Sunday, April 29, 2007

"...the nation that assumes stewardship of the Moon now will inherit stewardship of the galaxy in the coming millennium." - Wilson Greatbatch

I just hit a thousand books on Library Thing, and still have all of the actual library/computer-room books (lots more fiction, most of my history, and all of H's textbooks), and all of the boys' books, plus my old children's books, to do.

Not that it's a competition or anything.

I realize now that, were I filthy rich, I might just be the type to roll around in my money, flinging fistfuls of dollar bills into the air while I capered and cavorted and chortled.
I am not rich.
But I DO have a lot of books.

Do with that what you will.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"The paramedic called the press and sold me like a loaf of bread." - Charlie Sheen

A friend highly recommended Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, and several book bloggers had intriguing things to say about it, including Doppelganger over at Fifty Books who called it “great and terrible.” (Which she meant in the best way possible.) It’s a compact, attractive little book, and the first couple sentences were interesting enough, so I checked it out and brought it home and it sat in my bedside basket for a couple weeks before my friend who recommended it in the first place asked if I had read it yet.

I had not.

I went home that night and crawled into bed with it.

I read a few chapters.
I skipped around the book and read bits and pieces, here and there.
I stopped to look up what John Gregory Dunne had written.
I put it down and have not picked it up again, nor will I.

My father died of a heart attack when I was teenager.
He’d had some heart trouble, and was on medications for high blood pressure (which I found out much later he’d stopped taking because filling the prescriptions was so expensive), but he also walked miles and miles each week, disappearing on Sundays after church often till dinnertime.

I was working at my part-time job at The Gap the evening he came home after a fruitless visit to fix some error on his driver’s license and collapsed in the living room smack in the middle of complaining about the inefficient morons who ran New Jersey’s DMV.

I drove home as quickly as I could, and I recall – but this CAN’T be right, they must have left by then – following the ambulance to Cooper Hospital.

I do – pretty accurately, I think - recall seeing him after they’d declared him dead, still and cold on a hospital gurney, looking old, and helpless without his glasses. I recall coming home to a living room littered with paramedic paraphernalia, which I think my sweet boyfriend cleared up. I recall my mom picking out a casket lined in blue “because he always looked so nice in blue.” We three kids made merciless fun of my mom for years about the little seagulls embossed on the inside of the coffin lid, accompanied by the caption, “Going Home.” (Yes, we were and are rotten children. We also pestered her for not burying him in his horrible, beloved Jolly Green Giant suit.)

So I can’t – won’t – read Year of Magical Thinking. It cuts a little too close to the bone for me. It’s been twenty years since my father’s death, and I don’t want to be reminded of the excruciating details. I don’t want to think about that night, or how we got through it. I don’t want to think about what my dad’s death did to my mother, or what it did to the rest of my thirteen-year-old brother’s childhood. I especially don’t want to think about what it did to my dad, someone who’d worked like a fiend for all his life, who tried very hard to be a good person but at the same time was crotchety and irascible and drove us all nuts occasionally, someone who I am sure thought he’d live to see his children grow up and marry and have children of their own, just like we all hope and expect.

And while I am sorry for Didion’s pain and suffering, I can’t relive my grief alongside hers. I don’t want to. I’m sure it’s a lovely book, that she is an exquisite writer. I will go read Slouching towards Bethlehem instead.

Friday, April 27, 2007

"There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous." - Napoleon Bonaparte

From the sublime (Victoria sponge with whipped cream and strawberry jam, from Nigella, for a mom I had over for coffee):

to the ridiculous (Rice Krispie treats, for Primo's class snack, per his request):

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"There once was a man from Nantucket..."

I am stalled about halfway through Mr Y. Gina tells me to keep reading, but I just can’t right now. I will. I swear I will. But I am sleep-deprived and brain-dead right now, and slogging through the troposphere just isn’t on my list of desirable activities at the moment.
In the meantime, I took the boys shopping this morning for groceries down in the Strip District, where biscotti sprout from the sidewalk and the Nutella grows on trees and...wait, no, that’s not right. But the Nutella IS three dollars a jar cheaper than the supermarket, and the domestic Parmesan cheese (which is just fine for cooking) is four dollars a pound, so I bought two one-pound chunks and froze one. I hate running out of Parmesan. Plus, we bought ripe avocadoes and mangoes, and gorgeous spring irises, and chocolate, and the best Italian bread in the city.

Then we stopped at the library for story hour.
I picked out a gazillion books for Primo, including four more Boxcar Children mysteries (“Mom! The Bobbsey Twins are SO GOOD! But the Boxcar Children are good, too.”) and a Matt Christopher hockey book he’s been asking for. Seg was thrilled to find a brand-new Titanic book we haven’t seen before, with a huge fold-out centerfold of the boat, and we checked out the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey book YET AGAIN. Because Terzo was busy trying to get into the restrooms and navigating the elevator by himself, I only had time for a quick gander at the New Books. But I snagged Susan Isaacs’ newest, and - who just recommended this to me? – Virginia Ironside’s No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year. When we arrived home, I gratefully handed off the boys to their babysitter who had come so I could go to work tonight, made myself a bacon-and-avocado sandwich for lunch, followed up by a nice Kinder Bueno, and read about twenty pages of the Ironside book before I passed out for an hour. Those twenty pages were enough to convince me that I will keep reading; it’s wry and funny and honest, and while I suppose eventually the harping on the “I am enjoying getting old” bit could turn out to be a little annoying, the joy with which the heroine greets her first grandbaby and collects her free senior metro pass more than makes up for the smugness and faint protests-too-much air of our heroine Marie.

