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

Saturday, March 29, 2008

livestock

Unpleasant things I have done today:
Clean cat barf off of Lucy's precious Project Pile.
Remove a very very dead mouse from downstairs.

Under normal circumstances I would have scooped up the top strata of project pile (a heap of cut papers, doilies, stickers and whatnot) and thrown it all away, except I promised Lucy I would not move a single thing when she went to bed. So I had to make it look as though nothing had happened. Vile.

And although the dead mouse was not even mine, it is unthinkable to make one's pregnant niece handle deceased vermin. Although now that I think of it, since the causative cat was hers before he was ours, both the mouse and the barf are hers. I do believe she owes me. And I would call her on it if it weren't for the

Pleasant things I have done today:
Go to a wedding.
Pack off my children to visit my cousins' farm while I was at said wedding.

The first several weddings I remember going to were big formal affairs which were really just thinly veiled networking opportunities for the fathers of the brides. The last several weddings I've been to, however, have been completely different. Today, for instance, I had the distinct impression that I was invited on purpose. Which is good, because I had to drive across the whole freaking state to get there.

I got a little misty when I saw where the ceremony was going to take place: in an atrium, with clusters of armchairs, loveseats and sidechairs lined up around a trellis. And then the couple's oldest son walked down the aisle and I started to snivel. He's Lucy's first ever best friend (she does not remember since they moved away when she was two, but I still hold him near and dear). And then my friend appeared and, kid you not, she looked like a Disney princess. Good thing I remembered to pack a hankie.

Meanwhile, my kids were on their way over to the next town to visit my aunt and uncle (who are actually my cousins.* Here we go again with the familial vagaries). Lucy says if I give my aunt my vidalia onion dip recipe maybe she will tell me how to make corn pie. Lucy also denied seeing any cows, but reported the presence of "heifers." She tells me they were fuzzy. And there was a bull, too, but she didn't recognize that either because one time she asked me what a bull was and I made something up and told her they could maybe be black or brown. This one was white with black, and so could not possibly be a bull. Again, we are not homeschooling.

Bulls can be white with black. Cows can be fuzzy. It's a lesson in agriculture by golly.

Meanwhile, back at the wedding, I am watching a couple who has been together for seven years and had two kids together practically skip down the aisle. Honestly? There were times when I wasn't sure it was a good idea. She is earnest, kind-hearted and gullible. He's a prankster and would mess with her mercilessly. In fact, he messed with everyone. There was that time when I first visited their new home and he offered to drive in front of me so I could find my way back to the highway. I was sure I'd be escorted to the Canadian border. I think I was only safe because I thought of it first.

Here's what I have learned about my friend's husband:
He can make it through an entire set of wedding vows without cracking a joke but he cannot do it without crying.
He can be trusted with a small piece of wedding cake aimed at his wife.

After my kids had eaten Key Lime pie at the farm and I had finished up my wedding cake, we reconvened so Lucy could say hi to her friend (blank stares from both of them) and oggle the bride (stunned speechless).

I was chatting on the phone on our way home and mentioned the bit about the bride looking like a princess. From the backseat, Lucy said "she did not. She was prettier."

It's true.

* I mean this in the "people we call aunt and uncle who aren't actually aunts and uncles" sense, not in the "my aunt and uncle are also my cousins" sense.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

tourists

Brighton is in Hawaii this week, but it does not seem to be stopping her from calling and gloating. They did an 18 mile bike ride down the side of a volcano, watched a sunrise, blah blah blah.

I was too busy rolling my eyes to listen to what she was telling me, until she got to the snorkeling part. She says she doesn't like swimming very much and she got a bit tired on the first day. So she went and bought herself a pink inflatable raft. Her plan is to paddle about on the raft and stick her head in the water whenever her kids find something worth looking at.

Classic.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

relatives

I was downstairs chatting with Heather when she looked out the window and said "someone thinks they are coming here." So we stood at the sliding glass door, arms crossed, scowling and looking out at the people emerging from a car parked on the street - as if they couldn't see us.

"I'm not expecting anyone," she says. "Must be yours."

I squint at them. "Too young," I say. "Not mine."

I think maybe they're Jehovah's Witness because my mother-in-law has earned the house a reputation as an easy target. But they are holding hands which somehow seems incongruous.

I squint some more and discover a) they are watching us watch them and are smiling hopefully and b) it is Chris' cousin's daughter (there's an actual word for that but I can't be bothered to look it up), and her boyfriend. They are in culinary school and have just arrived for a 6 month internship at Chatham Bars Inn. She is a pastry chef and he's a main course guy. You know, savory.

