Friday, April 29, 2005

Anger for Blogger--A Haiku

Using Blogger sucks.
My soul is gray as today.
My new post is lost.

Seriously. I spent fifteen minutes pretending to do real work, and then lost the whole post as I was trying to add the links. If I were a rock star I would have smashed the monitor with my guitar.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Liverpool can be a lonely place on a Saturday night, and this is only Thursday ...evening

From Here to Maternity: The Education of a Rookie Mom, by Beth Teitell – boooorrrrrring. Don’t bother. Tedious, self-absorbed, and repetitive. The chapter on how she feels she has to massage her nanny’s ego was beyond painful. I was torturing myself reading it when I finally realized I was bored and irritated so I stopped. I’m getting smarter in my old age. So I picked up the new Ruth Reichl, Garlic and Sapphires. It’s terrific. (Although who told her to not trim her bangs before having her author picture taken was sadly misguided!) If I didn’t know that I’d have boys awake at 630, I’d have sat up late and read the whole thing in one sitting. It’s absolutely delightful, and funny, and has great recipes. It inspired me to go request a mess of food books from the library:

Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of MFK Fisher – Joan Reardon. I really enjoy Fisher’s writing so would like to find out more about her creative inspirations, and in addition, I really want to find out more about her personal life. She’s so circumspect in her writing that you never really figure out why she leaves her husband, or how the lover she leaves him for dies, or any of those intriguing facts. Boy, am I nosy.

Last Chance to Eat - Gina Mallet. Jessa Crispin of Bookslut raved about this book. Good enough for me. It sounds interesting enough that I would consider buying it when it comes out in paperback, but they changed the cover from the hardback edition, and the new paperback cover is plain ugly. So I’ll read it and if I love it, I’ll buy the hardback with the pretty cover.

Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life – Mimi Sheraton. Sheraton was the New York Times restaurant critic in the 70s and 80s; so after reading Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl’s take on her years as the Times’ restaurant critic, I wanted to read more. This seemed a logical choice.

Stalking the Green Fairy: And other adventures in food and drink – James Villas. I’m sorry, but isn’t the name alone enough to intrigue you? And the cover art is very Art Nouveau – just like the prints hanging in my powder room. So I like the style. And one of the reviewers on Amazon likens Villas to “MFK Fisher, Edna Lewis, and Ruth Reichl rolled into one.”

Fried Butter: A Food Memoir – Abe Opincar. I don’t even remember why, probably one of those Amazon, “Customers who bought this book also bought:” lists. But since it’s free, heck, I’ll check it out.
Sometimes - just occasionally, mind you, and in moments of complete lunacy - I want to have ten children. Here’s one of those moments:
This morning we were waiting for one of Si’s little friends to come over. He and Jude sat down on the big armchair in our entryway and Simon read A Fish Out of Water to Jude while they waited. Jude loved it. I was completely captivated. Of course within the hour Jude had a black eye, Simon and Sarah were running around screaming like banshees, and the playroom was a complete wreck. But it was nice while it lasted ; )


For some reason my stomach cooperated this morning and I baked six mini loaves of banana-walnut bread for my sons’ daycare’s bake sale tomorrow. I love the idea of a bake sale to raise funds, rather than having two- and three-year olds selling tubs of inedible cookie dough and crappy candy bars to their relatives. I got the recipe from and it is the BEST banana bread I have ever tasted (might have something to do with the three pounds of bananas it requires! Also, substitution note in the interest of full disclosure: I used sour cream instead of crème fraiche). It makes a ton of batter, so I threw some in a mini-muffin tin I have, and they turned out beautifully and looked so cute. The kids LOVED them. They were two bites’ worth of bread, perfect size for little guys. Just call me Martha.
Last week, on my way to pick the boys up at school, I spied a cool chair in someone’s garbage, out on the curb. When I drove back that way getting home, it was still there, clearly garbage, so I stopped, threw it in the back of my car and took it home. I ripped off all the ratty upholstery. It’s a nice solid wooden chair with arms, and it more or less matches the style of another chair we already own that lives in our entryway. I have been meaning to learn to re-upholster before I tackle the couch, so I thought a chair might be a good place to start. My mistake was in letting Dan find out where the chair had come from – but what was I going to do, muzzle the boys? Poor Dan does not understand my fascination with other people’s cast-offs. I love to go to the flea market and generally find good stuff; most of the furniture in our house is flea market or estate sale finds, some expensive, most not. I tend toward handiness, and am unafraid of experimenting, so don’t think twice about buying pieces (or hauling them out of the trash) to work on. I brought home a cherry rocker that needs only to be reupholstered from an estate sale recently. I thought it was a bargain at 55 bucks. Dan thought I’d been ripped off. Until I pointed out that it was a good chair, brand-name (I priced similar chairs of the same brand on Ebay and emailed him the results), and reminded him that you can’t buy a new chair for twice what I paid for this chair. I’ll bet he’ll buy that argument – which is true – once I finish recovering it. I bought some really cute yellow and red Chinese-themed Waverley fabric at Joann’s from their flat-fold section for three bucks a yard (speaking of bargains!!) and it’s my next project. Then the rocker that needs a new spindle on the back; then the porch rocker that needs to be re-veneered…the list goes on and on.

