28 December 2008


A guest post, a poem written by my friend David.

A Few Such Nights

Before the moon, a quarter, a smiling Cheshire quarter, rises in the sky to kiss the lower limb of the hickory on the side hill, we are out after dinner. Mid-to-late February, they call it; finally a snap in the cold spell; a foot or more melts at dusk in the high thirties.

We climb the hill, the one under the hickory, shovels put aside for a moment; velvety indigo blue darkening in the west, giving way to the lights around the back porch.

Our sleds sit hard on the sun compressed snow, snow made into balls easily just past the crispy outer shell. He refused gloves as we left the garage, not expecting play.

He grabs my hand to steady himself on the climb. I think of his small, chilled bare hands against my chilled, leather-palmed work glove. I excuse my hand for a moment, remove the glove and take his hand again. I feel my hand warm his, and think I hear an unconscious lift in his voice.

© David J Marsh, 2007

25 December 2008

Happy Holidays!

I hope your holiday festivies were memorable -- and nobody made you wear funny sequeined vests.

08 December 2008

Housekeeping A-Z

I find this meme, which I first came across at Emily's (see also Ms. Musings, and Dorothy), hysterical. I know that there are people who take this seriously – and I don’t mean to be offensive to those who do – but I am so far removed from the life of Suzi Homemaker that I can’t really find much common ground. It’s not that I think people don’t do these sorts of activities, as much as it is realizing that someone might care enough to think about them seriously as something other than a necessary part of life, pure drudgery at that. (I think utilitarian cooking -- that which you do to fix a meal so you or your family doesn't starve -- as falling into that drudgery category. When I have time, and am so inspired, I like to cook. Sort of like the difference between writing catalog copy because you need a paycheck and writing a novel.)

I would love to be more organized and I would love to have a really clean house as long as it was still livable, but I’ll never be the type of person who cares so much about it that I would worry about a few cobwebs or dust or things that haven’t made their way into their proper spots. I’d like to live somewhere between CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome as the FlyLady says) and white-glove dust-test perfect. I guess that is what you call good enough for those with busy lives outside of the home. At least, for me.

Here are my responses to the A-Z meme, along with what I was really thinking...

A is for Aprons - yes/no? If yes, what’s your favourite?
When I was a child, my mother, grandmother and aunt had these aprons that they wore every holiday. They were frilly things, ones that you wouldn't want to cover with flour or gravy or baby formula, rather than something that you would wear to protect your cloths. These aprons had sequins, appliques, and lace trimmings. My favorite was one that had an applique that could be changed for each holiday: a turkey for Thanksgiving, a tree for Christmas, a champagne glass for New Years'. A few years ago one of my sisters found all of my mother's aprons, laundered and ironed them, and handed each of us one to wear when we gathered at Christmas. That was the last time I wore an apron.

A is for apoplexy – what my mother would have if she saw my closets.

B is for Baking - favourite thing to bake?
Baking is chemistry. I'm not a chemist. I can make bread in my automatic bread machine, though. In my family I can't escape the brownies I made when I was 12 years old. The closest thing to man-made shale, my brother claimed. We tried to throw them into a pond for the ducks. They sank before the ducks could get to them. Subsequent attempts weren't much better.

B is for books. Dang it! Already used by others. B is for bubble bath – much more fun than using scrubbing bubbles to clean the shower and tub.

C is for Clothesline - do you have one?
I don't think so. See W for Wash.

C is for clutter – unfortunately it abounds in my house. A perfect gift for me would be a personal organizer.

D is for Donuts - have you ever made them?
My mother used to let us make donuts by taking instant biscuits, cutting out the center with a turkey baster (perfect size for a donut hole), and dropping them into deep fat fryer. When they were cooked, we tossed them in a bag with powdered sugar or cinnamon. I don't buy premade biscuits, don't know if I have a turkey baster, and have never owned a deep fat fryer. There are donuts at my office every Friday morning. I never go near them.

D is for Dustbunnies – they sound so much nicer than they are.

E is for Every Day - one homemaking task you do every day.
Eh? Set the alarm when I leave the house, maybe?

E is for energy – I don’t have enough at the end of the day to really keep up a clean house.

F is for Freezer - do you have a separate deep freeze?

