May 29, 2005

The Righteous Truth about Trader Joe's

So when will Trader Joe be beatified, anyway? Ever since St. Joe's, I mean Trader Joe's, came to Media last year--and I hesitate to say this because I'm going to sound like a lobotomized housewife--it has changed my life. I shop there at least two times a week because it's so convenient, I know the entire lovely staff, from the almost sarcastically cheerful 20-year-old man who asks too many questions about what I did last weekend (Can't remember) or what I'm going to do that day (Laundry? Don't know, really) to the red-hat-wearing lady who finds Will's songs about the bottled water charming. I love them all. And the parking situation is nirvanic at 9 AM on a weekday and they have balloons for the children. Plus immaculate wood floors, handwritten happy signage and, of course, low prices. AND healthy food. I mean, what more is there to say? For Pete's sake, what more would it take to convince you? Let me share my newly evolved theology with you.

1) Heathen: people who have never heard of Trader Joe's and don't know what they're missing. I hope they'll be saved nevertheless because it's not their fault. But I don't care that much because most of these people aren't American and probably wear socks with sandals.

2) Seekers: People who have seen the light but do not live within 100 miles of a Trader Joe's and so cannot reasonably be expected to stock up there. Most of these people live with a Trader-Joe-sized hole in their souls. What can I say to these folks? Have hope. Pray, even. I believe they are still expanding. Or, just move.

People who do live within 100 miles of a Trader Joe's and do not shop there: Two subcategories.

3) Ignorant Due to Extenuating Circumstances: If you're institutionalized, or under 3 years old or over 100, then your ignorance is pardoned.

4) Willfully Refusing Trader Joe's Grace: Two sub-categories.

a. Nonbelievers Who Don't Like "Strange" Food. Upon death, off to a Super Wal-Mart with you and no looking back. Never another chance to eat Trader Joe's Red Pepper Spread.

b. Nonbelievers Who Think Whole Foods Must be Better Because it's More Expensive and in a More Exclusive Neighborhood. Jane Cohen, I'm talking about you. Your wickedness is revealed in the blogosphere. As of NOW.

And just in case you think I'm in serious need of deprogramming, I know TJ's is not perfect. Especially the mayonnaise and the pumpkin-filled tortellinis. And sometimes the staff's cheerfulness and enthusiasm for the products is just a tad grating. And no, red-hat lady, when my kids are running around grabbing all the chocolate off the shelves I don't give a rat's ass about trying the Citrus Hand Lotion, thank you.

May 24, 2005

The Party's Over

I'm still trying to pick myself up off the floor. We had a party for 25 people on Saturday, one reason I haven't been blogging. My advisor from Temple has just retired, so I invited her and all her graduate students from the last twelve years (not everyone in her classes, but everyone who either has or has had her on their dissertation committee or people who are clearly her acolytes). I got most of the guest list from her. Sally is an eminent Victorian scholar, which sounds much more dull than it actually is in her case. Sally has long gray braids to her hips and has walked with a cane for many years, I think because of some kind of scoliosis. She is very petite but has a bellowing laugh that comes from deep inside her. I love it, but others find it annoying. In the early nineties she had us actually compile a collection of essays by Victorian women, which was published and well reviewed. It was the most exciting work I ever did in graduate school, the most thorough immersion in historical research I ever experienced. We were sleuths and it was great.

For her retirement we got her a beautiful duffel bag from Levenger, which she admired greatly. I had ordered her a cake that said "Thank you, Sally. Happy Travels." Because "Happy Retirement" sounds like "Happy Death" to me. Everyone gave a tribute to her. It was fun and unstuffy, mainly because no faculty were invited to this party. Nothing against faculty per se, it's just that their presence would have added a networking element, with its attendant mood of insecurity. Plus, I would have felt even more incompetent for having upended the whole container of maple glaze on the floor in the kitchen and having to dredge the salmon in it, right there on the floor next to the dishwasher. As it was, it was an enormously sticky mess for a few minutes, but it all ended up on the grill anyway, and was delicious, and everyone was happy, and hardly anyone knew.

