Dec 22, 2005

Experiment in Iambic Quadrameter

A Man with a Plan

By Jack, Mommy, and Will

There was a man
From Pakistan.
He had a plan
To go to Dan.

Dan had a dog
Who ate a frog
Who left his bog.
Poor Mateen was all agog. [Mateen is the name of the man from Pakistan.]

And now it's on the blog.

Dec 20, 2005

Nothing, A Poem (as dictated by Jack and Will)

(To be read in a most sombre tone of voice)

Make poopy puppet
Make eyeball puppet
Make nothing puppet
Make nothing ho puppet
Make boo-y puppet

I love nothing.

Dec 15, 2005

More Nigella than Martha

Remember how I said that when I was a child, I thought that Turkish delight must taste like butterscotch brownies, because otherwise why would Edmund want to eat so many of them in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Well, I had to go and make some yesterday. I hadn't made any in years because they never quite seemed right, but now I've tweaked the original Joy of Cooking recipe enough to satisfy me. I doubled their recipe and used a 9 x 13 pan, but used the same amount of salt, and unsalted butter. Also a bunch of toasted pecans.

I'm not into fussy little decorative sweets, so I'll think I'll make a batch of these and a batch of Joy of Cooking's brownies (with either instant espresso powder or almond extract for a little depth) for the obligatory "Christmas cookies" after church. I'll also make gingerbread men with the boys. No one ate them last year at church, so I expect we'll just leave them out for show and then eat them at home. The boys have so much fun hand-molding them. They do look turdlike, so I can understand why they are shunned. We'll do cutouts this year too.

Oh, yeah. Here's the recipe. I brought these to the writer's group last night to accessorize my hunger essay.

Lauren's "Not Turkish Delight" Butterscotch Brownies

Adapted from the original Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 350, or 325 if you use convection. Grease a 9-by-13-in. pan.

Melt in a saucepan:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

Stir into it until well mixed:
2 cups packed brown sugar

Cool these ingredients slightly, transfer to a large bowl, then beat in well:
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Sift together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir sifted ingredients into butter mixture.

Add one to two cups chopped toasted pecans. You can toast them as soon as the oven is hot, for ten minutes on a cookie sheet.

Spoon dough into pan and bake for 25 minutes or maybe a little less. I do 23 minutes because I like them just cooked. Cut in about 20 mins, when they are still a little warm.

Dec 12, 2005

The Secret Habits of Presbyterians

In the car today, driving to school.

Jack (laughing, to Will): Something--something--Presbyterians--something! Ha, ha, ha!!

Me(disbelieving): Did you just say something about Presbyterians?

Jack (tentatively): Presbyterians dress up as devils.

Me: What? They what?

Jack: Dress up as devils.

Me: What makes you think so?

Jack: It's a joke. When we visited the Presbyterian church, people were dressed up. (We wear jeans at our church.)So I thought it would be funny to say they were dressed as devils. I can put that in my joke book. . . . Will didn't think it was funny.

Me: Well . . . it was a subtle joke.

Jack: What does that mean?

Me: It's a joke that needs a lot of explaining.

Jack: Yeah.

Death, Commas

. . . May I say something? It's about my writers group. My writers group happens to be associated with a major university in the city with Ivy League pretensions, except there seems to be no oversight or gatekeeping. Not to sound snooty or anything, but when I pay money for a babysitter, I really don't want to spend twenty minutes of my evening convincing a stubborn lady that her book on how to write a memoir should not have twenty-four chapters. Twelve would be better. And take out all the chapters on grammar. And organize the chapters. One very nice person was tactfully trying to tell this lady that her chapters were in no perceivable order. The lady kept defending herself. Finally I couldn't stand it any more, and I burst out with "You've got a chapter on death. Then a chapter on commas. Death, commas. Death, commas. Won't work!"

Should I start my own writers group? If any Philadelphia area writers are reading this, please tell me where you go for critiques of your writing. (I should probably save my pennies to attend the Creative Nonfiction Conference that is held at Towson U. every year in Baltimore. I went just before I had Jack, and it was incredible.) Or, if I started my own creative nonfiction writers group that meets in Delaware County, would you come?

Dec 8, 2005

Girl Seeks Food

Here's another essay I'm submitting to my writers group.

Girl Seeks Food

“You don’t feed that baby enough,” laughed the refrigerator repairman, commenting on my double-chinned pillowy body. Eight months old, bald and toothless, I was happy on formula and Gerber’s, not quite crawling the fat off yet. The common wisdom of the day, according to my mother and grandmother, was “Fat babies grow up to be fat adults.” For that reason I was denied second helpings for years and given skim milk, while my brothers got whole. Sweets were strictly limited.

I took this reasoning at face value for many years, but the prohibitions goaded me into committing what my mother called “sneaky” acts. When I was about six I developed a ritual of stealing four cookies at a time from the cookie jar. Even if I had just eaten a legitimate cookie, I would accomplish this mission when my mother left the room, almost always successfully. Here was my M.O.:
1. Take lid off cookie jar without clanking.
2. Swiftly and confidently remove four cookies. It always had to be four, I don’t know why.
3. Return lid to jar without clanking.
4. Take cookies to bedroom. Eat immediately.

Step 3 was by far the most challenging, because a cookie jar lid, in the days before anyone lined lids with sealing rings, was loudly condemning, unless I focused completely on the task at hand, and without haste. If it clanked anyway, even the least little bit, my mother could always hear it no matter where she was. “What are you doing?” she would holler. And I would always holler back, “Nothing.” Sometimes if I was just alone in the kitchen she’d ask me what I was doing, because she knew those cookies had a way of decreasing when I was around.

Cakes presented a different kind of challenge. I learned early on to not cut myself a piece, because my mother learned to remember the dessert’s roughly L-shaped configuration. The only thing to do was to cut all around the previously cut edges, hence leaving the same basic shape. I’d pursue this gradually, using a knife and eating slivers off it. That way, if I heard my mother’s footsteps I could nonchalantly shift to a default activity, like looking out the window or reading the comics.

Going out to eat with my grandmother was always a special treat, but not without its chastening moments. More than once she would embarrass me by proclaiming in a stage whisper at Stouffer’s, “This is a good restaurant. You know how I know? Because Jews eat here.” Of course I always wanted dessert, and she would let me get it but then shame me with a huge gasp when it was presented. “Are you going to eat all that?” Only in my teens did I gather the nerve to say “yes” and look her in the eye. On the other hand, whenever my grandmother was offered dessert she would say, “Just a teeny tiny sliver,” gasp when it was delivered, and say “I can’t possibly eat all that.”

Back at home, I carried the sneaky game too far one midsummer morning when I was seven. It was the day when we were to move out of state, and spend the night at my grandparents’s house. I was on the open-air side porch and I was just about to take a bite out of a Hershey bar I had unwrapped in the kitchen, whose wrappings I had no doubt hidden under less recent trash. Suddenly I heard my mother’s heels clicking along the walk. (Women of her age and class wore loud dressy shoes even on moving day.) My sundress had no pockets, so I stuffed the candy bar, improbably, in the side of my underpants.

Even more improbably, I promptly forgot about the candy bar, what with all the excitement of the day. Hours later I discovered it at my grandparents’ house, a gooey sludge in my underwear. I scrunched the underpants and their load in my suitcase, hoping they would go away. My mother found them almost immediately and asked me “Lauren, are you all right? What is this in your underpants?” Mortified, I said, “I’m fine . . . . but I really don’t want to say what it is. Is that okay?” Miraculously, my mother said “okay” and never brought it up again.

I like to remember that moment of grace, because in my memory there weren’t many of them. Even as a grown woman visiting my parents, I knew my mother was listening to the cupboard and refrigerator doors, to ascertain what I was getting. She would proclaim she was going to bed, only to pop up unexpectedly in the kitchen a half hour later because she “forgot something.” But I wasn’t the only person left hungry. My mother’s cooking was delicious, and I owe a large part of my cooking know-how from her, but she cooked scanty amounts. Every time I brought a boyfriend for dinner he had to eat another meal afterwards. My father would fix himself a sandwich right after he got home from work. My husband John and I would go out for a beer and appetizers two hours after a dinner at my parents’ house.

Now my mother and grandmother are dead, but I have six file boxes, three looseleaf notebooks, and one composition book full of their hand-copied recipes. One recipe card at a time, I decipher my grandmother’s loopy handwriting on the yellow-stained papers, and transcribe it. I sift through my mother’s recipes for Indian Pudding, Country Captain, Rhubarb Crisp, and, of course, cookies of one kind and another. Sometimes I encounter my own childish handwriting, in whatever color of ink I liked at the time. The project to record these recipes is daunting, but I will finish. Because I am still hungry.


This morning in the car, after the boys wailed bitterly about someone who didn't let someone have a turn, having to wear mittens, having to wear coats, having to go to school, and being reminded that it's a school day.

Jack: Mommy, do you like being a mother?

Me: (tensely) Yes. (suspiciously) Why?

Jack: Because sometimes it doesn't seem like you do.

Me: (determined not to take this personally like my mother used to be when I said stuff like that) I just don't like when my sons don't cooperate in the morning and act like it's a big surprise that they're going to school every day.

Jack: We don't go to school every day, just Monday to Friday! And not in the summer!

Me: (tensely again, while negotiating tricky turn) You know what I mean.

Jack: You want us to do what you want.

Me: Yes. Exactly.

Jack: (muttering) Like we're your slaves.

Me: (Nothing. I actually say nothing. Ta da. Turns on WXPN)


Conversations with Jack

First, a note about the Inquirer's claim that Disney is sponsoring the Narnia sermon contest: I really don't think it's true, at least in a technical sense. The site has a big ole disclaimer at the bottom of the page. That pretty much takes away the peg I was hanging the "Kingdoms Collide" entry on, oh well. But there will be over 50 movie tie-in products, and then there is some kind of sweepstakes, so my claim about Aslan's response still stands.


Here's a conversation Jack and I had the other day while the boys were changing out of their swimsuits at the Y.

Jack: Mommy, you know something really strange about the American Presidents?

Me: No, what?

Jack: They were all men.

Me: Yeah, what's with that? That is weird. And they're all white.

