Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Understanding W

There are essentially two sorts of travelers: those who can't understand why the place they're visiting isn't like home and those who seek to learn something new by shaking up their routine. I like to think I fall in the second camp. Thus, being in Dallas was an opportunity to see how a large segment of our society live and think.

We all forget how vast this country is. When you think of it, it is remarkable that we've managed to keep the United States of America even remotely united. Every region has it's own makeup, it's own attitude. The citizens of those regions tend to prefer their way to thinking to that of any other region. We come together when we have to (think 9/11) but otherwise, we pretty much go our merry way with little thought of how the rest of the country is doing or what it is thinking.

I now understand the phrase "don't mess with Texas". Folks in Dallas are big and loud and friendly. They are not prissy. They have big appetites for everything. Their food is big and spicy. Their architecture is grand. The place is just loaded with money (not everyone has it of course, but the ones that do have a ton of it). The beer is cold, the BBQ is rich, the bugs are loud, the sun is strong. There is nothing about the place that is mild or wishy-washy and that translates into the people.

I don't understand how Texas got settled. If it had been me I would have turned the wagon back around and told myself that things back at home weren't so bad after all. There is nothing particularly welcoming or beautiful about the location, unless you're into the vast, buggy, windswept thing. But here's the thing. People stayed. They planted live oaks to shield themselves from the sun. They scrabbled into the dusty earth and built homes and then cities. They found oil, they took chances and they created something rather spectacular from absolutely nothing. And having created it, they became tremendously place-proud. They are fierce in their pride. They know what they think and if you don't like it, lump it. There ain't a Texan living that needs your approval.

Which is all by way of saying that I now think I understand our President. All that "you're for us or agin us" stuff may not be particularly diplomatic or even presdential, but it sure is pure Texas. He's got big ideas and by gum, he's going to do everything he can to make them happen. For all his Ivy League roots, W grew up in Texas and it shows. I don't necessarily like it, but at least now I get it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Home again, Home again, Jiggety Jig

Well, boys and girls, I'm home and happy to be so. The Family had done a nice job of keeping the house together and The Spouse was preparing a lovely dinner of pork tenderloin in mustard sauce when I arrived Sunday evening. It felt good to sleep in my own bed and wake up in my own little house.

Yesterday was a loss. I wasn't exactly jet lagged as it's only a two hour difference. But there was a kind of slog about my day. Probably because of the travel on Sunday. Because let me tell you, it is not easy to get an airplane up, keep it up and land it safely - twice - just through sheer force of will! It's exhausting, actually. Plus, on the first leg there was a toddler in the seat in front of me who was just distressed the whole way. Poor thing cried and screamed pretty much for two hours. I felt sorry for her and for her folks. (Frankly, I felt a little jealous. I think crying and screaming are perfectly normal reactions to being confined in a heavy metal object that is expected to hurtle through the air 35,000 miles above the earth. But if I'd been carrying on like that someone probably would have smacked me).

So anyway, I was kinda tired, plus I kept checking CNN to see if I would ever be able to visit New Orleans. My heart goes out to those people in the South, it truly does. But I'm not sure I get them. We have earthquakes in the West but we have building codes that mitigate the damage. In the midwest everyone has storm cellars. It just seems to me that if you live in a place that has a "season" for a recurring natural disaster, you'd do something to protect yourself. Like live underground in concrete bunkers. I realize that doesn't exactly jibe with the notion of gracious antebellum homes that we picture when thinking of the South. But most people there aren't living at Tara anyway. I think there should be a federal law that prohibits living in a double-wide in a hurricane zone. But that's just me.

I'm looking forward to being more productive today. School starts in just one week. We need to get The Child's room cleaned up. We need to get her computer back on line. We need to try on all her uniform bits and see what fits and what doesn't. We need to return books to the library. I need to sweep and mop and get some fruits and vegetables into the house. I want to do some baking. I want to have a meeting with The Child about routines and start putting together her own little Control Journal ( for the school year. And, it occurs to me that I haven't issued an evite yet for the annual Labor Day BBQ. Plus, I still have tidbits of packing to undo and put away. In short, order must be restored and I'm the gal to do it. I'll just get myself another cup of coffee first...


Citizenship Test

Check this out. You'll be pleased to know that I passed (8 outta 10).

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Homeward Bound

This'll be short. We're fixin' on havin' some steak and eggs and then I have to pack up the fabulous Ralph Lauren bedding that Payson is giving me and put my estate sale finds in the luggage. We had a dinner party last night that defies description. People in Texas are crazy. They are warm and generous and loud. I was just pleased that I didn't misrepresent by blowing milk out of my nose at dinner. We laughed off every calorie we consumed.

I just want to get out of here before the thunderstorms come in.

This has been a great trip, I've had a wonderful time but now I'm ready to get home to my little family, have my puppy lick my face and watch "Iron Chef". Adios to the Lone Star state.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Grassy Knoll

Some places have to be experienced. It's not enough to hear about them or see someone else's photos. You have to go and stand there and know it for yourself. That's how I felt about the Grassy Knoll. I was six when President Kennedy was assasinated and I remember it like yesterday. I remember the psychic blow that was dealt the American people that day. It was the kind of feeling I've only ever felt twice since, when Diana died and on 9/11. I am the same age as Caroline Kennedy and have always felt plugged into the Kennedys. I had to go to the Knoll.

