Thursday, July 27, 2006

Summer update.

All-you-can-eat. Running son won a pair of gift certificates for Sweet Tomatoes restaurant at his 4th of July race. After meditation, he decided that he'd take his friend, a member of the Teen Boy Squad, and they'd stay all day, taking the "all you can eat" premise to its fullest possible extent. They borrowed my older son's laptop for DVD viewing, took a GameBoy, and spent the day. Findings: the actual menu at Sweet Tomatoes, broken into categories, is approximately seven items: salad, soup, bread, ice cream, pasta, and a couple of other things. You can actually stay at Sweet Tomatoes all day and no one will call you on it. "We've been here since noon," they told a member of the waitstaff, late in the day. "Is that right," she replied. You can take a nap at Sweet Tomatoes. You can watch movies (Tommy Boy and Dumb and Dumber) and no one will bother you.

[I think it's clear that I wish I were a teenage boy, at least sometimes.]

I love trivia.
Last night the historian and I were with my family, celebrating my sister's birthday up at a condo timeshare in Park City. The evening concluded with some rousing game -playing, led out by my son-in-law. We played 90s Trivial Pursuit, which was pretty darn fun, girls v. boys. The girls held their own, but the boys surged ahead when the girls fumbled a question about NBA players who had done WWF wrestling (oh! the shame, when I did not remember that Karl "the Mailman" Malone wrestled under the moniker "The Mauler"! and my homegirls talked me out of venturing it as a guess!), whereas the son-in-law knew that Master P had tried out for the Toronto Raptors. Oy! Still, it's fun just to play the game, and I would like to call on all SLC bloggers to have a Trivial Pursuit tournament sometime before the summer is over.

Poor Betty. Betty, despite being nine years old by the vet's estimate, and despite the vets having located what they said was a spay scar on her abdoment, is in heat. What? Are you f***ing kidding me? we said. Anyone who's ever had an unspayed female dog (disclosure: not me) knows, then, the messy ramifications of this event. Oh, the indignity, though it should be said that it has not affected her overall sweet temperament. And she has to be spayed, at her advanced age, once this is all over. Jeez. Sometimes it's hard to be a woman.

Job change. College daughter has resigned from her position as Membership Champion at Sam's Club and is now a Sandwich Artist again. Even though this means she will come home smelling of meat and vinegar for the remainder of the summer, I feel we should raise a glass to honest labor. Hear, hear!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Implements and apparati.

As a result of my new swimming mania, I have reacquainted myself with goggles, which have the virtue of allowing you to swim with your eyes open, which has the practical effect of allowing you to swim in a straight line and not bump into people who are swimming in the lanes to the right and the left of you. This assumes that you put your face in the water, which allows you to swim faster, generally speaking (though I'm currently coming to terms with what "faster" means at this point in my life, as opposed to fifteen years or so ago).

As I was reminded this morning, getting the suction just right is a bit tricky. Too much suction and when you get out of the pool, your eyes look like someone has applied a cruel form of torture to them. Too little, and you have water leaking in to each lens, which is somehow a little worse than just swimming without goggles--it's like each eye has its own little pool of water, with independent sloshing action. It can interfere with the whole project, which is after all, to move through the water--i.e., to swim. I will say nothing of the swimming cap project, which in general is a pain in the ass, but which I'm still trying to work with because I'm still holding on to the vain hope that swimming in chlorinated water won't wreck my hair.

In a related development, when I was picking up a printer on sale at Target for college daughter, who will be returning to Logan before very long, I bought a pair of headphones on a whim. I don't have an iPod, but I do have loads of tunes on iTunes that I have heretofore been listening to through the crappy "speakers" on my laptop or through an almost equally crappy pair of plug-in speakers (also bought at Target, but I was definitely in a cheaper mood when I bought them). These were $20, but as a result of this rather modest purchase, today I am having a throwback experience to my youth. I remember listening to tapes I had made on my dad's old reel-to-reel tape recorder--Cat Stevens and Emerson Lake and Palmer, if you must know--laying on my back in front of the gigantic stereo cabinet, looking at the backs of the LP covers, my head ensconced in huge headphones. It was pretty much a religious experience
--engulfing, making one feel set apart in a self-contained aural environment. Today I'm listening to the oeuvre of Ben Folds, which sounds pretty damn great on headphones.