May 16, 2005

A Little Housekeeping

Well, I finally changed my comments section so anyone can comment, not just people with Blogger accounts. Plus, I get emailed if someone comments. I should have done this months ago! Well, back to an improvised saag paneer I'm making. It's gray and I not unreasonably expected it to be green . . . It tastes sort of okay but the premixed garam masala I bought doesn't pack much of a punch. Must stop doing this makeshift Indian and use my cookbook.

Then my mom's group is hosting a "wine and dessert" evening. If I start out the week with wine and dessert on a Monday, then what on earth will I be doing on Friday? Something illegal? Nah, probably just checking compulsively to see if I get any more comments. Wait, I don't have to do that if I get emailed now. . . guess I'll have to do something illegal, after all.

One Fine Old Dixie Recipe

I found a cookbook my mother gave my grandmother for her birthday in 1941, Fine Old Dixie Recipes. The cover is wooden, with a picture of a Southern mammy bearing a platter of chicken. I was going to copy the recipe for Kentucky Burgoo but I found someone has beaten me to it. It saves me the work, but still, it's a deflating experience. Anyway, here it is.

May 15, 2005

Hula Heaven

I was thrilled to see that my dad still has my mother's indestructible 1940s-era Viewmaster and her box of reels. It's all ours now, along with another Viewmaster dated from the 1960s. The boys can each use one. As a child, I remember looking at reels depicting the Seven Wonders of the World, but we don't seem to have that one any more. We do have many reels of Europe, but my favorites are of Hawaii and Oklahoma. The pictures in the Hawaii reel (from the 1950s) are entitled "Dancing Hula Girls," "Girls Dancing Hula," "Hula Dancing," and so on, but one is "Eating Poi." The "Hula Dancing" picture has about ten shapely young women in grass skirts posing in a perfect semi-circle, with a brawny shirtless young man kneeling in a stylized football-star pose in the center. I told Jack to show it to Daddy and say "Welcome to Hawaii." He did, but not before changing the picture to "Eating Poi." Oh, well.

The Oklahoma reel has a picture of Oklahoma A & M College at Stillwater (now Oklahoma State), with some swell co-eds posing on the lawn in their long skirts and bobby socks. A number of other slides depict farm machinery, cows, and buffalo. When we lived in Oklahoma, we did see some desultory buffalo behind a metal fence. It was hotter than hell there. That's about all I remember, because I was three when we left. My grandmother and mother lived in Hawaii in the early to mid 1940s, so that's probably why there are three reels of Hawaii. (I haven't looked at the other two yet, I've got to savor them slowly.)

I had to explain to the boys that we don't know anyone in the pictures, and that people didn't take Viewmaster pictures themselves; they bought the reels of places they wanted to see or places they had already visited. Will likes to say "That's incredible" when anything surprises him in the picture, whether it's a large fish on "Wonders of the Deep" or the Brandenburg Gate.

May 13, 2005

Good News, Circa 1961

More capital letters for you, dear readers.

My brother Dan and I went to my Dad's house the other day to take memorabilia home with us. We found a darkly yellowed telegram announcing Dan's birth (1961, in Oklahoma) to my grandfather, who lived in Pennsylvania. (My grandmother was visiting us in Oklahoma.)


The paper is so fragile and ancient-looking. You had to pay per word to send a telegram, which is why they almost always read so terse and factual. Yet those few words held such great joy. In these days of cheap long distance phone calls, email, baby blogs, mommy blogs, and daddy blogs, it's shocking to remember that words of joy, or sorrow, could be sent only at great cost, and only to one address.

That's why I love that my grandfather lavishly returned a message,


May 8, 2005


This is what one sees when, working out on the elliptical trainer at the Y, assiduously reading the May 9 New Yorker, one looks up, on some unexplainable whim, at the television. One is assaulted by several waves: The ceaseless capital letters of closed captioning; the faux shock of this sentence, since the man in question appears to be a typical high school jock turned flabby couch potato; and the way one finds it difficult to stop reading the closed captioning when one knows one should. Just something addictive about reading Jerry Springer dialogue in bald capital letters . . . the desperation, the opportunism, the tawdriness of it all . . . back to that article about Alvin Ailey.

