, MO --anexotic place to my New Yorker parents--- to Brooklyn, is crumbling, more packing tape than box. Everything else except the bulbs, is original, made to last: the wiring with its two-prong plug, the little cardboard pieces that keep the halos around the candles. The box will be gone in a few years, and I will have to pack the reindeer, my father's note, and the year's Christmas cards in a new container, and the wiring may go, too (so far so good, and that can be redone). I will probably not have children at this point, though in my dreams and in my body, it is still possible. I have niece, and many years from now, the reindeer may go to her, but for now, and I hope many seasons, the two bucks, a doe and a sleigh, four wobbly electric candles, rest on their iron stand and mean the world to me.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Of the Byzantine, two items

Two items from this morning's NYTimes:
An article on Lars Brownworth, who teaches at the Stony Brook School, and has a podcast on the Byzantine Emperors called 12 Byzantine Rulers. I applaud the the very idea (anything about Byzantium is good for people who think multiculturalism, globalism, and its conflicts and influence began in the twentieth century), and also the fact that the podcast seems to have brought the uber-snooty to their knees: "While listeners address him in their e-mail messages with the respectful honorific 'professor,'" the Times writes, "Mr. Brownworth, in fact holds only a BA from Houghton College in upstate New York. He started teaching at Stony Brook only in 1999..." Emphasis, dear readers (?) is mine. Don't get me wrong; I love the Times; that the lesson afforded by podcasting and other democratizing media is worthy of note by them is both ironic and important: intellect will out, and it is still present in the population at large. Houghton must be crowing right now. That, and a teacher's life from 1999-2007 really must be reckoned in dog-years.

Then there was this, which I quote in its entirety, in the World Briefing section:

President Fidel Castro was shown on state television for the first time in three months, standing with President Hugo Chavez at a two hour meeting said to have taken place in Havana on Monday. Mr. Castro, 80, looked stronger but still frail in the images. He dropped from public view six months ago after undergoing emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding and was last seen in an Oct. 28 video clip looking very frail and walking with difficulty. His illness is a state secret.

State secrets not being what they were in Byzantium, clearly.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Snow Today

Tandem hodie erat nix. Nives non tam altiores erant, sed satis celebrandis causae. Prima luce omnes arbores, omnem terram texit nix, et, eheu, quoque meum vehiculum et vias. Ad mensam adhuc agere mihi necesse erat, et ita per vias ivi. Iter amoenum factum est, formosum ! Nives novae et albae in arboribus pendebant, et tacite et in pace per iter nivosum egi. Laeta eram: nix, "cappucinium," et silentio mundi mihi me restituerunt.

I've just always wanted to do that.If you like the occasional Latin, you'll enjoy this Finnish site, Nuntii Latini, which broadcasts (also for podcast) in Latin once a week. The EU is also considering using Latin as a common language. Now that would be something. The Finns, who happen to hold the EU presidency right now, seem to be spearheading this, very fascinating since their language does not derive from the Romance languages. Since Finnish has something like fourteen noun cases, I'll welcome Latin.
Mirabilis had a reference to all of this sometime back, but this evening, at least, Mirabilis seems to be down/changing shape.

Update on Mirabilis: the author had a brief post, saying that she was switching blog providers and would be back up soon. Sigh of relief.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Which Cat Am I ?

Okay, on a good day this is my inner cat. From the way I answered the questions, I thought I'd end up worse. Whew. I don't do these quizzes too often, but couldn't pass up this one. I was stuck, though, on the last question: as a cat, would I want "a long, sleek body" (the one I chose) or a "long swirly tail (gave me pause). Actually, all of the choices were appealing except "big red nose." What would that make one ? Sylvester ?
Hobbes... Oh, I miss Hobbes. And Calvin, too. I'm happy to be Hobbes (the cat, not the philosopher; Hobbes Feles is not very Hobbesian.) And that's a good thing. Coincidentally, I'm in the middle of playing Randy Newman's Faust and the song of the moment ? "Life Has Been Good to Me."

In fairness to the other species, dogs, that is, and to celebrate the return, in some form, of Bloom County, I give you a link to Berkeley Breathed's "Flawed Dogs" Page, which has a link at the bottom to the "Flawed-Dog-O-Matic." Try it !

And my plea: please consider adopting shelter/rescue pets. There are wonderful animals out there: smart, intelligent, healthy, young and older, who will bring much joy to your life.

Which famous feline are you?