OK, the other evening I looked out my kitchen window, across the backyard that abuts ours, and in the next yard were three youngish (maybe 10-12 years old) boys, playing with a ball and climbing trees. I happen to know the woman who owns that house lives by herself, and her children are grown, in college, or whatever. So I poked my nose out the back door and yelled, “Hey! Do you guys know the person who lives in that house?” They all stared at me. So I continued, “If you don’t, and I suspect you don’t have permission to be in there, you need to leave.” Grumbling, grumping, mutters of “There’s no fence” from the three boys. They stared at me and made no move. So I threaten to call the cops, at which point, rather than exiting the way they’d entered, through the unfenced back, they saunter up the fairly long yard, past the front of the house, and out to the street. Man, what ever happened to respecting other people’s property? When I was a kid, I would no sooner have played in my neighbor’s yards, let alone a stranger’s yard, without permission than I would have played on the freeway behind our house. And these kids do not live on our block – I’d have recognized them. The park is only three blocks away, the schoolyard is one block over; it’s not as if these kids lack for spaces to play. And God forbid one of them fall out of the tree they’re climbing or cut themselves on the side fence or whatever – guess whose parents would be filing a lawsuit as quick as they could? I just can’t fathom that lack of respect for others’ property. It makes me NUTS (as if I need any help in that department…) Is it a generational thing?

And don’t even get me started on people who carry on loud personal conversations in the library (not cell phone conversations, either, for a change). I know the days of hushing and shushing patrons are long-gone, but honestly…does anyone here really need or want to hear about the hokey poem your boyfriend wrote to you, or the inspiration behind your latest art efforts, or what you plan to do with the rest of your evening? Can’t you go across the street to Starbucks and regale the clientele there (who are NOT trying to study) with your pathetic and boring stories? I so wanted to shush them, but my hair isn’t long enough for a bun. Although I could glare at them over my wire-rimmed glasses.

Monday, April 25, 2005

I wonder where the birdies is

I just got back from my OB. I have gained no weight – which I am both pleased about and worried about. They say it’s fine, not to worry, I will start feeling better soon and will gain then. (Of course these are the same people who told me I could only gain fifteen pounds this pregnancy…) But I’ve already thrown up twice today – exactly when does this feeling-better begin? I can’t remember from my previous pregnancies, but God, I hope it’s soon! Although my pants are fitting a lot better, except for the belly.

We hosted a coffee hour for Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Bill Peduto yesterday. He seems like a really intelligent guy who has some great ideas for fixing the city’s troubles. He isn’t very political – which I personally like; he’s not slick or a stereotypical politician – he thinks about his answers to questions, he clearly believes in his causes, and he really loves this city and its neighborhoods and people. Patrick Dowd, our neighbor and a member of the Pittsburgh Public School board, endorses Bill, and as Patrick is one of the most stand-up guys I know, that’s a solid, worthy endorsement that means something to me.

Unfortunately there’s a very good chance Peduto and Michael Lamb will split the progressive vote (not that Michael Lamb is a bad candidate at all). So do your research and get out and vote May 17 in the primaries. This city needs some serious help, and someone with vision and brains to lead it, and I personally think Bill Peduto is the guy.

I spent last night reading Just here Trying to Save A Few Lives, by Pamela Grim. There are some good stories, but she’s an ER doc burnout and it shows in her writing. I guess that is the point of her book, but it gets a bit depressing after a while. Next up: not sure, maybe The Cruelest Miles, but I do know I intend to go buy Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires in the next few days, and then Beth Gutcheon’s new book, Leeway Cottage, as soon as it’s released May 3.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

the grass is riz

I finished With No One As Witness this morning. A bit melodramatic at the end perhaps, but wow, what a read! Elizabeth George does not fail her fans! I realized halfway through that I really want to go back to the beginning (13 books ago?) and reread. The characters have changed and grown so much. It would be fun to travel the journey with them again, now that I know where they wind up. A Great Deliverance is the first in the series.

I need something calm and domestic to ease back into the reading world, so I brought Tender at the Bone with me to work today. But it makes me hungry for real and amazing food. After reading the chapter when Ruth goes home with one of her friends from her French boarding school, I now want to go back to Paris and eat foie gras that feels like silk in your mouth; crepes with lemon and sugar so light they melt; the ice cream at Berthillon; the chocolate tart at Café Mimi; the Croque Monsieur at the little brasserie on the corner near our hotel; the fresh baguette and jam and big cups of hot coffee and milk every morning for breakfast. The French have a way of making even a simple ham sandwich sublime. Of course then there was the butcher shop with the horse head hanging outside…those silly Europeans, they’ll eat anything! And I thought I didn’t remember much about Paris. Admittedly it’s a bit more of a blur than Italy or London was, probably because I had NO CLUE what anyone was saying at any given time, but I guess the food did make an impression after all : ) Anyone who knows me knows that, for me, a vacation is largely about the food!


I just had two hang-ups in a row from the same number at the reference desk. How odd do you have to be to crank call a reference desk? At least ask some obscure question, don’t just hang up!

