Friday, October 30, 2009
Blog Note: This week's blog essay was a failure I will spare you the torture of reading. It contains many words to little point. I shall heed the words of the great Churchill and enthusiastically move on to next week's essay. Thank you for your patience, and have an excellent Halloween weekend!
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Happy National Chocolate Day! Check out Discovery News for all the wonderful, scientific justifications for EATING CHOCOLATE! Thanks to my friend Cheryl H. for bringing this delightful holiday to my attention. I'm going to eat a Dove Promise (or two) to celebrate.
BOO!!! Coffees of Hawaii has a Happy Halloween promotion going on. Get 25% off your order when you use the promo code "boo"--which pretty much got me free shipping on my order. If you missed my joyful celebration of Malulani Estate coffee, you can read about it HERE.
And of course, we need a sugary, food-related giggle for the week of Halloween, so here it is.
Thank you, LOLCats. Er, LOLBunnehs. Whatever.
Monday, October 26, 2009
--Jon Katz, who graciously replied to an email I sent him even though his website says he usually won't. (More about this on Wednesday.)
--Safe travels for loved ones.
What are you grateful for today?
Grady Update: As of yesterday, Grady was doing okay. He is jaundiced again, so he's naked and under the lamp. My sister prefers him with his clothes on because he's not as scary that way, LOL! I can't imagine how tiny he is...I thought my firstborn was "scary small" and he was 6lbs, 15 oz! Grady still can't regulate his temperature yet, and he's lost a bit of weight...both of which are normal in his situation. He's now 4lbs, 6 oz, but he is still eating well and breathing well. My sister is very tired. Many thanks for your continued prayers for them during this scary and very stressful time!
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Grady Willis McCarthy, my new nephew, is doing so well! He was born Monday, October 19, at 33.5 weeks, but Thursday, the doctors removed his nasal canula because he's breathing so well. He's even starting to breastfeed a bit!
Many thanks to all of you who have lifted Grady and my sister up in prayer this week. Lisa asked me to share her thanks as well. She has been so at peace all week when she would ordinarily have been freaking out. She credits all the wonderful prayers for her calm because it's truly a miracle! Please continue to hold them in your prayers as Lisa recovers from her c-section and Grady continues to grow.
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!
We watched The Wizard of Oz last weekend in HD. It's such a beautiful movie visually, but I'd forgotten how creepy it is. What is up with those three Munchkins from the Lollipop Guild? They sure are twitchy.
At one point, Jack got scared and said, "I don't like that witch!" He covered his face with a blanket. BUT IT WAS GLINDA THAT SCARED HIM!!!
Glinda appears, from an adult perspective, simply to be rather high on some very happy drugs, but from Jack's childhood perspective, she was totally weird.
And then I saw this LOLCat, and thought I'd share it as my weekly giggle!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
In 1984, my interest in fashion waned. That’s the year I bought my last Seventeen Magazine and the year I graduated from an elite private prep school. Before that year, I cared deeply about appearances and spent 1.5 hours each morning washing, primping, hot-rollering, dressing, and making myself up. I had an eyelash curler, and by golly I wasn’t afraid to use it. Most mornings, just before carpool arrived, I would decide to change my whole outfit and rush out the door fastening my ribbon belt.
I was trying—and failing spectacularly—to fit in, but at least I was a preppy, neat, and fashionable failure.
College fixed all that. Duke University, at least for those of us completely uninterested in sorority rush, was all about nose-to-the-grindstone studying. Your roommate didn’t care whether your Izod polo shirt matched your eye shadow at two o’clock in the morning when you were quizzing each other on the difference between mitosis and meiosis for a Cell Biology exam. Your classical history chum wasn’t concerned with the state of your penny loafers while you were comparing notes on Odysseus’ use of rhetorical tropes in his speech to Nausikaa.
Who can bother with 1.5 hours of primping in the morning when you didn’t stop studying until 4:00 AM and you’ve got a stinkin’ 8:00 AM calculus class on the other side of campus?
No one. That’s who.
Underneath my preppy high school exterior was a woman who just wanted to be comfortable, clean, and presentable. As my sister always says, “Never sacrifice comfort for fashion.” After being liberated by my college experience, I enjoyed shopping for clothes and never again stressed about being a fashion plate. I also never had a hard time finding acceptable, comfortable, classic clothing to meet my admittedly conservative standards. Until recently.