The in-law visit is proceeding well. I don't have much privacy, so blogging when they are around is out of the question. Much of the furniture I got from my Dad has been mended, window boxes are repaired and rebuilt, light fixtures have been hung. Grammy has given the boys many treats and a few new toys and I have been called mean. Grammy and Grandpa watched Jack's "Developmental Baseball I" practice yesterday. John took Jack's training wheels off his bike and he rode halfway around the track at the local school.

My dad came over for dinner last night. I like for him to spend time with John's parents. My dad was amazed at how easily the rickety furniture could be repaired. My family usually just lives with quirks and irritations instead of trying to fix them. I grilled some fresh yellowfin tuna and we had that on a cous-cous salad with mint, lemon, spring onions, Kalamata olives, and capers. The mint was from our garden. For dessert I made an angel food cake from scratch using powdered egg whites that you reconstitute with water. It wasn't nearly as high as the angel food cakes my grandmother made, but then she used mixes. It was delicious with strawberries. A wonderful low-fat dinner. Pat me on the back!

Yesterday afternoon we were going to go to a historic house a mile from us that we've never been to, but it was closed for a private function. There used to be a quarry by this house, which closed a half century ago. The fieldstone on our house came from that quarry, according to the all-knowing neighbor Hazel. I love the stone with its myriad shades of gray, gold, and rust.

The whole family is going to church (we go to church in Germantown) this morning, and afterwards we are going to a Mother's Day brunch (which I arranged, of course) at the Valley Green Inn, in the middle of Fairmount Park, the largest city park in the world, so eat your heart out, New York. I find some of the Inn's FAQs to be rather amusing.

May 2, 2005

In-Law Panic

The In-laws are Coming. Today. The refrigerator has been cleaned and mystery foods thrown out. The "guest" bathroom, which I use when we don't have guests: scrubbed up and down. Next: all the boxes and oddments that have accumulated in the guest bedroom in the absence of the last guests. Then the dining room. We have had a whole lot of stuff (booze, candles, paintings, things that don't belong there) stacked on the table since we got my mother's antiques. Need to put all that in the new chest and the corner cupboard. Finally the living room (we don't have a family room) will be reclaimed for adults and children to use.

I still marvel at the thinginess of life. Especially life as a parent and homeowner. Where did all this stuff come from? The toys. The clothes. The paperwork. The food. For so many years I had a tiny apartment, a meager publishing salary, or an even more meager graduate stipend, and I was fine. Now, the stuff is here, along with a lot of joy, commitment of the best kind, and I suppose this is what it means to be grown up in America.

It's hard to get really excited about cleaning and organizing and maintaining stuff. I've been some zen-oriented books about this sort of thing: Sweeping Changes by Gary Thorpe, which is charming to the point of being odd,with lots of zen. I'm also reading The Zen of Organizing by Regina Leeds, which is more practical, the zen being just a trendy topnote. What I'm getting out of it so far is that sorting through and maintaining your things is a spiritual exercise in understanding the unity of all things. You leave guilt and judgement behind. You respect every thing that you have and give every one a chance to perform its proper function.

Cleaning frantically for one's inlaws is not in the plans of either Thorpe or Leeds, of course. Mervin and Marilyn are coming this afternoon. Serenity goes out the window today. Not that my inlaws are judgmental or anything. They're "salt of the earth" folks coming to the big, bad East from Indiana. They come here to see us and aren't interested in city adventures. I cook for them, Marilyn watches the children and does miscellaneous jobs (John inherited his admirable laundry-folding skills from her), while Mervin builds shelves, does electrical work and carpentry of any sort, and fixes simple plumbing problems. He gets the floor muddy and Marilyn scolds him.

Will is up. Breakfast time.