Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pictures of a life you'll never know

The part of Philomena that was most meaningful to me was the way she periodically runs through home movie pictures of the son she lost to forced adoption. They are flickering images of a childhood she was never a part of, glances of a boy she only imagines. This hit me because it is exactly what happens when you have lost a child. My first son, Calvin, was stillborn nearly 13 years ago, and I still see flashes of the boy he might have been in my mind, in certain postures of his living siblings, in the faces of the growing-up-so-fast children of friends. A long time ago, I stopped trying to compare suffering, but I am pretty sure that women like Philomena Lee, who were hidden from the world in the shame of their pregnancy then had their children taken from them and never knew what happened to them, had it much worse than me.

In the movie, we eventually see that the images she has been "imagining" are actually drawn from a reel of images from her son's life with his adoptive family. This bothers me, because it compresses too much of her experience, which is what I feel this movie did in general. She says she thought of him every day, and she must have had her own pictures of him that would be strangely, and I imagine, unsettlingly pushed aside by these "real" pictures. That would be a new, fresh loss, and a satisfying portrayal of the story would have acknowledged it.

Reading: The NYT Magazine Lives They Lived issue is one of my favorite events of the year. From the story on sculptor Ruth Asawa: "The distinction between domestic and nondomestic art would have made no sense to Asawa. 'Art is doing,' she wrote. 'Art deals directly with life.'"

Also nearing the end of Teacher Man, and found this other resonant statement about art making. He is discussing his friend the painter Yonk Kling who had a recurring image of women on a beach that he couldn't or wouldn't quite explain: "He had just put those women there and he wasn't going to interfere with them. That's what he disliked about certain artists and writers. They interfered and pointed to everything as if you couldn't see or read for yourself. Not Van Gogh. Look at Van Gogh. There's the bridge, the sunflower, the room, the face, the shoes. Come to your own conclusion. Van Gogh ain't telling you."

Writing: Hmm. But I did play pool with my sister and my daughter. That must count for something.

Dinner: I had "taverna eggplant" at a restaurant last night. Thick slices of eggplant deep fried but not breading - thin crispy exterior, soft almost custard like exterior - drizzled with honey and sprinkled with snips of fresh sage and chunky sea salt. It's the sage that really makes it.

Soundtrack: The Billy Joe Armstrong/Norah Jones Everly Brothers Project and David reminded me of David Bowie's new album in his blog.

Random thing: O observed while watching Secret Life of Walter Mitty that the characters were "not really walking" while they were walking down a NYC street. He is very observant that boy.

There is more in Teacher Man about Kling as an observer, but I've run out of time.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Venue of Vultures

Turkey vulture warming itself in the sun.
photo from wildcarebayarea.org

On the way to a walk by the river, I saw a venue of turkey vultures trooping around on the banks of the Hocking. I thought at first they were geese. There are a lot of geese here, as everywhere. But geese don't have red heads, and geese do not have a 7-foot wing span. There were perhaps 12 or 15 birds. Most of them were hunched in a familiar vulture pose, but 4 or 5 of them had their wings fully extended to catch the sunshine. (Venue is the collective word for vultures on the ground, according too the kind people of TrekOhio, who also note that the Latin name for this bird, "Cathartes aura, means either golden purifier or purifying breeze." Let us respect the carrion eaters for they purify our world.)

On the walk itself, the only birds I saw were geese, robins, and grackles. Is it an illusion that when I was a kid Canada geese and robins were truly migratory? I recall the wonder of the first robin of spring. Was I just not paying attention all winter? I know the living patterns of geese have changed, but whenever I try to research robins, I find info that says "some winter over." There was point along the walk where there are 5 small trees planted a few feet apart. Each tree had a neat round of rich brown mulch at its foot. Each round of mulch had a plump robin posing with its rusty breast feather glowing in the bright winter sun.

One more bird thing: This article on "raptor porn" came across my field yesterday. It is about the indiscriminate use of the cry of the red-tailed hawk in movies and tv to signal "wildness," with no connection the bird itself. The writer laments this as lazy filmmaking but more than that as a reduction of this sound of a real creature to a symbol of a concept which no longer has a basis in reality.

Somehow this connects to the purifying vultures in my mind -- the need for us to (verbs fail me -- connect? respect? understand? -- I do not like these verbs) the role and reality of animals) but that is a subject for a more extended meditation.

Reading: Started Teacher Man. What a great voice McCourt has.

Writing: Working on a scene - continuation of what I read at the Four and Twenty Blackbirds - with material I generated during an exercise I did while sitting in on a workshop Alexandra Fuller did with some of our students in the fall.

Also, oddly, a poem.

Dinner: We went out to my sister's fiance's family's land for a hayride and a bonfire. We had gluhwein made in a feuerzangenbowle over the Coleman stove (translation: warm wine over which sugar and rum have been set a aflame and allowed to drip into the wine) and homemade deer burgers.

Soundtrack: Z has been singing in endless loop "Toad Away." It's a Firesign Theatre's song to the tune of "First Noel." This is David's fault.

Random thing: The more I think about Dallas Buyers Club the more I am irritated with it. The acting is all superb, and the character it is portraiting is an interesting guy, but:

First, as a writer, I am disappointed with the degree to which all other characters, with the possible exception of Jared Leto's character, Rayon (a very well-portrayed but maybe too easily tragic drag queen), are not really characters at all. They just exist to highlight different aspects of the main character.

Second, this writing choice necessarily means no women characters, no gay characters, no Texas macho men characters that actually have any substance or nuance. Griffin Dunne maybe gets the farthest with Dr. Vass.

Third, this means that the self-aware gay slurs (we know we're gay bashing, but it is historically and culturally accurate so it is ok) that happen all over this movie gets uncomfortable and tiresome to me after a while.

I could go on. It is good that macho straight gay-hating cowboys also got AIDS and had to come to terms with vicious stereotyping. It is good that they fought fights to treat the disease. Can we make movies about them that have women that are more than tits and gay guys who have personality beyond their gayness?

(Loyal readers might like to know I saw 7 hawks on the drive down here last week.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Insomnia in Plaid

This pattern was also very popular with Edward VIII,
during his carefree days as Prince of Wales.

My sleep patterns are disrupted here. However there's a fireplace in the sitting room that makes being mysteriously awake at 3 a.m. seem like a luxury. Thursday night, I read on the couch and talked to Bette, the aging bassett-retriever, until I fell back asleep at dawn. Hoping for a repeat this morning, I got up in the dark and came downstairs to find it was nearly 7 and my mother was up with a computer in her lap.

It's no surprise that my sleep is off. It usually is. I don't conform well to the 8-hour sleep schedule, and I fantasize about a life where I can both be a productive member of society and sleep whenever the whim strikes me. My friend Harris pointed me towards the idea of "second sleep" or "segmented sleep" when I complained of this in the spring. There is historical documentation to support the idea that pre-industrial people (i.e., those not beholden to the factory clock and the world it created) tended to wake in the night and made use of the wee hours. What about all the people who couldn't afford candles, that's what I wonder.

Sitting room fires, candles, I'm glad for these things. And old dogs, couches, winter breaks, stacks of books, and Bailey's in my pre-dawn coffee.

Reading: Almost done with Separate Peace. Today I will start Looking for Alaska by John Green (because all my students love John Green, so I need to read him) or Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (it's been on my list for a long time, and now as a teacher of high school students I hope it might fortify me in some way).

