‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Saturday, December 29, 2007

ring out the old

Buckle up, my friends, it's Resolution Time!

Actually, it's not Resolution Time. That's not for another couple days. Resolutions must be done spontaneously and all at once, like jumping into a very cold pool.

This is Think About Resolutions Time. Or maybe, Reminisce About Resolutions Time. My first truly memorable New Years Resolution Experience was the year I broke up with the boyfriend right around, oh, Christmas. "Boyfriend" now seems too strong a word, although then it felt pretty important - for a couple months. Because who can date someone for more than two months before wanting that someone to Go Away? Not me.

Oh but this is not about my serial dating. The year I broke up at Christmas I found myself with no plans for New Years and had absolutely no idea what to do with myself. I had not yet ingratiated myself back into the circle of girlfriends and was not all that keen on going out with the coupley friends. Lucky for me, I happen to like spending time by myself (see "go away" reference above). So I settled in for the evening and actually wrote in the journal I had been meaning to write in. I have several journals, all of which have about six pages of writing.

I spent the night with my cats, an over-priced champagne glass, and my journal. I wrote down everything I was grateful for that happened over the last year and then wrote what I wanted to improve in the coming year. When I was done, I felt like I had accomplished a significant ritual, closing out the old year and welcoming the new one. I've done something like that every year since then.

For awhile I taught English to adult speakers of other languages. I think I have written about this experience before but am too lazy to look it up and link to it. One of the things we did was to write New Years Resolutions. Many of my students had never heard of this tradition and embraced it whole heartedly. One couple, from Peru, wrote "buy a house" on their list. They reminded me of their resolution when they bought their first house.

I forgot to tell them that not following through on resolutions is another part of the tradition.

Although I am not ready to start the list of hopes and dreams for 2008 (it's too early AND I have not done my hand stretching/typing exercises yet), I suppose there is no harm in bidding farewell to 2007.

I think it was a good year. My floor is clean. My Christmas tree did not fall over. For this I am grateful.

It was a bittersweet year. In April my mother-in-law went from legally blind to totally blind. But with her blindness came my niece - a world class caregiver. And with my niece came her fiancé (although she and he and we did not know it way back in April). And with her fiancé came their expected baby. And our home, which has never been dull, is miraculously brimming with life and family and abundance.

And chickens. Let us not forget the chickens. Étouffée, Consommé, and Pâte à Choux are laying about 20 eggs a week between the three of them. We are starting to suspect Béarnaise of being a rooster and may soon change his/her name to Coq au Vin.

In 2008 I may resolve to spend less time thinking of names for the chickens. But I doubt it.

In February I wrote my first blog entry ever. Although it is about 8 lines long, it took me at least an hour. And that was before I realized that people could find and read this stuff. This is post #270.

We lost some friends to the wild west but are learning that miles do not separate people.

We've made gradual improvements here and there. It is now possible to walk part way through our basement. Chris completed phase one of The Deck Project. The garden has at least part of a fence. And just yesterday Chris replaced a floor board so Studley can no longer drop puzzle pieces, race cars and safe deposit box keys through the hole.

Finally, I am extra grateful for the people who constitute our extended family. Oh, and of course for Trout Towers. Cheers.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jessica the Second

Dear Fine Folks at iRobot,

I searched and searched your website for the drawing you did of us, so I could share it with all my invisible friends. So many of your promo pictures show families blissfully ignoring the Roomba, but that's not what we do at all. We hold hands and smile brightly, following Jessica (yes, our vacuum's name is Jessica) around the house as she works. I was so glad to see you used it on the nice magnet included with our latest incarnation of Jessica:

Oh nothing gets by you, does it? Yes, I said our latest incarnation of Jessica because the first incarnation is lying cold and lifeless in our basement.

We tried to keep it from you. Actually, I wanted to tell you but my husband wouldn't let me. She drew her last breath a few weeks before her first birthday, which means she was still under warranty. Although he would not admit it, I think Chris was reluctant to mention it to you so he could get the Newer! Fancier! More Clever! model which is The New Jessica.

This is all sort of understandable. Who, after all, does not get something new and then immediately start eyeing the next version? Certainly no self-respecting geek.

What I can't fathom is how - even after I sent him a link to that video showing what happens when husbands give their wives The Wrong Gift - he thought giving me a vacuum for Christmas was a good idea. Because I got a lot of mileage out of the fact that the original Jessica was a birthday present. My husband gave me a vacuum for my birthday. And then he gave me its replacement for Christmas. Something is wrong with this picture, no?

But oh I loved that birthday Jessica. Our floors, how they shone!

And with the New Jessica, we don't have to fret about wires or fringe. She even successfully navigated her way around the tree skirt. And she has new hopping capabilities for when she gets stuck - although she never actually gets stuck, just impeded.

So we love the new model and have not a single regret, but I do have a few questions:
1) Is there hope for the original Jessica?* I received her in August of 2006 and my husband still won't call you.
2) Is there a way to change the voice on the New Jessica so she sounds like Rosie on the Jetsons?
3) May I use your family portrait of us on our Christmas card? Take your time deciding on this one. Christmas cards are no where near the top of my to do list.

And for the record, the first time we ran the New Jessica, we misplaced Studley. We walked through the house calling him and heard a squeaky voice behind the bathroom door say "I hid from vacuum!"

A vacuum that herds children. Brilliant.

*answer: no. They gave us false hope when we called, but when it turned out to be more than taking out the brushes and putting them back in they said "no dice." Phooey.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Savon de Marseille

Big blocks of olive oil soap have been crafted since the Middle Ages in the South of France. In 1688 it became law that only soaps made according to strict, ancient methods could be labeled "Savon de Marseille."

It takes the Maitre de Savon two seeks to make Marseille Soap. The delicate mixture of olive and vegetable oils, alkaline ash from sea plants and Mediterranean Sea salted water are heated for ten days in antique cauldrons, then poured into open pits where it hardens. Cut into cubes and stamped, the soaps are then set out to dry in the sun and mistral winds.
I love the look and feel of things like this, especially when there are ancient cauldrons involved. Also, I am now one degree of separation from the Mediterranean sun and mistral winds.

Beatrice Wood, who was one groovy woman, said: “The handmade object has a vitality of its own that no mass produced thing can duplicate.” My new soap has many of the same qualities my favorite bowls have - bowls I use every day, which assuredly have vitality of their own.

I can hardly wait to use my soap, but can't stand changing the way it looks right now. Photographs will have to suffice because it's time for my shower.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tidying Up 101

Since I am obviously so adept at this, I thought I'd share some of my tips so you too can enjoy your home during the holidays and beyond. Many of my tips won't apply to you because you may not have a house like mine. The magazines I read often have lovely ideas for things like organizing one's 45 square foot pantry, so I don't see how usefulness factors in to good, quality writing.

I have titled it "Tidying Up" because it has nothing to do with actual cleaning. The cleaning part is really the least of one's worries and may be considered optional.

I will go room by room. I read a lot of magazines and that is the way it's done.

Bathroom. This is a bad place to start because people will insist on using it after you've tidied and completely destroy the ambiance you've created. We will revisit this room later.

Pantry. Pantry shelves with no doors in the middle of your kitchen/dining/living area pose the first problem. Resist the urge to take everything out, clean the shelves and put everything back by color, size and nutritional value. Save that for another day or for someone else to do.

Dig around in the back and find those jars of things that looked delicious but you can't figure out how to use. Dust them off and set them aside. Push everything else to the back of the shelf and line delicious-looking things neatly in front. Make sure things like Artificially Flavored Banana Pudding are stashed behind the matching jars of lentils, black beans and wheat berries. Repeat for each shelf.

Livingroom: Bookshelves are decorative - but such breeding ground for clutter! Go through all the shelves and remove socks, coffee mugs and the dog's brush from on top of the books. Many of these items will fit behind the books if you are careful. Also, moving books to the front of the shelf and keeping the spines in an even row gives the illusion of order. If you want to really go all out, organize books by subject - especially if you have lots of books on a particularly high brow subject. This makes it easier for guests to see what interesting people we are. I say "people" even if we are single because we always refer to ourselves in the plural when we are interesting, no?

Bathroom, a: If you have a powder room which is specifically for guests and does not have personal items on counters or in cupboards, skip to Bathroom, b. If you do not have a powder room, it's important to leave some personal items on the bathroom counter. This makes it look as though someone actually lives in the house and you are not squating in a model home with fake matresses. It may also satisfy the guests who are curious about your toiletries and ensure that you will not walk in to find someone sitting on your bathroom floor surrounded by the 16 rolls of toilet paper they had to remove in order to access your secret stash of 1970's cleaning products.

We once knew a general contractor who intentionally left things amiss for the building inspector to find. That way the building inspector didn't have to go looking for problems, potentially settling on a much bigger issue (like pulling up the foundation). Preparing your home for guests is no different.

