Monday, October 31, 2005

Witchy Woman

You could say I am in a perfect temper for Halloween today. Everything started out well. I made smiley-face blueberry pancakes and The Child and I had a 'calendar meeting' at breakfast. She came to the table dressed and brushed. All good. Then it was time to leave and I sent her to get on her shoes and socks. That's when all hell broke loose.

First she's diddling around trying to find socks. This is because more often than not she just shoves clean laundry into whatever drawer happens to be standing open, with no regard to the existing system. I'm still Mother of the Year at this point (what with the smiley pancakes and all), gently noting that we have certain drawers for certain articles of clothing precisely because it makes life easier. She gets the socks on. Then the brimstone starts leaking. There are no shoes to be seen. I know one pair has already been loaned to one of the M Street gang for her Halloween costume. But what of the two pairs of sneakers? It dawns on both of us, at about the same time, that they are at the neighbors. Not The Neighbor's, to whose home I have a key. No, no. They are at the home of one, possibly two other neighbors, all of whom were at that moment also getting their children off to school.

Here's the problem with the M Street Gang: they never wear their clothes. Or, more precisely, they all change, half a dozen times, in each other's homes, leaving their own clothes behind and making off with items not their own. Things I've never seen before are constantly turning up in our laundry and sometimes members of the gang have shown up here attired completely in ensembles belonging to the Child. There have been a few occasions when The Child has been sent at the last minute to fetch a pair of shoes or coat before we have to go somewhere. So far she's been lucky.

But here we were, 5 minutes past time to leave and she's got no shoes. None. It is my fervent hope that there wasn't a CPS caseworker just happening by our house at 7:45 this morning. It wasn't so much the screaming, which has (sadly) happened before. Rather it was the tone of the screaming...husky, resonant, and yet in no way tuneful...a disturbing sound issuing from both my throat and the front of my head. It was not pleasant to be the agent of that sound. It was not pleasant to morph so quickly from gentle, smiley-face pancake mom into someone liable to order a huntsman to take The Child in the woods and bring back her heart in a crystal box.

Never mind that my anger was justified. Never mind that I gave her a pair of my shoes (2 sizes too big) and don't give a damn if she's mocked all day for wearing clown shoes. It is one of the fundamental principles of life that you have to take care of your own stuff and if she's going to leave it all over the countryside then she's going to pay the consequences. I sure as you-know-what am not going to go running around trying to fix it for her or she'll never learn.
I know all that and it's all fine. The blood has stopped streaming from my ears. But geez, what a crappy way to start our day.


Friday, October 28, 2005

My Hero

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Good News

As if the whole Miers thing wasn't enough, today I learned that the President is going to reverse his executive order rescinding the Davis Bacon Act. That, if you recall, means that the Gulf Coast workers are going to be paid a fair and living wage as they work on the reconstruction of their own region. It's a good thing.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

When The Child was an infant she had a basket full of squishy toys and a shelf of books. The shelf of books was at her level so she could chew on them at her leisure. She had a tiny closet of a room, an actual closet, but with French doors and a tiny cathedral window. The closet walls were painted apricot with a hand painted (moi) border of flowers at head-height. Her futon folded up for sitting during the day. Two straw hats hung on the wall, along with a couple of sweet pictures.

The day we found our house she ran into the room that would be hers and spun in circles singing, "My room, my room, my room". How could we not buy the house? The entire endeavor was motivated by only two forces: The Spouse's desire to be landed gentry and the reality that a growing child cannot inhabit a closet forever.

But as I've mentioned in previous posts, nature abhors a vacuum and empty rooms abhor their emptiness. Space desires to be filled. And filled and filled and filled. The Child's room has been one area of our home that has firmly resisted 27 fling boogies and all other FLY attempts to bring it to heel. Which has been frustrating because it has not been for lack of trying. It's not like The Child and I haven't played "Clean Sweep" at least a dozen times. But somehow things just keep crawling back into that room and taking over. Additionally, this has created a situation wherein The Child's own attempts to keep the room picked up have been frustrated because she never knows where to begin. Which I totally get.

The other day I said to her, in general frustration and not in anger, mind, that I was tempted to reduce her room to one of everything and start all over. Oddly, she didn't object. So yesterday I went in there and started flinging. The first layer was true flingage...recyling, garbage and dirty laundry. Then I turned to her library and immediately felt overwhelmed. (Clutter really does mess with your head). I remembered that she'd had one shelf of books as a teeny thing so went for that standard. I pulled out a box worth of books that I know she isn't going to read anytime soon, as well as some I know she'll never read. The former are waiting in the garage, the latter were flung. I put all her notebooks and journals into another box, leaving only one in her room. I boxed up a mess o' keepsakes which may be important but we'll see if she notices first. (Anything of assumed significance isn't going to leave the house just yet).

I made some good progress but here's the thing: when she came home yesterday the first words out of her mouth were, "I was thinking about that 'one thing' thing you said and if it's ok, I'd like to keep Aloyisus, Lovey and Jacqueline on my bed. The rest can go away for awhile". Given that she owns something like a dozen stuffed animals, all with names, spouses and back story, this 75 percent reduction was quite something. And tres affirming, because it means we're on the right course. It was also pretty great that she could actually use her desk for homework last night.

And in another development that suggests that we haven't completely screwed up as parents: she informed me this morning that she turned down the opportunity to be in the school choir this year. She loves to sing and very much enjoyed being in the group last year. So why didn't she do it? "Tuesday and Friday are the only days when I don't have an extracurricular and I just thought it would be too much". An 11 year old making a thoughtful, considered and wise decision all on her own? I'm kvelling.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Foodies and Why I Can't Be Bothered

Once I was a food snob.