I have to get yet another headset for a technology project--putting sound files with PowerPoint presentations for my online class(es)--and I really didn't need these headphones which are purely for pleasure, but they seem like a genius purchase at the moment.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Happy Pioneer Day, wherever you are.

First of all, this is a holiday not celebrated the world around, not even by Mormons. For instance, my daughter, born and raised in Utah, now living in Scotland, informs me that the Scottish--yet Mormon--children had never heard of such a thing as a pioneer. For my daughter, who's in charge of the organization that educates the children in her congregation, this necessitated activities such as a simulated wagon train and the picking up of simulated buffalo chips. She tells me that this was one of her most successful activities yet with the Mormon--yet Scottish--children. Of course--it included talking about poop, if simulated.

Here in Mormon Central, I marked the day by going to church yesterday and hearing a woman talk about the Martin Handcart Co. (of which some of my predecessors were a part). I also took these pictures of the sky after visiting my aged grandmother.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


I have been small-batch jam-making now for a couple of weeks. Basically, this means buying some of whatever fruit's in season and preserving it in the form of freezer jam or freezer preserves. So far, I have made strawberry jam, raspberry jam, cherry preserves, and blueberry preserves.

Last week, we were lucky enough to get a paper sack full of apricots. We ate some of them, and as they ripened in their sack, we put them in the refrigerator so they'd keep a little longer. I thought about making a tart--my cosmic calling to tart-making being something I have only recently responded to--but I am making dinner for a bunch of family this afternoon, and have tried to keep the baking to a minimum (so far: flourless chocolate cake and a bunch of different quick-roasted vegetables. There will be grilling, but that will be outside.). So, instead I made apricot jam, and now I have about a pint of apricot jam. It is damn good. All told, it took me maybe a half an hour, which seems worth it to me.

You take half a paper sack full of organic apricots, pit them and slice them into a pan (which I did in my hand with a paring knife, since there weren't all that many apricots). Then you use your Microplane grater (<< indispensable kitchen tool!) to zest two lemons and an orange, preferable organic. After that, you juice the lemons and the orange over the fruit and zest, then add as much sugar (preferably raw, preferably organic) as you think you need (I used maybe three quarters of a cup).

Then you cook it until it's jammy. Pour into small containers--I used those little ziploc containers that hold between a half a cup and a cup. You can refrigerate this if you think you'll use it soon-ish, or you can freeze it and use it later. Before you do either, though, take a spoonful, let it cool a little, and eat it, because it is tasty.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Awesome b-ball movie.

Last night we saw Heart of the Game, a documentary about a girls' high school basketball team in Seattle. We came in a little late, but the gist of it is this guy, who teaches tax law at some institution of higher education, coaches the Roosevelt High School Rough Riders, always to the playoffs and to the brink of championship. Their emerging rivals, the [X-named High School] Bulldogs, after years of ignominy, retain the services of awesome basketball player and alumna Joyce Walker, and become powerhouses in their own right.

Apparently, the filmmaker (Ward Serrill) worked on this film over several years, and it shows, because he's got more than one story to tell--will the Lady Rough Riders win a state championship? Will Darnellia Russell be the first person in her family to go to college--on a scholarship? etcetera. But it doesn't matter what narrative brilliance this film may or may not have. It is stirring and stimulating and interesting. Excellent basketball action, too, in my opinion. I encourage one and all to see this little movie right away.

Just for the record, the best films we've seen this summer have all been documentaries--Wordplay, An Inconvenient Truth, and now this. The best fictional film I've seen was A Scanner Darkly. Not too talky, intelligent, absorbing. I haven't seen any of the blockbusters--not Superman, not X-Men, no other -men--and that's just fine by me.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Aesthetic education.