While it is important to leave some things on your counter, it is acceptable to put away things like deodorant, lice combs and any secret products used to create your all-natural look which no one needs to know took 2 hours and 7 products to achieve. Organizing cupboard items is similar to arranging your pantry. Chose several products you don't use but would if you had time. Set aside. Push everything else farther to the back of the cupboard. Let's not kid ourselves here. It's already a jumbled mess in there, so just push. Place items removed from counter in as many gallon-sized ziplock bags as it takes and mingle bags with items in back for easy retrieval later. Place the items you've never used in front of everything else. Finally, set a time limit for how long people are allowed to stay in the bathroom.

Bathroom, b: If you have a powder room, lock the doors to all other bathrooms in the house.

General: Once you've hit the big trouble spots, consider your guest list. If there are any tall people coming, climb up on a stool and see if there's anything you don't want them noticing and reporting on later. Just last night I cleaned off the top of my refrigerator and believe me I slept better knowing that my extra smoke detector, last year's calender and pile of expired coupons would not be discussed on the car ride home. If there are toddlers coming, call the parents and tell them you have just fumigated for flying rats. There is just no way to trouble shoot effectively for a toddler, and they will probably pull a sock out from behind your books.

Finally, keep the lights low and you may be able to dispense with the cleaning part completely.

Good luck and happy entertaining!
If I spent all day yesterday cleaning, why is my house trashed?

joyful and triumphant

When I was in high school a family I babysat for had an annual Christmas carol sing at their house. I loved it because we could sing Christmas songs and yet stay warm and within reach of the snack table. And I loved the family who hosted it. It is possible that I named my daughter after one of their girls, although I would have done it subconsciously. I remember doing social sorts of things with the mom, who I thought was the cat's pajamas. She gave me a diffuser for my hair dryer when my hair went curly. See? She was awesome.

For years I'd think of them at Christmastime, and wish that someone in my current circle would host a carol sing so I could relive those memories without having to do any of the work. Finally I gave up and invited a few friends over, thinking no one would be dorky enough to want to do it with me. Turns out, there are lots of dorky people out there.

We have many musiciany friends, which means there are enough ringers to cover for those of us who can't sing. Also there are usually a few people who have instruments in their cars - tonight we had clarinet and impromptu guitar accompaniment.

I was so glad to see everyone. Two of our friends, who have been together for 19 years, finally got married. I don't know why this is so exciting, since I always thought of them as married. Are they different, as a couple? They do have a bit of newlywed glee to them. And our babysitter came home from India just in time to be with us. She described where she was as "like the end of the world, but with everyone being very calm about the world having ended." We can't wait to see pictures.

Grievously missing was our pianist, Skip, who helped us launch this little shindig two years ago. He was pooped but hopefully will be back on board next year. It's a trifle hectic now, yes?

I don't know if the family I babysat for had the same motives, but I do love having a clean house. A clean and decorated house. I swear, if we didn't have parties, we'd probably lose each other in the mess and have to get gps devices sewn into our underwear. Every once in awhile it's good to have a reason to get all hands on deck and make some sense of the mayhem.

Except now I can't get into my bedroom because that's where all the stuff landed.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

soon on Etsy

Instead of spending my day cleaning for visitors, I am going to spend the day making a gigantic gift facade. It will look like a pile of wrapped presents but will actually be a corner unit which encases all the things I haven't put away. Our friends will think I spent heaps of time at the mall AND I have a tidy house!

Monday, December 17, 2007

ring ting tingling too

Chris bought a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

This is not his usual mode of operation. He usually gets a tree that's about 6 inches taller than will fit in the house. We still have the marks on our ceiling from one of them. Frankly, I'm not sure what came over him.

Yes, we're trying to reduce waste, but really, once you've chopped down a tree does it really matter how big it is? It will end up in the burn pile, so it can't be the landfill he's concerned about. One might think he was out for a bargain but alas that is also not his m.o. He made up for the size by getting some heirloom breed grown only in Sweden on leap years. Or something.

While I was still standing in the doorway, with "oh, you got a tree!" halfway out of my mouth, he asked if I wanted him to take it back and get a bigger one.

Now let's go back to my childhood, shall we? Way back, when someone's mother* sent someone's father back to the Christmas tree lot with a tree that was not perfectly symmetrical or had too-pointy needles or some such innate failure. It was not done very graciously. So deep in my child psyche I developed the Must Be Nice to Trees and Fathers quirk. Because there are the way things should be and there are the way people should be and people trump things just as sure as rocks smash scissors.

So we have a very sweet little tree which only fits half of our ornaments which means I don't have to put as much away in March.

This is clearly the year when my inner Martha Stewart gives way to my inner Swell Mom. Not only did I hug my husband and tell him the little cluster of branches was lovely, I let Lucy put the decorations on. Did you hear that? I let my 5 year old decorate the tree. My 5 year old with the design sense of a baked potato.

I am usually a trifle micro-managey about these things, so this is a big step for me. Okay yes I did some fine tuning. And I put the really super extra fragile ones on myself. It was easy finding spaces for them, what with her clustered groupings on about 6 of the branches.

Also crossed off the holiday checklist: The Nutcracker. Sarah and I took the girls to Spindle City Ballet's production in New Bedford over the weekend. Sarah and I are both ballet snobs and neither of us had anything snotty to say at the intermission. I'd call it a win.

So let's see, the tree's up, the Nutcracker's been seen, the lists are made. So all I have to do is my shopping and shipping. And card writing. Oh, and we're having a party. For which I've done nothing.

Right on schedule.

*not mine, of course

Sunday, December 16, 2007

snowy sunday

Chris spends way too much time in the basement. He likes to make things, and can be gone for days. I miss him. So I'm starting a behavior modification program. This is the top of the stairs to the basement:

I have to perfect the bottom of the stairs. The electric shock can't be enough to actually hurt him.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

go speed racer!

Yesterday morning Chris woke up and announced that he was officially an old man. "GET OFF MY LAWN" he shouted.

It was his birthday. He's a geezer and will probably start ending all his sentences with "ya hoodlums!"

I had a party for him, but didn't bother cleaning the house, putting ping pong balls in my medicine cabinet or beefing up my homeowner's insurance. I rounded up several of his friends and we had one of those themed birthday parties I've been complaining about - at F1 Boston.

It was very very easy getting his friends to come. Not that Chris has no friends and we generally have to hire extras, but it's tricky getting people together at this time of year. Okay so last year was completely my fault because I forgot to call people. Still.

This year I got the feeling that his friends might rather miss Christmas than a trip to F1. Because whatever their drivers licenses say, they're all about 15 years old. At F1 they can drive go-karts absurdly fast. They get to wear jumpsuits that make them look like spiderman. They wear helmets and head socks. I think they were all just there for the head socks.

I was all prepared to stand by and be the team photographer while the men-folk raced, but then I thought about how stunning I would look in a jump suit.

It was important that Liz and I raced, because someone had to be heard laughing all the way across the track (Liz) and someone had to notice the lovely mural at the far end of the track (me). I am sure that none of the men-folk noticed the mural as they were careening past me. I am also pretty sure that none of them have stomachaches from laughing so hard they couldn't hold onto the wheel. Or sore arms from the aforementioned hanging onto the wheel.

I am pretty sure I heard Chris yelling, "slow down you freakin' maniacs!"

Most of our group fell all over themselves getting signed up for another race (Steve: "can we go again can we go again can we go again is anyone else going to race AGAIN????").

Steve also pointed out the carbon fiber blah blah blah polished aluminum bar. I asked him to repeat all that and instead he launched into tales of carbon fiber underwear and how helpful it is when racing. I'm not completely clear on what he meant, but I'd stay away from car #34 if you're ever there.

On the way out, there's a sign that says "Remember, you're not on the race track anymore." Nevertheless, Liz and I left first and the boys still beat us home. If we ever go again, Liz and I are putting wicker baskets with plastic zinnias on the fronts of our go-karts.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


When the woman at the dancewear store handed me the world's smallest ballet slipper I asked her if parents routinely fall on the floor in fits of giggles. They do.

Buying Lucy's ballet gear was one of the things I did in preparation for our gigantic winter storm. I also dropped off some drycleaning, picked up some chutney and had lunch with my mother. I had a huge lunch because a) she was buying and b) I might have to live off my stored fat for awhile.

When I dropped Lucy off at school they warned that school might close early and to watch for signs of weather. "Signs of weather" is like "custard consistency" in that I might recognize it but am not exactly sure what it means. So I asked (not about custard consistency) and it turns out that a sign of weather is a snowflake. "Snow, Schmo!" I scoffed. I am not from here. A little snow doesn't stop ME.