Every weekend I would go to the Pike Place Market, shopping basket on my arm for ultimate grooviness effect and I would shop for the week. I bought meat from Don and Joe's, fresh produce from Frank's, coffee beans at Starbuck's (this was before you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Starbuck's shop). I purchased tea at Market Spice, cheese from DiLaurenti's, milk and eggs from the Creamery and then head to Magnano's Whole Foods for bulk staples. Once home I could spend close to an hour opening brown paper packages tied up with string, pouring the contents into assorted glass jars. I reveled in my collection of beans, the varieties of rice, the five or six types of flour. In these days, when I flirted with vegetarianism (didn't take) and explored new cuisines, I learned culinary technique. I learned the patience required to turn out a good sauce or decent pie crust. I baked constantly. I wouldn't hear of using anything "processed". Everything I cooked with was fresh and in as near a natural state as I could get it. (The exception being, of course, things like coconut milk or other exotic ingredients which had to come from import shops and ethnic markets because this is ancient history and such items were not yet standard issue at Safeway). All of this seems reasonable enough on paper. But I was a snob about it. Pasta from a box? When you can make your own? Ridiculous. Tomatoes from a can? Surely you jest. There is a profound distinction between, say, a supper of Hamburger Helper with Jell-o for dessert and using the ocassional pre-packaged item to move things along. But I hadn't learned that yet.

I will always have time to cook because I make it a priority. We eat together as a family every night and that is a priority. I plan our menues around the extracurricular schedule and we still manage to sit down to home-cooked food more nights than not, whether it's a three course meal or a bowl of soup and a sandwich. Because I have the luxury of being at home, that means that the soup, more often than not, is made from scratch, but not always. If the priority is being together at table and the schedule doesn't get us there until 7, I may very well open up a tasty box o' soup from Trader Joe's. Maybe I'll swirl in something of my own devising. But either way, what I don't do is apologize for it.

Fresh ingredients are delicious and healthy. Prepared food full of additives are not. I hold to and honor this difference. But I also thank God every day that spinach comes prewashed. I realize that sometimes frozen vegetables are better than fresh, that tinned tomatoes are far superior in every way to any tomato purchased out of season and that the ocassional time-saver does not undermine either my ability to cook or my enjoyment of what I've cooked. In short, I'm over myself. Which I realized again last night as I steamed up a pre-cut melange of broccoli and cauliflower from Trader Joe's and tossed it with Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. (Shut up, it was delicious).


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Iraqi Voters

These are the latest photos from SFC McDonald, taken during the referendum on the Iraqi constitution. The faces speak for themselves. (The ink on the fingers is proof that they voted). Patrick had many interesting things to say about the election itself but this was perhaps the most important. Note that he wrote this dispatch yesterday, after the most recent bombings in Baghdad.

He writes: "Success will not come quickly - it may take years and even more causalities
as we saw today. I think the coalition influence over the system will wane as the Iraqis take hold of their own governance. Within two years we should be mostly out of here leaving behind a token military presence and the world's largest US embassy (which is being built only a few miles away on the banks of the Euphrates River). It is my hope that whatever short term challenges we face here - the long term goal would be a unified Democratic Iraq. As we reach the threshold of 2,000 American deaths I think we owe that to them and to all of us here who have taken a year out of our lives to do what we can - regardless of how we feel about being here in the first place."

We crossed the 2,000 threshold today. There are vigils being held all over tomorrow evening. Light a candle. Pray for peace.

Tuesday is Volunteer Day

For those of you who check this blog every morning I'm sorry that you had to have your coffee without me but you must remember that Tuesday is a busy day. I dropped The Child at school and then had an impromptu meeting with the Parent Club Exec. folks about Friday's Halloween Carnival. Then it was off to Cantwell's office for a fun-filled morning of stamping and labeling postcards with my buddies from Vashon. We listened to NPR and wondered why John Carlson always sounds so smug. (For those of you outside of Washington, John Carlson is a local conservative radio talk show host who once ran for governor and was so handily defeated that there didn't need to be a recount).

Then it was back down the road to home with stops at Mutual Fish for snapper fillets and the co-op for chai and ginger biscuits. The Dog's sister is coming over soon for a "tumble and chew" and I wanted something nice to offer my friend, Julie.

That's why I didn't post earlier. Tuesday always feels a little rushed, in a good way. Frankly, I'm far more efficient when I have specific constraints on my time. I'll accomplish a few homekeeping tidbits before Julie arrives, then it'll be off to fetch The Child, monitor homework and prepare aforementioned snapper. But sometimes on days like this I get more done in less time than if I had the whole day at home.

And speaking of snapper, many years ago, when I was about to make my second visit to New York, my boss at the time told me that while in Manhattan I had to go to lunch at Cafe des Artiste and that "the first $100 dollars is on me". At this point in my life I was splurging if I got a $5 plate of crab cakes for lunch. I couldn't imagine spending that sort of money but since it was his to spend, I was game. I was meeting a friend in NYC and he was coming along for lunch.

Sadly, I don't remember what we ate. (Although I'm sure it's in my travel journal...if only I knew where that was). I do remember that we enjoyed our time and drank a very nice bottle of wine (which I'm guessing was a Chateauneuf de Pape because at the time I was a) into Rhones and 2) loved saying "Chateauneuf de Pape" in fancy restaurants). Lunch was sandwiched between a stop at Strawberry Fields across from the Dakota and a trip on the subway to the World Trade Center where my aunt worked. The details are hazy but the vibe from that day is still very strong. I remember how I felt looking at the Dakota, the joy of eating an elegant, lengthy lunch in a beautiful room with a companionable friend, the general buzz and hum of New York that gets into your bones, the view from the Merrill Lynch offices in WTC. Maybe I'm thinking about all this because Julie just got back from New York and because I haven't been in over 20 years. But of all the places I've visited, New York is one of the few that I would want to live in, one of the few where I felt immediately comfortable. Which is saying something for a kid raised on a farm in Oregon. Oh, and we spent $130 on lunch.