Also, I just encountered the least intuitive log-in procedure for a piece software that I have EVER seen, involving holding down the Shift key while do any number of other keystrokes to get to the proper log-in screen. I hope we didn’t design that ourselves…

Friday, April 22, 2005

spring is sprung

My lilacs are blooming, most of the trees are budding, I have a lovely tulip arrangement on my kitchen windowsill courtesy of my garden. So what’s the problem? It’s going to be forty degrees with a chance of snow on Sunday! Please shoot me now. I don’t care how cozy it is in the house, I want sunshine and warm weather now!
It drives me absolutely insane when my feet stick to my kitchen floor. Mop it, you lazy slattern, I can hear you thinking. I mop the damn floor at least once a week, and so does Dan. It’s just feels like it’s perpetually sticky. Jude has this habit of throwing his cup into the sink when he is done with it, whether or not it is still full of juice or milk or whatever. Probably why the stupid floor is always sticky. And the backyard is currently a mud pit so anytime you take the trash out, you track in huge clods of mud and leaves. It could just be my OCD kicking in - see below.
Is it possible for a drug’s efficacy to wear down/off, even if you are taking the proper dose at the right times, exactly as directed? I feel like my Zoloft has been replaced with sugar pills. I need to talk to my shrink about this – it’s probably just pregnancy hormones, but I am starting to lose my mind. The whole point of taking the Zoloft through the pregnancy was to not to inflict Monster Mama on Si and Jude, and yet they are having to deal with at least Mini-Monster Mama anyway. Although in *my* defense, Simon is at that exasperating stage where every request or directive is met with, “Why? I don’t want to.” And Jude is as stubborn as the day is long. If he doesn’t get what he wants to eat, he pushes it away and cries and cries. It’s normal, but it’s still wearing on my nerves.
Elizabeth George’s new book is riveting. I am about halfway through, and
I don’t want to do anything but sit and read it. Preferably in a nice, warm, lavender-scented bath. Ahhhhh. Not gonna happen this weekend. Sigh.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

sweet relief

OK, I am not so calm as to be a Zen mama, but boy, could I relate to this article. This part really made me feel better about my laissez-faire parenting, since something fairly close to this has happened to one or the other of my boys at some point:

This year, Bryn didn't have a Moon Bounce or a clown for her birthday. Because it falls just three weeks after Christmas, I hadn't pulled everything together quickly enough for even a low-key party. Instead, she and I decided to bake a banana cake together. We chose the recipe out of a magazine, shopped for the ingredients together at the corner bodega, and spent a long snowy afternoon mixing the batter and baking it in the oven. There were no elaborate parlor games, no goody bags. We just blew out the candles and gorged ourselves on buttercream frosting. It was perfect enough.

I love Mimi Smartypants again, just for this story:

Finger puppets are very popular at our house right now. However, in Nora's hands, puppet shows are always exactly the same:

Skunk puppet: Hello, I am a skunk.
Monkey puppet: Hello, I am a monkey.
Cow puppet: Hello, I am a cow.

You get the idea.

Last night I sat on the couch watching Nora run the full production of her Absurdist puppet show: hello I am a bear, hello I am a penguin, hello I am a skunk/monkey/cow/whatever. Then she thought for a minute, stuck a finger up her nostril, and said, "Hello, I am a nose." However much I ever thought I could love a sticky-faced, stained-shirted, messy-haired toddler with her finger up her nose: it doubled right then.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Prodigal Blogger

I haven't put up a new post in nearly a month, and I blame that on general laziness and a crappy work computer. Oh, and the quickly approaching end of the semester. I felt like I needed to post, though, because I've been letting my reading journal languish along with all other duties that aren't necessary to maintaining life and/or a civilized appearance. I'm starting to lose track of what I've been reading, and that's just not good.

Let's see if I can retrace my steps . . . I just started Snobs, which is by the guy who wrote Gosford Park, Julian Fellowes. It's droll and entertaining, but I'll be excited when something better comes along. I have Gillead, but I'm resisting it for some reason. Before Snobs I read Sue Miller's new book, Lost in the Forest, which I thought was quite good. The fact that I got the advanced reader's copy for free made it all that much better. I sent a review to Knopf and noted how much I appreciated the characters' inanities and uncertainties, and how much I liked the fact that no one seemed to be a "type". It was a nice read.

I read Anne of Ingleside for a few nights before I went to bed, but I'm taking a break from Anne for a while--she's a delight, and she makes me want to appreciate life and love and nature. Too much Anne, though, makes me want to whore myself out for some crack.

I read a cool Wonder Woman graphic novel, Gods & Mortals, which gave me all the WW history I didn't know (I'll spare you the details, but I dug it). And I read the second and third books about hot Yorick, and am anxiously awaiting the fourth.

What else? I tried Two Girls Fat and Thin, but I couldn't get into it and let it go. Help me out here, Val. What am I missing? I know I had a moratorium on reading for pleasure for a while, because of school, but . . . Oh! There was the King/O'Nan book about the last Red Sox season, which I liked. (I have to say that the pathetic Pirates aren't doing much to extend my interest in baseball into the non-book world, but . . . )

Um, there was Mediated, which was interesting. My pleasure in it, however, was MEDIATED by the know-it-all Baby Boomer tone of the author. And then there was the book about the mainstreaming of alternative culture--how sad/telling is it that I can't even remember that book's title? It was written by two serious young men from Canada, who were made very sad by the death of Kurt Cobain. Sigh. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff.

That's all I can come up with for now, and I'm being called on to actually work. Sigh.

this woman is taking some serious heat

but with good reason - her letter filled me with dismay. Mostly for myself, selfishly. I'd go NUTS if I coulnd't leave my kids even for an hour.

Here are the letters in response, and most of them are right on.