Jack: Hey, yeah!

Me: Maybe someday we'll have a woman president.

Jack: Or maybe a black woman president!


The other day, at breakfast:

Jack: Mommy, can boys marry boys?

Me: In some states they can.

Jack: Can they in Pennsylvania?

Me: No, but they can go to another state and do it.

Jack: That's what I'm going to do. Can I have more cereal?


Following up later in the day (at the Y, changing out of swimsuits, again)

Me: Remember when you asked about boys marrying boys?

Jack: Yes.

Me: Well, when you're older, you will be attracted to either boys or girls. Probably you will want to marry a girl, but maybe not. It's like being left-handed or right-handed. You're born to like girls or boys. But you probably won't know for many years. I wouldn't worry about it yet. There's room in the world for all kinds of love.

Jack: Yeah. Like I love Alex (best friend). And I love you! And I love Daddy and Will!

Me: But that doesn't mean you want to marry us.

Jack: Yeah!

Will: Yeah! Group hug!

(Group hug, rather wet)

Dec 6, 2005

Kingdoms Collide

For decades I believed that I had read all the Narnia stories. After a rather disconcerting conversation with my husband last year, it turns out that I had merely read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe over and over and over. I must have been very young, because I remember trying to look in my grandparents' spare room closet for snow and a lamppost. The closet was behind the staircase, and so the back of it sloped upwards into . . . into where? It mystified me.

Another burning question raised by the book was, "What exactly is Turkish delight? And where can I find some?" When I did finally taste it at the end of a meal at a London restaurant, its rubbery texture and vaguely rosewater taste reminded me that Edmund's Turkish delight was enchanted by the White Witch, after all. Had it been me in her sled, I'd have asked the White Witch for butterscotch brownies. I knew deep inside that I could so easily have been the Edmund of the early chapters, seeking my own comfort over justice and truth.

Edmund's change of heart, though, is profound. Even as a young child I grasped some of the allegory's power. We can grow beyond our own narrow egos. The world that is we see is not necessarily all there is. Ordinary children may be granted the power to see through the lies of adults and to change the moral landscape. A friend of mine who is reading the movie tie-in version confessed that she "missed the God thing" in her childhood reading. But I said to her, "No, you didn't miss it. You just didn't label the good forces as 'God.'"

That's why it's good literature. The Narnia stories depict an epic struggle for justice and love over corruption and greed, beauty and peace over disharmony and destruction. The struggle takes generations. It is bloody. The struggle is guided and disciplined by Aslan, who isn't always there when you need him but gets cranky when you forget about him. In the end, Aslan and the forces of good triumph in a final hard-won battle.

Now there's Disney, who is sponsoring a contest in which preachers are asked to submit sermons that mention the Narnia movie. Disney will hold a drawing, and the winner gets, not Turkish Delight, but $1,000 and a trip to London.*

Aslan is not pleased.


*According to this article in the Dec. 4 Philadelphia Inquirer, "Walt Disney Pictures is so eager for churches to turn out audiences for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which opens Friday, that it's offering a free trip to London - and $1,000 cash - to the winner of its big promotional sermon contest." However, this site says it's sponsored by

Dec 5, 2005

Coming Up for Air

Gulp. That felt good.

Things That Have Happened, in Chronological Order, Since my Last Post

1. Joint birthday party for Jack and Will

2. Arrival of inlaws from Indiana

3. Jack's actual birthday, with family celebration

4. Broken heating element in oven, the day before Thanksgiving

5. Heroic successful attempt by father-in-law to replace heating element in time for me to bake two pies that day

6. Thanksgiving at our house for nine people, with my grandmother's linens and silver. Everything cooked from scratch. Incredible stuffing and a bottle of mead made by my multitalented brother. And thanks to John the Brining Guy, various helpful family members and sporadically helpful boys.

7. My father's admission to a local hospital, for breathing problems, heart rate irregularity, and fever.

8. Surprise 50th birthday party one month ahead of time for my sister-in-law at a restaurant in Philly.

9. Will's actual birthday and family celebration.

10. My father's discharge from the hospital.

11. My locking my keys in the car at the hospital. (These last three were on the same day)

12. The departure of my inlaws, nine days after arrival.

During this time I didn't blog or write anything other than shopping lists and to-do lists. Didn't go to the gym. Mushy brain, flabby body. Must get to work.

How put together again sentences do you?

Nov 18, 2005

Of Pirates and Party Manners

We're having a pirate birthday party here tomorrow for Will and Jack. Their birthdays are a week apart, and we're trying to get as many joint parties in as we can. The boys and I looked online for pirate images to use in the invitations, but I remembered, after looking at various etchings and drawings of historical pirates, that pirates were not nice. They made people walk the plank. They (obviously) stole people's ships and money. Pirates really got theirs, though, when they were caught. Gosh!

I hastily steered the boys away from these grim images of piratry, but couldn't find very many happy pictures of real pirates, unless you count this one, which doesn't strike me as quite the right tone for a children's birthday party. Plus, the guy looks miserable. I thought of using web photos of real pirate maps for the invitations, but they seemed a bit esoteric.So we sent generic invitations, and then got your conventional sanitized party pirate pictures, on napkins, plates, tablecloth.

And the cake, you ask. I just made it this morning, Richard Sax's Fudgy Chocolate Layer Cake. from Classic Home Desserts. Instead of chocolate frosting I used a cream cheese frosting, changed a little from the one he lists for the Applesauce-Carrot Cake. All vanilla extract and no lemon zest. I love Richard Sax. Love him. A couple years ago I read in John Thorne's Simple Cooking Newsletter that he was dead. Richard Sax was dead even when I got the book, about nine years ago. I felt so sad, and also very disconcerted that all that time I thought he was alive. If you just read a little from the book, which has been reissued because it is so well researched and written in such a warm voice, you'll know what I mean. He lives in the book.

Then I had to go and make a pirate hat with that gross black frosting in a can. And a skull and crossbones from the slightly less disgusting can of white frosting. Then a bunch of "Easter sprinkles" around the sides for a lighter mood, more resurrection and less death.

Voila! The skull has a drunken lopsided smile and the edges of the black hat jut out oddly in a few places. As Jack just said to me, "It looks good for not being professional." Kind words, matey.

Nov 17, 2005

Better than Sex

I've hit the motherlode, dear readers. Nana's most special of all her half dozen recipe boxes, the rustiest one, the one with odd bits of paper and wrongly labelled sections. "Salads." No salads, here, sister! Only luscious desserts, such as "Better than Sex." Now I have heard of "Better than Sex" Cake, but this recipe, typed on the old black Smith-Corona on a small unevenly cut piece of paper, just says "Better than Sex" at the top. Is it the name of the dish or a description of it? This ambiguity leads me to wonder why my grandparents had separate bedrooms, and if it was really because Papa snored too loud, as was the party line. Not surprisingly, I don't remember this dessert at all, perhaps because Nana didn't want to tell us children what it was called.

It does sound sweet, silky, creamy, smooth. And . . . . greasy. Topped with Cool Whip, ooh la la. But guaranteed not to demand anything from you, give you an STD, or get you pregnant. And without further ado,

Better Than Sex

1 C flour
1 stick oleo (WW II rationing has been over a while; use butter)
1/2 C chopped pecans
1 C powdered sugar
8-oz. package cream cheese
tub of Cool Whip (I changed from Dream Whip, thanks Betty McB)
2 small packages lemon or chocolate instant pudding (depending on your orientation?)
2 1/2 C whole milk, COLD

Mix flour, oleo, and nuts. Press into bottom of 9 x 13 pan and and bake 15 minutes at 350. Cool.

Cream together powdered sugar and cream cheese to a frost-like consistency (I think she means "frosting") and spread over the cooled crust. Blend milk and pudding to an almost set consistency and pour over cream cheese mixture. Top with Cool Whip.

Nov 15, 2005

The Well-Intentioned Cook

I try to use fresh local ingredients whenever possible and don't eat or serve processed food, for the most part. I make my own bread, with a bread machine. Jack and Will's teachers comment on how good the bread looks! No single-serving packaged food in our house, no juice boxes. We aim for optimal health,living lightly on this earth, and good taste. Which reminds me that I need to make dinner. I haven't thought too much about it all day. But we have tomatoes, cheese, pasta, green peppers, garlic, olive oil, and so I think I'll manage come up with something.

Please check out Simply in Season, Cathy Hockman-Wert's food blog named after the cookbook she co-edited with Mary Beth Lind, published by Herald Press. The proceeds from the cookbook go to Mennonite Central Committee, an organization that helps the world. I tested one recipe in the book (Grilled Vegetable Salad) and my sister in law tested ten. Cathy has known my husband John for years. Besides being nonprofit, the book is lovely on its own. It's not a trendy foodie cookbook, no famous chefs involved. It is truly friendly to the home cook who is willing to be patient with her or his methods and foods, and who cares about healthful eating.

That said, I confess I have a bunch of greens, an eggplant, and a crowd of squashes in the downstairs fridge that are past the point of no return and sorely need to be evicted and composted. I keep vainly hoping for a resurrection.

Nov 14, 2005

Happy Birthday, Dream Kitchen

On Saturday my blog turned one year old. I'm thinking of a few ways to celebrate it:

-Write one of those 100 things about me memes
-Publish a couple of essays that haven't been published anywhere
-Take roll

I'll start with the last--Who reads my blog? Are you a new visitor or a regular? Figuratively raise your hand by leaving a comment. Insincere, empty, ironic, any comment will do, as long as it's from a real person. You could just say "present." Thank you kindly, dear readers.

The Existential Kindergartener

We have deep conversations on the way to school in the morning. This Pinteresque one from last Thursday:

Jack: What if there was nothing?

Lauren (stalling): I'm not sure what you're asking. No helmet AND the wrong side of the street. Idiot.

Jack: I mean no people, no air, no earth, no nothing.

Lauren (vaguely) Wow. That might be boring.(There's no way I'm letting you in, silver Mercedes.)

Will: No cars! No roads!

Jack: No, wait. It wouldn't be boring. Not if there wasn't anyone around to think it's boring.

Will: No food! No cats!