Here's the recipe for what we're dining on tonight:

Red Snapper Café des Artiste

2 ½ pound snapper fillets
¼ c. olive oil
¼ c. minced shallot
¼ c. coarse grain mustard
flour for dredging
2 T. butter

Score skin-side of fish and season both sides with salt and pepper. Brush flesh side with oil and press 2 T. shallots into each fillet, then spread with 2 T. mustard. Dredge in flour, shaking off excess.

Heat remaining oil and butter over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté fish, flesh side down, 2-3 minutes, until underside is golden and crusty. Turn carefully and cook another 4-5 minutes, until cooked through.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Autumnal Feast

The Autumnal Feast was a success. A fire was blazing on the hearth, candles gleamed and the usual suspects gathered to eat and drink into oblivion.

As per usual, the meal began with hors de oeuvres provided by Tim and Mikey: gravlax with two sauces and aquavit. It was light and delicious. We then proceeded to the soup course, mushroom bisque with a float of thyme cream and a large crouton of olive bread dressed with rosemary-shallot oil. This was accompanied by rainwater Maderia. Salad was a mix of baby greens dressed with a maple syrup-Dijon vinegarette. On the side was a large, perfect slice of Bosc pear drizzled with beer syrup and two "croutons" of fried Roquefort cheese. The cheese was molten and mozzerella like and oh so delicious. (What isn't delicious fried?) Then came the entree: The Spouse's spectacular Beef Wellington in a pool of luscious bordelaise sauce. What that man can do with a mess of beef bones is astonishing. On the side we served wilted arugula and carrots Vichy. We always have port and Stilton with dessert, which this year was apple Charlotte in a rich caramel sauce that was a threat to one's dental work.

Preparing this meal is always a culinary exercise. We've been doing it so long with the same company of friends that we are always challenged to present a fresh menu that represents the season. I think we nailed it, again.

Of course, the real beauty of the evening is the collection of people. We've been good friends with these folks for over a decade and never run out of conversation. Religion, politics, television, technology, it's all up for grabs. There is a perfect blend of personalities and we all seem to bring out the best in each other. The Child has been attending these feasts her entire life and I must say, I was particularly impressed with her this year. Usually the meal is arranged in such a way that one of us is always with our guests. But there was a time while The Spouse was plating up the entree and I was finishing the sides when we were both in the kitchen. I was feeling bad about it and then I heard The Child holding forth, talking about birding and telling jokes. I realized that it's been worth it having her at these grown-up functions all these years. She's learning to be a fine little hostess, perfectly capable of representing the family when required. Hopefully that will last for a few more years, until she becomes a sullen teen who would rather die a thousand deaths than be forced to sit through one of our "lame" parties.

Another gift of the evening was that it forced me into the path of an absolutely brilliant housekeeping tip. I had borrowed table linens and glasses from The Neighbor. Yesterday morning I was clearing the last remnants from the table and discovered a huge red wine stain at The Spouse's end of the table. Now, love him though I do, this is a man who's ability to stain tablecloths is legend. And of course he'd cleaned it right up...with one of The Neighbor's napkins. I was freaking, trying to figure out how I was going to restore her linens. So I googled "removing red wine stains" and found a recipe of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and dish soap. I mixed up the solution, dabbed it on the stains and within 10 minutes they were gone. I mean, gone like it never happened. I couldn't believe my eyes. The recipe said that this treatment even works on old stains so I tried it on one of my every day cloths and sure enough, it's good as new. I have another cloth that The Neighbor brought us all the way from Paris. It's getting the treatment today. I love the internet.

Here's the recipe for the salad we had. Try it at your next dinner party.

Composed Salad of Greens, Pear, Roquefort “Crouton” and Beer Syrup

For the salad and dressing:
1 bag mixed baby greens
3 firm but ripe pears, cut in half, core removed

4 T. champagne vinegar
1 shallot, diced
1 t. mustard
1 t. maple syrup
4 T. olive oil

For the syrup
1 bottle nut brown ale
maple syrup

For the crouton:
6 oz. Roquefort cheese
1 c. flour
1 c. water
¼ t. salt

Cut Roquefort into cubes and place on parchment lined dish. Put in freezer until ready to use (at least 2 hours ahead). Combine flour, water & salt to form a batter. Set aside at room temperature.

Pour ale in saucepan and cook over low flame until reduced by half. Add maple syrup to taste, just to cut the bitterness without masking the beer taste. Cook 5 minutes more. Syrup can be chilled if not using immediately. To serve, warm for 30 seconds in microwave.

Steep diced shallot in vinegar for an hour before combining rest of the dressing ingredients. Whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss with greens.

In deep saucepan heat 3 cups canola oil until water sizzles when dropped in. While oil is heating dunk frozen cheese into batter mixture, turning to coat. Drop into hot oil, taking care to keep cubes separate from each other. When cubes are golden brown and float to the top of the oil, remove from pan to a piece of paper towel to drain.

To compose salad:
Place tossed greens on one side of plate, with half a pear right next to the greens, leaving space for the crouton on the side. Drizzle the center of the pear with a little beer syrup, then make a small pool of syrup on the empty space. Place 2 or 3 cheese cubes on the syrup and serve immediately.

Serves 6.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

No? For Real?

Relax. Everything is going to be okay. Here's the link that debunks the rumor:

But admit you going for a minute there, didn't it?

Somewhere a CGI Operator is Looking for Work

For a brief time the other day, this was the graphic on CBS's "The Early Show". Kinda speaks for itself, don't it?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Party Planning

We have always entertained and, though I say it myself, we've become rather good at it. Our early entertainments were always pleasing, at least to the degree that the food was always good. But over the years we have learned that there is more to entertaining than good food.

