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


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


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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

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


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.


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.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

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


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:


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