Lauren: Jack, good thinking. An excellent point. Move already, geezer in the blue Cadillac. If there were nothing, no one could call it nothing because we wouldn't be around to name anything. In a way it's already something even if it's called "nothing." How long has that gas indicator light been on?

Jack: God wouldn't even be there.

Lauren: Not if there was nothing. I'm glad there's not nothing.

Will: Can we go to the playground after school?

Lauren: If it's warm enough, we can. And stop kicking my seat.

Nov 10, 2005

Nana's "Where is that Biscuit Dough Recipe, Anyway?" Apple Pan Dowdy

Now I'm the keeper of my Nana's five recipe boxes and two recipe collections in notebooks. Nana was born in 1899 and died in 2002 so something sure gave her a lot of staying power. Whether it was the food she cooked, her zeal for propriety in all things, or her desire to see me happily married and a mother, I don't know. I sure made her wait a long time for the latter. She didn't seem to quite keep me straight with my mother by the time the boys were born, but my mother was dead by then, so whatever. It's all good.

What was I talking about? Apple pan dowdy. This recipe is typical of the many recipes I copied out the other day. It was written with a blue fountain pen in big, barely decipherable loopy script. When I find her biscuit recipe I'll publish it, but don't hold your breath. I'll probably make this with Deborah Madison's biscuit recipe. This apple pan dowdy recipe is actually from a composition book that probably dates from the early forties. Some of the entries are written in my mother's writing, a tightly controlled script that is much easier to read, written with the same kind of pen.

Answers to anticipated questions:

1. A quart is four cups.
2. A pudding dish is just a ceramic baking dish. A 1 1/2 to 2-qt. size would work.
3. I would guess this would take about 40 mins. Check at 30 mins. and if the top is too brown, cover with foil.

Nana's Apple Pan Dowdy

qt. apples, sliced
1 C light brown sugar
½ t cinnamon
1/8 t cloves
1/8 t nutmeg
4 T butter
½ C cider

Butter pudding dish and put in sliced apples. Spread sugar over apples and sprinkle spices over sugar. Dot top with butter. Add cider and cover with biscuit dough ¼ in thick. Score holes for steam to escape. Bake in moderate oven 350 degrees until apples are tender and crust is well browned.

Nov 8, 2005

Eyes That See

Months ago, I was assigned children's time for November 6 at church. I didn't know what I should do it on, and because the pastor was out of town for several days he couldn't answer my email. And there wasn't a worship leader for the service until Wednesday. Finally, the administrative assistant remembered the pastor had sent him the topic earlier: "Prayer can be a real part of caring for the community around us."

Right away, I knew that Will would teach the congregation a prayer he had learned at camp this summer. I have been very taken with the profundity and simplicity of this prayer, and Will prays it often before dinner:

May we have eyes that see, (hands uncover eyes)
Hearts that love, (hands crisscross over heart)
And hands that are ready to help.(hands spread outwards)

Right before the service it's our practice for the people involved in worship to pray briefly together just by the landing, and I happened to be holding Will's hand to take him in to church. (John and Jack were already there.) So I just brought Will in with me, we all held hands, and before the pastor could pray, Will just piped up with his entire prayer, confident and clear as a bell. "I think that says everything," laughed the pastor in wonder, and he dismissed us. The lump in my throat made it hard for me to speak.

When children's time came, Will was just as eager to teach everyone the prayer, and he spoke very close to the microphone. The children learned it, and then we all turned outward to the congregation to teach them.

We really needed to pray that prayer. It turns out it had been a hard week for several of our members, as a child abuse allegation had been made against the mother of a child in Jack's Sunday school class. The grandmother, who seems to be the backbone of the family, expressed her hurt that no one had called her first. She has struggled for decades to bring her children and grandchildren up to be good people. She has attended our church for 20 years, and regularly brings her famous macaroni and cheese to the potlucks. She stands up every week during sharing, in a great big wonderful flowered hat, to ask for prayer. And yet she believed now that some members in the church had shown racist attitudes toward her family. We listened to her anger and disappointment for as long as she had words, which seemed very long indeed. When she was done, hugs and tears.It was so hard.

Now I have learned that Will's camp prayer is based on a Unitarian-Universalist prayer that goes like this:

Mystery of Life, Source of All Being, we are thankful for the gifts of life and being, of love and connection. We are thankful for all the wonders of the world around us. We are thankful for each other and for all the members of our global family. May we have eyes that see, hearts that love and hands that are ready to serve in love and in kindness, with caring and with courage. Blessed Be.


Nov 4, 2005

Quakers Can Be Kinky, Too.

From the New York Times today:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Quaker Maid Meats Inc. on Tuesday said it would voluntarily recall 94,400 pounds of frozen ground beef panties that may be contaminated with E. coli."

Contaminated or not, just try sitting through Meeting wearing these things.

Nov 2, 2005

Coincidence? I Think Not.

1. Three weeks ago, I finally went to the local bank to deposit some checks. But I couldn't. The bank manager was outside the door saying they had no electricity!

2. Two weeks ago, I finally took the encrusted crumb-filled minivan to the car wash, but it was closed. Because they were washing the car wash!

3. Today, I finally went to Barnes and Noble, which I don't even live particularly near, to start to use up the gift certificate my Dad gave me for my birthday. I was only going to get a cup of coffee. But they were having their hot water heater replaced at that moment, and had no coffee!

Nov 1, 2005

Prunes, Actually

Several weeks ago I made a Prune and Armagnac Gingerbread that was greatly enjoyed by all. I made it for a reunion with some friends I hadn't seen in years. Friends from my sordid conservative evangelical past, to tell you the truth, and I wasn't sure what had changed over the years with them, or what hadn't changed. As for myself, I have veered decidedly leftwards.

It such situations, it always helps to make a fabulous dessert. Especially in this case, since a fissure had developed late in the main course. We were eating by candlelight at my friend Annie's house, and were just finishing up some grilled salmon. Maryanne and Keith are the ones, out of everyone at the table, to have held onto a lot of their convictions, it turns out, not that anyone had been grilling them. Whenever John and I have to explain that we're Mennonite we have to go into a long set piece about how Mennonites don't all drive buggies, and so forth. Now that we go to a Mennonite church that was rejected from the local Mennonite conference for sanctioning gay/lesbian partnerships, we have even more explaining to do. In this case it was met with a truly surprised and baffled "Oh."

And then about 2.5 seconds of silence until Annie, ever the diplomat, suddenly expressed her delight that the candles weren't dripping. Onward and upward with the meal, and the spicy, sensuous dark gingerbread seemed to restore our good cheer. And perhaps the prunes will do some good yet.

Oct 29, 2005

In Which I Cave in to Halloween

Public school, which Jack will begin next year in first grade, is beginning to look really good, if only for the reason that all the kids will live in our school district, and therefore birthday parties won't be way out in the exurbs. What a confusing landscape we passed through yesterday afternoon. as we drove along country roads not engineered for the rush hour traffic they were getting. We passed huge new houses on cul de sacs, horses and cows, more developments,more farms, more traffic. It took 40 minutes to get there from our inner suburb/small town.

Kids were supposed to wear costumes to the party, thus combining my dislike of Today's Birthday Parties with my dislike of Halloween. We carpooled with Alex again, the Consumer Child. He was wearing a plush Hulk costume, and he made withering remarks about the sorry-assed skeleton "costume" I made for Jack. I had cut out bone shapes from posterboard and taped them on Jack's clothes. I found the costume idea on the FamilyFun website under "last-minute" costumes. I couldn't find the right kind of string for the mask, and had to use two-sided Scotch tape instead of masking tape, etc., etc., etc., and so of course every piece of his costume fell off when he was at the birthday party, and none were retrieved, either. So, we were back to the drawing board today. My plan to have the boys wear matching skeleton costumes of my own making was beginning to take on a quixotic tinge.

Plus, I suddenly remembered how my mother always had me wear things that were embarrassingly uncool (kilts, galoshes,sweater sets) but that met her standards, and even though the boys were not begging me for "normal" costumes, I caved. Caved in to the need to impress Alex? Let's not think too hard about it. The three of us went to Party Land, "Your Halloween Headquarters!," and got costumes. Now a little Darth Vader (Will) and a little Batman (Jack) live in our house. The boys are extremely pleased. I thought we had left part of Jack's costume at the store, and I sent John to look for it, and I began to feel that I was a worthless human being for not checking the contents of the boxes. This after fighting all the traffic, getting two squirmy boys to try on their costumes at the store, and fighting more traffic on the way home. And a call to the other Party Land franchise nearby revealed that they had no more superhero costumes for boys that age, only total loser costumes like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz and, ugh, clown costumes. Is there anything as unfunny as a clown? I was really desparate.

So a few minutes after John left, I apologized abjectly to Jack, and he said cheerfully, "That's okay. We have all the parts." Apparently he had taken part of the costume out of the box without me knowing it,and didn't want to say anything to us. I don't know why. Didn't he hear John's and my conversation? I don't care. We will have a normal Halloween tomorrow. We will. To be partly redeemed by collecting for Unicef. But just partly. I'm a living dictionary definition of "ambivalence."But before I go, Happy Halloween. Yeah.

Oct 27, 2005

Babes in Faux Pumpkinland

Not pumpkins being pulled off the vine by acquisitive preschoolers and kindergarteners. But pumpkins that have been --under cover of darkness?-- dumped on a field of weeds by the truckload, then to be named a "pumpkin patch." At this point is when the acquisitive preschoolers and kindergarteners pick them off the ground. At Jack and Will's field trip this morning, I never heard one of the children question why no pumpkins were attached to any plants. That's what the suburbs will do to you, I guess.

As small farms located near cities struggle harder to make ends meet, they go into "direct marketing" to make a living from all the suburbanite families surrounding them in greater and greater numbers. It seems now that there are a half dozen such farms, offering hayrides, "Pumpkin Land," little train rides, selling cider and doughnuts and offering, of course, a pick-your-own option. The weather has been poor for pumpkin growth this season around these parts, and very few of these places hesitate to go the faux pumpkin patch route. More power to them.

