Friday, September 30, 2005

Big News

The background: Since The Child was about a year old I have been working on a book about family liturgies and how to keep the Church calendar through the year at home. It's been a fit and start process. Obviously. I was making a lot of progress on it last spring and then summer came, school was out and writing time was at a premium. But this week I started getting back into it, determined that I have got to finish the thing before Lent because there is no way I am going to sit in our Carnevale prayer circle and say, yet again, that "this is the year I finish the book".

The big news: Yesterday, while The Child was in choir practise, I started going through all the material I had, to assess where I was. That's when I realized that I really am almost done with this book. Seriously. Within 2, maybe 3 chapters. I made more progress in spring than I realized.

The gameplan: I have a ton of handwritten manuscript that needs to be typed into the computer. That will take me a few days and then I'll be clear about what is left to do. But I am so not kidding when I say that it really isn't much. (I realize I'm repeating myself here but those of you who know me know how long this project has been going on. I've started to feel about this book like I did about "The English Patient", it was never going to end).

And you thought I was going to say something about Tom DeLay.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Ripple Effect and How I Freaked Out the Child

My latest personal revelation (man, they are coming fast and furious lately) is that I can no longer commit to "Law and Order". It's not just that I miss Lennie Brisco. I can't stay up until 11pm anymore. Not if I'm going to get up before 6am to work out. Here's what happened today.

Because I stayed up late last night, I was too tired to get up when my alarm clock went off. This had three effects: 1) I stood up The Neighbor, 2) I didn't do anything toward mitigating my ab issues and 3) I didn't get my running start on the day.

Because I didn't get a running start on my day, I was trying to write checks for picture day and hot lunch, fix breakfast, make lunches, get dressed and pull together stuff for my Thursday meeting all while paying attention to The Child, who wanted to practise her presentation for a hurricane fundraiser that she was going to pitch to her class today.

Because I was trying to do all this in a 40 minute period The Child was compelled to make the following observation: "You seem rushed". Which stopped me for a moment as I realized that this was new to her. Regardless of how I sometimes feel to the contrary, I do not typically portray to my child the qualities of being rushed. Which is an infinately good thing. I had 2 seconds to feel good about that before resuming the rushing.

Because I was rushing, I disappointed The Child. She wanted to load the cartons of dog biscuits that Costco donated for her fundraising venture to take to school. At 7a.m. I told her we would. At 7:42a.m., when we were already supposed to have been on the road for 2 minutes, I told her it would have to wait until tomorrow. And she got a little testy with me, saying, "Sometimes, Mom, you really frustrate me!"

Let's leave aside, for a moment, that The Child provides, from time to time, her own measure of frustration to my life and that many has been the time that I've been held up or thwarted by her piddling about. Something in her expression made me stop and rather than getting angry I calmly said, "Tell me more".

This freaked her out. At first she started almost yelling at me. I stopped her, told her to use a calm voice, but that I really did want to hear how I frustrated her. She almost couldn't speak for a moment. Then, very calmly, she said, "I get frustrated when you say we're going to do something and then all of a sudden you change the plan". I don't know what sort of Dr. Phil trip I was on but I told her that she was right to be frustrated by that and then, instead of making excuses or going to that stupid "well, plenty's the time when you've frustrated me" place I apologized to her. I noted that sometimes plans do have to change and that sometimes things like that will happen anyway but that I would try, really try to do a better job.

And I can make that promise because, as I told her, the biggest problem this morning was that I neglected my own routine. When I do what I need to for a good start to the day we have, well, a good start to the day. My morning routine, clearly, is the lynchpin of my existence. Duly noted. The criminal justice system in New York City is just going to have to get along without me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


A stranger in a tea shop once commented on the general cuteness of The Child's school uniform, then hastened to add that she considered uniforms "demeaning to the human spirit". I suppose she had a point. The military, for example, puts people in uniform precisely because the emphasis is on the unit, not the individual. And those connotations would certainly be offputting to someone who believe in unadulterated freedom to express who you are through every vehicle available.

But I like school uniforms for two basic reasons: they level the playing field between (economic) classes and they save a heck of a lot of time in the morning. When you're a kid it's a good thing to have your biggest daily fashion choice boil down to pants or skirt, cardigan or pullover. Besides, The Child has a particularly strong spirit and I haven't noticed it being at all dampered by the fact that she has to wear a uniform to school.

When you think of it, though, practically everyone wears a uniform- ball players, police and firefighters, nurses and doctors, the plumber who came today to tell me that I have to replace part of my sewer line, Harry Potter and all the kids at Hogwarts. Church choirs wear robes, priests wear albs, fashionistas wear Manalo Blahniks, business people wear suits. Uniforms are about order and discipline, sure. But they are also practical. And they serve to identify one's belonging to a particular group or community.

Even when it is not required, most of us have our own version of a uniform. It might be jeans and tee shirts. It might be denim jumpers. My neighbor always wears suits to work but she almost always also wears a scarf. This signiture statement is also part of her uniform (in that she actually wears scarves both for work and for the rest of her life). Can it in fact be argued that our "style" is our "uniform"? Discuss.

SAHMs have a kind of uniform, too. But when The Child was born I swore a solemn oath that I was not going to wear sweats for the next 18 years. My uniform consists of skirts and trousers. It doesn't matter if I'm baking, chauffering or sitting in a meeting, I feel comfortable and "put together". I have proven to myself that it is possible to look nice and still keep a clean house.

But still, today, I decided that my "uniform" does need a new component, one I anticipate wearing, with intention, at least one day a week (probably Mondays, if you're keeping track).

Here's the thing: on Monday I usually do the "big" housework of the week. What FLYlady calls the "Weekly Home Blessing". It only takes an hour but we're talking here about mopping and dusting and sweeping. I can and have done this in heels and a kicky Parisian style skirt but you know what? It can get a little precarious. I think my my fashion sense, in this one instance was getting in the way of more practical (sweaty, dirty) considerations. Knowing I wanted to get some of the more heavy lifting, if you will, done today, I put on a more casual outfit. And when I got down on my hands and knees to clean the baseboards in the bathroom I didn't have to worry that I was putting a hole in my fishnets. Which is not to say, again, that I will dress like this every day nor am I planning on tossing the fishnets. But today I'm styling my green kakhis, pink tennis shoes and new (birthday) "Team Aniston" tshirt. Practical and yet, adorable.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I'm Not Toby Ziegler. Yet.

