Monday, December 31, 2007

And another phrase I hate:

Just because I have three married children, a self-sufficient, self-supporting, property-owning son living in Kansas, and a daughter who's considering taking a position as a nanny, as well as a son, the last, who is about to leave for farflung parts for two years, and just because I've hit a milestone birthday, and just because I'm feeling some sadness about all of this and considering, finally, renovating or redecorating or some similar "re-" project in the downstairs, doesn't automatically fit me into a category.

You know the category I'm talking about, the one applied to people like me who've raised their kids, and said kids once raised leave. The category that implies "what will she do with herself?" and "how ever will she spend her time?" and "it's a difficult transition for us all, honey." Okay, fine, but it reminds me of when I went to therapy for the first time and I was describing my circumstances and emotions and actions, and the therapist's basic response was, "all of this is symptomatic." Really? Symptomatic? Because I actually thought all those symptoms were my life. My actual, living and breathing, rejoicing and grieving, chaotic and hypnotic life.

My kids? They're not and never were birds, and neither was I. The kids are the people I love the most, who I've got used to talking to on a regular basis, hearing their perspectives, opinions, dreams, rants, and jokes. People I heard wake up in my house, the music of the pipes when they'd turn on the shower, the openings and closings of doors at their comings and goings. Specific people, so their leaving isn't categorical, and neither is my response.

I'm having none of this "empty nest." What's happening is, I'm missing my kids, all right? and I might need a minute, now and then, just to miss them, noncategorically.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The many good things.

Last night, after a family party that involved eating, of course, but also my nieces and nephews singing, signing along to music, and playing the piano, an impromptu and unrehearsed piano duet of a Norman Dello Joio piece with my aunt, my mom and dad playing a much-rehearsed and note-perfect duet, talking, laughing, playing with the baby, and hanging out afterward with afore-mentioned auntie and her son, my beloved cousin, I definitely felt like getting horizontal, because before all that festivity, there were the following activities: breakfast with singing son, his lovely wife, and soccer coach son (omelets made with the best eggs ever, from Chad's dad, panettone toast, and roasted fingerling potatoes), a tiny expedition to Target, cookie decorating, church to hear singing son render a sublime performance of "O Holy Night," home again to slice oranges and disgorge pomegranate seeds from their fruits, and the trip to my aunt's.

So I read the Times, with special attention to the Arts section because the critics all laid out their yearly faves. And I read part of 2007 Best and Worst issue of People, because it's an important issue, and knowing the best and worst is critical. I think we can all agree on that.

The last of the baking is occurring as we speak, or write, or whatever. This afternoon, running son and soccer coach son will help me deliver the plates. And then, tonight, while the kids are with their dad or their in-laws or elsewhere, I will wrap presents and hopefully watch a Christmas movie, and in general chill out with the historian. We had breakfast with his daughter and her partner this morning. The dogs are quiet, but they're definitely waiting for their trip to the dog park--Bruiser was quite dismayed when the historian elected to take a bike ride before the dog park, but all good things in turn. It's a good day, and a good life I have. I hope you all, whoever and wherever you are, are feeling something like that, too.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

New megastore records set!

. . . in amounts of butter used in a single day!
. . . in number of movies seen in a single weekend!
. . . in number of white shirts purchased at a J.C. Penney by a mother/son buying duo!
. . . in how early I got up to run Christmas errands!
. . . in how hilarious running son, soccer coach son, and college daughter can be in a single sitting!

Actually, I'm pretty sure none of these things were records--they just seemed monumental. Two kinds of shortbread (chocolate, orange-almond) and sugar cookies. Three movies (The Kite Runner, I Am Legend, Atonement). 8 white shirts. Up by 7 a.m., out the door by 8, which made the errand-running actually pleasant, since few people were out shopping, even at the mall, which I hit around 9:45 a.m. (home by 11!). The kids? very hilarious. Super hilarious. Remind me to tell you the next time I see you.

Living the dog life, Part 742: Today, when historian returned from his errands, Bruiser greeted him at the door with slinking and cowering behavior, totally without provocation. Investigation turned up no indoor accidents, chewed up shoes, furniture nibbling, or anything else--until, in the kitchen, a preponderance of evidence showed that someone, some dog, had knocked a tupperware container of cookies to the floor. Betty showed absolutely no shame--indeed, when the historian picked up the remaining three or four cookies, she seemed a little put out. The historian told Bruiser that it was okay, petted him, and so forth, but Bruiser could be consoled only after he left the house to collect his thoughts and compose himself in the backyard.

What is this about? I feel it shows that Bruiser shares our values but has poor impulse control. Anyone have a better explanation?

Friday, December 21, 2007

The short list.

Before Christmas I shall:

1. bake the sugar cookie dough I whipped up a couple of days ago.
2. bake the shortbreads, whatever shortbreads they may be.
3. partake of the spirit of Christmas by playing 80% of the Christmas cds I own but haven't yet listened to.
4. buy a D.Williams jersey for soccer coach son.
5. buy a piece of a gym membership for college daughter.
6. possibly prepare a modest musical number for the family music night.
7. possibly coerce some or all of children to do something musical for same? (???)
8. return catalog-ordered clothing to store?
9. bake cardamom-almond bread.
10. wrap all presents.
11. chill out by the tree (in fact, I'm doing this right now!).
12. deliver all goodies to long list of deliverees.
13. buy things I'm supposed to bring to Christmas dinner, because, well, it's coming right up.
14. other things, other baking, other little shopping chores, other thises and thats and whatnots.

A Christmas coup was scored today in the purchase of a classic Fisher-Price duck pull toy, for a grandson who really, really loves his ducks. Also, a present for running son which appeared to be sold out, but, in fact, upon investigation by a valiant Target store clerk, was not. Score! and score again!

I'm having a good time of it, despite traffic, a slightly tight neck and shoulders, random (but manageable) bouts of grief, and the nagging feeling I'm spending too much money, because (a) I'm no longer grading, and (b), what the hell, and why not? It's Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lyra.

As two of my sons and I were leaving the theater after a screening of The Golden Compass (which was, on the one hand, not as wonderful as the book, but on the other hand, not nearly as awful as I had been led to believe, but, as any reader of this blog knows, it's not very hard to please me, so take that judgement for what it's worth), my son the singer commented on the Kate Bush song that runs while the credits are rolling--"Lyra." In classic Kate Bush fashion, there are some extra-odd lyrics and beautiful, haunting singing.

"Lyra, Lyra," he yodeled, mockingly.

I said, "I think it sounds kind of beautiful."

"Yeah, but listen to the lyrics," he said, although, what with all the music criticism, I really couldn't, but I'll take his word for it--they were fatuous.

(Okay, I looked it up on The Google: "Lyra… Lyra…And her face full of grace/Two worlds collide around her/The truth lies deep inside her/Lyra… Lyra../And the stars look down upon her/As darkness settles on her/Lyra… Lyra…/Who’s to know what’s in the future/But we hope we will be with her/We have all our love to give her/Oh Lyra… Lyra…"

Are these lyrics terrible? I don't know--maybe not good. Probably not good.)

"But sometimes songs can be good regardless of the lyrics," I ventured--running son agreed.

"Name one song where the lyrics are terrible but the song is good. Where the song is great."

Well, I don't know about that, but the other day while I was out Christmas shopping (motto: one for you, two for me; two for you, three for me), I heard one of the hoariest, probably not-good Christmas songs of all time, by Dan Fogelberg, "Same Auld Lang Syne." I don't know if I will say the lyrics are terrible, but I'm pretty sure they're risible, at least in places, and it features a slightly overblown saxophone solo at the end. Fogelberg doubles his voice throughout, there are loads of strings amping up the sap, there are a million things wrong with this song. On a very good day, Dan Fogelberg is kind of a twee singer (not that there's anything wrong with that--). When my daughter the makeup artist was still in elementary school, she and her then-best friend made up a dance to "Run for the Roses," which involved running toward each other on the diagonal and leaping to emulate the horses running, I guess. That's the basic frame for my response to the Fogelbergian oeuvre. [Note: in looking for a link to the song, I was reminded that he's dead now--feeling a little sorry to be so dismissive. Yet I stand by it. Although, read on:]

But I was so very pleased to hear this song! It hit the melancholy note I find in nearly anything, it hit that note hard; it articulated a certain lonely quality that I always find amplified at Christmas. Something in the chorus--the harmonic progressions, the melody over that, the idea of drinking a toast to something lost?--caught me in the song, as it always has from the first time I heard it. It infected and inflected the rest of my day, and when I got home, I downloaded it from iTunes and listened to it several times in a row.