You're Hobbes. First of all, the makers of this quiz would like to congratulate you. You have our seal of approval. You are kind, intelligent, loving, and good-humoredly practical. You're proud of who you are. At the same time, you're tolerant of those who lack your clearsightedness. You're always playful, but never annoying. For these traits, you are well-loved, and with good cause.
Take this quiz!

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Monday, January 22, 2007

How we live now

I found this site, called Normal Room on the Commonplace Book blog (see sidebar). This is really enjoyable and interesting site: people who are just people and not interior designers (the "normal" of the site's name)are invited to upload photos of their homes, no matter their condition or location. The site comes out of Finland,but there are shots from all over, from Sweden to Cyprus. So far, as might be predicted, people who like what they have have posted shots, though a few people have braved it and shown rather primitive bathrooms, flaking ceilings, etc. The point of the site, as noted on its homepage, is to let others see how people decorate around the world (so it has no overtly political purpose). What has so far been pleasing about it to me is that it really does seem to have attracted typical folks from all walks of life: students who have photographed their study space, young singles who have uploaded photos of their first places, as well as some elaborate and beautiful places as well.

This is an idea with much potential, and I hope it catches on in more countries. In hopes that it will, and that people can share their living conditions and ideas of beauty and comfort, here it is, on my low-traffic blog.

It reminds one, humbly, how a plant in a sunny window can make a person more "house proud" (I mean that in a good sense) than many rooms of furniture.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hey Sailor, What Ship ?

Or Requiescas in Pacem, Tillie Olsen.

After I read the obituaries last week, the first time I read "As I Stand Here Ironing" came back to me so vividly. There are no interesting circumstances surrounding the first time I encountered Olsen's work; instead, I remember the power of the narrative itself, so distinctive a voice, such dignity and fatigue embued in the simple task of ironing. "Hey Sailor...", as refrain and story, has haunted my own skull, on and off, when the time is right, for years. Read John Leonard's "In Praise of Tillie Olsen" from The Nation. Maybe he is a little younger or a little older than I am, or was more sheltered, as his own account would predict. I knew about black people and poverty,and alcoholism and silence too, but I had never encountered a voice that so eloquently spoke of the human condition stripped of its eloquence. She put into words what my child's eyes had seen. She knew, and that was my surprise. I didn't know about leftists and working class movements (though I would soon learn) when I first read the stories. It was the sense of revelation, not that she knew what I had lived, because I hadn't lived those things, but that the world was like that, and someone saw that, could tell it others. There is a depth of soul there that one does not find, say, in Raymond Carver; though I admire his stories and think they owe much to Olsen, there is a cadence to reality in Olsen that is missing from Carver. It's the cadence of hope, I'd venture, of the characters' sense of themselves as fully human nonetheless, whereas Carver's despair derives from, oftentimes, the characters' self-perceived smallness, or worse, I have sometimes suspected, from Carver's association of economic brutality with brutishness and some desire to portray its emergence.

Tired tonight. I had a three day weekend, and gray and rainy though it has been, it was wonderful. I had a streak of ambition on the housekeeping front, perhaps stemming from my rescue of those pairs of shoes, perhaps because some energy and creativity is really coming back to me (not that these are exclusive. I overhauled ---or hauled out--- the master bedroom closet, folding sheets and sweaters into organizer boxes, neopolitan pinstrip fabric ones, with little windows for viewing the contents, and binning handbags, gloves, and scarves. Oh, and the obligatory hanging shoe storage, of course. The goal was ostensibly the obvious: to be able to find stuff, not trip over shoes and other articles on the floor of the closet, to make room for the Christmas stuff, which now must be restowed, and keep falling onto my head for the better part of a year. The real motive, need, the one that probably had me avoiding the whole de-cluttering activity, was that I had some folders, even a few tote bags, that contained papers from my previous life; some just thrown in during the last minute move, receipts, old mail, even grocery lists, others, though, were loaded: either documents or letters that open the whole all up again, some needing keeping, and others just waiting for the shredder. Mission accomplished, I am happy to say. That, and finding needed items in the morning was becoming the equivalent of negotiating an avalanche at an ice skating rink. The old cats' ashes are perched up there on the shelf, but those I left in place. I need to know where they are, so they are in a spot with other precious mementos. I love my young cats, but I miss you, old girls.