And it's a knoll, a grassy one. There are no huge monuments. Just a softly curving knoll, surrounded by live oaks and backed by an Art Deco pavillion. There are two red x's in the pavement of the road that mark the spots where the car was when the shots hit. Payson tells me that no matter what time of year or what kind of weather there are always people at the knoll. One goes and stands where Zapruder shot his 8mm film. I stood there and took a photo. Everyone does. One wanders around the knoll, looking up behind at the Book Depository. You realize almost immediately that at least this part of the conspiracy theories is correct: Oswald couldn't have acted alone. You know that there is no way that the position of the building, the placement of the cars and the direction of the exit wounds are consistent with Oswald being the assasin. You might not know who's conspiracy theory is correct, but you know that the story we've been told is false. Was it the Mafia? Was LBJ involved? Was it the CIA or the guys in the Federal Reserve? (That was the theory of a chappie we talked to who was selling his book on the subject. A very articulate, not-wild-eyed guy. He didn't fit the profile of a conspiracy theorist.)

We'll probably never know. What we do know, and what keeps people coming day after day to that little spot of downtown Dallas, is that promise was cut short that day. Forty years ago we mourned because JFK was cut down young. We make our pilgrimage to The Knoll now because we mourn the lost legacy. We don't know how America might have been shaped had he fulfilled his term. And because the loss was so tragic it is our instinct to assume that it would have been better, that the promise fulfilled would have been a good thing. We'll never know.

So I went to the Grassy Knoll and remembered and wondered and then I heard Richard Harris sing, "Don't let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot".

Dallas, TX

Things I absolutely love about Dallas:

St. Augustine grass
crepe myrtle
air conditioning
hardly any sales tax

Payson and I spent the day yesterday driving around Dallas, looking at the architecture and talking about design. We went to an estate sale where I scored some beautiful glass and silver wine coasters, a pair of brass candlesticks and a silver footed tray. We had BBQ at Sammy's and beer at the Ginger Man. We floated in the pool at the Y talking about politics, then went home for steaks and baked potatoes and long conversations about design and about faith.

Tonight we're hosting a small dinner party so soon we're heading out to get groceries. I will be preparing one of my famous fruit tarts and an adaptation of a fabulous fish recipe (I cook it on plates but since he's not sure his are oven-safe I'll be poaching the salmon instead).

There's a 30% chance of rain (not that you could tell at the moment) and a possibility of thunderstorms later in the day. Payson is really hoping I get to see one of their thunderstorms because they are big and dramatic and "fun". Pretty apt description of Dallas, too.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Big Hair

By the way, I should mention that while I do not have the naturally curly locks of my sisters, I do have a lot of body in my hair. Body that has largely gone unnoticed until now. The humidity has given me that classic Texan look: big hair. Oh my yord. Looks like a motorbike helmet from the '30's. Fortunately, I packed a little pot of pomade and I've wrestled things back into a semi-normal condition. I am here to represent my peeps in Seattle, I ain't gonna be lookin' like some oilman's wife! If I come back sporting my Sinead O'Connor do, you'll know why!

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Hey, y'all! I am in Dallas with my dear buddy Payson. I am obstensibly here to start working with him on a project to develop "marketing materials" for his next career phase. We don't exactly know what that means at the moment but that's why I'm here, to figure it out. A lot of talking over a lot of wine will be involved.

He also wants me to have a little bit of a tourist experience so today we're going to drive around Dallas, visit a sculpture museum, see the Grassy Knoll and have some BBQ. He also insists that I have to have steak while I'm here so he's fixing up some filets for tonight. Darn. Oh, well, when in Rome, right?

The flight down was fine, considering my horror of flying. And to be specific, it isn't flying itself that bothers me. Up there at 37,000 feet, looking down on the patchwork of the heartland and fields of clouds that make me hungry for pavlova, I'm fine. I have my cocktail (Bloody Mary for the Seattle-Denver leg, g&t from Denver to Dallas), I read and I look out the window and marvel. Take off and landing, however, are altogether different. It is only by sheer force of will that I don't bawl like a baby. It's all the weird noises and shudders that bug me. Was that bang normal? Is the plane breaking apart or is that just landing gear? I keep my eye on the flight attendants. We're jostling around and they aren't saying so much as "oopsie daisy" let alone "Holy mother of God!". So I breath deeply, and like John Cusak and Ione Skye in "Say Anything", I sit tensely, waiting for the seatbelt light to go off.

But enough of that. I'm in the land of W, my first visit to a red state in almost 20 years. It was 98 degrees yesterday, with a blanket of humidity that just sucks the life right out of you. Texans have a different relationship to light that we do in the Northwest. At home my house is flooded with natural light all day long. I have sheer curtains everywhere so that even on rainy days there is light. Interiors in Texas, though, are dim and cool. Everything is shuttered against sun because it isn't just hot, it is fierce. You feel the weight of it on your skin. I did have breakfast outside, but only because there is a small table in a shady corner and it's not yet blazing. Early mornings make a lot of sense in Texas.

Payson's back garden is lovely. The grass, a variety called St. Augustine, looks like a golf course. There are crepe myrtles, jasmine and gorgeous live oaks. There are cicadas in the trees and in the evening they make the most amazing, intense song. When they get really loud it's called a "riot". I have to make a tape recording of them. I love cicadas and I will miss them when I return home. We need singing bugs.