What in the name of Ralph Lauren is going on in the fashion industry? I’m confused, and have been for about three years. That’s when I started seeing a revival of early 1980s weirdness: the Madonna crap, not the cute preppy stuff (though the Gap did try). But what little preppy stuff I saw disappeared quickly, to be followed by a fashion motif best labeled “Hurry Up! Let’s ALL Look Frumpy and Pregnant!”
It took me two days of hard searching in 2007 to find a decent dress to wear to my husband’s Air Force retirement ceremony. That was my last major clothing purchase, and as a result, by this year, my wardrobe started getting, shall we say, tired. To perk it up, my sister and I went clothes shopping back in March, when we encountered the following fashion trends (in addition to the Pregnant Look) that really put my knickers in a twist:
--Shirts with oversized ruffles, cowls, or cotton lace.
--Shirts with distracting and unflattering ties, ruches, and puckers.
--Shirts with patterns so loud and colors so garish that my eyes looked away in self-defense.
I found a few shirts that were, at best, inoffensive and hoped for better in the summer. But in July, when I saw three different women dressed in full-length, tube-top sundresses at the Indianapolis Zoo, I gawked in horror.
Why? For the love of Bermuda shorts and at-the-waist jeans, WHY?
These old fashions were ugly enough the first time around, but I consider it a crime against womankind that the clothing industry is uglifying women and expecting us to be grateful for it in these hard economic times. Couldn’t we all use a little pretty in our lives right now?
Mary Grimes and I went shopping in Madison while our husbands put their feet up the day before Ironman. Mary is very stylish and used to be a buyer for Talbots. I felt sorry for her shopping with me. I tried on an embarrassing number of outfits and found that nothing fit me. Nothing. Do the clothing manufacturers consider that women often have bigger hips than waists? Do they notice that most of us are not 5’11” and 98 pounds? Do they notice that we have skin that doesn’t like scratchy seams or stiff fabric that chafes?
Am I really asking too much?
This fall, as my wardrobe further deteriorated into tatters, I resolved to focus on the Eddie Bauer, Lands End, and L.L.Bean catalogs: long-time reliable sources of classic clothing. Perusing their most recent offerings, however, I found that even they have caved a bit to the uglification process. Skinny belts over cardigans (who but fashion models can carry that off?), low-rise pants (instant muffin-top, anyone?), and maternity shirts with weird little bows and puckers appear next to lovely classic cable sweaters, studio skirts, and cashmere argyle scarves.
That studio skirt is going to be mine, by the way. All mine.
My apologies to anyone who is thrilled with today’s fashions, but if you are, I hazard a guess that you’re younger (and skinnier) than I am. Just think, one day, when fashion cycles back to this look, you’ll be decades older and not so skinny or tolerant of discomfort, and you’ll remember this essay. And I predict that you will have joined me and my sister in agreement with the brilliant Gilda Radner, who said, “I base my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.”
Fashion industry, I hope you’re listening.
Monday, October 19, 2009
The doctors expect Grady to spent 2-4 weeks in NICU before going home.
Many, many thanks for all the prayers and good wishes. I will keep you posted with any new news as it comes my way.
Please continue to lift them up!
Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers this week as Lisa recovers and as little Grady gets an unexpectedly early start in life. I will keep you posted.
Many thanks in advance!
I am grateful for this sign, which sadly wasn't for sale, that speaks my truth so well:
And these Y-chromosome-toting individuals on a hay ride through the orchard:
And this face that resulted from my asking for a "Halloween face," which was accompanied by scary Halloween noises, which sadly were not captured:
And this scary Halloween face, which needs no soundtrack:
What are you grateful for today?
Friday, October 16, 2009
This morning at 5:46, I was awakened by a low moan that sounded very much like a dying breath. It is not fun being awakened by a low moan that sounds like a dying breath. It's freaky and panic-inducing. I moved to the end of the bed and reached down to nudge Hoover.
He did not move. At all.
I said his name.
He did not move. At all.
I shoved my hand under his front leg and over his heart. I waited.
