Saturday, April 30, 2005
I've loved Janis since before I can remember, maybe since I was ten? eight? But this isn't about loving Janis; this is about loving Scars of Sweet Paradise, Alice Echols' brilliant biography of Janis. Echols is a feminist social historian who also wrote Daring to be Bad, a history of radical feminism in the 60s and 70s. In Scars of Sweet Paradise, she situates the complicated joys and tragedies of Janis's short life geographically, historically, and musically. She describes what it was like to grow up "ugly,"resisting the dicates of conventional femininity in 1950's small-town Texas. She takes Janis and San Francisco from the decline of the Beats through the rise of the hippies, from speed to heroin, from blues to rock and roll, with lots of sex along the way. In its careful attention to context and character, the book is a model of social history and biography, and it's a great read too. It's the kind of book that I read and wish I'd written.
So, today's advice is to go listen to some Janis and read Scars of Sweet Paradise. You'll be the better for it.
Friday, April 29, 2005
Is Red State Capital City Suburb the only remaining bastion of childhood freedom? From April to November, you can't walk down the street without seeing packs of kids on bicycles racing through the neighborhood. Middle-school girls saunter down the sidewalks, giggling and gossiping in their newly-achieved big girl freedom. The backyards are full of kids poking at dirt, picking dandelions, throwing balls. As soon as it's warm enough, M and E are outside every minute they can be--scootering, chalking, hula hooping, skipping. OK, those aren't very nature-centered activities, but they take place out there in nature. And they do the dirt-poking and dandelion-picking too (especially when S agrees to pay them a penny a dandelion).
Am I imagining it all? Are we that unique? Or is this yet another example of the Times grandiosely generalizing from a bunch of upper-middle-class coastal-big-city suburbanites?
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Last night, she got home from swim practice and immediately sat on the couch to read her book. But when you get home from swim practice at 8:15, your task is to go straight into the kitchen for snack, and we do not read during snack (a rule instituted after many prolonged bedtimes due to reading during snack). I--being cranky mom at the end of my rope who had already had to call her half a dozen times for homework and then for dinner--yelled. Then I announced that I wasn't going to deal with her anymore. Luckily S was home to deal with her. He took the book out of her hands and sent her straight into the kitchen for snack.
After eating snack, your task is to go straight upstairs and take your shower. I went upstairs first, and she arrived moments later, WITH THE BOOK IN HER HAND. Did she read walking up the stairs? I think perhaps she did. Was she planning to read in the shower? I think perhaps she was. Did I tell her she could not read and why on earth had she gotten the book? I'm quite sure I did.
But then she gave me a big hug and cried "But the book is soooo gooood!" and my heart melted. I told her I really did know how she felt and I just wanted to read my book too. So we decided that she would take her shower as quick as she could while I read my book in the bathroom, and then, instead of reading a bedtime book aloud (having gotten bored with Jo's Boys, we are between bedtime books), we would snuggle up in her bed and both read our books. So we did. And now we are friends again.
Until the next time.
[We also decided that sometime soon we are going to go out, just the two of us, and have a reading day, just sit in a cafe all day and read. And, M insists, go out to lunch.]
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
I lose all my autonomy and objectivity, however, when it comes to spa treatments. I know that hot baths and pampering will not cure what ails me (I once read a great article about the absurdity of "take a hot bath" as the omnibus advice for women, but I have no idea where I read it--Bitch, maybe?--so, alas, no link). I know that seaweed wraps and hot stone massages have no real physical or emotional benefits, and their purveyors are just looking for innovative ways to take my money. I know that every women is beautiful, just as she is, in her own way. I know all that.
But they just feel so good.
Yes, I'm a total sucker for soaks, steams, wraps, rubs, really just about anything some woman in a white jacket or tight t-shirt wants to do to my body.
When we lived in Berkeley, K's and my favorite treat was a daytrip to Indian Springs, one of the oldest spas in Calistoga, home of the famed mineral springs and mud baths. It's an old-fashioned kind of place, almost Victorian, where you have your mudbath in a rectangular cement tub like a horse trough, then soak in a clawfoot tub filled with hot mineral water, sipping cold mineral water with cucumber and orange slices. Then they wrap you in a big flannel bathsheet and take you to a white panelled room, like a cabana in an old beach resort, where you lie down with more flannel sheets on top of you and more cucumber slices on your eyes (that's M and E's favorite part of the story). If you want, you can have a massage after that, and sometimes we did, but just lying under those flannel sheets was perhaps the most relaxed state I have ever experienced in my life.
If K called me right now and said she had plane tickets and spa reservations, I'd be out of here in a split second.
Anyway, I thought about spa treatments this morning, as I scraped dead skin off my shoulders with my fingernails. Not even a loofah or pumice, for god's sake. It's the end of winter and I am a flaky, dry, tired, stiff mess. I know I could just go buy a loofah and a pumice, pour some olive oil in my bath, slather myself with Lubriderm, and make S give me a backrub. But though that might take care of the problems, it just wouldn't be the same.
There are fancy spas in Red State Capital City, but they're not Indian Springs. And I'm not enough of a spa dupe to pay their ridiculous prices. So I won't be getting a day package any time soon. Maybe this weekend, though, I'll spring for a pedicure. Because after all, I'm a hardworking woman, and I deserve it!