Why a song catches your ear, or more than that, may be more, or less, than the sum of its parts. It might just be the way the singer slows down at the end of a phrase, or the instrumentation when the song picks the tempo back up, or even a little lyric like

just for a moment I was back at school
and felt that old familiar pain,
and as I turned to make my way back home,
the snow turned into rain.

One's critical faculties may not be the most useful apparatus to engage in judging what amounts to an emotional artifact. Even an emotional artifact that is arguably constructed in whole or in part of ripe cheese.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Megabaking.

As is generally the case at the conclusion of the fall semester, the grading dragged on and the baking languished. Nevertheless, I have made: regular caramels, chocolate caramels, and icebox cookies (from the failed cookie press experiment). At the moment, a rather gorgeous panettone dough is rising.

I still intend to make at least two and hopefully more types of shortbread, the roll-'em-out kind of sugar cookies (I have a bunch of excellent, fancy new cookie cutters), and almond bread. The day before Christmas is when I bake these butterscotch crescent rolls--they were a Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe from days of yore--at least, my family has been baking them since I can remember, so they won sometime from before I can remember. The basis of that dough is actually butterscotch pudding, which I think is hilarious, but sneer not! This dough is silky and fantastic.

As college daughter and I were wrapping the giant pile of chocolate caramels, which, by the way, taste like the very best Tootsie Roll imaginable--which is kind of good and also a little, well, disappointing, actually--she said, "Who're you going to give all of these to, Mom?"

Everyone I can think of, I guess. And if you're very good, and if you live at least a little bit near me, I might be thinking of you.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Several items have come to my attention.

1. Betty, after the horrible surgery of a couple of months ago, is doing very well. Live strong, Betty!

2. The house is almost entirely back in order after the giant cooking-eating-entertaining extravaganza of yesterday.

3. I love how things look in my house right now--the beautiful tree, the new couch, a new rug we bought a couple of weeks ago, holiday decor, poinsettias. Why do I drag my feet at this every year, when it is so wonderful?

4. The cinnamon ice cream, which I put in a container in the freezer last night, is at a passably ice-cream-ish consistency, and tastes delicious, no doubt because it is full of fat. (If I'm eating ice cream before noon, all alone, is that a symptom of a problem? or am I the happy genius of my household? or both?)

5. Still grading.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Let's do the collapse.

Tonight there were twenty-four people here for an annual holiday dinner at our house. I started my day by doing a handful of cooking chores before we went to hear running son speak in church, which was lovely--hilarious, for one thing, and moving also. Then, we came back home and begin the cooking in earnest.

The menu was a fleshed-out version of running son's suggestion/request, which I granted because, well, he won't be here for the next two years (perhaps it is tedious to keep hitting this theme, but it's what is on my mind and in my dreams, as well as in my entertaining and menus, apparently). He texted it to me a couple of weeks ago: "for the family dinner, what about beef, chicken, veggie enchiladas, mexi rice, corn, chips and salsa?" Last night, he texted a stipulation that the "mexi rice" be "with no chunks."

Oh what alien chunks await thee, running son, in Singapore!

Be that as may be, in all, we had the above items, elaborated and augmented by me, plus a salad that had mint, cilantro, finely shredded scallions, avocado and a bunch of greens, in a lime vinaigrette. We also had a fruit salad (a classic combination at my house--pineapple, oranges, kiwis) and for dessert, a Texas sheet cake enhanced with chili, cinnamon, and a little coffee, along with vanilla ice cream. There was supposed to be cinnamon ice cream, but the canister for my ice cream maker didn't feel like freezing solid, due to the extreme over-ratedness of the Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer combo that this house came with. Big and overbearing, it is the Escalade of refrigerators. Annoying and not particularly efficient. Good I had back-up ice cream, by design. I am beginning to develop a rather passionate hatred for that refrigerator.

Even without the homemade ice cream, we all had a swell time. It was a bunch of our kids, spouses, and grandkids, as well as the historian's sister, her husband, and their kids and spouses and grandkids. This year, we missed the historian's Seattle daughter and her partner, plus my soccer coach son. Over the years, this party has proven to be one of the occasions that argues for life sometimes turning out better than you had a right to expect--that you can wring joy out of great difficulty. I love to plan and cook these dinners. We all work together--the historian always cleans and straightens, I cook, and this year, college daughter was a great help to me in the kitchen and elsewhere. Then, when it's over, the historian lets me rehash the culinary and other high points endlessly, because he's a good person.

Now, it's time to read the paper, possibly watch television, and admire the dogs in repose.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Decorated.

Well in advance of Christmas! Before the grading is done! I give you the megastore Christmas tree!




Bonus: little grandson pictures from last Wednesday.



(The Scotland grandchildren, along with their Christmas joy, live here on the web, in case anyone has missed that fact.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

My priorities may be out of whack.

For the past three weeks, we've had some weird electrical action at our house--I'd turn on the microwave, the lights all along the back wall of the house, but only upstairs, would go out. Plug my laptop into a powerstrip, turn on the kitchen light, bathroom light, whatever. The lights would go out, always along the back wall of the house. They'd usually come back on in a minute, maybe, or with a little sleight of hand with the breakers. A little light cursing, perhaps. Anyway, it was clear that we needed a wizard, or an electrician.

So we called the guy who had replaced four breakers a few months back, a fine young man, but he wasn't going to be able to pencil us in until next week. He did have a referral for another electrician, though, a young man with the same surname as the people from whom we bought our house. So we gave him a call. Sure, he could come, and where did we live? When we told him the address, he said, "You're kidding." Indeed, the young electrician was one of the four sons of the family who once owned our house.
Today, which was the appointed day, I came home after an emergency trip to Target (it's positively shocking how many such emergencies there are!) with a new and more handsome throw to cover some of Bruiser's finest furniture-nibbling, as well as a lovely throw pillow that went with it. Also, two new poinsettias. It's gorgeous. Then, I went through the entire upstairs and picked stuff up, put clean dishes away, cleaned off the dining room table (aka, the repository of everything) and put down the new holiday table runner, straightened, wiped, emptied. And all of this? was so the young electrician wouldn't go home and tell his mom that their once pristine home had turned into a sty, inhabited by those inveterate slobs to whom they sold it.

In other news: The cheap cookie press I bought did not stand up to the pressure of my probably too-stiff cookie dough. Alas. Ever resourceful, I turned the dough into slice-and-bake rolls, with colored sugar on the outside. Spritz cookies will have to wait for another day, a softer dough, or a sturdier cookie press.

My manuscript was a "strong semifinalist" in a big contest. That's got to be a good thing, right?

The Utah Jazz are imploding.

(That's our new couch above, with the draperies pulled modestly to the side; this removal will only occur for parties and special events. Also, photo opportunities. The draperies are, of course, a precaution against more furniture nibbling.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Running son's birthday razor.

He's feeling quite a bit better, with all the vomiting completed by noon-ish. Then it was all over but the moaning.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Philosophical exchange.

(On KCPW Tuesday night--Jonathan Goldstein was talking to people on the radio about I don't know what--paranoia, I think--when this bit came up:)

Guy talking to Jonathan Goldstein: So I said to everyone that I didn't believe in God at all. And then I felt that perhaps God might not like that--that he might be listening and that what I said might have made him mad.

Jonathan Goldstein: [pause.] That's not exactly a typical thought for an atheist.

Guy: [laughs] Well, you can't really be sure, can you.

In other news. Car watch: old, old car still at GMFC; projected date for car to be out of the shop, according to GMFC: "I hope by the end of this week." !!!!!

Days till missionary running son leaves for Singapore, via Provo: 38.

Tomorrow? his 19th birthday. There will be cake. There will be candles. There will be a celebration and a hullaballoo.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Getting ready to get ready to grade.

Today I sorted through a hideous thicket of e-mail to download student portfolios, group projects, late assignments, and the like.

I organized them into easily managed and clearly labeled files on my hard drive.

I sent e-mails to students whose work I didn't have--the ones that I'm pretty sure didn't send it as an oversight, thought I might not accept it because it was late (hello! have they met me?), or actually did send it and somehow I still didn't have it.

I constructed little rubrics for rationalizing my grading.

I constructed little tables with the scores for things I've already reviewed, and spaces for the new scores.

So: tomorrow, if I can get my head together, I will start to actually read and respond (on the little rubrics) to student work. I bet I can grade at least one and maybe two courses tomorrow. The other course on Thursday.

Then, I will e-mail the rubrics to the students, submit the grades, close my laptop, and watch a bunch of television.