So after lunch I walked out into Signs of Weather - billions and billions of signs of weather. So many signs of weather, in fact, that it was hard to spot the car. I had 45 minutes to make the drive to Lucy's school (a 20 minute drive) and was 5 minutes late. This is a story question. If you are eating lunch 20 minutes from school and leave after the eggnog latte but before the apple crumble, how many signs of weather at custard consistency will slow you to a pace resulting in a 5 minute negative return?

I do not know the answer to this question. But I do know that there were lots of cars between me and where I was going. I was also very aware of my superior attitude and was just sure I had karma-ed myself into sliding off the road. I did not. Because my very firm grip on the steering wheel kept me on the road. Did you know that you can actually will your car to move forward or stop fishtailing if you hold onto the steering wheel firmly enough? Firmly enough to need a hot bath and some deep tissue massage when you get home? It's true.

The sun is supposed to be out all day tomorrow, so I am hoping that they give us a snowday. I have angels to make on the lawn. We have sleds to inaugurate. They can't just amp us up about a gigantic winter storm and then not let us stay home and eat our chutney. Can they?

Christmas Cavalcade

The Christmas show I went to was in the paper - you'll find this review to be almost exactly like mine except without talk of chickens and with some actual mention of music.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

prodigy oddity

When I went to my nephew's play I made t-shirts for my kids - all the better to mortify him with, my dear. They had his face across the chest, repeated in several colors à la Andy Warhol. It is not subtle.

Lucy chose to wear hers to school today, paired with a denim mini skirt, orange socks and striped leggings. The leggings matched the shirt because they had pink green blue aqua orange yellow chartreuse black white beige and tangelo stripes.

My daughter is nothing if not vertigo inducing.

This is the outfit she wore to the ballet class she observed this evening. When the teacher asked if she'd like to participate, she hid her face in my coat pocket and whispered "I don't have the right shoes."

The right shoes? Did she not notice the sea of black leotards with pink tights? Did she not realize that she looked like Jackson Pollock's studio floor? On acid?

Still, she couldn't hold out forever and when the ballet teacher asked a second time Lucy leaped into the fray. I did my best not to snort out loud as she twirled amid her top-knot coiffed contemporaries. She was dizzying on so many levels.

The teacher was pleased and suggested we sign her up with the older girls. "She can take any class she wants," she told me. "There will be no problem at all." My heart swelled with pride. And then I realized that the stripes and prints had hypnotized the teacher and if we had asked her to bark like a dog and go make us cinnamon toast she would have happily complied.

Whatever works.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


We may not be everyone's idea of the perfect neighbors, what with the woodstove and granite sink and stack of windows and assorted what-not in our yard. We have one neighbor in particular whose property value is probably suffering because of us. She lives in the house everyone comments on when they come visit us - it looks like something Edward Hopper would have painted. I am always a little nervous when I see her.

So today I come home and I'm looking for the chickens. I start calling them and I hear them call me back: "Susan?" I look up to see the lilacs moving and then I see my neighbor. I ask if the chickens have been looting her pantry while she wasn't looking. She tells me they've been having a nice afternoon behind the toolshed (not doing drugs or swearing or attracting unsavory characters). She also told me she carried one back to the coop because she was worried they wouldn't find their way back. She likes the chickens.

She likes the chickens! She likes seeing them in her garden. She likes how they dig in the leaves and dash around like little old ladies holding their hoop skirts. She is not, it seems, at all concerned about her property value.

I hope she also likes eggs, because there were five today.

Enough about chickens, yes?

On to parties. If we get sitters for all the parties we want to go to, we will have to wear name tags when we next see our children. Our children are generally invited to parties, but sometimes they probably shouldn't be. They will eat the tuna sashimi and all the fois gras without even looking up to see you scowling at them. They respond when poked with pickle forks, but will probably just mosey on over to the raw bar. They have the tenacity of seagulls.

And let's face it, as much as one adores one's delightful offspring, it is SO NICE to settle into a pillow-strewn couch and have a chat with a like-minded soul without having to pause and say "sweetie, you can use the bathroom by yourself. Yes, I'm sure it locks. Yes, I'll watch to make sure. Yes, the dog is lying in front of the door. Yes, his tail might hit you when you walk past. No, it's not necessary for me to carry you. Yes, it's a brown dog.... oh for crying out loud will you please just go already!" And the person you were talking to is gone and all is lost.

Instead maybe we'll have a party here, so we can just put them to bed when they hit the wall. I think all that decorating and baking and inviting and cleaning and wassail-brewing would be refreshingly simple compared to wrestling the last bacon wrapped scallop from Studley's iron grip.

Monday, December 10, 2007

maybe some wassail would help

Oh I am so in the Christmas spirit.

Okay, now I'm not.

Oh wait, I'm back into it again.

After all, it can't be worse than our first Christmas with Lucy, right? When the car broke down after the midnight service in Cambridge? And we got home at 4 in the morning? And Lucy woke up at 6, same as she always does? That's the year the tree fell over. I was a little - how shall we say - not myself and I made Chris bring the chainsaw into the livingroom and cut a foot off the bottom of the tree. Mind the lights!

This year is much better. We have no tree. We have no cards ready to go in the mail. I have done precious little shopping. See? It's going great.

Last night we went to the Christmas Cavalcade - which is a crazed line-up of musicians (and a real live Barnum & Bailey clown this year), playing Christmasey songs (Christmasish?) - including my favorite "Smokin' Euphoria" by the Greenheads.

So I was into it, right? And then I spent some time today in a retail environment where I listened to people buy things for other people even though they knew it was not what the other person wanted. Which made me want to give apple fritters to everyone on my list and call it a day.

Does anyone know how to make apple fritters?

Let me tell you, I wish I had found this pattern before today because everyone would be getting felted squid FOR SURE. If I start now I'll have them all done for next year. Felted squid!

But since I'm not making felted squid I have heaps of time to do all my decorating and party planning. More on parties later. Because there are Always More Parties. Although I can't imagine they could be any more fun than witnessing this (or something like this):

Chandler Travis Philharmonic w. the Athol Thingerth- photo by Rachel Jarvis

Sunday, December 9, 2007


When I was a teenager I earned a tidy living as a babysitter. Sometimes I wonder how on earth those people could have left their children with me. I remember being on vacation and the people who were renting the cottage across the street from us hired me to babysit several nights. They had never met me. They didn't know my parents. They had not done a background check or even requested my GPA.

Because I have been through this and see it from the perspective of the babysitter, I know what to look for in a babysitting candidate. In other words, we never let our kids stay home without us. Because, among other things, babysitters are incredibly snoopy.

Personally, I mostly limited myself to record collections and bookshelves. I played their records and then tried to make it look like I was doing homework when they got home. Babysitters are devious and snoopy and even if you trust them with your kids, don't trust them with the contents of your house. Just don't.

And so it is richly ironic that we went out to dinner last night with the full knowledge that our babysitter was rifling through all our papers. Personal papers, impersonal papers, Lucy's school work... who knows? If we knew, we wouldn't be having her go through them all, now would we?*

We have reached the conclusion that we need professional help. So we chose someone who claims to have terrible short term memory and she is helping us organize our files. I can't tell you what this will do to the general layout of our home. I have been circumnavigating piles of papers for so long, I don't even notice them anymore.

One of the things we didn't need help finding is the gift certificate to Abba we received last spring. I am very good at keeping track of things near and dear to me. Like my children and gift certificates to restaurants.

So while our friend rifled through our stuff and listened to the snoring of our children, we had a lovely dinner out. We don't go to Abba very often as it's a little out of our budget. The prices are about the same as other places we eat, but the trouble with Abba is that (although you convince yourself how disciplined you will be) once you see the menu it is impossible to not have an appetizer and dessert. In fact, I could easily have ordered six appetizers (we settled on two).

I think they know this, those people at Abba, because the portions are not so huge. They took all the good stuff and left out the filler. It is not the kind of food you eat without being aware of what you've just put in your mouth. Is it possible for food to be intimate? So often the descriptions of things (50 ways to make your holidays stress free!!!) outshine the actual things. This was exactly the other way around.

And for dessert? I spent half an hour figuring out what to have. Imagine, lavender ice cream with lemon shortbread and quince. I almost got it so I could write about it (but went with the chocolate because the coffee smelled so good and I couldn't imagine how coffee and lavender ice cream were going to work out).

Our babysitter was still hard at work when we got home. She didn't blush when she saw us, so I guess it went okay. And just think, we paid a babysitter to actually do something while our children slept. Is that allowed? I'm sure glad the parents I worked for never thought of that.

*I'm sorry, all of you with privacy issues. I should have suggested you sit and have a paper bag handy for this one.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

looking back

There is nothing that strikes panic in the holiday heart like that first Christmas card in the mailbox. My own Christmas cards are mere twinkles in our eye at this point. Do I send a photograph of the chickens? Do I write another letter inventorying our successes?

I know, you all hate those letters from people inventorying their successes. Which is why I am subjecting you to the one I sent last year. You know, so we can get to know each other better.