Now I am off to compose a limerick with the first line like: “I once knew a girl from Uzbekistan...” (except that has too many feet).

It’s probably better if you don’t ask.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"...the smell of the library was always the same...the steam of the social soup." - Peter Ackroyd

I have catalogued 638 books on Library Thing, have all my double-stacked books to do yet, and haven’t even started in the actual library, or touched the boys’ books.

I only own ten Margaret Atwood books – although I would swear I own Edible Woman, and I need to buy (at least) Moral Disorder, the Penelopiad, and The Tent.

I own an even dozen Greg Bear books.

I own at least six Ann Hood novels, and yet can’t recall reading a single one.

Why do I own two copies of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart? I don’t even like it.

Anthologies do not seem to be very popular.

Sarah Louise will be pleased that 109 people own Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake.

I want to know if any of the other 261 people who own a copy of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa have actually read it? (I have not.)

Daughter of Time beats out every other Josephine Tey book by at least 400 people.

It surprises me that twenty people on LT own Amit Gilboa’s Off the Rails in Phnom Penh; if I didn’t know him, I would not have bought it. It’s sort of an obscure little book.

I was very disgruntled that I couldn’t find MY edition of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas; the cover is so much prettier than the one that displays.

Not nearly enough people own Laurie King’s Mary Russell books.

Book I am most ashamed to own and to share with the fewest people: Adventures of an Ice Princess, by Liz Maverick, is owned by me and two other people.

I admit this info may not be so strictly indicative of who has what, as it all depends on what edition/format/date, etc. you choose for your work when inputting it. For example, I highly doubt I really am the only person on LibraryThing who owns Sherwood Anderson’s collection of short stories, Certain Things Last.
But apparently I am the sole owner of a copy of Charlene Gourguechon's Journey to the End of the World: A three-year adventure in the New Hebrides - and that I believe.
Three people, including me, own Thomas Starzl’s Puzzle People: Memoirs of a Transplant Surgeon. I also share Elegant Desserts, Harrod’s Book of Chocolates and other edible gifts, and Who Goes First? The story of self-experimentation in medicine with two other people.
Five people including me own Wittgenstein Flies a Kite: A Story of Models of Wings and Models of the World, by Susan Sterrett. She is my backyard neighbor, and I own a signed copy she gave me for Christmas (very small voice: I haven’t read it yet.)

Harry Potter blows away the competition with these sorts of stats:
Sorcerer’s Stone: 11,351
Chamber of Secrets: 13,347
Azkaban: 13,421
Goblet of Fire: 13,541
Order of the Phoenix: 14,068
Half-Blood Prince: 14,900
(And those are JUST the people who own the hardcovers, right?)

80 people own Meg Wolitzer’s The Position.
236 people own Stephanie Kallos’ Broken for You.
367 people own AS Byatt’s brilliant Virgin in the Garden.
767 people own Stones from the River.
1017 people own Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.
4317 people own The Scarlet Letter
4498 people own Lolita.
4520 people own Middlesex.
5344 people own The Kite Runner.
5352 own Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
6070 people own Time Traveler’s Wife.
6602 people (sadly, including me) own Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.
12,237 people (sadly, including me) own The Da Vinci Code.

And if that last stat doesn’t make you want to figuratively slit your literary wrists, I am not sure what would.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"...the card catalog has been a companion all my working life." - Barbara Tuchman

I am VERY BUSY doing this: know....I'm just sorta busy.

Three hundred and twenty-three, and not even close to being finished.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg." - Samuel Butler

Things I have had to go look up since starting The End of Mr Y fifty-four pages ago:

- luminiferous ether
- string theory
- Jacques Derrida and his theories on deconstructionism
- Samuel Butler, and his novel Erewhon
- The novel Flatland (turns out I actually own a copy, which I discovered from my database, those of you who make fun of mad cataloging librarians)

I did NOT have to look up Schroedinger’s Cat.
So, you know, I am not a total moron.

I do seem to have a thing for books about books; there are many others which I enjoyed but these are the smartest, the most complicated, the ones that make me wish I could write like that:

Possession – AS Byatt
Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov
The Rebel Angels – Robertson Davies
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

Apparently, I am a brain girl.
You can take your long legs and your tight butts and your pretty eyes; you can (not that you DO) resemble Quasimodo but if you‘re revoltingly smart, watch out.
I will fall madly in love and read everything you’ve written and clamor for more.

And look what I just requested from the library:

Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land, by John Crowley
Doesn’t it sound so cool? On deck after Mr Y.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible. I think it's in my basement... let me go upstairs and check." - MC Escher

I am working a crazy hodgepodge of hours this week, since one co-worker is on her way to Paris shortly, and another’s father just passed away. My usual rhythms are all out of whack, so when I got home last night at 11 from work, I was not surprised to find myself wide-awake.