So I seem to be one of those moms who is free to go on field trips. I drove four boys including Will and Jack, Josh, who cried most of the way there, missing his Daddy, and the other, Jack's best buddy Alex,a rambunctious kid who owns every Spider-Man tie-in they sell in the U.S. Four boys, even with the quietly sniffling Josh, make a hell of a lot of noise. Alex's father came along too, an unemployed architect who claims the role of stay-at-home-dad "sucks." Since he's dying to get back to work, I let him struggle with the car seats in the back row of the van. Ha.

I had to write a post today because here my blog is mentioned (a few paragraphs down) as if it is actually current, by Miriam Peskowitz, author of The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother? So now I gotta revive the blog. I find the more I write, the more I want to write, so this probably means a whole new slew of entries will spew forth. And I know there's a better way to say that.

Oct 11, 2005

The Coffeemaker Has Left Nevada.

Did I really need to know that? UPS package tracking on the web provides too much information. Actually I think it was in Illinois on Friday. We had been worried that it would be waylaid in Utah somewhere. Our old coffeemaker now has enough things wrong with it that we finally decided to get a new one. We were faced with about 20 choices too many. We just ordered the first one that seemed like the old one but better. Because every new thing you buy has to be better than the last, right? And have more stainless steel surface area.

The blog's been very sporodic of late, I know. That's because I'm actually writing. Not just Blind, which I've revised a couple times now, but also I've done some marketing copy for my sons' Montessori. And getting paid. Whee! It paid for the coffeemaker, anyway.

The writing group I tried last week was amateurish. Had to slog through Ch. 20 of an elderly lady's interminable courtroom drama, filled with ethnic stereotypes. I mean "expressionless little Oriental?" I think not. So now I'm looking for a group that has higher standards, but not so high that they won't accept me, of course. So I'm going to check out"Reality Writes" at Penn's Kelly Writers' House soon. I need the pressure of a writers group in order to crank anything out.

I'm also in search of is a good cafe in which to hang out and write. In a retro notebook, the kind you use a pen with. The Starbucks near me has a staff who banters at high volume, and because it's small I can't get very far away from them. Borders seems impersonal.I visited an independent coffee shop in Media, but the coffee was only okay, and there was only one other person besides me there, which felt weird. I'm looking for a certain vibe that I fear only exists in the city.

Oct 4, 2005


(Here's a rough draft of a nonfiction piece I just wrote for a writers' group tomorrow. )

It was the summer of 1994. I was supposed to be writing my dissertation. My roommate was in Hawaii for the summer. My interest in the O. J. Simpson case waned immediately after peaking, and, like any self-respecting doctoral student, I sought distraction. A boyfriend would do just fine.

At the age of 35, my single status was getting, shall we say, old. My mother and grandmother had given up on me, but I hadn’t yet. This was the twilight of the Age Before Internet Dating, so I turned to the Philadelphia Inquirer personals. Was my soulmate calling out to me from there? First, I had rules. Standards. No kinky stuff, and most importantly no one who said they liked walks on the beach at sunset or candlelight dinners. Please! I’m worthy of someone more original than that. The personals were set up so that you left a message in a voicemail box and gave your phone number, hoping they’d call you back. The message would be all they had to go by, so every time I left a message I would rehearse it several times, to make it sound light and breezy, and spoken in confident low tones. It took nothing less than total concentration.

The first man to call me back was Josh. He was a therapist in the Northeast, and easy to talk to, as a therapist would be. An hour went by before I knew it, and we set up a date for a drink in Center City, non-alcoholic, of course. Standards. Josh had warned me that he was six feet eight inches tall. I marked it on the wall of my apartment and practiced looking up to where his eyes might be. It was very high. Still and all, I thought of my own 5 ft. 8 inches, and thought, “Tall’s good, right?”

What he didn’t warn me about was that would be ramrod thin, with an outsized nose, wearing a light blue seersucker suit, and sporting a straw hat. Six feet eight. Light blue seersucker suit. Straw hat. Huge nose. I became acquainted with a sinking feeling that I was sure he could see in my face. In the whole time we talked in the coffee shop, the feeling never went away. I fought back tears. It hadn’t occurred to me me that a person who sounded so normal could be so mortifyingly strange-looking. I prayed to God that no one I knew would see me with this character, who looked like he could play the part of a Bible salesman in a Flannery O’Connor novel. Then I felt ashamed of myself for feeling this way about a perfectly fine person. Finally a decent interval passed, and we parted. “Can I call you again some time?” he asked just before he went down the steps to the subway station,” and I said “No, I don’t think so.” His face fell and he said, “OK, well, thanks, anyway.” And his lanky frame disappeared into the darkness of the station. And I crawled back to my apartment on my belly, groaning and eating dust.

Weeks went by, in which I was actually driven to write a chapter or two. But then I did it again. This time the ad intrigued me because this man said his favorite movie was Gregory’s Girl, which was also one of my favorite movies at the time. The guy couldn’t be that bad. So I rehearsed another call and left a polished version in the voicemail box. He called me back, and I learned his name was Jeff and that he worked for Community College of Philadelphia. And that he was five feet eight and lived in Roxborough.

Fine. I prepared myself for a plain-looking man. Realism, realism. A plain-looking man with a discerning taste in movies, of modest height living in a working class neighborhood. A humble man, faithful and true! Who would love me through all the years of our lives. As I approached him I could see that had no discernible chin. What I mean is that a large flabby something existed between chin and neck, it being itself neither chin nor neck. In other words, he was ugly in a completely different way, a diametrically opposite way from Josh. “Lauren, you must be Lauren!” he said eagerly. “Hello Jeff,” I said in a lukewarm tone of voice. “I’m getting better at this,” I thought. “My mortification and shame are decidedly duller this time. And I don’t think he can even see it in my face.”

My smugness was shattered when I glimpsed a man I knew. I hid behind a column. “You were saying?” I asked brightly. “I was saying, I read your article. What does that French quote mean?” My unnerving was now total. I remembered I had told him about an article that I had published in Modern Drama. And he read it. The only person to this day who has read it, to my knowledge, other than my professor. And he wants to know what that French passage means! Shit! “I don’t even remember, to tell you the truth.” He was trying way too hard.

We had a soda at a neighborhood restaurant, and some appetizers. I ordered a hummus platter, whereupon I learned that he had never heard of hummus. Never heard of hummus? How was that even possible? I was mystified. Hummus was the staple food of every grad student party and I guess I thought everyone ate the stuff. “So do you like Roxborough? I asked, and he said yes, and that he would never leave it, because it was “safe” with so many cops living there. “Safe.” I was moving away, fast, from humble man, faithful and true, to bigoted man, narrow-minded and . . . . and doesn’t that tie pinch his neck? Or is that his chin?

Third time’s a charm, right? One more time, I told myself. Late July. There’s still time to find Mr. Right before my roommate returns and deflates my hopes. Before classes resume and I get back in the groove of flirting harmlessly with the safe married men and the safe gay men of my department. One more foray into the uncharted territory of the personals. Think Goldilocks, Goldilocks.

Joe was man number three. I sat waiting for him at Le Bus thinking I’ve seen two physical extremes, so now I’m hardened to anything. That guy from Beauty and the Beast is kind of sexy after all. Plus, I don’t really care about meeting a man, anyway, so what if I’m single and childless my whole life? Even if I become a bag lady, I’ll at least have some good books in that bag and some funny stories. “Hi, are you Lauren?” asked a man with black hair and a beard. “Yes?” “I’m Joe.” He smiled warmly. I stared. There was nothing perceivably amiss about his appearance. He was actually attractive. Decently dressed. Didn’t smell bad. Goldilocks. We had a lovely conversation. He was a nurse. He lived in West Philly near me. He played the saxophone. He was Italian. He was masculine without being macho. His last words were “I’ll call you. We’ll listen to jazz at Ortlieb’s.”

What can I say? “Goldilocks.” We married the next year, and now we have two sets of twins. Couldn’t be happier. I could also say “Stinky Cheese Man.” I waited for Joe to call me. Three weeks later, I finally called him. Light and breezy. Confident low tones. “Hi Joe. It’s Lauren . . . how have you been?” “Lauren . . .?” “From Le Bus three weeks ago?” Silence. “We met through the personals? I ordered an Orangina?” I was beginning to hate myself. “I have to say, I don’t remember you. I’ve been working through a lot of issues lately . . . . I’m sorry.”

Another chapter in my dissertation got written. I swore I’d never tell my roommate about my summer. She came back and I promptly told her everything. She said “That’ll teach me to go away for the summer.” I fell back into the academic routine, flirted with the safe men. The next year I finished my dissertation, got a teaching job, and met my husband at a party at my own house. We now have two wonderful children. But not before I joined a dating service and met a lawn and garden supply salesman and a brick salesman. Did you know there are 250 different kinds of bricks?

Sep 22, 2005

A Dirty Pan Can Always Wait.

This is the first meme I've ever done. I'm doing this one because it's easy, and I'm procastinating scrubbing off the burnt-on remains of slow-roasted tomatoes from two pans. (I hate that last sentence. It went about as well as the scrubbing will.) I got the meme from Scrivener.

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

So here is my sentence: "Presents?" I'm not sure it counts if it's not a complete sentence, but I'm not going be obsessive. A bit disappointing, eh? I'm still not ready to clean those pans, though. Maybe John will do it if they sit there long enough.

Sep 19, 2005

Montessori Musings

So far, so good. Jack is a kindergartener at Montessori, which means he is still in his class of children ranging in age from 2 to 6. But this year he is a "role model" and gets to help the younger children with everything from new "works" to tying their shoes and helping them with jackets. He is in school from 9:00-2:45 each day. Our la-di-da award-winning school district with the great SAT scores and plethora of AP classes for high schoolers still has half-day kindergarten. And not everyone will fit, so there's a lottery for who gets morning or afternoon. Going to school in the afternoon would suck, right? The nearby Chester-Upland school district has federally supported full day kindergarten because with their tax base they could never pay for it. Don't get me wrong, I totally agree with that use of federal money, it's just strange the way things work.