Holiday Inventory 2006
  • Gift-related kitchen fires: 1
  • Leaking tree stands: 1
  • Christmas cards sent prior to Christmas: 0
  • New child-locks on kitchen cabinets: 2
  • Percentage of family members under 5 able to unlock child-locks: 50
  • Percentage of family members over 5 still having trouble with child-locks: Undisclosed
  • Strings of non-working lights inextricably woven into Christmas tree: 1

Next year instead of making almond brittle we've decided to give boxes of salt in case anyone else makes almond brittle and sets their kitchen on fire. Fortunately Chris appeared on the scene quickly after Susan noticed a flame and, recalling Fire Safety Week from the 3rd Grade, grabbed the salt and doused the fire. Susan - recalling the same week - stopped, dropped and rolled.

Obviously, we are reluctant to start things like holiday baking and decorating due to the fiascos of last year. That tree stand started leaking noticeably after the tree was fully decorated. We were able to get a trash bag under it so it would not rot through the floor and fall on my mother-in-law's couch, but otherwise had to let it be. We have a new stand this year, which will undergo stress tests and water-tightness tests with, say, 9,000 pounds of pressure.

So really, it's a good thing we have the chickens to write about because otherwise, we got nothin. And for that, I am grateful.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Monkey Town

Oh they are so smug, those mothers whose nights of being chained to a baby monitor are over. Those mothers who can go out at night without hiring a 15 year old babysitter for $15/hour. Those mothers whose 15 year olds are filing their tax returns separately. Smug mothers.

But here's what they didn't have: Old Navy and therefore Old Navy Maternity, diaper bags that look like handbags and not a quilted vinyl version of The Best of Beatrix Potter, kid's music that someone might want to hear.

Not that there's anything wrong with the songs from Barney - except that they make you want to zip your own head into the above mentioned vinyl diaper bag.

And I understand that this is not true of everybody. My sister really dug the whole mom thing. She liked having her bag shout "I'm somebody's mother! Yipppeeee!" She embraced the whole "oh let's just go ahead and sing The Wheels on the Bus one more time" thing. She, I'm sure, looked completely rocking in her leggings and oversized sweatshirts.

But it's just not for everyone. Some of us are in denial. And we are lucky, lucky, lucky that so many of us are in denial. Because for one thing, there's a whole new genre, called alt-kid music.

Case in point "Monkey Town" by Animal Heads. It is one of those cd's that doesn't make you simultaneously hit the brakes and the eject button when you get to your child's school. You might, in fact, not remember what it is until suddenly you hear
Peter Rabbit was a cat
Who had a habit of acting like a rabbit.
All his friends went splitter splat
But Peter Rabbit always looked both ways.
That seems to be one of the hallmarks of alt-kid - those lines that aren't necessarily written for the kids. Also, there's real music that sounds like actual songs. We got Monkey Town yesterday and played it in the car a few times today. I was listening to it in my usual music-review mode and then I noticed that my kids were going out of their minds in the backseat. Yes, sometimes the kids like alt-kid music too! It's a bonus.

And speaking of bonuses, the fine fine people of Animal Heads sent me an extra promo copy - so I can share the wealth. If you are the 5th person to email me (address is right up there in the sidebar), I'll send you your very own copy of Monkey Town. Woohoo! Freebies! Not sure it's your cup of tea? Click the Animal Heads link above and you can listen to a few of the songs.

Oh, and you can even email me if you are smug.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Story of Stuff

Oh I have such Consumer Conflict.

I just posted that quote below, which in the '50s allegedly steered the economy into today's consumerism. My first response is "oh, we don't do that here at Trout Towers." But of course we do. Because I like shoes.

Chris is a non-consumer poster child. He is forever coming home from the dump with discarded windows and assorted building materials. Our chicken coop? He bought something like $15 worth of supplies and made the rest out of what's stacked up behind our house ("ooooh, pretty" you breathe, enviously). There is, at this moment, a granite and porcelain bathroom sink (no fixtures, just counter and basin) sitting next to our driveway because Chris was at the dump when some guy asked him for help pulling it out of a truck and Chris couldn't bear to toss it into the dumpster. I would like very much to rip out all three bathrooms and put new stuff in, but a big granite slab is not what I had in mind.

I have a trip to Ikea in mind, where I will buy all new fixtures and cabinets. Not only do I like shoes; I like bathroom fixtures, new appliances and robot vacuums.

But think of the gas we're saving, not driving to the store to buy eggs!

And then there's shopping for the kids. Does Lucy want the hippest, the coolest, the trendiest clothes? Not yet. Do I dress her in muslin smocks and horsehair bonnets? Not so much.

I suspect we all have our secret vices, so here's my plan: it will be like going on a diet. Oh right, I'm notoriously bad at diets. But I do know that things go better when I pay attention to what I'm doing. For instance, I try not to sit on the couch reading with a bag of Oreos at my side. I think, hmmmm, I could eat 17 Oreos or I could save up and have that brownie sundae tomorrow. If I'm really good and resist buying new things I don't really need or want, maybe I can get the appliances.

I also ask myself if it's worth carting off to Salvation Army in a couple weeks. I am lazy, so this usually does the trick. It's like threatening myself with an extra kick-boxing class.

I will also allow myself some "health food," like fair trade yarn and shiny trinkets and baubles from sustainable sources. You know, like bamboo sporks.

And I've also gotten really into raiding my mom's house for stuff she doesn't use anymore - like her canning tools (but not her lead saucepans). She offered me her canning tools and I actually heard myself say "that's okay, I'll just pick some up at the kitchen shop in town." I have obviously been brainwashed by the followers of Victor Lebow. But I know that as I stand in my kitchen in a muslin smock, pulling jars of chutney from boiling water with my grandmother's tongs, I am finding my own version of spiritual satisfaction.
"Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate."
- Victor Lebow, 1955

The Story of Stuff

Sunday, December 2, 2007

seeds, sprouts and the resurrection

Several months ago Sarah gave me some sunflower seeds. I was nervous and went a little overboard caring for them, including but not restricted to taking the sprouts on vacation. When she saw what a good job I was doing, she entrusted me with a small fig tree - grown from a cutting.

I knew I should have taken it on vacation with us but failed to heed my inner obsessive worrier and when we came home from Vermont it looked like this:

I knew I'd have to come clean sooner or later, so I called Sarah and told her I had killed her fig. All the leaves are crunchy. The little buds are brown. But she just told me to be patient and it would come back. So I watched. And waited. And watered.

And then, A Miracle! If you look very closely the fig apparently thinks it's spring:

And there was much rejoicing.

I hope this doesn't set its production schedule back. Because I do love fresh figs.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

more agoraphobic socialites, please

Today began another flurry of parties for Lucy to attend. It also marked the start of a trend I don't like One Little Bit.

If we make it to all of them, Lucy will go to five parties in the next two weeks. All of the parties are at indoor play centers - bowling, movies, whatever. There will be pizza and sheet cakes. They will all be very nearly exactly the same.

When you have a party at one of these places, the kids don't get to open their presents during the party. Is this some new politically correct thing? So kids don't compare who gave what to whom? I'm all for social equality, but I want to see the presents.

I am in no way complaining about these parties. I mean, a party's a party. There are very few parties I don't like. I even like parties when I only have a few minutes to talk to people roughly my own height and I feel like I've thrown myself in front of a truck when it's all over (this last part is reminiscent of some of those other parties, now that I think about it). The thing is, I really like going to people's houses.

Am I alone in this? Are people not entertaining at home any more because no one wants to go to other people's houses? Or because people don't want other people in their houses? If it's a privacy issue, you can just do what my friend Doug used to do in college - fill your medicine cabinet with ping pong balls.

We went to a party a week or so ago at someone's house. We got to sit around while the kids played. We got to drink hot cider. Some of us even stayed long enough to hear the hostess say "hey, when you put an end time on the invitation people actually leave!" Okay, so I was still there but it wasn't my fault because my husband was playing ping pong with the host's husband (not with the balls he found in the medicine cabinet). I was on the couch considering a nap in the sun.

Now I don't make myself completely and embarrassingly at home in everybody's house (not right away at least), but I like having the opportunity.

And it hasn't escaped me that maybe it's the kids who are requesting these birthday parties. Must it really be all about them all the time?

In short, please invite me over. I need some new decorating ideas. And yes, I'd love a cup of tea.

wreath, part 2

Here it is! Yes, I did burn myself. I also tried to poke myself in the eye with a stick. Darn pine branches. But what is the point if you don't have a personal injury report to file at the end of a project? Also, not everyone will get to see my handiwork, but they will see my burned fingers and know that somewhere there hangs a wreath.

The best thing about it? It almost completely covers the window in the kitchen door, which means I can spend the day in my bathrobe and pretend I'm not here.

The wreath is now being pummeled in the wind. I have to look away.