Heather bails, leaving her cousin with the only person not related to her in any way, shape or form. That would be me.

But she's a pastry chef for heaven's sake, so I am nice. I know where my brioche is buttered.

I try to keep them in the downstairs livingroom because no one actually uses it and it is relatively free from random piles of socks. And then Studley saunters up and says nonchalantly "something's smelly in here." He will be great on a school bus in a few years.

So we move upstairs, where I keep the diapers and where I have to move random piles of socks and Tinkerbell costumes so we all may sit. I suppose if they're going to be here all summer it is high time they knew how we really live.

There is a possibility they will get to know us this summer - despite our fickle and seemingly anti-social behavior - because she has figured out how to get to our house and doesn't seem afraid to do so. Really, how many college-aged people do you know who seek out relatives without some kind of cash bribe from her parents? I was certainly not one.

We had some quasi-relatives in Brattleboro, VT when I was growing up. I've been thinking about them a lot lately because I have such great memories of their house and it is just now occurring to me that there was more to them than met the eye. They were all (aunt, uncle and 3 boys) interested in things which I am finally getting around to being interested in. When I think about them now, they are all people I would like to hang out with. Voluntarily.

At the time I fear I was snotty and dismissive - which I blame on the summer heat and the impression I was given (by the Boston part of my family) that Brattleboro was the Uber Boonies. It's called "Brattleboro," for crying out loud. Still, I wish I had found out more about who they were. And I wish I had gone to visit when I first moved east - you know, back when everyone was still alive. Because that's the catch. People just don't stay alive forever.

In this great age of information I could probably track down my not-actually-cousins and see how they're doing and get the scoop. But I've developed this little story of who they are based on slivers of memory and honestly, I'm not sure which version I'll like better.

So maybe I'll just spend the summer getting to know the new not-actually-my-cousins and see how it goes. Hopefully they'll cook for me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter

I have always been puzzled by Easter. There's a giant rabbit, the risen Christ and a spiral cut ham thrown in for good measure. For the life of me I just can't get them to add up. Maybe because I didn't grow up celebrating Easter and I don't know how to do it properly, or maybe because it really doesn't make sense.

But today I discovered the true meaning of Easter and it has to do with Sorrel Flan.

We went to a friend's house, where my children hunted for Easter eggs with the throng. I was worried about Lucy because she was so concerned about Studley not finding eggs that she wasn't getting any of her own. "Ditch him!" I shouted. "He's slowing you down!" She did finally get into the spirit and, although she didn't throw elbows or hip check anyone into a gorse bush, she did reign triumphant and score the Giant Egg Trophy. That's my girl.

And then we were fed. Part of my lack of enthusiasm about Easter has been my lack of enthusiasm for Easter fare. I am not usually a ham eater, thanks to Charlotte's Web. Today I ate a very large portion of sorrel flan, accompanied by whatever seemed like a good vehicle for pomegranate glaze (I heard about the glaze beforehand and was afraid I'd have to have some alone time with the ham so I could scrape off all the glaze and consume it in a dark corner. Fortunately it was served in a gravy boat). I also had a small piece of Wilbur. As Charlotte would say, "Some Pig!"

Suffice it to say, I am now a fan of Easter fare.

After dinner we had the egg cracking contest. Do other people do this or are my friends stranger than I suspected? We took our hardboiled eggs (which served as our place cards) and smashed them end-to-end against other people's eggs to find the person with the toughest eggshell. I think the same rules apply as those used in major league hockey.

There was a moment during dinner when I thought I was going to be outed. Topics turned theological and I couldn't keep up - although those art history classes are still serving me well. I listened a lot and prepared my "I married into an Episcopalian family" speech in case anyone asked. It's not that I don't like theological discussions, I was just afraid I'd be denied cheesecake if I didn't measure up. And I didn't want to be answering a lot of questions between bites of hollandaise-covered asparagus

So here's what I understand:
Once upon a time there was a risen Christ. He hadn't eaten in days and asked some of his friends to have breakfast with him. They were fishermen, so they had spiral cut ham and hardboiled eggs. The rabbit symbolizes the loaves and fishes, because there are so darn many of them. I think maybe people should take the fish symbols off their cars and replace them with rabbits. It would be harder for the Darwinists to mess with.

Do Darwinists celebrate Easter?

Happy Easter to all my Christian, Pagan, Darwin friends. May you have sorrel flan.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Saturday morning

When Lucy was a baby I would get up at the shriek of dawn to go walk with my neighbor. I still had close to an hour to myself when I got back and I took to reading Proust. It was the most decadent thing I could manage. I probably only read two or three pages each morning but they were rich and gratifying. I think Proust is probably the truffle oil of literature.