Someone, I neglected to write down who, said that to consider yourself a writer you have to write. For years I "wanted" to be a writer. But I had more ideas than discipline, not to mention no willingness to put what little I did write out into the world. In the last couple of years, however, I have assumed the mantle of "writer", not because I have a published body of work but because every day I write. I write, therefore I am.

Cut to today. I'm in the Cantwell office, stuffing envelopes with a couple of older women from Vashon Island. We're chatting amiably about this and that. These are a couple of gals who could have been "witnesses" in the movie "Reds"...they clearly have spent their adult lives working for a variety of causes and campaigns, fighting the good fight. An intern, Phillip, walks in and sits with us, puzzling over a sheet of paper. He finally says, "This flyer really needs to be rewritten and I'm just not good with words".

"May I look at it?" I ask, "I'm a writer, maybe I can help".

He hands it over happily. The problem is clear and I blue pencil the thing in about five minutes.

Phillip asks me about my writing, how long I've been doing it, what I've published. The first answer is easy. Then I tell him I'm not published, yet. But it wasn't an apology. I don't feel lame because you can't do a search for me on Amazon. That will come. I'm sure of it. But it doesn't mitigate the fact that I am a writer.

I was listening to NPR yesterday and heard a conversation with a composer named Osvaldo Golijov. His last comment resonated with me: "So, you do what you believe in". Amen. I care for my home and family because I believe in the sacrament of marriage and the value of raising children to be light in the world. I'm involved with politics because I believe that you can't complain if you don't participate. And every day I write because I believe that that is what I'm supposed to do with my life. And yeah, I mentioned to Phillip that any time a writing project comes up I'm happy to help out. Not, I quickly pointed out, that I have any problem with stuffing envelopes, but it is a skill I can use for the cause if they wish. And I don't think I would have done that three years ago, before I started to consider myself a writer.

Note to Spouse: All I did was edit a flyer. It was not a policy brief nor am I on staff as a speech writer. Yet.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Kitchen

When I first launched this blog I had to make three attempts before finding a url that wasn't taken, which is why my address doesn't match the blog name. What I did come up with, dothedishesfirst, might not have been my first choice but it has profound meaning for my life.

Very little starts me up like a clean kitchen. It's the first thing I see. I stumble out in the dark to turn on the kitchen light (a signal to my neighbor that I'm up and ready to go work out). When light fills the kitchen and I am greeted by cleared surfaces and an empty sink I am the happiest girl in the whole USA. Oh, I know what you're thinking. How can a woman of such obvious depth and insight be motivated to her highest good by something as pedestrian as a clean kitchen?Well, I'll tell you.

First of all, this is the room where I spend most of my time. Besides the obvious, this is where my desk lives, tucked into a corner by a big window. So all my record-keeping, communicating and writing happens in the kitchen. When I'm at my desk my back is to the kitchen proper but I know if it is out of order. And nothing squelches creative impulse (or distracts me when I got nothin') like a counter that needs to be cleared or a sink of dishes. So I like to make sure the kitchen is clean before I go to bed because then I don't have any excuses.

For the last two years since I've been doing FLYlady I have done a good job at maintaining the Prime Directive (if you will) of Flying, which is to shine your sink. The theory, and its a good one, is that if your sink is clean the order will spread to your counters and eventually to the rest of the house. And it's absolutely true for me. Now, this sets into motion a whole host of other little tasks, such as unloading the dishwasher so there is something to put dirty dishes into, but it all works together and the end result is that the kitchen is always clean during the day.

If the kitchen is clean, I can focus. If I do the dishes first, I can relax. If all that is required for me to be in such a state is an empty dishwasher (3 minutes, max), wiping down counters (20 seconds) and cleaning up as I cook (next to no time if I've got my garbage bowl and soapy sink) then it is an exteremly small price to pay for admission to Blissville.

But I've also noticed lately that I'm not the only one maintaining order. Perhaps some sort of unconscious reprogramming is taking place. But the kitchen has been really clean for weeks now and it's not just me. The clean kitchen seems to be speaking the same message to the rest of the household. It looks good and they don't want to mess it up either. So the coffee cup goes into the dishwasher instead of on the counter. The smoothie spills get wiped up. Whatever is going on, I'm not complaining.

We had a supremely lazy weekend, with occassional flurries of activity. Mostly we hung out, ate and watched movies. I got a nice "casual winter" coat from the fam for my birthday. My birthday pizza was most excellent. The season premiere of "West Wing" rocked and now here we are at the start of another jam-packed, fun filled week. I'm glad we rested up.


Friday, September 23, 2005

I Wasn't Going to Do This

This morning at coffee my friend Pat said I should so I will.

I like the even numbered years. It's not that the odd numbered ones have been uniformly horrible but if I think about it, the best things usually happen in the even years. 15, for example, I wouldn't do again for any amount of money but 16 was ok. 17 really stank but 18 not so much. 21 was probably one of the hardest years of my life but 22 was much better. And so it goes. There have been exceptions. I was 33 when I got married and that was a good thing. But The Child was born when I was 36. So for the most part, the pattern holds. Somehow the even years just seem softer, rounder. I like the way they sound. I like that they are divisible by 2. There no logical or empirical reason for it. It is purely subjective.

So there you are. Today I am 48, which sounds really good to me. I am very content with my life, happy with the structure of my days, thankful for the wonderful, wonderful people who populate my life (and really, I could devote an essay a day to each one of them and I wouldn't have to look for anything else to write about for months and months. I am really, really blessed in my friendships). So happy birthday to me! (And to Bruce Springsteen, the Boss, who is 56).