And then? I will use my new cookie press to make elegant spritz cookies. Perhaps by then the historian's car will be out of the shop (it's at Genius Mechanic of Foreign Cars [that's GMFC to you] who is such a big genius that he often doesn't have time to look at your car when you need him to, which is either the high price of genius or else a gigantic pain in the ass, or both, possibly both), so I can complete my Christmas shopping. I will buy and decorate a Christmas tree. I will purchase mass quantities of food so we can have a family Christmas party on Sunday (the menu chosen by Missionary Running Son--enchiladas of every variety, "mexi-rice," corn, salsa and chips, and possibly some other things, like salad, that he hasn't and wouldn't think of--what will he eat in Singapore? and also dessert of some variety). I will, in other words, begin my break.

[Exhale.]

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dog in the snow.

This isn't too long, and you get a sense of Bruiser in snowplay action. Mostly, I'm just pleased that I got Blogger to accept my video. Pardon any fatuous comments made by the videographer. Also, sorry about the brief moments when there's no dogs, only snow. What can I say, I'm a rookie.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mad snow.





At theory night, it was all heady conversation and argument and I, speaking for myself, personally, did not want it to end. At the same time, I wanted to go to the movie, a re-viewing of Michael Clayton which I love and which made me feel inexplicably melancholy. Is it utopian (i.e., nowhere) to wish every good thing could last forever?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Last day of the semester index.

Speeches made to class: 1
Cupcakes consumed by class: 40
Christmas music busted out: 1 cd (The Roches, We Three Kings)
Christmas cooking projects undertaken: 2 (cupcakes, see above; caramels, cooling as we speak)
Portfolios graded: 0
Injuries incurred: 1 (candy burn)
Random holiday food consumed: chips, hummus, rice krispie treat (in shape of Christmas tree), cookie of wisdom and critical enlightenment
End of semester meetings: 1 (successful norming session for assessment! all will be well with assessment!)
Late semester annoying student encounters: only one, and it wasn't so annoying really
Holiday decor items purchased, arranged, and rearranged: 3 poinsettias; shiny faux pears, apples, and pomegranates; a pewter bird; several candles
Cheer quotient: way, way up.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Twenty-three things on my mind.

1. Must update curriculum for adjunct faculty. End of week! No later!
2. When can I bake: spritz cookies, chocolate shortbread, almond orange shortbread, vanilla shortbread, cardamom cookies?
3. Must buy cookie press (for spritz cookies).
4. Must mail package(s) to Scotland!
5. What does the historian need, want, gotta have for Christmas? What would thrill him and delight him?
6. I miss my daughter and granddaughters in Scotland.
7. Must candy orange peel for panettone.
8. I heard panettone is hard to make, but it doesn't seem so hard. Am I missing something?
9. Must figure out e-portfolio over the break.
10. New assignment for 2010: ethnographic study of community setting (for community writing campaign).
11. Must make a podcast. Must podcast!
12. Want to make the little movie, a la "La Jetee," of stills of Bruiser in the snow. What music? What poetic remarks?
13. Must send poems to Crazyhorse.
14. Wish I were throwing a party for all my friends this Christmas, as we have purchased a new sofa, and it will be doghair free for only a few days.
15. Am already missing running son and he isn't even gone yet.
16. Need to figure out a way, a place, a practice for my spiritual longing.
17. There are only about a million ways for the 2010 assessment to go awfully, horribly wrong.
18. Update the palimpsest assignment in 2250.
19. Will I finish the canzone for my writing group this weekend? Will it be anything but lame?
20. Can I just adapt the regular old Martha Stewart caramel recipe to make it a salt caramel recipe?
21. Why didn't Martha publish a special holiday issue this year? What could possibly be the reason?
22. I want to buy about ten more poinsettias (already have 3). Maybe will have only poinsettias this year, not a tree. Consider.
23. Must sent e-mail to all teaching Eng. 2010 reminding of requirement to have course portfolio. Consider appending a veiled threat to this e-mail.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Twitter updates I would have posted on Sunday if I hadn't forgotten my cell phone.

Sunday afternoon, 1 p.m.: at the gas station--it is taking like 40 minutes to pump $40 dollars worth of gas! Is it the cold? Is it this gas station? Insult to injury--paying all this money for slow gasoline.

Sunday afternoon, 3 p.m.: Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans have a meat-flavored jelly bean--sausage. That is just wrong.

[I'm pretty sure I'm not cool enough for Twitter.]

Monday, December 03, 2007

The future.

I am doing some research for my sabbatical application (oh! sabbatical!) and ran across this:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Aphorisms.

Today in the Times, there was a story about a renaissance of the aphorism in Serbia:

'A sharp proverb with a twist, the aphorism has a long and rich tradition among Serbs, who have used satire and dark humor to come to terms with decades of authoritarian rule.

The art form thrived during the years of Mr. Milosevic. Now, Mr. Cotric, who until recently was a federal minister, says aphorisms are having a renaissance, embraced by everyone from students to grandmothers.


“We have had wars, hyperinflation, cult of personalities, censorship, nationalism, ethnic cleansing — and if it weren’t for this self-defensive humor, these crazy people in power would have turned us into crazy people,” he said.'

Here's an example of one, written under the regime of Slobodan Milosevic: “We have got our war assignments. We are to be the killed civilians.

At a recent gathering, a group of aphorists "recited their work in a hail of words, a style reminiscent of beat poet readings. Mr. Baljak began by alluding to the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s wars. 'What I experienced in our brotherly union, I wouldn’t wish on my own brother,' he said.

Warming to the theme, Mr. Zakic replied, 'We will do our best not to have any more fratricide. We will stop being brothers.'

Would we say that people like Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Bill Maher, David Letterman, Chris Rock are the aphorists of our time? Who writes the American aphorism?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I am having a great time with my new camera.

The party last night




The snowfall & the night before






And lastly, here's Middlebrow, donning his hat, as he leaves a meeting, taking the controversy with him:




Friday, November 30, 2007

It is the 30th of November. Rejoice!

Although, having said that, I'm not entirely sure why rejoicing is called for. Let us enumerate:

1. I posted every single day for an entire month. Some of my best blogging ever, in my humble opinion! (can an exclamation point be humble? I think not.)
2. Several of my friends and compatriots posted every day for the month, and it was a joy and a pleasure to know I could look forward to that.
3. It's Friday. Friday is a de facto day of rejoicing.
4. I just got a voice mail from IT Guy, and the new motherboard is in and everything looks good in laptop-land. Yeah!
5. This weekend promises two movies, a jazz concert, a party, fresh local vegetables from Chad.
6. I found the two books I was looking for. Behind other books. You really don't want to imagine what all went on in the way of searching, overturning, upsetting, etc., the frail vestiges of organization in my world. But I have the books! I have been diverted!
7. On Monday, there are new episodes of Saving Grace and The Closer!
8. Next Thursday, there's an extended new episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, featuring Vincent d'Onofrio, aka Det. Bobby Goren.
9. All week: good classes. Which may mean the kids may actually have learned something, which in turn may mean I taught them something, or at least didn't get in the way, at least not too much.
10. Because of my relentless searching for two books, I found, and therefore could scan and share, this photo of running son when he was about ten years old:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stuff that's harder to do when your laptop is in the shop.

1. Check your e-mail on an every fifteen minute basis.
2. Catch up in your online class.
3. Forward batches of e-mails.
4. Grade the odd portfolio.
5. Blog during meetings.
6. Download and publish the hilarious picture you took of Middlebrow at the end of a meeting, wearing a funny hat.
7. Window-shop online.
8. Look at other people's blogs.
9. Make a plan for what you need to do each day from now until Christmas.
10. Think, write, dream.

It's a sorry state of affairs, my friends.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Melancholy story.

So, last night when I was trying to find fair trade stuff to potentially get for the historian for Christmas (this kind of shopping is also always a project of trying to imagine my life being in complete harmony with my so-called values (wait, wasn't that a television show once--in fact, one of my favorite television shows?)), my laptop notified me that I had "Low Battery" (a condition I have come to think of as endemic to this part of the semester), and then "Critical Low Battery" (the analog spiritual experience of critical low battery, that will come next week--).

But the green light on the power cord was a-shinin'. How could I have critical low battery? I checked all the hook-ups and every thing seemed fine. Other than that the laptop felt slightly hot, but that's pretty much all the time. (Beautiful laptop: despite the way I need you, I want you, I have to have you!, you have many flaws. Design flaws. See below.)

Well, about midway through the No Sweat website (after having thoroughly perused Fair Indigo), the computer made a sad sound. It was the sound of a teeny, tiny aneurysm, a small explosion, a minuscule pop. And then, the screen was black. Despite the green glow of the power cord, nothing could make the computer revive. It would not. turn. on.

Nothing--not letting it cool down, not putting it in a quiet dark place so it could regain its equilibrium, not my deepest imploring--changed this state of affairs. Not at midnight, not this morning. Not even, as it turned out, in the IT Lair. That is, until IT Guy figured out (after not too much poking around) that the connector--the little place on the back of the laptop where the power cord plugs in--was broken. And guess what? that little connector is connected to the motherboard! Which is connected to how my laptop lights up, turns on and gives me that great feeling that all is right with the world. That I can blog and check e-mail and chat and possibly do some work and Christmas shop. You know, live.