The most important lesson is that the comfort of our guests is of primary importance. Serving good food is more or less a given. But being present to our guests is primary. We've learned this the hard way: the Christmas I don't remember because I was in the kitchen all night, the times when the testiness level between The Spouse and I was palpable to our guests. (Really, it is terribly bad form to fight with your spouse during a dinner party, even if he or she deserves it).

Creating an event that will ultimately please the guests and preserve the sanity of the hosts hinges on a few basic principles. The first is planning a menu that delivers excellent flavor with minimum effort. There was a time I would plan a feast around the most elaborate dishes I could find, mistakenly believing that I had to serve the equivalent of gilded peacock to please my guests. (Not that some of them wouldn't be delighted by such a display. Tim.) Entertaining isn't a a time to show off. It is gratifying to hear guests ooh and ahh but simple food, lovingly prepared and generously presented accomplish the same end.

Once the menu is established we plan. We look through all the recipes and figure out how much can be done in advance. Today for example, I will be preparing the soup course and part of the salad course. The Spouse will begin work on the sauce for the entree. That's really all there is to do but these steps will save us a lot of aggravation tomorrow.

Aggravation. When I think of the early feasts, of the way in which The Spouse and I had to compete for space in our phone booth sized apartment kitchen I'm amazed our marriage even survived our entertainments. We have very different cooking styles and we still don't necessarily have a corner on synchronicity. But if we have planned together we mitigate a lot of the tension that builds from our stylistic differences. We figure out who needs to be in the kitchen when, doing what in order to serve each course at its appointed time. It's not unlike the Joint Chiefs planning a military operation:

"Right. At 1300 hours F company will commence smelting of the gold. By 1500 hours S company will have plucked the peacock and pre-cooked the cardoons. Gilding will proceed at 1530, with radish rose carving to be carried out by 1700. Minstrals must be assembled by 1900 and bird will be piped precisely at 1930. Destination, head table, east by southeast. Are there any questions? Fall out!"

Meanwhile, I have to give snaps to my homegirl, Flylady, for removing my biggest source of tension around entertaining. There was a time when I suspected that the only reason I entertained so often was because it forced me to clean the bathroom. I was always scrambling to get the house "ready for company", sometimes up to the last minute, which usually involved a lot of yelling at other people and telling them to move their butts. Unless I just did the martyred slow burn. But I've finally figured out that we deserve to live in a house that's company ready. I'm no longer quite the slave to perfection I once was. I've realized that my guests don't care if there is a stray cobweb in the room. If I am at ease, they are at ease and that is the most important gift I can give them.

The Child has no school today so we slept in. Which was lovely but I'd best hasten out to collect provisions for tomorrow. Peacocks are notoriously difficult to catch.

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"I Am Not a Crook"

Wanna bet this is this week's most published mug shot? Doesn't he look just a little too happy to you? If it were me I think I'd try to look just a little less perky. But that's a nice tie.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

This is Mr. Darcy

I saw my first preview for the new "Pride and Prejudice" with Keira Knightly and some poor putz who isn't Colin Firth. Why anyone would be compelled to remake "Pride and Prejudice" when the definative work has already been done is beyond me. Has anyone remade "Gone with the Wind" or "Casablanca"? My point exactly. Keira Knightly is as cute as she can be but I pity the poor fool who has to follow in the footsteps of Colin Firth. Poor guy.

Why I Should or Shouldn't Look at Pottery Barn Catalogs

Sometimes I can leaf through the Pottery Barn catalog with nary a twinge. Sometimes the mere fact of it being in my house makes me want to go shopping. A few years ago when The Spouse was working in Philly I went to Pottery Barn a lot. Almost every week. And I never came back empty-handed. I bought furniture, rugs and myriad geegaws for the house. It was, I realized later, my way of compensating for being Spouseless in Seattle. I didn't have him but I had his money and since the money was the result of my not having him it was only right, nay, necessary that I spend it. This was very silly of me and the only thing I don't regret is paying cash for everything.

I pretty much have the compulsive compensatory spending under control (what with The Spouse home again and all). But there is still a way in which the PB catalog can affect me. I'm a sucker for organizational stuff.

It isn't just all the lovely, clever units of organizational genius that PB offers. Seduced by the 'just so' photographs, I am lured into thinking that if only I had just that piece there, all my organizational woes would vanish. Which is, of course, precisely what the catalog is supposed to do. Never mind that the first year of The Child's college tuition has been invested with Pottery Barn and I still have my issues.

Getting a piece of furniture which will allow me to more artfully display my desk clutter is really not a solution for clutter. All that tidiness is an illusion. I read once that PB uses real homes to shoot their catalog. But you know that to do that they box up everything those people own and put it on the lawn under a tarp. Those magnificent desks with all their cleverly arranged cubbyholes don't actually hold volleyball schedules, dentist appointments, field trip permission slips and utility bills. The fabulous interlocking systems that include bulletin boards and magnetized blackboards are artfully arranged and tidy but in a real home would be scrawled with messages of which the only decipherable word is "called". They certainly wouldn't have, in calligraphically perfect script, "Wine tasting at Shira's....chill Sauterne". "I need mouthwash" is more like it.

I know all this and I have willpower. I have not ordered anything from Pottery Barn since we remodeled the kitchen. (There is this really great pot-rack/shelf combo that I sort of lust after but it wasn't available a year and a half ago. Sucks to be me). I have to recycle that demon catalog and be thankful for my lovely little home. Which is lovely and will be lovely even if I never spend another dime at PB (or Anthropologie or Restoration Hardware...) As for the final frontier of my clutter (my desk), looking at those beautiful fake desk representing fake organization is a challenge and invitation to solve my problems with what I have. I don't have to have a stack of junk on my desk. I have all the tools at my disposal to address the problem. In fact, I'm going to set my timer right now and do just that. Take that, Chuck Williams, you devil you.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Oh My Achin' Back

Whatever it was I did yesterday, pinched a nerve or pulled a muscle, I can tell you that right now I am in significant pain. Not kidney stone pain or labor without drugs pain, but pain. I imagine the little torked out bit of my back that is causing all this and marvel again at how finely tuned our bodies are that one little thing wrong can affect the whole system.