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ode to a Crockpot

The Spouse and I received two crockpots as wedding gifts. We returned one, which was gigantic and kept the reasonable sized one that my friend Sharon had given us. Back then, when we were childless and snobby, we didn't use the Crockpot much. Groovy thirtysomethings in a super fantastic downtown flat don't cook like suburbanites. We knew that, we'd been to the meetings. Except for a couple times a year when The Spouse fired up a batch of Payson's Papa's Chili, the slow cooker sat unused, unappreciated, unloved.

But times change, people grow up, children come and bring extracurricular activities with them and so now, while still caring passionately about food, I have come to love, nay, adore my Crockpot. (I bless Sharon everytime I use it. She gets blessed a lot).

There are simply times and places that demand a slowcooker. Today for example. The Child has choir practise after school. Practise goes until 6:30. If she comes out right away and the traffic is fine that means we get home by 10 of 7. I tried whipping together a simple soup supper last week when we got home. With one thing and another, we didn't eat until almost 8. NOT ok for a school night. And so, with the turning of the season comes the annual Return of the Crockpot. As I write it is sitting on the counter, bubbling joyfully, filling the house with the unctuous scent of beef and onions. With the knowledge that dinner will be waiting when we get home comes an almost ridiculous elation: a little searing, a little chopping and I'm done cooking for the day. A one-dish meal doesn't require all sorts of fussing and side dishes. And clean up is virtually non-existent.

There is a slight down-side to the Crockpot. Recipes are pretty hit and miss. Not everything I've tried has been spectacular. And you just don't forget a truly awful meal. (Remind me to tell you the Tuscan beans story sometime). These failures, few though they may be are, I believe, what informs The Face that The Spouse makes when he sees the Crockpot come out. He doesn't say anything but I know he's worried that there will be some mooshy, flavourless glop on his plate come dinner time; not a happy thought for a man who works hard all day and wants to have a pleasant meal with his family at the end of it all. (I bet he doesn't realize that he has a "Crockpot face". He knows now). But this just inspires my ongoing quest for fantastic Crockpot recipes. (So if you have some you should really post them, dontcha think?)

Tonight's entree will, I know, be delicious.

Beef Stew with Herb Dumplings

1 # stew meat
1/2 c. red wine (I used the rest of the Cote de Rhone we brought home from our anniversary dinner last night)
1 -2 c. beef stock
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 c. peeled baby carrots (or you could chop 2 adult carrots)
1 c. diced tomatoes (from a can is just fine)
1 c. frozen peas

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Toss in a little olive oil and quickly sear the meat to lock in the juices (and keep the meat from looking grey and squished after 6 hours of cooking).

Remove beef to slow cooker with vegetables. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and pour over ingredients. Add beef stock to cover. Season to taste with salt & pepper, a dash or three of Worstershire sauce, a spoonful of Dijon mustard and a sprig or two of fresh thyme. Give everything a stir to combine and turn cooker on low for 6 hours or so.

Herb Dumplings
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
1/4 c. plus 2 T. milk
2 T. vegetable oil
dried herbs, any combination you like

Stir together dry ingredients and add herbs. (I like dill a lot with this recipe). Combine wet ingredients then add to dry, stirring just to combine.

About half an hour before you want to eat toss the frozen peas into the stew and bring up the heat to high. Glop on the dumplings by spoonfuls over top of stew. Replace lid and cook for about 25-30 minutes until dumplings are fluffy and cooked through.

Note: There is an immediacy to dumplings. They get weird if the dough sits so don't make them until just before you're going to cook them. If you know you are going to be pressed for time you can combine the dry and liquid ingredients seperately and put them together when it's time to eat. Better yet, call your Spouse from the car on the way home and have him or her finish off the dish while you're en route.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

14 Years Ago Today...

I woke up to fog so thick you couldn't see the building across the street. My mom made me a bowl of oatmeal and insisted I eat it. I was drinking mimosas. All my best girls were over, doing their nails and primping. My other best girl, Johnny, was over glamming my hair and Payson had arrived to capture the proceedings on film. I wore a white silk robe and the George and Barbara Bush slippers my staff had given me for Christmas the year before. There was music and laughter and the girls gave my mom a complete "day of beauty".

At about noon the fog began to lift, to reveal an absolutely perfect fall day, which was appropriate given that it was the first day of autumn. It was sunny but brisk. Overnight the leaves had started to turn color.

Flowers were delivered, bouquets of alstomeria and roses. I headed into the bedroom to don my off-the-rack Laura Ashley dress, a design loosely modeled on the dress Diana wore when she married Charles.

Fourteen years ago I walked with aforementioned girls to the Cathedral while they sang "Going to the Chapel". A single leaf fell through the air and landed right at the toe of my pristine white shoe.

Fourteen years ago I walked down the long aisle of the Cathedral to "Coro" from Handel's Water Music and married my pookie, promising in front of God and everybody to love him forever. And fourteen years later, go figure, I still do.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Small Victories

As many of you are well aware, last year was a tough one for The Child. The combination of a new school culture, her dyslexia and a less than great teacher match made for a whole mess o' struggle. The Child wasn't organized, she floundered. Every fact she learned flew out of her head when tested and she somehow managed to always turn in homework late, even though it was done every day. This all resulted, of course, in lousy grades, which further disheartened her. Why bother if you can't do it, right? (Not that I advocate such a life philosophy but you can understand how a 10 year old would go there).

Cut to this year. First week of school she comes home with a "no missing assignments award". She does her homework, for the most part without a lick of nonesense, every night. She goes to school each morning and comes home every afternoon with the stuff she needs. Homework, check. Sweater, check. Lunchbox, check. She appears to be turning in her work.

Yesterday she comes home with yet another "no missing assignments award". She also brings home a bunch of corrected assignments. A. A. A. A. B- (That was on a test. A test, I tell you). I think there was maybe another A in there. "How are you feeling about yourself as a student right about now?" I ask.

"Pretty great", she says.

So I tell her that last year was just a weird bump in the road. "A pretty big one, actually," she amends.

