Tuesday, November 29, 2005

When your life is on fire, don't add more matches.

Here is some more advice you didn't ask for, although none of it, unlike the above, is Dr. Phil approved:
  • Eat more soup* in the wintertime. It's good for you.
  • If your dog occasionally dismantles the upholstery of your grandmother's old chair with his teeth, don't sweat it, because hey!--you have a dog.
  • It's really okay if you spend a significant part of your evenings horizontal in front of the television.
  • When the Jazz have their all-wannabe lineup in, just chill. You might as well.
  • It's completely fine to take all the credit--in your mind--when your students do something really cool.
  • Try to figure out a way to get more all-out singing in your life, even if it's karaoke.

*If you roasted tomatoes and froze them like I told you to this summer, the following is as close as it gets to instant food, but oh so much more delicious: Take frozen roasted tomatoes, put them in a pan with an equal amount of broth (vegan or vegetarian bouillon cubes are completely fine). Bring the whole deal to a boil. Put it in your blender and add a little milk. When everything's cooled down enough to blend without a blender explosion, by all means blend. You can do it briefly so there'll be a little texture, or at greater length if smoother is the way you like your soup. Okay, so when you've done that, then put it all back in the pan, bring gently to a simmer, then add some crumbled gorgonzola cheese. Let this melt briefly. Eat the soup with toast and you will be a better person for it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Ladies and gentlemen, the semester is about to end.

Not that y'all were unaware of this fact. I'm deeply engaged in list-making: stuff I need to finish related to teaching, related to committee work, related to the upcoming holidays, related to the fact that my daughter, her husband, and their daughter (my grand-daughter!) will be flying in from Scotland in mere days, related to the fact that my college daughter will be home for the holidays, and my soccer-coach son, too.


My students are working away, finishing their final projects and portfolios. Though I've returned a vast amount of student writing to the authors, there's a strange quiet a-brewing, the eerie silence of a storm of late, and then final, drafts about to whoosh in, tsunami-like.

I was sick this weekend, which I took as a sign from God that I needed to take a bunch of naps, and also that I should watch a flurry of Law and Order episodes in all the various acronymic incarnations. Which I did. I'm still a little under the weather [hand anxiously pressing brow for lingering signs of fever], but things are definitely looking up.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Advertising is a science and holiday wishes.

Today, in the copy of Premiere that arrived like an early Christmas gift in my mailbox, I found an ad for the Mini Cooper car that consisted of two or maybe three stiff pages--the kind that make it hard to fold back the part of the magazine you've already read so you can read the magazine more easily. I tore the pages out, and discovered that the ad consisted of a regular page describing why the Mini Cooper is a car worthy of purchase, but also a template-cum-stencil, made out of flexible plastic, and another page called the "Practice Grid," the idea being that you should, I guess, draw/design your own car? One that looked like a Mini Cooper?

Does this make anyone want to buy a Mini Cooper? I just don't understand this--like higher math or physics or (let's be honest) the finer points of photosynthesis. Or the literary tenses in French.

Anyway, the Management of High Touch Megastore wishes all readers a Happy Thanksgiving. There has been no unseasonal decor nor Christmas music around here. We don't believe in doing anything Christmas until Thanksgiving is over. In fact, I really don't like to do anything Christmas until about December 19, which explains the big fat postage bills I usually end up shelling out every year. (Where was I?) Yeah--happy thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2005


As of last night, I have finished responding to dozens of student portfolios and dozens of pieces of fiction and fiction exercises, as well as student research project proposals, making me officially, at this moment, Caught Up. Such moments in the life of a teacher are celebratory. Such moments make one want to receive praise and possibly gifts. Even without praise or gifts, however, everything in life tastes sweeter.

For the feel-good dinner, I made homemade baked macaroni (penne, but I don't want to come off aspirational) and cheese and also baked custards for dessert. But the real cooking feat of the day was applesauce, made by the historian. The historian is a gleaner. He's the one who scours the vines for the last clumps of little green grapes; he picks the last, ripest cherries, fending off the birds; and he picked the apples despite the fact that many of them were wormy (on the bright side, this signals that we never spray--they're good for you!).

Anyway, he took the notion that we should make these apples into applesauce. He kept mentioning it over a period of weeks, but the time just never seemed right. For one thing, I thought it would take more time and effort than it did. Well, it's not all that hard: you cut up the apples (and cut out the bad parts), leaving skins and all intact, and put them in a pan. You cover them with water and simmer until they're tender, which takes no more than a half hour. Then you put the cooked apples through a food mill, one of which we happen to have, a really old one that we bought at an antiques/junk store in Cedar City. It worked beautifully. After you've milled the apples, which removes their skin and turns them into a pulpy sauce, you gently cook them a few minutes more, adding whatever it is you think you want to add. In our case, we added a little cloves and a little cardamom, which made a divinely spicy applesauce.