He looked up and said, "What? Me?"
He said it with his eyes.
He deserves an Oscar.
Or at least a Furry Freak Award.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
While watching Prince Caspian, Nick saw Caspian’s aunt, obviously in pain, delivering a baby.
Nick: That’s why I am glad I’m a boy.
Nick: Okay, mom. I did an experiment in my room. I put rubber toys in a bottle and sprayed water in it. I took the toys out, and it smelled BAD. I mean really BAD. So I put the toys back in, and this was a long time ago. What do we do now?
George [channeling my inner thoughts]: You need to go upstairs, get the bottle, and bring it down here. We’re going to throw it away.
[Nick does as asked and throws the bottle away.]
George: Nick, I think it’s really cool that you like to experiment and see what happens. But we need to know that there are no food-based experiments in your room that could make someone sick.
Nick: No. I did this experiment years ago, like when I was five.
At the dinner table:
Nick: We were watching Zach and Cody, and he took a girl’s breast and scratched his back with it!
[George and I make eye contact at the word “breast.”]
George: He took a girl’s what?
Nick: He took a girl’s brush and scratched his back with it.
[George and I breathe simultaneous sighs of relief.]
George [after belching hugely]: That was a thing of beauty.
Nick: That was a thing of disgustance.
Nick: Mom, can I do $4 worth of extra chores today?
Me: That’s a lot of chores. What do you want $4 for?
Nick: Yu-Gi-Oh cards.
George: We are not giving you extra allowance for more Yu-Gi-Oh cards.
Nick: Why not?
Me: Nick, why don’t you think about the long term? You want Santa to bring you a DS or a Wii, but the games and accessories for those are really expensive. Why not save your allowance for them? It’s going to take you 20 weeks to save enough for a Wii game, and that’s a long time, but you’ll enjoy the game a lot more for a lot longer than you would the cards.
George: You already have a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. It’s just like the Pokemon cards. You just HAD to have Pokemon cards, and now you can’t stand them. How much money did we spend on Pokemon cards that you never play with now?
Me: A lot.
Nick: But I want more Yu-Gi-Oh cards, please?!!?
George: Nick, why should we give you money for something that you’re not going to use a few months from now? People don’t like giving other people things that are just going to end up being ignored. It’s a waste. If you want to save your regular allowance for cards, that’s fine. But we’re not going to come up with extra chores for you to earn extra money to buy cards. And that’s the bottom line.
Nick: So, the answer’s no?
On the way to the barber shop:
Nick: This is the WORST thing to EVER happen to me!!!!!
Me: Yes, your life is so hard.
Nick: This might sound weird, but I want to be Chinese.
George: Really? Why is that, pal?
Nick: Well, they have cool parades with dragons and stuff.
George: OK. But, you aren’t Chinese and you never will be.
Nick: I could be baptized Chinese.
Nick: Well, in that movie that guy was baptized Greek. [Referring to the baptism scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding]
George: Ah…well, Nick, he was actually baptized so he could be a part of the Greek Orthodox Church. He still wasn’t Greek. In order to be Greek, he needed to have some Greek ancestors.
Nick: And I don’t have any Chinese ancestors?
Nick: No Chinese blood at all?
George: Not a drop, pal. You are pure European. Mainly Finn.
Nick: [Sound of disgust and disappointment from the back seat]
George [quietly]: Nick and Jack, it’s time to get into bed.
Nick: Dad, are you feeling okay?
George: Yes. Why?
Nick: You sound so quiet. I thought something must be wrong, like you’re sick or something.
George [in his drill sergeant voice]: Get into bed, boys!
Nick: Good. That sounds more normal.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Today, I called the Glen Helen Raptor Center for an update on the young barred owl George rescued in early September. Betty Ross told me he's doing pretty well. He is permanently blind in his left eye but appears to have no brain injury from his encounter with a moving vehicle. He's not flying straight yet (a few weeks ago, he could only fly in circles), but he's improving as he adjusts to having only one eye.
Betty told me how healthy young owls in the wild have an 80% mortality rate their first winter because they are not experienced hunters and haven't yet established territories. Young owls with only one eye have even less chance of surviving. Interestingly, older owls who have lost one eye can be released to the wild and do pretty well because they know their territory, have lots of experience hunting, and usually have a mate to help them.
