Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Home Food Preservation Front.

Even though all the cool kids are bowling now, my adorable husband the historian and I have stayed at home, making grape juice from our very own grapes.

You'll be edified to know that, in the home food preservation arena, I have also been roasting tomatoes*. I took a pile of sweet cherries from our trees and preserved them with lemon juice and some sugar--they are pretty much the nectar of the gods on vanilla ice cream. While I've been messing up the kitchen, I've also made granola, a total of three plum galettes, cookies, a cake, and more cookies over the last few weeks. (Anyone coming to the Five-Year Plan meeting tomorrow gets cookies, by the way. You'll have to come to find out what kind.)

I have nothing profound to say about the home food preservation project. There were years when I had several dozen jars and I filled them all with tomatoes and peaches, pears, apples, and grape juice. Also a jam-making episode that was financially ill-advised, if delicious. There were years when I looked at all those jars and thought, man, I can buy canned [fruit, tomatoes, etc.] and save myself the damn trouble. And then, there was the year when we canned all the peaches off my aunt's tree and took digital pictures to prove we did it (not for my sake--the recipe my aunt submitted to her church's cookbook was for tacos, and featured instructions like "Put the dogs in the car and drive to Taco Bell"). This episode occurred a couple of years ago, and since then we've been doing it.

I must say, however, that the grapes in our backyard are amazing and make amazing juice. We are slob viticulturalists, in that we let the grapes grow wherever, whereas the extension service folks like to tell you to prune your grapes severely, like an old-fashioned schoolmarm. Not us. Our grapes grow in and through the apple and cherry trees and all over. One time when my mom was visiting, she brought in a tiny bunch of the most delicious green table grapes--the kind that, when they're ripe, you can crush them in your mouth, tongue on palate--and said, "Did you know you had these little green grapes?" No, we did not. Now we guard them zealously--it's a race against the wasps, who can leave a bunch of grapes decimated (in the etymological sense of the word), the fragile little hulls of the grapes left to mock you. And we love our red grape juice so much that we're reluctant to share it, even with the children.

We got a dozen jars of juice from this year's harvest, which also involved an unfortunate and rather severe pruning shear injury when my husband was trying to balance on a ladder and reach over the back fence to cut the last few bunches. I heard him swear with great vigor as he extricated himself from his extreme harvesting posture (I provided the first aid). That's just how far we're willing to go for the juice.

*Roasted Tomatoes: Oven at 375. Take as many tomatoes as you want to roast, blanch them and remove the skins, cut them into fourths. Place in a pan that's big enough to hold all the tomatoes, plus the other stuff you're about to add, but before you put them in the pan, put some olive oil at the bottom of the pan. It's for a good reason. Okay, now put the tomatoes in. Add as much garlic as you think appropriate to your tomatoes. Also fresh basil, and don't be stingy. Salt, pepper, more olive oil. Give everything a good stir so that the oil bestows its blessing upon everything. Roast for two hours or so, stirring occasionally (okay, once, sometime during the two hours). You want the watery juice to disappear, leaving you with slightly caramelized, dense tomatoes. Cool. Use as many as you want right away, and freeze the rest in ziploc freezer bags (sorry for product placement). These are so much better than bottled tomatoes or canned tomatoes or any other kind of tomato you might be tempted to eat in wintertime, you will not believe it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Not writing.

On Sunday it was my writing group, which meant that it was time to pull another poem together. I've often said that being in my writing group is the best way to make sure I write at least twelve poems a year, which is mostly true, though for a long time I've been riding on material I produced in the fall of 2001, when I was at the artists' colony (she says with a superior sniff. The Artists' Colony. In Vermont. When the Leaves were Turning.). Which can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. It's good, because I produced like 60 odd pages of stuff when I was there, most of it very rough and raw, and it's good, because I'm taking that material and working with it and making it into something, something very like a poem. But it's bad, maybe, because once again in my artistic life, I'm not exactly tearing it up with new material.