I. There's nothing wrong with plot ("Comment," Middlebrow). Listen, you don't have to tell me. I love plot. One of my favorite writers, Elmore Leonard, is a genius plotter, I feel. I get tickled purt near to death by certain felicitous plot moves. I was watching The Philadelphia Story on Saturday night on tv, and thinking to myself, after K. Hepburn and C. Grant have a nice rapprochement, how sad to have Cary Grant in this movie and not have him get the girl. Because the plot seems to be hurtling toward K. Hepburn and J. Stewart (who is, of course, equally adorable to C. Grant). But no! Without any creaking of gears, the movie pulls a deft U-turn, and Kand C end up together after all. When Pulp Fiction pulls its "and now we're going back in time" move, I practically stood up on my chair in the theater (this would be only the first time I saw it) and shouted, "Wait a minute!" But in a good way.

I love plot. I don't like it when the plot of anything either (a) is ham-handed, which is to say, not deft, or (b) says to the reader/viewer, "Ha! You're so stupid that you missed this fantastic twist." I guess the (b) experience happens mainly in movies for me, like The Jagged Edge or that one Kevin Costner movie where he turns out to be a Russian spy after all. Movies like that make me want to jump up and kill someone, preferably the movie-maker.

2. Bad movie, good movie. Running/cinephile son watched Clerks the other night, a movie that, mom-like, I happen to find vulgar and over-rated. Of course, mom-like, I also haven't seen the whole thing, so probably should make allowances for that in my judgement. I also, more to the point, find this movie to be so static and boring, visually, that I can't believe they let Kevin Smith make another movie, whoever they is. Which would have been a shame, because I do like Dogma (under-rated). I shared all of these opinions, delivered with passionate gestures, to try to persuade my son to watch something else (Philadelphia Story? what about it, Teen Boy Squad?). No dice. So I said, "Fine, but promise me you'll look for how crappy the staging is, how they just point the camera at two people talking, blah blah blah, scene; then point the camera at two people talking again, blah blah blah some more."

Day two, I asked him what he thought of it. "Pretty funny," he said. Which I'm sure is true. I just didn't get past what seemed disgustingingly vulgar to the funny parts, probably. Well, what about the staging--every bit as crappy as I said? I asked. "Yeah, but wasn't this his first movie?" he noted, ever compassionate, ever reasonable. I pointed out to him that plenty of people never get to make even one movie. What about Quentin Tarantino? I asked him. There's someone who has a visual imagination, and his first movie has all the great talk of Kevin Smith, plus better imagined scenes, cuts, camera angles, etc. All conceded. You can imagine how enthusiastic Cinephile Son was as he edged toward the stairs to escape this tutorial. "But it was pretty funny," he said, having the last word.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bad books and the people who read them.

Last week, I checked out a short stack of novels from the library, each of which was satisfying in its own way. One of them, a detective novel that aims to be the first in a series, was so pleasant that everytime I opened it to read, I fell into a soothing slumber after about 3 pages. That means either that I'm in need of many naps or the book was a little too tepid. But never mind that. What I really am concerned about is another book I checked out, one I heard endorsed on NPR, a legal thriller, which shall remain nameless. I even bought this book for college daughter for Christmas! That's because she generally likes this sort of thing.

I was bemused, then, to find out how not good the writing in this novel was. Okay, it was bad. A computer program could have written this book, almost, so hackneyed was its structure, characters, plotting. This is not to mention the actual words!

Yet I kept reading. There was a certain amount of pleasure in proceeding through the hackneyed plot to see just how far the hack would go, as it were. (Pretty far, as it turns out.) The lawyer, whose name begins with the initial "A." (as in "F.R. Leavis"), and who always says the "A." stands for nothing? Oh no, the "A." stands for "Atticus," as in--you guessed it--Atticus Finch. It's set in Dallas, and that was probably the best part of the book--getting a picture of what this guy, who is an attorney (and novelist!) in Dallas, observes about his crass, Big D town.

Maybe novels like this serve the same purpose that, say, episodes of Frasier in syndication serve. I've seen almost all of them, and thus am deeply familiar with all the moves--but the moves still give me pleasure, and there's even a special kind of pleasure that you derive from knowing something's coming--the pleasure of the completely predictable.

