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

Sunday, June 29, 2008

animal husbandry

On his way out the door today Chris suggested we aim for some kind of sustainable agriculture here at the Towers, wherein we eat what we grow and also sell some of it. Statements like this are likely to win him the same fate as our beets, carrots, bibb lettuce and broccoli - which, shall we say, are no longer among the living.

"We'd need more room," I say.

"W...." he says. I interrupt him there because I know he's going to say "we're not really fully using the space we have" and I cannot bear to hear it again. I cannot bear to hear it again because I cannot bear to remind him, again, that our garden may as well be planted in a sandbox in the basement.

I also do not want to remind him that eating vegetables from our garden was the plan all along - despite the obvious decorative qualities of sun and soil deprived cabbage plants. These are the conversations in which I throw myself on the floor like a beached codfish and flop around in a why-do-I-bother? sort of way.

And then I go bumper boating, because is there anything better than bumper boats to clear the mind? I made the Snork Maiden go with us since she's never been before and also needs to bump some boats (don't take that the wrong way). On our way there I told her about the sustainable agriculture comment. She observed that if we had two vehicles instead of seven (plus a boat) we could maybe expand the garden to include the current parking spaces. And then she said "but you're already doing what Chris says he wants to do." We had just been eating snap peas by the fistful, and we gave her some surplus eggs. We are, in fact, eating what we grow and doling out the surplus. We're not selling the surplus, but it will come back to us in the form of someone else's surplus. Historically this has been freshly caught fish, baskets of zucchini (which I cannot grow to save my life), all manner of greens, berries, honey and assorted whatnot.

It could be argued that we get this bounty because of neighborly pity, but our garden is sheltered by daylilies so I think this is unlikely. How could they know what agricultural travesty lies within?

So in the end, Chris has been moved from beet status (dead vegetable walking) to Brussels sprout status (weirdly flourishing). And now I know to throw the term "sustainable agriculture" around when I want some kind of fancy lobster compost next spring.

Mmm, mmm, mmm, lobster compost.

Evolution of the Chia Pet

In plant news: apparently I put in some kind of heirloom sugar snap pea this year and the resulting pod looks more like a banana pepper than a pea. I thought I might have inadvertently sewn shelling peas, but then my gardening friend (who unwittingly purchased and planted the same peas) discovered that they are just super huge and super sweet. I would tell you what kind they are but I have no idea. Once seeds are planted around here they are as good as dead, so I discard all memorabilia promptly.

In more plant news, I made a recipe from that macrobiotic book. When I was flipping through it (trying not to flip out) I discovered recipes that are disconcertingly similar to recipes I already make. By that I mean make willingly, with ingredients I would eat willingly. I had everything on hand to make the avocado rice salad - except for shoyu. I don't have shoyu because I don't know what it is. I figured it was some kind of seaweed, since the rest of the recipe seemed to be devoid of seaweed. I flipped to the glossary where, lo and behold, I discovered it is soy sauce. In pig latin. Or maybe Japanese. Definitely Japanese, because I am fluent in pig latin.

Oy-say Auce-say.

And then we tried it and behold, it was very good. It was so good, in fact, that I offered it to my mother-in-law (who sometimes wonders what I am thinking). I offered her a choice of rice salad or chicken pot pie. She chose rice salad. And she liked it! She said many nice things about it - including that she didn't think she would like it.

But macrobiotics and I are simply not meant to be. This morning I took the rest of the salad and put a fried egg on it for breakfast. It rocked.

I won't mention this when I take my cooking class. In fact, I probably won't say much of anything at my class - although I am very excited about it. As much as I'm not sold on a macrobiotic diet, I'm pretty okay with the food. I'm also okay with ice cream.

Ice-yay Eam-cray.

Friday, June 27, 2008

eating chia pets

A new book arrived in the mail today, "The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics." I got it because a friend of mine invited me to take a macrobiotic cooking class with her, and then suggested I read this book ahead of time (so I would maybe stop asking stupid questions).

I still have no idea what macrobiotics are, but I did notice the quotes on the back of the book are from Gwyneth Paltrow's macrobiotic chef and Madonna's macrobiotic chef. So obviously what I need is not a book, it is a chef.

The best part of this cooking class thing is that it happens the day before my nephew comes for a visit. This is the nephew who is pretty sure we're feeding him catfood (it was lentils) and has not even heard of many of the things we eat. The first year he came out we prepared for the week as if it were an episode of Fear Factor.

I can't wait to serve him Millet Mashed "Potatoes" with Mushroom Gravy - or really anything in which one of the ingredients has quotes around it. Note to self, stay away from the "Flan."