The good news is that the part, aka motherboard/power connector, is now ordered--my laptop still has 100 days of its warranty left, although whether that's good news or bad, I'm of two minds--and everything should be excellent by Friday. (I am in the computer lab down the hall from my office at the moment, composing this post.) IT Guy stuck a charged up battery in my computer so that I could, for my own piece of mind, retrieve a couple of pieces of data without which I would be screwed (grades/comments from my two face-to-face classes, poems from my new ms). It's sort of amazing how an event like this clarifies what you can't live with out. A functioning laptop is very close to the top of that list.

Megastore residents update: Running son has moved in with his dad for the last few weeks before he leaves on his mission. I have tried to be extra supportive of this move--the whole process of back-and-forthing definitely has its wearying side for the kid, so he hasn't exactly been on top of it all. He came in to our room last night where we were watching television, after I had made the umpteenth grilled sandwich since I bought the sandwich grill (this one had a thin layer of scrambled egg, ham, and cheese, his request. "That's pretty good, mom, but it's no ham and cheese," was the verdict).

"I'm going to dad's," he said.

"Okay," I said; then, "for good?"

"Yep."

There was a small amount of hugging--a tolerable amount, I hope, for him. Bruiser roused himself to observe--he is keenly aware of comings and goings, always keeping hope alive that when any human stands vertical, it might mean a trip to the dog park.

I expect that between now and January 9th, there will be an innumerable number of small moments like this--how many more times will Bruiser curl up with running son for the night? how many more variations on the ham and cheese sandwich are there to make?--that remind me of the fact that he's leaving home, good bye.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Packrat Manifesto.

I am looking for a book. Two books, actually. Neither of them, in the big scheme, are very important--in fact, neither of them is important even in the immediate, mundane, little scheme. These books are distractions, one with a red cover and one with a green. They are somewhere in this house, and I will find them, probably before I finish my requisite tasks, like responding to all the posts in my online class or finishing arrangements for the giant course assessment that hangs around my neck like a horrible dead weight.

But before I find these books, I will first encounter leftover fashion magazines that I haven't torn up to put the useful photos in my style notebooks. I need to read the three new books of poems that came in the mail today. I should straighten up the room where I've put all the books about art, the body, and alternative spirituality--the room that's more like an archaeological dig (Who Slept Here) with prom dresses, boxes of tea light candles from a wedding, missionary clothes from the previous missionary, the weight bench on which I never lift weights, because of the prom dresses, tea lights, missionary stuff, etc., etc.

I should sift through several notebooks I've kept notes in, and journals I've written in a few times a year. Sometimes the notes are interesting little windows into thoughts I felt moved to record but didn't remember. I will make a little list of my Christmas baking (three kinds of caramels, several kinds of shortbread) and decorating projects (white poinsettias and other white flowers). I will look downstairs, in boxes I moved to the room where I keep my art stuff--paints, different kinds of paper, my easel, my metal working tools (can you believe I have metal working tools? Me either). Those boxes have weird files that didn't belong in the upstairs files, apparently. For instance, odd pieces of paper from my work printer when it was printing test patterns that I might use sometime in an art project. Boxes and boxes of print photos, including a beautiful picture of running son from when he was about ten years old. The books might be in one of those boxes. Could conceivably be in one of those boxes.

This doesn't take into account the true bookshelves that hold most of my books. I have done a scan of the spines, and I can't spot them, at least not so far. But I have found other books I want to read, misplaced cds, poems with notes on them from my writing group. An envelope with red clover seed (to fix nitrogen in the soil, although this presumes planting the seeds in soil). Who knows, maybe those books are behind the other books, though that's a whole nother project.

Sifting through all the stuff under the stuff that lives with the other stuff is a research project into who I am. Sometimes we are composed and put together and the things that support this composition are all in their places. Most of the time we are not, though. I'm avoiding buying a copy of that new magazine Organize ("Doable organization for real people with real lives"), at least for the moment. I don't see how it will serve my purposes, not really. I live in the layers. The atoms of air between the layers? That's where my soul resides.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Important update.

Following up on our previous discussion of all things religious, thought you would all be interested in the "Brick Testament," a retelling of Bible stories using Legos. It is truly awesome. Check this out--the teachings of Jesus on love. [Important note! I meant to say that my daughter in Scotland was the one who brought this fantastic site to my attention.]


Also, and this is probably not religious, at least I don't think it is, but it is from Utah and it will make you laugh:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Found.

Today, because I couldn't find it in me to do serious work, at least not up until the time I finish this and post it, I started going through a big pile of magazines and whatnot in our bedroom. This included old issues of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, issues of the now sadly defunct, except on the web, Premiere, the New Yorker, The Nation, sundry fashion magazines, College English, and who knows what all else. Here are some things I found that might be useful to you all (also, a couple of things from today's paper and the newest Nation):

from an old New Yorker:

Walter Benjamin smoked hashish and also wrote about it.
*
from today's New York Times:

(headline:) "Farmyard Stills Quench a Thirst for Local Spirits"
*
(headline:) "Tightening the Beltway, the Elite Shop Costco"--an article about how lots of Washington, D.C. parties basically use Costco food to do it. I think there might be an extra fancy Costco, though: "We knew that we would attract government, we would attract ambassadors, we would attract military personnel, we would attract the parties and embassies," said Joe Potera, the chief operating officer, referring to the Pentagon City store. "We have thousands of sheet cakes during all the major holidays for Pentagon parties, for ambassador parties, for staff parties in the capitol. It's kind of a destination." Costco also has a chocolate shop that produces molds of the Capitol as well as the Pentagon.
*
In the Op-Ed pages, an article about human "hibernation," reports that in the 19th century, French peasants in the chillier provinces would often basically sleep through the winter. This was particularly true in, say, the Alps, where they used to say "Seven months of winter, five months of hell," meaning the "unremitting toil" of the spring and summer. After that, they'd settle in with the animals and eat only a little to lower their metabolic rate.

Another excerpt: "But the French seemse to have been particularly sleepy. They 'hibernated' even in temperate zones. In Burgundy, after the wine harvest, the workers burned the vine stocks, repaired their tools and left the land to the wolves. A civil servant who investigated the region's economic activity in 1844 foudn that he was almost the only living presence in the landscape: 'these vigorous men will now spend their days in bed, packing their bodies tightly together in order to stay warm and to eat less food. They weaken themselves deliberately.'"
*
Slash, whose guitar playing is featured in the game "Guitar Hero," reports that though he likes to play the game, he "stinks at it."
*
Katha Pollitt, in The Nation, "The Atheist's Dilemma": "There's no question in my mind that horror at militant Islam and fear of Muslim immigration lie behind at least some of the current vogue for atheism--you don't make the bestseller list by excoriating the evils of Lutheranism or Buddhism. The problem is that the more scorn one feels for religious belief, the less able one is to appreciate 'reformed' or 'moderate' variants of the faith. After all, pro-gay Episcopalians and liberation theology Catholics still believe in Christ, the afterlife, sin; reformed Jews still find wisdom in the Old Testament. Strictly speaking, an atheist should have no truck with any of it. But if all you can offer people is reasons to quit their religion--which often means their community, their family, their support system and their identity--you're not going to have many takers. For every brilliant angry teenager you strengthen in doubt, there's a mosque- or churchful of people who'll choose the old-time religion if the only other choice is nothing."
*
Sunday is better for reading and being desultory than for buckling down, in my opinion. Also: good for a little light napping.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Assorted remarks.

9:00 a.m.

Niece to running son, who is still sleeping: Do you want to come out to breakfast with us?
Running son: It would have to be a dream breakfast.
Niece: I think you would have to get out of bed to have it.
Running son: Then that's a firm no.

Tonight, after seeing I'm Not There.

Me, after long excursus on what I thought, what was tedious, what I enjoyed nonetheless, etc., etc.: But I'm not sorry I saw it. What did you think?
Historian: I'm not sorry I saw it. [pause] But I'm not exactly glad I saw it, either.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Breakfast, passport, lunch, movie, nap, dinner, movie.