Friday, November 30, 2007


I got to use my hot glue gun again today. As it turns out, I have the Polly Pocket version.

Today was our Renegade Wreath Workshop, which we planned in lieu of the official wreath-making workshop at one of the local museums. I thought the museum workshop would be fun (and sufficiently dorky) and when I ran it by my croquet friends they were all on board - except Sarah. She suggested we have a wreath workshop at her house and she'd show us how to make them. After all, she makes dozens for her clients every year and has taught workshops and if we did it at her studio we could bring snacks.

Everyone thought this sounded like spiffy fun - except that at the last minute, everyone did not come. And by everyone, I mean everyone. It was Sarah and me, waving our hot glue guns around and eating snacks.

They blew it, is all I have to say. Because wreath-making is where it's at. Sarah showed me how to make the bow, and after several attempts (during which I thought I had it, but didn't) I successfully attached it to the wreath. And then I got to stick twigs in and glue things all over it. Sarah has all the right tools and toys - her Professional Grade glue gun intimidated mine a bit. We had rolls and rolls of ribbon and all manner of shimmering fruit and some juniper and rosehips. And pinecones and little birds and painted berries and artichokes. The trick is obviously knowing where to stop.

It was just like when we used to play dress up with the dog. Minus the hot glue gun, of course.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

updo redo

Today my mother took the kids shopping for their birthday presents. I told Lucy she could pick out whatever she wanted and then run it by Grammy. And then I told her no nail polish, no high heels, nothing Bratz, nothing with buttons that sing when you push them, no more baby dolls, no tarty costumes, nothing with lead or magnets or trampy innuendo and preferably no more princess castles with 500 removeable pieces because I'm running out of vacuum cleaner bags.

So Lucy did what she does best and picked out a whole bunch of things in the Under $8 Range. Studley picked out a book and some footie pajamas. My mother piled all of it in the cart and away they went. It took us an hour and a half. And then we came home and within minutes of unpacking, Studley cut the hair right off Lucy's Cinderella paperdoll. She took it bravely. Cinderella has sort of a Sinéad O’Connor thing going on now.

Because I am also good at these things, I threw some stuff in the cart while mom wasn't looking. I got Hop on Pop and a game called Charoodles. Charoodles will have to wait till the kids are older (although I love the idea of rigging it so Chris and I are sitting on the living room floor playing something like Pretty Pretty Princess by ourselves when unexpected visitors show up. He'll be wearing the tiara).

Hop on Pop is for now, because Lucy's reading a bit and I thought it would be fun to read together. She could read the big words and I could narrate the little ones. It would be like a duet.
Me: Three fish in a tree. Fish in a tree? How can that be?

Good, right? Except that she's just learning to read and although she's doing great it takes about 20 minutes for her to read "all tall, all small" and by page 27 I was ready to throw myself on the floor.

We decided that Hop on Pop is a chapter book.

It almost made the Glamor Booty Call Makeover Salon look like it might have been a good option. Except here's the weird thing - although she's been asking for all those Barbies and Ponies and Plastic Princess Mermaids that her friends have, when it came right down to it she wanted books and puzzles and paper dolls.

The subliminal tapes are working.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Today Studley and I went back to the retirement home to visit our friend Mrs. Crane. She was glad to see us, even if she only recognized us as people who were there to see her because I said "hello Mrs. Crane!" very brightly when I walked into the sitting room. I said it very brightly so as to distract the gentleman resident who was trying to push past me and escape through the door to the lobby. The door to the lobby requires a code which changes daily. The code is printed on a business card and is essentially 1 for Sunday, 2 for Monday..... It's complex and I'm always afraid I'll forget it and be kept indefinitely and then I'll be the one trying to push past a visitor.

But really, I think I would be fairly happy there. There's something very relaxing about spending the morning with people who are just glad to be with you and don't remember all the foolish things you said 5 minutes ago. In fact, you don't even have to struggle with small talk because it's just nice to be there listening to someone tell you that your son has a cherubic smile and lovely red socks. Liz and I are looking forward to our days together in a retirement home. We will do all the activities and conquer puzzles and cheat at bingo. Our husbands will be off in another wing, hatching an escape plan (we will blow the whistle on them).

At 10:30 someone came for a Musical Hour. He played guitar and sang songs I didn't recognize because they were mostly from the '40s. All these quiet voices were singing right along with him, smiling. Yes, the voices were smiling. Mrs. Crane did too, sitting next to us and admiring Studley's socks.

When Liz and I are in a home, what will the music person sing to us? Adam Ant? A medley from Purple Rain?

And from there I went to lunch and was actually able to help Sarah sort out her knitting. If my mother had an internet connection and remembered the url of my blog, she would be gasping and giggling at that thought. She is the knitter. I am the great pretender. I can make something as long as I follow the directions exactly. I cannot make things bigger or smaller or use different yarn than what is recommended. Everything I make must be made from worsted weight yarn.

However, I discovered that although there are several blogs out there which refer to wine and knitting, it is not always best to mix them. Because you might start knitting backwards.

It is possible she did it so I could be the clever one for a change. It is hard, you see, to have very clever and gifted friends. When you have clever and gifted friends you do things like offer to bring cupcakes - commit to bringing cupcakes - to a party and then remember that the host was at one time a professional baker and everything that comes out of her kitchen looks like it should be sprawled across the centerfold of a cooking magazine.

Things that come out of my kitchen just generally sprawl.

And in the Medical Emergency portion of today's entry, I stubbed my toe. I woke up very early this morning to a cacophony of clucking. Sure that the fox was back, I dashed downstairs in my pajamas, waving a flashlight. All was well, except I missed the bottom step. Here's what I since realized:
  • Chickens cluck proudly when they are laying eggs
  • Two of the chickens laid eggs last night
  • If I ever hear them clucking in the wee hours of the morning again, I will either a) assume they are laying eggs, or b) throw poultry seasoning and some cranberries to the fox. My toe hurts.
And in other chicken-related news (it's amazing how much I can relate to chickens, no?) we got a new kids' cd today which has a song Chicken Impossible by The Nutley Brass. It involves clucking along to the Mission Impossible Theme. The link above is a Windows Media thingy. Or you can just google it. Trust me, it's worth it.

Greasy Kid Stuff: Songs from Inside the Radio

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chris just referred to a piece of sound equipment as a "hand soldered temple of audio goodness."

He's an odd bird, that one.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The scent of pumpkins

Yesterday when I remembered my college French class (19th century literature - as if writing papers in English wasn't laborious enough) it made me think of Chandler Burr, who happened to be in that class with me. Of course he did brilliantly. I, on the other hand, was in the library furtively speed reading Le Rouge et Le Noir in English to try and keep up.

He has three agents and speaks 5 languages.

Meanwhile, I am sitting here in my damask apron waiting for the pumpkin butter to finishing cooking so I can put it in quilted jelly jars and give it to Lucy's teachers.

I sometimes see his articles or hear him on NPR. He sounds just like he did in college. In fact, if we had voted on such things in college, I think we would have voted him "Most Likely to Become the New York Times Scent Critic." It just seems so obvious.

In Chandler's interview on NPR he talked about cultural perspectives - how something the French think smells fresh reminds us of Johnson's Baby Powder and how we think patchouli smells exotic but someone from India (I'm so sorry if I'm misquoting, but I think I'm at least on the right continents) thinks it smells like mothballs. Because that's what it was used for, I believe he said. To keep bugs out of things that were being shipped - lovely, exotic things that smelled lovely and exotic when they arrived in our Johnson's Baby Powder bestrewn ports.

Now I am obviously not in a position to speak with authority on scents, but I can tell you that my house smells absolutely brilliant right now. It smells sweet and satisfying. It smells like someone is taking good care of her family. Someone who is looking forward to having pumpkin butter on toast tomorrow morning. With tea. Sitting in a patch of sun. Yes, it smells like all that (I went a little heavy on the allspice).

So, to each their own (even though I'm spectacularly jealous of the 5 language thing).


maybe just false eyelashes would do it

Even after all these years of being me I still like trying on personas. It's not the drastic changes of college, more a fine tuning. Like finding jeans that fit.

After I described us yesterday as bourgeois gypsies I started thinking about bohemians and puzzling over bohemians vs. beatniks vs. dharma bums and so forth. We are none of them. I know this because I did some thorough research (wikipedia). Yes, we fit the bohemian bill quite a bit - we are, after all, ENMESHED in the arts. But then:

Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or antiestablishment political or social viewpoints, which were often expressed through extramarital sexual relations, frugality, and/or "voluntary poverty".

Okay, so we're falling short. But I can be very frugal - which is why I'm going to the Karol Richardson warehouse sale as soon as they open today.

A few years ago that book about Cultural Creatives came out and we thought maybe it was about us. We may even have described ourselves as cultural creatives. So I did some double checking to see if it was accurate. Turns out we are not Cultural Creatives we are Completely Shallow (although I agree completely with "...dislike all the emphasis in modern culture on success and 'making it,' on getting and spending, on wealth and luxury goods." Oh, and I like the part about exotic places - especially when I can travel there luxuriously and buy things).