I took the opportunity to finish up Salley Vicker’s Miss Garnet’s Angel, recommended to me by both Suse, of Pea Soup and Lazy Cow, of Only Books All the Time.

What a lovely little book. Very few things make me happier than a well-written novel that also makes me want to go look things up. I learned a little bit about eastern religions and a lot about the Apocryphal Book of Tobit, and did some art history digging on a few Venetian painters (Guardi, Tintoretto, Carpaccio).
Vicker’s title character, Miss Garnet, is a mild little English spinster who finds her true self during a vacation to Venice. She falls in love with a man, and the beauty of the city, and even though the book begins as a sleepy little novel which feels like it was written by one of the Brontes, it winds up a very modern and forthright exploration of love, friendship, sexuality, and religion. The plot isn’t much to speak of; in fact, it’s almost parenthetical to the character development, but since most of the characters are engaging, interesting, and/or delightful, that works out well anyway.

I have already put in my interlibrary loan request for Ms. Vickers’ Mr Golightly’s Holiday and Instances of the Number 3.


My friend E turned me on to Abelardo Morell, a photographer, who happens to be a friend of a family friend of hers.
I like his style in general, but I LOVE his book photos.
(All photos from Morell's website)

I especially like the architectural feel of some of his photos.

I include the Piranesi one because Piranesi is and has been for a long time one of my favorite artists. I first discovered him when I was studying set design, and I envied his intricate but clean drawing style. It’s always delightful to find that someone else is just as enamored.

Check out his other photos; they really are amazing.
He shows me an entirely new way to appreciate and love books.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity." - Emerson

Received this for my birthday. Ok, yes, I bought it for myself, but how else do you guarantee you get anything at all, let alone something you actually would like? I mean, short of getting a wife of my own, that is...I'll bet *she* would help me eat Nigella's chocolate loaf with cream cheese.

Also bought these, on H and I are edging closer and closer towards vegetarianism, and it's time I owned these and stopped hogging the library copies. The walloping three-dollars-and-change total I paid for both is worth the sweet potato quiche crust recipe alone.


My vegetable soup recipe (I know, it has meat in it...that's why I NEED HELP).

BabelBabe's Mom's Veggie Soup

1-1/2 - 2 lbs short ribs or marrow bones
Vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
½ cup sliced celery
¼ cup rice
1 lb can green beans
28-30 oz can whole tomatoes
3-4 potatoes, peeled and chopped into ½” cubes
4-5 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup frozen corn kernels
½ head small cabbage, chopped
Salt and pepper

Put the chopped onions, a TBSP or two of oil and the short ribs in a large pot.
Fill with water to cover.
Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer.
Cook for an hour or so, until meat is tender.
Remove meat to a plate to cool.
Remove surface goop with a paper towel.
Chop up tomatoes in can and add to soup, with liquid.
Add celery, rice, green beans with liquid, carrots, potatoes, corn, and cabbage.
(You can throw in pretty much any veggie leftover you’ve got hanging around at this point.)
Simmer, covered, over low heat for two or three hours, until all veggies are tender.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This soup is definitely better after it’s sat in your fridge for a day or two, and it also freezes pretty well.

It's probably also pretty darn yummy spilled all over the floor of your rental car.
I am just saying.

"I have only five words for you: FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS! " - Charlton Heston, lifetime member of the NRA

I am currently digging the following:

Playoff hockey (and Seg’s blow-by-blow imaginary commentary from his bed). Unfortunately the Pens lost last night, leaving the series at 3-1, Ottawa. This does not bode well, especially considering the caliber of hockey Ottawa is playing. The Pens may manage to power out another win somehow but it’s highly unlikely they’ll manage three.

Cherry cordial Hershey Kisses. I am not eating many – trying to lose some weight and all – but damn, are they yummy!

Death Cab for Cutie, and their intricate lyrics and subtle but persistent instrumentation, especially in “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”.
When I was in college, my boyfriend’s roommate had this annoying habit of playing over and over, ad nauseum, any song (or album, if we were lucky) that caught his fancy, continuously, for days, sometimes weeks. I mean continuously. Practically 24/7. J and I eponymously labeled this disorder Droutism.
I am suffering from an acute case of Droutism for Death Cab for Cutie.