F is for forgotten food that has been pushed back to the far corners of the fridge. Ewww!

G is for Garbage Disposal Unit - do you have one?
Yep! How does one live without one? Think of all the nasty stuff you'd have to fish out of the drain.

G is for grocery shopping – I have my picture posted in some stores with the caption: Have you seen this customer?We want her back.

H is for Handbook - what’s your favourite homemaking resource?
I own about 120 cookbooks. I like to read them, but don' always use them. My favorite ones to read are historical cookbooks that contain tidbits about the locale or a historical time period. I try to pick up cookbooks when I visit places. This may seem a strange souvenir for someone who doesn't cook much. I am a better cook than baker, though.

H is for HELP! I need to a housekeeper on speed dial!

I is for Ironing - love or hate it?
I firmly believe one may be lacking in some sort of mental grounding if one feels strong emotions for one's iron. Or vacuum. Or washing machine.

I is for Ignoring the mess.

J is for Junk Drawer - yes/no? If yes, where is it?
I'd like to know the name for the drawer that doesn't have junk in it. I think we don't have such a word because it is an non-existent thing. I'm not even sure my Safe Deposit Box would qualify as a no-junk zone.

J is for Just Clean Enough – if I can get there, I’d be happy.

K is for Kitchen - colour and decorating scheme?
Dark oak boards on walls (as in other parts of the house), white tiled floor, white tiled backsplashes with hand painted wild flowers found throughout the woods surrounding the house. I posted pictures of them here last July.

K is for klutz, domestic variety. I can’t bake or sew. I once sewed the dress I was making to the dress I was wearing. No wonder I hated 8th grade Home Ec class!

L is for Love - what’s your favourite part of homemaking?
Are you serious? Worse than having strong emotional attachments to a household appliance, would be having a favorite part of homemaking. Was this taken from a 1950’s home-ec book?

L is for leaving dust be. There’s always something more important to do – kiss your babies, hug your spouse, sing a song (well, I don’t sing much either, but metaphorically….)

M is for Mop - do you have one?
Yes. What else would you use when the commode overflows? Couldn’t tell you what type, color, model, etc. it is though.

M is for martinis. I will rinse the dust off the martini glasses and shaker if I need to get them out of the cabinet. Dust would ruin a good martini. Does that count as a favorite household task?

N is for Nylons - machine or hand wash?
Wear them as infrequently as possible. When I do wear them, I sometimes forget how to take them off, so I snag them; therefore, I have no need to wash them.

N is for (K)nick(k)nacks. I call them dust collectors. The fewer you have, the less there is to dust.

O is for Oven - do you use a window or open the oven door to check?
I have a window, but I usually open the door. This may have more to do with habits instilled when I didn’t have a self-cleaning oven, than anything else.

O is for obnoxious ads showing smiling housekeepers happy over toilet bowl cleaner and air freshener. Noxious chemicals should never make anyone happy.

P is for Pizza - what do you put on yours?
Eat from the box. When being fancy, use a plate!

P is for perfection: it’s unachievable. I can’t bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan. Case closed.

Q is for quiet - what do you do during the day when you get a quiet moment?
I certainly don’t think about housework! I can use almost anything as a procrastination technique for avoiding housework.

Q is for quilty. Oh wait, wrong spelling. For GUILTY. I confess: I’m a rotten housekeeper, but I don’t feel guilty about it.

R is for Recipe Card Box - yes/no? If yes, what does it look like?
I have lots of print outs from Internet downloads, recipes stuck inside other cookbooks, and a collection of loosely piled recipes cut from magazines on the cookbook shelf. Sometimes they get filed in notebooks.

R is for restaurant reservations – much better to make for dinner than Hamburger Rescue after a long day of work.

S is Style of House - what style is your house?
Typical 50’s style American ranch, although since my house is cantilevered over a ravine, it has a basement, unlike many ranches. Most of the basement isn’t really basement at all since it is above grade. It is way too big for me to clean. Anything more than a maybe 500 square feet might be too big for me to clean.

S is for showoffs – those who can actually come up with appropriate, non-sarcastic answers to this meme, and have perfect kids and terrific jobs! I am so jealous. What's your secret?

T is for Tablecloths - do you use them?

T is for table – if you’re by yourself, do you need to set the table for dinner?