I helped find the food mill and thought of the spices. We would have added cinnamon, but we were fresh out--I ask you, what kind of household has no cinnamon but plenty of cardamom? This tells you everything you need to know about how I keep house. Anyway, the point is, this was the historian's project, and he made a mad success of it. Aside from the great pleasure of having homemade applesauce, we have a lesson: pay attention to those apples next year.

Finally, last Thursday, my son was named MVP of the Cross Country team at the annual end-of-the-season banquet. It was wildly disorganized but it was fun and it had a good outcome. Actually, perhaps that last is a better descriptor of housekeeping here in West Jordan.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

New Template and Poetry Reading.

At tea last week, my dear friend Ann noted that reading light-colored letters on a dark background was hard on her eyes. I'm chagrined that I didn't think of this myself--there are certain publications that I don't even pick up anymore because their fancy layout/typography was clearly designed by young mind-altering-substance users who believe their eyesight will never deteriorate.

Voila, the eye-friendlier new Megastore.

Last night, I read poetry at the City Art reading series. Always a funny experience, the poetry reading. For me, it goes like this: I get asked to read. I'm happy and flattered. A few weeks before the reading, I start to assemble a list. I remember that Hector Ahumada, the Chilean poet, once said you should always read only new work. Regardless of whether this is good advice, I allow myself only to select new work. My list of new work then sets the revision agenda.

If things are good, I start revising in a deliberate way well ahead of the reading. Things are really never good. I start revising the day before the reading. Or the day of the reading. Yesterday, I spent the day revising.

It was a good day. I was home with Bruiser, who, stunningly, had nearly nothing to contribute to the revision process. No advice about line breaks, structure, diction, whether a version of a poem was self-pitying or condescending. Nothing. Nonetheless, I forged on. By the time the reading rolled around, I had a dozen poems in pretty good shape.

About the time I'm done revising, aka a couple of hours before the reading, all my writing turns to shit. It's the same writing of course, it just takes on the unmistakeable appearance--the odor, even--of shit. I gather this sheaf of sad, bad poetry together, put on my best poet clothing, and head on down to the City Library. Too bad such a beautiful building is going to host such a terrible reading of terrible, terrible poems.

The nice guy--excellent poet Joel Long--who coordinates the reading series introduces me and says very kind, glowing things about me. If only he knew what awful poems I was about to read! Then, I get up, say a self-deprecating thing or two, then commence.

In the reading, the poems don't sound half bad. "Not half bad," say to myself as I'm reading, which distracts me a little. Occasionally I stumble over a word while encouraging myself mentally. Before you know it, I've read for 25 minutes or so, my little pile of not-so-bad poems depleted. I say thanks and mean it, and then I sit down.

The next reader gets up, my friend Kim Johnson. She's a wizard of wordplay. Her poems are dense and playful, lively, sharp. I'm able to give myself over to enjoying them because I'm done and I did okay. At least okay. After it's all done, there's milling about, friends and strangers who say kind words, and it's over.

So that's how it went down at the poetry reading.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Planning is for suckers (Part 2).

On the one hand, I have planned to purchase a counter-top ice cream maker for years now. Literally years. We have an old fashioned ice cream maker, the kind that you hand crank (as in, to crank). We have made cracking good ice cream with that thing, and in cold weather, too. We're no sissies. Yet I longed for the ability to make ice cream on a whim and without worrying my prince of a husband, since the cranking, past the first few minutes, is beyond me. Not that I'm some delicate flower, but really, our ideal ice cream making time is when we have a bunch of strapping sons and sons-in-law around to take a whack at the cranking.

I'm not sure why it took me, the queen of commerce, years to decide to buy this relatively modestly priced luxury. But on Saturday, the day before a dinner party, I ventured forth to Bed, Bath, Barroom, Barrel, Buggery and Beyond, and found it. It shone like a city on a hill, the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, a multifunction ice cream maker which makes frozen yogurt, ice cream, sherbet, sorbet or frozen drinks in just 20-30 minutes! and it has a 1.5-quart double-insulated freezer bowl, an automatic mixing arm, an easy-lock transparent lid, and an instruction and recipe book!

Too bad I brought the shiny new kitchen artifact home and did not open the box nor read the instructions. If I had, I would have found out that you have to freeze the double-insulated freezer bowl before you can make ice crea, which can take from 6 to 22 hours. 22 hours! My God. What about people who don't plan ahead? Didn't they think of that?