Monday, April 25, 2005
Besides, I'm sure that both grandmothers (and perhaps the aunt) (and maybe K) will truly appreciate the news that not only did E try matzoh brei, but SHE LIKED IT. (Of course, as we explained it to her, and as she now points out each time she asks for it, it's just matzoh, which she also tried and liked, combined with scrambled eggs, which she already likes, plus she can eat it with maple syrup.) (No, mom, I do not eat it with maple syrup, for that is a desecration, but alas, they have a father, not just a mother, and, as we all know, he can be a bad influence.)
Maybe the rest of you will appreciate my grandmother's recipe for matzoh brei, modified, like every recipe in the Becca-S-M-E household, to include lots of BUTTER:
For every person eating, you need one sheet of matzoh and one egg (so in our house, that means 4 matzohs and 4 eggs).
Run each piece of matzoh quickly under hot running water on both sides.
Shake off the water.
Break the matzoh in half, and then in half again, and then again, so basically you have jagged matzoh pieces about 2" square.
Put in a bowl and cover with milk to soak for a few minutes.
Meanwhile beat your eggs and add salt. More salt than you think you should add.
Melt a big chunk of butter in a big frying pan over a medium flame.
Drain the milk from the matzoh (we pour it into a jar to use again the next day), pour the eggs over the matzoh, and mix quickly so that there is egg everywhere.
Pour egg/matzoh mixture into the frying pan filled with sizzling butter, spread out matzoh pieces amongst egg, and let sit like a giant pancake.
When egg mixture is set and starting to brown on the bottom, break into big pieces and flip over.
When it is starting to brown on the other side, break up into smaller pieces and toss around in the frying pan till it is dry and cooked.
If you are a philistine, pour maple syrup on it.
If you are a civilized person forced to live with philistines, berate philistines for pouring maple syrup on it.
Sunday, April 24, 2005
First you make the meringue crust: whip an egg white, beat in sugar, sift in cocoa, add a drop of vinegar, and beat a bit more. Spread over the bottom of the pan and bake. No problem. The chocolate truffle filling was also no problem: melt those 14 ounces of chocolate with some rum and light corn syrup, then mix with the cream which you've already beaten till it's thick. Pour over the crust and refrigerate. That's it.
After all that sedering, we had to remind ourselves about dessert. There had been some blessings, a lot of children explaining what things mean with varying degrees of accuracy, much harassing of J the putative seder leader, a big bowl of baby carrots consumed by E, and a Passover play with a strikingly knowledgeable M as narrator, E as Miriam carefully snuggling the baby Moses, N as both Pharoah and the burning bush, C as Pharoah's daughter, the other E as a very hardworking Jewish slave, and A as a rambunctious grownup Moses.
There had been parsley, horseradish, and charoset, then gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, brisket, salmon, potatoes, and asparagus. The children had found the afikoman, negotiated (poor E settled for 12 cents early on, but luckily was included in the final group settlement of one Susan B. Anthony dollar and two Sacajaweas), and disappeared.
The adults were sitting around arguing about politics and admiring the impeccably-behaved baby on his first social engagement, when we realized that we should be having dessert. S plated the cake, dusting it with cocoa and powdered sugar, and it inspired oohs and ahs before it was even cut. We served it with fruit, and it was simply delicious: a dense but not overwhelming slab of softened chocolate that just made you want to eat more. The only problem was that the meringue crust had disappeared, which didn't surprise me as I'd used a 9 1/2" pan instead of the suggested 8", and it had been spread pretty thin. If (when) I make it again, I'll either double the meringue, or leave it out altogether.
Everyone thought it was great. J says it's #1, putting Chocolate Guinness Cake into second place. I think they are both delicious but fulfill different chocolate cake needs, though please don't ask me to pinpoint those needs--I'll know them when I have them.
[And in weather news, after intermittent rain, wind, and wet semi-snow all day yesterday, we now have an inch of snow and more coming down. I guess pink-blossomed trees frosted with snow are pretty. I guess.]
Saturday, April 23, 2005
She's interested and excited, though, and trying to wrap her head around what Passover means. The other day M read her My Very Own Haggadah, which she now eagerly claims as her haggadah. Last night we read the relevant Sammy Spider. She knows that there will be seders, she's excited to wear a pretty dress, and she's a bit worried that she will get too hungry before it's time to eat. She also knows that M is going to try to keep kosher for Passover this year, so she's been talking a lot about how M fasted till lunchtime on Yom Kippur, but she doesn't fast and she gets to eat bread. Last night she even asked if she could break the shabbat bread at the seder.
Like I said, she's trying.
Edited to add: We're doing content too, at a four year old level. I asked her at breakfast if she knew why we celebrate Passover. She said, "Yes." I asked, "Why?" She said, "I don't know." So we talked about how the Jews were slaves in Egypt which meant that they had to work for the Egyptians and not get paid and the Egyptians were in charge of them and that was not very nice, so then they left Egypt to go be in charge of themselves, and that's what we are celebrating. Then we got sidetracked wondering why on earth it took 40 years to get from Egypt to Israel, which seems like it should take about two weeks if you're walking, though E suggested that maybe they took an airplane. Then we talked about how Passover reminds us to help everyone be free. Then we talked about Sammy Spider some more.
Way back in the day, I had a long-term but alas never consummated flirtation with Jim Shapiro, then the guitarist and singer in his own band, U Thant, later the drummer for Veruca Salt.
Nina Gordon, Jim's sister and another former member of Veruca Salt, has recorded a Joni Mitchellesque version of N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton."
It's definitely a better listen than this guy's version which removes everything but the swear words from the original track.