Our owl is currently in a cage with another injured owl. Someone in the cage is eating live mice, but Betty isn't sure which of the two it is. Perhaps they both are. Next week she will move our owl to his own cage. Depending on how well he does catching live mice over the winter, Betty may decide to release him in late spring. This is obviously the best outcome we could hope for.
If Betty decides he can't be released, she will see that he finds a good home in an educational setting. She assured me he would not be euthanized.
I asked if the owl had a name yet, and she said they don't name them until they are sure they won't be released, but she said if we had any suggestions at that time, she would consider them. If the opportunity does come up, I'll ask for suggestions from you!
Betty appreciated the fact that we still care about "our" owl and want to know how he's doing. I deeply appreciate that Betty Ross cares about feathered wildlife enough to protect and care for them.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Here's the man who made it possible for each member of the family to have a digital camera:
The boy who took responsibility for a big camera and took some great pictures:
The little boy who took 30 pictures of his feet, on purpose:
My best bug shot:
My coolest bug shot:
The strangest thing we saw:
What are you grateful for today?
Friday, October 9, 2009
Yes! Yesterday, I noticed a huge, black, furry caterpillar on my front porch. For pictures and information, check out this educational website. This definitely qualified as strange, in an amazing and wonderful way. I'd love to see the giant leopard moth in the wild as well. It looks spectacular.
What strange thing have you found today? This past week? I'm going to search quite actively for something strange today. Care to join me and share the results?
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Back in 1988, after only two years of marriage, George grew bored with my limited repertoire of recipes so, in a desperate effort to broaden our dietary options, he bought a crock pot.
Do you know how infinitely weird it is to see your otherwise testosterone-driven, USAF second-lieutenant “I wanna fly in fighters” husband dancing with glee over a $20 crock pot he bought at the BX? Trust me. It’s weird.
He comes by his innate passion for cooking honestly. His mother is half Italian, which gives her a genetic imperative to cook. She enjoys putting good, rich, plentiful food on her family table, and both her children inherited that joy.
I’m not feeling quite the same level of joy myself. But then, there are no Italians in my family tree, either. My mother taught me to cook, for which I am grateful. Because of her, I can follow a recipe and feel pretty competent in the kitchen. I can pull together a complete Thanksgiving feast without feeling intimidated by anything except the gravy.
Why does the thought of having to make gravy give me anxious hives? I mean, why gravy? It doesn't make sense because gravy isn't terribly difficult or persnickity. Lots of other things are harder to make. Pie crust, for instance. Most people break out in anxious hives over pie crust and run to their grocer's freezer to buy them ready-made. Not me. All through my childhood, my mother would make dozens of apple pies every fall to freeze and give as Christmas gifts. Her apple pies are legendary, and she taught me her secrets so well that my apple pie won a blue ribbon at our church festival.
Of course, I won because I waited until the last minute to bake the pie, and it was still warm when the judges tasted it. (I didn’t strategize this, by the way, I just procrastinated.) No matter how wonderful other desserts are, they simply cannot compete with warm, cinnamon-rich, buttery apple pie. I felt like I was cheating.
I live in America, folks, the land of baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Of those three things, the only one every single man, woman, and child in the country cares about is apple pie. If you want to win a baking contest in America every single blessed time, submit a warm apple pie.
But am I passionate about cooking? Not really. It’s okay, but I’m more of a short-order cook and baker than a true chef. I don’t make up recipes or contemplate the mysteries of yeast while stuck in traffic. Cooking is mostly a chore for me, so I look for ways to make it go fast.
To my great good fortune, my apathetically monotonous menu activated George’s passion for cooking. Even in the early days, he created surprisingly few disasters. Only two have seared themselves into my memory. In case you didn’t know, pinto beans cooked to mush in Italian spices are not delicious. Also, if a recipe calls for two ancho chiles in adobo sauce, don’t use two CANS of ancho chiles in adobo sauce.
Please trust me on that one.
Mostly, however, George succeeds in his culinary adventures, which have increased in both daring and cost over the years. I cannot let him go to our local upscale market unsupervised anymore. Did you know it’s entirely possible to spend $100 on a single meal? Okay, it wasn’t just a single meal because there were enough leftovers to last a week. George is one-quarter Italian, remember. He cooks BIG.