Well, I froze my freezer bowl for 6 hours starting on the morning of my Sunday family dinner, but said bowl wasn't sufficiently frozen to actually make sorbet out of the delicious concoction I had prepared (blueberries, orange zest, orange juice, simple syrup). What we had, then, was really more along the line of a super blueberry slushy. It kind of rocked, actually, because we ate it with the best brownies* on the planet Earth. We inhaled the brownies, everyone's lips were blue, we were satisfied.

*Melt 1 stick butter with 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate over low heat. Remove from heat. Add 1 c. sugar, 2 eggs, and a snort of vanilla. Beat it. (just beat it.) Add 1/4 c. flour and 1/4 tsp. salt. Pour this confection into a buttered and floured 8 inch pan and bake at 325 degrees for 30 or so minutes. Katharine Hepburn is said to have originated this recipe. Whatever.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Indicators: The Weekend.

Basketball games watched: 0
Movies attended: 2 (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; New York Doll)
Number of chilies in my papaya salad at Thai Delight: 1
People eating dinner at my house on Sunday: 11
Number of dogs attending the dinner: 2
Items of clothing purchased: 0
Kitchen implements purchased: 1 (ice cream maker)
Hours lingered over the Sunday New York Times: 2.5
Pots of chocolate tea consumed at the Beehive Tearoom: 1
Episodes of Family Guy watched (with my son): 1
Rows knitted: 5
Student portfolios read (so far): 5

One of the best things that happened to me this weekend was an extremely realistic dream in which Bruiser could talk. What he said: "My name is Bruiser." I woke up laughing, which is a very good feeling. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Inside the brain of a teenage boy.

So it was quick, the arc of try-out-and-get-cut for the high school basketball team. I surmise that some or all of the following factors played a role: my son is tall and skinny, but probably not quite tall enough and probably too skinny; the junior varsity and varsity teams are actually all one team, which meant that there were very few spots; the coach cut quite a few kids right off the bat, given what he knew about the kids he already had; the team went to the state championship last year.

All of this I surmise, because when you're sixteen and you're talking to your mom, you control the discourse. Here's how it goes: your sixteen-year-old son calls you at 11:45 a.m. on a day when you're working at home. He's stayed home sick. He wants to know if you want to go to lunch. Sure! You're so ready, at any moment of any day, to go to lunch or anything else with your sixteen-year-old son. You shut down your computer, because you were really just idling anyway, hop in the car, speed over to pick up your son.

He gets in the car and tells you that he's stayed home because he woke up at 4 in the morning, vomiting. Alert! You say, "Are you sure you want to eat?" Then you think, he has basketball tryouts! and he's been sick! So you say, "Are you going to tryouts this afternoon?"

And he says, "I got cut."

It's a reflex when you say, "Are you okay?"

And it's a reflex when he says, "I'm fine."

This is meant to close the conversation about basketball tryouts, with the finality of its fine, but you are a mom, and that means that even though you keep your mouth shut for maybe a whole minute and a half, you have to ask again: "Are you sure you're okay?"

And because he's a sixteen-year-old boy, he must reply, "I'm fine," with even more finality in the fine this time. So this time, you really do keep your mouth shut. Inside your head, though, you're having a whole one-sided conversation full of questions that would make him want to murder you, or at least prefer making a peanut butter sandwich to having lunch with you. How many kids did they cut? How big are the kids they kept? How many of them are seniors? Do you think this means you have no chance next year? Do you want to play rec ball? What about your friends--do you think there are enough of them to make a team? Are you sure you're okay? Are you really sure?

We make it over to Wendy's without further discursive blunders. The beautiful, mysterious brain of my sixteen-year-old son keeps its counsel, enigma control fully engaged. He orders his usual, biggie sized, and we go home to eat it and watch an old episode of the Simpsons, after which he vomits again--not ready to talk, or eat again, either.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


See, there's good, and then there's better. For instance, having sufficient satellite stations to be able to watch all (or nearly all) of the Utah Jazz games on TV is good. (Watching games at the arena--good; watching them at home on TV--better: cheaper snacks, more comfortable seats, no annoying people sloshing their beer at you. Watching the game in lower bowl seats--good [it's happened twice]; watching the game in upper bowl seats--better: no snobby elitists talking on their cell phones making business deals.)

But having sufficient satellite stations to be able to watch all, or nearly all, of the Utah Jazz games on TV is even better when your basketball playing son happens to drop by to watch the game with you. Immeasurably better. For instance, even though he tells me not to get all panicky when the Jazz miss their first shot in overtime, which ordinarily might be annoying (does it mean something that "don't freak out, Mom" is a sentence that all of my children use on me at one time or another? Jeez!), last night it was kind of funny, because we were having the "watching the Jazz" ritual, in which I get cautioned about freaking out, but with a smile. Also, at half time, we got to hear the litany of opinions--on Jerry Sloan and his slavish devotion to his rotations; on why Ostertag is infinitely preferable to Jarron Collins--that mark each year's Jazz discourse.