What I'm not going to do is go on about getting old. A) I don't think this has a lick to do with age and everything to do with twisting incorrectly while stroking The Dog. 2) I hate it when people in their 40s bitch about their age. I mean, really!

I have a couple of people in my life who do this. Mind you, they are younger than I am. To hear these people talk you would think they are this close to being shipped off to a nursing home. One is regaled with the endless details of their medical conditions. A hot flash is cause for an elaborate strip tease and dramatic sighing. Because Lord knows we don't want to miss the opportunity to share such an intimate experience with another person. Every creak, every twinge is attributed immediately to old age. (OK, seriously, I was talking recently to one of these people and I mentioned that I was tired. She said, "Well, you know, we're all getting older". Are you kidding me? I didn't sleep well because The Spouse was snoring. It had nothing to do with my age. Sheesh.)

Here's the thing about people like that: they are old. Aging is inevitable. In fact, we start doing it the second we are born and we don't stop until we drop dead. So it's hardly news. But I firmly believe that the condition of "being old" is 90% mental. If you decide to ascribe to the tyranny of numbers, if you think that getting older means an inevitable decline in all faculties, mental and physical then congratulations, you are old.

My mom and I are hitting "speed bump" birthdays in a couple years. I'll be 50 and she'll be 70. I emailed her about the two of us going off somewhere to celebrate that year. Her first response was, "Are you sure those numbers are right?" Because, you see, I don't think either of us thinks of ourself as being the age we are. There was a time when 50 seemed really old. So did 70. But whatever I thought those ages looked like, they aren't the reality. Sure, there are a few more wrinkles. Mostly laugh lines. That's a good thing. There is a decided effort on the part of gravity to adjust some of my former pertness, but that's why God invented Victoria's Secret. As for "the change", I've been lucky and I admit it. I seem to be sailing through pretty easily and all I can think about are the advantages of no longer being fertile (The Child's persistent desire to be an older sister notwithstanding). But I have more self-confidence, more energy and even more wisdom now than I did 20 years ago when I had a skinny little waif body. And The Spouse still thinks I look good in jeans, so there.

All I'm saying is that "old" is in your head and you can either focus on the inevitable and mourn what was or you can embrace each new day as another gift from God. That said, my back is still killing me and I will make mention of it because I'd like a little sympathy over here, please. There is a hot water bottle calling my name.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Good News, Bad News

Mr. Puppers was very happy to see me when I got home from my volunteer gig. He did many joyful corkscrew dances before lying on his back for a long over-due tummy rub. The bad news is that I managed to do so at an odd angle and have now tweaked out my back.

The Child has been reading the fifth Harry Potter. Using books on tape, she's been making great progress. She loves getting into bed with her book and reading for a couple hours. I've been waiting for just such a 'Sylvan moment' for a long time. The bad news is that she gets so engrossed that she stays up way past her bedtime and has been a real pain to get up in the morning.

Books on tape are an excellent tool for a dyslexic child. And anymore, they aren't recorded on tape but on CD. The bad news is that "books on CD" doesn't flow off the tongue like "books on tape".

Normally, I make our bed first thing in the morning. I didn't today, which is good news, because Mr. Puppers had an "event" and when he returned inside he decided he'd be happiest if he nestled his rank little hindquarters on our sheets.

Because my glass is always more than half-full I would like to add the following good things with no qualifiers: indoor plumbing, salmon for dinner, "Gilmore girls" tonight, freshly ironed napkins, sustaining cups of afternoon tea.


Monday, October 17, 2005

News Flash

Make a note: it is possible to be a person of faith without wanting to live in a theocracy. It is possible to have a faith which informs your political views without needing to blur the line between church and state. I feel a treatise coming on, although most of the work has already been done in a challenging work entitled God's Politics: Why the Right is Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallis (which I'm finally getting around to reading). Meanwhile, having seen last night's "West Wing" I am encouraged and emboldened...these concepts are leaking into the mainstream of prime time television. Matt Santos for President!

Meanwhile, we're gearing up for one of the most significant celebrations of our family year: the Autumnal Feast. The lynchpins of the menu have been decided (but cannot be devulged because at least one of the guests is a regular reader and one must maintain the element of surprise). This week will be spent in breaking down the menu and getting started on prep. I can't wait. Look for a full report next Monday.

It's going to be a busy week...I need to get started!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

It's Nice to Be Loved

Oy. I haven't posted for two days and have I heard about it! I'm glad to have so many faithful readers. You all rock.

Spent the day at The Child's school as the Parents Club hosted a Fall Festival Pancake Breakfast and Pumpkin Patch. I was on the clock from 7am to 3pm. Toted barges, lifted bales (literally, that) and sold over 100 breakfasts to lots of seniors and families. We made a stack of cash and actually get to keep about half of it. It was very fun, despite the October bluster that kept blowing over our scarecrows.

More than once today I was asked what it is about Catholics and pancake breakfasts. I have no idea. Low investment for big return? Some Shrovetide carry-over? Maybe there is a tale shrouded in the mists of time involving an all-night-bingo bash and some quick-thinking Knights of Columbus. Couldn't say but I can tell you they make a mean pancake over there to St. George.