"Yes, it was a big one. A big pot hole. And you drove right into it and lost a wheel but babe, you're out of it now, you're wheel's back on and you are driving straight and true. I am really proud of you".

"And, Mom," she say, "If I ever see a big pothole like that again, I'm going to swerve around it. Carefully, of course".

My kid. Of course, I got so mad at her this morning that I broke my hairbrush but that's another story.

Monday, September 19, 2005

An Amusing Story

Last year The Child met Senator Maria Cantwell after a John Kerry rally. Ever since then she has considered Senator Cantwell to be her friend. I told her this morning that I was going to be going to the Senator's campaign offices to work. Her face filled with delight and she exclaimed, "You have a job? That is so cool".

"It's not a job," I explained. "I'm volunteering on her re-election campaign. I'm not getting paid".

She began to eat her blueberry pancakes, undetered by such distinctions. "It's still cool that you have a job now," she said.

"I have a job, you know", I said. "I work all the time".

"Yes, but you'll be in a real office at a real desk. It's a real job."

Right. As opposed to all the skivving off I do the rest of the time. I can't blame her, of course. No matter what anyone says, we live in a culture that doesn't consider trifles like housework and child-rearing to be work. Without a paycheck, it doesn't count. Or, in the case of The Child, apparently, if it isn't in an office (like Papa), it isn't work.

A few minutes later she said, "So tell me what you'll be doing for Condi."


"For Condeleza Rice. What will you be doing?"

Now I was laughing hysterically. "Darling, I'm going to be volunteering. For Senator Cantwell. NOT for Condeleza Rice, the Secretary of State. The Secretary works for the President. The Senator doesn't. Condi is a short black woman. Maria is a short white woman".

"Well," she said, pulling on her shoes. "They're both short".



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Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Pizza Story

Way back in the last century I worked for about a year with a small no-nukes group. There was a lot about it that was great because this particular group, Armistice, took a dramatic arts approach to our activism. We used plays and such to make the case for disarmament and non-violence. We were the ones with the cool big puppets at the peace rallies. All good.

Here's when I knew that I wasn't cut out for organizing:

One evening, after an event, a bunch of us went up to Olympic Pizza on Queen Anne for pie. We got some drinks and our menus. We then proceeded to spend 40 mortal minutes trying to come "to consensus" on what to order. I was hungry when we went in and I've got a little bit of a blood sugar thing. Too hungry and I get surly beyond reason. Let's just say that after 40 minutes there was nothing in my demeanor or attitude that was remotely pacific or non-violent. I finally said something along the lines of, "For crying out loud! Get one full of meat and one full of vegetables and anybody who doesn't like something can pick it off. Just order!"

I'm all for listening to all viewpoints and considering a problem from all the angles. But at some point someone has to say, "Thanks for the input, here's what we're going to do". You can't please all the people all of the time, someone wisely observed. Consensus decision making is big with progressive groups. Which probably explains why we can't organize ourselves out of a paper bag.

Friday, September 16, 2005

What My Dog Did Today

It's been a busy day for The Schnoodle. Fresh from his stellar performance last night in "The Dog Literally Did Eat My Homework", he began his day by chewing up yesterday's newspaper and depositing it all over the front room AND the back deck. (He's been really frustrated with the news lately. "FEMA Schmema", he says.) Then he had to ride to school with his Girl. He was very quiet on the ride from school to coffee klatsch. I thought it was because he was sleeping but really, he was busy chewing up his leash into 4 separate bits. (The leash The Spouse had already re-engineered to replace the retractable one he chewed through earlier this week).

He had a little down time while I was at coffee but he needed the rest because he spent the next two hours playing at his sister's house. Between wrestling in the mud, despositing the mud all over Trudy's floor and playing tug-o-war with a stuffed duck, well, you can just imagine the stress. Poor little fella, he's all tuckered out.

I'm such a slacker. All I've done is clean up after my dog and buy him a new leash.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Photos from Iraq

I have the priviledge of being on a distribution list for a Sgt. stationed with the embassy in Iraq. It's pretty amazing to read his missives and be privy to things, both good and bad, that don't appear in the press. He always sends along photos and I'm particularly moved by the ones of kids. It helps to remember the civilian population there, to keep a human face on all this. Here are some of my favorite pics.

Simple Satisfaction

I am a simple creature, delighted by the merest of accomplishments. Today I got home from my meeting and decided it really was time to boogie the fridge.

Flylady encourages a weekly fridge boogie and I usually do a cursory go-over. Sometimes not. I like to think I'm pretty good at using up what I have before I buy more and tossing stuff that isn't going to be used. But I'm always surprised by what I find when I decide to really get in there and clean it out. Like the jar of peanut butter that looks full but really has 1 t. in it. Or the egg salad that has been sitting for a week. Or the fact that there are two receptacles, both half full of kalamata olives. It is so satisfying to marry condiments (restaurant parlance for getting for example, all the olives in one container), toss the half head of wilted romaine and wipe down the shelves. I was particularly adventurous today and reordered the freezer as well. The menu for next week practically wrote itself as I looked at all the bounty in there that is just ready to be cooked up.

By the time I was done I had tossed one grocery bag full of inedibles, filled the dishwasher with storage containers (wondered where all those had got to) and, as I said, planned the menu. All this was satisfying enough but the garbage collectors hadn't shown up yet so I was able to get all that junk to the curb and out of the house, too.

It doesn't take much to make me happy. Speaking of which, I have a few household tips here that delight me no end and make my life ever so much easier. I share them now, with proper credits:

The Soapy Sink. When you start dinner, run a sinkful of hot water. Got this from Flylady. Wash prep dishes as you go and by the time dinner is on the table the kitchen will be practically clean. After dinner I usually just have to wash a couple of pans (stupid Calphalon has to be hand-washed) while The Child loads the dishwasher and we're done. Plus, I love Mrs. Meyer's dish soap, which is a little pricey but it comes in yummy, yummy fragrances. When I run my sink and the rose geranium scent floats up it wakes up my tired little brain and I swear it inspires me to get cooking. Allez cuisine!