Finally, victory is rendered even sweeter when you get to hear the NBA.com post-game statistical breakdown voiced by the teenage basketball-playing son.

Oh, yeah--I was supposed to help him with an English assignment--something about Benjamin Franklin and a virtue and what he, my son, did over a few days to improve himself in that regard. I forget whether B. Franklin liked b-ball or not.

Fan Watch: my son will be trying out for the HS basketball team this week. Last year he made it all the way to final cut, and it was heartbreaking. For him, too. I'll keep you posted.

Note to any readers of this blog who don't like sports: I apologize. I wish I could figure out a way to write poetry about basketball. I'll work on it.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Perfect day, abolished.

Here's how Saturday went: Bruiser knocked politely at our door so that he could come partake of the morning waking up activities. We got up, ate our breakfast (whole wheat bagels, toasted; tea). We went out, my husband for a bike ride, me for a trip to a couple of consignment stores in search of a yellow sweater, which may be becoming a quest rather than an errand. We went to Big City Soup for lunch. We saw Good Night, and Good Luck. We went to Ken Sanders' Rare Books and perused. We bought several excellent books (Galway Kinnell's translation of Francois Villon for me; a book on Coxey's Army for the historian). Then, we went back to the theater and saw Shopgirl. We rushed home, we took Bruiser to the dog park, leaving only when it was too dark to see and he was the last dog there. We came home and had soup and cheese toast for dinner. We watched the Jazz lose to the Suns--disappointment, but it was the Suns, after all. Then we watched two episodes of Six Feet Under before going to bed. It was a perfect day.

Today, however, The Weight descended. There's grading to do. Important manifestoes and assessment projects and textbook proposals to write. A package I should have mailed yesterday. In short, all the responsibilities that I shirked yesterday are crushingly present today. Yesterday felt light--even the sky, in between the movies, was streaked with gorgeous autumn sunshine. Today, the sky is heavy.

The cure to all of this is to dig in and grade, write, etc. Instead, I want to: take photographs of the leaves, paint, buy big sheets of rice paper and ink black shapes on them with a fat brush. Buy yards of white silk and paint colorful circles on it. Do yoga every day. Take long walks. Listen to each and every one of the new CDs I have recently purchased. Play through another couple of Haydn sonatas.

What I actually did: bought stuff at Target; made garlic french fries; took Bruiser to the dog park; counted how long until I can take another sabbatical (two years plus ten months). What I'm going to do now: watch the remaining two episodes of Six Feet Under.

Note: if I'm whining, so be it, as this is a blog, in case you didn't notice, and that means a license for narcissism.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It Lives! and It's a Pure Adrenaline Rush!

A., I have my computer back. You'll be glad to know that my data is "backed up," to coin a phrase.

B., After a soul-sucking afternoon spent in strategic planning meetings, I participated in these redemptive activities:
  • Took Bruiser to the dog park. In the post-daylight savings time, he ran around like there was no tomorrow for running, in the gloaming.
  • Made arugula pesto for dinner, plus really good bread, plus a really good salad.
  • Watched the Jazz play. In a conversation with Middlebrow today, I took his view under advisement, that view being that, despite the hopeful preseason rhetoric, the Jazz would be a sub-fifty percent team and this season would be bad. Well, we shall see. Say what you will, Deron Williams looked beautiful tonight, Mehmet Okur looked like a genius, we got a few desperate prayer shots that went in! Plus, Ostertag didn't look like a total lummox, or at least, he was a lummox that could block shots. Plus, even the players that are prone to disappoint had good moments amidst the usual chaos. All I know is, plenty of people were pretty happy around my house. And, it turns out that Bruiser is a basketball fan, as well. A Jazz fan.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Computer death watch.

9:00 a.m. OIT calls me (OIT=Office of Infernal Torture) to say that Dell has my particular hard drive on "back order." Expected delivery date: 3-5 days.

[the sufferings of the damned]

2:30 p.m. OIT calls me (OIT=Office of Ineffable Titillation) to say that they've decided to pull a hard drive from another computer and have given said hard drive to my computer and have re-imaged. I can pick it up tomorrow at eleven-ish.

[Don't tease me.]

I'll keep you all posted.

Maybe this is really why they invented literary theory.

Click here for a discussion of the Star Wars sextet as a giant postmodern art film.


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