That's how my day after Thanksgiving was. I think I started the day a little hungover from food, perhaps especially the pie. Anyway, the day's timeline was as follows:

  • Pie (apple) and tea for breakfast.
  • Went with running son to submit passport application, expedited.
  • Went to lunch (Wendy's) with running son, then to a movie (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium). Which was pretty much enjoyable for the kind of movie it is. I liked it.
  • Came home.
  • Took a receipt back to a store to get a "price adjustment," which on the one hand demonstrates my excellent shopping abilities (I knew the expensive sweaters would be on sale the day after Thanksgiving, and I was right, so I got the differential in cash), and on the other hand, my relative impatience--I could have gone anytime within 14 days of the original purchase. Felt the strong desire to do it today. On the other (other) hand, it wasn't too bad at the store, so I was vindicated, at least a little.
  • Nap, one hour.
  • Dinner (Chinese) and a movie, No Country for Old Men. Pretty great, I thought. No: just plain great. Excellent, in fact.

A lowkey day, but with two movies in it. Tomorrow promises to be the same--my niece, college daughter, and I are going to have breakfast, do a tiny bit of shopping, and see another movie. Then the historian and I are going to see that new Todd Haynes thing, I'm Not There. I thought I might do some work this weekend. Maybe I will, on the day that exists between Saturday and Sunday, which I will will into existence. In the meanwhile, I, like the Son of Middlebrow and Dr. Write, am very grateful for theaters, and also for long weekends.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Excellent day.

The day started with pastry-making. I ate toast and almond butter while college daughter and I made pie dough for a double-crust pie (the apple pie she was taking to her dad's) and a single-crust pie, the pumpkin I was taking. That went swimmingly. We used plugra butter (Fr., "more fat," which term just continues to tickle me--it's "more fat fat," if you see what I'm saying)--perfect, and I mean by that "without flaw," for pie crust.

Her apple pie we seasoned with cinnamon and fresh nutmeg, as well as orange oil, a fancy new thing I like a lot--like orange extract, but better. It was fragrant and juicy as it baked. My pumpkin had the crystallized ginger I thought I had when I made the pumpkin pie for the pie party--so today's pie was even better than last week's.

I also made baked squash with Moroccan butter, roasted carrots for a much larger crowd than was actually there, and a green salad with homemade croutons, shaved parmesan, and a mustardy dressing. All good. Everything else was delicious, too--pies from my sisters, rolls, cranberry sauce, a wonderful dressing with pears in it. We all had a great time, ate too much, talked and laughed.

At the end of the evening, my niece, aunt, and I played the piano in a completely insane six-hands-at-the-piano deal--transcriptions of The Nutcracker and also a version of The Camptown Races that we managed to play faster and faster until we were playing l.s. (lickety split). It was very, very good.

These are family photos of a happy day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The thankful list.

So here's what's going on, the night before T-day:

I am watching Dirty Sexy Money. We had an impromptu dinner out with running son, college daughter, singing son and his wife, me and the historian. In the oven, there are squashes and pumpkins roasting. That's all the preparation I'm doing tonight, which is possible because I'm going down to Utah Valley for dinner with my mom and dad, sisters and their families, my brother's son and daughter, and my darling auntie. So all I'm bringing is a pumpkin pie, a green salad, and a couple of vegetable dishes.

Which leaves me plenty of time to tell you some of the things and people I am thankful for. My daughter the makeup artist said she always makes a list of 100 things she's thankful for every Thanksgiving. I started my list while I was responding to portfolios on Monday, so as it turns out, I'm not finished with it, but here are some excerpts:

1. love of my husband
2. how wonderful each of my children is
9. drinking a pot of tea while working
17. happy marriages for my kids
18. good relationship with my former
29. writing group
30. bruiser
31. betty
32. a washing machine
37. farmer’s market
38. movies
39. my comfy chair
40. the end of every teaching day
41. when I see evidence that my students have learned something

Of course, I also have grandchildren and friends to list: little Miriam, Evie, and Deacon; Carter, Alex, David, Jenna, and Rachel; Mary Sue, Ann, Jill; Jen, Allison, Lynn, Melissa, Jason, Clint, Ron, Stephen, and Jennifer. I love the fact that my children have good friends that I've been allowed to know. I am grateful for my wonderful parents and my splendid siblings. Tonight, with no work tomorrow and the prospect of a lovely family day, I feel like my whole life is a blessing. My life is good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This is the end, beautiful friends, the end.

Of portfolio responding, of course. For now, anyway.

I am a tad exhausted, what with the early rising and the lightning-fast typing of comments. Over the past couple of weeks, I have composed, I think, about 120 pages of comments. That's probably more impressive than it sounds--about half of those pages have a table in which I insert comments correlated with outcomes. And there's a certain amount of recursivity in writing comments correlated with outcomes. It's shocking, for instance, how many students should strive to be "meticulous" when it comes to citation, using the "As Author X says in Source Y, 'blah blah blah'" method of attribution." Even so: whew.

In a half hour, I have a class in which there are exactly no structured activities happening--a class in which I had forgotten I would be observed (post-tenure review). I can, of course, defend this unstructured day pedagogically, but just didn't think about being observed amidst the unstructure. And how many students will there be, exactly, two days before Thanksgiving (which, as we all know, is a major national holiday and therefore students can't be expected to attend class two days before it)? Will anyone be prepared to do their genre presentations? Not that they have to, but will they be?

All these questions will be answered in the Lord's own time. Or by 2:30 p.m. today, whichever comes first. In the meantime: no more portfolios until December whatever. Tenth.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Nothing, or everything, depending on your point of view.

It's been a busy day in which I barely strayed from my chair, as I was

1. responding to portfolios
2. responding to e-mails
3. curtailing Bruiser's conversation with the little boy who lives next door (little boy: Hi! Bruiser: Rowf! Rowf rowf rowf!)
4. making and eating lunch
5. making a grilled sandwich for running son who is currently between jobs and also sick
6. making dinner

After dinner, there was

7. a jazz concert, Tierney Sutton, who defied my default assumption about girl jazz singers, which is that they will annoy me with their girly cute talk, diva-esque attitude, and/or sexpot crap. But no. She was funny, only talked a little too much between songs, and finished the second set with a rousing and hilarious cover of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead." So that was good.
8. the Utah Jazz game, which they won.
9. the thought of getting up very, very early in the morning to finish the remains of the portfolios. So that means
10. it's time to hit the hay, earlier than midnight for once.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What has this blog been missing?

A poem, that's what.

Here's the poem I wrote today for my writing group (they gave me some feedback that I'm still mulling over).

Prayer

I dreamed I washed my hair in ash.

I woke at vigil to a forgotten light.
The dog lay at the open door,
where the air spoke from the trees.
Nothing—no intruder, no late child.

I lay down to the music of that hour,
fan ticking overhead
in an unnoted rhythm, crickets surging,
last or first highway cars.

I dreamed I wore the white dress,
my lap embroidered in fig leaves
where I held the book of my beseeching.
The wood smelled of stain and varnish.

This is my prayer: the curtains
at the window breathe.
A spirit caught between out and in.

At lauds I bathed, dried my skin
with a white towel, dressed
in the clothes I had prepared.
I waited in gray light

for my daughter to arise.
My belly an ache of knots,
hands unlaced, fans crossed there
lightly, as if holding the ache

would ease it: the porch light burnt out,
the street dark as if it might stay dark all day.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pie party: the breakdown.

Pies: pumpkin, pumpkin cheesecake, eggnog, strawberry rhubarb, apple, chocolate pecan.
Pie accessories: whipped cream.
Party indicators: see below.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Pumpkin pie.


My mother is a pie baker of the first rank. She was the one who told me the key thing about pie crust, which is that you don't over handle it. Also, by her example I learned to tell an excellent pie from an inferior one--again, it's all about the crust. Her pies are not only delicious, they are beautiful. She's an organized and meticulous cook, so her food never looks or tastes hasty or slapdash. Everyone in my family loves going to my folks' house for dinner because of this.

When we were kids, my mom and dad formed a dinner group. They all subscribed to the same cooking magazine, Cuisine, which sadly folded long ago--I honestly don't think any other cooking magazine is or was as good, had the lovely blend of good writing, enough pictures, interesting features. Not even the Ruth Reichl-edited Gourmet, in my opinion. What the dinner group would do was divvy up the recipes for the spectacular dinner featured in that month's issue. Then one couple would host, and they would eat and talk the night away. I remember an Indian meal that no one was too fond of. They were ahead of their time.

Anyway, I learned from watching my mom that you could teach yourself to cook. She taught herself how to dip chocolates, and no one in the world makes better dipped chocolates than my mom. When she married my dad, the story goes, she knew how to make cornbread and how to open a can of soup. (I might be making that last part up--she may have had another recipe in her repertoire.) From that humble beginning, she has turned into a woman who can throw a big party, plan many a celebratory family dinner, bake like no one's business. Also, she fries chicken according to the ancient method, and if, as a mostly faithful vegetarian, chicken weren't a real problem for me, I would sit down and happily eat her fried chicken dinner (rice, pan gravy, steamed broccoli, five-cup fruit salad) once a week for the rest of my life.