The Garbage Bowl. Rachael Ray. I love that little cutie petutie and her 30 minute meals. One of her best ideas is to have a large bowl handy to dump all your cuttings, egg shells and odd bits into as you cook. It seemed a little goofy to me until I tried it. You don't realize how many times you go over to the sink or garbage can when you're cooking until you stop doing it. Put everything in a garbage bowl and then you just dump once. Huge timesaver.

Don't cry for me, Argentina. If you cry when cutting onions, light a candle nearby. I forget where I learned this, The Martha, maybe. I also forget why it works but it really, really does. Seems to help when dealing with pungent chilis, too.

Quicky Pie Crust. Make pate brisee in the food processor. The Martha Stewart. I love pies and tarts and quiches but I used to never make them because pie crust was such a messy pain to make. Then I saw The Martha whip it up in the food processor. I plotzed. Not only does it take no time, but when you whir it up the dough forms a neat little column. You just pull it out and flatten it and viola! Here's the recipe:

Martha Stewart’s Pate Brisee
(double crust)

Place 2 ½ c. flour, 1 t. salt and 1 t. sugar in food processor.

Add 2 sticks of unsalted butter, cut in small pieces and whir in processor until mixture resembles coarse meal (about 10 seconds).

Add ¼ c. ice water in slow, steady stream while machine is running, just until dough holds together and not more than 30 seconds. (This is where I part company from The Martha. I run until the dough forms aforementioned column. It isn't that much longer than the 30 seconds and I guarantee the dough will not be over-worked).

Turn out on plastic wrap, cover and press into flattened circle. Chill at least 1 hour before rolling out.

Dough may also be wrapped a second time in foil and frozen for later use.

This makes the best pie crust ever.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Life Happens

I have been laboring under a misapprehension. I carry with me a myth, the myth of the "normal day". This "normal day" shines as a beacon of accomplishment and fulfillment. On this day I am productive, organized, I'm Donna Reed and Claire Huxtable, I am the Matilde of Pablo Neruda's poems. I am George Eliot and Annie LaMott and Martha Stewart (without the ankle bracelet or the budget). But this "normal day" is a fragile thing. It's balance is upset by the merest of occurances...a long distance phone call, a surprise visit, a sick child, a meeting. I think that this "normal" day means certain activities being accomplished at certain times. Writing first thing in the morning, dinner started precisely at 5. Which is so bad. Because, of course, if I don't meet that standard than I either don't do it at all (excellent avoidance technique, by the way) or I get all frustrated in the attempt to "catch up".

Never mind that the "normal day" is a myth. There are always interruptions and schedule adjustments and just plain fun, spontaneous opportunities that spring up like mushrooms after a rain. Am I going to martyr myself to some mythology and begin seething with resentment or frustration every time life happens? No, I say to you, no!

I sat down the other day to consider my full and rather sloppy plate. Everything on that plate needs to be there. I'm not over committed as I am more than happy to use the holy word "no". But the plate is full nonetheless and I must tuck in, every day, no matter what is happening. At first I considered an hour by hour schedule but realized that that will only perpetuate the myth. The problem is that my thinking is too rigid and precise. I looked again at everything I have on that plate. I have to run the household (yum, plate cooked salmon). I have volunteer work at school (broccoli, with hollandaise). There is family time (rice pilaf) and my writing projects (ceasar salad, with lots of croutons). I have to care for myself, without which none of the rest matters much anyway (cherries jubilee). It is a good plate, well-balanced and satisfying.

Then I started thinking in color. (I'm all about the symbolism, baby). I gave all the areas in my life a color (food is messy and attracts flies). I made a little chart of how my time is carved up during the week. Turns out, most days do in fact have a similar flow (probably what gave birth to the myth in the first place). But some days have set obligations that disrupt the flow. Only that was exactly the mentality I wish to avoid. If I consider a standing Parent Club meeting as a disruption, won't I start to resent it? And I like my Parent Club gig...I work with a fantastic, fun group of people and just by being on the committee I guarantee satisfying my school volunteer contract for the year. It's a good thing. It is an opportunity.

I looked at all those wondrous blocks of time and first I just allowed myself to feel grateful. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am so fortunate to be able to be home. My days, even with their "obligations" are gifts.

I've created an inspiring little chart which hangs above my desk. It is not a set-in stone schedule. It is a tool for helping to retrain my brain. If I find myself floudering I can look at it and see that this might be a good time to focus on a project around the house or to clear the decks for some writing. It's pegged to blocks of time but that's not really the point. It just shows me, when motivation is disrupted or at a lull, how to reboot myself. It demonstrates that I don't have to reinvent the day every time something happens. Because something will happen. I want to be open to those opportunities while banishing notions like resentment and guilt. My little chart shows me, if nothing else, that there is time every day, no matter what is going on, to clean my plate. It doesn't matter WHEN I do it. Some days I may have dessert first, sometimes not. What matters is that I enjoy the meal.

So, last night Luke said "yes" to Lorelie's proposal. I'm as happy as I would be if they were real people. What will I wear to the wedding?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

By the way

The season premiere of "Gilmore girls" is in 6 hours and 5 minutes.


I was just cleaning up and organizing some of my Word files. I came across a whole mess of poetry that I wrote when I was young and fancied myself a free-spirited artsy type.

I studied poetry in college, of course. And I had a professor, Rose Reynoldson, who thought I was brilliant. This counted for something at the time. She was a published poet and I figured she must recognize brilliance when she saw it. She even arranged once for me to give a poetry reading. It was about 2 years after I had graduated. It was a wonderful moment for me, reading my work and seeing and hearing people respond to it. It kept me writing poetry for a few more years.

I was once even emboldened to submit my work for publication. In those days the Sunday supplement of the Seattle Times had a poetry section edited by a prof at the UW. I don't remember his name (and there's a reason for that). Every Sunday I read these very Northwesty poems about pine trees and Indian names and otters and I knew my work was every bit as good as any of it. So I wrote out some of my poems on notebook paper and sent them in with a handwritten cover letter. (OK. I studied poetry in school, not how to submit for publication).