I need another cuppa coffee. (Starbucks, of course. I had briefly considered bringing Payson a pound as a host gift, until I realized that it is no longer the unique gift it once was. Sure enough, he's got plenty of it). Then I need to get ready for my pilgrimage to the Grassy Knoll and all other things Dallas. Y'all have a fine day, hear?

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Thursday, August 25, 2005


The fool Lorraine, She gave me her Password. Now I own her Blog. Bwahahahahah.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

To Do List

Tomorrow I leave on a mini-break to visit my friend Payson in Dallas. The Child and Dog are therefore being kennelled, if you will, with friends. My baby sister and her family are bringing their eldest up for college orientation and are spending the night here tonight. (A fine thing as they rate high on my list of "truly delightful people", plus I've scored a ride to the airport).

So my trip+packing for kid and dog+overnight guests = busy day. I have to:

bless the house (assorted small but key cleaning tasks)

do a load of laundry

get cash & travel toiletries, plus a new toothbrush for The Child

buy a new pair of shoes because the ones I was planning on wearing will certainly set off airport security and I just don't want the hassle. Plus Payless Shoes is having a sale.

pack myself

pack the Child and dog

wash the dog and his bed (oh, there's a second laundry load)

help The Child clean her room (just found the third load)

desk day (make sure all the bills are paid, check the status of accounts, that sort of thing)

make sure my tape recorder works

charge the digital camera and my cell phone

fix my manicure (I did my nails last night while watching the 4th disc of the 3rd season of "Gilmore girls" but the light was low and while I am digging the color, it rather looks like it was applied by an 8 year old)

This is the first trip I've taken by myself since I became a wife and mother. The Spouse has travelled alone for both business and pleasure. The Child has been away without us. Not me. Hmmmm. I shall muse on that while I have another cup of coffee and then I've got things to do!


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The M Street Gang

There are a lot of long stories I could tell you about The Child and friendship. She has some very dear friends that she's known since babyhood who no longer live nearby but with whom the bond is still strong. Her bestest buddy ever moved away after third grade, which has been a sorrow to us all, but they still get together and talk as often as they can.

School isn't really the motherlode for friends. There are people she plays with, but no one has yet risen to the place of after school/weekend sleepover/giggling on the phone that was previously held by Bestest Buddy. And of course, she is also an only child.

When The Spouse was growing up, every house in the 'hood was full of kids and they all played together all the time. He is still in touch with some of the guys with whom he formed deep bonds while dirt biking on what is now the Microsoft campus. Growing up on a farm, I didn't have a "pack" but I had my siblings, and in the summer the addition of the New Jersey cousins. There was always someone to play with if I wanted.

And so, it has been a sadness and weight to my mother's heart that The Child has not been similarly blessed. She's a good kid, a sweet kid with an imagination like no other. She's fun. But there has been a dearth of friendship fodder. Until now.

I think I've mentioned that about half our 'hood is Orthodox Jews. These folks make for wonderful neighbors in many respects but their children, while polite, are not encouraged to play with the goyim. Only one family in all our years here crossed that divide and, of course, they moved away. There are other goyim but they all have younger children. Younger children who have suddenly grown up.

There is a pack now, the M Street Gang, we call them. The Child is older than all of them, significantly so in some regards, but it doesn't matter. These are not, for now, the friends to whom you confess your crush on Daniel Radcliffe or your desire to become a veternarian AND astronaut while still being married with 10 kids. These are the exact sort of friends one needs in the neighborhood: bike riding-berry picking- fort building friends. These are the friends with cool parents who'll take you swimming. These are the friends who, with your cool mom's permission, help you paint your playhouse. These are the friends who crash in and out of each other's homes, wear each other's clothes and eat at each other's tables.

This has been a great summer for The Child, making these friends and playing with them every day. I overheard them talking the other day about how they'll still play when school starts, "After we finish our homework, of course", admonished The Child. And that may be the rub. The Child, as I mentioned, is older. She's starting middle school, with all that entails, plus her extracurriculars of choir and volleyball. I wonder if there will be a lot of time with The Gang once school starts. But I also know that age isn't everything in a friendship. Some of my dearest friends today were in diapers when I was in high school. There will undoubtedly be some significant ebb and flow within The Gang because of their ages now. But who knows? They are certainly laying a solid foundation of memories. They are learning some important lessons about communication, respect and tolerance. Maybe this is the start of a Sisterhood after all. Either way, it sure is fun now.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Empty Drawers

When we bought our house seven years ago, we moved from a 840sf apartment into 1200sf. We gained two rooms, three closets, a garage and an attic. The kitchen was about three times the size of the phone booth we'd had before. There was also a built in buffet in the dining room and a linen closet. Needless to say, the new space practically echoed once we moved in.

As is the way of Western culture, however, we rapidly began to fill up every possible inch of storage. Possessions multiplied, proving once again that nature abhors a vacuum.