Faux foods aside, I'm pleased to have this book on my shelf. It looks impressive and implies that I'm a hip chick. It also implies that I'm a hypocrite and a poser, but whatever.

You'll tell me if I have seaweed stuck in my teeth, yes?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

trouts on ice

Because it is June and because we live at the beach, we did what anyone in our position would do on a hot Tuesday afternoon. We went ice skating.

As Lucy explained to Studley on the way, "we're going ice skating because our house is too messy to have a play date at home." I'm hoping she said it because I'm always "augh! playdate! to your stations!" and not because she looked around and said to herself "there is no way I'm inviting a friend over."

So we show up at the rink to meet Giselle and Coppelia. I tell the nice man that we need some rentals, since the kids don't have skates and I'm pretty sure that my pair from the eighth grade were canned in a garage sale a decade or so ago. He hooks us up and waves away my wallet. I do not understand what he's up to right away, but figure it out before long. Hint: he's a pusher.

Lucy and I head gamely for the ice while Giselle follows along with Studley. I am chanting "brave for the kids, brave for the kids" inside my head as I clutch Lucy's hand. She is between me and the wall, with a ridiculously huge smile on her face. She is blissfully unaware that I am crushing her little hand.

Giselle, who is of course a graceful skater because she is good at everything, is following with Studley. Studley is having a fine time, tippity tapping his feet along the ice as she holds him up like an understuffed teddy bear. He will not stand up on his own because then she might let go. Studley may be many things, but stupid is not one of them.

Lucy makes her way around the rink with several adults and with little Coppelia. Coppelia is wearing a darling skating dress and carrying an American Girl doll which is also wearing a darling skating dress. Although Lucy is 100% fashionista, she fails to note this inequity (Lucy is wearing jeans, gloves, a fleece and a helmet).

When the rest of us have had enough (or, Studley has had enough and I feel it's important to validate his feelings of enoughness and also throw in the skates), Lucy is still at the edge of the rink - toying with going solo. I am not sure whether to tell her it's okay, or just watch and see if she goes. She puts a blade on the ice. She takes it off. On. Off. On. Off. And then she makes a heroic leap over the edge and inches her way around the end of the rink on her own steam.

Half way around she falls - splat! - but scrambles back to her feet before anyone really notices. We go meet her at the other side, where she emerges in a haze of euphoria. She begs for skating lessons. Oh what have we done.

On the way home the heavens open and we have another thunderstorm, at which point I remember that one of Lucy's friends is camping nearby for the week. I call the mom's cell phone and leave a message about our dryer being vacant and our livingroom being available. And then we pile inside, where I look around and yell "augh! playdate! to your stations!"

Friday, June 20, 2008

long shots

I was asked not very long ago to provide a headshot and bio for that music thingly I'm writing for. It was due that very instant, which implies that most people getting these calls already have such things put together and ready to email. Or else they make a phone call and someone else emails them.

I have neither a bio nor a personal assistant. Every once in a while when I go shopping in uber-snobby places I like to say "I'll send my girl by later" and leave my parcels. I then call half a dozen friends to find someone to go get my stuff. Usually it's something like a new nail file because, hello? who do you think I am shopping in these places?

But I can't call and get a friend to email a bio when I don't even have one, so write one I shall. I think it should start "Susan is the trophy wife of record mogul Chris vonTrout. They live in the palatial Trout Towers, where musicians come and go, artists congregate and tea is served promptly. " There will be no mention of chickens, bathroom fixtures in driveways or the SEVEN vehicles routinely parked in the environs. And it will not specify exactly what we mean by "promptly." Or "mogul." Or even "trophy" for that matter. Perhaps I mean it in the bowling trophy sense. Who'd know?

In fact it would simplify things greatly if I used this as my headshot. There just aren't that many acceptable photographs of me and I'm so sorry but a professional job is right straight out. I once failed to renew my license because I was too busy recreating myself for the photo. I am on the verge of doing it again with my passport.

The other bios and headshots in the paper/magazine thingly make the contributors look smart and hip and about 20. Yes, I have pictures of me looking smart and hip and about 20, except that in those pictures I am dressed like Cindy Lauper. That's what we did when I was 20. Back in the day.

I have a picture Lucy took of me that reminds me of this album cover. When I looked for the image just now I discovered a press release that said "It’s A Shame About Ray will be named Classic Album at the U.S. leg of the NME Awards." Which is awesome!

What's NME?

Ha ha! Kidding! I'm a music writer now so OF COURSE I know all about things like NME (and Google).