Writing: Working with some bits and pieces of things I sketched during the fall.

Dinner: Thursday we did have Nantucket scallops (thanks, Jonth). I baked them with butter and garlic and minced onion topped with bread crumbs, then sprinkled with parsley and lemon juice at the table.

Friday I made butter beans in the crockpot with the ham bone from Christmas (with onion, celery, carrot, shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes, a little Montreal steak seasoning in lieu of cajun spice at the end, and a pat of butter stirred in before serving). We at it in bowls with my mom's cornbread broken up on top.

Soundtrack: Mark Bolan is a running joke of sorts in Dallas Buyer's Club, which we saw yesterday. He is also thanked in the credits. Which reminds me, I got a boxed set of Life on Mars for Christmas.

Plus, is Jared Leto's band any good? He's great in DBC.

Random thing: I spent Friday afternoon tooling around discount retail wonderland with my sister (and DZ&O), and I scored some very well made and well-fitting glen plaid trousers. The book of all things tells me this pattern is not a traditional clan tartan but was used in the 19th century by the New Zealand-born countess of Seafield to outfit her gamekeepers in Glen Urquhart, which by the way borders Loch Ness.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Oh, hello there.

Self-portrait, with yellow Papermate

It's been a while. I've been teaching full time this fall and managing to write some non-blog writing (see below) and trying to tend to my home life at least a little, and so this space has been neglected. I have missed it. I recently told my friend Karen, who keeps a lovely sketching blog, which also sometimes is neglected, that we should make a pact to rededicate ourselves to this funny enterprise.

And so here I am on Boxing Day at the Donkey with a bag of books and a computer. I just finished writing thank you notes to students for holiday gifts. I am planning to see a very long movie about a "greedy, strong, and wicked worm" later today. Each day of vacation is supposed to include reading, writing, exercise, school prep, family time, and good food. I've accomplished three and a half of these so far.

Reading: A Separate Peace by John Knowles, brushing up for school. I have a bunch of other books here too. More on those as the days develop. Have you read Separate Peace? How do you feel about Finny?

Writing: I have been busier with work this fall than most other times in my life, and yet ... I published a short piece about cabbage in Edible Cleveland (winter issue isn't online - pick it up around town), I read out with dear friends in the first installment of a reading/pie/lit. salon series we are trying to float (and this meant writing NEW PAGES of the book-in-progress), and I have two theatrical pieces in the works - I'm part of a great group project and I'm writing a children's play. This is good. Now, if I can just get the book done, finally, please, because there is a character from another book getting very restless in my brain, and also, I have some bits and pieces of new shorter stuff I've been playing with. Check back for daily updates! Really.

Dinner: For Christmas dinner, we had ham and these crazy accordion potatoes my mom made. For the vegetarians and as a side for the meat eaters, I made veggie "strudel."

There are 3 sorts: broccoli & cheddar; mixed greens with walnuts,
raisins, and feta; and rich mushroom and sour cream.
No, I don't understand the angle of this photo.

Dinner tonight is rumored to be scallops from my Nantucket uncle and veggie strudel leftovers. Life is good.

Soundtrack: The music at the Donkey is always eclectic. A bit ago "Comfortably Numb" was on, and I think "Fun, Fun, Fun" by the Beach Boys was just playing (or else why would I have it in my head). Now, there's something on with a bass line I don't recognize.

Random thing: Lamps make the world seem manageable. I recommend lamps.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Mantis, the Apatelodes, and the Parisian Cat

Well, David's play opened in NYC.

Meanwhile, here at home we've had a praying mantis lurking around our front door. I guess the kids have seen it a few times. I got to see it when O started to go outside and exclaimed, "Oh! He's back, and he's looking at me." I went to find out what he was talking about, and there was the bright green mantis, on the threshold between the wooden door and the screen door, with its head swiveled and tilted as though it were wondering if it might consume my child. I used a stick to pick it up and transport it outside, fearing to try to pick it up with my hands. I'm not squeamish about bugs in the least, but that creature demanded respect. And even when I offered it the stick the first time it leapt forward at me in a most alarming way. Then when I had gotten it onto the planter on the stoop, it stretched itself out bizarrely, extending its front legs along the rim of the planter until they were completely straight and then just staying like that, only slowly swiveling its head to observe me observing it.

What does it mean to have a mantis on your doorstep? The interwebz give little to go on. They repeat each other ad infinitum with very few references. "Good luck" seems a bit vague. I like knowing that the San people of southern Africa identify the mantis as both a trickster and the bringer of fire and language. (I found something like that in a couple of places, including this tour guide of Victoria Falls, so it must be true.) Maybe that's what it was bringing me.

It was only later that I realized I hadn't take a picture of it. I went back outside this afternoon hoping it would still be hanging around. I didn't find a mantis, but I did find a big, fat, furry yellow Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar climbing up the side of my house.

Like a dork, I still didn't have a camera with me, but luckily the good people
at Nova Scotia Butterfly, Moth, and Caterpillar have more foresight.

Which reminds me, I saw a crazy white and black caterpillar in Maine. The whitest white, and so finely furred it looked like it had a million hair-like legs skimming the ground, and little white tufts on its back and enormous black "horns" of hair and a long black horn on its back end. I did take a picture of that, but it is very blurry. Research tells me it must be some kind of tussock moth, but none of the pictures I find are quite the same as mine.

Reading: Meh. But the kids and I watched A Cat in Paris on Saturday night. I've had this queued on Netflix for ages. I told them we would watch and though they were slightly skeptical, they were game, and then they were so engrossed they could barely eat the pasta sitting in front of them. The story is kind of thin, but the animation and the telling of it are really special, and the fact that the mother is the superintendent of police was not lost on Z.

Here's a trailer. Enjoy:

Writing: 800 good new words on Saturday to bridge an important an under developed transition, plus editing and transcribing some other stuff. The end is in sight. I think I can. I think I can. Sunday was all crosswords and work work. These are good too. But the writing writing must continue.

Dinner: Saturday: carmelized multi-color cherry tomatoes with basil, lemon basil, and lemon zest over shells with parm. Sunday: a leftover half of an eggplant reuben and fries from Katz Club while I worked and the kids ran around town with friends.

Soundtrack: Pandora played for me: Joshua Bell radio, Little Boots radio, and Slim Gaillard radio. Now that's eclectic.

Random thing: I randomly came across this cool series, Keys to the Whole World, that NPR did/is doing on the institution of the American public library. Libraries make me happy. I randomly encourage you to check it ou.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Our Houses are Such Unwieldy Property

Can you find the fairy house?
I tried to write a post on our way home from Maine, about road trip eating and the rules, pitfalls, and pleasures thereof, but it ended up sounding really stiff and distant and I got so far past my 20 minute rule that I just gave up. Let it suffice to say: UTICA GREENS! Who knew?

Since we returned home Sunday night there have been things I wanted to record - like the small lavender dragonfly with the bright blue rump I saw one day this week - but it has been so crazy trying to settle in. Sunday we went from the highway directly to a party to see friends who moved away a startling 3 years ago and were only in town until early Monday. It was good that we went, important to see them, but it meant starting the week with a pile of luggage and no food (not even coffee) in the house. And then, getting David out the door to the Fringe in NYC (NYT plug; David's blog) and all the other stuff of life. Meanwhile, our house has been a complete disaster to the point that it was making me panic. Throw in some insomnia and an unplanned attendance at the water show at the local pool to see Z's best friend and a gazillion other kids we know dive and swim syncronously until late into the evening while pop music from my own adolescence blared over the PA system into the humid, chlorine-scented night (I think I have never felt more American), and well, it has been a difficult reacclimation.