Anyway, Will also is at the same school this year, same times. It's a bit much for a almost-four-year-old, perhaps, but it's such a great place, and they do fun things in the afternoon, like Spanish, art, and gym. So far his teacher says he is "a sponge." A couple outbursts of temper, but nothing out of the ordinary. We keep giving him a cloth napkin and placemat every day at lunch last week, but they kept on not coming back, and at Parent Night we figured out he must be putting them in the "laundry" every day, which is where the extras go if kids have forgotten to bring their own napkin and placemat in. We still haven't gotten anything back yet, and I'm getting down to skeevy old washcloths for him to take in. On Friday he did mend his ways,though.

Wednesday's post and all the comments put me in the mood for more company, so I invited a family whose daughter is new in Will's class. Hadn't talked to the mom much, just felt like maybe we were on the same wavelength. We had a great time and the kids had a blast, eating their cotton candy ice cream on top of the "clubhouse" and playing mysterious games with quirky rules. I had a backlog of eggplant from the CSA so we had eggplant lasagna with garlic bechamel sauce, from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It was divine. They brought salad, bread and a red zinfandel. Her family runs a business out in western PA that John's family frequented, to we got to say "Small world!" I love saying "Small world, small world. . . . Huh." Another sip of wine.

Another thing I really like to say is "Two Silver Kayaks Upon a Silver Prius." Is that not a pleasant phrase? We spotted this vehicle (vehicles) on the way to church yesterday and marvelled upon its general silveriness. It was actually "Two Silver Kayaks Upon a Silver Prius with a Thule Rack." Ouch.

Sep 14, 2005

Whatever Happened to Dinner Parties?

Last Friday we had another family over for pizza. "You don't have to do that," was my friend's response when I called to invite them. We just wanted to get to know them better, that's all, and we have pizza a lot anyway . . . their son is the same age as Jack, we like the whole family, bla bla bla. In the world I pretend we live in, that's what you do. We had a lovely time. My trusty pizza crust recipe never fails and we put all kindsa stuff on top (homemade pesto was one). We have interesting beers (a Troeg's sampler,in this case, and Brother Adam's Braggot Honey Ale). We talk a lot and the kids are old enought to not need constant, nervous supervision. Life is good on such evenings. Cheaper than a restaurant, especially if you consider the babysitting costs,and so much more social and relaxed. And, for me, anyway, making food for people is life-giving.

Sometimes I hear this little whiny voice in my head saying, "When is someone going to reciprocate?" and I have to say that "reciprocation," the way my mother used to count it, doesn't happen often. But I learned a long time ago that true hospitality is a gift you give without expecting it "back." Or maybe you get it back in other ways, by simple appreciation or good thoughts. People at my church are quite hospitable in this way, and people from other churches I've attended in the past, because, whether liberal or conservative, hospitality is a part of our common value system that transcends politics. It's not about showing off, or "entertaining" in an orgy of perfectionism, but simply about sharing the bounty, being vulnerable and generous to others, and learning to know people more intimately.

Some people in my town belong to a "supper club," which no children attend, and for which each guest makes a gourmet dish that is prescribed by the host. It's four times a year and it sounds interesting, but also very high-pressure and a little scary. You probably need to devote some thought to your wardrobe and clean your house top to bottom and get a professionally made centerpiece? I don't know, because even though several people have told us about this supper club, we haven't been invited to the damn thing. Screw them.

Sep 13, 2005

The Truth Teller

A few proclamations from Will:

1. Last spring, to his Sunday school class, "My mommy has a vagina, but I have a penis." There, my secret is out.

2. About a woman standing very close to us at his Montessori one day after school: "Look, Mommy, she has a baby in her belly!" She didn't.

3. About a woman using a vending machine at the YMCA: "Look, Mommy, she's buying junk food!" She explained to him that it was okay because she was buying a granola bar with raisins and nuts. That's the kind of moral authority a three-year-old can assert.

4. During children's time at church, said really loudly so all can hear, "____________________________________." I'll fill this in when he does. This past Sunday he said something fairly harmless about how if a raccoon bites you you might have to go to the hospital, which had nothing to do with anything,and just made people laugh and look at us in that generic "Well, that was interesting" kind of way. That's okay.

Sep 3, 2005

Last Feral Outburst Before Preschool?

It was already an unusual day at the produce market. The Chinese lady who works there had asked me to write a sign for her. "You write big mum for twenty-three dollar? Each?" she pleaded, nodding her head vigorously. "Sure," I acquiesced. "Nice, nice, you write another same?" "No problem!" Then I proceeded to shop for apples, bananas, and a couple other things. Will and Jack were eating cereal bars because it was lunch time, really.

Right after I had paid for everything and was waiting to sign the receipt, Will tugged on my shirt. He pointed to his mouth, which was full. Then he pointed to a loaf of French bread, with a bite taken out of it, right throught the plastic. "You're almost four years old! I can't believe you did this! Now I'm going to have to buy this!" I scolded him, while trying to keep my voice down. "I'll pay for this in cash," I said, exasperated, turning back to give the lady the bread. Then--he did it again. To another loaf. "I was hungry," he wailed. Now feeling like a horrible mother who not only losed her cool at the store but who does not feed her children adequately, I looked back at women in the modest line behind me, for affirmation, a smile, a sympathetic glance? Nope. They averted their eyes.

The other day Will jumped around nervously, asked to sit on my lap, and then proceeded to pee voluminously. As I soon as I felt the spreading warmth I shot off my chair, and the kitchen floor took the rest of it.

It's not all backsliding, though. He got dressed all by himself yesterday for the first time! His underpants and shorts were backwards, but still. I let him do it in another room with the door closed, as he requested.

I think he will love Montessori. He is very "hands on," must touch everything, must play with everything. In the Montessori classroom all the "works" are within reach and the children can work with things as long as they want within "work time." Will will be in a different classroom from Jack, who is in kindergarten this year. The kindergarteners have their own class one afternoon a week, and the rest of the time are with the younger children. They help them learn new works and serve as role models. And teach them to tie their shoes and zip their jackets.

It's only going up to the low 80s today. As soon as I post this I'll turn off the air conditioning off and fling the windows open. The kids would rather go to the library than the pool lately, Will has his new backback, and fall is in the air. I love these days.

Sep 1, 2005

"All Those Black People, Drowned."

So said a woman rescued from her rooftop in the Ninth Ward yesterday. The New Orleans Times-Picayune gives a heart-rendingly immediate portrait of the sadness because it is replete with specific losses and problems, and includes individual pleas. Someone is looking for Miss Rita and Aunt Eula, someone else for Robin and Ken and their four English sheepdogs. The following plea shows the plight of this city with every one of its capital letters.


And from a reader of the Times-Picayune in the Virgin Islands: "It is hard to believe that the wealthiest, and self-proclaimed STRONGEST nation in the world is so incapable of taking better care of its citizens in this DISASTER. It is embarrassing! Those attempting to render aid must be just as exhausted and frustrated as those dying to receive that AID. Amazing, simply amazing."

Aug 29, 2005

Husband Away, Wife will Play

John had a "Leadership Challenge" this past weekend for his graduate program. They had to listen to various dull presentations. A librarian droned on and on about the many ways you could do research without actually "having to" go to the library. An IS guy told them about how to use the university's computer system. A business writer talked about his vacation in Australia and the starlets he met, and a little bit about how paragraphs are nifty things to use, and he gave them all copies of Strunk and White. They were most helpfully instructed to "pull the reader in." Then after lunch, the ropes course. John's knee got a bit sore, but he was otherwise unscathed. At 42, he is by far the oldest member of his cohort. They did give them beer, but Bass was the best they could come up with.

They all had to spend the night, so that meant I was alone after the boys went to bed. You must understand that John almost never travels anywhere for his job. I allowed myself to go wild by eating some Breyer's mint chocolate chip ice cream and watching Seinfeld episodes. Then I slept with--I know, I'm a wild woman--all the windows all the way open. Wu-hoo!

Nine days until Will goes to school. Fourteen days until Jack goes to school. And John is already back, two nights a week. Anyone want to found the National Project for the Synchronizing of School Schedules with me?

Aug 20, 2005

Barefoot Amish Mother of Ten Seems Happy

Well, I couldn't resist adding blueberries to the peach crisp I made, and they colored the whole thing blue, oh well. It was delicious, and was duly devoured my our fellow CSA members.

We met the Stoltzfus family and their ten children, ages 17 down to 4 months. All of 'em barefoot and quiet. Henry, age 8, was willing to speak when some of them took us on a tour of the barn to see the animals. Their mother, also barefoot, is a cheerful plump woman in her late thirties. Her "Pennsylvania Dutch" accent sounded almost like it had an Irish lilt to it, and when she was taking us down the endless rows of squash I was wondering about that, and also remembering the nearby town of Colerain and a "Derry Road," (also towns in the North of Ireland) and speculating idly about the early Anglo-Irish settlers mixing with the Amish. People asked questions like "What do you do about Japanese beetles?" and "When will the spaghetti squash be ready,?"and I wanted to ask her, "Was there ever another life you envisioned?" "Is this life enough for you?" "Is it too much for you?" The questions I want to ask are huge, unwieldy, impossible.

I'm as fascinated by the Amish as the next person, but I find their rural life of endless physical labor and pragmatic chores horrifying to contemplate in too much detail, especially the women's. Sewing, cooking, washing clothes, cleaning everything including the walls constantly, having babies the "natural" way every year and a half over and over and over and over and over. (I had to have C-sections so I guess I would just be dead a few times over.) The same everything over and over and over. And no way to leave the system without being shunned.

Last summer John and I read a romance novel of his mother's about an "English" design student who develops a crush on an Amish hottie and ends up converting to be Amish and marrying him. It was a howl. She was studying Amish design in school, which is strange because I don't think there's a respectable art school in the country that would consider traditional Amish quilts, for example, to be "designed." The quilts are all very predictable, symmetrical, programmatic patterns with formulaic use of color, aren't they? One of the students at the art school I used to work at told me that her art history instructor called Amish quilt design "mundane." Maybe it's no surprise that a contemporary art history scholar would decry an aesthetic that does not value innovation, period. It's simply not about that and never has been. Amishness is about tradition in the most repetitive sense. And when I was listening to Saloma, the mother, I was thinking, she doesn't have to invent herself. The blueprint for her life is there. She follows it. She fulfills a destiny she has always known, not a personal destiny, but a small role in the destiny of her people, who believe they are following God.