And speaking of being a music writer, I am working on another column because they are glutons for punishment. This one involves fashion and who better to ask about band fashion than David Lowery of Cracker? I figured it was a long shot because, well, I'm ME and he's HIM and he probably doesn't have a brain crush on me like I do him and seriously who would answer questions like "dude, WHERE DID YOU GET THAT JACKET?"

David Lowery, that's who. It's true! He answered me! And then I ran around the house, nay, the neighborhood, squealing like a 15 year old at a Rihanna concert.

Who's Rihanna?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Patron of the Arts

Today we helped Patron of the Arts celebrate his birthday. Because Patron is in need of nothing, Famous Artist (whose work covers several of Patron's walls) organized a We Love Patron party at his house.

We did things he hadn't gotten around to doing - washing his car, taking recycling to the dump, putting up a new mailbox, etc. Although we all have our own things we haven't gotten around to doing - I would list but might burst into tears - it was fun doing it for someone else. It was also fun being at his house while the other worker bees came and went. I thought it was pretty spiffy of Famous Artist to organize. I guess some people were afraid he might take it the wrong way, but honestly if someone said to me "I noticed you have (insert travesty here)" and offered to lend a hand, I'd be all over it. Unless it was my mother and then I would say WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY TRAVESTY?!? I LOVE THAT TRAVESTY.

Mom can't win.

I did fix a couple of my travesties today - specifically I put in two new beds near our deck/veranda/patio. Chris sometimes brings huge buckets of dirt the color of coffee grounds home from the dump. I don't trust it in my vegetable garden, but I figure what's the harm if the flowers mutate? So this is me putting in new beds: yank out tallest clumps of grass, heap gigantic pile of dirt on top of remaining grass, plant. Ta da! We'll see how it goes.

I planted sunflowers again this year. I bought some seeds and then found that they had been poured into one of the tomato peat pots, along with three other kinds of seeds. Thank you, Studley. I picked out the sunflower seeds and put them in a little plastic bowl for planting later.

So today I'm finally ready for them (yes, I'm late. Pipe down). I get the little plastic bowl out of the window and see that it is empty. I am pretty sure the seeds are in the vacuum. Chris, sensing a meltdown, asks if I'd like him to get them out of the vacuum. He's a saint.

Instead I go to the garden center and buy new sunflowers. And some cosmos. The clerk looks at the packets and, also sensing a meltdown, volunteers "oh, this is a great company! these seeds always come up in no time flat!" I refrain from kissing her, but just barely.

So now the garden center tally is something around eleventy hundred dollars and the only thing that seems to be thriving is the accursed Brussels sprouts. I have already presented the gift, they are welcome to die now.

Needless to say, Famous Artist did not set me to work in Patron's gardens.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

sprouts from sprouts

Happy Father's Day.

This morning we escorted Chris out to the garden, where we have been hiding his present for the last few weeks. We couldn't bring it in to him because it, unlike many of its friends and neighbors, is flourishing.

Lucy and Studley gave Chris Brussels sprouts for father's day.

Chris loves Brussels sprouts. I do not, but am willing to give them a try fresh out of the garden. They'll be delicious, right? I do love the way they look when the little sprouts start to grow. I would maybe play marbles with them or find a sling shot. "And that's the house that used to have a granite sink in the driveway. Now there's just a woman who sits on the porch firing Brussels sprouts at dog walkers."

I don't mind dog walkers, but nobody else gets within range.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


A couple years ago I found the perfect birthday present for my nephew: a gift certificate for a Kiva micro-loan. He's very interested in life in different countries and knows more world geography than most adults (I am, of course, speaking of myself). He's also interested in money.

He was underwhelmed.

To humor me, he found someone he wanted to fund and applied the gift certificate - and then all was silent on the subject. Until today.

Today he called to report that his loan had been paid back and he was going through the lists of people who had applied for loans. When a loan is paid back, you can either ask Kiva to send you the money or you can reinvest. My nephew is reinvesting. He is having the response I expected him to have two years ago - looking at all the countries people are from, reading the bios, deciding what kind of business he wants to support. I had figured that when the loan was repaid he would take the cash and go buy whatever he wished I had gotten him instead of a Kiva gift certificate.

I don't know what changed. But I do know there's an entrepreneur in Africa who has a teenager on his or her side. And that's got to be worth something.

Friday, June 13, 2008

snap peas

We have sugar snap peas! Ahead of schedule! Lucy wanted to go check, even though EVERYONE KNOWS you don't get peas around here until the fourth of July. That's how you know you planted them at the right time (says my mother-in-law). Snap peas on the fourth of July. I have always been very nervous about being able to produce snap peas at the appointed time, so this early harvest takes the edge off.