However, this post is supposed to be about pumpkin pie. Not everyone in my family loves pumpkin pie, though the pumpkin pie of my youth, made with canned pumpkin and evaporated milk (if I'm not mistaken) was mild, smooth, and delicious. Here are the things I taught myself about pumpkin pie, once I was on my own and I was responsible for the pies:

1. Pumpkin, which is spicy looking, is actually mild though sweet. Another way to approach pumpkin pie is to make it spicy. The recipe I use has lots of spices; one version of it adds crystallized ginger, which makes it even spicier. Spicy pumpkin pie is deeee-licious.

2. Fresh pumpkin makes a difference. Once you know that you have to get a sugar pumpkin--the little, round pumpkins--then roasting it is easy. Some people say to cut it open first, but you can pierce the skin and roast them whole, thus sparing yourself the ordeal of cutting a hard fruit with a big dangerous knife. Once it's roasted--and basically, you can tell if it's done by if it's soft--you can cool it a little, cut it open without threatening life and limb, puree it, and you're on your way.

3. I believe in an all-butter crust, which just means you have to start cold, keep things cold, and get 'em cold again in order to prevent butter-related sogginess (pre-bake a very cold crust), slumping (hook the crust over the edge of the pie plate, and put it in the freezer before pre-baking), and non-flakiness (use very cold butter and a minimum of very cold water).

After having spoken with great confidence about this all-butter pie crust, I am hoping very much that it turns out as delicious as I have talked it up to be, because I am bringing the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I am also baking a pumpkin pie for a party tonight. I usually only get to eat pumpkin pie once a year, so this is a double treat, assuming that the crust doesn't let me down.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Seven terrible habits (of highly disreputable people).

1. Occasionally shopping on the way to work.
2. Eating more than the official serving size of potato chips at a time. Often way more.
3. Watching previously viewed (like a million times previously viewed) episodes of Frasier because they're on at the "get ready to fall asleep" time.
4. Excessive browsing of unnecessary material goods online.
5. Constantly derailing important business discussions with movie talk.
6. Constantly cracking wise, thus derailing important business discussions.
7. Doing every possible thing at the latest possible minute.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gotta.

A friend wrote to ask if I'd heard Joni Mitchell's new recording, Shine. Yes, yes, I have. Since, oh, I don't know, the 70s, since Court and Spark, I've been a big Joni fan. I have all the recordings, some in more than one format, and there are certain songs ("Court and Spark," "Blue," "Amelia," "Wild Things Run Fast") that have shaped who I am.


The other night, a few of us were talking about which musicians, actors, writers, etc., could do no wrong, or maybe more precisely, get a free pass no matter what their new work is like. Joni is one of those people for one friend--she's an inveterate collector of new interviews, magazine articles, broadcasts of this and that. She and I first bonded when I shared with her a tattered copy of Rolling Stone with a Joni interview--the first after she broke with the magazine when they published the chart of all the musicians she'd supposedly hooked up with (if you don't know what I'm talking about, why then you are a whippersnapper and I am a granny, that's all there is to it).


Anyway, I am still interested in the new recording--but not passionately, the way I once was. In the afore-mentioned RS interview, she talked about the jazz inflections her work had taken, and how people said she didn't have melodies anymore--"there's melody, there's just more of it," she said cheerfully. Well, a little of that goes a long way--even jazz artists start with and usually return to an unadorned melody at some point. Basically, a lot of the music doesn't sound like songs anymore--it sounds like soundscapes. But you know, just because the music didn't knock me out at first listen, maybe I haven't given it enough of a chance. It's worth going back to check with the artists that matter, so I've made up my mind to do that.


In any case, the title track of Shine is gorgeous. So give it a listen.


One more thing: I remember being so irritated with Ms. Mitchell when she dissed Prince and I don't know who else in an interview--Prince, who adores her, who loved The Hissing of Summer Lawns, the recording for which she was completely pasted (she said, "you're crucified for changing, you're crucified for staying the same. I'd rather be crucified for changing"--another reason to give her another listen). I'm told now that she loves Prince, she hangs out in the Purple Mansion--good for her, finally.


I noted this to the friend who wrote this morning. "Yes, she's one of the great kvetchers, but the music's still good." Kvetch on, JM.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The facts, part 2.

Another round of The Sevens, this courtesy of 31 Flavors:

1. I hope to live in France for an extended period of time before I die.
2. I truly believe that if I wrote every day, played the piano every day, and made my bed every day, I might be a happier, better person.
3. My idea of nirvana is the Routine--something like writing every day from x a.m. to x a.m., playing the piano for an hour, etc. Somehow work has to fit in there too, I guess. Maybe this Routine is all about the summer. Also, all about the sabbatical.
4. "Sabbatical" is one of the most beautiful words in the English language. I'm quite certain that it's equally beautiful in other languages, but I will be hoping for a sabbatical in English. Possibly translated into French.
5. I hope to overcome cynicism, despair, and the odds, and have another book, and hopefully more than one other book, published before I die.
6. When you have six kids--nine, if the historian and I add up our kids together--there is always, always something happening in that generation that you have to consider, talk over, worry about until you think you might faint.
7. Yesterday, I slept for four hours in the afternoon. I get worn down sometimes.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The gender identities of dogs: a colloquy.

Yesterday when I came home from work, I found Bruiser dressed in a flowery tank top (size: XS), dating no doubt from the days when make-up artist daughter lived at home. After I had removed the offending garment and soothed Bruiser's wounded pride, running son and I engaged in the following text message exchange:

ME: Don't dress Bruiser in girls clothes ever again--it confuses his sexual identity.

RS: Sorry but he looked good in it

ME: Do you want him to grow up to be a drag queen? do you??

RS: if the bra fits . . .

Friday, November 09, 2007

Big fat novels.

Taking a page from Dr. Write:

I find that I don't read longer works--by which I mean anything longer than a long New Yorker article--these days, particularly during the school year. I could moan about it, but I've mostly accepted it as a fact of my life. But! I hold in my heart the fond, fond fondness for long novels, the longer the better (assuming that they're delightful to begin with). Here is a list of long novels that I have loved at different points in my life:

1. Middlemarch. I wrote my master's thesis on this book and it is canonical to me, as in, it is a kind of secular scripture that I consult, at least in memory, to help me live my life.

2. Our Mutual Friend. It is my favorite Dickens, and I love many Dickens novels, including Bleak House and David Copperfield and Little Dorrit, sometimes known as Little Dork at my house.

3. Humboldt's Gift. I read this when the world was in thrall to Bellow, and I know that Herzog is considered his masterpiece, but I love Humboldt the best, partly for the part where the narrator reports that a woman had taken refuge in Humboldt's bathroom, whereupon he importuned, "Open the door! I have a big cock!" It tells everything you need to know about poets--a lot of them, anyway.

4. The Thorn Birds. This falls into the category of "unworthy, really, of your time, and don't you have something better to do?" Except it was for a class! in contemporary American fiction! and the professor, whom I loved--he had a buzz cut and a big belly and a hilarious, cartoon character voice--chose it as a representative of the popular novel. I loved that he did that. I was pregnant when I read it, and I stayed in bed all day, exaggerating a slight illness and missing a French literature exam to do it.

5. Harry Potter (take your pick). Ever since college daughter, who was then junior high daughter, read the very first HP on the drive up to Idaho, and kept saying, "This is amazing! This is so good! Wow" etc. until I wanted to rip the book from her hands and let her drive, I have had the most fun reading these books, and also had the joy of a genuine shared literary experience with my kids and extended family, reading, anticipating, and arguing fiercely over these books. Definitely one of my best reading experiences ever.

6. Cloudsplitter. I read this book on a vacation, a dark winter vacation in Mendocino during the week between Christmas and New Year. It was gray and cloudy and rainy most of the time. We stayed in a lot, bundled up, by the wood stove and read and read and read. This book, based on the life of John Brown and told from the fictive point of view of one of his sons, was an apocalyptic read. Matched up very well with the darkest part of the year.

7. Underworld. I know I have already raved on about this book, but truly. It is the greatest of great books in my pantheon of greatiosity. I love its scope, I love that all of the characters feel like people and not like "characters." I love Delillo's writing--the way he makes a sentence. I will never quit Delillo. Never.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nothing whatsoever to say.

I started a post about gossip (I like it, especially about higher ups).

I considered just cloning Dr. Write's excellent post about important books I've never read (To the Lighthouse, The Prelude, Moby Dick, War and Peace).

I don't have a dissertation draft to share excerpts from (wait: yes I do, two of them! Sample: "Am I overstating? Let us return to literary studies with the critic (and provocateur) Stanley Fish, who makes precisely this point in his essay “Yet Once More.” The title is the first three words of “Lycidas”; it is as a Miltonist that Fish undertakes to remind us of what it is we do when we act as literary critics," etc.).