All of this poking around reminds me of being in high school, looking through the career reference section of the library and deciding who I should be when I grew up. Ironically, when I set off for college I intended to become a sound engineer. I am not cut out for any engineering and also have a very short attention span and am easily distracted by flashy course titles (oooh! 19th Century French Literature - in French! aaaah... History of the Weimar Republic! Egads, science requirements).

And then I wanted to go back to school and get my masters in Arts Administration. Fortunately I worked as an arts administrator first and discovered that, as noted above, I am not so into voluntary poverty.

For years and years I associated who I was with what I did for a living. Probably everyone does a bit of this. I was totally launched into crazy land when I started a family and discovered I couldn't continue working full time while being a full time mom. I had such visions (it all worked out in the end).

So maybe that is the persona behind it all. The one that makes a statement and then modifies it. The one that wants a certain aura of sophistication and then gets chickens.

I think that's who I'll pick to be this week.

Friday, November 23, 2007

euphemism gravy

Everyone raved about my pie crust, which is the only thing I didn't make.

I have never made my own pie crust. I have tried several times, each time giving up in a vile mood with dough in my hair. Chris has tried his hand, with varying degrees of success. One time he made a sesame whole wheat crust that had the taste and texture of dog biscuits. I may have discouraged further attempts.

We're making our own Thanksgiving traditions here at Trout Towers. Chris and I had very different upbringings, and so have a rich assortment of familial memories to draw from. His mother was a real live beatnik living in New York in the 50's. The holidays I spent with her were buffet affairs where people piled their plates and found a comfortable chair in the livingroom. No one was in the kitchen wigging out about things not matching. No one chilled the juice glasses and dipped them in powdered sugar.

That was my family. Even though it was just the four of us, we'd get out the good china, iron the table cloth and pass the relish tray. I seem to remember dressing for dinner. It was stressful, but very, very beautiful.

Combined, we have a sort of Bourgeois Gypsy thing going. The food is good, the people are nice, the candles are lit and the plates are pretty. No one wigs out (that I know of). We set the table in the middle of our bookshelf-lined living room because we can't fit everyone in the dining room. And that way it's easy to fling oneself into a comfy chair for dessert.

The first year I did the turkey, my mother-in-law mentioned she liked giblet gravy. So I found a recipe. It said to chop the giblets and sauté them, which was fine except I didn't know what a giblet was. Is it related to a gimlet? I googled "what are giblets" and found
Giblets are the entrails of a fowl. Today, when a chicken or turkey is purchased at the grocery store, the giblets are usually neatly wrapped up in the cavity of the bird. The giblets generally consist of the heart, gizzards and liver.

Edible internal organs of poultry and game including the liver, heart and gizzard.


Edible internal organs? Entrails? Are they kidding?

I think giblet gravy will not be part of our Trout Tradition. I know it's a waste not to use the giblets, but seriously, chopping up the HEART and serving it to my FAMILY? Ewk.

What would my chickens think? I made the soup last night and had Chris smuggle the bones off the property before the chickens woke up this morning. I'm sure they knew something was up. They gave us extra eggs this morning. And an envelope of cash.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

23 hours and worth it

We made this no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times. You let it rise for 18 hours.

Declared successful.

Will report more after my nap.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

professional help

Today my friend Sue stopped by. I was glad to see her, of course, and then I was extra extra glad to see her because not only is she my friend, she is my house cleaner and it turns out this is her day to clean. Imagine, a house cleaner showing up unexpectedly on the day before Thanksgiving.

She didn't really show up unexpectedly, it's just that pretty much everything happens unexpectedly because we forget that things are expected.


So she's here and we chat about this and that and then both notice that there is an entire spider COMPOUND in the corner above our heads and she says something like "good heavens, does no one clean your house?" And then I have to admit that I don't actually care if she comes and reads a magazine the whole time because for me, having a housecleaner means that if my house is a disgusting pit, it's not my fault. Really, it's just important that people know you have a house cleaner before they come to your house - so they know you didn't clean because it's Not Your Job (and to clean would be stepping on someone else's toes, now wouldn't it?).

And so the obvious next question is, when you are discussing the fact that someone cleans your house, what is the politically correct term for said person? I asked Sue. And she said House Cleaner. But that seems so, you know, pedestrian. So she said anything would be fine. Except maybe "charwoman."

I was thinking of something a little more highbrow, like "domestic" or "the help." I think maidservant may be pushing it. After all, she's my friend and oh, also? she is a better person than I am. For one thing, she probably doesn't have one-sided conversations with her invisible friends regarding what to call someone who graciously drops by and cleans one's house when one is out of one's mind with Thanksgiving preparations and is therefore napping on the couch. And she doesn't look around the house and tell me she'll come back when I am slightly more prepared (ie. there are available surfaces ready to be cleaned).

So it has to be highbrow for her as well as for me. I just want to sound ever so slightly sophisticated when I mention that I am employing a personal household assistant. But will people be completely clear that SHE is the one responsible for the continued well-being of my spiders?

To be fair, I'll probably have to claim responsibility for having just covered my kitchen in whipped egg whites. Happy Thanksgiving, enjoy the pie.

eggs, now $10 each

Chicken Update:
Eleanor Rigby, Penny Lane & Lovely Rita are all forking over fresh eggs. This leaves Polythene Pam. We are not sure why she is not laying yet. Did we not give her enough love as a baby chick? Were we too strict or somehow fail to give her the self confidence she'd need later in life? There are so many questions.

We can tell who's giving us eggs because we were very clever and got 3 different kinds of chickens. They lay different colored eggs. Polythene Pam will lay aqua eggs, when she gets around to it. If all else fails I may put the stew pot out by the coop to encourage (scare the eggs right out of) her.

We originally had four different kinds of chickens. She's Leaving Home would have laid white eggs if she hadn't run off with Mean Mister Mustard.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

handy around the house

Yesterday Lucy's slippers were sent home from school because a button had come off. I noticed them a little too late to run out and buy a new pair, so they were still sitting on the kitchen counter this morning. What was I to do? I couldn't just send them back the way they were. Her teachers would think I was a Bad And Irresponsible Parent. I couldn't send her without slippers - what would she wear at naptime? And yet, no one had repaired the button while we slept. I am not sure what I expected, but it never occurred to me that I would actually have to fix the darn thing.

It took me 20 minutes to find a needle. And then there was thread. And then there was finding the hole in the needle which has gotten smaller since I last used it. Also, the needle turns into two needles every time you get the thread near it and it's very hard to tell which one you're aiming at. Seriously. I don't need glasses, it's just a really tricky needle.

I am glad to report that the slippers didn't come back home today. I was afraid the button would pop off and hit someone in the eye. I knew I should have stapled it for extra security.

Now that I think about it, it probably DID pop off and hit someone in the eye. But rather than risk a repeat, the class most likely took up a collection and bought Lucy a new pair of slippers with their combined allowance. I hope they got a pair with no buttons.

Monday, November 19, 2007


symbol of bounty
the free range turkey becomes
a tryptophan nap

(okay, this was not my idea. I was doodling around and found Pensieve's request for a Thanksgiving limmerick. I couldn't think of anything that rhymed with caramelized shallot reduction flambé so I went with haiku).

more songs about buildings and food (or just food)

Surprisingly, we do not weigh 700 pounds. I am not sure why we don't. We are very like those hobbits, enjoying our breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, tea, dinner and finally supper. With some treats thrown in.

We are partial to elevensies.

When we vacation, we like to do touristy things which involve food. In Vermont we toured Ben & Jerry's, Cabot's Creamery and Lake Champlain Chocolates. And when we buy souvenirs? They go in our pantry. This fits in with my plan for local domination - in which I get rid of the clutter, making it easier to find my pantry.

And I do need to find my pantry because it is slowly dawning on me that I will have a whole heap of people in my house in a couple days and they will want to eat. I need to find my brining pot. And I need to go grocery shopping because we have pretty much nothing in the refrigerator but eggs.

I cannot make a Thanksgiving dinner out of just eggs, unless I hard boil them and dress them up like pilgrims. The family I married into knows that my sense of humor is a tad off, so a pipecleaner-enhanced main dish may not surprise them. And if they are not surprised, why bother?

Thanksgiving is the time of year when I am glad to live in a house that has two kitchens. We are not kosher. We are copious. So people who feel smug about not sharing their house with three and a half generations plus a dog a cat and 4 chickens can now envy me with all their hearts because I will not be wondering what to do with all those side dishes. By side dishes I mean things like candied sweet potatoes, not the dog, cat and chickens.