Speaking of, the cats had a high time with all of this activity, the revelation of the forbidden zone (they are banned from the closets), and, in spite of NO SNOW YET, an evening of cookie baking (ginger snaps). Half of these to be mailed off to a friend in the midwest, who is, indeed, knee deep in it, and who will have to slither to work tomorrow and the next several days. As usual, up too late when I shouldn't be. But the house smells good, much of it is clean, and hey, a cold front is coming in. And so, this post's image is clearly not a shoe, but an incredible motivation for getting out of bed in the morning (five is going to be really hard tomorrow): there will be coffee posts on this blog. While in line at the nearest (I wouldn't call it local) Starbucks, this special roast, Casi Cielo, was sitting on the rack out in the middle. The aroma was overwhelming, and I wondered if it would make a good cappucino. I must have done more than wonder, because I bought a pound. I like a dry cappucino (foam and espresso only), so it might be dilute if you add a lot of milk, but, O, the flavor ! Perfect with fruitcake, or with the Times in the morning, and, one hopes, perfect for the 5:00 am dose of reality replete with wide-awake cats perched on the counter ledge, preening and craning their noses toward the steamed milk. 'Night, All.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


This is going to be such a prosaic post for such a wonderful day. Three Kings Day, La fete des Rois. Never mind that yesterday was the real day--- the twelve days of Christmas, done. Maybe that is why my energy suddenly dropped off late this afternoon. I did not make it to church this morning (I miss my old one and get rather homesick when in the one here, but truth be told, I have fallen out of the habit, and have taken Sunday morning for myself: quietude, cats in the sun, NY Times on my lap), but Advent through Epiphany is my favorite time of the year. No galette, either, since we still have the fruitcake and it came out exceptionally well. I chopped the apricots and figs for a new one to be made tomorrow afternoon. My mother came over yesterday and we ran some errands and had lovely late afternoon with tea and large hunks of fruitckae.
I am keeping the Sportos, pictured. I trekked out to Marshall's to revisit the boot that started me on Sportos in the first place (a style from last year, the Allison, I think. They didn't have it in my size at M's). It was no higher than the Amelia and not as attractive. Settled. I could really do with some snow right now. The shoe thing must be some kind of turn-of-the-year ritual for me. I have set about cleaning the master bedroom closet, and "found" some shoes that just needed sprucing up. Now they are cleaned and polished, sitting in a row. Even my old pair of LaCanadiennes, plain black, just over the ankle snow boots that I bought years ago when I was in New York, heading downtown from the public library when it started to snow unexpectedly. I think I had crossed onto Broadway at that point, and found a shoe store having a January sale. I bought what was available, and had no idea of how good a sale I'd encountered until, with the boots wearing out, I had checked the brand on the label and then looked online for more like them. The sticker shock ! I covet the Tillie's (or Tilly's, I think), but haven't worked up the financial nerve.

Too much NYTimes this weekend, actually. I read a sad story about a woman who lost her husband to a brain tumor and had intimations of my own short time on this earth; between polishing shoes and chopping fruit, I must find a way out of this morass that my career has become. Remember, during the Columbine aftermath, when the kids trapped in the classroom with their dying teacher held up a sign to the window that said "Person Bleeding To Death" ? Metaphorically of course, that sign could be in my window, especially every Sunday night. Then there was the cover article in the magazine, about the baby sitter turned incompetent and possibly murderous nurse (no parallel there, thank goodness). It kept rattling around in my head that the author took note that the babysitter, her former babysitter, always found someone else at fault for what happened to her. The very thought led to too much introspection on my part. What if really bad things have happened ? What if people really have, for their own psychological reasons, perpetrated bad acts upon one, caused damage that one did not incur? The article walks a fine line (the babysitter-nurse, as it turns out, was a victim of incest, which "explained" why she was the way she was, which was someone so incompetent and unsure that she could not admit she was wrong, ever). None of her story sounds like mine, not in the least. It is that a story so distant in every way from mine opened up the whole thing again, the aching question of one's own potential complicity in a fairly catastrophic event, or series of events. The fact that our society is quick to find fault with the person who suffers, too shallowly Freudian to face up to the fact that on an everyday scale, a civil and humane scale, people can be quite uncivil and lacking in humanity. The inhumane we apparently have no problem comprehending, or are so bombarded by it that we cannot associate it with ourselves, as in the dim feeling that many people treat the Iraq War as something apart from themselves and their daily lives. A reality tv event, survivor on a grand scale. The other extreme, finding fault with the sufferer, I have seen only to well years ago when the AIDS crisis hit: why were some sick and others not ? Were you thinking positively (a great irony of word choice there)? I've seen this with cancer patients as well, people with even good intentions implying that attitude, strength of faith, secretly desiring to get well/die were causing things to turn out the way they were going. I understand it: we all want to think if we do things right, we will be spared. Perhaps what I felt from the author of the NYTimes article was her own anxiety not about how she could have hired such a person, but about what she shared with her and could not acknowledge: a vulnerability to other people's secrets, a realization that she was laid open to more complex and perhaps darker motives than she had expected.

