‎"...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.