My friends Pat and Cheryl and their two daughters came, as did my BIL, and it was nice to have some of my posse around. Meanwhile, I continue to be really grateful to serve on the board with such a fantastic group of people...funny, creative, kind...every last one of 'em. Makes a girl pretty ok about spending a Sunday doing fundraising. (Ooh, probably theological implications there but I haven't time to consider them as "West Wing" is nearly on.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Technical Difficulties

When I got my new laptop The Spouse also got me a little, tiny, adorable wireless mouse. My laptop has a pretty decent touch pad but no matter how many generations of these things are developed, I still find them pretty hard to control. For example, I was in my "Favorites" this morning, trying to hit "Ask Jeeves" but the mouse kept drifting up to "Gilmore girls", which was irritating because it took three attempt to get what I wanted. Maybe it isn't touch pad technology, maybe it's me, but I am much faster (hence productive) using an external mouse.

But last night my mouse froze up and it won't unfreeze. The good news, of course, is that I can still operate my laptop using the touch pad. The bad news is that this is going to put a serious crimp in my game-playing.

I realize that this is a shocking admission but I do enjoy the occasional computer game. It might be a quick round of Tetris or Spider Solitaire, it might be something more involved like "Age of Empires" or "The Sims". Don't misunderstand; I do not spend all day, every day engaged in these pursuits. Au contraire, mon ami. I usually save "Age of Empires" for the weekend when we're just hanging. During the week I really am far too busy for a scenario game that could take up to 4 hours to finish. But I will play other sorts of games for a quick break or yes, sometimes, use them as a form of procrastination. A "quick" computer card game is a very effective strategy to avoid, say, balancing the checkbook.

But if I have to use the touch pad I won't be playing. The touch pad sucks all the fun out of the simplest game. I did not create this moratorium but I will embrace it and may even, at some point, reflect upon it. Not because I think there is anything wrong with playing games nor that I play too much to be effective. I know that is not the case. But let's face it. If I think about people I admire, people doing good work in the world, something tells me that none of them spend a lot of time playing computer games. Oprah? Jim Wallis? Diane Keaton? Bono? Anne Lamott? Nelson Mandela? I'm trying to picture any of them in front of a blue screen, playing just "one more game" of Free Cell and I'm just not seeing it.

I suspect I'll be particularly productive today, even if only because I stopped to think about some of my heroes and allowed myself to be inspired by them. I do hope we can get my mouse working again, but maybe it's ok if it takes a few days.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

News Updates

Offering further proof that it's not just the fundies who mess up religion, the New York Times has a piece today on the increasing commercialisation of Ramadan. (And you thought Christians had the monopoly on missing the point).

On the local front, I rearranged the living room yesterday, as promised. The venture was aided by the return of The Neighbor who had been to Reno to retrieve a set of vintage living room furniture that had been stored in her mother's garage for 30 years. I scored her old (contemporary) couch to make room for her new (vintage) stuff.

The furniture is really beautiful, a sofa, club chair and ottomon covered in deep blue velvet. It has those wonderful curves of furniture from the '30's. Astonishing that pieces that old could be in such good condition. It owes, of course, to craftsmanship. Ain't nobody gonna be handing down great-grandma's Ikea bookshelf, you know?

Which got me thinking. My friend Payson, the one in Dallas, has a beautiful home full of lovely objects. Many of them he scored through his unique and finely honed shopping sense. But there are a great many things which are family pieces and it is these items, with their patina of age and story that provide the true spirit of his home. He calls his home "Heritage" and that is the enduring theme around which he composes his environment. The newer pieces all fit in with and bolster that aesthetic.

My family heritage does not manifest itself in physical objects. What goods exist that have a story are all still with my parents and there are precious few of those. There's nothing, thankfully, from the paternal grandparents. That grandmother could be rightly described as having all her taste in her mouth. Her favorite colors tended to be orange and brown, and not the nicer shades. My maternal grandparents weren't concerned with style but they did have good, plain things, with rooms arranged with an eye to reading and conversation. I do harbor a vague memory of certain chairs in their home which, I'm rather sure, were Mission furniture. But those things were "left by the side of the road", as my mother would say. Grandma and Grandpa were the sort to give away things like that because it would be "too much trouble to move" or because someone else needed it more. They weren't concerned with handing things down for their legacy was one of faith.

Which is all well and good and let's face it, as it should be. Still, I have always been a little jealous of the people who's forebears had a few nice things, nice enough to stand the test of time and end up in the more modern homes of their descendants. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be surrounded by so great a "cloud of witnesses" as it says in Hebrews. But would it have killed them to hand me down a Stickley chair, too?

Meanwhile, The Child got a B on her last spelling test, which is a real accomplishment for someone with dyslexia. She also, however, lost her retainer so part of my day is going to be spent making sure The Dog isn't chewing on anything weird.

And now, here's Lorraine with sports. Ha! Yankees choked. Ha! No Yankees in the World Series. Ha! Makes up somewhat for the fact that the Mariners had a terrible season and that pitching coach Brian Pryce has resigned. A few years ago the Mariners slogan was "You gotta love these guys". Now it would be more rightly stated, "Do you recognize these guys?" Back to you.

In a final story, I am going to watch the new Martha Stewart talk show today for the first time. I have a lot of ironing to catch up and that seems as good a reason as any. Thanks for joining us, have a good day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Gland is Secreting

The Spouse has been known to comment at length on "the gland" which "secretes", requiring me to rearrange the furniture. This is a pleasant little joke which makes him happy so I endure it. It is true that at times I have been struck by nothing less than whim and he has come home to find everything repositioned according to a combination of fung shui and caprice. Sometimes it has been motivated by seeing a Pottery Barn catalog and deciding that instead of shopping I'll just rearrange what I have. (I enjoy shopping for home goods and I dream of the day when I will forage out to buy a Le Corbusier couch. For reasons which will become rapidly apparent, that day is many years hence).

Looking at objects with a fresh eye is, by the way, a principle of interior design. We can become inured to our own posessions, failing to appreciate their beauty or to recognize that we no longer find them beautiful.