Some people who know me well (Mom? Hi!) have implied that my standards are low. Well, this may be true, and in fact, as of this moment, I'll take the opportunity to stand by my low--or shall we say broad--standards. I will not recommend this book to you, and I feel a tad sheepish that, on Alan Cheuse's recommendation, I gave it to my daughter sight unread. (I've never read Grisham, but I bet his better novels read like Tolstoy compared to this one.) I find I have derived something from even the consumption of this book-product: some sense of how book-products with practically no redeeming aesthetic value can reach the hands of readers like me, and probably even some discriminating readers: fall into the category of "popcorn reading" and get your product placement on NPR.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Summer news.

College daughter decides to get a tattoo.

Some of Teen Boy Squad get jobs and wear snappy work outfits to go to the jobs.

We decide to let our front lawn turn into a meadow. You can't really tell from the picture, but there are tall-ish grasses and creeping thyme and perennial geranium and a little bit of another herb I can't remember the name of at the moment--sweet woodruff!--all growing in through the lawn. I figure one more season oughta do it. In the meantime, we haven't mowed in I don't know when and the bees are having a heyday in the thyme, which is covered with tiny purple flowers.

Bruiser takes a moment of repose to catch up on the Sunday New York Times.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Today, I fulfilled one of the items in my summer master plan: I swam laps outdoors at the West Jordan pool. And here's how good it was: I want to do it more, even though it was clear from the first length I swam how shockingly out of shape I am.

Swimming is awesome as exercise because:
  • it's in water
  • it's a whole body exercise
  • it loves your joints
  • even though you're usually swimming next to other people, you don't have to talk to them because your face is in the water
  • it makes you feel buoyant
I used to swim a mile a day. I think it would be great to do that again. Here's my next plan: to buy a ten-pass to the Olympic Ice Oval and go skating!

Friday, July 07, 2006

It's all happening at the zoo.

There may be too many animals at the megastore, especially if you include teenagers.

That's partly because it's summer, and there are comings and goings at all hours. Running son works about 30 hours a week at a local movie theater (job: sweeper and ticket taker), one of the perks of which is that he can see blockbuster movies before they open, but only at midnight. This means that he sometimes will come and go a half dozen times (I might be exaggerating, but only a little) in an evening, with the last arrival being at 2:30 a.m., if you've just seen the overlong Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Blather (not that I've seen it--I'm just guessing). Add to this scenario college daughter, who sometimes has to stay up till God knows when talking to friends, and excitable dogs, who want to be in with the in crowd, so have to get worked up when someone pulls up to the house.

I am not early to bed, early to rise, but I think quiet past, say, 12:30 a.m. isn't too much to ask of a household. I have not been fully persuasive on this point, however, to either the teenagers or the dogs. I occasionally have to work up a big fit of MadMom (TM) to get my point across, but the point never seems to hold past a few days.

Add to the above the fact that Betty is an old dog. She is on the whole very well-behaved--mild-tempered, sweet, a bit prone to huffing and puffing in a rather warm way a bit too close to your face, and definitely a big shedder, but she's a doll. At the dog park, she's a big hit. "There's Betty," all sorts of people say, and stop to pet her, which she loves in any amount from any human. However: she can forget, apparently, how to hoist her middle-aged self up the stairs to pee outside. When this happens, none of us is quite sure. I formed a hypothesis that it may most likely happen during the night. Bruiser will come up and basically knock on the door and say, in a polite voice, "I need to be let out so that I can urinate on the lawn," and then remind you, if you're disinclined to wake and hear him, with a small, civilized whine or nose-nudge. Betty, on the other hand, will sometimes come upstairs, but you have to be a light sleeper and hear the clicking of her toenails in order to wake up and let her out. And she won't persist, which may then (I hypothesize) lead to the peeing issue.

Anyway, the upshot of my hypothesis was that we (a) let Betty sleep upstairs in our room, on the floor, and (b) left the door open. This meant that all night, I kept waking up at the smallest Betty-sounds, which meant in turn that I had a lousy night's sleep.

Add to that the fact that the cat, Tiger, has recently reasserted her primordial identity as a mighty, mighty hunter. We have found small spots of blood out on the porch where she sometimes sleeps; a day or two ago, I found feathers. Last night, however, at 2 a.m.-ish, she woke me (not that it took much, since I was already jittery from the Betty situation) with a low-pitched meow that sounded like a person talking in a whiny voice. I got up to find her meowing around a small mouse she had in her mouth. Tricky! Talking with a mouse in your mouth!