In the past few weeks I have bought (mostly at Goodwill for insanely cheap prices):

The Archivist - Martha Cooley. Part of my ongoing “librarians-in-literature” research
The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde. I lent my original copy to my father-in-law (I think); at any rate, it’s no longer on my shelf. And now it is, again.
An anthology of Dorothy Sayers. Maureen Corrigan convinced me that I should read Gaudy Night and Jess convinced me some more.
Women in the Wild. More extreme adventure writing. You’d think I’d want to go climb a mountain or sail the ocean, but no – I just wanna read about other people doing it.
Happy Isles of Oceania - Paul Theroux.
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts – Julian Rubinstein. C’mon, could YOU resist that subtitle?
Waltzing the Cat - Pam Houston. I liked the title? Plus, when one of the blurbs says, "The title story...deserves to be anthologzed into eternity," that's one heck of a ringing endorsement.
Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic – Gina Kolata. Germs and microbes and bacteria, oh my!
Adventures of an Ice Princess – Liz Maverick. Ok, yes, it’s chick lit, but it’s ANTARCTIC chick lit.
My Side of the Story (Peter Pan/Captain Hook). This was bought upon Seg’s request and I have to admit is not nearly as lame as I expected. In fact, the Hook story is especially entertaining. Although Peter emerges as (even more of) a prat...
Wait, No Paint! - I have a minor thing for variations on the Three Little Pigs. In fact, that correlates nicely with the following purchase: The Sisters Grimm - The Fairy Tale Detectives. A fast, amusing little book, with a fresh take on classic fairy tales.
Secret Spy Code Book - Purchased for Primo’s Easter basket because I felt so horrible when he hopefully brought home a secret code book from his Scholastic book fair that turned out to be videogame cheat codes. I returned that book for him, and bought this instead. It’s a hit. Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same - Sloane Tanen. More funny chickens.
Coco's Letters – Sloane Tanen. More funny chickens for kids. Specifically my little nephew, who is receiving this as a “Just-because-I-love-you” present.



Recently saw this bumper sticker, which I like very much:
There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.
Take THAT, Mr Bush!


At work yesterday, I saw a student wearing a Virginia Tech sweatshirt, presumably in support and solidarity with the VT students coping with the aftermath of the Monday shootings. What really saddens and frightens me about Monday’s events is that violence and tragedy on this scale are no longer especially extraordinary.
I discussed this with a co-worker; he told me that in an interview with one of the Columbine victim’s mothers, she said about the more recent tragedy, “What’s sad is that we all know what to do.”
By noon Monday, the TV stations had already broken out their slick, Photoshopped “Massacre at Virginia Tech” logos, and the plethora of video links of the police that day reveal the relative equanimity with which many kids greeted the pandemonium.
One student was quoted as saying, “I felt like I was in a movie.” How horrifying is that: this child was lying on the floor in a classroom, taking cover from a madman, listening to gunfire, and s/he felt like s/he was in a movie. That’s what we as a society have come to. This is what we leave our children. “I felt like I was in a movie.” It makes me want to cry.

This old crotchety codger is off to feed her over-protected children breakfast now.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"Hell must be isothermal." - Henry Albert Ben

It’s 10 a.m. Monday.
I have been awake for three hours.

In those three hours I have done the following:

Picked up a weekend’s worth of dog poop in the dog run (conveniently frozen by April snow showers), walked the dog, and cleaned up his poop on the walk;

Emptied, cleaned, and refilled the cats’ litter box;

Cleaned the powder room and thrown in a load of dirty clothes from Seg’s minor accident this morning which resulted in pee all over the floor and him;

Changed The Baby’s incredibly wet and messy diaper and bathed him since the diaper had exploded and the mess was all down his legs and in his little p.j.’s.

This morning does not bode well for the rest of the week, bodily fluid-wise, but it does remind me of an old joke I haven’t thought of in years:

A man dies and goes to hell. He’s really worried since when he was alive, he’d been a terrible person. He’d lied and stolen and cheated, he’d embezzled money and faked expense reports, and he'd even pilfered office supplies. He had financially ruined his business partners and left his family destitute. He was worried about the fate that awaited his kind in Hell.

When he arrives, one of Satan’s minions takes him on a tour of Hades.

The first room they go in is full of people standing around in horse manure up to their chins. The stench and heat are terrible, demonic imps are capering about the room shouting and shrieking and tormenting people randomly. The people are clearly miserable, and the man is horrified. He asks the demon what these people’s sins were.

The demon replies, “These are all people who abused alcohol. Their drunknenness ruined their bodies and their lives, destroyed their families, and in some cases, devastated other families due to drunk driving.”

The second room is full of people up to their shoulders in horse manure. The stench and heat are pretty awful, and the demonic imps are capering about the room, making a lot of noise and pestering people. The people are pretty darn miserable, and the man is horrified (but not quite as much as he was in the first room). He asks the demon what these people’s sins were.

The imp replies, “These people were all drug addicts. They shot heroin, they smoked marijuana, they popped pills. And not only that, they sold drugs and ruined young people’s lives and destroyed their families.”

The third room is full of people up to their waists in horse manure. The stench and heat are terrible – but not nearly as terrible as in the first two rooms. The demonic imps in this room are lazing about, more or less completely ignoring their charges. The people are somewhat miserable, but it could be much worse, and the man is not nearly as horrified. He asks the demon what these people’s sins were.

The imp replies, “These people were all sex addicts. They slept with anything that breathed, and in some cases, not breathing. They lapped up depraved pornography like mother’s milk. They tormented animals, and performed unnatural acts against God, and ruined their spouse’s and family’s faith in love and the decency of human beings.”