That characterization, of course, is not entirely fair, as I've written entirely new poems that I started from scratch in the meantime. Sestinas. Sonnets. Pantoums, even. So I should probably just be glad that I can get a poem together at all, and not search my soul, for crying out loud, about notions such as "artistic life" and "new material."

This new poem actually came out of stuff I wrote last summer, sketchy and bare notes. Notes like "burning our artifacts." Or "Feeling sick inside at missing my beautiful husband, my beautiful children—" Or a note like "last night my heart racing, sleeping and not sleeping in a dark enfolded by motel curtains (tenderly lain . . .)" (that last bit sounding pretty poetry-ish, I admit). Also a couple of lines from David Wojahn.

When I opened this set of notes on Sunday morning, I realized that sometime not too long ago I had amplified and embroidered them into a messy draft. How did I do this and not remember it? I find this happens all the time--sometime, apparently while I was sleep-walking or automatically writing or something, I open a file and do something new to the notes. When I open the document again, I see: Ah, so I turned that into a canzone. How/when did that happen? (Of course, I've never actually written a canzone, but I find I'm just as surprised by whatever I did write as if I had turned the notes into a canzone.)

I write all the time--it's like I never stop writing--but it's a little disturbing to find that poetry has crept into the least noticeable part of my conscious life. In part of the ongoing cleaning and sorting that is a new theme in my life (speaking of surprising developments), I found a file of old poems from a period when I wrote a poem a day, practically. I remember feeling then that the poems were being torn from me, like pages from a notebook. (Sorry--perhaps that metaphor's too torrential?) What would that be like now? I remember living in a constant state of heartbreak. Maybe, for the most part, I'd rather have poetry show up once a month on a Sunday morning, just hours before my writing group meets, to surprise me.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Men, Women, Clothing.

After reading sleepy-e's recent post "Dating for Dummies, Vol.2," I have been thinking about gender differences re: clothing. He says, "Women like clothes. I dare anyone to get huffy about this either. Bring it on, because you are lying and you will lose. Women like clothes. They like other things too, like puppies and unicorns and literary theory, but they especially like clothes." Here are my thoughts:

Part One. When I met my husband, his wardrobe philosophy consisted of the following:

1. Own two pairs of identical trousers (khakis).
2. Own ten shirts.
3. Own two pairs of the exact same--identical!--Rockport boots.
4. Wear the khakis for a week's worth of classes.
5. one shirt a day.
6. Take all the week's clothing to the dry cleaners
7. Repeat with alternate set of clothing.

If he got a new shirt, he used to say, that would mean he'd need to get rid of one of the old ones. It was simultaneously a philosophy and a closed-system science. I really admired it and still do.
Part Two. Needless to say, in every respect, I approach clothing myself in a fashion directly opposite of my husband's. I don't resent him for his philosophy/science/practice. I appreciate the diversity of human beings. I found, and find, his method of costuming himself to be utterly endearing. Meanwhile, today I made a second trip to T.J. Maxx for a skirt that I had made the terrible mistake of not buying two days ago. It fits into no system or science, though I do have some thoughts, and perhaps they are philosophical, about sweaters, jackets, and shirts I may wear with it. And shoes.

Part Three. Let me add that my son, the same one who's running these days, came up with the brilliant notion three years ago of buying five of the same pairs of shorts (red) and five of the exact same tee shirt (olive green). His philosophy was that, like most cartoon characters, such as Bart Simpson and Pepper Ann, he should wear the same clothes every day. A uniform, if you will. Anyone who can fail to appreciate the platonic beauty in this scheme needs to get a clue.

Part Four. Even cargo shorts, tee shirts, and basketball shoes are costume, no more fake or less fake than, say, dockers and a laundered shirt. Repeating the same clothing day in and day out is an elegant and admirable conception, regardless of the nature of the attire.