We said goodbye, took our only two children, shod in new sneakers and not quiet at all, and traveled back to the suburbs in the minivan. Saloma and Henry and their children will pick more fruit and vegetables for us in the months ahead. Maybe Saloma will have three or four more children in the next decade. Her whole world supports that, expects it, is leaning toward it. She doesn't need to pick and choose among parenting styles, choose preschools or wardrobes. It's been predetermined, proclaimed by the elders long ago. She doesn't need to stand out, make a statement, be the best mother, have the most brilliant children. She is merely a square on the quilt, helping to form a larger pattern that may not be visible for generations to come.

Aug 19, 2005

Fie on Root Rot, Crabgrass, and Blog Spam

Into June, John and I could be found looking at the giant tulip poplar by the back fence, willing it to live, and exclaiming, "Oh, there's a bud, up there! At the top!" "Aren't the smaller branches looking a teensy bit greenish?" When another month had gone by, and no leaves yet, we had to admit the truth. We called the tree service, and learned that our massive tree had died of root rot. The roots had probably had this for years, and then suddenly the tree was just not getting enough nourishment. It seemed fine last year . . . Because the root rot may cause instability, they need to bring in a crane instead of just having people cut off branches while standing in it. That's why it will cost $4,000. Sigh. At least Jack and Will will have something fun to watch.

Finally it has been less hot, so the other morning Will and Jack and I (emphasis on "I") weeded half our side garden, which had been woefully neglected for at least a month. I wonder why crabgrass finds it necessary to amass such a giant root system, if it isn't even going to grow that big? Why can't it be like that extremely tall thick weed with practically no roots?

Another really noxious weed, blog spam, has appeared on my blog twice in the last five days. I've never had any before, in all nine months of its existence, and so this seems like an ominous development. I limited my comments only to registered Bloggers, but that didn't help, as the next comment did technically come from a registered Blogger. GRRRR!

And now for something completely pleasant . . . . We have an extra share of peaches this week from the CSA, due to someone accidentally taking too many shares and then redistributing them incorrectly. But instead of hogging them all for ourselves I'm going to make a big peachy something for our potluck out at the farm tomorrow. The farmers are Amish, so this is a really special treat. We're not allowed to take pictures, of course. The children, of which no doubt there are many, will take us for a tour of the barn. Everyone is making a different dish. Then we taste brie from an Amish cheesemaker and can buy Amish stuff. That reminds me that I have a whole blog entry in my head about the romanticization of the Amish and the Amish aesthetic. I have a feeling it will be born after Saturday. So stay tuned.

Aug 10, 2005

Big-Box Shopping and the Integration of the Self

Great title for a conference paper, eh? I was telling my friend W. the other day about how I've decided to do a lot of my shopping and errands in Media, because I like the energy of a downtown and try to use independent merchants whenever it seems reasonable. (And Swarthmore is great if you need earrings, sandwiches, or a haircut.) She said, "Oh, no, it's big-box shopping for me until the kids are older!" I could tell she wasn't really taking in my recommendation for Deal's, an old-fashioned general store with very good prices. W. continued, "I try to do everything on my list, and when it's all done for the week, then I do what I want or shop where I want."

It's that work/leisure split again, surfacing in the life of a stay-at-home mom, for whom the split, I would think, is pretty difficult to sustain. It's easier when you work for a paycheck during the week and go off sailing on the weekend. Her life strategy certainly is more efficient than mine. But I couldn't do what she does because it doesn't feel quite right to split life into the Obligatory and the Fun, two dreary and soulless categories (to say nothing of Obligatory Fun). The way I figure is that everyday life is full of blessings if we are ready to see them. Take the endless project of food shopping. Supermarkets are usually boring and that music drives me nuts. So I go to farmer's markets, Trader Joe's, an independent butcher, a great fish market, the Swarthmore Co-op, depending on what I'm getting. It takes time but I feel better about my choices and I've enjoyed the transactions much more. And while I'm in the neighborhood I'll pick something up at the place next door. I like to feel I'm in a place.

I choose to shape the "have-to's" into something joyous whenever possible, instead of trying to get them over with. Does that make sense?

Aug 9, 2005

Down East Days

Back from the cool and breezy and into the hot and sticky. A bumpy transition yesterday, what with Will's loud whining and wailing in Trader Joe's, and his pushing a lady's cart in front of her, and the lady muttering "Jesus!" and Will refusing to apologize until she was too far away to hear. And the gorgeous yellow and green bowl I got at Isleford pottery was broken by the cat today, still in its box and wrapped in a bag. And John saying "You shouldn't have left it on the counter." So I now realize I've got to write up something about the Maine trip before it becomes completely erased by the dog days of a Pennsylvania August, and its attendant grumpiness and whininess. And no camp or school.

Our cottage was near Southwest Harbor on Mt. Desert Island. We could take a little path down to a rocky beach, where the boys loved to pick up crab claws and shells that had been dropped by seagulls. In the distance we could see several islands and a couple other harbors of Mt. Desert. Great Cranberry Island was the closest. (Isn't that a great Roald Dahl kind of name?) We heard the distant clinking of buoys, the occastional hum of a motorboat, gulls arguing as they wheeled close by, and a dog barking across the bay. We smelled the brininess of the sea, but also a fresh wind blowing through the wild roses by the shore. At low tide we could wade a little in a tiny bit of sand.

We went to Sand Beach and were amazed that some people were actually swimming in the 50-degree water. We did swim a little in Echo Lake, though, and Jack and Will dug the biggest hole in the sand ever with some French children. We ate at several lobster pounds, a restaurant at the Atlantic Brewery, and a couple other places with great food that didn't mind kids around. (No fast food on the island, and no chains of any sort. How do they do that?) We rented bikes and rode around Eagle Lake and Witch Hole. Jack was on a trailer bike and Will on a child seat that he was a little too big for. Another day we took the passenger "ferry," just a small boat really, to Little Cranberry Island, which was peaceful and quiet. Children sold us lemonade and cookies out of a wagon. I got some napkin rings at an artists' co-op there, and the ill-fated bowl.

It's not a Maine cottage without a quirky collection of books. For children, Burgess's Animal Stories, E. B. White's Trumpet of the Swan, Franklin's Secret Club (which we had to read to Will about four times a day). For adults, a book on raising pigs, the Foxfire books, a bunch of thrillers, and a book called Gay-Neck, an Indian story about a pidgeon. Really. There was even a Victrola, but no records, and it made excruciating shrieking sounds when you turned it on or off.

Jul 27, 2005

Could it Possibly Be Any Hotter and Stickier?

And to top it off, our new air conditioning system broke this morning. So my legs are sticking to the chair and I'm sweating. Not merely glowing.

Will has a new friend, Noel. It's really his first friendship, and he's infatuated. He and Noel run around all morning together in preschool camp. We've heard several times how Will and Noel spotted a cat in a tree the other day. Will brought a half-deflated Trader Joe's balloon to camp to show Noel, asked me if Noel could come to Maine with us, asked if Noel could come over to see our cat, and said he'll miss Noel when camp is over. Conversation in the car on the way to camp:

Jack (skeptically): He sure talks about Noel a lot now. How did he make friends with Noel?

Me: Well, since he's sitting right next to you and not doing much, why don't you ask him?

Jack: Will, how did you make friends with Noel?

Will: Well . . . I went to camp. Noel and William (Noel's brother) were there. And now we're friends.

So there ya go.

Tomorrow I'll be busy packing, and we leave Friday morning. Wouldn't you know the heat wave will break just as we go Down East. Murphy's Law, and all that, whoever Murphy was. Have a happy week, dear readers.

Jul 22, 2005

Wild Blueberry Bushes in the Sun

Wild blueberry bushes in the sun have a certain spicy scent that I love, less cloying than lavender and utterly envigorating. You always know you can reach the mountaintop when you come across that scent. On our Maine vacations, when we weren't hiking we were clambering over the rocks on the beach, for miles. Who needs sand, anyway? We felt like we could go on forever, that we would never tire of the perching, jumping, and climbing up again. And again and again.

And when it rained? The old cabins we rented were full of the owner's discarded treasures and books. The very best was a cylinder Victrola. We listened to songs from the 1930s on it, especially "Catch that Tiger" and a song with the words, "Yabba dabba doo, the monkeys in the zoo." As a child I always read anything I could get my hands on, and the musty books were always entertainment enough for me, whether they were the original Pollyanna books, obsolete Girl Scout handbooks, or P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster series, all of which I remember reading.

The town of Ellsworth, on Mt. Desert Island, had a blueberry pancake breakfast one Saturday, in which cheerful volunteers scooped cupfuls of batter out of garbage cans to splat on the griddle. Pancakes eaten outside are always delicious, but with Maine blueberries, they are just too good. Look away, vegetarians, but every vacation we had to boil the obligatory lobster. I don't remember the lobster crawling around on the kitchen floor a la Annie Hall, but it was all quite a delightful ordeal of delayed gratification. Crack the various parts. Carefully, tediously, extract the tender flesh. Dip that little piece in butter. Now you can eat it. Do it all over again for the next little piece.

Even the leaky rowboats and bee stings have a gauze of nostalgia over them, I suppose because my mother and my brother David are gone. Did I tell you that we forgot our bickering on these vacations? And that we all helped with the dishes and the sweeping?

Jul 21, 2005

Eight Days until Maine

Joe Miller, here's the recipe for the Apricot-Almond Cobbler. And we've gotten two more pounds of apricots this week. I'll make some other apricot dessert this Saturday for when my brother and father come over.

A big thanks to Scrivener for recommending my blog here (see #4). I think I may have a couple more readers now. Blogging away in obscurity is fine with me, but welcome aboard, everyone. He nows says he did that so that I would post more often. Jo(e) is right, he is a pest.

Here's a list of things that I was thinking about last night.

A Few Things I Dislike

When Jack puts his lips on the kitchen countertop and blows, creating a loud farting sound

Having to admit that the child yelling "My penis is peeing!" in the swimming pool is mine

Camp that is only 2 1/2 hours long

Taking two kids to two different camp locations for camp that is only 2 1/2 hours long

When my declawed cat scratched a visitor's bare legs, drawing blood. The hind claws still work just dandy.