The fourth room is the room the man has been dreading – the room reserved for gamblers and liars and cheaters, for embezzlers and people who perpetrated fraud and forgery upon their unsuspecting families and businesses. But when he walks in, the people in the room are standing around – in horse manure, true, but only to their knees. And they are all drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and chatting it up with each other and their demonic captors. The man is more relieved than he can express. It may not be Heaven, but he can handle this. This is ok, even for eternity. After all, he thinks, it could be so much worse, he could have been a drunk or a junkie or a pedophile.

He turns to his tour guide and says, “Wow. Man. Gosh, I am soooo relieved. I really thought it was going to be so much worse, much more like those poor bastards in the first or second rooms, up to my neck in manure, miserable and sick, getting tortured by demons…wow. I guess I picked the right vice after all, eh?” He chuckles and punches the devil playfully on the shoulder.

Just then a loud bell rings, and the head demon in Room Four stands up and screams,
“All right, all you miserable cretins! Everybody back on your heads!”

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"The eyes of Texas are upon you, you cannot get away..."

From Sarah Louise via Blackbird.

In the kitchen with...BabelBabe

Variety is the spice of life.

In my cupboard, I have this many spices: a lot
Rack or no rack? What does my bra size have to do with... oh. Um. A big cabinet over my (nonfunctioning oven); top shelf is rubs, chutneys, marinades, etc.; middle shelf is spices, herbs, and extracts
Alphabetize? I CAN.
Which spice do you use most often? Cinnamon
Which recipe? Right now, Amish friendship bread

It's like the pot calling the kettle black.
Coffee or tea? Tea at home, coffee at work
Do you make coffee at home? H does, in his fancy-schmancy Cuisinart coffeepot. I do not.
If you make tea, loose or in bags? Both
How many kinds of tea do you have? Couple dozen, but my favorite is PG Tips bags.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
I use my stovetop: Yes. But it’s electric, more’s the pity.
I use my oven: four-five times a week. Someday I will have a functioning oven actually in my kitchen. I can dream, can’t I?

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
Soy or cow? Who are you calling a cow?
Skim or whole? Whole and chocolate for the boys, skim for me.
How many gallons a week? 3 whole, ½ skim

There's nothing like rejection to make you do an inventory of yourself. (James Lee Burke)
Three items in my freezer (right now):
1. banana bread
2. Pepperidge Farm coconut cake
3. a roasting chicken

Three things in my fridge (right now):
1. the last slice of H’s lemon birthday cake
2. two slices of delivery cheese pizza
3. 2 pounds of strawberries

Item I am most chagrined about:
Two pounds of sauerkraut. WHAT was I going to make? I totally can’t recall...

Item I bet no one else has:
2 pounds of sauerkraut?
Three dozen hardboiled and dyed Easter eggs (because the rest of you were smart enough to just throw them out?)
A baby bottle full of chocolate milk? (Don’t ask.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

“You don't have to suffer to be a poet; adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.” - John Ciardi

I need to read this book NOW.
Because I just read this.
And I am now in love.

In other news, I bought this today and couldn't wait to start reading it.
And it's all Gina's fault. She's the one who turned me on to Scarlett Thomas, damn her! But Ms Thomas's books are not that simple to find, so when I stopped in a little hole-in-the-wall bookshop on my way home from the Italian grocery and they had this, I had to buy it, even without my Borders voucher or my B&N discount card.

And I was all excited and happy and looking forward to starting it after I wrap up Kaaterskill Falls (love, by the way), and then some idiot kid pulled out of a parking lot, blowing through his stop sign, and made a left turn RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME and even though I was not speeding and I had the right-of-way, I had to slam on my brakes to avoid smashing up the rental car. So now there is a crockpot's worth of vegetable soup all over the passenger-side floor of the rental car (I was on my way to city-council campaign headquarters with fortification for the volunteers) and my Scarlett Thomas buzz was KILLED, I tell you.

"Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes’."


Kurt Vonnegut

November 11, 1922 - April 11, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it's just possible you haven't grasped the situation." - Jean Kerr

Timeline of a birthday

April 1, 2007 3 a.m.
H returns home from a successful poker night/bachelor party
I have been awake since 2 a.m. with a feverish baby

7 a.m.
Seg, Primo, Terzo, and Punto all wake up at the same time
Terzo just wants to be held and is still feverish despite the Motrin

715 a.m.
H wakes up, I go back to bed

915 a.m.
I wake up, go downstairs, and H goes back to bed

930 a.m.
I mix up the birthday cake and put it in the oven to bake

945 a.m.
Terzo goes back to bed

1000 a.m.
I take the baked cake out of the oven and leave it on the table, on a wire rack, to cool

1015 a.m.
I straighten the house, clean the powder room, throw in a load of laundry, and change the vacuum bag so I can vacuum for the first time in a week

1045 a.m.
I leave the boys at home with a sleeping H and take Punto for a long walk in the pouring rain

1130 a.m.
We return sopping wet and tired, but happy
H takes the two older boys out to deliver yard signs for our city council candidate
Yes, in the pouring rain

1145 a.m.
I run the dishwasher for the first time of the day, and make the frosting for the cake

1 p.m.
H and the boys return home, we all eat lunch, and Terzo wakes up

2 p.m.
H and Primo go to the first t-ball practice of the season
Fortunately, it's in a gym, not outside, in the pouring rain
I make Seg go upstairs to try to nap
I frost and decorate the cake