Friday, April 22, 2005
Perhaps the lamest piece of work I produced in college was the final project for my folklore class. We were supposed to do background research and fieldwork. I did the background research, and then I interviewed two people, pretended that I had interviewed myself, and discussed each of us as if we were a significant-sized group: “1/3 of the sample” (i.e. person A) does this; “1/3 of the sample” (i.e. person B) does that; and “1/3 of the sample” (i.e. me) does the other thing.
Despite the methodological lameness, my conclusions were in fact quite sound. I was researching Jewish holiday practices. Specifically, I wanted to see what holidays contemporary Jews were most likely to celebrate and why. Think about it: which holiday do you think is most popular? (Don’t cheat and look at the next paragraph.)
Did you say Hanukkah? That was my initial hypothesis, but no, the most frequently celebrated Jewish holiday is Passover. For some reason the number 74% sticks in my head, but I have no idea where it came from.
The next question, of course, is: Why Passover? The Jewish identity answer is that Passover is about the essence of being a Jew, about being oppressed for being a Jew and then escaping that oppression, proudly, as a Jew. The Jewish culture answer is that Passover is about family tradition--Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the other major candidates for most popular holiday) take place in synagogue, and Hanukkah always has that “weak imitation of Christmas” problem. The third answer, which is as much a result as it is a cause, is that Passover is so adaptable. The basic story of escaping oppression can be articulated in terms of Zionism, Marxism, Lubavitcherism, “Messianic Judaism,” feminism, lesbianism, and just about any other ism you can think of. In other words, even if you’re a fairly assimilated Jew who isn’t interested in synagogue, celebrates Christmas, and thus has no need for Hanukkah, you can still find meaning in Passover.
Ever since I did that project, I’ve been interested in Passover adaptations, most of which take material form as haggadahs: vegetarian haggadahs, secular haggadahs, feminist haggadahs, lesbian haggadahs, self-actualization haggadahs, children’s haggadahs, and the list goes on. I have to say, though, that I’ve become a rabid haggadah moderate. S and I have additional readings that we love--I can’t do a seder without some Song of Solomon, a little Anne Frank believing all people are good, and ten contemporary plagues. But when it comes to seders that are all politics and no prayer, you lose me.
Which brings me to the inspiration for this post: The New Freedom Seder, a haggadah compiled by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and The Shalom Center. I’m all for peace, justice, and Judaism, and for the Shalom Center as well. Which means I probably shouldn’t even be saying this. But you know, bad poetry and muddy politics just bug me. So I really have no desire to recite this at my seder:
Big Oil Burning: The Planetary Pharaohs
They Enron-cook the books.
They rent the Burmese army to sweat rebellious workers.
They pour the smoke that chokes asthmatic children.
They sweltered heat-stroke on 40,000 European elders.
They melt the ice caps that keep our planet balanced.
They torch great Amazon forests.
Their Saudi branch pipe-line paid to explode the Twin Towers
And their Texas branch pipe-line cooked lies to burn Iraqi cities.
With oily money they bought the oil-soaked White House.
They scorch all earth, befoul all oceans.
As we breathe in what the trees breathe out,
Air pungent, sweet, and peppery,
And the trees breathe in what we breathe out,
Air filled with songs and stories, sighs and laughter,
The burning oil fills up our lungs and noses,
heats and dissolves our brain,
Turns all earth oiloholic.
Melts us to death, or
Melts our walls of separation
To connect our different agonies —
Warming our hearts to join in cooling Pharaoh.
Instead, we’ll be reciting this:
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Then we’ll spill drops of wine and recite these:
Hunger, War, Crime,
Disease, Racism, Abuse,
Poverty, Homophobia, Pollution,
Indifference to human suffering.
And eventually we’ll conclude with Nigella’s (flourless) Chocolate Truffle Cake. Details to follow.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Really, though, I try hard not to think about readers. I even deleted my stats. Yes, it's true. I don't know how many page hits I have, I don't know the IP addresses of my readers, and I don't even know what Google searches bring me up (though when I did have stats, my main Google category seemed to be Nigella chocolate cakes).
This is hard for me, you know. I'm actually the most self-conscious, competitive person on the planet. Which is why I had to delete the stats. I checked them constantly; I obsessed about the significance of IP addresses from New Mexico (then I figured out it was you, K) and Princeton (I've caught you, A); I rejoiced when I had three more readers than the day before and fell into paroxysms of self-loathing when I had four fewer. It was not good. It was counter to the plan. The plan was to write. Not to be part of the blogging community. Not to rival Dooce. Not even to rival Dawn. Just to write. Which is what I do now. Happily, for the most part.
Though I do like my little non-stats signs of blogging status.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
[I just read this to E. She said, "You know what I do last? George W. Bush and the Yankees, because last is the hating part."]
[I should be clear that we are generally anti-hate at our house, except when it comes to George W. Bush and the Yankees.]
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Basically, the one Blogger ate said that Case Histories is a great book, but I don't particularly like mysteries. The connection was that Case Histories is basically a mystery, even though it is being marketed as literary fiction, and even though it is literary fiction. Ayelet Waldman commented (again, not going to link) that it was too bad we don't seem able to consider literary fiction and mystery together, and I'm not surprised she would say that, given that she writes mysteries and is attempting to make the switch to literary fiction.
But the thing is, even though I loved Case Histories, which has beautiful writing, dazzling plotting, and lots of great themes like love, loss, mental illness, and family (I said it better in the Blogger-eaten post), the mysteries are kind of lame. Basically, as in all mysteries, either someone really obvious or someone really random did it, and neither are particularly satisfying solutions, though then again I can't really imagine what a satisfying solution to a mystery would be. Which may be why I'm not much of a mystery reader.