If your children freak out so much that you truly cannot even take a shower by yourself, you and the children have issues. Kids need to be loved and paid attention to, and they need to feel that they are the center of your universe, but at the same time (and here's where parenting gets tricky), they need to learn that there are other people who love and care for them other than Mom. Dad is a great guy to be with, and perfectly competent (and in our case, *much better* than Mom at handling some things). The babysitter coming over can be loads of fun. And Mom and Dad really love each other - which can also be tricky to work out if you can't even leave the kids to take a shower, let alone dinner out or a quiet cup of coffee.

I will be the first to admit that in the first three or so months so of each baby's life, I too carried the car seat into the bathroom with me while I showered. But truly, that was mostly because I didn't want to waste his nap time showering when I could be sleeping too. Well, and also because I was terrified the kid would stop breathing if he was out of my sight for more than a minute - but I have relaxed considerably. The third'll probably accompany me to the bathroom for the first few months - he'll have two older brothers who might not understand fully the concept of playing with the baby gently, etc. But all in good time (and well before the age of two) I can justify running into the shower for six minutes, with the bathroom door open, while the baby plays with Si and Jude, or hangs in his crib. And I can certainly justify a babysitter.

I am a person too, with needs of my own, and if there's one thing we have all learned all too well in the past four years, it's that if Mama is miserable, everyone is miserable, and that's no good. If Mama is somewhat happy, it's better for everyone and Mama then can be the best Mama she can be. Which, you know, is sort of the whole goal of the exercise.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

the birthday haul

Just today I went into the Duquesne bookstore, which now accepts the B&N discount card, and bought Elizabeth George’s With No One as Witness for 40% off (wisely spending that birthday cash). I spent my lunch hour reading it and it is classic George. I am settling in for a nice read tonight!

These are from my expedition a few weeks ago.

Justice Hall – Laurie R. King
The Game – Laurie R. King
The next two Mary Russell stories. I will read Justice Hall pretty soon but I want to read Rudyard Kipling’s Kim before starting The Game as Kimball O’Hara is one of the main characters – or, actually, the main mystery, as he seems to have disappeared. I started Kim this past week but my head hurt too much to try to deal with the dialects and terms. As soon as I feel better, I’ll tackle it. I’ve never read much Kipling (don’t ask if I like Kipling!) other than the Just So Stories, so it’ll be fun.

These fit into my weirdo adventure/action/mountaineering genre:

Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
I haven’t read Touching the Void, but now that they’ve made a movie out of it, I feel obliged to read the book before I see the movie. It’s supposed to be a heck of a story.

Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure – Maria Coffey
Joe Trasker was last seen alive on the previously un-attempted east-northeast ridge of Everest on May 17, 1982. His longtime girlfriend Maria Coffey wrote Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow about the partners, wives, family, and children left behind when extreme mountaineers perish during their adventures, and explores the drive that leads them to risk their lives for what is essentially sport.

The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic – Gay and Lanie Salisbury
The Cruelest Miles is about an expedition to get diphtheria vaccines to Nome, Alaska in the early 1920s. From the Amazon review: “The journey itself occupies the second half of the book; the authors judiciously flesh out the story with fascinating background information about Nome, the Gold Rush, dogsledding and Alaska. This is an elegantly written book, inspiring tremendous respect for the hardy mushers and their canine partners.”

And medical books seem to be my other quirky reading preference:

Just Here Trying to Save a Few Lives – Pamela Grim
I’ve already read this, but I liked it.

White Coat: Becoming a Doctor at Harvard Medical School – Ellen Lerner Rothman
Never read it, never heard of it. It just looked interesting. I’ll let you know….

And food:

Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
I adore Anthony Bourdain – he’s smart, funny, irreverent, and more than a little bit goofy. He also has the most beautiful hands I’ve ever seen. Kitchen Confidential deals with his training and life in the restaurant world, and it’s entertaining as all-get-out. I own A Cook’s Tour and wanted to own this too. Plus, his devotion to his wife Nancy (all of his books are dedicated to her) is endearing and sweet, unexpected from a rough-cut guy like Bourdain. Although he did grow up with parents who took him oyster-chomping in France, so perhaps his rough-cut-ness is an act….

Tender at the Bone – Ruth Reichl
Reichl’s first memoir of her life details her childhood and her culinary adventures experienced with her eccentric family and friends. It took me a while to warm up to Reichl – although the last few chapters of Comfort Me With Apples may be some of the most powerful and heartbreaking writing I have ever read - but mostly I at first found her books sort of scattered and almost distant. But I warmed up to her over rereading. I guess I had to get to know her a bit. I will definitely buy her new one when it comes out in paperback, and I am happy to add this one to my collection.

I think I got them all. But if I missed any, it’s not as if I don’t know where to find you….

Monday, April 18, 2005

Happy Birthday to me....

I am officially old today. 35 isn’t old, you say? (How kind of you.) But on my OB chart for my third child, there is a note of “advanced maternal age.” Ergh. Good thing I am not one of those freaks giving birth at 62!! Apparently 35 is ancient enough.

Simon made a point of telling everyone we encountered today at the doctor’s office that it was my birthday, and how old I was. Then he endeared himself further by pointing out that I wasn’t ancient – Daddy was older than me. Good boy!


Why is it that even if you feel like death warmed over, you immediately feel better after having been to the doctor? The doctor didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know – that I have a raging sinus infection made worse by a too-short course of antibiotics the first time – but I still felt immensely better walking out of his office with my prescription for horse pills in hand. And they are HUGE – I swear they’re as big as Jude’s head.