To curb the expense, we started playing our version of Iron Chef. I buy a fairly random selection of ingredients that don’t cost $100, and George has to invent something edible with those ingredients using only whatever else we have to hand. He’s invented some lovely dishes with these challenges, and he has fun pretending to be Bobby Flay.
A dude who makes Julia Child’s French bread and fearlessly tosses a cup of water into his hot oven makes a great husband, but he comes at a price. Whenever I make dinner—let’s say a pot of chili—George will eat it and then tell me what he would have done differently. “Oh, I would have added a hint of Penzey’s ancho chili powder; it would add a more complex, smoky flavor.”
WHAT!? Are you saying my chili doesn’t have enough flavor?!?! You make the freakin’ chili next time, Mr. Flavor Expert!
Of course, he doesn’t mean it like that. He’s a foodie, and he just wants to talk about food. A lot. Like anyone with an obsessive interest, he derives great pleasure from discussing the process, the ingredients, a recipe’s good points and bad points and how he’ll change it next time. He contemplates the complexities of spices while sitting in boring meetings, invents recipes in the shower, plans menus while riding his bike. Sometimes, he even dreams about food.
To fuel these thoughts, he collects books and magazines about cooking. Consider this picture of his cookbook shelves:
Methinks we need bigger shelves.
For a while, George fantasized about going to a cooking school to become a professional chef, but after reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, he decided that wasn’t a lifestyle he wanted. Instead, he kept buying cookbooks and magazines until he so overflowed with ideas and enthusiasm that he craved a larger audience than little ol’ me. He started his own cooking blog, and posts his inventions and ideas for the world to see.
George uses his blog (Eat, Drink, and Be Merry with Spot) to spread the joy of cooking. I encourage you to check it out, even if you didn’t inherit powerful cooking genes, because finding joy in an everyday necessity really is good for the soul.
This Thanksgiving, George is making the gravy, but I'm making the apple pie. What a great way to share the joy.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Today, I am grateful for autumn, with its crisp weather and fun family activities like the Incredible Corn Maize . (Click on the oval marked Maize to see an aerial view of this huge work of agricultural art!) We spent two hours in this beauty.
Half-way through, we took a break and bought some snacks, and Nick had his first Orange Crush. As we headed into the second half of the maze, Nick said, "This is a great can of joe!"
Aren't kids the BEST? I can't make up stuff like that.
What are you grateful for today?
Friday, October 2, 2009
Me: Don’t tickle me. I’m too full and will hurl. I enjoyed it too much to lose it.
George: Well, you could always enjoy it a second time, a la Hoover [the dog, who cleans up his own vomit].
Me: You are disgusting.
George: Yes. I’m a dude. We’re halfway between chicks and dogs.
George: Okay, closer to dogs.
George: Ewww. You women think you’re soooo superior!
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Isn’t it funny how comforting it is to find just one person out of the billions on our planet who exhibits your own particular brand of obsession? Knowing I was not alone gave me permission to buy even more blank books. Really, you just never know when you might need one.
When we go to heaven (note my optimism), I’m certain we will be able to find the answers to all those burning questions that puzzle us in life. What is the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything? Is it really 42 and do you need a towel to calculate it? What killed the dinosaurs? What causes autism? What is the unified field theory and can an angel explain it to me so that I really understand it? Was Chaucer gay? Did Shakespeare write his plays (I think so) or was their author really the Earl of Oxford? What is my dog thinking at any given moment?
I’ll be sure to ask a few questions about blank books, too. How many blank books stay blank for their entire earthly existence? What percentage of the total is that? Is there a special library in heaven for blank books? Do the angels write in them so they don’t feel so useless?
Take this lovely book, for instance. It's made with handmade paper by bookbinders from Thailand. I bought it at a craft fair in Greensboro, North Carolina, more than a decade ago. I've never written in it. It's too pretty. I might mess it up.
Blank books represent potential: words, sentences, paragraphs that can express meaningful thoughts in a relatively permanent form for someone to read. Reality can't always live up to potential, however, and fear of failure--that our words won't say what we want them to say in the way we want them to say it--keeps these books blank.