U is for Under The Kitchen Sink - organised or toxic wasteland?
Remember Love Canal or the Cuyahoga River when it burned? If this were the 1980’s, I might qualify to apply for SuperFund cleanup funds. When I look under the sink, I think of GhostBusters and EPA agent Peck threatening to shut them down.

U is for understanding – I do understand how people can obsess over things like perfectly clean houses. There is plenty that I obsess over – owning House Beautiful isn’t one of them.

V is for Vacuum - how many times a week?
A week? You’re suppose to do this weekly? Is that why the vacuum store suggested I get my vacuum cleaned when it was one year old? Didn't seem like it needed it yet.

V is for visiting vacation fairies – I really want them to visit my home when I’m on vacation next time, get rid of all the junk, repaint the kitchen ceiling, organize my household papers, clean and rehang the draperies. Is that too long of a list for a week?

W is for Wash - how many loads of washing do you do each week?
Zero! Someone else in this house does the laundry. I am very spoiled.

W is for wash – I’m so lucky that I have my own personal laundry guy. And he never, ever ruins the clothes by mixing colored stuff with whites. I am very, very spoiled.

X’s - Do you keep a daily list of things to do that you cross off?
I go through obsessive bouts of doing this at work, but rarely do I do this for home.

X’s and O’s: my family still loves me even though I am a miserably unsuccessful housekeeper.

Y is for Yard - who does what?
My yard is a natural habitat of dense deciduous trees. The only yard work we have is to get rid of the leaves from the gutters, driveways and porches, which we usually hire out. While that may sound like a luxury, the gutters are >30 feet off the ground and I don’t like heights. The leaves on the driveway come as a packaged deal with the gutters.

Y is for Yeah! When the house is clean (by my standards) it does make me a teeny bit happy.

Zzz’s - what’s the last homemaking task you do before bed in the evening?
Turn out the light and fluff my pillow!

Z is for zippedity-do-dah. I have nothing more to say!

30 November 2008

Today....and tomorrow

Two things about today ....

Today is the last day of the long holiday weekend, and like most end-of-holiday weekend, I greet the evening with a mixture of sadness that it is over and relief that is. Sadness because visiting family have returned home, the trappings of the weekend put away, my son has departed to go back to school, and Thanksgiving is over for this year. Relief for much of the same reasons. Sometimes the break from the routine, even when you enjoy it, is too disruptive. While I would relish a few additional vacation days -- I'm down to only a few more that I can take off from work -- there is something about the rhythm of the normal routines.

Today is the first day of Advent, the start of the Christian holiday season. While retailers have been promoting the secular Christmas for what seems like weeks, the official 'kick-off' of the season generally starts on the day after Thanksgiving. The lights have gone up on trees and houses around the neighborhood. Our neighbors across the street have decorated a very, very tall evergreen with white lights. Not to be outdone, the house next to them have strung lights on two tall oaks. On one multi-colored lights merely twist around the trunk towards the top branches. On the other, white lights encircle the trunk, while green lights at the top form an outline that makes the tree look like a palm tree. I'm not sure that there is any symbolism to a palm tree, but I like the idea of something reminiscent of warmer climates on the snow-sprinkled slope of a ravine in the heartland of the country where palms are only found inside conservatories.

Light: it seems a natural that many people in northern latitudes would have celebrated the idea of light during a time when the hours of sunlight decrease so dramatically in the weeks before the solstice. How could one not recognize that rhythm of the earth? No wonder that as the Roman Empire spread throughout Northern Europe, church officials co-opted the feast of Saturnalia to fit their new religion. The cycle of light - dark - light, paralleling the fertile - fallow - new growth patterns of crops, is so obvious to a casual observer, much less people whose lives were ruled by the seasons, any effort to block out such celebrations would have been futile. Even knowing the origin of the light and new birth symbolism in the Roman's Saturnalia, I can embrace these metaphors as part of my faith because they make sense to celebrate. Nor was this concept of light and illumination vs. darkness unknown to the early Christians; one can find it in the Hebrew Scriptures as well. If you're interested in such things, you may want to check out Jan Richardson's blog, The Advent Door during this season of liturgical preparation for Christmas.

Two things about Tomorrow...