I've already written about cake this week.

My internet issues are resolved.

30 Rock and The Office were both hysterical tonight.

My agenda is: tomorrow, stash a sword in the drop-down ceiling of my office tomorrow and file a knife in a folder labeled "Mr. A. Knife" (in case of emergency weaponry needs). Tonight: go to bed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Smokin.

Can you feel the hotness? Can you feel it from where you are? Because the internet is very, very fast at the megastore. The speed is hot.

How will the writer's strike affect you? Read on:

I found this link on Mighty Girl (which is an excellent blog which is often very, very funny--see this post on drunk texting, for instance--you will laugh yourself silly).

Now dear reader, I know you don't always follow my links. How do I know this? I just do. From my perch in the blogosphere, I can see into your innermost thoughts. And among your innermost thoughts, I heard this one: how will the writer's strike affect me? Reader, I am here in your hour of need with this link.

Just in case you missed it: this link will answer your questions and possibly your prayers, give you solace and peace of mind, chill you out like a crazy pill and an ice bath combined. Also, it's very, very funny. So don't even think about skipping this link.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Must not forget to vote.

Today is the day to set cynicism aside, at least long enough to have one's say as a citizen on the issues of the day. To stand in line in order to poke tiny little holes in a card, then make sure the hole-y thing actually got all the way punched out (never let it be said that the Presidential Election of 2000 taught us nothing!).

After that, I intend to play video games for several hours until my brain turns to mush. (I'm just quoting, sort of, Strong Bad, and also running son. Actually, I intend to make dinner and then see what's on television. Same diff.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Cake at midnight.

I try not to whine, but sometimes it just doesn't seem fair that cake can't be a part of everyday life. Amanda Hesser, in her "Recipe Redux" piece in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine, mentions that back in the day, people used to make cake every couple of days, "after the previous one vanished to crumbs."

I will pause, so that you may reflect.

A new cake twice a week, let's say, just to be reasonable. Which would mean you would eat a little cake most days of your life. Why wouldn't that be a good way to live?

This observation inspired me to leap up from my Sunday-evening-prone position to whip up Teddie's Apple Cake, which was the 70s era cake featured in the piece. You bake it in a tube pan because it's a heavy batter and needs the extra surface to rise the little bit it's going to rise. Also, in a plus, cakes that are baked in tube pans have that attractive hole in the middle thing going on. Anyway--the recipe called for raisins and walnuts in addition to a whopping 3 cups of sliced apples (we have a whole box of McIntoshes we're going to turn into applesauce sometime soon). I substituted dried tart cherries for the raisins and left out the nuts--I love pecans, but I decided to go nutless in case one of the picky eaters (hint: this category doesn't include either me or the historian) might deign to try a slice. The recipe also only uses cinnamon as a spice, but I might try making the spices more complex if I ever bake this again--and I might.

The cake came out of the oven at about 11:15. That's right, 45 minutes short of midnight. I let it cool for about 3.5 minutes, then cut two slices out of the cake still in its pan, one for me and one for the historian. It was lovely. The apples tasted like they had almost melted and the cherries were splendid.

I might try the other recipe featured in the article too--it's a reimagining of the flavors, etc., of the old recipe, made by Boris Portnoy who's a pastry chef at Campton Place in San Francisco. It's a Spiced Soufflé Crepe With Sautéed Apples--the apples are sauteed in butter with thyme, an idea that I've never thought of but it seems like I should have. Apparently you make a batter, put the sauteed apples in, and bake it--the batter rises spectacularly, and then when you eat it, there's a crisp top, the melty apples, and a custardy bottom. I think I might start this recipe closer to dinner time, however.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

This just in:

The Utah Jazz scored 133 points, scored a franchise-record 12 out of 16 three pointers, shot 62 percent, beat the Golden State Warriors, who themselves shot 52 percent, into submission. However, Jerry Sloan was unhappy about their defense.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Food court.

While the internet is working . . .


Running son and I went out to the mall today, because he needed to have his watch band adjusted and there's a 1 hour jewelry repair place there--I know, because I have had the chain on this one necklace I wear all the time and love there about a zillion times, easily equalling the original cost of the necklace a couple of times. It turned out that the watch band adjustment took about 3 minutes, but we decided we'd get lunch at the food court anyway--why not, we were there, and there's something for everyone at the food court.

We chose the Italian Village, which is a local version of Sbarro's, basically. You know what I'm talking about, right? Food that looks waaaaay better than it tastes, and sits heavy in the stomach afterward? Oh yeah. Food court. The best thing about this meal was easily the Dr. Pepper.


What saves a food court meal, which I only ever eat when I'm at the mall with my kids (or at the airport, but that is its own special circle of hell), is the conversation. We discussed: the disgusting state of the trash receptacle within eyeshot; the dire need of the Utah Jazz for an outside shooter; the amazing stats of Dirk Nowitzki last year (the last person to have his stats? wait for it . . . Larry Bird in his heyday--yes, two of the whitest men ever to play basketball); the nothing-but-inside game of the Utah Jazz; possible new jobs for running son now that the electrician's co. has laid him off.


After that he considered a new game for his Wii, I considered a sale dress at a store. Neither of us bought those things. Instead, we drove home whilst discussing how there are no bad songs on the new Foo Fighters, and wondering whether my son-in-law (running son's brother-in-law) was on drugs when he said of this album, "Where's the rock?"


Taggage: Scotland daughter (at http://davieshandsacross.blogspot.com/) has tagged me, the gist of which is to share seven random facts about myself. It also means I'm tagging some of y'all to do the same. Here's how it works:

The Rules
1. List the link to your tagger (like I did with Janet) and also post these following rules.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird, etc.
3. Tag 7 people at the the end of your blog also leaving the links to their blogs
4. Let them know they are "TAGGED" by leaving a comment on their blog

Seven facts about me:

1. I was born in Delaware in a segregated hospital.
2. I have yellow, purple, red, blue, and green shoes. Not all on the same shoe.
3. I have six kids, a project I started when I was twenty-two.
4. My first recorded music passion was Glen Campbell--the Wichita Lineman and the Galveston LPs. After that, I switched to Simon & Garfunkel. This was in junior high.
5. I never thought I would live in Utah this long--I came from SoCal. and thought, somehow, I might return to live there. That was 30 years ago.
6. I love to shop and have to fight with myself not to go into a store and buy something nearly every day. Often, I lose this fight.
7. I stay up till midnight almost every night, even when I'm tired.

Now: I tag

the orris http://signifyingnothing.com
middlebrow http://middlebrow.net
dr. write http://dr-write.blogspot.com/
counterintuitive http://counterintuitiverundonotwalk.blogspot.com/
assertively unhip http://assertivelyunhip.blogspot.com/
otterbutt http://nikwalk.blogspot.com/
and sleepy e http://thenewsleepy-e.blogspot.com/

Don't hate--post!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Movie movie movie movie.

Have I ever mentioned about how sometimes in the misty past, the historian and I used to see four movies a weekend? Regularly? Because we (and by we, I mean me) felt it would be a terrible thing to let a movie go unseen. By us.

I still get a little anxious about movies I haven't seen that I think I should see or should want to see, like Lust, Caution, which looks pretty and nonetheless seems possibly dreary to me. It's Ang Lee, who made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is one of my most favorite movies ever. But I can't make Lust, Caution be on the top of the list, or Eastern Promises, either. I'm sure it's very dread-filled and cerebral and visceral all at the same time. Still hovering down at four or five on the list.

At the top of the list tonight was American Gangster. And guess why? Because it's a big Hollywood movie of the self-designated Important ilk, starring movie stars. It is not a great film. But it was pretty good, definitely not bad, and it was fun to watch, because it is a story about crime and punishment, law and order, bad guy/good guy, and it is a version of the truth. Kind of a throwback film, too, about the seventies and drugs in the city. If you're the kind of person who sees doom in films that are not great (sleepy e? sleepy e?), I would be cautious about this movie. But if you like movie stars that also know how to act and who couldn't be unwatchable if they tried (well, this is almost true of the actors in this film), then you might enjoy American Gangster.

Tomorrow night we will see another movie, we haven't decided which one. It might be Wristcutters: A love story or it might be We Own the Night, which I saw with college daughter but which I'm pretty sure that the historian would love and which was good enough that I would enjoy seeing it again. (I would really like to see Michael Clayton again, too, because the opening monologue--I want to memorize it, it's so great.)

But we hardly ever see more than two in a weekend these days, because we kind of like to let the movie sink in. I personally sometimes wake up the next morning with the movie on my mind, and then we can talk about it for a couple of minutes before we get up. Movie stars are one good thing about movies. Talking about them the morning after is another good thing.