Still, I highly recommend Case Histories. And now I'm going to stop and see if this works, because I have other things to do. Still, I'm sad I lost the last post, because it was a lot better, but I'm too frustrated to attempt to recreate it.
Monday, April 18, 2005
S has cleaned the basement, the kitchen, and his side of the bedroom. I have cleaned the attic, the toy cabinet, and my side of the bedroom. S is in the middle of the dining room, and I have puttered around the living room, but they weren't so bad to begin with. The girls' rooms are ok too, especially because enormous amounts of baby doll and American Girl doll paraphernalia have recently been stowed in recently purchased plastic bins, themselves part of the cleaning project.
The office, however, is another story. The office is the last straw, the sticking point, the Rubicon, and a black hole, all rolled into one. The office is about seven by twelve feet and contains three doors, one window, two file cabinets, three wall cabinets, a rolling cabinet, two sets of wire shelves, a desk, a computer, all the games, all the art supplies, all the projects, the guitar books, and everything else we shove in there because it is such a pit that what difference could an enormous inflatable duck make?
I'd tried, I'd really tried. I'd cleaned out the little set of shelves on the desk where I keep bills that need to be paid and pieces of papers that need to be dealt with. I dealt with the pieces of paper. I looked around a lot. I sighed a lot. I left the room a lot.
Then last night, as we were putting the girls to bed, I said to S, "Let's just do it. Let's pour ourselves enormous drinks, go in there together, spend 45 minutes on it, and see what we can accomplish." And we did it. Stumbling over each other and the giant trash bags, we sorted the game pieces, got rid of the crumbling fingerpainted masterpieces, put the markers in containers, got rid of the orphan toy pieces, organized the box of paints, and got rid of a lot more stuff. Now, instead of looking like the metaphorical manifestation of our tortured family life, it looks like a nice little room where a nice family keeps their nicely-organized games, art supplies, projects, and computer.
What does Marlo Thomas have to do with this? Remember Free To Be You and Me? Remember Carol Channing's nasal whine?
Little boys, little girls,
When you're big husbands and wives,
If you want all the days of your lives
To be sunny as summer weather,
Make sure, when there's housework to do,
That you do it TOGETHER.
With a big glass of vodka right beside you.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
We got in the car after a lovely Mexican food and ice cream girls night out with our neighbors (who are also just about our favorite people to hang out with in
“Mom! E put her strap behind her back!” crowed her happily tattling big sister.
Usually I come down as hard on tattling as I do on just about any behavior being tattled upon, but safety trumps all in my parenting practice. I stopped the car, got out, fixed E’s strap, pulled it as tight as it could get across her belly, got back into the front seat, and started to drive away again.
“Look, Mommy! I undid my strap!” crowed the gleeful miscreant herself.
I stopped the car again, got out again, grabbed her hand hard, hard enough to hurt her, and yelled. This is where I might have hit her. I really wanted to, because I wanted to impress upon her how absolutely wrong it was, and scare her so much that she would never do it again. We were going 5 miles per hour on a side street, so really she wasn’t in danger, but all I could think of was her undoing her seatbelt on the freeway where there would be nothing I could do about it. I held her hands tight, and I yelled in my loudest and meanest voice that what she had done was not safe and she could never do it again, did she hear me?! She squirmed a little and said I was hurting her hand. I said I knew I was hurting her hand. I told her if she undid her strap again, she was going straight to her room when we got home and I wasn’t going to give her a snack or read to her at bedtime. Then she asked for Teddy who was in my bag in the front seat. I told her she could only have Teddy if she promised never to undo her strap again. She whimpered and promised. I redid her strap, got back into the front seat, gave her Teddy, and drove home. She didn’t undo her strap.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Meanwhile, M and I took E to her first theater class, which she’d been eagerly awaiting for weeks. I’m not sure what I was expecting--not what happened, only I’m not sure I can describe what happened in all its surrealism. The teacher (“You can call me Candace, or you can call me Miss Candace”) was a woman somewhere between 60 and 70, dressed in a black tunic, black knickerbockers, and black-and-white horizontal-striped tights. She had a hedgehog in an aquarium, and a big bag of feathers, plastic eggs, boas, fabric, pipe cleaners, baby ducks and baby birds, and red dots that were pretend strawberries in the show (that’s from E who is jogging my memory).
I think the plan was to read a story about a hedgehog, visit with the hedgehog a bit, and then act out the story. Which is kind of what happened. In a stream-of-consciousness, hodge-podge kind of way. Candace read a bit, then handed out some costume bits, then performed a bit, then spread out some fabric and hula hoops on the floor for scenery, then got the kids to perform a bit, then took out the hedgehog, then acted out the story with the kids, then showed the kids a few more pages in the book, all the while maintaining a random monologue addressed to the kids, the parents, M who was helping her, even herself. The kids were a bit baffled, but eventually got into it. I felt like I needed a giant margarita to truly appreciate it all.
Then a bunch of other kids started showing up for the next class--including a girl M hadn’t seen since preschool, M’s friend J’s little brother, E’s friend R’s big sister. Candace asked if M was taking the next class, M looked at me beseechingly, and I thought what the hell: if you’re going to have one kid taking a Friday afternoon theater class with a lunatic, you might as well have two. So I took E and R off to the playground, where they hung out on the jungle gym with three developmentally disabled guys and their caretakers. Meanwhile, a pregnant teen mom smoked cigarettes and let her toddler climb to the top of the jungle gym from where I rescued her (I tell you, it only got weirder and weirder).