I have always been the kinda gal who likes to organize. I love creating "systems". I've just never been that stellar at maintaining them. I would look at a shelter magazine and my eye would nearly always be drawn to the interiors with clean lines and simple decorations. I was inspired by what I dubbed "Euro-Shaker" design but didn't have what it took to acheive it or to maintain my terribly creative organizational systems. I kept wondering how I could be charmed by a more Zen-like approach to home decor and still have stuff billowing out everywhere. I yearned for simplicity but even though I always had donations when the blind/retarded/veterans called to say they'd have a truck on my street, I couldn't seem to get ahead of the "stuff". Think "The Trouble with Tribbles".

Two years ago a friend introduced me to FLYLady ( At first glance I didn't relate. The website seemed to be geared to those people who can't negotiate through their house for all the stacks of newspapers. My house, though seldom mopped or dusted, is always tidy. Besides, we entertain all the time which necessarily gets the bathroom cleaned up. My struggles with clutter weren't that bad. But after a little more reading I decided to give it a whirl.

As the months go by I'll have plenty to say about the power of FLYLady's method but here's the thing for today: as I started "flinging" my clutter, I stated the simple goal of having more storage than I needed, symbolized by at least one empty drawer or shelf in every room.
A corrollary goal is that those spaces with limited storage capacity, such as the bathroom, will be kept pared to essentials, thus creating the illusion of space. I am nearly there.

William Morris, leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, stated his design philosophy this way: "Have nothing in your home which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful". Some objects are both useful and beautiful, like my Kitchen Aid can opener. But ocassionally I need to stop and contemplate the objects in my home. What do they say? Have they been around so long that I no longer see them? And if I don't notice them, is it because they no longer speak to me? I would like to think that every object in my home has a story and it is that story, as well as it's beauty, which justifies it's existence.

Things you will never find in my home:

crocheted bath tissue cover
painting of dogs playing poker
"Precious Moments" anything
Elvis memorabilia
green plastic kitchen canisters

Things you will find:
a chicken cookie jar
representations of the Eiffel Tower
a jar of rocks, shells, soil and foreign coins from various travels
baseballs autographed by people who no longer play for the Mariners

Which is to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But we can all probably let go of a little more stuff.


Saturday, August 20, 2005

Paper Work

It is part of my evening routine that I clear off my desk before shutting down the computer. This is part self-preservation, as I have a very small desk and part in keeping with my overall life philosophy which begins, "Start your day with a clean kitchen". I have a pretty simple and effective system for managing paper. I open mail next to the recyling bin. I have a large notebook ("control journal" in FLYLady parlance) which is used for storing and managing most household, extracurricular, entertaining and school related papers. I tuck bills into a designated folder. I almost always file bills as I pay them, fill out school forms as they come in and enter ATM slips into Quicken as soon as I've stowed the corresponding purchases. So explain to me why there is a stack of papers literally 3 inches high (I measured) waiting for my attention? Good thing I have a system, eh?

It's going to be a lazy, food-oriented weekend around here. Dinner tonight at Pizzuto's with our friends the Lawsons. Tomorrow an old friend of The Spouse's is coming for an after-church BBQ. Last time I saw this guy his new baby cried through our wedding. (I didn't realize that until I saw the video, though. There are no hard feelings.) And The Spouse wants BBQ chicken for dinner which means, drumroll, I will not be cooking this weekend. Except I think I'm going to make a fig tart. After I've dealt with that 3 inch pile of papers.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Yippee Skippee

Today The Child and I are going on one of our all-time favorite outings: it's time to buy school supplies.

I loved buying school supplies when I was a kid, I love buying them now. We will take the teacher's list to Office Depot and probably spend a good hour choosing just the right book covers and coordinating composition books. (We're trying a color coded system this year as The Child is organizationally challenged). We will linger over packets of markers and crayons, give thoughtful consideration to which folder looks to have the necessary staying power to receive the designation of "homework folder". While she is selecting packets of post-it notes I will admire the variety of notebook tabs and consider revamping my own notebook system. What is it about office supplies?

I worked for many years as an office manager. At the top of my game I was managing a staff of four and an overhead budget of $1.5 million. I learned to delegate and negotiate but I never, ever delegated the task of ordering supplies. I loved everything about it: forming the lists, perusing catologs, unpacking the deliveries. I reveled in the fact that the office "pantry" was never without a fine selection of writing pens, legal pads and notebooks.

It is one of the sorrows of my life that running a home requires far fewer office supplies. You need tape and glue, a box of paper for the printer and pens. The Child needs art supplies. But that' s pretty much it. Shopping for school supplies is the only way to satisfy my jones for supply purchases so it is a very big deal.

When we bring home the booty The Child will proceed to neatly write her name on everything. Then she'll spend a good half hour loading everything into her backpack so that it all fits just so. If I know her, once she's done she'll probably hoist the pack onto her back and leave the house just so she can come back in and say something like, "Hi, Mom, I'm home. Man, I have a ton of homework today!" Today homework is a game, not a mind-numbing chore.

There's so much promise in new school supplies. For now, back-to-school is about hope: new friends, singing in the choir, improving skills, falling in love with a new author. Maybe this is the year that the secret of some subject will be unlocked in a new way, igniting a passion that will serve for the rest of her life. The neat new assignment book with the puppy on the cover (or daisy or unicorn) is unmarked. The traumas and stresses of tests, reports and math homework are yet to come. For now we celebrate the sharp points of unbitten pencils and the creamy surface of fresh composition books. The joys and woes of the year are shrouded in mystery and maybe. There are still two weeks of vacation ahead and the biggest challenge The Child faces will be not cracking open that nifty new box of colored pencils.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Early Rising

I have never been one for getting up early. I'd be nauseus before 7am. The best gig of my life was when I worked as the seating hostess at a Greek restaurant. Working the lunch shift meant I had to be at the restaurant at 11a.m. I walked to work, living just four blocks away, so I could sleep until 10:45 and still be on time. Those were the days.