So Friday when I woke up early to rain and cool weather and my own sense of exhaustion and need for homebound comfort, I decided to declare it a family holiday. Kids stayed home from camp. We had a meeting before breakfast to structure the day a little (alternating periods of free play and housework, with some TV thrown in). That was a wise move on my part. Structure is good. It made for plenty of flopping around, but it also meant we made the house habitable. More than that it made our house ours; we reclaimed the space and began to make progress to the next phase of things -- ZandO getting their own rooms, going back to school, me going back to school (to teach), a better set up for my books and files, a new paradigm. And by the afternoon the day had turned beautiful, and I sent the kids outside to ride bikes and find friends. After a bit Z came inside and said "It's outside time for us, but that means you have to come outside too" and she asked me to come build a fairy house with her in our wild, overgrown, mint-ridden garden. We spent 10 days in Maine, where the fairy houses are a major thing, and after checking the damage to last year's she didn't really engage with them. I feel vaguely guilty, as I think she was waiting for prompting and invitation, from me or David or her grandmother, to build together. But now, here, at home, she prompted me. And we spent time in the sunshine, poking around for materials for the house, weeding a little, talking and imagining, and again, reclaiming our house. It's a pretty special place. 

Reading: I am taken with Gary Shteyngart's piece in the New Yorker about Google Glass. And Maxine Kumin's poem "Xanthopsia" from another recent issue, it's about Vincent Van Gogh and his yellows. Van Gogh's paintings make my soul ache with some kind of deep existential empathy. I cry when I see them in person. As Kumin says "Science has a word—/ xanthopsia—for when objects appear/ more yellow than they really are, but who’s/ to say? As yellow as they are, they are."

Writing: Not enough, but I will get there. I have a new writing space set up in the kitchen.

Dinner: The kids ate with Sarah. I went to the Bottlehouse for a drink (the excellent house-made ginger beer and a very generous pour of bourbon) and iPad geekery with a new colleague, then had leftover Indian potato and kale soup and a glass of Bourdeaux while awaiting their return.

Soundtrack: I realize I am 5 years behind the times, but at water show I decided the Ting Ting's "That's Not My Name" is my new favorite song. Also, David has some Manu Chao in a mix he was playing the other day that made me think I need to spend more time thinking about Manu Chao.

Random thing: It looks like we will have a bumper crop of over-the-back fence, volunteer Concord grapes in another week or so. I am thinking grape pie. Yes, I am.

PS Today's title is from Walden. (In context here.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

It's good when you lose track of the days ...

There's been a beguiling mixture of rain and sun here.

Rain is good for sitting on the porch with a book and looking at this.

Sun is good for exploring.

There was a parade in there somewhere too.

Reading: Finished Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. A random descriptive passage (chosen from many that are equally evocative):

The heat in the kitchen is breath-sucking. There are two small windows at either end of the huge tacked-together room, and stable door, which leads off to the back veranda where the dairyman (surrounded by a halo of flied) labors over the milk churn (milk spits into buckets, cream chugs into a jug; both are in danger of going off before the can reach refrigeration). The fridges, unable to compete with the heat, leak (they bleed actually: think watered-down blood from the defrosting chunks of cow) and add a fusty-smelling steam to the atmosphere. The aroma here is defrosting flesh, soon-to-be-off milk, sweating butter, and the always present salty-meat-old-vegetable effluvium of the dogs' stew toiling away on the stove. (280)

Writing: Progress on the script, and an awareness that I have a grant deadline for fiction coming up.

Dinner: There's been a lot of good food and drink, including Connecticut peach dishes #s 4-6:
          • Peach basil bourbon smash (pictured at left), which I will note was fresh seasonal cocktail of the week #2.
          • Peach pie
          • Peach barbecue sauce, made to go with grilled pork and grilled summer squash and peppers, potato salad, and melon salad.
I am particularly proud of the bbq sauce. The recipe I was using as a blueprint called for fresh ginger, lacking which I added nutmeg, a bit of curry powder, some chili powder, and a handful of raisins (it all was pureed in the blender after simmering). It all worked.

Really, when have I ever had to cope with so many peaches? And there are more left!

Soundtrack: This morning a very proud robin spent a good 30 minutes declaring itself outside my bedroom window. I know there is a nest nearby because I saw mama robin out with a gangly, spotty breasted fledgling a couple of days ago, but this is the first morning I have been aware of this serenade. Maybe this is the song of the empty nest?

Random thing: I was on the dock with Orson last night as he was winding up a mackerel trawling session and a clumsy cormorant almost ran into us as it tried to take off from the water. They do a long flapping wind up before they take the the air. It had managed to get itself aloft a couple yards from the dock, realized it was headed straight for me and dropped back into the water like a giant black feathered rock. I was worried at first that it was injured, but after some sulky paddling around it repositioned itself and took off towards the open water.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fritters and Fizzes

Morning by the fire - father and son

Second full day and the rhythms are being established. O loves to play human bellows with the fire, which burns each morning. He got his fishing in with his grandmother, and went kayaking and boating with his dad. Z went kayaking too and says that we should make it a goal to kayak every day. a good goal. She is also enchanted by the How to be the Best at Everything book David picked up at the library sale. (That was a useful library sale!) I continue to read and write, and got lots of time on my rock (will post pics of which another day)..

For breakfast David made peach fritters (Connecticut peach dish #2), and they were good.

We were joined in the afternoon by summer friends Michelle and Bob and their son C, who will keep us company and drink cocktails (see below) with us for several days.

And my father in law was heard to utter this: "The end that's in the middle is I don't know why."

Reading: The Fuller and also The Odyssey. The latter out on the rock.

Writing: Yes, in bed, on the porch, and on the rock. Making progress in draft and making realizations about how to streamline structure.

I mixed Michelle a promised belated birthday cocktail, namely
a cucumber lime gin fizz, with a cilantro garnish (apt as the gin
was Boodles, which has a coriander note in its botanicals).

Dinner: Ken and Connie brought their pizza maker to provide the appetizers. Tertia made beef stew for dinner, with a salad and good cheese bread from town. I made peach compote (Connecticut peaches dish #3) with cranberries, honey, spiced rum, and spices to go with Michelle's homemade salted caramel ice cream. It was a rainy evening, and this meal was just right.

Soundtrack: I'm big enough to admit it. I had Eddie Rabbit's I Love a Rainy Night in my head all evening.

Random thing: First sighting of an osprey flying home from the water with a large fish clasped in its talons.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

There is really not much going on

Peach Crisp with Half and Half
(Connecticut peaches dish #1)

The difficulty with being in a place where there is really not much going on is that there really is not much going on. I happen to love this about the cove, and I think ZandO do too really, but the first day was a bit rough.

O wants so much to do the things he wants to do - fishing and Risk, mostly,  and kayaking - that he has a very hard time letting anyone else do what they want. Z, the socialest of sociable animals, is anxious for her summer friends to arrive on the weekend, and keyed up about the possibility of seeing her a best friend from home as she passes up the coast (this complicated by the fact that we get no cell phone reception here -- again, not something I mind on my on own). All this makes her less than gracious, and she also gets fed up with being the default playmate for her brother, in predictable and irritating ways. And David has things he wants to do too, and wishes the kids would run off and entertain themselves more. I am confident we will all find our rhythms after a day or two.