M’s class is putting on a performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Red State Capital City Arts Festival, so today we need to get a copy of the book which somehow she has never read. E has been chanting “I want some yummy yummy yummy for my tummy tummy tummy,” which was the refrain of the story her class performed. It’s all very theatrical around here.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Yes, we have an accountant. For several years, S owned bits and pieces of restaurants, and taxes got complicated, very complicated, while an accountant was easy, very easy. The restaurant complications went away, but the easy accountant remained. Once a year I open up the file labeled taxes, I sort the documents in the file into piles of W-2s, 1099s, childcare receipts, charitable contribution receipts, and the occasional K-something-or-other, and I hand the piles over to the accountant. A week or so later, he comes by, we sign the returns, we sign his check, and that’s it. I consider it money well spent, especially because I’m sure he saves us more than we pay him (remember, we’re talking Red State Capital City Suburb: accountants are cheap).
But our friends at the party, they were discussing deductions and schedules I’ve never heard of. Amortizing and depreciating and all sorts of maneuvers that appeared to cost them lots of time and save them lots of money. For a moment I felt like a total tax loser, and a lazy tax loser to boot.
Then I remembered how I feel about taxes: I like taxes. Really, I do. I like roads and schools and parks and V.A. hospitals and Meals on Wheels and libraries and student loans and aid to countries smacked by tsunamis. I’m not so crazy about military planes that can’t fly and invasions of countries that don’t have weapons of mass destruction (actually, most invasions), but I’d rather address those issues by changing the government than by cutting taxes. In Red State Capital City Suburb, there are lots of voters who vote against every tax levy on principle, so I try to vote for every tax levy on principle (we’re talking levies for schools, the fire department, roads, you know, all that frivolous stuff they want to spend our hard-earned money on).
S and I are lucky. We have enough money for everything we need and a lot of what we want. If we were really stretched, I might feel differently. Then again, if we were really stretched, we would pay a lot less taxes, and we would probably have even more need of the kinds of things that taxes fund. So, actually, I’m ok with not taking advantage of every opportunity to reduce my tax bill. Because, like I said, I like taxes.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
I remember a friend of my mother’s once saying that you couldn’t really understand Middlemarch* until you were middle-aged.
I read Middlemarch for the first time when I was 25, in
I lay in bed under my mosquito netting and read Middlemarch and felt like the whole world had gone Victorian, for perhaps the one remaining bastion of Victorian Britain is upper-class India and especially the Indian civil service--at least it was back then. I went to
I understood why my mother’s friend had said that Middlemarch was for the middle-aged: the book is essentially about giving up your dreams and facing reality, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Still, I was mesmerized by its depiction of intense desire and impacted community, even at 25, with my dreams fairly intact.
I’ve always felt like a philistine for finding Henry James unreadable. Not the short ones. Daisy Miller, The Turn of the Screw, even The Spoils of Poynton were ok. But they were short and (relatively) action-packed. The Portrait of a Lady, on the other hand, was long and slow. Really long. And really slow. The first time I tried to read it, soon after my Middlemarch success, I ground to a halt on page 230 (I know this for a fact because that’s where the book mark was when I picked up the book again a few weeks ago).
I felt bad about my inability to read Henry James, at least the important Henry James, because so many people I know love him. I did wonder if some of them were faking it, in that David Lodge kind of way (in his novel Changing Places, a bunch of English professors play a game called Humiliation in which they confess the famous books they haven’t read, and then one guy admits he hasn’t read Hamlet and doesn’t get tenure). But my in-laws are two of the greatest James fans around, and they would never fake it. So I decided that I just wasn’t old enough to read Henry James, and that was my line for about 15 years.
Last summer I read Alan Hollinghurst’s brilliant Booker-prize winning novel, The Line of Beauty, which is about 80s Thatcherite London and social climbing and AIDS and desire and aesthetics…and Henry James. And while I haven’t read any of the recent novels about Henry James, I’ve noticed them and wondered if I should, especially given how much I loved The Line of Beauty. But no, I decided, first I should try again with James himself. After all, I’m 40 now, and though I try not to think of myself as middle-aged (K is 50, for goodness sake, and if she’s not middle-aged, I can’t possibly be), I’m definitely older, maybe even old enough for James.
So I did it: I read The Portrait of a Lady. All the way to page 230 and beyond, through the long slow passages where I wondered why the hell I was putting myself through this agony, to the end where I raced along, blown away by the genius of this insane book. Not much happens in The Portrait of a Lady. Isabel Archer goes to
I wouldn’t say I’m a Henry James convert. But I’m definitely ready to try another one so I can figure out whether I really am old enough. The Golden Bowl, anyone?
*I went Amazon on my links here, despite my basic anti-Amazonism, because they do have so much more content on their pages than Powells.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
The first item was "Midlife facial hair. Yuck." Or maybe it would be "Facial hair after 30. Yuck." Or maybe just "Facial hair. Yuck." (Other items under consideration were "The boring stupidity of some very popular bloggers," "Stress and anxiety in realms I do not discuss," and "Annoying people in realms I do not discuss.")
Then I got home and the most recent copy of Bitch had arrived. It's the "Masculinity Issue," and it has an article titled "Growing Pains--Female facial hair gets plucky," which argues, basically, that female facial hair is natural and we are dupes of the misogynist capitalist regime for trying to eliminate it.