A few weeks later I got a rejection letter. Only this wasn't some formulaic, "thanks for submitting your poetry however we cannot use it at this time" sort of thing. I could have handled that. No. This was a slam, a bombastic up-yours, a "not only is your poetry horrible but you dared to send in hand-written copies and whatever in the world possessed you to pick up a pen ever, let along inflict it on anyone else" sort of thing. This letter was so mean-spirited that I had no option but to shred and destroy it, then shower under very hot water for 30 minutes to remove the toxicity of it from my being. I wish now that I'd saved it, sealing it in a lead container and marking it "to be opened in twenty years". Just for grins. But probably getting rid of it altogether was the right thing to do. And no, I didn't let the jerk defeat me. I kept writing poetry for several years after that. What did he know? He was just some lit. professor at the U. And a few years later, I noted, he died. So there.

But the truth of the matter is, aside from there being no money in it, I wasn't a very good poet. I didn't stink. When I read my stuff now I don't completely recoil with revulsion. Some of it is decent and some lines, here and there, are actually pretty fine. But most of it is decidedly not great and I don't think the world is missing out on my not publishing it, the way we'd be missing out if, say, T.S. Eliot had stuck with banking.

After a while, the only poetry I wrote was for the kids I knew. I found a bunch of poems I'd written for my first neices and my nanny children. They were pretty cute...clearly influenced by A.A. Milne...but cute. Then I started feeling a little sad. Not only are all those children grown up now, but I realized that there wasn't a poem about The Child, not a single one.

When I was playing at being a poet I did develop a poet's sensibility. I was tuned in a particular way, taking inspiration from everything from china cups to quilts to rock 'n roll. I did develop an ear for cadence and aliteration (sometimes too much). And like any faculty you stop using, I began to lose that way of looking at things. Which is unfortunate. Perhaps this explains why I didn't write for The Child. That and being too busy changing her diapers and chasing after her and debating with her about the reasons for washing one's hands. Because obviously, I love her more than any of the kids I wrote for. Her life and beauty, her charm and pixilated spirit were all inspirational to me. And still are.

So anyway, I kept reading through all those poems and then it was obvious that I had engaged in that exercise once before and had obviously had similar feelings because way at the last of the pages I found this:

I was reading today all the poems I once wrote
for one child or another
but that was before my child came
and I became a mother.

Which is certainly not to suggest that becoming a mother has sucked every creative impulse right out of me. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I write about my girl all the time and if she ever goes looking for some sort of written record of my love for her she'll be able to find it, published and unpublished. Some of it is on notebook paper.

Monday, September 12, 2005

4 a.m.

I'm sleeping in seeming peace and then wake up because I'm having some weird dream. (We were battening down the hatches in anticipation of a hurricane. It was going to be big...75 mph winds. Oooh). So I get up and go to the bathroom and see that it is 20 minutes til 4. This is a little gift. I think, "Great...still 2 hours before I have to get up". I go back to bed and immediately start thinking about volleyball and how I have to register The Child. Of course, I can't do that until daylight but it starts niggling at me. Then I think about the fact that there will be a registration fee, which reminds me that I need to do the books. Of course, I still have 2 hours to sleep, right? It's not like I'm going to go fire up Quicken. So I try to put that out of my mind by thinking about how great volleyball will be because the coach is so awesome. Except then I remember that the coach is also the faculty rep. for the Parent Club Executive group, of which I am a member. And I promised to fill her in on the meeting we had Thursday because she couldn't make it. And I haven't done that yet. I also haven't distributed the minutes from the meeting, nor have I created the flyer that has to go into the Wednesday packet nor prepared for the room parent recruitment we are doing at the Wednesday night Parent Club meeting. But it's 4 a.m. I'm not going to get up and start pulling all that stuff together now. Geez. I still have 2 hours to sleep.

I tell myself that this won't do. If I'm not going to be able to do anything right now I have to stop worrying about it, right? So I try to think of sweet things. I think of psalms, of being in Ireland (never been but I like to imagine going). I'm drifting off and The Dog stirs in his sleep, bumping against my leg and waking me up again. My mind goes back to the volleyball/bill paying/parent club circuit. I try to calm it again. Sheesh.

I did go back to sleep eventually and I woke up when I was supposed to but I was tired and cranky. I just hate when that happens.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Return of the Mojo

First week of school is over and I gotta tell you, it wasn't quite the return to order and accomplishment I'd hoped. Plagued, as I was, by assorted inconvenient physical issues, I didn't do a fraction of what I meant to do. I barely did anything to speak of. Lord, I didn't even blog!

I'm a firm believer in not beating myself up when I'm sick. If I don't feel well, I gotta take care of myself first. It's the old 'put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping someone else' thing. So I'm not really lamenting the lost writing time or the slightly less than stellar housekeeping. The place still looks good, it doesn't smell funny and everyone has ample clean underwear. And I did email my mom.

Routines have power. I have my little drills every day that are practically automatic. I sometimes am astonished at all the things I can accomplish before 8am, things which assure a smooth-running day. On a roll I can work out, shower & dress, unload the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, have coffee, read the NY Times on line and mix up some pancake batter beforeThe Child is up at 7 am. And if I accomplish all this then it means that when I return from the school drop-off, I can write without distractions. It also means that when I'm done writing I will most likely accomplish my zone work for the week, reboot the laundry, iron, check my email, do some book-keeping and all by 11 a.m. See what's happening here? To modify the old Army slogan ever so slightly, I get more done by 11 a.m. than most people do all day. Theoretically. When I'm on a roll. When I'm not in bed with my schnoodle and a sick headache. And when I have those sorts of days (the Army-like ones, not the lying in bed sort) I come to the "end of business", so to speak, with a sense of accomplishment and a kitchen clean enough to be photographed for a shelter magazine. (I really enjoy waking up to a clean kitchen). I will do what I wish with the evening hours peacefully free of nagging feelings about all that is undone.