Internet deathwatch.

The internet at my house? It's either dead, or Ima kill it.

Who knows why. I'm a geek, but I'm not a natural-born geek, and no matter how many reboots and cord twirling and fix-the-internet dances I do, it has not been reliable for more than a week.

So I'm taking the advice of fast-internet-guy, middlebrow, and getting the Ferrari of internets at my house. The fast internet people tell me that my set-up stuff will arrive no later than November 7. Which, for anyone who's counting, is five days from now. Yeah. Five days.

I will not bore you with the amount of "going to a place that has the internet to post replies to my online students" I'm going to have to do for five days. Not to mention, I have no faith that the set up will be trouble-free, either. But sometime in--oh, let's say the next two weeks--I will be back online, at home, with smokin' fast internet. Which will make me, personally, run faster, jump higher, and be in a better mood. Also, I think it will help me lose weight, restore my faith in America, and finish a Ph.D., or something along those lines.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

That thing, that thing, that thing.

It's NaBlogPoMo, aka National Blog Posting Month.

My men and my women: shouldn't we all post our asses off this month? Like, every day? Just a little thing. Everyone has at least one little blog-worthy thing each day, doesn't everyone?

I hereby commit to you, my precious, my darling reader, to post each and every day in November. I promise to try to make it worth your while to check my blog each morning, noon, or night (or, if you're me, all three, plus every fifteen minutes in between). I will be witty. I will be mordant. I will write sassy, frassy, and brassy. I will be like a mailman, or even the Mailman: I will deliver.

And it would totally, totally make my month, my semester, my week, my day, my year, if some of you would do the very same.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Another way to waste my precious time.

Middlebrow taught me how to check the searches that lead people to my blog, and I thought you'd be glad to know that
  • awesome kung fu moves
  • greatest kung fu signature
  • "the simpsons" "keep your mouth shut"

all were searches on google that got people to my site. I'm still mulling over the significance of this. Perhaps, though, as this book I'm reading says, Everything is Miscellaneous, and there is in fact "power in the new digital disorder." Kung Fu Power.

In other news, I'm about halfway through half of my portfolios. And, I healed my internet at home by the laying on of hands, otherwise known as rebooting the modem and router (rebooting is just one of my awesome kung fu moves).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bulletin #346.2 or so: the indeterminate space between reading and nonreading.

1. Say hello to Mr. Puffy, who had his wisdom teeth out last week. This, in preparation for submitting his LDS mission papers. Yesterday was the first time he ate food that needed to be chewed (a pepperoni pizza, which isn't really food, it's medicine! it will help you get better from oral surgery!).


















2. Say hello to the Fluffy Chicken, which is what young Deacon is going to be for Halloween.





















3. The French are so dang smart! To wit, this brief interview Deborah Solomon conducted with Pierre Bayard in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine:

Q: As a professor of French literature at the University of Paris, you’re offering rather subversive advice in your 12th book, “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read,” which is about to be published in this country. Do you think it will fare as well here as it has done in Europe?

A: I have no idea. It was a best seller in France. People bought it without reading it — they followed my advice. It was a best seller in Germany, too, because there are many nonreaders in Germany, and they want to see their rights defended.

Q: Naturally, I read your book in preparation for this interview. Do you think I made a mistake in doing so?

A: What do you mean when you say, “I read it”? One of the purposes of my book is to show that it is not so easy to say that you have read a book.

Q: What’s wrong with the traditional method of starting a book on the first page and reading through to the end?

A: It’s important to know how to read from the first line to the last line, but there are also other ways of reading. You can skim books, you can just have heard about them, you can have read them and forgotten them.

Q: You write in your book about Montaigne, who confessed to having a poor memory and to forgetting about books he himself had written. Which leads you to ask: If we read a book and forget that we read it, is that the same as never having read it?

A: I think between reading and nonreading there is an indeterminate space that is quite important, a space where you have books you have skimmed, books you have heard about and books you have forgotten. You don’t have to feel guilty about it.

Q: But what about those of us who read to feel things — to experience pleasure, an end to loneliness?

A: Of course I read in order to feel something. And to feel an end to my loneliness, of course, just as you.

Q: Then why are you so willing to devalue the experience of close reading in favor of skimming? You seem to believe that knowing a little bit about 100 literary classics is preferable to knowing one book intimately.

A: I think a great reader is able to read from the first line to the last line; if you want to do that with some books, it’s necessary to skim other books. If you want to fall in love with someone, it’s necessary to meet many people. You see what I mean?

Q:You suggest in your book that schools destroy a love of literature, in part because they don’t allow skimming.

A: Yes. Sometimes I help my son write book reports. Guillaume — he’s 14. It’s terrible. The questions are so specific about the names of characters, dates and towns where the heroes went that I am unable to answer the questions. It is the model of reading in France. A kind of scientific reading, which prevents people from inventing another kind of reading, which should be a form of wandering, as in a garden.

Q: Wouldn’t your son be better off if you let him do his homework by himself?

A: He thinks he wastes his time with book reports, and I agree with him.

I love this guy.

4. The Chinese have nicknames for NBA players! In this wonderful profile of Steve Nash, found in the sports version of the NYTimes Sunday Magazine, the writer reports that the Chinese account for a third of the hits on nba.com, and have nicknames for a bunch of NBA players, including "Sweet Melon" for Carmelo Anthony, and "Stone Buddha" for Tim Duncan. Alas, they are correct about Duncan, aka The Nemesis.

And speaking of nemeses, I must read and respond to portfolios, aka the Stone Buddhas of my own personal game, which I am not on, actually, at the moment.

Friday, October 26, 2007

School is for suckers.

I think it must be the mid-to-late semester funk, but almost everything about the entire higher educational apparatus seems absurd, bogus, and fraudulent to me--everything except for summer vacation. Let me enumerate the reasons why this cannot be true:
  • people everywhere, women especially, actually have their lives improved when they are more educated--more economic power, more familial power, etc.
  • the signifier of the college degree still matters--it confers cultural capital, gets people in the door for their first jobs, gets them pay raises, etc.
  • a place in the capitalist world that isn't, at least not for the very moment, about making money, that is about creating what might be called a "life of the mind," is valuable.
  • education changes--can change--how you look at things, analyze problems, act in the world, for the better. Can change.

And yet . . . as the historian and I tried to engage with students on the basis of three texts we were all supposed to have prepared to discuss--the Preface to the original edition of Our Bodies, Our Selves, a piece from Susan Brownmiller's "The Enemy Within," and a piece by Frances M. Beal, “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female”--the miasma of uselessness set in. It's so easy to believe that no one gives a rat's ass about any of it when the students appear to be waiting you out, waiting for the time to be up. To be fair: they're preparing writing portfolios, they're writing a midterm essay, they work, they have lives, they have other classes . . . and yet the life of the mind seemed like a happy happy dream in that classroom yesterday. Although, and again to be fair, they had spent a noisy and productive half hour prior to that conversation developing the ideas for their collaborative proposals.

A possibly soul-sapping non-discussion like that can make you extrapolate that sense of uselessness to all your other academic endeavors. That piece you're writing with a colleague that you'd like to transform into a webtext and submit to KAIROS? Why bother? Who will read it anyway, and what will it matter? The ways you know you'd like to improve your online courses? Are those students even bothering to click on the links? Who can tell? The policy committees (note the plural! how did this happen? HOW?) you're on, the labor you've expended in writing stuff like that, policies and procedures that are just going to turn into more bureaucratic practices that everyone's going to hate--why did you choose to spend your precious breath on that?

In class yesterday, I asked why the women's movements in America all included a substantial amount of advocacy for women's health issues. One student, a cosmetology student, raised her hand and said, "Because taking care of your health makes you feel more confident." She seemed a little sheepish, but she had in fact read, and had, in fact, understood a major point that the Boston Women's Health Collective made:

For us, body education is core education. Our bodies are the physical bases from which we move out into the world; ignorance, uncertainty — even, at worst, shame — about our physical selves create in us an alienation from ourselves that keeps us from being the whole people that we could be. . . . Learning to understand, accept, and be responsible for our physical selves, we are freed of some of these preoccupations and can start to use our untapped energies. Our image of ourselves is on a firmer base, we can be better friends and better lovers, better people, more self-confident, more autonomous, stronger and more whole.

It's what I'm holding onto today--that students don't always reveal what they're thinking or learning, that talking or trying to talk about whatever--how writing works in the world, what Our Bodies, Our Selves meant to me when I was a young woman, what is the radical potential of texts--might actually mean something to someone. Might make a difference. How I do my job might possibly make a difference to someone.

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