I got some cash from my in-laws for my birthday. I plan to go buy the new Elizabeth George, instead of waiting for it at the library. She’s *always* a good read, and as I mentioned, I MUST know who dies! Then the rest of the cash gets cached to buy the new Beth Gutcheon due out in May. I also happen to know – because I picked them all out myself as previously noted – that I am getting a stack of books for my birthday tonight. Along with chocolate cake! It really couldn’t get any better.


I stole these from David’s site, but I edited down to my three favorites, in order of preference –

A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, “Dam!”

Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says “I’ve lost my electron.” The other says “Are you sure?” The first replies “Yes, I’m positive.”

As my father-in-law likes to say, "Da da da dum!"

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Carnival review

I took the boys to Carnival yesterday. A rite of spring, or something like that.

First, the complaints – I had to park in Doherty which is a hike for a four-year-old, let alone a two-year-old. Heck, it’s a hike for a pregnant woman! But the guy wouldn’t let me into Morewood lot. Apparently he felt sufficiently guilty because Deb pulled in several minutes after me, asked, and he let her in. So at least somebody benefited from my inconvenience.

I was most disappointed with the Sig Phi booth, mostly for reasons that really aren’t fair: the first time we stopped by, they were closed, getting ready for judging; the second time, they were closed, being judged. But Simon REALLY wanted to go in, because the theme was Rock n’ Roll, and their booth had a giant guitar and drum set. We finally got in, it was hot and crowded, but the boys were hanging in there when this truly horrible band began to play on the stage just outside the booth. It was so awful that it reduced my musically-inclined child to tears, and he couldn’t work up the necessary fortitude to play the game, which involved an electric guitar. A saint of a woman who was a little sister or a girlfriend gave my boys prizes anyway, for which I will be eternally grateful, and we skedaddled. They would have enjoyed it more if we could have gone in when we first got there instead of having to wait around and wait around until they were judged. Again, I understand that’s what Carnival is really about, but I was still peeved. And don’t even get me started on the band – apparently it was the School of Music band, and if that’s the best they can do, they should go fill out applications at McDonald’s NOW and save their parents’ tuition money!

The Taiwanese Student Association (Yellow Submarine) and the Asian Students Association (North Pole) were wonderful. My boys thoroughly enjoyed both, we even went back to the Yellow Submarine so the boys could play with the periscope again. The people manning the booths were patient and kind and chatted with the boys, and let them play the games several times, even helping them along so they’d win and get the prize (a lollipop and a candy cane, respectively). I appreciated this mindset – the prizes were small enough that it wasn’t a big deal to give them out even if the little kids didn’t really win the game, and as the mother of any toddler can tell you, to not get that lollipop would have been tragic : ) I will bet neither won the booth competition, but they were sweet kids who I feel had the spirit of Carnival in focus.

We didn’t even go into Phi Kap’s booth. Their theme was House of Fear, and I wasn’t willing to risk it with two little ones. It didn’t look nearly as detailed as previous years (I went to CMU in Phi Kap’s booth heyday); in fact, it sort of looked like the Clue booth recycled, stripped down, and painted red. Sorry, guys, but best of luck!

DU definitely had the most detailed and nicely built booth. (It was even finished, which is pretty unusual for a DU booth, at least during *my* years at CMU.) But we didn’t go in because the line was too long.

Entertainment Engineering, with the Immune System as their theme, was frankly terrible. There was no way anyone under the age of twelve could have possibly succeeded at their game, and in fact, would have had a tough time just moving thru their foam-blocks pit. Boo hiss. Again, I know it’s a college student affair, but lots of parents/alum bring their kids. Try to at least make it amenable to little ones. For example, the Taiwanese student Association had two games, one for very little kids and one for other people. Excellent idea.

The Zeta Psi Sigma booth, Candy Store, was cute, but you cannot have little kids in the candy store and give out stickers as the prize. Even I was disappointed – I was hoping for a pixie stick! And the pizza parlor was cute, but no one was around and their game was not obvious. I had to stop Si and Jude from chopping up the play tomatoes and onions.

We ate the obligatory funnel cake (ah, remember the days when a funnel cake was breakfast – at noon – and cotton candy and a hot dog was dinner…), and the boys rode the little cars, twice. We checked out the drama department’s roller coaster gate. Cute. See David’s blog for pics. We had a good time -- but we stayed about half an hour too long; stupid on my part, I know, but Si *really* wanted to go in the guitar booth. All I know is by the time we got home, the boys were rejuvenated (helped along by a little snack and some milk) but I still was ready for a nap!

Friday, April 15, 2005

someone wrote *my* book

But how she managed it with a headache, I'll never know. I can barely get the laundry done and the boys fed with mine. Kudos to her!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

yeah, we're quiet on the reference desk

Jude’s new favorite toy is…wait for it…a box of peppermint Tic Tacs. No, he hasn’t figured out how to open them yet. But he likes them so much, he dances around with them and laughs and laughs, and Dan had to pry them out of his hot little hands last night before he put him to bed. Other kids have teddy bears; mine wants to sleep with a box of breath mints.

Disclaimer: Statements and opinions expressed in this blog and its links are solely those of the author or authors and may or may not be shared by Jude Sweeney.