Part Five. Okay, I do like clothes.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Today was the Wasatch Rendezvous meet at Cottonwood Recreation Center. It's a great way to spend a Saturday morning--the junior varsity runners go first, then they have the varsity runners go, the seventh-place runners competing against all other seventh-place runners, the sixth-place runners against all other sixth-place runners, and so on, up to the first-place runners. Each school determines who runs in which place, and there were about twenty-four schools competing.

My son's coaches determined that he should run with the first-place runners. When the coach pulled him aside after training yesterday to tell him so, he told me, he replied, "Why?" The coaches wanted to give Josh, the kid who's been in first place for his school all season, except for the last meet, a chance to relax a little. He's been struggling, and last season, when it came to the Region qualifying meet, he choked, and the team didn't qualify. But the coaches also wanted to see how my son would do.

He got a little bumpy start--the official asked all the runners to step back from the line a bit, and my son looked to the side just as the starting pistol went off. He pretty quickly took up the seventeenth spot, and that's where he finished. The course was 2.9 miles, and he finished at 17:08.8, which gave him a 5:49 minute mile. Not bad at all, but not what he had hoped. When we spoke to him afterward, he was disatisfied with his performance. When he'd taken the hills--and it was a very hilly course--his legs had felt tired. "I feel like I could have run better," he said.

We noticed that, with so few kids running, maybe the first ten or so runners had a pack to run with, and there was a bit of position-shifting among that group. My son, however, occupied position seventeen with quite a bit of space between himself and the sixteenth runner, and quite a bit of space behind him as well. In that position, I guess, it's up to the runner to push himself to go faster, to cut into that distance. One thing I love about watching any of my kids play sports is seeing them take their experiences and figure out what to make of them. A less-than-stellar performance can be the occasion for figuring out how to take your game to the next level. I'll be interested to see what and how my son learns from this race. At some point, he'll tell me about it--I won't ask.

We watched Josh run with the second-place runners. His time was about eighteen seconds faster than my son's--so it's pretty clear that he's still the fastest runner on the team, though the top three kids on the team all finished within twenty-five seconds of one another. I've always enjoyed watching Josh run--he's tall and lean, has an easy stride; but he's lost some confidence this year--the expression on his face looks more uncertain. I wonder about the strategy of switching kids around in situations like this. I'm pretty sure the coaches weren't trying to play mind games with these lads, but that doesn't mean that the runners' minds weren't being played, nonetheless.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The small rain down can rain.

Yesterday, I watched my son come in third in a 3-miler. It was a beauty of a finish--he pulled ahead of the fastest runner from his school, thus finishing first for his school for the first time ever.

We hypothesize that he may have given himself an edge by shearing off his enormous head of hair. Think dandelion. Think Big Head O' Fluff. Think Black Power 'fro, except on a scrawny white kid. He informed his dad that he needed a cut by Wednesday, the day of the meet. Yesterday, when he tore past me at the start, I didn't recognize him. Think pencil, think Q-tip.

In the middle of the race, it started to drizzle, as the weatherman said it would, and then it started to pour. I personally had dressed for the forecasted weather by wearing flimsy and inappropriate clothing, covered with a raincoat. At the end of it, the runners were all drenched and so was all their gear, both what they were wearing and what they'd stashed under the bleachers for protection. It was so wet that one kid actually slid in horizontally across the finish line.

It was a pretty great day considering I had to change my clothes when I got home. He finished the race in 17:17, not a bad time at all. He's running like he's got religion. He's running like he believes.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Five Dollars.

Last night, my husband came out of his study after making an examination of our finances. "Let's not write any more checks until we get paid, all right?" he said. "Unless you can think of anything we might need to write a check for."

Let's see, I thought:

We get paid on Thursday. Today I spent $2.24 at Wendy's (diet Coke, french fries) and $0.42 at Wild Oats (filtered water refill). I have about $5.16 in my wallet, give or take a few cents. Here are some things I think I might need to write checks for, beforeThursday:
  1. limes
  2. the New York Times
  3. a brown corduroy skirt
  4. a beaded belt
  5. caramel colored trousers
  6. snacks
  7. miscellaneous other stuff

Obviously, I don't need to buy any of this stuff before Thursday, not even the limes. But I feel a slight sense of panic, so I go into stores to take a look at the stuff. Then, I don't buy it. I'm sure that there's a discourse of late capitalism that has inscribed me, but I don't really want to hear about it. This brief moment of panicky clarity has suggested to me that I may need a moratorium on stuff.