Knowing that we have to clean out bucketsfull (is that a word?) of ancient cedar shake debris from our attic. (We neglected to cover our stuff up there when we got two old roofs taken off and a new one put on.)

A Few Things I Like

My husband putting away the dishes and loading the dishwasher

Jack and Will kissing and hugging each other

Friends who will drive five hours or more, with two small kids, just to visit us for 24 hours

The anticpated coolness and fresh air of Maine in August

Memories of childhood vacations spent in Maine

Having a DVD player in the van (so much for those simple vacations of yore)

Fantasizing about going here next summer

Jul 16, 2005

Two Pounds of Fresh Apricots and Two Geeks

Two pounds of fresh apricots are waiting patiently in my red Pyrex bowl (like the bowl my mother used to have) to be made into an apricot-almond cobbler today. The apricots just arrived in the CSA on Wednesday, and our friends Scott, Kathy and their children are coming to visit today from Virginia. The convergence of the apricots and our friends makes me giddy, since all are so delicious and rarely experienced by us.

I had a post all written the other day but then I lost it when I tried to save it because we were having DSL problems and I ignored my geek husband's advice. It was about how John (geek husband) wanted to go to the Tyler Arboretum last Sunday. This shocked me, but I soon learned it was so he could try out his new GPS tracker. Hmmpph. Did I say he is a geek? It wasn't as horrible a distraction from nature as I had feared. I think he got it for our trip to Maine in two weeks, although I might find it handy if I ever go to the King of Prussia mall again. I'd like to not have to use the car's alarm function just in order to find where I parked. Even better, though, is my plan to never go to the King of Prussia Mall.

Speaking of geeks, I have to tell you that when I was in college in the late 1970's "geek" meant "not Greek," as in not affiliated with a fraternity or sorority. That was all it meant. And "nerd" was a new word, I guess, which is probably why the Roches spelled it wrong on their album "Nurds," which came out in that era (like James Beard spelled "pasta" "paste" in an early 1970s cookbook, instead of just calling it "macaroni" like like all the other Americans). And yes, I was a geek in that non-Greek sense of the word, along with the Indian students, pimply ROTC members, gay artists posing as straight chemistry majors, and confused malnourished transfers who smoked. Anyway, what are the students at my college called now if they're not in a frat or sorority? PWSHGACs? People Who Should Have Gone to Another College?

Well, it's back to those beautiful apricots.

Not really, that last sentence was an awkward attempt at closure. Sometimes I forget this is a blog. What I'm really going to do is throw the dead lightning bugs out of Jack and Will's bug catcher, which is on the kitchen table next to the cat. Then I'm going to push the cat off the table. Then, yes, I'll clean the table. Give me some credit.

Jul 7, 2005

Meet Our Imaginary Friends

I have an imaginary son named Bill, who always washes his hands quickly before dinner, using just the right amount of soap, and who trots obediently up to his bath when he's asked, never lying down on the stairs or insisting that I carry or drag him. Or so I told Jack when he asked me if I had any imaginary friends. Jack and Will share their imagary friends, Jubie Vicdaria (a boy) and Christopher Zero (a girl). The other night all four of them, Jack, Will, Jubie, and Christopher, all visited yet another friend, Asworth, who lives in Hawaii. They took me with them, which was nice. A significant part of the visit involved Will and Jack lying on top of me on the sofa. There was some confusion as to who got to be Asworth, so each boy played their own Asworth. It all worked out, Asworth being a rather sketchy, amorphous character, a kindly host residing in the shadows. At some point it was revealed that he is Aslan's cousin (from the Narnia stories), but none of us quite knew what to do with that information, so we disbanded the game before returning home, so I guess that means we're still all in Hawaii.

Jack will often tell me about "Jubie's World," where instead of green traffic lights they have purple, and where they speak a special language. In Jubie's world, children are permitted to do lots of things they can't do in our world. Last night John was asked to give Jubie a bath, which he was pleased to do. The IFs don't seem to eat, but Jack and Will's bunnies do, so they sit at the breakfast table propped up against the wall, and we give them tiny bowls of cereal. (The boys both sleep with their bunnies, but I don't know where the IFs sleep.)

Realism does rear its ugly head now and again. Will, as he was finishing his lunch yesterday, remarked, "We're meat. We're built out of meat." As he cheerfully polished off a piece of ham.

Jun 29, 2005

Next to Godliness

No matter how good you think Ben and Jerry's ice cream is, it is not "homemade." And neither are the vast majority of products you can find in the supermarket, as everyone knows. The word did well with focus groups and that's why it is slapped liberally on food labels. One of the great things about web commerce is that you can actually buy homemade stuff because the artisan can market the product directly. To just randomly choose one of these entrepreneurs, oh, hmmm, let me see . . . let's take my brother Dan's Southside Soap. He really makes this in his home and has done so for years. Big, textured herbal-smelling chunks of real honest soap that clean ya real good, I can testify. He has also made ale, beer, mead, dog food, yogurt, lamps out of PVC pipe, and curtain rods out of copper tubing, thankfully none of which are offered for sale on the web. The mead is fermenting on his kitchen counter now, in an enormous bottle, to be consumed by knights and ladies in the mid distant future.

So if you're dirty, or if you're clean but running out of soap, or need to restock your gift supplies with unique but inexpensive consumables, then what's not to like about my brother's soap, eh?

Jun 28, 2005

Summer: Chapter One

I'm going to try to not think about last week. No preschool, no camp, no patience, and I had to get the house ready for weekend guests, no small feat. My routineless boys bonded a lot, let's say a whole lot. Jack and Will have developed their own shorthand. "Oh-ee, oh-ee, oh-ee, oh,ee," when yelled by Jack in the house seems to mean "Run around throwing things while yelling. When Mommy and Daddy show anger, laugh maniacally." Another one of these coded commands is "Jane has cut the pie too small." No idea where this came from, but when proclaimed at loud volume, while spinning around holding a potentially dangerous kitchen implement, it seems to indicate "Let's stop Mommy and Daddy from having a conversation by doing whatever it takes. Anything goes."

Last Tuesday when John was at his class (Why ever did I have to give him those clippings about grad program open houses last fall, anyway?), Will pooped in his underpants and peed copiously on their bedroom rug. Poop in the underwear must be dealt with immediately, thoroughly, and carefully. Jack was instigating mayhem and throwing his clothes up into the ceiling fan, and running into the bathroom where I was with Will and flailing, causing poop to smear in unwanted places. I cursed something awful, loudly, which Jack decided to repeat for several following nights whenever I was in the bathroom with Will.

I've been reading my grandfather's letters now and again, and in one letter to my mother, who was home with me (toddler) and my brother David (infant), he assures her she is a good mother. Sometimes I need that assurance, too. Now that the boys are excited about their half-day camp, we have more structure, and I've got some time to myself. Except for Will pushing all the neatly folded laundry off the dining room table yesterday and me screaming bloody murder, it's been a good week so far. Last night when they were getting crazy, I started playing my yoga DVD and they were mesmerized. Jack was even doing some of the positions, especially Warrior Two.

Jun 22, 2005

About that Weird Fish Paste in a Tube they Sell at Ikea

Don't buy it. That picture on the tube of a child smilingly taking a bite out of a cracker loaded with the stuff? Why do you think they used a drawing instead of a photo?

Anyhoozy, I want to share a poem with you that I wrote in sixth grade, April 27, 1970, to be exact. I found it going through family papers. I was attending Augusta Country Day School in Augusta, Georgia that year, and only for that year. That year I had two fabulous friends. Hilary was English and Chris was another Army brat, from Massachusetts. The rest of the girls were Southern belles in training. Hilary, Chris and I climbed trees, eschewed the blue eyshadow all the other girls were wearing, and got straight A's. It was my last year of childlike oblivion. A month after writing this poem we moved to Germany, where I soon attended a large American school with grades 7-12. Mannheim American High School was a place where I was certain I'd be crucified for wearing saddle shoes and white socks, and the innocence such clothing signified.

This poem must have been the result of an assignment on "something you learned from your mother." I do know my mother had slammed a few doors by the time I wrote this, contrary to the poem's claim. This poem is filled with lies, fake dialogue, clumsy versification, and drift of thesis, but at least I make fun of my own attempt in the last line. The footnote is original. Don't know why I had to make my brother Dan sound like a demented fairy. (On second thought, maybe I wrote this just for the hell of it, because there's no grade or mark of any kind.)

Patience--A Lesson Learned

Patience certainly is a thing I admire my my mother for.
For I have never heard or seen her madly slam a door.
Once my brother got his glider stuck up in a tree,
He kicked and screamed and yelled quite loud, and also bruised his knee.
My mother just then came rushing out
To see what all it was about.
"Why Dan, your glider's in the tree!"
"I know, I know, painfully said he.
My mother suggested then and there
To send a rock into the air
And that is just what he did do,
And hit the glider that 'twas brand new.
The glider then turned round and round
And soon fell, twirling, to the ground.
"La, la, de, da, oh happy day!"
That's what I heard my brother say.
And the moral of this story is,
Don't fly your gliders near the triz.*

*In other words, trees.

Jun 17, 2005

Sum Sum Summertime

Montessori is out for the summer, so I took Will out of his part-time child care as well. I started off the season by getting pinkeye in both eyes and twisting my back a little.

Yesterday we rescued some great chaise-lounges from my Dad's. He was going to have the "junk man" take them away before closing on his house. After we clean the heck out of the chaises, which are moldy and dusty, and my eyes and back are all better, I'm going to restart summer.

Summer for us is so all about the pool. Every community around here has its own pool. You have to live within strict geographic limits to join. So ours is, natch, the Swarthmore Swim Club. It's not fancy by any means but it's very pleasant indeed. A friend of mine, who just moved out of Swarthmore to West Chester (to pursue the dream of a large suburban house on a cul de sac, with one whole acre of yard) used to complain that the Swarthmore Swim Club was clique-ish. To which I say, of course it is, it's the Swarthmore Swim Club, for Pete's sake. We go for the pool, and we see a number of people we know, and the number is higher every year, and I really don't care whether there are cliques or not. I don't want to be in a clique myself, but if other people do, that's their problem. There was a time when such things would have bothered me.