3 p.m.
H’s sister and her two boys arrive on the dot of 3, ever punctual

315 p.m.
H’s mom and dad arrive, followed closely by H’s youngest brother and his son
I am forced to make conversation with this crowd, before having had even a drink
Seg comes downstairs, saying he can’t sleep
Terzo spends the entire time crawling into and out of my lap

4 p.m.
Thank the sweet Lord Jesus that H and Primo return home, thereby removing the conversational burden from my frail shoulders
I retire to the kitchen to get everything ready
H follows quickly behind, to get the grill going
Yes, in the pouring rain

415 p.m.
Seg sees the cake and bursts into tears that it sports merely one hockey player, and not even Marc-Andre Fleury at that
I frantically hunt down an old hockey program and doctor up a Marc-Andre Fleury to tape to the plastic goalie already on the cake
In addition to “Happy Birthday, Seg,” the cake now sports a #29 (Fleury), a #3 (Mark Eaton) and a #87 (Sidney Crosby)
Seg is appeased

5 p.m.
The adults all sit down to eat
There is way too much salt in the deviled eggs and way too much mayo in the potato salad my mother-in-law provided; what can you do?
H’s family makes him return his perfectly grilled, juicy burgers to the grill, to cook the living daylights out of them

545 p.m.
All the kids descend from the third-floor playroom, inhale their dinners, and run back upstairs to continue to wreak havoc
Why must all the blankets and sheets be taken off the boys’ beds, and why does Mimi need a new fairly obscene and anatomically correct tattoo, inked by Seg’s 9-year-old cousin?

550 p.m.
Said 9-year-old cousin’s mother marches him upstairs and helps him scrub off Mimi
Mimi hasn’t been this clean in thirty years

555 p.m.
I take the cake out of the fridge to get ready for candles
It sits on the kitchen table, in all its hockey glory, awaiting a match
I empty the dishwasher, load it up again, and start it

605 p.m.
Seg opens his presents
He literally screams and jumps for joy upon opening his Fleury t-shirt
He also seems to like the Ben Roethlisberger t-shirt his aunt gave him, and the soccer ball and card game his other cousins gave him
He likes his trains but thinks that the treasure train car is actually holding a gingerbread house, and I can see why he is confused

615 p.m.
Punto has eaten the cake
Or at least three-quarters of it
Fortunately, the plastic goalie is unscathed

617 p.m.
H has thrown the dog outside and gone to Whole Foods to buy a cake
I tell Seg that the dog has eaten his birthday cake
He has an initial reaction of crying and tears, but comes out of it ok, once I promise to write both "Happy Birthday" and some player numbers on the new cake

625 p.m.
I get on the phone to various pet-owner friends, the vet one of them has recommended, and then the emergency vet

635 p.m.
H returns with a vegan chocolate fudge cake with vanilla frosting
I write “Happy Birthday Seg” on it with the leftover black frosting from the first cake, we light the candles, and sing Happy Birthday to a beaming Seg

645 p.m.
H’s mom and sister deal with the cake-slicing and ice cream scooping while H and I pour a quarter-cup of hydrogen peroxide down Punto’s throat, per the emergency vet’s instructions

655 p.m.
I have just sat down to eat my cake and ice cream, and drink my coffee, when H’s sister looks out the kitchen window and says “Uh oh.”
The hydrogen peroxide has done its job
Punto is happily scarfing down his regurgitated mess

710 p.m.
I scrub my hands thoroughly after having shoveled what seems like gallons of dog vomit into a trash bag and scrubbed off the back porch
My coffee is cold, my ice cream is melted, and my appetite is gone

715 p.m.
H and his mom clear up the kitchen, and empty and load up the dishwasher, while I put a feverish Terzo to bed with another teaspoon of Motrin and a bottle

730 p.m.
I return downstairs
Everyone has taken their leave, and H’s dad as usual has left twenty-dollar bills in his wake
I gather these up from the floor when the boys aren’t looking, to add to their discretionary-spending funds

8 p.m.
I read a few pages of Seg’s new Titanic book to the boys
Sweet dreams, right?!

810 p.m.
I tuck the boys into their beds, track down a missing Mimi, and teach Primo how to count off seconds between lightning flashes and thunderclaps, to determine how far away the storm is
Then I curl up next to Seg, sing him his special song, and tell him all about the day he was born
I narrowly avoid having to have a sex-ed moment with Primo by telling him to mind his own business and that he can ask me those questions when it’s HIS birthday

845 p.m.
I straighten the house, switch the laundry loads, make my to-do list for tomorrow, and put away the clean dishes
I turn the dishwasher on for the third time today
The damn dog, who has been let back into the house due to the storm, barks at the cats and wakes up Terzo

945 p.m.
I finally crawl into bed with my computer, my book (Lisa Scottoline’s Devil’s Corner), and a mug of hot, strong tea
Talk myself out of adding a healthy slug of whiskey to the steaming cup

1000 p.m.
Terzo awakes, wailing and feverish
I just pick him up and bundle him into bed with me
He is happy enough about this, but is determined to occupy every last inch of space on the bed

April 2 2007 3 a.m.
Lather, rinse, repeat
Terzo has been deposited back into his crib, where he awakens every hour or so, wailing
I blearily decide that three children is way more than enough - possibly too many, like maybe three too many - and get out of my bed to move my birth control pills into the cabinet with my Zoloft, so I do not forget to take one ever, EVER again

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The teacher sighed and shook her head... "Here in France the chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome."