In a related development, I had the fleeting but recurring thought that I should probably curtail my late night sitcom watch, which is what I use to ease myself into sleep. It doesn't last for hours, but it starts pretty late. I'd like to be one of those yoga-doing, centered, non-material girls; instead, I'm a sitcom-watching, stuff-buying American. Here I am.

Luckily, we didn't have the check-writing moratorium before I bought a pound or two of purple plums this weekend at the farmer's market, which I turned into a delectable plum galette. What a lovely phrase--plum galette. It's fortunate that there is leftover plum galette to ease me through three more days (!) with only five dollars to my name.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Yesterday, I attended--as a spectator--the Murray Invitational Cross Country Meet. My youngest son, master of summer school and of last quarter intermediate algebra and therefore qualified to compete for the honor of his school, runs on the varsity cross country team.

Having been (a) a girl and (b) a snob when I was in high school, I have exactly zero athletic credits to my name (not counting the swimming, walking, and weight lifting I have done as an adult, and may do again if I can fight the demon sloth). So I have consistently found it amazing that all of my children have played/participated in all manner of sports, and have found one of my highest callings in life: to be a fan. For years, I was a soccer fan (matching up with the enormous number of hours and days and afternoons and evenings I spent watching my kids play it), and learned a great appreciation for the beautiful game. We've had flurries of basketball, more intensive of late. Track meets. And now, cross country.

A cross country meet might seem, at first blush, like a boring event, but your first blush would be sorely mistaken. Yesterday's meet, which had kids traveling from all over Utah to run, is a perfect example. They divided the runners, who probably totaled well over a thousand, into freshperson, junior varsity, and varsity divisions, with the women and the men running separately in each division. So six races, each a 5K. Translated, this means that you don't get to watch your kid run every part of his/her race; and you have to watch a ton of other kids run, mainly because with that many kids running, you can't exactly target your arrival to coincide just with the one race.

I sat with my son's dad, chatting away about teaching English, for the better part of two hours. At some point during that period, his wife also arrived. While one race was being run, the runners for the next race would be gathering at the starting line, stretching, jockeying for position. Meanwhile, you'd hear a roar come up from the crowd across the park, which meant that runners were approaching. You'd see them, several hundred yards away, and then they'd draw nearer. The noise where you were sitting would swell. As runners passed in front of you on the home stretch, you'd cheer for everyone running by. Once the big bunches of runners had finished, you'd cheer for the stragglers, especially for the stragglers.

By the time the varsity runners had lined up for the final two races, it felt like the excitement had intensified. The women finished their race, then the men's took place. Part of the reason the last races are more exciting is that the best runners have faster times, so there's less down time between the time they disappear from view and reappear for the finish. It was damned thrilling. It turns out, for me at least, that when you're trying to keep a look out for a particular kid, you can feel almost overwhelmed with sensation: the noise, the speed with which they approach and pass you, the feeling you have of not wanting to miss any of it.

My son ran his best time yet yesterday. He finished the race at 18 minutes, 0.9 seconds, which put his mile at 5:47. We all caught up to him as he was walking with his teammate Zach, a fine runner. For a long time, my son had run third for his team, behind Zach, but yesterday finished a few seconds ahead of him. He had the card the officials had given him, citing his time and placement overall (second for his school, 95th overall out of who knows how many runners). Zach wandered over to where the rest of the team was standing around. My son was clearly feeling great. After a couple of minutes, he decided to find the team, too, and figured he'd be able to catch a ride home with Zach. We all wandered off to our separate destinations in the beautiful but fading fall light. And if you think that's an overly aestheticized ending, too bad you weren't there, because that's exactly how it was.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Cleaning and Sneezing.