Bitch has a way of making me feel like I am a hopelessly bourgeois, middle-American, liberal pseudo-feminist. And all of the Bitch gals are archly hip, Bay Area, more-political-than-I'll-ever-be, cool feminists. And everything I like (Sideways, for instance) is in fact hopelessly problematic and I am a dupe for falling for it. And everything they like is really cool.
I almost didn't resubscribe, but then I did, because I do believe that the world is a better place with Bitch than it would be without Bitch, and subscriptions from people like me help keep it that way.
I'm having trouble making my segue to Andrea Dworkin even though I know my punchline. Or maybe I' m just having trouble with Andrea Dworkin.
Unlike some people, I never had strong feelings about Dworkin. I don't remember becoming a feminist, so she didn't cause my feminist awakening. I was a bit zeitgeisty, though, and she was always a touchpoint for the zeitgeist. Thus in the early 80s I was all about hating porn and men (except that I kind of liked porn and men) and therefore essentially pro-Dworkin. Then came This Bridge Called My Back and Pleasure and Danger, and as the 80s passed into the 90s, and I realized that I could be a race-and-class-conscious, sex-positive, queer-friendly, gender-fucking feminist, I became not so pro-Dworkin. Overall, though, I just never thought about her that much.
Still, there is no doubt that the world was a better place with Andrea Dworkin in it.
Edited to add: This essay from The Guardian is the best tribute I've read--infinitely better than my own lukewarm wishy-washiness, and more astute in linking Dworkin and hair as well.
Monday, April 11, 2005
2) I can’t count the number of times I’ve read Pride and Prejudice. Actually, I can’t count the number of times I’ve read most of Jane Austen’s novels, though I know that I’ve only read Mansfield Park once. I’m pretty up on Jane Austen movies too. I like the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility for its intelligent screenplay; I like Persuasion for its visual realism; and I love Clueless for showing how relevant the basic premises of Austen’s social satire remain. And, yes, I think Austen was a feminist.
3) I always knew I’d go to
4) I loved Bhaji on the Beach and Bend It Like Beckham, Gurinder Chadha’s first indie hit and her mainstream break-out movie (and here I’m tempted to write about the huge fight L and I had about feminism, commodity culture, mainstream cinema, and Bend It Like Beckham, but if I go there I will end up writing about all the fights he and I have had over the last 25 years, including the most recent one which had us screaming at each other in a bar in Berkeley two years ago, and that would definitely hijack this post).
5) I’m always willing to see a romantic comedy, and I’m generally willing to put away my politics for silly movies (except when I’m not, as in the case of Being John Malkovich, where the gratuitous scene of his wife in the cage turned me off the movie altogether, though I’d enjoyed it up till then).
Thus, if anyone was going to like Bride and Prejudice, Gurinder Chadha’s silly but enjoyable new film that takes Pride and Prejudice to contemporary
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Can you see where this is going? Of course you can, since you read the heading. Yes, Nigella’s Tropical Chocolate Cake (which is clearly not very popular as I can’t find a single relevant link): pineapple, coconut, oh so very Hawaiian.
And oh so very easy to make. Just dump everything into the food processor and process. Actually, first you process the canned pineapple and cream cheese (I know, doesn’t sound promising), then you add everything else, which means a bunch of regular chocolate-cake-type ingredients, plus two tablespoons of Malibu. Then you process it, put it into two eight-inch pans, and bake.
I had to make two cakes, given the number of party guests, and the first time the butter wasn’t soft enough so I had to overprocess it to get rid of the butter chunks. That one, the layers came out a bit flat. The second time I grated the butter and both layers were perfect. Then I forgot which cake was which after I frosted them, and I think they tasted pretty much the same.
The frosting was a bit more challenging: a coconut meringue that you beat forever over simmering water (Nigella said five minutes, but it took at least ten). It did look quite beautiful, though, once I mounded it on the cake and tossed dried coconut all over it. Once again, it also looked just like Nigella’s.
The party guests loved it, but the thing is, most of the party guests didn't have points of comparison. J and J were there, and they have had the Chocolate Gingerbread, Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake, Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake, and Chocolate Espresso Cake, but they weren’t in the mood for cake. S was there too and she has had most of them, but of course she loved the Chocolate HONEY Cake, so we need to weigh her judgments accordingly. Still, I must concur with her bottom line: it wasn’t as good as the Chocolate Guinness Cake.
The problem is, the Chocolate Guinness Cake has set a new standard. Though I expected it to be quite disgusting, what with all that pineapple and coconut, the Tropical Chocolate Cake was actually fine. The cake itself was light, moist, and tasty; the frosting was a bit heavy on the coconut, but not bad. Still, why go with fine when you could be in chocolate cake nirvana?
Saturday, April 09, 2005
The heir to the British throne Prince Charles has married Camilla Parker Bowles, the woman blamed by many for destroying his marriage to the late Princess Diana.
And Camilla, great hat!
Edited to add: OK, I caved and downloaded the footage of the end of the blessing and them leaving the church. He looked his usual godawful self, but she looked lovely, appropriate, and happy--I say if they still want to be together after all these years and all this mess, more power to them. I also say that William and Harry definitely won the royal genetic lottery, and American weddings should require hats.
Here's why M is the perfect child: she doesn't get tired during a dinner party, she just eats as slowly as she can so she can chat with the grown-ups for as long as possible, and then, when she is finally banished from the table, plays happily with N till the wee hours.