Just in time for the holidays:

First up, Rebecca O’Connell’s newest children’s novel, Penina Levine is a Hard-Boiled Egg. The driving plot point of this engaging children’s book is that Penina’s teacher gives her class the assignment to write a letter as the Easter Bunny to a kindergartener at a neighboring school. Penina celebrates Passover, not Easter, and is uncomfortable with the Christian overtones of the assignment; although Ryan, the only other Jewish kid in her class, does the assignment readily, she refuses to do it and her teacher gives her a zero. As one Amazon review pointed out, it is somewhat hard to imagine a public school teacher being so culturally insensitive these days, but you find out that the teacher is very young, and she is a substitute teacher, and she really doesn’t seem to understand the religious significance of the Easter bunny. (“It’s not called the Springtime Bunny or the Candy Egg Bunny,” Penina says. “It’s called the Easter Bunny, and Easter is a religious holiday!” Seems pretty dang clear-cut to ME, too.)

I thought the illustrations were distracting and unclear, and Drawn-Penina looked nothing like my Imagined-Penina, but then, I am a bit of a stinker about illustrations. (Someday I will regale you with my treatise on poorly-drawn comics, but not today.) I found Penina’s relationship with her parents and little sister Mimsy a bit puzzling; her parents seem loving, and appreciative of Penina’s unique personality, but they also do seem to play favorites with Mimsy, who is pretty much just the stereotypical annoying younger sibling character. I think some of my unease with Penina’s parents comes from the fact that, simply, I am not used to reading children’s books in which the adults are allowed to be as complex as they can be in real life – I think I need one of my children’s lit experts to read it and give us her take. Jess? Thanks.

However, I loved the scenes with Penina’s grandparents, especially her funny and sweet grandmother whom I would like to have adopt me, and I enjoyed very much the details of the Seder; I also liked the subplot of Ryan’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, coming to visit Penina’s class. Penina herself is a winner - I liked the kind and intelligent way in which she ultimately makes her point to her teacher, and I loved Penina’s stubbornness, her enthusiasm for her heritage, and her refusal to be untrue to her nature. I found Penina downright endearing, the sort of little girl I would have liked to be friends with. Rumor has it that Rebecca’s next book is titled Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake - I look forward to getting to know Penina even better. Plus, I LOVE potato pancakes.


My favorite tableau in Sloane Tanen’s charming and wry little book featuring anthropomorphic chicks: a mother chick sweeps her messy house, surrounded by a baby in a bouncy chair, the detritus of a day caring for baby scattered around her, and her husband in an easy chair, beer in hand, glued to the football game on the wide-screen TV. The caption: Other than paying the bills, Esther’s husband was useless. What she needed was a housekeeper. What she needed was a friend. What she needed was a nanny. What she needed was a polygamist looking for a fourth. That happened to be my favorite this moment when I opened the book; with the numerous honest and amusing gems in this book, I seem to have a different favorite every time.

Tanen’s take on motherhood via her little chickens is fresh and funny and every mother out there will be able to relate to the quirks and perks, the traumas and tribulations, of pregnancy, birth, and those first crazy months of keeping your infant alive. I had almost as much fun perusing each photo for the little props and accessories as I did reading the actual captions. Most of the chickens are better dressed than I am on any average day! (Not that that is that hard...)

I was so enchanted by these little balls of fluff that I bought Tanen’s children’s counting book, Coco Counts: A Little Chick’s First Book of Numbers, for Terzo for his Easter basket.


And now, an Easter recipe. H’s birthday always seems to fall around Easter; this year, it’s this upcoming Tuesday. So when my mother-in-law asked me to bring dessert to Easter dinner, I thought I would take my newly-discovered (!!!)(after TWELVE years of marriage!) knowledge of H’s love of lemon cake and produce the most amazing cake I have EVER tasted: Triple Layer Lemon-Mascarpone Cake. I made it once for Mother’s Day ages ago and haven’t made it since, as it’s time-consuming and huge and incredibly rich, and therefore just not the sort of cake you whip up so your family will have a sweet treat to enjoy over the weekend.

For your viewing pleasure (all right, it’s a little bit lopsided, but I’m a baker, not a food stylist, Jim!):


Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
Triple Layer Lemon-Mascarpone Cake

Saturday, April 07, 2007

“It's spring fever.... You don't quite know what it is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” - Mark Twain

It’s the Spring Preview of Books. Because none of us have spent nearly enough money on books yet this year….