Good things happened today too. O caught an 8-inch mackerel off the dock! Z and I went out to write and draw on "my rock," but the tide was so high (supermoon high) that we couldn't get to it without a fairly serious wading expedition. So we perched on a smaller rock on shore for a good 40 minutes, each quietly doing our work and exclaiming occasionally when the waves leapt too high. Walks were taken. People went swimming.

Reading: I am consternated by my father in law, who picked up the Fuller book I am reading and spent the day getting beyond where it has taken me more than a week to read to.

In lieu of the read-out-loud books left at home (Haroun and Matilda, depending on the parent in question), we started Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones, gotten at the library sale on Monday.

Writing: Worked on my script out on the rock with Z, not on my book, working in a recycled book notebook I use when I need to carry something smallish (boards are the cover of an old children's dictionary, with the color illustrated dictionary pages interspersed among the blank pages). I think I like where the script is going. It is very short. I don't need it to go far.

But I do need to finish a draft of the book in the next two weeks. Zut alors! Can it be done?

My friend Charlie posted something recently about how his most productive time as a writer was when he had fewer friends, travelled less, and taught less.

Cousins-in-law, mostly only
ever encountered in Maine.

Dinner: Tertia made a stir fried veg and noodle dish. Cousins Ken and Connie brought some of their own house wine and a tray of yummy tidbits. We threw together a salad when I had to send Connie back to her house to get butter for the peach crisp.

Soundtrack: The classical station from Portland plays in the kitchen of the cabin most of the day.

Random thing: Z and I have been admiring all of the orb spider webs in the woods. It stayed misty so long that they seemed jewel encrusted most of the day.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Day We Arrived on the Cove (and ate in diners)

I was on the dock crabbing with Orson as soon as we unpacked the car. I saw the colors in the water first, then looked up. 

Evening Rainbow, Flood's Cove.
You can't tell from the photo, but it was actually a double
-- there was a second arc above the one visible here.

A strange half power outtage at Falk Manor drove us out for breakfast (that and the fact that we wanted to take them out to thank them), which we procured at the S&S Dugout Cafe in Southport, on Liz's recommendation.

photo Roadfood,com. Read their review.
They make their own delicious sausage -- a  fresh pork patty with spices. David and I had the hot, which really is hot, along with the house speciality fried mashed potatoes, rye toast, and two eggs over easy. Harris had the sweet, which really is sweet. O had a fine BLT, and Z had another house speciality - rare roast beef on a poppyseed roll.

After that, peach picking, of course! We left Connecticut with 2 pecks of freshly picked peaches crammed into the back of the car and dreams of pies and cobblers and fritters and salsa dancing in our heads. There was heavy rain on the Mass Pike, but all else was uneventful. We probably bought too much at the New Hampshire state store, and really I don't think it is that much of a bargain, but like moths to the flame we must visit their well-stocked aisles. And then ... too hungry to drive all the way to the cove without another meal, we stopped at the trusty Brunswick Diner, where I ate a SALAD and excellent crusty homefries mixed with other VEGETABLES, while my people had fried seafood, and who can blame them?

Photos of Brunswick Diner, Brunswick
This photo of Brunswick Diner is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Our children are becoming creatures of ritual and habit. At girls' camp recently, Z and her friends were careful to keep track of all the things they have done in years past that they had to get just-so this time. And today on pulling into the parking lot in Brunswick, Z exclaimed happily, "Oh! This is the place we always go!" and O said, "Yeah! It's the place with juke boxes on the tables!"

I am very aware that these are their formative memories. If I think about it too hard I get all wibbly wobbly.

And then the drive up US 1 and windows opened to let in the scent of ocean and pine and kids going crazy in the back seat with anticipation of finally having arrived. When we got here, we had to visit the water and pull up a few crabs and visit the woods to check on the fairy houses. We also had a run in with a very rambunctious white standard poodle staying near the dock at the Defiance.

Reading: I sat with Z and read the Fuller book (see yesterday), while she played Minecraft. I was reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories to them at home (begun before I knew I would be teaching it this coming year), and neglected to bring it ... I need to find a local copy or break down and buy an electronic copy.

Writing: No. But Wednesday is the day.

Dinner: Tertia had a light supper of minestrone and local Borealis bread waiting for us. And a blueberry pie. I am a fortunate soul.

Soundtrack: The Sidney Bechet disk David picked up at the Westport library sale Monday was just the thing for our jaunt to the peach orchard. The Life on Mars soundtrack helped make the Mass Pike bearable, and Elvis brought us up Highway 1.

Random thing: No pictures of fairy houses yet, but crabs ...


Monday, July 22, 2013

Maine Vacation days 1&2 (not yet Maine)

Sleepy people 

Friday I finished my tenure at a job I have been working hard at for a year and a half? Two years? Five? Depends on how you count it. I stayed late to try to leave things as neatly as I could. After 11 I turned out the lights and whispered goodbye and thank you and good luck, and I drove home crying with the windows open to the humid night air. Crying because of endings, because of change, because I made this happen and I hope I have done the right thing. In one month I will begin the next thing.

Saturday was packing and shopping and attending a theater people wedding. And Sunday was the long drive to Westport to see old friends in their new(ish) house.

Along the way we ate here - food was ok, people were great.

Harris I have know for ... 24 years? ... Liz for what must be nearly 10. I was very very pregnant with O, in an elegant black prego lady dress, when I stood in their wedding party 8 years ago. Little Z tossed flower petals and after the revelry had worn her out slept on two chairs pushed together near the coat closet while we danced into the night.

And today, I slept in until 11. I really could've slept all day. We ate. We went to a library book sale, played ping pong by the estuary, swam, and ate some more. I got precipitously tired and hungry and dehydrated and low in the late afternoon but bounced back.

The rest of this trip is really more of a working vacation. Much writing and reading and planning to do. I plan to keep you posted .

Reading: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller.

Writing: This is it. But I have a short script I have been ruminating on. Does that count?

Dinner: Harris grilled pizza and burgers and corn. Liz made a lemon yogurt cake. Also we drank their wine. It was all great, and I am fighting the impulse to feel like a mooch. Sometimes you let other people take care of you. Right?

Soundtrack: As we cleaned up after dinner, Liz asked what contemporary music I like, if any.  I insisted I am a bad person to ask. Randomly I suggested Whitehorse and The Black Keys and then realized that was funny. Dear reader, you are welcome to make other suggestions.

Random thing: O is recently obsessed with Risk, Z with building fanciful themed structures in Minecraft. These will shape the vacation .

Friday, July 5, 2013

They Both Trick You.

Ceci n'est pas un cupcake.
(Will only Kim get this joke?)

On several occasions recently I have said or done something, and David has said, "Are you going to blog about that?" (See, I am using him to do a sideways I'm-so-sorry-I-haven't-been-blogging pose. Nonbloggerasana. He's going to hate that.)

If I recall correctly, these included: my joy over realizing I could turn the raspberry ice cream I had just made into ice cream pie, the duck and kale spaghetti dish I invented, the pea pod slaw and Z as veggie crusader, my emotional reactions to Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir, and the "my city is beautiful" conversation I had with O.  I will write about that last first, and try to fill in the rest below.