I have been thinking of subscribing to National Geographic. I picked up the Exploration special issue, and that’s what made me start considering it. It’s cheap, almost always interesting, and hey, my kids would have a veritable treasure trove of magazines to cut up for school projects. My mother never let us cut them up – God knows why, since no one ever seemed to read them either. This fact embittered me further when I had to toss the whole lot of them into the dumpster when we cleared out her house. Not even the library wanted twenty years worth of old (AND garage-y smelling) National Geographics. My fifth-grade project on killer whales could have been sooooo much better. At any rate, I find that I enjoy reading about a lot of the stuff that shows up in the magazine, and looking at the cool pictures, and it’s relatively cheap – 19 bucks for a year. Heck, I’ll happily give up my ridiculous Parents magazine subscription for that. There are much stupider reasons to subscribe to a magazine, I suppose.

I am sharing a recipe – something I never would have dared do on the old Babelonium blog. But even if Gina doesn’t eat yams, she’ll tolerate me. I share this because I have been totally chowing down on these things. I guess my body/baby is craving beta-carotene? But as my husband oh-so-wisely pointed out, “If your body wants yam cakes, give it yam cakes.” See why I’ve been married to him for ten years?

Yam Cakes, courtesy of Laurie Colwin
Peel and shred one large yam. Beat up two eggs and add to the yams. Mix with four tablespoons of flour, a good shake of red pepper flakes, and 2 healthy teaspoons of fermented black beans (buy these at the Asian grocery – they’re something insanely cheap like 79 cents a bag and a bag will last you for ages, if you decant them into a glass jar.) Fry in olive oil (use about a soup spoon worth of batter per cake) till golden brown, flipping halfway thru. Drain on paper towels.

I could and have happily eaten an entire batch of these things for lunch/dinner/midnight snack. They also go really nicely with any sort of fish and rice. And you thought this blog was only good for books.

Just got the new issue of House and Garden. I love Dominique Browning, and look forward to her editorial every month. She is a lovely writer who addresses many of life’s little foibles and quirks with humor and thoughtfulness. I have both of her books, and have given them as presents several times. So, having said all that, I now display my pettiness. Her photo on the editorial page is very attractive (although I liked her better with her hair short). But in this issue, there is an insert advertising some social function or another, which she attended, and she is in the candid shots. She looks NOTHING like her editor photo. I wouldn’t recognize her if we passed on the street! (Not that she would care…) She’s clearly a good bit older than in her editorial photo, and her hair is completely different. And she just doesn’t look as stylish as I expected. I am petty and horrible, and I am sure she is a lovely and interesting person, but I admit to some pretty major disappointment. Although I just found this, and she looks almost like her editor photo.
So maybe it was just the lighting/dress/camera angle in the photo in the magazine…

I am so shallow.


Last night was the last night of the Gumberg book sale. I was being somewhat picky earlier in the week but once you get a box for a buck, well, why be picky? I grabbed some stuff I will probably never look at again, but it can always go to Goodwill. And you never know when you might need it. Particularly that book on quilting priests’ vestments…. I did score copies of The Westing Game, Roller Skates, and Stones From the River. I already own multiple copies of these but now I can give them to people to read without worrying about getting them back. And I got some records of children’s songs for Simon to noodle around with. He’s the only one who uses our old record player anymore, so he might enjoy these. One of the records has a version of Big Rock Candy Mountain on it, which is the sole reason I grabbed it. Although I suppose the lyrics are somewhat questionable for a four-year-old.

embracing your inner dork

Gina and I are going to write a book. Actually, I am going to make Gina write it, after all, she's the writer. I am going to cheer her on.

Here is what the book is going to be about, and I am curious as to feedback:

In a discussion over email about comic books, Gina stated that she realized,
"The older I get, the more I am convinced that the key to happiness is embracing your inner dorkiness." I realized how exactly right she was, and replied, "it's so true - the less I care what people think of me (appearance, etc.) the happier I am."
So we have evolved from the high school mentality of life, and I think we need to share our revelations with the world. See, I can happily wear my Tevas with socks without a second thought these days, and if I want to start reading comic books at my age, well, why the hell not? Aren't we wise and sagacious? Why shouldn't we share that with the crazy, materialistic, appearance-oriented world? And just why shouldn't you wear socks with sandals anyway???

Carnival and other harbingers of spring

I read the second and third of the Y: The Last Man comic books last night. It’s still hard for me to believe that at the ripe old age of 34, I am reading comic books for the first time, but these are so good. And as Gina pointed out to me, Yorick (the last man) is just plain yummy. But really, what’s next for me? Star Trek books (no offense, David : ))?

I picked up Beware of God at the library yesterday. Jessa Crispin of Bookslut said it made her laugh out loud, and giggle all afternoon. Good enough for me, I’ll give it a shot. I also picked up the new Alice Hoffman – I liked The Probable Future but The River King was very disappointing; she’s pretty hit or miss generally, so it can’t hurt to see. Besides, the main character is a librarian. I also got some comforting brain candy by Katie Fforde, and reserved the new Elizabeth George, With No One As Witness. I *have* to find out which major character she kills off (link courtesy of Bookslut). I almost got Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, but frankly, the art wasn’t as compelling as some other “comic” art I have seen, and I already had two comic books lined up to read. Enough is enough. But if I should read it, somone please tell me and I will happily comply.