Here's why S is the perfect husband: when he comes home in the middle of a dinner party (from seeing John Doe, about which he would be ecstatically blogging, if he blogged), he clears the table, does the dishes, cleans the kitchen, and then sits down to chat charmingly with me and my friends.
Aren't you jealous? [Said in exactly the smug tone of voice you might imagine.]
Friday, April 08, 2005
Last week my aunt fell on her face and broke her arm and four bones in her jaw. She was in surgery for four hours and in the hospital for a week. We just heard yesterday.
When I was little, my grandmother spent two months in Israel every winter, and when she was home in America she and my aunt wrote each other every week. We went to Israel every three years or so for a week or so. In between we mainly telephoned when babies were born, which for several years there was about once a year.
Now we have emails and faxes and we've long since stopped being stingy with the phone. We are all in regular contact, we email photos of new babies, and we hear each other's news quickly--that we didn't hear about the fall for a week is because my cousin flaked or his email was down or something, not because we are out of touch.
We don't go to Israel these days, though, for a lot of reasons I won't go into. I last was there in 1989 with M, my dad, and my sister's family. S and E have never been. I last saw my aunt two summers ago in Switzerland. I see one cousin fairly regularly, as he comes to America frequently enough for work, but I've only met three of the seven great-grandchildren, and now there's another one on the way.
Today the girls are making cards to send to my aunt. I wish I could give her a gentle pat and hold her hand--I think a big hug would probably be too much.
Sometimes long distance just isn't the same as being there.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
When E was a baby, she was one of those ear infection kids. One after another after another, from about six to eighteen months, she was almost never without a cold or an ear infection. The funny thing was, they never hurt her. The way I could tell was that her eyes would get bright and her cheeks red, and once she was old enough, she would start to scratch. Eventually the ear infections stopped, but the colds continued, and, always, the first sign of an oncoming cold was the scratching.
"Allergies," my mom and stepfather kept saying, "allergies."
"Allergies?" I asked my pediatrician.
"We don't screen for allergies until they're three," he replied.
Cut to three-year-old E, still scratching.
So we did some fancy new allergy panel that screens for everything. E came out with antibodies (antibodies? anti-allergens? I don't know, whatever it is they test for) ten times normal. Normal was something like 128 and E was 1280. And the screen said that she was only allergic to corn and crab. I don't think so. E loves corn on the cob, but we don't have it that often, and if crab has ever passed that girl's discerning lips, it hasn't been on my watch.
My mom was suspicious. "1280? That's exactly ten times 128. Maybe it was a lab error."
"Maybe it was a lab error," I said to the pediatrician.
"Good point," said the pediatrician, "maybe it was a lab error."
So they ran the numbers again. 1280. We ran another test, the old-fashioned one. 1280. No question the girl was super-allergic, but she still wasn't testing positive for any of the standard allergens.
This is where I love my pediatrician, even if he comes off a bit slow in the dialogues above.
"Look," he said, "she's obviously allergic. The next step would be skin testing, and she would hate it, and then the next step would be medication and we don't want to go there unless we have to. So why don't you just try to eliminate allergens from her life, and treat the symptoms."
So we took the rug out of her room, and we tried to wash her sheets more often, and we sprayed her with Benadryl Spray (which I'm almost tempted to write a blog ad for, it works that well), and then it was winter and she stopped scratching, and we didn't worry about it.
But now it's spring, and she's scratching again. We washed her sheets yesterday, and I cut her nails, and I've offered her the Benadryl Spray, but she's not ready to go there. She woke up in the middle of the night scratching, and I got in bed with her to help her fall back asleep, and we both lay there awake for what seemed like forever while she scratched and I gently tried to stop her. But given my own sensitive skin, I know the pain of an itch and the pleasure of a scratch from way back, so I feel for her, even as I'm lying there half awake, wishing only that she would stop.
I'm not sure what the point of this post was, except to explain why I'm so tired this morning and to generate sympathy for poor itchy E, who will probably be scratching for the next six months.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
You write sentences like this:
Paul chose Greece for its predictable whiteness: the blanching heat by day, the rush of stars at night, the glint of the lime-washed houses crowding its coast.
Meg Wolitzer writes sentences like this:
The book was placed on a high shelf in the den, as though it were the only copy in the world and if the children didn't find it they would be forever unaware of the sexual lives of their parents, forever ignorant of the press of hot skin, the overlapping voices, the stir and scrape of the brass headboard as it lightly battered the plaster, creating twin finial-shaped depressions over the years in the wall of the bedroom in which the parents slept, or didn't sleep, depending on the night.
So, honey, the blurb you wrote for Meg?
The most moving, enthralling, shamelessly perceptive new novel I've read in years.
Could you just take it back and we'll all go on with our lives?
[Those would be, respectively, the first lines of Three Junes, one of the best books I've read this century, and The Position, one of the most annoying books I've skimmed this century.]
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Yesterday I got home and the girls were outside in shorts and tank tops, bouncing basketballs in the alley. S was barbecueing (barbecuing? barbequeing?) and we ate dinner outside on the new bright-colored plastic plates I bought just last week, anticipating eating outside--in a few months. We had chicken, shrimp, salad, corn on the cob, and watermelon for dessert.
I turned off the heat, because it was ridiculous to have the heat on and the doors and windows wide open (that's S for you).
Now we have three daffodils.
Monday, April 04, 2005
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Note who did all those cool projects: M.