There are other occasions when I am motivated by more practical considerations and today (or the next few days...not sure when I'll get to it) is one of those.

First of all, having a puppy is not unlike having a baby in the house, or in this case, a toddler. And as is the way of all toddlers, The Dog is pushing the boundaries. Over the course of the weekend he chewed The Spouse's glasses, the toes of my super fantastic shoes and started holes in the arms of BOTH the leather chairs in the living room. In response to all this we are doing exactly what we should, asserting our alpha-ness. He is only allowed to chew designated dog toys and he is not allowed on the chairs. He's responding pretty well to all this, which is great. The glasses were repaired for free, the shoes can potentially be replaced but the chairs are another matter.

I expect I'll come up with something more permanent than the throws that are currently covering the holes. But the problem is bigger than that. The chairs stand in front of the window, which is where Dog goes to see who's at the door and to bark his puppy greetings to other dogs walking past. Which means he gets into the chairs frequently. Which means that, once he's there, he might as well work on that lovely hole. I figure it can't hurt to remove the temptation, or in this case, move the temptation.

And so, one day soon, The Spouse will come home and the living room will be rearranged. I'm thinking of something intimate and is autumn after all and time for gathering closer to the hearth. The current arrangement doesn't really facilitate that. I will endure his mocking and then I will cosy up on the seemingly new room, admire the play of lamplight on a silver bowl which I forgot I had and dream of the day when, toothless old dog at my side, I am sitting on a Le Corbusier couch.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

A Puzzlement

I'm curious about something. Who are the incredibly busy and important people who leave their shopping carts in the parking lot? Under the strains of some unspeakable time constraint they quickly load their groceries then speed off, leaving the cart willy-nilly, where it takes up parking spaces or rolls about aimlessly until it whacks into someone else's car. Laboring under God knows what stress or even terror, they cannot take the 20 seconds required to drop the empty cart in one of the many cart lanes so judiciously provided by the retailer.

I worry about these poor, overburdened souls. I really do. So my gift to the universe is to stow these carts for them. I have been graced with a life low on the stress meter. Even on those busy, get-up-and-go days, I always have time to park my cart. And if parking the cart on behalf of one of these tortured individuals can bring just a little more peace and order in the world than I am happy to be the agent of goodwill.

I never actually see these people leaving their carts. If I did I would ask them, "Tell me, friend, what burden constrains you from the common decency of parking your cart? How may I ease your woes?" But something tells me that would be a good way to end up as a skid mark. So I will continue to stow the carts of others and hope that by doing so I will somehow be spared the curse of becoming on of those cart-leavers with the busy, busy lives.

Friday, October 07, 2005


It's been such a crazy day.

Began with a meeting that I can't blog about (but it had absolutely nothing to do with testifying in front of a grand jury for the fourth time like some very naughty person I could name). That was all good. I stopped by the gas station on the way home and had to pay $5 cash money for gas because I left my new gas card at home. (Did you know that $5 does not buy a lot of gas?)

So I get home, check email and then collect The Dog so I can take him to school for the Blessing of the Pets service, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. He trots out oh so happily because he just loves being with his family (and of course, had spent the morning cooped up in the kitchen). Turn the bolt on the door, walk out and realize that my keys are on the other side of the door. The wrong side. We gave our spare key to my BIL last July when we went on vacation. He still has it. And, because things like this never happen when you've got your act together, the battery on my cell was all but dead.

So I go to The Neighbor's and use her phone to call The Spouse, who very sweetly and without a single "Sheesh, how could you do something like that" says he'll be there in 30 minutes (all the way from Issaquah, no less). I call school and have to leave a message because everyone is at the prayer service. (Did I mention that it was early dismissal today?)

Dog and I wait. Spouse shows up. Go to school to get Child. Priest is still there and I explain the situation and ask if he would still bless our dog. He says "sure", I find Child, we get Dog out of car. Dog sniffs other, much bigger dog. Dog (ours) starts snarling at Big Dog. I practically hang him with his leash to get him to stop and then tell him that now he has to go to confession too for being a BAD DOG. Anyway, Father gave Dog (and Family) a lovely blessing and it was all good.

On another matter I have always wanted a Kate Spade bag. A friend recently gave me some of her wardrobe as part of a pre-move closet purge and nestled among the suits and raincoats and kicky skirts was a Kate Spade bag. Maybe not the one I would have chosen were I buying it myself but a perfectly lovely one and who am I to look a gift designer bag in the mouth?

But after a couple of months I am giving up on the bag. There's some sort of malfunction with a small screw on the handle which keeps coming loose no matter what I do. Consequently the bag keeps falling out of my hand or off my shoulder and life is just to short to be aggrevated by such a stupid and persistent inconvenience. Especially when said inconvenience could lead to losing said bag in a crowd. So I'm giving the bag to charity and maybe the person who finds it at a thrift store will have the hardware necessary to repair it and she will be very happy. It's back to the suede green Banana Republic purse for me. But you know what? It's all good.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Harmonic Convergi, Two of 'Em

The Big Three religious traditions all keep their own calendar. Any correspondence between them is rough at best. Easter and Passover, for example, generally fall within the same general time of year but may actually occur weeks apart. But Rabbi Artur Waskaw recently wrote about what he is calling "God's Surprise". For the next three years, in early October both the Muslim month of Ramadan and the Jewish High Holy Days begin at the same time. After 2007 this won't happen again for 30 years.

Meanwhile, over on the Catholic side of the equation, October 1st is the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux ("Do small things with great love"), October 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi ("Where there is hatred let me sow love") and the entire month of October is one of the two in the year devoted to Our Lady.