Sick as I was, and with tons of other things to do, I had to go to the library to find out what the heck was up with my library card. I wasn’t being allowed to reserve or request books, and this was, for me, a crisis. Turns out my card had expired. (I did NOT get my advance notice as promised in the DP program, however…so what’s up with that??) But one other perk of being in the Donor Plus program – they didn’t have to give me a new card and consequently a new number; I just got to keep my old card/number, which is handy because I have finally just about memorized my library card number. Which comes in just about as handy as having my Social Security number memorized.

CMU’s Spring Carnival starts today; midway opens at 4. I am planning on taking the boys over tomorrow, to check out the booths, and the drama department’s roller coaster. Simon had such a blast last year, he still talks about the Grinch booth. So hopefully both of the boys will enjoy it this year. I may attempt to get up for buggy, but I don’t see it happening. It was hard enough when I lived on campus and could just roll out of bed and down Donner’s stairs to buggy; now that I would actually have to operate my car that early, and find parking…not so likely.

I have to work tonight – it’s my first solo stint as the reference librarian. It occurred to me last night as I went to bed at 9 that the toughest part may very well be staying awake at the desk till 10. God, I’m old.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


I just started The Secret Life of Bees. I may be the only person on the face of the earth who hasn’t already read this book (like I may be the only human being who has not seen Pulp Fiction…) It’s good enough but I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s not genius. And it is *very* reminiscent of Ann Patchett’s Patron Saint of Liars.

Over the weekend, I read A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. I avoided this book for the longest time because I thought, due to its subtitle, that Zippy was a dwarf. She’s not. I may be an idiot but she’s not a dwarf. So I am not sure what that title is all about. The book was entertaining enough, but sort of precious, and it was really hard to know how much of it was true. Not that I suppose that really makes much of a difference. Also in the same genre was Cynthia Kaplan’s Why I’m Like This, which was very funny in parts, and also fairly entertaining. A very quick read. If you have nothing better to read, there are worse things to pick up.


I just picked up The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, and a book called Plague! at the Duquesne/Gumberg Library book sale. Not that I was dying to buy anything, but hey, it’s for a good cause. And last week I bought a ton of books at B&N. I called my husband from the store and oh so innocently asked, “Have you thought about my birthday present yet?” Kind of a rhetorical question since my birthday at that point was two weeks away. Dan’s a Christmas-Eve-at-630 type of shopper, so I knew he’d say no and I just so happened to have a fabulous suggestion : ) When I actually own the books (after the boys have wrapped, and I have unwrapped, them) I will give a detailed listing and commentary. So you have something to look forward to…


This amuses me greatly…I wonder what other characters they will come up with. I’d personally like to see the Saul/Paul doll, complete with blinding light accessory (and a manufacturer warning for epileptics). Or maybe Balaam with his ass…or Jael with spike in hand…(maybe Judith with the head of Holofernes, although I imagine evangelicals/fundamentalists don’t espouse the books of the Apocrypha…)

You know, the other morning Mr Rogers was all about going to the dentist. All well and good, but I did NOT need to see Fred Rogers doing a tooth-brushing demo at 830 in the morning. Really more than I need to know. It is the first time I have really perceived Mr Rogers as old, though – it was like watching your grandfather brush his teeth.

Saturday night I had to go to Dan’s uncle’s retirement party, and then Jude’s postponed birthday party was Sunday. And this is what I learned (you would think I’d have figured this out before the ripe old age of 34): I really don’t like parties. They generally bore me and/or stress me out. I’d rather lie on the couch with a good book. Or even a bad book.

I love these silly email surveys and inflict them on my friends all too often. So to save time (and reach a greater audience who might be interested in the results of my navel-gazing – ha!), I give you my answers here. Lucky you.

1. WHAT IS YOUR FULL NAME? Valerie Catherine
2. WHAT COLOR PANTS ARE YOU WEARING? black track pants
3. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Simon singing God knows what
4. WHAT'S THE LAST THING YOU ATE? a rice krispy treat and tea with honey and lemon
7. HOW IS THE WEATHER RIGHT NOW? Sunny and warm-ish - perfect park weather if Simon would put on his socks so we could get out the door
12. FAVORITE SPORT? to play, basketball; to watch, womens' gymnastics
13. HAIR COLOR? brown
14. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? No, given up. Glasses are easier. Or Lasik surgery sometime when I have more disposable income...
15. SIBLINGS? 2 brothers, one younger, one older.
16. FAVORITE MONTH? September
17. FAVORITE FOOD? chocolate; although I am only eating Subway cold cut combo subs at the moment. The glories of morning sickness...
18. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? On TV, Rented or saw in the Theatre? In the theatre - Pooh's Heffalump Movie (I actually did enjoy it)
19. FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR? My birthday or maybe the vernal equinox
20. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE TOY AS A CHILD? Barbies - I know, I know : )
23. CHOCOLATE OR VANILLA? chocolate but vanilla definitely has its virtues
25. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Gina if she's not busy because she's good to me...and she too harbors a hidden fondness for these silly things
26. WHO IS LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Debi - she's a busy person with a real life, unlike me : )
27. LIVING ARRANGEMENTS? a husband, two kids, another on the way, 2 cats, 2 goldfish, in a big old wreck of a hundred-year-old house in the East End of Pittsburgh. Ideal.
28. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? yesterday afternoon
29. WHAT IS UNDER YOUR BED? a pair of sneakers and a collection of whatever the cats/boys have left there. also a pile of books waiting to be read
30. WHO IS THE FRIEND YOU HAVE HAD THE LONGEST? Jacque (since high school), or maybe Joe Misurac (jr high, but he was a teacher so he might not count : )
31. WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT? took 2 extra-strength tylenol and some cough syrup and tried to sleep off a migraine
32. FAVORITE SMELL? citrus
37. FAVORITE FLOWER? daffodils or tulips, although buttercups are just plain cute
38. Keys on your keyring? 3 and a keyring Giant Eagle Advantage card. Jude lost my library keyring card : (
40. WHAT DID YOU DO ON YOUR LAST BIRTHDAY? Oh, not sure - probably sushi and book-buying
43. HOW MANY COUNTRIES HAVE YOU LIVED IN? 1, but I still have hopes of having a European life at some point
44. HOW MANY CARS HAVE YOU HAD AND WHAT WAS THE FIRST? 4. My first real-live, I-owned-it car was actually a full-size Ford F150 pickup truck, three on the tree, bright orange. God, I loved that truck.

45. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Philadelphia.
46. Favorite Movie? Moonstruck
47. FAVORITE BOOK? Impossible to pick one but here's what I generally give people to read - Stones From the River; Possession; Pride and Prejudice. And I am hopelessly hooked on reading anything to do with arctic exploration or insane mountain climbers.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


The sister-in-law of an old friend of mine just died Monday. She had been battling breast cancer, which then metastasized to her brain and bones, for close to I’d guess five years. She made it so much longer than anyone expected. She leaves behind four small kids, the youngest of whom is about a year older than Simon (4). I cannot stop thinking about her – it’s one of my worst nightmares, to die and leave my kids alone. And I know it’s a selfish way to look at it but I want to watch my kids grow up and I want them to remember me. It’s crazy to think that if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, I would really only be a vague memory to Simon for his life. At the moment I am pretty sure I am at the center of his universe.

My dad died when I was seventeen, but even so a lot of him is only a vague memory. And I was practically grown. But at this point in my life he’s been dead longer than I knew him alive. So I can only imagine how cloudy your memories would be if your parent died when you were four or even a little bit older. It makes my blood run cold. I can only think of one or two worse things, frankly. Poor April – my thoughts go out to her family, and from one mama to another, to her.

Monday, April 04, 2005

sunny day...chasing the clouds away...

Isn’t it easier to have a good day and like people when the sun is out? Or am I really just that shallow?
How many games of Junior Monopoly must I play to be a good mother?
Why do the kids always sleep in on the days you have to be somewhere at 830?
I just got the second wrong number on my cell phone in less than 24 hours. It seems wrong that *I* should have to pay for these.
Jessa Crispin makes an excellent point on Boosklut today: Jane Austen is SO not chick lit. Not that I have anything against chick lit. But it’s sort of like saying Moby Dick is a book about fishing.
There’s also a bit on Bookslut today about In Cold Blood. I was really enjoying it when I started it but got distracted. I should pick it up again, if only to finish it and give it back to Gina, who bought it and lent it to me before she even read it. If that’s not true friendship, I don’t know what is.
I have been in a bit of a book slump if only because I find it difficult to concentrate on any decent book while trying not to throw up. So I’ve been rereading James Herriot’s Yorkshire books, pure comfort reading. But last night I picked up Laurie King’s next Mary Russell mystery that I haven’t read, O Jerusalem. It is so good. I was starting to worry for King because I was not that nuts about the last one, The Moor. But this is good, it’s probably the next best after The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first in the Mary Russell series. There are two other paperbacks, Justice Hall and The Game, and then a new one comes out in the fall. Book life is good : )
So I have been doing my new job now for a few weeks, although I have yet to be released solo on any unsuspecting library patrons. It was incredibly gratifying to have a real job to give to the hospital people last Sunday, instead of having to fumble around with “Oh, uh, I’m a research assistant…” I could confidently and happily say, “I’m a librarian” and not be ashamed of that in the least. And I still can’t believe they give me money for this – it’s FUN. And as I suspected, librarianship at an academic library is a varied lot, so I get all kinds of bizarre *and* mundane questions, quite the nice mix to keep it interesting. I had to look up answers for questions about Thomas Hardy’s poem The Darkling Thrush, literary criticism on Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, film criticism on American Beauty, several Biblical/theology questions…and the run of the mill Where are the copiers? questions. It’s fun. Like being a detective without any of the hazards.

Friday, April 01, 2005

and more ayelet...

more reader responses to ayelet...

This is the one that hits the nail on the head for me:

I can't help having the sense when reading one of Ayelet's columns -- whether in Salon or the New York Times -- that I'm watching a train wreck in slow motion.

She has admitted that she has mental instability. She has been willing to write what she insists she didn't realize was a suicide note and publish it online. And now here come the Times and Salon, willing to publish whatever flits through her head without regard to coherence or content.

I can imagine some at Salon are delighted by the reader response -- hey, even hate mail means people are reading, right? -- but I can't help reading Ms. Waldman's columns and feeling sad. She is not provocative in a thoughtful way; she comes across as a person I would veer to the other side of the street to avoid, for fear she'd do something "wacky" that would turn out to be dangerous, or hurtful.

This may not be the person she is in real life; I can't say I know her. But the person who comes through in her columns -- in more than one publication -- projects an instability and lack of comprehension of the world that feels like a cry for help.

Please stop enabling her, Salon.

-- Randee