Readers of this blog who've been waiting breathlessly to find out if I ever cleaned my office, an announcement: The Office Is Clean. It's the kind of accomplishment that I feel inordinately proud of. No one needs to pat me on the back for this, as I have been congratulating myself for it all day long.

Moreover, my darling husband and I spent some of the evening (not all of it--we're not animals!) cleaning the basement in preparation for carpet cleaners who are coming tomorrow. I will spare you most of the details, but may I say just two things: (a) soda pop and (b) cat pee. Also (sorry, one more thing) (c) splinters of many woody items. I attribute responsibility for these egregious carpet horrors, respectively, to (a) teenage boys who should have been spilling their sody-pop in the club house aka shed, which was designated for such riotous living; (b) the cat; and (c) Bruiser. This may be his only character flaw, however.

We did find some good stuff, though. For instance, I found a pair of my underwear that I thought I had lost (static electricity, in a pile of clean towels, for heaven's sake, not whatever you were thinking); $15 (birthday money for my college daughter, so I'll send it to her as a little pick me up); and, along with the birthday money, a little bit of Christmas-era candy. Which I may have eaten, just a bit.

The sneezing comes of dog hair, probably, and certainly dust. When you're trying to pick up splintery items from the carpet, you're right down where the sneeze-instigators live. I'm sniffing in a most uncharming way. Lucky you you're not here to hear it.

But! all the sneezing will not be for nought (read the last two sentences for a bit of complimentary homonym action), as there will be clean carpet. It will be a companion to the sleek bamboo floor of the main floor. No longer will we have to descend into squalor.

Next: the sad, seventies den-style paneling in the basement comes down, baby. Who knows what terrors this project will reveal?

[As a footnote, I must add that I was very annoyed to have the POTUS make a speech tonight, as it postponed The O.C. for a half hour, and Without a Trace wasn't on at all. Does it make me shallow if these television shows are the pinnacle to which all in my week is directed? I feel all
. . . frustrated and incomplete.]

Monday, September 12, 2005

Peer Pressure.

Here's my Google poem, heavily edited, but hey, I've been to a workshop or two in my time:

Metonymic Bruiser Movie

for fans of West Coast beach party movies and 60's girl groups

Unreleased soundtrack for the movie:

A beautiful mixture
of wistful



bruiter of "Flies Inside The Sun" (Metonymic) ...
My name, Bruiser:
che, elettrificato rock bello

... browpiece browsick Brucella brucia
bruckle brugh bruise .--

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Things that are just a little harder than they look.

1. Working the Mac operating system (OS to you plebes).
2. Not making the window in which you're viewing footage completely disappear.
3. Pointing the camera at the subject you're trying to film, especially if said subject is fleet of foot and furry.

Dream Renewed.

The Bruiser Meditations is now a go-picture. Because of the great generosity of my son's friend David B., who sold me his old e-Mac because he wanted a newer, more powerful computer (newer, more powerful, younger, prettier . . . when does it stop?) at a bargain price, I now have the means to turn my dream into reality. Which is, precisely, a video essay about the paragon of doghood (dog-liness? dog-itude? doggiosity?), Bruiser.

When I say I have the means, what I really mean is I have Final Cut Pro and a DVD burner. As I have gathered from the abbreviated demo Dave gave me, I have plenty to learn. I expect to premiere this film (I'm aiming for a 3-minute piece) sometime in the next year. Or maybe the next eighteen months. Stay posted.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Rolling Stone Update.

1. In the most recent Rolling Stone, the one with the actual Rolling Stones on the cover ("it's their best recording in 20 years!" except I'm pretty sure they said that about their last recording), there's a little piece on Burning Man, which pretty much confirms what signifyingnothing had to say about it. Now I really will have to invent my own festival with francesca.

2. What's the best grave you've ever visited? There's a little piece, also in RS, about rock star graves. You know, Jim Morrison, the Strawberry Fields memorial for John Lennon, Johnny Ramone, Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes. Karl Marx's grave is in Highgate Cemetery, which, come to think of it, I personally didn't visit--my husband did. But I've seen a picture.