I also ate the first strawberry yesterday, when no one was looking. Chris wants to fill several more pots and fill them with strawberries now. Maybe so he can eventually have one.

Chris has also been busy in the yard. To wit: there is nary a granite sink in sight! Which is not to say that it is not somewhere in the vicinity of our driveway. You just have to look very hard to find it. I came home to find our little woodstove sitting alone in the middle of a raked clearing, just waiting for some chairs and some marshmallow skewers. It almost looks legitimate there - hardly at all like it was abandoned in that very spot when we discovered it was too unwieldy/fire hazardly to bring into the house. We owe this great yard transformation to one of those forwarded emails, specifically "you know you're a redneck if...." I think the line item "you have to mow around cars" hit a bit close to home. Entering the Jaguar in the Demolition Derby is looking better and better all the time.

Anyone want to sponsor him? I'll give you some snap peas....

Thursday, June 12, 2008

writers, musicians and marigolds

My kids are off to a good start with this year's beach day count. They have gone every day since Lucy finished school - that is if you include pond beaches. Which we do.

Today we went to Pilgrim Lake. There were very few people there, and since I never see anyone I know, I didn't even look at them. Usually they are renting nearby houses for a week or so, never to be seen again. I don't mean that in an "eaten by wild June Bugs" way, so much as in a "I can barely remember what I had for lunch, much less remember someone a year later" way.

So of course as I'm hauling my kids out of the water after 45 minutes of 5 minute warnings, I realize that I know one of the women sitting at the edge of the water. Not only do I know her, but I was thrilled recently to recognize her picture on the inside flap of this book. I like her very much and would be much friendlier if I could ever remember if she is Martha or Heather. They are twins and although they are easy to tell apart I can never remember which name goes with who (see reference to "what I had for lunch" above). The book is great and I was very pleased to be able to say I know the author - as if knowing someone who wrote a book and had it published somehow reflects favorably on me.

In other Famous People news, we had Howard Zinn's computer here at the house the other day, which is probably as close as I will ever come to having an intelligent conversation with him.

And in still other Famous People news Kami Lyle and Joey Spampinato not only came to Lucy's recital but asked to be invited again next year. I would say they were just being nice except for the fact that they stayed and paid attention FOR ALL THREE HOURS, which is more than I can say for myself. They are dreamy and who can help but love them? They are the sort of musicians that make other musicians open and close their mouths and turn shades of red when they meet them. I am obviously not a musician, as I have absolutely no trouble at all saying completely moronic things in front of them.

And in unrelated Famous People news, I ran into an acquaintance at the garden center today. I read her blog regularly - in which she pulls out her heart and says "here you go." It was kind of funny chatting with her, knowing (or feeling like I know) her as well as I do after reading what she's written. I didn't mention her blog, only admitted that I was busy replacing all the plants I had managed to kill in my garden.

Yes, I have killed a great deal of plants already and it is only mid June. Death toll includes 4 eggplants, countless tomatoes and a flat of cukes, not to mention the mixed greens, carrots and beets which were eaten, mercilessly and without so much as a souvenir stalk, by bugs.

I planted marigolds today. Take that, bugs.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

all that jazz

Back in May I forecasted the train-wreck potential of Lucy's upcoming recital. Nevertheless, I sent out an email to a few friends and may have casually mentioned it to a few more. No more than a couple hundred people total. Several people nodded and smiled and said they'd come. After all, it's Lucy's recital. What's cuter than a 5 year old with jazz hands, tap shoes and a patriotic hooker costume?

Then I went to the dress rehearsal. Half way through I started mentally composing a follow-up "save yourself" email. As people called to confirm the time and place I tried to gently dissuade them. It's a sunny beautiful day. It's right at dinner time. There will be lots of traffic.

The real reason is that the Awkward Factor of dancing teens* makes the The Office look like an episode of Masterpiece Theater.

And then today was upon us and we were too busy primping and preening to think of much more than "how does this hair net thing work?" Lucy wondered aloud why I sprayed pen remover in her hair (we don't use hairspray much around here, but keep it handy for when someone goes a little nuts with a Sharpie). And then it was showtime. Lucy, who is the consummate deer in headlights, got right in line and left me in the dressing room without a backward glance. She did not weep in the wings. She did not turn to a pillar of salt and refuse to move. I almost didn't recognize her.

One little girl was overheard saying "mommy, I just want to dance until I can't stand up anymore." I know Lucy feels the same way. I have absolutely no idea how the rest of the kids in her class did, because I couldn't take my eyes off the euphoric smile. Rarely, rarely, rarely have I seen her happier. Rarely have I been so glad that friends did not take my advice - it would have been a shame for them to miss her Yellow Polka Dot Bikini number.