Whitethorn Woods - Maeve Binchy. Binchy is one of the few writers whom my mother-in-law and I have in common. Um, actually, she is the only one. While I don’t adore her (Binchy), I can appreciate the homeyness and comfort of her writing and subjects, and her novels are down-to-earth and imminently readable. Unlike many other authors of this amorphous sort of romance-novel genre, Binchy’s writing doesn’t make me cringe. (Hmm, I don’t mean to damn with faint praise; that sort of came out wrong but I don’t know how else to say it.) (March 2007)

Quilter’s Homecoming - Jennifer Chiaverini.
I like Chiaverini’s sweet, detail-filled, semi-historical quilting novels. Some are better than others, and sometimes I can’t always keep track of the characters, but mostly I enjoy them. If you don’t like to quilt, you may not. I still haven’t read the last installment, Circle of Quilters, and I’d like to get the Elm Creek Christmas novel as well. (April 2007)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life - Barbara Kingsolver. Barabara Kingsolver could rewrite the phone book and I would read it. Fortunately, she chooses much more interesting topics, such as this recounting of her family’s move to a farm in Appalachia and their attempt to eat only locally-produced or -grown food for a year. (May 1, 2007)

Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? - Jen Lancaster. Jen is a very very funny blogger, who wrote a very very funny book sometime in the past couple of years which I own and have read but then lent to someone who failed to return it to me. So, Andrea, if you have ANY desire to borrow my copy of Jen’s new book when I buy it, and I will because have I mentioned that I find her very very funny? you better give me back Bitter is the New Black, woman! (And come have a beer with me because I haven’t seen in you for fucking ever.) (May 1, 2007)

Hungry in LA turned me on to Nicola Griffith, and Aud Torvingen, Griffith’s Norwegian detective, with a copy of The Blue Place; several years later when I read a review of Griffith’s second novel featuring Torvingen, Still, describing the story as “literary noir,” that descriptive was so perfect that I felt validated in reading a mere crime novel. You can be as snotty as you want about the crime/mystery genre; Marlowe, Spade, and Spenser have made their way into college-level lit classes and are there to stay. (The Maureen Corrigan book I am leisurely enjoying boasts a chapter on the noir genre, and its sociological value and insights.) Now Aud stars in a third installment, Always, due for release in the beginning of May. (May 3, 2007)

I have a bit of a thing for the historical supernatural. When my mom and I traveled to England in '99, she was already ill, and we just didn’t know it yet. Her liver disease manifested itself then in extreme fatigue, and so while my mom went to bed early most nights, I occupied myself by strolling around London and York with various tour outfits specializing in the ghost walk. In London, I indulged myself in the Jack the Ripper tour; the York tour was shorter, but somehow even spookier, wandering around the dusk in the shadow of the looming minster. So when I saw Rebecca Stott’s novel, entitled Ghostwalk, I had to read the blurb. And it looks very cool. The Barnes & Noble description and feel of the book reminds me of Possession. And we all know how I feel about Possession. Add it to my list. (May 8, 2007)

Crashing Through: A Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See - Robert Kurson. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed reading Shadow Divers. I thought it might be fun, but it was really intriguing; I liked it enough to give it to my little brother for Christmas. So, although I find the subject matter of Kurson’s new book (a blind man can have an operation to restore his sight – but does he want to? Should he?) slightly disturbing in a sci-fi kind of way, I will read it. (May 15, 2007)

A Thousand Splendid Suns -Khaled Hosseini. This book looks depressing as hell, but so was Kite Runner and I still liked it. (May 22, 2007)

Divisadero - Michael Ondaatje. I once harbored a passionate crush on a weenie little English professor due solely to his brilliance. He was Canadian, and so he liked to teach Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. I had a tough time getting Ondaatje, but was glad I persevered. He is a lyrical writer, if a tad on the inaccessible side; this is his first novel in six years. (May 29, 2007)

Michael Tolliver Lives - Armistead Maupin. Could this book be as funny and heartwarming and engaging as Maupin’s Tales from the City et al? I really don’t know; this novel may well be oddly dated, but there’s only one way to find out. (June 26, 2007)

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde. I am a big fan of Fforde’s Thursday Next novels; they are fun, and quirky, and imaginative, and I like to describe them as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide for English majors.” I am a little concerned about the possibility that the fifth may not live up to the first ones, but I am willing to risk it. (July 19, 2007)

So, yeah, I am trying to read from my shelves, but I have every intention of continuing to endear myself to my local branch librarians as usual.


Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! We have a winner. Although I didn't realize it was going to turn into a quiz.

Some old dude was turning around in my street and crashed head-on into my car, going at a decent clip, even though he had JUST TURNED AROUND and how fast should he have been going? He smashed into my car (with a Dodge Neon, not some tank, so consider that if you will) and pushed my in-gear, emergency-braked, parked car backwards about eight feet, and up onto the curb and into the tree. My crazy neighbor saw the whole thing (he was the one who was giving the dude directions just before he turned around) and swears the dude was drunk, but the babysitter thinks he was just old and confused.
I am still waiting for the insurance estimate.
I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"Just remember, once you're over the hill you begin to pick up speed. " - Charles Schultz

I generally don't park up on the curb, either, OR against the tree.

I am just saying.

So now I am driving one of these:

while my little car rests and recuperates and is fed chicken soup in the Toyota collision center.