A couple weeks ago, O got to visit what seemed like 100 different cultural institutions as part of a weeklong camp. This included the new MOCA Cleveland giant black crystal of salt building, which I have not yet visited myself. On the way down to camp the next day, he was telling me about how much you can see of the outside from inside the building. Then as we stopped at a light Little Italy, he caught sight of the big rolling chrome roof of the Peter B. Lewis building.

"Why did they make that building like that?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. "It's not functional, you know? It's just there for you to look at. I think it makes you think about the other buildings around it differently."

"Yeah, it's like the MOCA building that way," O observed. "They both trick you."

I made small sound of agreement and kept driving. A few moments later, as we drove past MOCA, he said, "They are both really beautiful. Cleveland is a very beautiful city."

He has this incredible, innocent way of saying "beautiful" that over emphasizes the first syllable.

As we continued on and approached the botanical gardens, he observed, "The glasshouse is like that too. It does that. And it's really beautiful. And the music school," he added as we turned. "They are all so different." I pointed out the mansion that forms one wing of the historical society, and the new carousel rotunda. We discussed the merits of the new construction at the VA hospital, and finally offered up an appreciation of the planetarium as we pulled up to drop him off at the natural history museum.

"I'm glad I live in such a beautiful place," he said.


Reading: I've been reading Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, chef/owner of Prune in New York. I haven't eaten there, sadly, despite a friend's attempt to get us there the last time I was in the city. I am loving the book, which is written somewhat linearally but really operates as a serious of vivid vignettes about different experiences or lessons she has learned about food and cooking (and her messed up relationship with her mother). The vignettes almost but not quite in order. (As with most of the stuff I've been reading this year, I am interested in a writerly way in the minimal connective tissue in the text.)

And I am fascinated by Hamilton, to the point that I needed to go look her up online, outside the confines of the books, and I found weird gossip-columny stuff about her that bummed me out. Still enjoying the book, but I feel a little less like I can rely on her as a narrator. Isn't that weird? There is a lesson here.

Writing: Working hard to get this draft of the book done before I start teaching school in August. I need to become super disciplined about saying no to the world for a while. It is a race against the calendar and my own procrastinative and perfectionistic tendencies.

Also, venturing into playwriting again. More on that as it develops.

Dinner: OK, so I had some leftover duck confit from a celebratory dinner out with a friend. I wanted to use it up in a way that would have the meat as a flavor rather than the featured ingredient. I had a lot of kale on hand too, and it seemed to me that the rich, fatty duck would naturally partner well with the vegetal oomph of the kale. I thought about doing a soup -- maybe something peasant Frenchy with whited beans and some hard cheese, or something more Asian with slurpy noodles and salty tart broth -- but I went the slightly simpler route of very thinly chopped kale cooked in duck fat and then braised with onions and a little red wine. I shredded the duck meat into long bits too and added it to the kale along with a lot of black pepper and a dash of vinegar. All of this was tossed with spaghetti, with a little extra coarse salt. I only wish I had had something better than the cheap parm to sprinkle on it. Shards of crystally aged gouda maybe. Or maybe no cheese at all. It also needed a bit of fresh parsley over the top to brighten all the dark, richness. Next time.

Soundtrack: I've been lacksadaisacal about music recently. I think modern retro R&B is kind of where it's at for me, if I were forced to say. Oh, and I got to hear Pat Carney from the Black Keys make a really classy speech at the Cleveland Arts Prize shindig. He gave big props to Cindy Barber and the Beachland for making their success possible. It was cool.

Random thing: Lower Shaker Lake is becoming a place for me. I've always like the Shaker lakes, but recently I have forced myself to realize how accessible they are to me. This is somehow akin to the moment when I was living in New York when I realized the Metropolitan Museum was MINE (this involved a knish and a busload of Japanese schoolchildren. Maybe I'll tell that story someday). I stopped at the lake on my way to work the other day, just to take a brief stroll, and was rewarded with a tawny heron in flight across the length of the water and the casually ecstatic song of a grey catbird from the top of a stand of scrubby trees. I was close enough that I could see his beak move and his throat puffing up for the particularly emphatic bits.

For a little bit of history about the lake, check out this entry from the Cleveland Historical blog.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Random Monday

I would like to have these to wear with my fantasy dress.
They remind me of the first time I went to London, in the 90s. Everyone was wearing shoes in ice cream colors

Very long day at work, but a large chunk of it was at a meeting room in the library. I picked up a book about the origins of The Odyssey (which I will be teaching in the fall), because it was enticingly arrayed with the James Joyce books out for Bloomsday (fun looking article about which here).

At the library I saw a woman wearing white capri pants with a large widely spaced floral pattern in clear toned pastels. I'm not much of a pastel person, but this print was unusual, the quality of the color was like someone had taken crystalline animation cells and transferred them to cotton. I would like to own these pants. Better yet, I would like to have a summer dress with this fabric. Something self-consciously demure, sleeveless with gathered shoulders, a round neck, and slightly cinched, softly pleated waist, knee length. And I would like a pair of ice cream pink shoes to wear with it.

I also saw a woman with earrings that were giant dusty red paisleys. I want those too, for a different outfit.

Reading: I finished For the Time Being. If this blog were a private commonplace book, I would inscribe the final paragraph here. It is so perfect and beautiful, a tiny, simple narrative anecdote that somehow manages to sum up everything the book has been about. It made me gasp, and then when I read it aloud to David, it made me cry. I don't want to write it out, though, for fear of spoilers. I want you to go read the book and find it for yourself.

Writing: Are you nuts?

Dinner: I had a turkey wrap and salad at a work meeting, but the kids, who have a swimming lessons on Monday evenings with a 45-minute gap in between, at a picnic at the pool with sitter Sarah of cold pizza (baked at home in the morning by their loving father), black olives, and mangoes.

Soundtrack: Please write be a parody/tribute song called "Kick Ass Women" to the tune of "Juke Box Hero." Thank you very much.

Also, the Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos was on the radio when I was driving home after an 11-hour work day. It reminded me of how much I wish I played piano.

Random thing: Taking O to camp in the morning, we drove past the art museum, where they were washing the windows of the big glass-walled room facing East Boulevard with squeegees on the longest poles in the world. These poles were two-stories tall. They were precariously bendy, and had the air of something slapstick about the happen.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fawns and the Face of the Obvious

simple sauteed greens
I neglected to document my greens, so please accept this photo as
an approximation. These lovely greens are from what looks like a
lovely blog called Real Food Kosher. Her recipe is essentially like mine,
except I also used vidalia onion, and of course, vinegar.

I like those moments I don't know that I am going to have and then find myself in the midst of -- well, I like the moments like this when good things happen.

This morning, sleeping over at the in-laws in Lakewood, I woke up a little before 5 and my lower back was stiff and I couldn't get back to sleep and I knew I had reading to do, so I got up and snuck downstairs to make coffee (of course, I roused my mother-in-law anyway, but she said some kind things about toast and went back to bed). My intention had been to sit in one of the wingbacks in the living room or upstairs in the recliner in the big room where we sleep, but then I realized there was a screened in back porch and it was a cool morning in June.