Rabbi Waskaw sees this confluence of calendars as a unique opportunity for the Abrahamic traditions to pray for and with each other. You can read more of what the rabbi says here at

But wait, it gets better. I said there were two harmonic convergi and I wasn't kidding. On this day in 1889 the Moulin Rouge opened it's doors. The Moulin Rouge, inspiration of Toulouse Letrec, the bohemian revolution and Baz Lurhmann. Thirty-eight years later to the day, in 1927, "The Jazz Singer" was released. If you've seen "Singin' in the Rain" then you know that this created a revolution in film. It was the first talkie (and a musical no less) and all the studios had to start making talkies or perish. They all adopted the new technology and the entertainment world has never been the same

And so, today we note two historic moments in entertainment which made it possible in 2001 for one of my top ten favorite films to be made. "Moulin Rouge" the movie with everything: a celebration of the bohemian values of freedom, beauty, truth and love (but most of all love), a film that gave us Nicole Kidman singing and dancing, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as a can-can, "Roxanne" as a tango and above all, Ewan McGregor. I love it when that happens.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Wednesday, Ironically, is Anti-Procrastination Day

The Future

For God's sake, be done
with this jabber of "a better world."
What blasphemy! No "futuristic"
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this, though they
foretell inevitably a worse.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

Wendall Berry

Found this poem this morning. Isn't it great? What it says to me is that talking about things isn't going to get us anywhere. If we want a better world, if we want to bring The Kingdom, then we have to do something.

It was particularly apt that I found this today. When I woke up I was very clear about what needed to be accomplished today...some laundry, minutes for Parent Club and a whole mess of typing on my book. It is now after eleven and only one of those items is off the list. Why? Because I've been thinking about doing rather than doing. I've been puttering and putzing. I walked The Dog, which was a good thing. I performed a mitvah for the rabbi's wife (a mitvah is a small kindness...I turned off her ovens for her). That was a good thing. But otherwise I've been messing around with email, reading the paper and yes, I played a computer game.

What is the deal with procrastination? It is so easy to fall into that trap. So easy to neglect what we need to do to keep our little world spinning, even when those things are not particularly onerous or unpleasant. Procrastination is just another way of "jabbering" about "a better world" rather than just getting on with it.

Confession, they say, is good for the soul. So I shall not belabor the point for "The day is clear and bright, and overhead/the sun not yet half finished/with his daily praise".

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Poor Thing, She's Just Exhausted

It is almost 3 pm and all I really want is a nap.

I woke up early, as I've been doing for months. Instead of fighting it, as I've been doing for months, I decided to get up. Ok. It was 5:20. Psychologically, that is way too early for anyone not living on a dairy farm. But I made coffee, packed a lunch, made crepe batter for breakfast, wrote an email to one of my very favorite neices and went to work out. Then, after the usually morning liturgy with The Child I went into the Cantwell office for the morning. Then I went back over to school to help The Child and her class with a hurricane relief fundraiser that they are doing. (Selling dog biscuits for the is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, good tie-in). Ran home for a sandwich and then took The Dog over to his sister's house for a chew date.

I am sooooooooooo tired right now. It's all I can do not to crawl into bed. But I knew I had to blog (faithful readers and all that). And if I nap now it will just make me feel soggy for the rest of the evening. So I'll self-medicate with some afternoon coffee (I never drink coffee in the afternoon) and keep it together through picking up The Child, homework monitoring, dinner preparation and mealtime. And then? I'm going to watch "Gilmore girls" and maybe West Wing in a Dress and then I am so going to bed.

If I keep getting up this early one of two things is going to happen. Either I'm going to get used to it and I won't have sandpaper eyes at 3pm every day or I'll be so tired when I go to bed that it will take reville being played right in my ear to wake me up. I'm good either way.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Reconsidering Autumn

Spring & Fall
to a young child

Margaret, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

This is one of my favorite poems, by one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is, however, a rather gloomy look at the nature of autumn. One doesn't have to dissect it to pieces (which I did in at least 3 poetry classes) to get the message: autumn is melancholy, leaf-fall symbolizes death and this notion of death and mortality is so obvious that even a kid can figure it out and be depressed by it.

I love this poem and there's some truth to it but I would like to argue that autumn is as much about life, if not more, than it is about death.

The changing colors of the leaves are not a sign that the tree is dying, only that it is storing sugars for the winter rest. The natural world is humming with activity as creatures ready their winter homes, store up food for winter or take off on cross country flights to warmer climes. This is still a productive time in the garden as apples, pears, pumpkins and squash, cabbages and brussels sprouts come into their season. Plants are going dormant but autumn is also a great planting season, rivaled only by spring. This is the time to put in bulbs and plant garlic. The color brown begins to accent the garden but to use the phrase "dying back" is to mis-speak. Dormancy is not death. Dormancy is a time to rest and replenish, pulling oneself together, botanically speaking. If one were tempted to get anthropomorphic, the plant is celebrating the season just past and resting up for the spring to come. Kinda like a corporate retreat, only without the lame "trust building" exercises.

I was poking around a Celtic calendar this morning. The ancient Celts started the new year in autumn. Our time of September/October they called Cantlos, or Song-time. October/November was Samonios, Seed Fall. I think those are beautiful designations for this and seed-fall, celebrating, gathering and planting.

I like to think of time as circular, not linear (that's also the Celt in me). Each season, each phase of life is it's own beginning. Autumn is an invigorating time: school and extracurriculars begin for The Child, signalling the beginning of my most productive time. My birthday and anniversary signal the beginning of a new year of life and of marriage. Autumn is the beginning of Big Food, roasts, daubes, baked things. White wine slows to a trickle as red wine flows.

Today is also Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Tonight we will dip apple slice in honey, as will our Jewish neighbors, to commemorate the sweetness of life. Sound the shofar. Here's to autumnal beginnings, the magic of leaf-fall and the mystery of life in death.