Or maybe it's just me. Fear of failure has kept me from doing a lot of things. Writing a novel, for instance.
I've had an idea for a novel since 1987. It came to me during my senior year at Duke, when I took a graduate seminar in Medieval History. I've done a lot of research over the years and have actually written scenes and whole chapters. The dirty, stained book on the left below contains some very bad scenes for the novel:
The pristine book on the right is still completely blank because I switched to composing on the computer after Nick was born. A few years and about 50 single-spaced pages in Microsoft Word later, I lost it all in a corrupted floppy disk incident.
Please don’t ask. It’s just too painful.
I have a number of blank books like the ones above that hold paper craft ideas. I have filled them with hundreds of card and scrapbook ideas over the years. Unfortunately, I almost never look in them when I need inspiration. I just stare at my stamps and ink and hope the Muse will speak to me.
Please remind me why I took the time to fill these notebooks in the first place.
Here is a lovely leather-bound blank book, similar to several others purchased at Barnes and Noble or Borders over the last 15 years. Each has some writing in it, but nothing finished. This one contains a journal I wrote to Nick when he was in my womb. See his first portraits? Who knew a lima bean could be so cute? I did the same thing for Jack, but predictably, Nick’s is much fuller than Jack’s.
Second children get gypped, every time.
In the interest of full disclosure, I went looking for the first blank book I remember buying, which was in college. I thought it would be in a Sterilite storage bin in the basement skulking, hidden from view, but apparently in a temporary fit of sanity, I threw it away. It contained all that remained (maybe ten pages) of the poetry I wrote in college.
When I got bored in class, I wrote poems. This is ironic, as two of the classes that bored me silly were poetry classes covering poems far more stunning and intelligent and skillful than my angst-ridden whining could ever be. I loathed twentieth-century English and British poetry until I went to graduate school, when I was finally mature enough to appreciate them. In college, though, the beauty of William Carlos Williams and the WWI poets was lost on me.
In my defense, I did love T.S. Eliot’s work even in high school, so I wasn’t a total idiot. Just be grateful I threw my own poems away, or I might have actually shared some of them with you. What has been read cannot be unread.
This is among my best-loved blank books, one that will die happy knowing it was really useful and loved and frequently handled. It contains my Christmas craft project and gift notes for the last five years: pages of shopping lists, project check-lists, who got what and when it was shipped, and tips for the next Christmas. Without this notebook, bus drivers and church secretaries would have bleak Christmases indeed because there's no way I would ever be organized enough to remember how important they are until sometime in February, when it would be embarrassingly late to give them a Christmas gift.
I pulled the Christmas book out a few days ago to start getting ready for Christmas 2009 and found this staccato tidbit of information: "Make less bulky Christmas cards--and larger ones. A2 size is so small. Ribbon knots are so bulky. Make flat cards."
Sadly, it's a little late for this advice. I've already made 80 or so A2-size cards, many of which have ribbon knots on them. Oh, well. At least I try.
And that's what blank books are ultimately all about: trying. Trying to overcome fear and anger and depression (which worked, for the most part). Trying to express ephemeral thoughts in a more permanent form. Trying to remember too much stuff. Trying to document wonderful moments and feelings so they can be remembered at a later date and shared with loved ones. Trying to be organized in thought, word, and deed. Trying to find myself through words and sketches and random ink marks on pages of books.
Nick has acquired my love of blank books, but his rarely remain blank. Instead, he fills them full to bursting with drawings, ideas, words, lists, whatever. He's not afraid to write in the pretty books. I hope it stays that way.
Over the years, I've become far less concerned that my blank books remain either unfinished or completely blank. I don't take life nearly as seriously as I did when I wrote bad poetry in college. I may never write that novel, but by heaven above, I've already written a lot of essays in my life. The word essay originally meant a trial or an attempt, and came to be used to describe short pieces of writing that try to explain, explore, argue, or reflect upon a rather focused topic.
Yoda said, "Do. Or do not. There is no try." He was wrong. We should keep trying. Sometimes we'll get it right. Sometimes, we won't.
And that's okay. As long as we keep trying.
What are you trying right now?