I read Proust because no one else here really cared about it and no one else was around to influence me at that wee hour. It was a little piece of my former self I was able to resurrect.

I'm thinking of this right now because I happen to be awake when no one else is. It's an Easter-Eve miracle. The sun is coming up and turning the trees pink. The house is quiet - it's just me and my tea.

Having this peace at the beginning of the day is somehow different from the night. At night I'm still processing all the things that have been coming at me, and getting the laundry done. For some reason having an errant morning alone feels like comp time.

This morning I am not reading Proust. I'm just watching the light change outside and observing a handful of birds going about their day. I hear rustling in the next room and soon I will have one or two sleepy, snugly, small people in my lap. And then our day will start.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

hospital food

I took a friend to the emergency room at Cape Cod Hospital last night. No, it had nothing to do with my cooking.

We get out of the car and she's all "must get inside....."
And I'm all "look! A SHELL!"

Seriously, how many places can you find an intact mussel shell in a hospital parking lot?


Friend is fine, by the way.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

alternative conversations

Today we went to an Easter egg decorating party at Lucy's friend's house. Her house is of the American Dream variety - with rooms straight out of Crate and Barrel. The kids even have their own rooms. Unbelievable.

I took a hostess gift, since I have several hostess gifts boiled up and ready to go these days. I gave them a couple sage green eggs from our very own Easter Chicken. This is a self-serving hostess gift because as the afternoon wears on and I have no idea what the other mothers are talking about they can surmise that I am Amish. Honestly? I'm starting to think they may be right.

Anyway, so there I am in the kitchen and Emily's dad mentions that he was out of town yesterday. I think this is my segue into a full on account of the times my own husband was out of town and how famous the person is with whom he travels. So I say "oh, what were you doing?" and prepare for "because my husband's been touring with a famous folksinger, don't you know." But the dad said he was checking out a biodiesel plant and I was instantly derailed.

The only people I know who talk about biodiesel live in yurts, not American Dream Houses. It makes sense to him on a commercial level and an environmental level and he's just concerned about how to manage it politically. Anyone familiar with Cape Wind knows that weening oneself from coal is not politically simple.

At one point after the party, I wondered if I had just gotten punked - as in "here comes the chicken whisperer, make up something about alternative energy."

It's possible, but I still had a good time and also learned me a thing or two about the production of biodiesel. At one point he referred to a company's "first legal batch," which made me giggle. Biodiesel, the new moonshine. I was suddenly glad Chris was not at the party because I could just see him building a biodiesel still in a hollow tree somewhere behind the house. Which is just what we need.

Do Amish people have biodiesel stills?

Sweet Home Alabama

I tried to resist posting this video, but finally gave up, in hopes that someone else will get the song stuck in their head and I can stop humming it. It is the Finnish rock band Leningrad Cowboys with the Red Army Choir (the real Red Army Choir - balalaikas and all) performing Sweet Home Alabama. It is currently my most favorite thing ever.



Thanks to Swainer for this one.

Friday, March 14, 2008

professional as always

This morning as I watched a car pull up the driveway at 8:30 I said the phrase which has become my mantra lately: "oops, oh well."

I tightened my bathrobe around my pajamas and went down to meet my boss and give him the printers I had picked up for him yesterday. 8:30 didn't seem like that early when we talked about it last night. And I had been up for hours - I just forgot to get dressed. Fortunately my job description does not include "must at least get dressed when working from home."

Today is the first real spring day we've had. I just went to get a fistful of dirt from the garden and realized that I did not freeze when I walked outside. I needed a fistful of dirt because when I transplanted the parsley out of my garden last week I hadn't done (surprise!) a very good job and noticed that the dirt sort of fell away from the plant when I watered it. I think plants, even hardy ones that make it through the winter in an otherwise deceased garden, like to have dirt around their roots. It's a privacy thing.

I transplanted it as a rescue mission since soon, soon, soon the chickens will be transplanted into the garden so they can eat all the bugs and scratch up the dirt so I don't have to. By that I mean I don't have to rake up the dirt, not eat the bugs.

After patting the dirt into my parsley pot, I took a cup of tea outside and sat in the sun on the porch listening to the cacophony of bird calls. Boy are they chatty. Is it my imagination or do woodpeckers do a call and response thing with their tapping? There were two woodpeckers pecking away - first one, then the other. Their trees were tuned differently, so one bird hit the high notes while the other worked the lower range. Together they sounded like someone snoring very, very loudly.