In general, we have (purposefully) avoided Second Child Syndrome. There is a full photo album of baby pictures of E, right next to the full photo album of baby pictures of M. Knowing my limits, I avoided baby books altogether, and each girl has a completed “Birth and Naming Book,” a scrapbook that includes, as its title indicates, the first eight days of her life, from arrival through naming ceremony, and then stops. E even received a brand-new play kitchen for her second birthday (we had scavenged a kitchen discarded by the girls across the street for M, but it was already so trashed that we had to keep it in the backyard where it did provide years of fun until it was finally deemed too dilapidated even for us) and a brand-new tricycle for her third (M’s was a hand-me-down that one of the big boys down the street inadvertently destroyed).
But the one place where we have slacked with E is on little kid activities. While we took M to art day just about every month, I think E has been once. When she was a baby, we naturally schlepped her along to M’s big kid activities, and the habit stuck. Luckily, she hasn’t minded: being big is one of her major goals in life. Nevertheless, she does spend a fair amount of time trying to keep up--and usually succeeding. But sometimes it’s nice not to have to try.
E has been owed mama time for a while now. Mama time--that would be time alone with me (and remember that I am not a mama--we pronounce it mumma, but mama seems more recognizably human when written down)--is a hot commodity around here. M has received a fair amount lately, due to emotional necessity (some bad days) and practical necessity (a seemingly endless string of teacher workdays and holidays). E has kind of been shafted, and she knows it.
So yesterday the long awaited E mama time was scheduled to occur, and, as luck would have it, it was art day. So off we went, just E and I, to the art museum, where the art object of the day was a Dubuffet sculpture. We made our own sculpture. E did a puzzle of the Dubuffet sculpture. We spent a long time in the children’s area where E carefully inspected all the exhibits and drew a picture of mountains and the ocean at night (dark blue sky). We had lunch at the café. We visited the galleries and E skipped around the empty ones. We brought Teddy and E’s new duck whom we named Tuffy after deciding he was a puffin after reading a magazine article about puffins before we left. E told me stories about Teddy and Tuffy. She also told me that organic shapes are squiggly shapes, which apparently she learned at preschool.
It reminded me how great art day is, and how great it is to be a four year old without an eight year old. At least sometimes.
[Don’t get me started on parents who do their kids’ art projects for them. Not with them. For them.]
Saturday, April 02, 2005
I've never seen anything like the breath-by-breath real-time media narration of the pope's deathbed. S says his death is a major political event. Whatever.
The death I'm upset about today got nice coverage in the Red State Capital City Newspaper, but I'm sure it won't hit the wires, let alone get top story on CNN or Fox. I guess that's because, as a death, it doesn't help us promote the "culture of life." It's just senseless and sad.
A baggy-bottomed toddler with long blond hair.
An impish kid in an oversize life jacket on a pontoon boat.
A lanky teenager with a buzz cut and mischievous look.
A newly minted Marine standing with Dad at boot-camp graduation.
A young man with his fiancee, his last Christmas gift to her a ring and the promise of a lifetime together.
Snapshots chronicling Kevin Smith's life flashed across a church wall yesterday as family and friends gathered to grieve its sudden end at 20 years.
The lance corporal, a gunner on a Humvee, was killed March 21, barely a month after arriving in Iraq. A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden car, numbering Smith the 53rd [Red State resident] to die in the conflict.
The Rev. Bill Yowler relayed the memories of parents Ronald and Kathy Smith, sister Rachel, fiancee Kristi Leider and others during Smith's funeral at Fellowship Christian Church.
They recalled a typical kid, teenager and young man, one always smiling in the photos shown to bookmark the landmarks of his life.
A little boy who once gobbled handfuls of Crisco because he thought it was icing for the cookies in the oven.
A teen who loved rumbling up neighborhood streets in an aging, attention-demanding Toyota Celica he dubbed "Doughnut.''
A growing boy whose fast-food preference never varied -- two Taco Bell bean burritos, extra red sauce.
A team leader who kept fellow Marines loose with one-liners and always had their backs as they escorted officers and VIPs along dangerous roads in Al Anbar province.
The 2003 graduate of Kenton Ridge High School envisioned returning from Iraq in October to marry Kristi and, after finishing his stint in the Marines, becoming a police officer.
Kevin Smith was an ordinary man.
But, he was extraordinary to those who knew him and loved him. They escorted him in a mileslong procession to his grave in Vale Cemetery.
On a warm, windy afternoon, two Marines struggled to keep the flapping American flag secured to the casket until seven riflemen fired three times and the bugler sounded taps.
The flag, folded into a triangle of blue with white stars, was presented to Ronald Smith, who hugged it to his chest and cried.
The Marine's mother caressed her boy's bare, silver-toned casket, her knees nearly buckling under the burden of her grief.
There were tears and tributes as nearly 300 people filed by the bier to comfort his family with handshakes and hugs.
But, as Nick Mounts instructed mourners during his earlier salute to his buddy, farewells were forbidden.
"Say goodbye to Kevin -- my best friend, my brother, my miracle, my hero?
"Kevin, when I see you again . . . there will be no need for hellos or greetings -- because we never said goodbye.''
I ask her what she wants me to blog about.
She says she wants me to blog about how she almost chewed off Teddy's nose.
Consider it blogged.
[E also has started a popsicle stick collection. She has four popsicle sticks. If she gets two more, she will have six. If she gets four more after that, she will have ten. At least so she informs me. She also informs me that we need to buy more popsicles.]
[And in spring news, we have a daffodil!]