I took my coffee, the manuscript I was working on, and an aqua blue afghan outside, where it was still dark but the first birds were beginning to sing. I read while the morning bloomed. Every time I looked up from the page, I could see more of the yard and hear more of the birds. At one point, just as the sky was lightening, there was a strange low humming/droning sound come from somewhere high up in the trees. I think it must have been a swarm of midges.

And then just after dawn, two fawns came galloping into the yard from the far corner behind the garage. They stood off to the side and chuffed at each other then galloped some more - back and forth, around and around. It's a big yard, split midway with a fence and a trellised arch covered with roses and hydrangea (I was married under that arch). One fawn would race like crazy from one corner to the other and the second would follow, then the leader would turn and duck and lurch forward and they would do the same thing in reverse. They were clearly playing tag, and sometimes they were trying to psyche each other out -- the one in pursuit stopping while the pursued ran out of site and then, curious, returned. The first would take the advantage and pounce forward and the whole thing would start again. Galloping. Once they even ran around the house -- around the corner to my left and a minute later, loping up the driveway to my right.

This went on for 10 minutes. I'm not kidding. Deer play. Then their mother ambled in at the rear of the yard. She seemed huge and so regal compared to them. And her presence calmed them. They stopped playing and started grazing for breakfast. Just like human toddlers in orbit around there mother, they would wander away from her then turn to nuzzle up against her, then wander some more.

All this and no one else in the house was awake. I hadn't even planned to be. I drank coffee and read for a whole hour more before anyone else even stirred. The mama deer and her fawns spent at least half of that time breakfasting before they stepped through the hedges in the back and out of my site into new territory.

Reading: Finished my friend's manuscript (and talked about it at writers group tonight). Read more of the Dillard book, For the Time Being (almost done, for my original discussion go here), the beginning of City of Ember, and did some research on Polish folktales.

This from the Dillard:
We live in all we seek. The hidden shows up in too-plain sight. It lives captive on the face of the obvious--the people, events, and things of the day--to which we as sophisticated children have long since become oblivious. What a hideout: Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like color. [I would cite the page number, but I am reading it on a device. I'm sorry.]
This blog is, partially, intended to capture that face of the obvious, and maybe sometimes to make plain what is hidden there. Really, although I hadn't come up with words quite that fine to describe it. So, no wonder I like the book. And it is also about sand, and clouds, and birth, and mating hoopoes, and Chinese clay soldiers, and a Jesuit geologist/archeaologist, among other things.

Writing: None today, but several hours yesterday. On to Tucson, in the manuscript not, sadly, in real life.

Dinner: First big greens feast of the summer! I love summer, when I am getting a City Fresh share so I have greens coming at me nonstop. In the winter, I have to decide to buy greens, and I do, but not as much, and they are not as exuberant.

I made a mix of beet greens, kale, and bok choy, sauteed with onion and garlic in olive oil and doused with malt vinegar and coarse salt These were topped with roasted beets. To go with, I made more pasta with garlic scape  & oregano pesto (one bunch of scapes from last week's share made enough pesto for two pasta dinners and several snacky slathers on crackers or bread).

Soundtrack: A Genius mix based on Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," and a discussion about whether an enduring preference for "early albums" makes me pretentious (brought on by REM's "Don't Go Back to Rockville" in the mix), and also an appreciation for the several phases of the Rolling Stones.

Random thing: For Father's Day we went to Talespinner's Children's Theatre for The Emperor's Ears. Fun, creative, surprising work. O and Z were both rapt and smiling.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The living is easy.

Everyone loves a parade, especially one with dancing teeth!
(From today's Parade the Circle, in University Circle, Cleveland.)

Kids finished school for the year, summer is upon us, and it was a good week for light. 

On Monday morning I had a phone call to make first thing, but there was no reason I had to make it from a desk. I decided to stop and use my cell from the Shaker Lakes. As I approached the turn in at the west end of the lakes along North Park, I could see glimpses of the water through the trees. Then for one moment, I could see the lights on the footbridge over the dam at the end of the lake still glowing orange in the brightening dawn, big and soft in the humid morning air. On the surface of the water the reflection showed as bright twin smudges stretching all the way across the lake. (When I got out of my car, I saw two sleeping mallards balled up on the dam and out on the water what I think was a female horned grebe diving for breakfast.)

On Thursday late afternoon in the misty rain, as I descended Mayfield Road from the high point at Taylor, a mile's length of wet pavement dipped and rose in front of me, reflecting headlights and brake lights and prematurely lit streetlights in great impressionistic swathes on the shiny black road. The wet air made everything seem simultaneously brighter and darker than normal, and beyond on the horizon, the lights of downtown rose in a warm false dawn.

Then on Friday, at a soccer game (go, Royals!) on the edge of the Cleveland State campus (with friends I am glad to know and would not, I think ever have, were it not for our children going to the same preschool) I watched as a cloud descended slowly onto the geometric skyline -- like a downy bird settling softly onto a very angular egg. It obscured the skyscrapers entirely and eventually fuzzed out all the lighted signs on the lower buildings too. (Kid #1: "The Key tower is gone, and you can't see Huntington anymore. Soon PNC will be gone too. Kid #2: "Why are there so many banks?" Kid #3: "Because there is so much money. Duh.") Underneath the great feathery bottom of the cloud bird, the blazing stadium lights felt close and intimate, even with the vuvuzela chorus.

Reading: Almost done with the Dillard, looking at the some food memoirs (especially Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef at Prune -- who went to grad school with a writer friend of mine, I think ... I think that's how I came into possession of this galley copy, from 2 years ago), and also reading a manuscript for a member of my writers group.

Sounds like a lot of reading, considering how I am still killing myself with too many streaming episodes of Green Wing.
Writing: Transitions are hard. Yes, transitions on the page, but more than that right now transitions between chunks of work. I work deeply on one scene for a few writing sessions and then I have to turn and wrap my head around the dynamics and details and emotional texture of another scene. (I am not working linearly.) How do I open up this little mini universe? What do I need to do with it? Will I ever get to the other side?

But today was lovely. After going to Parade the Circle (an event that restores my faith in humanity, truly, no hyperbole) with family and friends, I peeled off and went to the botanical gardens. I bought a cup of soup in the cafe (sweet potato and mushroom chowder) and found a secluded bench by a patch of jack-in-the-pulpits and sat for a couple hours, reviewing my notes and working on a scene, the "wake scene" still.

Tomorrow, I will pick it back up again, and when this is done, I will turn to the desert and a whole important section that is still only a skeletal sketch. So, bit by bit, I revise and add onto the thing until sometime soon I get to the end of it all ... way over there. I can see it. The number of moves I must make to get there are finite. And I must get there soon. I begin a new job (teaching) in mid-August and this monster needs to be boxed up and sent off for comments from my group by then. I want to spend the fall and winter working on new, smaller things ... like the group playwriting project I've just been told is a go.
Dinner: Tonight, after parade and writing in the garden and working for a bit in my own garden (lawsy, what a girl can do on a long summer's day!), I made curry braised chicken wings, and it was good. Z has friends over for a sleepover, and they mostly ate buttered noodles.
Soundtrack: While sitting and writing this afternoon, I could hear the band in Wade Oval from over the hill and through the trees. At one point they started a song that sounded like Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes," but it strangely morphed into "Message to You, Rudy."
Random thing: I chaperoned kids for O's class trip to the zoo on Wednesday. In our group was a tiny boy from Nepal, who I have barely heard speak all year. I don't think he spoke much English when school started. He opened up on this trip though, pointing to animals and asking "What is this?" or checking his knowledge, "This is a zebra?" and then he would count how many of the animal were there - "One, two, three, four. There are four giraffes." Then the greenhouse, it was his turn to tell me something. We stopped in front of a bright orange hibiscus. I started to open my mouth to say something admiring about it, but something in his posture stopped me. He pointed and turned his face to me. "This is Nepal flower," he said. 