I awoke the historian, who made the cat let the mouse go--oh yes, still alive--and then shut her back on the porch. It took a few minutes after that to fall asleep again, what with wondering where the mouse came from--the field? under the sink?--as well as contemplating all the other critters that cohabit with us, such as spiders, which may run across my face all night long, who knows?

That is all.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


After a certain amount of reflection, I have a short list of items I would like to overthrow:
  • the song "I'm Proud to Be an American."
  • parades, with the possible exception of small, small-town parades. But only a possible exception.
  • Big fireworks extravaganzas that cost money to go see, or where you have to drive and park.
  • Pretty much the whole 4th of July.
Our day started with a 5k at Murray Park, where runner son came in 14th overall, and 3rd in his age group (a guy passed him just at the finish--burn!). However, the race organizers held all of us hostage by holding a drawing for a huge pile of stuff before they awarded the medals. Oy! The fact that there were some electronics in the huge pile was the holding hostage part--also, if you placed, you might want your medal.

In a parallel event, college daughter went to help her dad, who is running for the State Legislature. They had a booth at the West Jordan 4th of July festivities, and also a float. The kids' friends also came to help, which I think is pretty great of them. "Helping" included sweating in the booth and hurling candy at the crowd from the float. College daughter told me that the booth looked like something had swallowed her dad's name and vomited it back up in red, white and blue. Sounds persuasive!

After we were released, finally, from the race/drawing/awards/tail end of the Murray City Parade, which included some float bellowing "I'm Proud to Be An American," we drove home, runner son got a shower, then off to work he went. I fell into a sleep-deprivation nap that lasted three hours. After that, I went off to participate in that all-American activity, the 4th of July summer clearance sale. Then we went to dinner and college daughter and I went to a movie.

There was a time when I would have baked a cherry pie or something. There might have been a barbeque, and we might have sat out on the lawn watching the neighbors lighting up their fireworks in the street. All good, certainly. Maybe next year. This year, I'm feeling just a tad less celebratory. But there was this to celebrate, after the race:

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Power ballad.

I was driving my college daughter to work (she is a Membership Champion at Sam's Club--there are so many things to say about that little phrase, "Membership Champion at Sam's Club," that I think we should just think them and spare ourselves the effort) the other day, when "Incomplete," the Backstreet Boys' single from their relatively recent recording. (I think this recording is a year old at least, because I remember having a conversation with college daughter last summer about this self-same single.)

Anyway: here is a short list of stuff I hate in popular music: (1) strings backing up an (2) overheated melody with (3) cheesy love lyrics. "Incomplete" has all of these things going for it. Yet I found myself strangely compelled by the song this time around. Why? Why? I instantly identified it: the Power Ballad Syndrome.

There are certain song that just get you with an irresistible force. The soaring strings, the singer, usually a tenor singing in girl-range, bellowing without irony some utter crap about love--it creates a vortex that you get sucked into, and then before you know it, you're singing along in the car, you're figuring out the chord changes so you can play it on the piano if you're lucky enough to be alone with the piano when no one's home to laugh at you . . . It's awful and wonderful, the power ballad.

My personal favorite power ballads are "(When the) Lights (Go Out In the City)" and "Open Arms," both by Journey, and "What it Takes" by Aerosmith. I was also once in a band (which was also awful and wonderful--horrible name for the band, which I will never, even under pain of death, disclose, awful use of MIDI technology to enhance band sound, pretty much an awful set list; wonderful to sing Joan Jett and Patsy Cline, wonderful, truly, to get paid for singing). The set list included the power ballad "Everything I Do," the bad, bad song by Bryan Adams that turns out to be tons of fun, seriously, to sing. Bellowing with out irony some utter crap about love . . . is . . . awesome!

Note: theorris asks philosophically, " Who polices the blog police when the blog police don't blog?" Thank you for noticing, theorris. I hope this post answers the question, if obliquely.


Related Posts with Thumbnails