But first I must find my house, which is currently somewhere behind the laundry baskets. Because who in their right mind goes on vacation the week before Thanksgiving? Someone who's thinking of making a hard boiled First Thanksgiving diorama for a centerpiece, that's who.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

home is where the french press is

I think the best thing about going on vacation is the way my heart sings when I get home. It's like getting dressed up for a party and then changing back into flannel pajamas.

It's good to see the place with fresh eyes. I stop seeing some of the great things about my house when I'm here every day.

I'm also seeing that I need to paint. Looking at my walls every day, I sort of gloss over the trouble spots. Now I'm sitting with my morning coffee, prioritizing which walls come first. Because now that I've been away, I'm more motivated to take care of the space I'm in.

And speaking of trouble spots, the vacations themselves can be sort of rocky at times. Chris and I have always been particularly good at working together in times of impending disaster, like the time we went to Maine (before kids) in his Jaguar and locked ourselves out of the trunk where, oddly enough, the gas tank was. And that time we went to New York (before kids) and came home to the apartment our friends loaned us to find that the front door key fit but did not work. Fine except we were coming home from the opera. The opera was War and Peace. War and Peace goes on for hours and hours and it was very late when we got back - even by New York standards.

My niece once worked for a couple who seemed to have a really great marriage. She asked them what it was that made them tick and they told her a marriage should be a sanctuary. How novel. For us, it's those rocky spots in our flight plan that make us realize what a sanctuary our family is. I'll just leave it by saying that this trip has made me very, very grateful for my family.

Did I mention that it's good to be home?

And that we can't wait to go back to Vermont because we are running out of cinnamon swirl bread?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

home again

We played "I'm thinking of an animal" on the way home from Vermont. As an illustration of why we are not homeschooling, I thought birds were mammals and Chris thought spiders had six legs. Our children are holding up well under the stress of ignorant parents and frequently correct us.

Although Vermont was lovely and it was absolutely beyond great seeing our friends, it is good to be home. Really, really good to be home. Besides, we have enough chocolate to last us several months. Or at least until Christmas.

We had snow before we left, which made everything even more beautiful. The fire was warmer, the air was clearer, the mountains were brighter. And yes, the coffee tasted better. I even found a cup of locally roasted coffee* in Burlington. Locally as in "roasted slightly down the street." There was exposed brick involved. And good music.

We're pretty exhausted after loading the eleventy-seven gallons of maple syrup in from the car, so a full report will have to wait till the morning.

*Speeder and Earls

Thursday, November 15, 2007

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd

Here's what I was afraid would happen:

We'd check in at the front desk and receive bundles of clothing containing our lederhosen and dirndls, which we would be required to wear during our stay. We would need to keep a change of clothes in our car and surreptitiously change in the woods at the bottom of the hill when we wanted to go to town. If we were not already well versed in the songs, we would be required to attend training sessions (including pitch correction intensives) until we learned them all well enough to sing when asked. For instance, if when we pass someone on a hiking trail and they say “high on a hill was a lonely goatherd” we respond “yoddle yoddle yoddle” or whatever until we are both out of earshot. And Sound of Music would play in a loop on the tv unless you read the entire guest services manual, including seven pages of family history and the words to all the songs, to figure out how to change the channel. Oh, and those infernal songs would play in the common areas 24/7.

Here's what happened:

We checked into the Trapp Family Lodge and were greeted by very nice people in normal clothes and no feigned Austrian accents. We found our way in the dark to the room they circled on the map, and let ourselves into what Chris described as an '80's ski condo - where I began having flashbacks of the 80's ski condos I have lived in. Surprisingly, all the surfaces have been left unstenciled and there are many pieces of furniture that do not have hearts and flowers carved into them. There is not a gigantic picture of Julie Andrews' face on our bedspread. It is all good.

I was so worried about possible Sound of Music Torture I forgot about what staying at an Austrian-inspired lodge meant. Specifically, afternoon cake and coffee.

So today we went to the Austrian Teahouse. I was all set to order the Linzertorte because it's the authentic thing to do and then I did a small, uncharacteristic, reality check. Because I don't actually like Linzertorte. I had the Bavarian apfelkuchen. They did have songs from the musical playing in the background, but I let it slide.

After college I was an au pair in Germany. I spent much of my time having cake and coffee at the bakery down the street, where I gained upwards of 15 pounds. The extra pounds were carefully documented in thousands of pictures, since I came home from Germany to be maid of honor in my sister's wedding. Needless to say, I had to have my dress altered.

So given my history, it's probably good that I spent much of my vacation fleeing the compound. Otherwise I might not fit into the car for the ride home. What with all the schnitzel with noodles and all.

Tomorrow: Burlington and Lake Champlain Chocolates. Oh yeah.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This morning I set off to find the elusive cup of coffee. As may be abundantly obvious, I am not just going after a cup of coffee. I am in search of a euphoria-inducing coffee experience with subtle undertones of local culture.

As I drove down the hill it occurred to me that what I was looking for may in fact be something staged just for tourists, while the locals get their coffee at the Mobil station. I decided to overlook this possibility. It is my vacation and I can be in denial if I want to.

I found a coffee shop but it was closed. This supports my "just for tourists" belief. It shouldn't matter that it's the shoulder season if a place provides a life-supporting service.

I continued on and spotted a market with several cars in front. Surely there must be coffee?

Not only did they have coffee, they had all manner of espresso drinks. And as I looked around I realized that if we lived here, we would have to get more jobs in order to support our consumption of their prepared deli items. Unbelievably delicious-looking deli items - like vegetable napoleons, panzanella salad, herb tartlets and sesame noodles.

It almost doesn't matter that they serve Green Mountain Roasters coffee. Same as the Mobil station.

Obviously, my paradigm is skewed. Because as Lisa pointed out in yesterday's comments, I associate gas station coffee with a burning smell. If even the gas station coffee is good, have I unwittingly chosen to vacation in paradise?

Meanwhile, I got an email from someone at home who reported that the fog was "thick as soup." She is within the National Seashore, which sometimes gets wrapped in fog when it's clear a quarter mile away. I love that fog. It makes everything look different and somehow more peaceful.

I'm on a mountainside hoping for snow. It too will make everything look different and slightly more peaceful. And it will make my coffee taste even better.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

a few of my favorite things

When Lucy was a baby we went to Vail and stayed in a condo for a week. I am here to tell you, if you have a family, stay in a condo. First, you can throw your stuff all over the place and still have room to move. Okay, that may be the only reason. But it's a darn good one.

It's also nice letting the kids eat cereal while I spend the morning in my pajamas, instead of getting everyone dressed before someone expires from starvation. I don't know what happens to them during the night, but those kids will bite you if they're not fed promptly.

This is my round-about way of making my excuses for where we are staying. Because it's ironic, really.

I'm sorry, I'm not ready to admit it yet.

But it's a lovely condo. We're in a part of the world that is in its shoulder season. Which means that not everything is open. And the things that are open? You can't tell that they're open because there are no cars around. We like it this way. Remember, where we live we have 2 months of shoulder season and 7 months of off season. Really, really off season.

We had planned on doing some hiking, so we were glad when they handed us a trail map at the front desk. We were not glad when they told us they had brightly colored vests we could borrow because, uh, well, it's hunting season. Suddenly I don't really feel like taking my two precious veal chops on a hike.

Fortunately, there's always shopping. And doing touristy things! We've been on a tour already and have two more planned. Since it is us, all the tours are food related.

I am sure there is a coffee shop nearby that will make me wish I lived here. I have visions of a little place with locally roasted beans and a devoted local clientele. I keep picturing how the Beanstock used to be (the coffee is still great, even though the coffee shop is gone).

The only way to find such a place is to ask someone who lives here. So I did. I said, "where would you go for coffee around here?" And she thought about it a minute, during which I figured there were just too many places and she was trying to figure out which one was closest. And then she said, "you could try the Mobil station - the coffee's usually pretty good there."

It is now my mission to find a good cup of non-gas-station coffee. I will keep you posted.

heigh ho here we go!

Here's what we like about having Lucy in school: she's busy all day without making us play hide and seek 50 times, she falls asleep promptly at bedtime because she is so busy all day, and she is really close to being able to do all our math so we can stop counting on fingers and toes to figure out the tip at dinner.

Here's what we don't like about having Lucy in school: it's putting a huge crimp in our social style.

We used to stay out late with the kids whenever we felt like it. They were good and it didn't matter when they woke up in the morning. Now we have to be out the door at 8 and oh it is not pretty when we have to wake Lucy up. She is not, shall we say, a morning person.

And we can't do those "let's go to Maine for the weekend" trips because she would miss school and we would be bad parents. Also, if she misses school she will not learn percentages as quickly and we will have to do our own math a little longer.

Obviously, home schooling is not an option. We met some people at a wedding once who took their child out of school for a year and home schooled while they traveled all over the world. Tempting, but we'd have to hire someone to do the schooling part. It is hard to fathom how we can be so smart and yet so dumb.