Oh I love spring. I love the way the sun feels when it's just getting strong enough to warm you even though there's still a chill in the air. It makes me want to curl up like a cat in a bright spot.

I do not love that we may have snow on Sunday.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

guitars


Sometimes I wake to find things piled up in my livingroom.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

just like the potatoes

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver writes "(potatoes) have a built-in rest period that is calendar-neutral, and until it's over the tubers won't sprout, period."

I think we're in a "built-in rest period" here at the Towers.

I realized the other day that my children can't be more than 5 feet away from me at any given time. This is not my idea. When I think they are busy and distracted I quietly leave the room to accomplish some task elsewhere in the house. Within 30 seconds I have two children next to me. And that made me realize that we have been wanting something that would do us (and our children) no good whatsoever.

The main complaint about having so many people living in one house is the inability to spread out. We've long discussed the necessity of moving the kids into a real room instead of keeping them in the wide spot in the hall they have always called home. This would mean they'd have space for toys and we might get something resembling a living room back. The problem is, they probably wouldn't spend any time in their room(s). They would still be sitting right on top of my head, leaving trails of toys in their wake.

Like the potatoes, my kids know when it's time to move. And this knowledge is connected to some (dare I say) divine plan. There is just not a dang thing we can do to shift the schedule of what is (without chemical treatment and genetic engineering). They will know when it is time to expand the range to, say, ten feet. And this will correspond to other seemingly unrelated activities and the accompanying growth/change/evolution. These are not unrelated after all: they are all part of one great clock-work whole.

Signs of spring are popping up all over outside and although it may not coincide with the evolution going on inside our walls, spring is a welcome reminder that everything is right on schedule. The flowers do always bloom. The tubers will get their wake-up call. And the beds will be ready.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Spring Ahead

Here's what's funny: to the extremely untrained eye, it looks like we have some sort of agricultural tendencies. We have chickens. We grow vegetables. The whole family spent the day rooting around in the garden trying to figure out what's what - it looks very industrious from the road, all that rooting around. It is very misleading.

We have absolutely no idea what we're doing. We have chickens because you can buy baby chicks without passing any sort of aptitude test. There are no applications and no home visits by chicken mentors. Fortunately there are books. And friends. And the internet. By some fluke we discovered that you have to keep them inside under a heat lamp for the first month. I shudder to think of what those birds have narrowly escaped while in our care. By that I mean the ones who were not eaten by a fox.

And on that note, let's move on to vegetables.

When I was in Denver I had biological clock pangs. I got a tiny box filled with dirt, pre-planted with herb seeds. I put it on my windowsill, watered it and waited for my kitchen garden to appear. Soon I had basil, cilantro, parsley and dill. I transplanted them, loved them, and ate them. But I knew the city was no place to raise a garden and started getting fidgety. After all, I couldn't wait forever for the real thing. I ended things with the man I was seeing - I wanted a garden, maybe two, and nothing could persuade him to have one with me. I came east alone.

A few years later I married into an instant garden. My mother-in-law is possibly a reincarnated chrysanthemum. She definitely has an insider's view into the soul of the average house plant. She's also handy with tomatoes and who knows what else. When she offered me her dormant garden I accepted it with mixed emotions. My trepidation was eased by the fact that she was legally blind and would maybe not guess that the vegetables were coming from the farmer's market.

The learning curve has been vertical - and still has a long way to go. There are some things that seem to be common sense, but much of it is learned on the fly. And we do things a little differently around here because a) it's us and we're not right in the head and b) we just don't know any better. Which is why we have even more raised beds that radiate in concentric circles from an arbitrary point in the lawn.

So why all this introspection? I'm reading that blasted book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and it is making me insanely eager to grow most if not all of the vegetables my family will eat this year. I have my jars lined up for canning. I have the pages folded in my seed catalogs. I just have to try to stop killing things before they are ready to eat.

And I need to find a pineapple that grows in zone 7.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mrs. Dash

Just as things were starting to go fairly smoothly in dance class, we are introduced to character dancing. I am not good at character. Our teacher says, "you've got the steps, now add your own spice!"

Spice? I am a New Englander. We poach things in milk.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thursday, March 6, 2008

reading

Every once in a while I go to Lucy's school to listen to children read. It is penance for something terribly wrong I did in a previous life. There is no other explanation.

I am pretty well equipped for this because I did once teach - but they were adults and therefore rational, so in truth I am very poorly equipped for this. Granted, I did learn about different learning styles when I taught adults, and that information is serving me well.