Last summer, however, I began to undergo an odd change. Maybe it was hormones, maybe some unconcious urge toward self-preservation, but I started waking up early. And waking up refreshed. It would be 5:30, maybe 6 a.m. and there I'd be, awake and not much inclined to lie abed. Sure, for a few days I tried willing myself back to sleep (just on principle) but that started being more effort than it was worth so I gave in and got up. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, revolutionary.

The morning routine would go something like this: out to the kitchen to boot up my computer and get coffee. Read a little poetry. Write for a while. Go work out. Then I'd come home, unload the dishwasher, start a load of laundry and maybe even do a little prep work for dinner. And then the Spouse would get up.

This was a time of revelation. Those fruitful early hours began to be necessary for a smooth running day, primarily, I think, because I was finally getting some writing done. Trying to write mid-day, even during the school year when everyone is out of the house, was too difficult. I could always distract myself. There was a load of laundry to fold or dishes to do. Maybe I'd see a cobweb waving delicately above my head so I'd get out the duster to remove it, only to realize the whole room needed a good going over which would lead me to do the rest of the house which would take me into the Child's room which clearly needed a "clean sweep" experience which would remind me that I wanted to paint a side table for her, except the side table was in the family room and required switching out three other pieces of get the idea.

But in the early morning hours it's different. I can focus. The house is clean because no one has had a chance to mess it up yet. The phone isn't ringing and the personal emails haven't started coming in. And except for the hum of the fridge and the ocassional yap of the dog, it is quiet. Quiet is essential for me to write. I live with a noisy lot. They are charming people but they both operate with their own soundtrack. Singing, talking, making up languages, humming...constantly. Which is fine unless I'm trying to think.

Here's the thing, I didn't crawl as a baby. Pretty much went straight to walking. Turns out, though, crawling is key to concentration. Failing to develop those synapses back when I was 8 months old, I to this day am only able to concentrate on one thing at a time. Say I'm working a crossword while the Spouse is listening to "Prairie Home Companion". Garrison says something particularly witty. The Spouse says, "Did you hear that?" Either I heard it because I was listening and not really attending to the crossword or I didn't hear a thing because I was parsing a clue. I have to shut out one thing or the other. So if I'm writing and someone asks me where the melon baller is, I have to stop everything to answer the question.

This leads me to posit that Jane Austen crawled. After all, she is famously known for writing her novels while the family gamboled around her in the parlour. But I, because of the no crawling thing, am a Virginia Woolf kinda gal. I need a 'room of my own'. I dream of such a room. It has tall French windows that look out on the rue Something. There is a long writing desk, empty except for a composition book, fountain pen and, concession to the 21st century, my trusty laptop. There is a red chaise lounge where I go to find inspiration in poetry or the biographies of great writers (or a nap). But that is a someday-maybe-never room. In the meantime, I create the room I need by carving out precious time in the silence of the early morning.

The Child has arrived, announcing her intention to make breakfast (fried apples and shortcake). Good thing I got up early.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Household Tips

I moved out on my own when I was 17, living in dorms for the first two years of college. Housework was essentially comprised of making my bed and confining my junk to my side of the room. It was the summers, living with a roommate in student housing, that gave me my first taste of "keeping house".

I had learned basic skills while growing up. I could make a bed, run a vacum, execute a load of laundry and dust, using Pledge and a rag. I had done a spot of cooking, using a child's cookbook that had belonged to my mother (darling book, nasty recipes) or the ocassional Betty Crocker recipe card. My culinary repetoire ran primarily to Jell-o molds and salad dressing. It wasn't that I was uninterested in cooking, it just wasn't especially required of me.

Fast forward to living on my own. I had a room-mate from a very different background. Mom had us do certain homekeeping tasks because a) it helped her out and b) it doesn't hurt to know how to fold towels. S. however, had been pressed into service at the tender age of 9 when her dad left. She had a younger brother and a baby sister. Her mom had to go back to work and S. was suddenly promoted to "housekeeper". She came to college seeming older than her years and terribly knowledgable about all things domestic.

I didn't make a big deal of what I did know and mentioned that I hadn't cooked much, so S. assumed the leadership role in our home, with attitude. She called the shots. She told me what to do and how to do it. She was, in fact, both martinet and martyr about the whole thing. Especially when it came to cooking. She did it all because she had deemed that I couldn't. Until the time that I, fed up with her superiority, tried my hand at making crepes. I filled them with ice cream and froze them, serving them as a surprise for dinner with hot fudge and sliced almonds. S. became slightly less snotty about cooking after that.

I can't help but laugh about those days, now that I am Queen of my own home. I am - gasp - a housewife, and not half bad at it, either. I once tried to compute my replacement value and stopped after I hit $75k. Homekeeping is not a lost art but it is certainly undervalued. But unless you have the saavy of Martha Stewart or work for a service, not only does homekeeping not pay, most of the time the recipients of your art don't even realize what a treasure you are. It's one of those jobs where folks notice only when something isn't done.