3. Here's a question they only ask you if you're a rock star: "In what bar have you written the most songs?" Or, at least, no one has ever asked me this question.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Cleaning my office, or not.

Today, I had a big fat span of time in which, with no meetings, an online class, and a commitment to be here in my office until 4 p.m., I could have finally brought myself to make order out of the whirlwind that is my office (see Hosea 8:7, "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind," which shows why the Bible remains relevant to my life, as it explains how my office got messier over the summer when I wasn't even here!).

But I haven't cleaned it, though there's still time--a little. That's because middlebrow taught me how to make new lists in the sidebar of my blog. Learning is more important than cleaning (words to live by). Also, I had to eat my lunch, which was ratatouille, but sans the polenta I packed last night, because I grabbed the wrong plastic container. And I had to have various conversations. And add pages to my website.

All of which leaves me with an office that contains a metric ton (I'm not sure what that really is) of
  • old student portfolios,
  • books I will never read or use again,
  • piles of paper to file,
  • old witty things I've posted on my door that have certainly outlived their amusement quotient,
  • binders with material from old conferences (sample: "Integrated Learning: The School-to-Work Connection," from 1996--held in Beaver Creek, CO, which was a damn beautiful site, though I'm pretty sure nothing came of this expensive conference to which my place of employment sent a gaggle of faculty and administrators),
  • assorted 'zines from my old creative writing classes . . .
I'm tempted all the time to hire one of those professional organizers who could come and shame me into more order. The thing is, the bamboo floor (floor warming party still to come!) has imposed order at home, but there is no equivalent here. Maybe that's what we need--a big renovation-style project in the office, one that will create an order-imperative. So far, even having students come into this chaos has not persuaded me that if I don't clean soon, I'll be permanently ashamed.

Monday, September 05, 2005


In honor of Labor Day, I'm listing today's work, which included:

1. Shopping for a teapot and a flash drive.
2. Folding a mountain of nearly, but not exactly, identical white athletic socks.
3. Packing my son up to go live with his dad.
4. Taking a grief nap.
5. Holding down the TV fan section for James Blake in the U.S. Open.
6. Finishing a lecture on voice for my fiction-writing class.
7. Reading and responding to a mountain of brief student exercises for the fiction-writing class.
8. Digesting a cheese enchilada.
9. Sorting through the archaeological dig that is our videotape collection.
10. Taking Bruiser to the dog park.
11. Preventing any simulated copulation action on Bruiser's part at the dog park.
12. Engaging in speculation about probability of future suburban blight at local retail/mixed-use development (location of cheese enchilada ingestion).
13. Contemplating the removal of a trace of enchilada sauce from a white tank top.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The idea of Burning Man.

Happy Birthday to me, as of a couple of days ago. I'm 48 now, and I'm at peace with that. No, really.

I ran into a former student who said he thought he would register for school this semester, but that he was going to Burning Man, and that would mean he'd miss the first week of school. I advised him (oh, Advisor Me!) to contact his professor ahead of time, and he'd probably be okay. And he probably will be.

I have a little fantasy about Burning Man, which I think would probably be a nightmare of grit and heat and not enough water for it to really be an enjoyable experience. But I retain a space for it every August in my cosmic year. I know a few people who've been there, and the little glimpses of it I've gathered I use to shore up my vision of it.

I have this theory that there's a holographic self that hovers and wavers on the border of the self we bring to all our responsibilities, relationships, and meetings. That self shimmers and never ages and dares to do all sorts of things. My sheer and dangerous self would be at Burning Man, or at the Burning Man of my mind, and would not be afraid of a little nudity. She would also live in Alaska, in the bush, without fear and without a specified end-date for the adventure. She would never worry about younger people and their beauty, because she is beautiful herself, just as she is. She knows that.

I like my life best when I feel the wild girl nearer.


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