I wish I could wrap this up neatly, find my way back to the Three Kings, the presents for the saviour-child. Perhaps it is enough to look around at this end of the season, see fine shoes waiting for my feet to fill them, cat pressed against my side, soft lamplight, chopped fruit in a bowl, the house warm, the rain outside.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Fruitcake, Part II; Shoes Again

All week long I've not been able to get myself to bed for a long sleep: the first few nights I simply stayed up too late, but these last two nights I've fallen into a sleep on the couch, then had to pull myself awake and get properly to bed.I couldn't wait for Friday, and now am home and happily settled in for the weekend. Friday, and I'm very tired. Not in a state of near-coma exhaustion, but close. I should be in bed now, but fortified with a good dinner and the New Year's fruitcake, I'm trying to have a bit of an evening here.
I found a large box at my door when I came home; my online shopping treasures had arrived. A side lesson: I took the free ground shipping from these companies and both packages have arrived within a week. Good to know. The snowboots are lovely, but, alas, shorter than I'd thought (I think the given shaft measurement was off). Before deciding to send back or keep, I'll go out to the local Marshall's and see if there is another style to be had that appeals more. They're Sporto Amelias in black, and have much to recommend them: they were comfy right out of the box, and are awfully good-looking. One step into a snow drift, though, and you'd risk snow tumbling in over the top. Not that this is an immediate worry with the globally warmed winter (I use that term traditionally and loosely) we've been having. The ankle boots from Coldwater Creek, are, I think, going back. I risked a three-inch heel, but that's not the problem. The boot is tight on the sides of my right foot, and I don't really cotton up to the concept of "breaking in" a shoe. I wore them for an hour to see how they'd feel and couldn't feel my right foot after half an hour. Feeling returned, but I'm happier now that they're off. Too bad, because they have a nice look.

Here we go. Fruitcake and Baking
(Instructions for preparing the dried fruit and candied ginger, orange or lemon peel are in the previous post below. Since they have to soak up the Cointreau, please read and prepare fruit before making the batter.)

Ingredients for the batter:
3 cups all-purpose flour and more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt (you need salt to help with rising; you can lessen to 1/4 tsp, but don't skip it)
8 ounces (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, melted (no substitutions)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons dark unsulfured molasses (Martha warns: "not blackstrap")
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (Yes. You read that right. A tablespoon)
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
[The original recipe calls for 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts, but since I can't eat them, they're not in my version]

Pan: Use either a 7x3 or 9x2 inch pan. The smaller pan means longer cooking. I use a 9x2 springform pan, which makes getting the fruitcake out very easy. Martha suggests coating the pan with cooking spray and lining with parchment paper, then spraying and flouring the lining. I have never done this, and have just buttered the pan and dusted with flour. My fruitcake browns fast, and this may be why. Martha's method may be best if you don't have a springform pan.


Whisk together flour, baking powder, spices and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Put butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle; mix on medium speed until smooth. [I confess that I do not know if a "paddle" is different from the beater that came with my Kitchen Aid.] Mix in eggs, one at a time, molasses and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture; mix until smooth. Mix in fruit and coconut, (and if you're adding them, nuts). The batter gets very heavy and sticky at this point. If you're using a handmixer, you may smell the motor burning...

Pour batter into pan. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about two and a half hours for a 9x2 inch cake or two and three quarters hours for a 7x3 inch cake. [In my experience, it is wise to check for browning; after the first hour or so, I put a loose piece of aluminum foil over the top.]

Remove cake from oven; if desired, brush with up to 1/2 cup of Cointreau (I used 1/4). Unmold cake, let cool. Store, wrapped in plastic, at room temperature for up to three days or in the refridgerator up to one month.

You can cut the cake when it is warm or slightly warm, and it is a delight, but it will be crumbly. We enjoyed it this way on New Year's Day, when it had come out of the oven three or four hours before we had dessert. After some fridge or settling time, it is easier to cut.

Well, it is almost eleven. One of the cats is sleeping in the rather large Coldwater creek box, and my eyes are starting to close as well. Good night all.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


God bless our food, God bless our drink; and keep our homes and ourselves in your embrace, O God.