I prefer to use the term "homekeeping" to "housework" because it embraces the broad scope of what I do for my family. Yes, I perform all the panoply of what one would define as housework, cleaning tasks. But if this were a resume I would have to include the menu planning, shopping and preparation of 18-21 meals/week. I do an average of 10 loads of laundry a week, inclusive of ironing and mending. Book-keeping responsibilities include budgeting, bill paying, reconciliations and cash flow projections. I am the social coordinator and party planner. I am the gardener (both design and groundskeeping). I am a dog-trainer, receptionist, organizer, decorator, painter and perform small repair jobs. Parenting responsibilities include, but are not limited to, tutoring, psychotherapy and chauffering.

In short, despite appearances to the contrary, we don't have have house elves. I do a lot. But it is good that I ocassionally reflect on my years with S. because the moral of that story is that nobody loves a martyr. I have this role because I chose it. It is a blessing that we were able to create our lives in such a way that we could live on one income. Out of blessing flows peace. And that is my ultimate goal. I want our home to be a haven of peace, for us and for all who come through the door. And I ain't gonna get that with a mess o' attitude.

I also wanted to mention that a melon baller is great for seeding chilis.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Berry Cobbler

Deep in August blackberries are redeemed from pernicious weed to staple. The bushes which crowd alleys and dead-ends are suddenly rich ground for back-to-nature foraging and the siren call of a warm cobbler for dessert sends me into the garage, scrambling for a bucket or basket to press into service.

On Saturday the Child and I went berrying, with the Neighbor Girls. The kids were motivated by filthy lucre, as they intended to set up a stand to sell their berries. (Being that they are all terribly cute and personable kids, passersby can't help but stop and pay the exorbitant sum of 5 cents a berry). I was motivated only by pure, culinary desire.

It didn't take long for us to pick what we needed, the summer has been hot and the berries were more than plentiful. If it hadn't been for the heat and thorns, I could have picked plenty for a batch of jam. But all I wanted was cobbler.

Cobbler is, for me, the essential summer dessert. Though I have come to master claufoutis and a simple, gorgeous fruit tart (both recipes from Patricia Wells), it is a cobbler that says, "Summertime". While any stone fruit or berry will do, my favorite is a combination of peaches and blackberries. The peaches turn purple with berry juice but retain their firmness and flavor. Warm from the oven with a little dollop of whipped cream or ice cream, this is summer distilled...simple, redolent of jammy fruit, evocative of childhood. It's also really great for breakfast.

This is essentially my mom's recipe, with only a few, tiny modifications. Make one this week and enjoy these last weeks of summer.

Mom's Fruit Cobbler

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

For the dough:
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3 T. shortening
1/2 c. milk

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the shortening until coarse grains appear. Stir in milk and mix just until combined.

For filling:

3 c. prepared fruit of your choice
(If using stone fruits, remove stones and cut fruit into halves or quarters, depending on size of fruit. You don't want bitty pieces.)
1/2 c. sugar
1-2 T. cornstarch, depending on how juicy the fruit is
1/2 c. water (or less, again, depending on how juicy the fruit is)

Combine filling ingredients and place in a deep baking dish. Glop dough by spoonfuls on top of fruit.

("Glop" - advanced culinary term usually used only by graduates of the Cordon Bleu)

Sprinkle dough with cinnamon sugar, if desired.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until filling is bubbling and biscuit dough is cooked through and browned on top. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes to allow cobbler to set up a smidge before serving.

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Berry Picking

I grew up in the country and every summer my mom and sibs and I worked in the berry fields of a neighboring farmer. It's the sort of job that is now done by illegals and which, I fancy, probably now violates child labor laws. But back then everyone picked berries in the summer. If you were a farmer's kid, you spent all day in the fields. If you were lucky, like us, you only worked morning shifts.

There was a liturgy to our berry picking days: up early for breakfast (probably only 7, though it felt earlier) while Mom packed our lunch, out to the fields in the cold, misty morning, gathering around Mrs. Rabe as she gave out assignments. We'd grab our wooden carriers and fill them with berry boxes, then head to the assigned row. Mom would start at the head of the row, with one or two of us opposite her, sending the others of us halfway down the row. She would keep us going with Coffee Nips and peppermint candies. Mrs. Rabe would sometimes appear in our row, checking the vines we'd already picked to make sure we were getting all the ripe berries. It was always a mark of shame if she came up behind you and tossed a large handful of berries into your crate. As you filled a crate you'd take it to the end of the row and get an empty one, returning to your spot and continuing on. The best pickers were vaunted for the number of rows they completed. We never finished that many because we were, essentially, lazy children who hated berry picking and who had to be goaded into doing much of anything at all.

If the day turned warm, we'd start shedding our jackets, sweatshirts and long pants as we went along, littering the rows with our detritus. If it was misty and overcast, as it so often seemed to be in those pre-global-warming days, we trudged along, with our cold, stained fingers and muddy shoes. We picked in all but torrential downpours because if the berries were ripe they had to be picked or they'd rot.