I learned that different people learn best in different surroundings. Some people do well if they are installed in a sensory deprivation tank, while others will happily do algorithm thingies in a nightclub. I remember that learning styles are visual, auditory or tactile, which simply means that some people learn by watching you do it, some learn by hearing it done, and others learn by bouncing around the room on a hippity hop while singing BeeGees songs and ignoring you completely.

I had a few of each today.

Sometimes the kids cheat. They look at the page and, because they have read the book before, they say "Tad fell asleep" instead of "Tad had a nap." I help them sound out the words : h-a-d. And then they say "h-a-d. Fell. Asleep."

And I say "you are four years old, child! Focus!" Because obviously they are just not paying attention. I know they are not paying attention because I'm not either. I'm not positive about this but I think sometimes the kids notice a certain "milk, butter, eggs, pick up drycleaning" look on an adult's face and just start saying random words and turning pages while we nod and say "right. good." And I realize I'm not paying attention and I try, I really do try, to do better. So then I listen to someone take 45 minutes trying to sound out "hat" and I have to physically stop my self from flinging my body on the floor.

And then there are the kids who read pretty fluently but give me a workout while they're doing it because as they read they are scooting their chairs around the room and I am having to scurry to stay within earshot. And there are the kids who I am sure are about to wet their pants because they are doing The Dance, except that the dance progresses from simple wiggling to rotating completely in the chair until they are upside down and under the chair. They are agile readers, those kids. Also, their books are wiggling and bouncing and flipping around as they read, so obviously these children are not prone to motion sickness. I have no idea if they are reading the words in the book or not as I am prone to motion sickness and cannot bear to watch.

I made a point of reading with the little boy Lucy seems to like. He is handsome and quiet and good at math and I am afraid I can't condone the match. Lucy is also good at math and I was really hoping for someone who would round out her art and literature side.

Her other friend could not remember that Pat on page one was still pronounced Pat on page two. And page three. And five. And nineteen. When he did finally get through his reading assignment he thanked me, adjusted his safety glasses, buttoned his lab coat and went to check on his bunsen burners to continue his search for a reliable cure for phonics.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I am in the middle of reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and can barely be bothered to feed and clothe myself, much less keep up with world affairs and the reporting of what I had for breakfast. I'll be back soon (unless there's a sequel).

Saturday, March 1, 2008

journalism

The snowdrops are up! Birds are starting to sing and not just in a metaphorical "the darkest hour is before the dawn" sense. Literal birds are starting to literally sing, which is annoying when you are trying to sleep.

So Chris is off with Patty again, just for a day trip this time. Nevertheless, Chris will be sitting in a car with a famous person for a few hours today which means it's almost like I'm sitting in a car with a famous person and so I asked him to ask her some important questions about her fame. Specifically, has she ever played in Athens, GA, and if so, has she eaten at The Grit?

It is abundantly obvious that I should be writing for music magazines because I have piles of insider information and I ask those interview questions that everyone really wants to know about. I would also maybe ask her where she got her coat.

It's only a recent development, this wanting to write for music magazines thing. For years I thought I should be writing for art magazines. I know plenty of artists, some of which are in museums. Or should be in museums. Or went to a museum once on a school field trip.

Just last night, for instance, I discovered I know a famous artist. Nancy Craig had mentioned she was having a show at Provincetown Art Association Museum, and I decided it would be a nice gesture to show up and support her. I was also curious about what kind of painting she did. That's the thing with artists one knows. Sometimes the artwork's completely mind-boggling. Sometimes it's a train wreck.

So I went to the opening, saw Nancy, and had absolutely no idea what to say to her. Because one can't say "wow, this is so not a train wreck." A mutual friend was standing with me as I searched for words and she spoke with great feeling about one of the portraits and the lyrical qualities of the troubadouristic evolution in luminous romantic captitalism or some such something. I don't know what she said as she lost me at "lyrical."

You would think that knowing artists translates into knowing about art. Or sounding like I know about art. It does not.

Which brings me to a little tidbit about my writing style. I have often been told that my writing sounds just like how I talk. I am told this almost as often as I am told that I look like Rachel Griffiths. I have never been told my writing sounds like Rachel Griffiths.

So back to writing about art. I like art, I like artists, I like art magazines. Art magazines are full of big words and footnotes. I have absolutely no idea how people write like that. You see, the problem with my writing voice sounding so much like my regular voice is that neither of them sound very smart.

Therefore, instead of writing for art and music magazines, I devote myself to the blog. Is there any higher calling?

I will try to find out for you where Patty Larkin got her coat.