But all these wondrous routines that lead to so much fulfillment are predicated on one basic principle: being able to function. And so I am glad that I'm feeling better because it's a good sign that the mojo is returning and next week will be better. But just to keep things interesting, both volleyball and choir start next week.


A Little Bit of Labor History and Views on Capitalism for a Rainy Saturday

In 1931 Congress passed the Davis Bacon Act. It states that companies bidding on public works projects must pay the prevailing wage of the area in which they are working. In other words, if your company is bidding for a federal contract to rebuild, oh, say, a flooded region, you can't pad your bid numbers with cheap labor . If the wage for construction workers in Louisiana is $25/hour, you can't pay your workers less than that. The bill was seen as a way to keep competition fair and, secondarily, to ensure a living wage for workers. You can read the history here if you don't believe me:

We live in a capitalistic society. The objective is making money. That's fine. I personally enjoy making money. I enjoy being married to someone who makes money. Money puts a roof over our head, good food on our table and super fantastic shoes on our feet. Money enables us to pay school tuition, doctor co-pays and give to charity. Money is just fine.

And here's another thing about money. Some people make more of it than other people. The CEO of The Spouse's company, for example, makes quite a bit more than The Spouse does. But I'm okay with that. The wage and benefits The Spouse gets are more than fair. It's all good. The ability to keep body and soul together is the objective of a just wage.

Competition between companies and bidding out contracts? All good. That sort of thing is what makes for a healthy free market system. As long as the work isn't shoddy and the workers are compensated fairly, it's all good. Laws like Davis Bacon ensure decent conditions and wages. Gotta love it.

So what in the name of gumbo has this to do with anything? I'm getting to that.

Things, if you haven't noticed, are pretty bad in the gulf coast. Bad and not getting much better. And, for what it's worth, people ranging from Michael Moore to Colin Powell to Trent Lott have agreed that the government's response has been, shall we say, lackluster. And silly optimist that I am, I keep hoping that the scourged faces of the victims and the outcry across the country over what we've seen will do something to get the attention of the people in charge. But I don't think it's going to and I'll tell you why.

With things the way they are at the moment, the President seems to have misplaced all that political capital he was on about in November. The plan, for example, to repeal the last of the estate tax on the wealthiest Americans is dead in the water (so to speak) because, well, people just think it's in bad taste to hand out a mess of tax breaks to rich people while other folks are holed up in the Astrodome. (Not, despite the First Mother's comments, what most of us would consider a step up). When a President doesn't have a lot of capital or can't get a majority to go along with him, the last resort for getting things done his way is the executive order.

On Sept. 8 the President issued an executive order rescinding the "prevailing wage" portion of Davis Bacon. Want to think about the implications of that? Take a moment.

The gulf coast must be rebuilt. There are tons of ideas about how to get that going. John Edwards, for example, is proposing an initiative akin to FDR's Works Progress Administration to engage the residents of the region in rebuilding their communities. (Too bad he's not still in the Senate. But you can see his idea here:

What's more likely, though, is that a lot of big contractors will bid for and do the work. KBR, a subsidiary of Haliburton, already has a contract to rebuild Navy facilities in that region.
Plenty more work will follow. There are lots of companies that stand to make a ton of money on this effort. Which, as I stated before, is just fine. Except that without Davis Bacon, those companies can pay their workers whatever they want. They don't even have to use the local work force, all those people whose jobs were swept away in the hurricane.

Here's how I'm putting this together. We have a crisis. The dead are not yet recovered or counted. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are displaced. Families are separated. Our hearts and minds are overwhelmed by what we've seen. What we've seen has raised profound questions about poverty and race and values, and it is going to be a long, difficult conversation before we have some good answers. And while the people of the gulf coast grapple with upheaval and the rest of us watch and wonder, the best the President can do at the moment is make sure that when the rebuilding starts, Haliburton and their like make as much money as they can on the backs of the poor people around them. I don't personally think this is a partisan issue. Rescinding Davis Bacon, especially in light of the circumstances under which it was rescinded, is wrong. The President needs now to rescind that executive order. If you agree would you please call your representatives, Republican and Democrat, and ask them to apply pressure to that end. The people of the gulf coast are screwed enough right now without this.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I was on such a roll, so excited for the Return of the Routines. Then yesterday I was side-lined by a hormone headache and today with some weird stomach thing, that eases only when the headache tries to come back. So much for all my grand and glorious plans. Maybe tomorrow?

In the meantime, I must say that I truly love my dog. He stayed by my side, sleeping happily with me during all my day-time naps and sometimes giving my face a little lick, just to make sure (I guess) that I was still breathing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bloody Mary Tuesday

It started seven years ago. Chou Chou, reacting to the reality of The Child starting Kindergarten said, "I think I need a drink". I agreed. So we began what has become our first-day-of-school tradition. She brings the vodka and her signature Bloody Mary mix, we sit at the table with our cocktails, nibbling on celery and ask the perennial question, "How did this happen?" It's funny that we always seem surprised. Every year seems just as amazing as the one before. "How can The Child be old enough to be in school?" "First grade sounds so old". "Fourth grade! No messing around now?" "Can she really be in fifth grade? I don't feel any older". This year will be just as is it possible that she's starting middle school?

Bless her little pea-pickin' heart, The Child was up at 6:45 this morning, dressed and brushed and gleaming. She ate her breakfast, made her bed and all without any prompting. (Oh, that this should continue!) She described herself as feeling "between" excited and nervous. Then, as we neared school she exclaimed, "Oh!", giggled nervously and said, "My stomach just went 'whoomp'". We pulled up to school and the first people she spotted were three of the "princesses" in her class (I'd still like 15 minutes alone with those brats). I said, "It's ok, babe. You go up and smile, say 'hi' and if they're snotty they can kiss your butt. Of course, you can't tell them that". She laughed, grabbed her 450 pounds of school supplies and strode off into the lion's den.