There would be a break mid-morning and then we'd knock off for good at noon, staying to have our lunch with the other workers before getting our tickets punched and going home for the day. Mrs. Rabe would stand at the center of a cluster of workers, tickets and hole punch in hand. You'd tell her how many crates you'd picked and she'd punch the appropriate number on the ticket. The tickets were, if I recall, color coded for the type of berry we were picking. At the end of the season we'd turn in the tickets and recieve our pay. My biggest summer ever was maybe $20.

The Rabes grew a lot of berries. The first year we picked blackcaps, which were freaking horrible and which we kids refused to ever pick again. Blackcaps, which had virtually no flavour, were used to make food-safe ink. Remember when meat would have an inspection stamp right on it? That was done with blackcaps. But they were a tedious, ungratifyingn berry to pick. They were tiny and silly and it seemed that however many you picked you couldn't quite fill your crate. Then there were strawberries, which were great fun, despite having to crawl on your knees or scoot on your bum to progress down the row. Strawberries were the exact opposite of blackcaps, big and delicious, easy to pick and your crate filled up in no time (assuming you weren't just sitting there eating them). But the main staples of the summer were logan berries, marian berries and boysenberries, all of which were taken off to the Smuckers depot to be turned into jam.

The Rabes grew more logan berries than anything else and so, I came to loathe them. They were relatively easy to pick as they had no thorns but there were just miles and miles and miles of them and you never seemed to get done. As the first picking of logans ended we moved to the next field of boysenberries, fat and juicy and treacherous. They had nasty, hooky thorns. Then came the sweet reprieve of the marions. It was a small field and the marians, though smaller than boysens, were easier to pick because they had no thorns. In the week or so it took to pick the boysens and marions the next go of logans would be ripe and the circuit would start again.

I remembered all this as I picked blackberries the other day. I remembered sitting at Vacation Bible school, comparing the berry stains on everyone's hands. The darker your hands, the better a berryer you were. (I also figured out that you could smash berries all over your hands and pick with them all sticky and gross to enhance the darkness factor). I remembered the Coffee Nips and eating Pringles at lunch-time and the blessed relief of going home to change for a swim in the Molalla River.

I hated berry picking but I'm glad now that I had the experience. I know what it is like to labor in a field, something The Child will never know. I think about all this as I gather a few berries for a cobbler and marvel at how much of my childhood comes back to me as I perform the simplest of tasks.


Saturday, August 13, 2005


I just spent the last hour perusing my university alumni magazine. Increasingly, I find that exercise to be not unlike reading the current Mariner's roster: a sea of unfamiliar names and faces. Today however I read a piece on a dear old friend, Pixie, who has lived in England since forever, has a rector husband and four kids. It sounds like her life is very full and very British. And there was a bit on a professor, under whom I studied American History. I most remember the day he delivered a lecture on the key battles of the Civil War while impersonating Howard Cosell.

The professor looked old; impish, but old. Pixie looked older, too. It took me a while to recognize her. The flaming red, amazingly beautiful long locks were replaced with a more sensible rectors wife bob. But the smile was the same. Pixie had the greatest smile and a fantastic laugh. Her photo suggested that she retains that spark and spirit that earned her the name "Pixie" in the first place. But it was still weird to see her looking older, mature. Has it been that long? Have I changed that much? I don't feel like I look that much different than I did twenty five years ago. You now know something about my gift for denial.

Big Saturday plans: finish grocery shopping, pick blackberries for cobbler, clean dog snot off the inside windows of my car, not play Age of Empires (see yesterday's post). The Child and I are going to indulge in mac and cheese for dinner as the Spouse is going to some hoity-toity arty hooha with film-making buddies. The Child and I are going to watch "While You Were Out". Fergie is going to be on it. So we'll have a pretty classy evening, too.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Thou Shalt Not

My laptop was stolen last week. Some Putz came in through a back window, rifled through my jewelry box, peeked inside a snazy high tech looking box in the living room (our poker set) and then snagged my laptop from the kitchen. It was really hot last week and windows were left open and I'd left the house in a hurry and hadn't bothered to turn on the alarm. (Neither of those things will happen again, as I like to learn from my mistakes). We live in a great neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone and looks out for each other. I had a couple neighbors beating themselves up because they hadn't seen anything. Which was terribly nice of them because it wasn't their fault that some putz felt entitled to help himself to my stuff. It did affirm my overall faith in my 'hood, though.

It wasn't about the stuff. It usually isn't. It was the creepy feeling left in his wake, that some Jerk came into my home uninvited, disturbing, literally, the peace. So I took some sage and holy water and reblessed the house, purging the evil vibes. Because it was evil. Not horrific, Nazi storm-trooper evil. Not slimy, power-grabbing Rovian evil. But it was evil. Says so in the Ten Commandments. Taking what doesn't belong to you is wrong. Period.