Fortunately, there's an answer to this and it rhymes with Emergency School Closure.

Lucy's school will be closed for a couple days and if you were wondering what that sound of squealing tires was, it was our car heading north. The nice thing about living in a shoe with a heap of other people (besides always having someone around to help with hard to reach buttons) is that you don't have to line up someone to pick up the 85 Lands End catalogs that come while you're away.

Don't worry, I'll keep you posted with what a lovely time we're having. What other reason is there to vacation?

Besides, I can hardly wait to tell you where we're going.

Monday, November 12, 2007


So I was heading out of the house and I glanced down the hall to the window on the north side. There was a little light coming through the linen curtain, lighting up the curtain and making the old wood floor glow. The view through a room into another room, with the directional light, made me think of the paintings by the Flemish masters. So I stopped and looked again

The room at the end of the hall is the scene of some file reorganization, so it looks like someone came in the night and searched the house, dumping things all over our floor in their haste. I think a painter should come and paint a scene like this – you know, the modern version of those masterpieces. Because at first you're all “oh, that's so pretty... wait... what the...?”

That happens a lot around our house.

Chris lived in the house first and I moved in when we were married. I don't mention this in a “I waited until I was married to move in with him” sort of way. I mention it in a "this is so not my fault" sort of way. But I do think in our case it was good to wait. Sometimes it's good to be fully committed – with a signed license – before you find out exactly what you're in for.

So really, the crime scene in the back room is promising. Little by little we're tackling the corners that we've ceased to see. And little by little we'll have more of our house that we want to look at. And then it will be nice to have that painting – as a reminder to keep things filed in the future.

Last night we had dinner at a friend's house – a friend who is also having a closet problem. They had their house renovated last summer (tore off the roof and added a second floor). In the process, she shoved a bunch of stuff in their closets. Now that it's winter, she needs the things in the back of the closets and she told me (to warn me before we arrived), that the contents of her closets were avalanched all over the house. I'm not reporting it myself because frankly I didn't notice. She served roasted squash soup, using squash from her community garden. There was maple syrup and crème fraîche involved. I do not recall seeing piles of closet stuffing, but I do remember the way her kitchen smelled. Really, there should be at least as much weight placed on the quality of your life as there is on the quality of your surroundings.

By the way, the recipe came from the new Shelburne Farms cookbook, which I am buying as soon as I have a reliable internet connection back.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

the sky, as it turns out, is not falling

False alarm. Everyone come out of your bunkers. The end of the world is not nigh, as I previously had feared.

Chris went out and insulated the chicken coop this morning. I probably mentioned that Chris built our coop to resemble the Hirshhorn Museum, and I may have admitted that when I first saw it sitting in our yard I thought aliens had landed. Now it is wrapped in a shiny silver quilted blanket and looks more than ever like a spaceship. The chickens don't seem to mind. In fact, they gave us an egg. Which is why the world is not ending.

We took the egg, photographed it, showed it to the rest of the family, wrote some songs about it, boiled it and split it between 4 people. It was delicious.

It was also around $100.

I didn't tell you about it last night because we had no internet connection, which left us dazed and confused and looking at each other with "well now what do we do with our time?" looks. Chris suggested, as we sat on the couch together with our dueling laptops, that we at least network our two computers so we could play tic-tac-toe. On our laptops. On the couch.

I think our internet connection was down because I wore it out friday night - doing important things like searching for old Hogan's Heroes on youtube - until finally I was too tired to google and did my work. Eventually.

Friday, November 9, 2007

oh look, something shiny!

This is the problem with my charmed life: I work late because I spend my days doing delightfully dorky things with my kids. I also work on my computer most of the time, which is fine unless I'm under deadline. Like tonight. Because there's no place easier to get derailed than in front of a computer.

See? I'm writing this instead of working. Oh, and I'm also emailing because when you have a question late at night and you email someone, guess what? They're up being derailed, too. And the next thing you know you're blogging, emailing, IM-ing and googling lyrics for the song you just got stuck in your head. Oh, and working.

I don't usually blog in the middle of working, but tonight is an extra special night because I have A Lot To Do and it has to be done by tomorrow morning because there is a show opening and it cannot go on without me.*

And no, I didn't put it off until now. I've been working on this project for about a month. Very dedicated, I am. It's just NOW that I'm putting it off. Because, you know, there's a lot.

La la la.

Now I know I have some very organized readers out there and I'm probably giving them a nervous breakdown, so I'll stop and get back to work.

For a little while.

*okay it probably can. But it's best not to let the people I work for know that, right? Right then, back to work.

Perhaps you'd like to book some entertainment

Because I promote live music for one of my clients, I sometimes get emails like this:

Robert Matthew Van Winkle (born October 31, 1968), better known as Vanilla Ice, is a Grammy Award nominated, American Music Award winning American rapper and actor known mostly for the 1990 single "Ice Ice Baby."

He found major mainstream success, selling twenty million records worldwide.

Don't Hesitate! Book VANILLA ICE at your venue, TODAY!

What does it cost? $6600 and up, 3 rooms, one hot meal, production, backline (2 turn tables and drum kit), a vehicle rental buyout of $150.

Vanilla Ice travels by plane...no need to ask for routing dates.

  • Robert Matthew Van Winkle. Who knew?
  • Mostly for the 1990 single Ice Ice Baby?
  • Really, when it comes right down to it, we all just want a hot meal.
Love spam.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Medieval Times

Not far from Outdoor World was Medieval Times. Same structural bravado. Different gift shop.

My sister thinks it would be fun to go some night. You know, catch a little jousting, eat some turkey legs and throw the bones to the dogs. I think she's on her own on this one.

Because everyone has their thing, and Medieval character acting is not mine. For starters, the clothing looks uncomfortable. And I'm not so sure about the food. And I don't want to eat with just a knife. And my olde English is rusty.

Don't get me wrong - I like going to King Richards Faire. And I will always love my friends who are Medieval at Heart (just like I will always love my nephew, no matter how many musicals he appears in). I just don't have the house space and if I can't run out and buy all the accoutrements, why bother?

There's also the elf problem. Elves look like the Keebler Elf, right? Or do they look like Orlando Bloom? How can I be expected to recognize an elf - or know that I have Elf Ancestry - if I don't know if they are short and pudgy with cookie crumbs in their caps or tall and dreamy with no sense of humor but who cares? Medieval people need to work on some branding issues before I can get on board.

But this is the glorious thing about life, because I (no, wait, it's true!) have my own quirky things that I get all crazy about. Like croquet and the ballet and tea. And although I have no Asian Ancestry (or Asian Elf Ancestry, for that matter), I really loved hanging out at the Zen Monastery.

Seriously, the discomfort of a sweltering velvet gown with leg-o-mutton sleeves and itchy undergarments is nothing in comparison to what they do to you at a monastery. When I told you about it, I don't think I mentioned that they wake you up at 4am and make you sit completely still for, I don't know, hours before they feed you breakfast. I have been twice and would go back tomorrow if they'd let me take my kids (and teach them to sit completely still for hours). Oh, and they will whack you with a cane if you let them.

Some of my friends' husbands think I'm dorky (no, it's true). They think it's ludicrous to spend That Much Money to watch people sing, weep and then throw themselves from a tower. But then, I have never painted a team logo on my face.

See? We all have our thing. Have fun storming the castle.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

new furniture for the chickens

I had no idea a weekend away would provide me with so much ammunition.

My sister and I went from the sublime to the ridiculous - we stopped at the mall on our way to the airport. It took us about an hour to drive around the perimeter. And while doing so, we noticed a store (Outdoor World) that was roughly the size of our entire mall here on Merry Olde Cape Cod. Okay, so that's not saying much. But still, it was ridiculously huge.

It was so huge in its ridiculousness that we had to go inside.

There was a stone outcropping in the center of the store festooned with life size moose and a climber. Other animals too but I mostly noticed the moose and the climber for reasons of scale. There was a shooting range. And there was all manner of camouflage stuff. Including furniture.

I think camouflage is a popular pattern for things like upholstery and children's garments because I first noticed it at Children's Place. There was pink camouflage and beige camouflage. There were camouflage go-go boots.

Which is all lovely except that if there's something I'd like to be able to find, it's my kids. Also my cell phone, which is why I'm not getting the camouflage phone holster.

Which brings us back to Outdoor World. Oh come on, click the link - there's an awesome Flash slideshow.

I may be considered a trifle naive (maybe even dumb as rocks), but it took me a while to identify a heap of things in the store. Those little things you sit on that aren't lifeguard chairs because you're shooting at things, for instance. And the things that look like safes and are in fact safes but are for keeping your shotguns in.

This is not a store for people who name their chickens.

So I hope the people at the mall didn't mind me walking around and asking what things were and taking lots of pictures of things I have never seen in my life. As you all know, I don't get out much. And besides, people do that in my yard all the time.