It is only slightly easier now than it was seven years ago, letting her go out into the world. The Child has had her knocks having encountered, already, far too many "peers" who are anything but...samey samey kids with no moral courage, no spirit, no particular magic. And to a one, these children see the spark in The Child and do everything they can to crush it. Albert Einstein said, "Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds." That pretty much sums it up.

But of course, there have been those equally great spirits who know a kindred when they meet one. These are the people who become her friends. And let's face it, if I'm going to have other people's kids in my house I much prefer that they be interesting and full of verve. Life is too short to be surrounded by white bread personalities. I'm just hoping that there will be one or two "whole-grain" spirits in her class this year, a Diana for her Anne.

Meanwhile, I have the house to myself. The hours stretch before me, ample time for both what I have to do and what I want to do. I celebrate the return of school-year routines. I shall toast to them now, with one of Chou Chou's brilliant Bloody Marys.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

And now for something completely shallow...

Harvest Boucle with Broach, a mere $17.99 at Payless. (Oh, me and my Imelda-on-a budget shoes).

Aren't they wonderful? You can't tell from the picture but they have a little bit of blue in them along with the white and black. Yum.


Weekend Bliss

Coffee and The Writer's Almanac, The Dog barking "good sabbath" as the neighbors walk by, The Child eating "sweet cereal" and watching cartoons (only allowed on the weekend) and the day stretching before me with no obligations or commitments. The laundry is done, the dishes are done, groceries are in the house...ah, the weekend.

We're having the usually Labor Day Do tomorrow. A surprising number of the usual suspects are out of town but the folks who are coming are big fun. I may decide to bake brownies today instead of doing it tomorrow after church, but maybe not. I love not having to be anywhere or do anything. I'm fixin' on playing a nice long game of "Age of Empires" today.

Yesterday with The Child was less than blissful. There were two episodes of note. The first was in the morning when I caught her and one of the neighbor kids on the roof. Yes, on the roof. Of our house. I ordered them down, sent the neighbor home and banished The Child to her room until I stopped spurting blood from my ears. According to the logic of an 11 year old, however, I was completely over-reacting, unfair and a host of other invectives, topped off with a steaming dose of "You are the worst person in the world" screamed at level 10. Maybe this roof-top exercise was some sort of show of solidarity with the people of New Orleans, which is certainly impressive in ones so young and yet I remain confident in my position that it was a bad, bad idea.

Later in the evening, after I had been restored to regular Mom status, The Spouse caught The Child eating olives in our room. He asked her to please not eat in our room and to finish her olives elsewhere. She complied. When he left she then helped herself to more olives and returned to our room, only this time she leaned out of the window. The Spouse caught her, banished her and the caterwauling began. He won the prize though because I think "I hate you!" beats "You're the worst person in the world". Yeah, Daddy! (Those of you who knew me at a tween/teen may snigger at will but please keep it to yourself).

After all sorts of tears and acrimony (hers) and fierce lecturing and finger-in-the-face posturing (mine) we calmed down and I asked (ever the brilliant, sensitive and on-it mother) if anything was bothering her. And of course, she's nervous about the first day of school. Sixth grade is a big deal and she still has her doubts about some of her classmates. (There are a couple princesses in that class who I would personally like to have alone for 15 minutes. Just 15 minutes...) But she's excited about her teacher and seeing her friends. So we talked for a while and had a cuddle and then she got up and brought her backpack into my room. She started unloading it and arranging all the contents just so all over my bed. "This helps calm me down," she explained. "I've done it like 12 times already". After she got it all arranged, she looked at it for a moment, then crossed herself and started reloading. Whatever works.

So, in the ebb of all that emotion, she's much calmer today. The Spouse is full of little tunes and happiness because he has a three days off. And as I mentioned, the house looks lovely. Plus, I got some super fantastic shoes yesterday which I cannot wait to wear to church tomorrow. Don't you just love the weekend?


Friday, September 02, 2005


This is my favorite month. This is the month of my anniversary and birthday. This is the month when fall begins (on my anniversary, as it turns out, two for one special). Already that autumnal snap is in the air. I love that snap. I love that the mornings and evenings are cool and that there is still a hope of Indian summer for the sake of the garden. I love that the leaves are going to start turning, that the berries on my mountain ash are a bright, burnt orange and that school is about to start, bringing with it a return to my "real" routines.

Summer has it's fun, to be sure. Dining al fresco, eating light, cool meals, The Spouse grilling dinner. There are all the gorgeous fruits of summer. There are those perfect summer moments, sitting in the andirondak with a good book and a g&t at my elbow. There's the relaxation of schedules and set bedtimes. But I'm over it now.

I'm ready for dinner to return to the dining room table. I'm ready for daubes and gratins, ready to start baking. I'm ready for big, fruity wines to take the place of crisp whites. And I'm really ready to have the house back.

I love The Child, I truly do. I love having time to hang with her. But there are things that simply don't get done during the summer. My book, which really is almost done, has been on vacation, too. Blogging a few paragraphs is the most I can manage with someone else in the house. And fun as that is, it won't get me that syndicated column I dream about.

We have one more long weekend for staying up late, sleeping in and not having anywhere to be at any particular time. Then comes Bloody Mary Tuesday and the fall schedule. I plan to enjoy every minute of these next four days. But I'm ready for the change.

And just in case you haven't done so yet:

And if you know someone near the affected areas who might be willing to put up a refugee, has a site where they can offer housing. Pass it on.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What to Say

There was a picture of a crying woman with her baby on the front page of the Seattle Times. It could have been a face from Niger or Dafur but it wasn't.

I want to keep the Heaviness Quotient to a minimum in this blog. Which means that at the moment I have nothing to say. I am going to observe a metaphoric moment of silence.

(Although if I hear one more time that Trent Lott and other southern lawmakers are "homeless" I'm going to lose it. I think the criteria for the condition of homelessness is having to live in a tent city or the freaking Astrodome for the foreseeable future. Anyone with the money and insurance to rebuild, anyone with other homes in other cities is not, in fact, homeless. Let's keep our persepective here, shall we?)