Reminds me of the time when The Child and I were out shopping. She was three. We'd gone into a little shop to buy water. We were walking away when she opened her hand to show me, pleased as punch, the candy she had snitched from a box on the counter. I stopped in my tracks, told her that we NEVER take something from a store without paying for it and marched her back into the shop where I made her give it back and apologize. She was absolutely mortified and started to cry. The Shopgirl sweetly accepted her apology and then gave me a look that said, "Geez, lady, you've got this poor kid all freaked out and it was just a stupid Fran's caramel. Lighten up". I smiled and sweetly said, "She has to learn". I believe I am correct in saying that The Child has, in fact, never kyped anything since. Which is good because my fundamental goal in parenting is to raise someone who is going to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I should probably point out that I've forgiven The Putz. I won't go so far as to say something pious like, "Poor guy, he obviously needed it more than I do". Thievery is not a viable solution to financial straits. I mean, I guess it works for him on some level, until he gets caught. Then, I'm thinking, he might wish that he'd chosen a less fraught path to financial security. Like a job. But I have forgiven him. I have more important things to do than walk around ticked off that I've been robbed. And I think of all the good things:

1) In thirty years of urban dwelling this is the first time something like this has happened.
2) I save everything to a network so The Putz didn't get any of my files. My bank account is safe. My writing is safe. Although my "Age of Empires" disk was in the CD drive and it ticks me off that I'll never be able to finish the game I was playing. But I'll get over it. Eventually.
3) The house wasn't ransacked.
4) No one was home. I even had the dog with me. (And no, the dog would have been useless. He would have barked and barked and then as soon as The Putz said "Nice doggie" Indie would have started joyously humping his leg. He's just not that fierce).
5) It was a little aggravating to have to buy a new laptop but that's why there's American Express.

Being without my own computer has thrown off my game. I miss being in my zone. I have created my own space which is comfortable and inspires me. My desk is small so I have to keep it tidy. The Spouse's desk is big and messy. My zone has my photos and inspiring quotes and whathaveyou that keep me going when I hit a sticky place. The Spouse's zone is messy. My zone is sunny. The Spouse's zone is dark. And messy. His keyboard feels different. But hey, at least there's another computer, right? I'm not cut off from my email and my NY Times on line. It is, as Sandra likes to say, all good. And, praise Shiva, Dell shipped my new box today so I should have it tomorrow, Monday at the latest.

What have I learned from all this? Teach your kids not to steal. Forgive the bad guys. Look out for your neighbors. Don't live in fear but it doesn't hurt to hide the good silver. And don't forget to set the alarm.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Getting Started

I have joined the ranks of bloggers. What's my cipher? Millions and millions of us are out here, all with our own little chunk of Internet real estate, all convinced we have something unique enough to say that we just gotta drag out our little soapbox and start blogging.

It took me four tries to come up with a URL that would be accepted. Doesn't bode well for the originality, does it? Here's the thing: I fell in love with writing when I was in the third grade. (My first manuscript, "Marshmallows for Mouse Pillows" has, sadly, been lost to time). This is what I've always wanted to do, even when I wasn't doing it. There have been times when I've thought it didn't matter. People have been writing for, like, a really long time. You'd think that at some point we'd start running out of stories to tell. But oddly, for all the billions of words that get written every second all over the planet, there is something unique about each one of us, about our vision or our twist on some subject, any subject which simply must be heard. Or at least that's what I've got to believe if I'm going to keep plugging away at this writing thing.

So why is a middle-aged, SAHM starting up her blog? Aside from the obvious reason, which is that I can? It's because I have things to say, of course, but mostly, I need the discipline. Writing every day is the hardest thing in the world for me to do. I want to do it. I think to do it. Once I get going I sometimes find it hard to stop. But getting going, yikes. I can think of a hundred things to do before I will sit down to write: unload the dishwasher, bail out the contents of The Child's closet - again, email everyone I know, try to beat my high score at Tetris or Destruct-0-Match. The possibilities for distraction are limitless. And even though I will feel badly if the whole day goes by and I haven't taken any time to write, I will shrug it off until tomorrow, when I can avoid writing, again.

I used to write a column for a parent newsletter at The Child's old school. It was an important experience for two particular reasons. First, I found my voice. After years of writing mediocre fiction and bad poetry I realized that what I really wanted to do was write essays. There are very few people on the planet who have been allowed to read any of my fiction or poetry, and no one alive who has read all of it. I couldn't share it easily. It took me roughly 38 years to figure out that the reason for that was simple. My fictive voice sucks. Real world writing, though, that is something else again. Not that I'm particularly brilliant, mind you. But telling the truth about the ordinary in life, celebrating the little stuff, that seems to be where my heart is and consequently, what I want to write about. "Write what you know" they say. So I do.

The second thing I learned, which is the point here, is that my lack of discipline for writing being what it is, I work best when I have deadlines. I wrote consistenly for the newsletter because I had an editor who expected something on her desk (actually, in her computer inbox) by a certain time each month. I delivered because I had to. When I transferred The Child to a new school that gig went away and with it the discipline. And so, I figure, if I have a blog, I'll write. Because there is nothing more annoying that finding a blog you like and then going back to it only to find that there hasn't been a post in 4 months.

So there you are. In the galaxy of blogs I do not expect that this will be discovered by anyone outside of my circle. (There is, now that I think about it, something absolutely egomaniacal about all this: "Hey gang, check it out! I'm so sure that you care about what I have to say that you must, must, must check out my new blog! Put me in your favorites! Read me every day! Be dazzled by my brilliance! Look at me! Look at me!" Yeah, that will be a fun email to write). Really, I'm just doing this so that every day, no matter what, I sit down and write a little something. Think of this as an electronic composition book where, as I draft little exercises in writing, you get to read over my shoulder without annoying me.

Let the blogging begin!