Fresh fruitcake used to be an oxymoron to me until I found this recipe and a new New Year's Day tradition was begun. I love the symbolism of the dried fruit, the preserved riches of a warmer season, revived within this spirited (pun intended) cake full of the riches of a winter kitchen's pantry: molasses, cloves, ginger, brown sugar, cinnamon. Our new tradition of New Year's Day Fruitcake, begun 1 January, 2005, is a celebration of life and health, with a wish that these most basic and important blessings thrive in the new year.

It's from a Martha Stuart magazine, December 2004, and not, as far as I have been able to tell, archived on the website. I have adapted some of the dried fruits to my own taste, but otherwise, it is essentially as printed there. I have editorialized as well.

Tonight, the fruit part:

1 cup dried figs, chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2-1/4 cup dried cranberries*
1/2-1/14 cup dried cherries*
1/2 cup of candied ginger, chopped
1/4 cup of candied orange peel, chopped(I used candied lemon peel this year, to good effect)
1/2 cup of Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur; costly, worth it, no substitutions)

Stir together the dried fruit, candied ginger, peels in a small-medium size bowl. Douse with the full 1/2 cup of Cointreau, and stir to mix. The alcohol makes the fruit less sticky on the surface and easier to blend. I use a pretty ceramic bowl, and cover it with a snug fitting plate as a lid (rim fits the bowl rim). You can use plastic wrap. Let sit at least three hours or overnight. And we'll leave it to do so for this evening. *The original recipe does not include dried cherries or cranberries, but called for 1 cup of dried pears, chopped.

Monday, January 01, 2007

These Feet

The kitchen is a wreck right now: evidence of a New Year's Day well spent, cooking then dining with my mother and her companion (he is eighty this year), football humming pleasantly in the background while the fruitcake, and then the ham and side dishes cooked on the stove and in the oven. Taking the lid off of the chopped dried fruits one has soaked for hours in Cointreau: an exhuberant smell, nostril clearing, heady. Nibbling at the alcoholic fruit along with one's morning cappucino while proceeding with the recipe: shameless. A peerless sense of warmth and well-being.

I can see I shall be going to bed late, waking early for the return to work, and the kitchen stands a very good chance of remaining in shambles as I attempt to avoid tomorrow by avoiding going to bed.

Feet: I have done this two years in a row now on my Christmas vacation: I have become taken with shoe shopping, or shoe window shopping. I am not Imelda. I tend to find one pair of graceful and comfortable shoes (Liz Claiborne Flex Lynx has been the one), buy several pairs, wear only this shoe and neglect all others in the closet unless I'm in flats for the weekend, slip-ons for biking, etc. I have slippers that I do not wear and go barefoot in my own house. I do not have trouble with my feet, pedicure my feet, or any such special allowance. What I do not do is go to Zappos and click through the entire inventory; instead I start out looking for something reasonable, say a new pair of Lynxes, but end up following out links, and not very shoe-fetish titillating ones either: Land's End, Clarks, Ecco. It dawns on me that, say, it might snow, and I then would need some snow boots (LaCanadienne Tillie's, but I have not yet purchased them), or I find a deal, say the polartec boots at Land's End, and then go looking for other deals. So far boots are ahead, whereas shoes of various styles took the lead last year. I have, or will have, when the orders come through, ankle boots, sort of snow boots, and dress boots. Perhaps I simply have all the clothes I need and am focusing on something where variety could do some good (?).
No remaking of the self here in a conscious way, but I do recall that I used to have dreams in which my feet figured prominently, though shoe buying or wearing did not.
Maybe it is simply easy, all this passive and mostly virtual window-shopping (the purchases, save one, were made in person). Besides the Tillies already mentioned, I also covet what looks like a perfect pair of dress pumps made by Ecco. I apologize for all this brand-dropping. When I get a shoe I like, I will wear it until I kill it. I will buy one after another until the company stops making them. My last Lynxes have a frayed hole near the sole (irreparable), so I shall be forced to choose from among my collection of "occasionals" tomorrow.

Tomorrow is sure to be bothersome, isn't it ? Messy kitchen (too late to clean it now), not enough sleep (too late to even rush to the bed now), not my usual dress shoes. Or will I, in my certain fatigue to come, find evidence of life welling on the surface? Will it carry me through the day ? How shall I stand ?

Oh.I have had the sound off on the television. On Jay Leno, a balding largish man in yellow swimtrunks is holding his nose underwater in a bathtub. Clearly time for bed.