Our routine is this: we plop our stuff down on the grass kind of behind the best spots, which are inevitably covered with other people's towels, clothes, newspapers, and other detritus. The boys take their shirts and sandals off, and we all go in the "big" pool (shallow end). Then someone migrates to the baby pool, they go back and forth between the pools, etc. At their ages, 3 and 5, I need to watch them to a certain extent, but I can socialize a little or read something light.

After a while comes the request that I dread: "Can we play Battleship?" The swim club has seen fit to keep lots of board games for the members to use, bless their souls. So one of the boys gets the game, we set it on the towels, and I pretend that we are actually going to play this in a civilized manner, following the rules, until someone wins. Will's too young to focus, but he likes to move the ships around randomly on the board, which is no good. Jack likes to play, and could probably play a whole game, if only he wasn't playing against Will and me. I try to keep things together, but sitting on a towel for a period of time moving little pegs around on a little board that is constantly tipping over gets old. So I try to find a distraction. "Hey, there's Alex! Wouldn't you like to get back in the pool with him?"

Some of the mothers don't go in the water, but my rule is to get completely wet at least once every hour. Otherwise, what's the point? My mother had a helmet-like "hairdo" that she got every week at the hairdresser, and so she never put her head underwater. You couldn't splash anywhere near her, either. It was hard to for all of us to live with her tenous, fragile hairstyle. I believe I think of her every time I dunk my head under.

Another joke for you, this time from Will:

What did the turtle say to the banana?


Jun 11, 2005

Boyz at the Pool

Husband and sons at the pool and I just got home early from the Philadelphia Writers' Conference.

Yesterday: two sessions were fantastic. Jane Eisner was the keynote. She writes the syndicated column American Rhythms. Another very interesting session was on publishing nonfiction books, which was given by Foster Winans. Winans was writing for the Wall Street Journal in the early 1980s, when he got busted for insider trading. After 8 1/2 months in prison, he dusted himself off and wrote a best-selling, well reviewed book on . . . insider trading (Trading Secrets). A few years later he wrote fictionalized sequels to The Little House on the Prairie. Next? A memoir called From the Big House to the Little House. Har. I made that up.

Then an abysmal, condescending session on memoir that I want to forget as soon as possible, and a useless, sleep-inducing one on magazine writing. Thank goodness I came back, because all of today's sessions were great. Jonathan Maberry, who heads up The Writer's Room in Bucks county, and who has unpredictably become an expert on vampires, talked about how to get editors to read your magazine queries and book proposals. He's pragmatic, efficient, ruthless, and persistent. Whereas I've been dreamy, inefficient, tentative, and sporadic. Also attended a session on literary short stories, in order to avoid another memoir droning session, and attended one on writing for children in order to avoid the magazine writing zombie.

Ah, Dear Readers (as Charlotte Bronte would say), when I said I would keep writing, I meant for publication. The blog remains occasional. Yes, Jo(e) and Scrivener, I've thought quite a bit about whether or not to read more blogs. I do read yours every few days or so, and, as you know, hardly ever comment. I guess I feel divided about the blogging and how much I should do it. I'm afraid I'll be distracted by blog-reading, commenting, and linking when I should really be doing my own writing for publication. On the other hand, blogging certainly counts as something that can be valuable. A great way to network, to "publish" in a way, to get exposure, and contribute to an online community. Guess I'm trying to define my boundaries and that's why I come across as fickle or inconsistent.

But here's another thought. Since blogging is actually a great way to hash out ideas that may go into print, I've considered just writing one entry a week and structuring it more. Readers could expect to read a new entry, say, every Wednesday, and that would be stated up in the description. Other days I could focus on reading and commenting on other blogs, or other writing. Any thoughts? Thanks for reading, everyone. Maybe someday I will write my Blogging Manifesto. Blogifesto?

We're having a pastoral candidate preach at church tomorrow and meet with the congregation. People will bring their show-off dishes to the potluck. I'm bringing a spinach salad with strawberries, mainly because we get a giant bag of spinach every week in the CSA and it's a little hard to know what to do with it all. But not as difficult as the virtuous and prolific "Asian greens," whose season is thankfully over.

Oh, hey! Here's a joke from Jack.

"What did the turtle say when the truck drove away?"

"There goes a butt."

That's it. That's the joke. Because the word "butt" is funny in any context, apparently. When I was reading Prince Caspian to him (of the Narnia series), it mentions a "water butt." Have no idea what that is, some kind of rock formation? It was funny, though, you betcha. And when butts become cliche you can always say "fart," also funny. Once John told a bedtime story about a farting leaf, very very funny.

Jun 7, 2005

My 25th College Reunion and How I'm Blowing It Off

It's this coming weekend but I backed out about three weeks ago. My college is a couple hours away, and John was going to stay home with the kids. Very nice of him, eh? But then I thought, hmmm . . . is this really how I want to spend a weekend without the kids and husband? So I decided to go to the Philadelphia Writers' Conference instead this Friday and Saturday. In 1990 I went to a college reunion to see if any good men were single (two, but then I wasn't sure how to follow up) and in 2000 I went to show off John and baby Jack, who could be transported adorably in a backpack carried by John, but this time? Without a clear, self-interested motive, what is the point of a reunion? It's so often not quite the right people who show up, anyway.

Yeah, I'm really supposed to be writing, but I've been procrastinating for a few months. I suddenly got motivated a couple of weeks ago, and I've sent a query letter out. I'd like to write an article about the future of this estate in Rose Valley. Mike, who wrote this plea to save the estate, doesn't know much about what's happening, but the pictures are very good. It's private property, and you can't see a thing from the street, so I don't know how he got them.

It's funny how I got into journalism. I taught at a small college in Virginia for a few years and one of the first classes I had to teach was "Newswriting." Ha! I was a literature professor, but at a college like that you have to teach many subjects that are almost completely foreign to you. Newswriting, Beowulf, whatever. I expanded the course to "News and Feature Writing" and after a couple of semesters I had thought of so many interesting features myself that I started proposing ideas to the editor of the local alternative newspsaper. She took me up on almost every idea I had. I wrote about community-supported agriculture, urban renewal in my town, modern-day jousting in the "hollers" of Virginia, life on a rural bookmobile, and more.

My most amazing experience was writing the article about urban renewal. Several blocks of black businesses, churches, and homes in my small city had been razed in the early sixties as a "slum clearance" project. Most of it had been blacktopped over, with one white-owned store reopened and a few other stores constructed. Mostly it was a pretty nondescript zone by the time I lived there. Most people who had sold their property to the city couldn't afford to buy anything, so they had to move to a newly constucted housing project, and no one had enough money to reopen their businesses. (This story could be told, unfortunately, for many cities and towns in the US at that time.)

Due to the growth of a large university in the town and a number of demographic and cultural changes, the history of this clearance was only kept alive by a handful of people who lived in the historically black neighborhood, most of whom were quite elderly. But when I worked as a census taker in 2000 I met a woman who knew all these people, and through her I met them and talked to them. I found pictures of the old houses and shops in a file at the housing authority and used some of the woman's family pictures. The story was on the cover of the paper with all these incredible photos. It created quite a wave of interest, I was asked to speak at the college and for a local activist group, it spurred some college students to embark on their own related history projects, and people were constantly asking the paper for reprints. Finally they even reprinted the whole thing in 2004. Working on that was about a thousand times more gratifying than writing an academic journal article, and I knew I could never go back. (Remind me to tell you a story about a blind date and a journal article I wrote.)

So anyway, here I am up here north of the Mason-Dixon line trying to start this up again. Oh, I'm working with a journal editor on publishing one of my blog entries. So stay tuned, and don't let me stop writing.

Jun 1, 2005

Suicide and Damnation

This post really is about suicide and damnation; the title contains no hyperbole or metaphor. It's a switch in tone from the Trader Joe's post, but that's the way life is: Happy, sad, happy, sad. No, wait, it's more like happy, mundane and boring, sad, mundane and boring, happy. I just try to keep the mundane and boring parts out of my blog as best I can.

My friend Bill's brother Matt (both pseudonyms) died of an overdose in West Hollywood on Saturday. He had been suicidal since the 1980's and had threatened suicide a week before his death, when his other brother had refused to give him money for crystal meth. Matt had lived in L.A. for many years and had been alienated from his family for a very long time. I had a brother like that, too, only in San Francisco, only he didn't kill himself; he died in a fire when his life was actually looking up, sort of. But this isn't about my brother right now. Bob and I used to talk about our brothers and what to do about them and always came up with this conclusion: nothing.

Matt was found by his landlady, his apartment filthy and littered with needles. He had been a user for years, and had finally overdosed. Was it a suicide? For Matt's family, this question is critical because they are all devout Catholics. Matt's eternal fate hinges on the answer to this question, but apparently prayer can tip the balance from hell to purgatory. So Bill says in his email to me,

". . . The question of suicide will most likely remain unresolved mainly because no one can now know for certain what thoughts were going through his head as he lost consciousness. I believe so fervently all that the Church teaches that I've found myself praying all the more for Matt and asking others do so so. Thanks for those prayers. "

I don't believe that God punishes people for being depressed or for trying to kill their pain with drugs. I am disgusted at Bill for letting his theology blind him to the realities of mental illness. Bill is an attorney, very bright, who also has an MA in English. But he hasn't read any contemporary (last 50 years) books in a very long time "There are so many good nineteenth century novels to read, why should I read anything new?" Bill had never heard or read the word "vegan" until I told him last year, and I had to spell it. Sometimes I think his mental world is filled with dust and cobwebs. And lots of Catholic theology. The older I get, the more aware of the world's mysteries I become, its paradoxes, ironies, sadness and joy together. But Bob is as dogmatic as ever. It's possible I'm not being fair.

Reading this post was like eating a brick, wasn't it? On a lighter note, Will is peeing quite well in the potty now, albeit with dubious aim, John dented our car this time, NOT ME, and Jack wants me to teach him to knit and my Dad had a sarcastic, sexist comment about that. Roofers coming Monday. I'm trying Neutrogena Self-Tanning Lotion on my legs, since they are incapable of tanning on their own. Sad, happy, mundane and boring, there you go.