Oh, and this ...

I grew these.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Electrified in-home storyteller

Questions: How much TV do you watch, and how do you manage that?

I don't want to come off as self-righteously anti-TV. I like TV. I don't doubt that we are in a much-vaunted (provide your own links here) new Golden Age of Television. Great, great writing and acting is happening on TV regularly. I do not doubt this. And how cool that our electrified in-home storyteller has gotten so good at its craft. Humans are story animals; this is good news for us in that sense. I understand something really epic happened on Game of Thrones last night, and I admit that I wish I were following GoT so I could participate in the afterglow. But I don't know how to make room for it. I already don't have time to do so many other things. I perceive that most people both watch more TV than I do and have cleaner houses. This feels like a paradox.

David and I manage to watch one, maybe two shows at a time. Last week, discovering that the British hospital comedy Green Wing was available on Netflix for a limited time, we made a devoted effort to gorge ourselves on it. I think we watch 2 and a half episodes, and I feel like it nearly killed us. David discovered Green Wing on a trip to the UK a few years, and somehow shared the first few episodes with me when he returned  - how? We both agreed that it was among the funniest things we have ever seen. It's the kind of simultaneously smart and grossly sophomoric humor at which Brits excel and Americans seem incapable. Ridiculous, howlingly funny stuff, with terrific wordplay and fantastic self-debasing performances. But the only time we can watch it is after the kids go to bed, when we also have the kitchen to clean up and books to read and email to catch up on, and last week, a chest cold to fight and a yard sale to prepare for, and, and, and ... I came Saturday and felt completely, exhausted, by two and a half extra hours of TV.

Luckily, I've found that we can also watch Green Wing on Hulu. But tonight, we'll be going to see Gatsby in the theater, so  Dr. Todd and the gang will have to wait.

Reading: Finished Gatsby. First time I've read it since high school (!!) and I was surprised at how much the Greek inevitability of the plot strained my credulity, but was also pleased to find passages I truly admire. The whole scene of confrontation between Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby in the hotel suite is really masterful. Still working on the Dillard, almost done, and wondering what I will read next.

Writing: Trying to find my way to the next chunk. This morning finally took up the wake scene.

In other news, my friend Nora wrote this fun piece about writing in books that I contributed some thoughts to.

Dinner: Last night, sweet and spice chickpeas over whole wheat rotini and a freaking awesome cucumber, celerly, red onion, lime zest salad, dressed with rice wine vinegar, a tiny bit oil, tiny minced fresh ginger, salt and a sprinkle of sugar. I just invented as I went. Best salad I have ever made, ever. Seriously. The lime zest was the clincher.

Soundtrack: I'd forgotten how good The Pixies are.

Random thing: My dear friend Harris, fellow CCNY English gang member, ex-boyfriend, and all around weird and good guy, is at long last a college graduate. I am so proud of him!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A place of dangerous wonder. Or, the alembic of me.

Have you ever or do you now own this album?

Every once in a while, I get a bee in my bonnet about this quote from Emerson's Nature: "Thus is Art, a nature passed through the alembic of man," but I can never remember the word "alembic." I think and I think. "Limbic?" I wonder. "Lambic?" And knowing that it means somethin about straining or distilling I go on a search for synonyms of these words or I try to comb my way through Emerson until finally I find it. (An alembic is a kind of still used in the Middle Ages.)

I think I first encountered the quote in an undergraduate classical rhetoric class, but why my professor brought it up I'm not sure. Perhaps the point was the rhetoric was part of the distilling process? I'm not sure that's what Emerson was getting at, but I'll go with it.

The quote occurs to me when I am trying to figure out why artmaking matters. This can be a position of despair. Human ugliness overwhelms me and I wonder what possible good art can do in the face of it. More often though, this springs from a place of dangerous wonder that edges toward annihilation. A feeling I think must have been at least somewhat familiar to Emerson. Struck by something beautiful in the natural world, I think "What could humans possible do that would be better than this. Why don't we just stop all our busyness and let the world be?" But we are here and we are busy, and we persist with this distilling of Nature into Art.

That "alembic" has an alchemical association by dint of its medieval origins makes this concept even more appealing to me. So art isn't just nature distilled - made more concentrated - through human perception, thought, experience, creativity, what have you. It is nature transmuted into something else. Sometimes I even believe this.

A glance in the OED also tells me that Nabokov used the word figuratively in Lolita: "Fate..mixed within its alembic the car and the dog and the sun and the shade." (See it for yourself, in context, here.)

And then, I start thinking about how pleasant this "mb" in the middle of the word is, and I go looking for other words with mb in the middle. Words like "adumbrate" and "akimbo" and "circumambulate" and "flamboyantly flambeed" and I find that I can peruse and entire list of them here: http://www.morewords.com/contains/mb/

I fucking love the internet.

Reading: Continuing with the Dillard. Also reading Gatsby, in preparation for seeing the movie. 

Writing: Yes! The goal for the weekend was to finish the North Beach scene, and I did it. I hope when I go back to it I think it's OK. Next, I need to spend some time with macro level stuff so I can figure out what to break off and work with on the micro level. But first, I have promised myself a writing session devoted to food writing as a reward.

Dinner: This weekend there was a potluck, to which I took lemony green bean salad, and a cookout with friends, to which we took mango-banana-orange-raisin-marshmallow salad (made by David). Tonight I made a white pizza with smoked sausage, broccoli, capers, and fresh roma tomato and a mixed lettuce salad with fresh avocade-lemon-cumin dressing, and a yummy California malbec.

Soundtrack: 80s compilation CD made in 1993. It includes "The Jam was Moving" (Listen) by Debbie Harry from her KooKoo album. This sort of surprised me because I live with the weird fantasy than I am the only person who ever owned this album. 

Random thing: I wrote in my last post about the robin's nest by my driveway and how I could hear the chicks "cheeping." Allow me to clarify. Robin chicks don't really "cheep." The make a strange high-pitched shimmer of sound as their mother approaches.

Also, I've seen several red tailed hawks soaring above my neighborhood and nearby Forest Hills Park, but Sunday morning, I spotted what I think was a red *shouldered* hawk, identifiable by the appearance of white bar-like marking on the underside of its wings.

more images on the photographer, Bill Hubick's site..

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Contagious and outrageous.

Driving O to school earlier this week, I spotted a red-headed bird among the roots of a tree. O was chatting to me about Legos, and it took me a second for my brain to fully register the sight and then think, "I want to look at that!"  I stopped the car several houses down and backed up in time to still catch this guy, a red bellied woodpecker, poking around on the ground and then hopping his way up the side of the tree.

I was knocked out on Thursday with a stomach bug/food poisoning/something yucky. Friday, I felt totally human again. Now, on Saturday, I am coming down with a cold. Z is a day ahead of me in the cold, and she is miserable; more so with the knowledge that there is a sleepover party she may or may not make it to tonight.