She came home laden with an armload of flowers bigger than Studley. She would not let anyone else carry them until she realized they were going to knock her over. Honestly, I'm a little surprised she didn't try to tuck them in bed with her.

She is out cold now and I can only imagine what she must be dreaming of. Whatever it is, it's making her smile. I suspect it involves armloads of flowers.

*to be fair, dancing teens were MUCH better when it was the real thing. And Lucy's teen teacher/helper person danced so beautifully I watched her On Purpose.

Friday, June 6, 2008

the whipped cream diet

I love oxymorons and so I am very much in love with Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville. Without making it sound like I'm a repeat offender, I must confess to a certain fondness for the following sentence: "I'd like a diet sized sundae with coffee ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and pecans."

It's right there on the sundae menu. Diet size.

I would be a repeat offender except Four Seas is only open in the summer and so I cannot possibly go 365 days a year. I know it is only open in the summer because a couple years ago Sarah told me she had seen a mutual acquaintance there on opening day.

Because I had never been to Four Seas, I heard "I saw your friend Julie at 4Cs on opening day."

4Cs is Cape Cod Community College. I was just starting to get to know Sarah and I thought to myself sheesh, I should probably start using bigger words and reference scientific findings when I talk to her. Because who is first in line at Community College summer school? Then she tells me she was there with her kids and I go into a full-blown panic attack. I have to sign my kids up for some kind of acadamic brainiac camp? I was kind of thinking more along the lines of sailing lessons. But if her kids are going to summer college then my kids had better go too or else they'll never learn the periodic table in time for kindergarten.

I can't imagine what my side of the conversation sounded like to Sarah, as I tried to make her think that I too always hang out at 4Cs in the summer. You know, taking classes and stuff.

Four Seas is probably half an hour from my house (thus my ability to still fit through doors), so it wasn't until closing day last year that I finally had a chance to see what it was all about. And then I showed up on day two of this season. And day four. And today. And a couple times in between. But they're diet-sized sundaes so it's okay.

They make their own ice cream, and fudge sauce (all the other sauces too, I suppose), and whipped cream. The pecans are salted, which reminds me of childhood sundaes at Brigham's (Bananafananas, specifically). I don't tend to be one of those my-mother-makes-the-best-meatloaf nostalgic eaters until it comes to salted pecans on my sundaes.

And aesthetically, you can't find a better summer ice cream hang-out. It is straight out of a movie - with hand-written flavors, sloping floors and the world's smallest restroom. It is so authentic it should be transported shingle-by-shingle to a museum in China.

But not yet.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

house beautiful

A week or so ago I had this amazing day, most of which I spent at other people's houses. First of all, I love other people's houses. I love how different they all are and I get a kick out of trying to figure out how the houses relate to the people who inhabit them. Also, I love how they illustrate the huge variety of lifestyles and cultures found here on a fairly narrow spit of land.

I spent the afernoon in Chatham in a friend's dream home. She had it built for herself and her family and it is everything she wanted. We sat on the patio and watched the kids frolic in the garden. We moved inside and chatted about literature in the drawing room. We drank tea and had a perfectly civilized and relaxing afternoon. So foreign.

There's something cool and light about her home. If I described it properly you could lift the whole description and plagiarize it in a perfume ad. "Sparkling. Refreshing. Vibrant. A (house) that lingers in your senses for hours." Okay, that's Estee Lauder's White Linen, but you get the idea.

There was a little part of me that kept trying to think oh no she's been to my house! She knows how I live! SHE KNOWS ABOUT THE CHICKENS! But it was like trying to wake from a deep sleep and I kept slipping back into the comforts of a gracious home, figuring it just wasn't worth the effort.

And then I went to Wellfleet and had dinner at a cottage which was just being opened for the season. It had SWEEPING panoramic views of the Atlantic and was completely perfect in every way - and yet it had nothing in common with the house in Chatham.

House in Chatham: manicured lawn
Cottage in Wellfleet: beach grass and sand
House in Chatham: richly painted walls with matching outlets and crisp linen curtains
Cottage in Wellfleet: Wood paneling - no drywall, no curtains to block view.

And here's another thing: although the houses were both perfect, if the people who lived there were snobby, pompous, vile, vain or just plain ewky the houses wouldn't have had any appeal whatsoever.

Obviously that's not the case, and both homeowners are likely to find me having my coffee on their patio/deck when they wake up some morning. After all, they both told me to make myself at home.