During the same time, I got to go to Z's school choir concert, for which she wore a sheriff's costume she has had since she was 4 for the Village People number, and I got to go see an amazing and delightful play. There is a Happiness that Morning Is by Chicago playwright Mickle Maher, in production through tonight (! get your tickets now!) at CPT, is simply a joy. My friend Brian Pedaci does some of the best acting I have ever seen him do, and he is matched by his fellows, Deirdrui Ring and Matthew Wright.

The play is a comedy in verse about two Blake scholars forced to apologize for having sex on the lawn ... but that doesn't even really describe how outrageously smart, beautiful, and hilarious it is. At one point I was actually crying I was laughing so hard. Maher has a terrific ability to turn the action just exactly when it needs to be turned - or maybe that is the director, Beth Wood. Really, if you have nothing to do tonight and you are anywhere near Cleveland, go see it. I am so rarely simply delighted by a play. This makes worthwhile all those times I have sat in a theater as the lights dim dreading the possibility of being trapped in the dark by a mediocre show. Because sometimes, this happens. (The set by Todd Krispinsky is a treat in its own right, too.)

O has his first baseball game of the season today. I will drag myself to that too, despite my pathetic state. Perhaps the sunshine will do me good. Burn off the contagion and all that.

Reading: I was going to transcribe a quote, but I have run out of time.

Writing: Yes. Hoping Planning to finish the North Beach scene this weekend and then do some macro-level work. Reward will be a few hours to think more seriously about food writing.

Dinner: On Friday, whilst temporarily human, I made a veggie-might sauce with the addition of some crushed up leftover meatballs, and served it over whole wheat spaghetti with Romano cheese.

Soundtrack: Today is Paul Weller's 55th birthday. Here is one of my favorite of his 21st century songs:

Also, I was really enjoying this week's installment of Spy vs. Spy on WRUW.

Random thing: We have a mama robin raising chicks in the arbor vitae by the driveway. I can't see the nest, but I can hear the chicks cheeping from my kitchen window, and I see her dashing back and forth with her beak full of wriggling things. If I stop and watch her for too long she squawks sternly at me. It is on my to do list this weekend to go see if I can find any blue shell fragments. That will probably make her angry too.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thor Enchanted - important lessons in comparative literature

As a family, we are slowly consuming the Avengers movie franchise. Last night, we finished watching Thor. When Thor's pals "Sif and the Warriors Three" show up to try to bring him back to Asgard, Z exclaimed, "Oh, so this is like Enchanted."

Mythical being cast out of their own world arrives on Earth through a magical portal to find themselves baffled by ways of the mundane, other creatures good and bad from the mythical world come in search of the outcast, hijinks ensue.

Yes, Z. Thor is just like Enchanted. (This sounds like something some of my friends would have written undergraduate seminar papers on.)

Reading: One of the things that Annie Dillard meditates about in For the Time Being is how we think about or fail to be able to think about tragedy on a large scale. A garment factory collapses in Bangladesh. A tornado causes "atomic bomb like" devastation in Oklahoma, leveling neighborhoods and schools. Outside my window the goldfinches serenade the dawn just like every other morning.

Writing: Yes.

Dinner: O saves the day! First, the pizza dough I thawed wouldn't cooperate. I couldn't get it to stretch out. Holes kept tearing in it. Very frustrating. Then Z and I realized her soccer practice is at 6 not 7, as I had been operating on. As it was currently 6:10, we then hustled to get her out the door. Dinner? What dinner? And whence? I was a little bit in despair. In the car, O lobbies for going to get a frozen pizza. I am skeptical, so he asks, "So, what did you have ready to go on the pizza? Salami and what else?" I told him that I had some chopped tomatoes too. "Salami and tomatoes?" he says, "We have lettuce, right? Add some cheese and that would make a really good salad, and we could get some olives and banana peppers -- with Italian dressing. And we could have that with the frozen pizza." So we did. And it was good. I praised him later for his improvisatory skills. He said, "Yeah, I like to exercise my brain."

Soundtrack: Found myself singing "Sea of Love" when trying to get the children away from Sarah's house. "Come with me ... To the sea ..."

Random thing: "A lot of memoirs end in catharsis. They're hunky-dory with their mother and father, their sister and brother, and I feel that's imposed. You're alone with yourself, and your writing, and the feeling of one's mind fraying, from a lot of things--the weight of time, the wailing of the foxes." -- Edna O'Brien in this week's New Yorker.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

O Overwhelmingly is 8

My mother-in-law made fish cake for the fishing party.
They were not fish flavored.

"Mom? Have I ever told you I'm proud to be your son?" said the new 8-year-old this morning. It kind of doesn't get any better than that, right? Nice to get this the day after one of the most successful, and least planned, kids birthdays I have presided over.

The day began with a fishing trip, during which we caught a lot of trees. And once, two in our party caught the same fish at the same time. Poor fish. The day ended in a glitzy restaurant in Little Italy watching our goofy and multi-talented friend Tim play stand-up bass in a doo-wop band. We were with Leah, who was overwhelmed by the fabulous weirdness of the whole scene. Also, I had amazing parking juju. In between the O got to play with friends, play with a Legos, play with a new video game, and eat his favorite dinner. Z got to go to the Hessler Street Fair with one of her favorite people, and see a friend on stilts. I got to putter around the house, tidy a few things, and continue the Great Book Rearrangement of 2013 (and take a nap).

I have a lot of friends who made it possible. I feel incredibly fortunate and kind of weepy for all these people.

Today I have forced the children to make me breakfast in bed. Not only did I give him a great birthday, I also birthed all of the original 10 lbs. 3 oz. of him. I deserve breakfast in bed, even if it is a leftover sandwich from his birthday party.

Reading: In For the Time Being, Dillard is examining spirituality, individuality, temporality, beingness, and related phenomena, in a fractured, associational way. One thread to follow is the question of how to think about suffering and God -- she frequently returns to the idea that it is "fatal to reason" to believe suffering comes form an omnipotent God. Hivemind question: Where does the term "fatal to reason" come from? I've tried looking it up -- first hit on Google is a quote from Mary Wollestonecraft's "Vindication of the Rights of Women" -- but I get nowhere beyond understanding that it is a frequently used term. Is it from classical logic? Another thread is the one about clouds and the accounts people have written of them. I believe her aim is to use the ephemeral nature of clouds as an analogy for the ephemeral nature of human existence. As a writer, I like that she just does what she wants to do with this strange form without explaining or apologizing. Also, I liked the scene with the blue crab in the desert at the source of the River Jordan.

Writing: Did well during the week. Off track for the weekend.

Dinner: O chose the garlicky/mustardy chicken "pitza" at a local Middle Eastern restaurant for his birthday dinner. I had a pitza with lots of eggplant, feta, and olives.

Soundtrack: In preparation for seeing Tim's band, David got an album of doo-wop classics from the library, which he's been playing in the car all week. O was making fun of the "dum dums" in "Come Go with Me." This happens to be one of my favorite songs of its ilk, so we requested it from the band, but then, alas, we had to leave before they could play it for us. Also ... Dion? I don't think I have fully appreciated Dion.

Random thing: I have been overwhelmed more than once in recent days by the scent of Lily of Valley. Last night, picking up Leah, it wafted on a cool breeze, carried from where the lily plants were interspersed in the ivy under a big old tree. I love this scent. I would like to plant more Lily of the Valley. (I have some that has volunteered in a corner of my "garden." Then again I would like to do anything proactive in my garden.