Another kind of light, that of the night sky, will provide a treat tomorrow. Jupiter and Venus will be in conjunction, appearing close together in the early evening sky. This occurs twice (once in morning sky, once in evening sky) every two years. Tomorrow, December 1, not only will they be in conjunction, but they will form a triangle with a slivered crescent moon. If the sky is clear enough, you will be able to see the rest of the moon as well. Sometimes referred to as earthshine, the phenomena also is called the old moon in the young moon's arms. Isn't that a lovely description of it? Read more about the conjunction and the brilliantly lit trio at or see this Yahoo article. Here is a picture of how the moon, Jupiter and Venus will be aligned tomorrow.

On a more serious note, and quite the opposite of light and life, tomorrow is World AIDS Day. UNAIDS estimates that there are an estimated 33 million people infected with HIV. 22 million of those infected live in sub-Saharan Africa. While AIDS can be a manageable disease that one can live with in the West, in developing countries, it remains a death sentence for most. If you read or hear anyone saying how there is too much money going to AIDS, that the infection rates have slowed and that people can now live with this disease, don't accept that at face value. That is true if you exclude Africa. What is the difference between AIDS in the West and Africa? Money, access to appropriate healthcare, treatment. Educate yourself about the facts. is one place to start. Read the executive summary of the 2008 UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic. An excellent book to read is 28 stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen. You can read about a remarkable program in Eldoret, Kenya here.

What can you do to recognize World Aids Day? Educate yourself and others. Raise Awareness. Raise funds. Donate.

29 November 2008

10 Things I've Learned From Blogging Every Day

What I've learned from NaBloPoMo participation this year:
    1. Writing every day is damn hard work.

    2. I am not content to just throw anything on my blog. I am too much of a perfectionist to not write, rewrite, edit, proof. And then go back to make adjustments if I don't like how the paragraphs align on the page. And then edit some more. I realize that sounds just a bit compulsive.

    3. I spend less time reading other's blogs when I'm posting every day. I think that others participating in NaBloPoMo have less time to read blogs too.

    4. I didn't have any time to visit the NaBloPoMo site and see how others were doing. If I read anybody participating, it was only because I already had them on my blogroll. I want to spend time in December visiting some sites of participants I haven't read in the past. I hope to post about some of them in the next month.

    5. I didn't have any problem coming up with ideas to write about, and wrote about a variety of topics. I don't think I could have selected a theme and written about it for 30 days.

    6. I had difficulties finding the time to write.

    7. Since I made the commitment to do this, I was unwilling to not post on certain days and found a way to do so despite two trips, bone-aching fatigue on a few days, work and family commitments. This dedication meant that there was more than one evening where I found myself falling asleep at the keyboard. If only I had the same commitment to other areas of my life!

    8. I think my visit stats increased (I hadn't checked them in a long time), but only because there were additional hits from random, odd queries (see below).

    9. I like writing longer posts and I hope to continue to do so in the future. I'm considering creating some sort of regular writing prompt that others can participate in by contributing longer, more essay-like posts on their blogs, perhaps on a monthly basis. More details later.

    10. I will be making a donation to Water Partners International for at least $80, based on the 80 comments posted this month. This may increase based on additional comments I receive in the next few days on my NaBloPoMo posts. I want to continue to have some sort of charity tie-in to my blog and am working on something that other bloggers can participate in as well. Details to follow on how and for which charity. This may possibly be a lending team on Kiva and I'm leaning towards something related to reading and education. Emily has already indicated an interest. If you're interested too, email me or leave a comment.

After participating in NaBloPoMo for two years, I don't think that I will do it again. However, I hope that I will post more regularly. There have been a few months this year where I only posted two or three times. I'm hoping I can stay motivated to post two or three times a week. This was a beneficial exercise and helped my blogertia, that condition of lack of motivation to blog as named by Bloglily a few months ago.

Here are some stats from this month:
  • Posted once every day, and three times posted additional posts.

  • Used 26 different tags:
    • using one tag five times
    • two tags four times each
    • Four tags three times each
    • five tags twice.
    • Most popular were: miscellany, food, politics, art, books, blogging, life, NYC

  • I linked to other posts 57 times.

  • Posted one you-tube link and 19 pictures, but only one post was dedicated to photos with only minimal words.

  • Had 669 unique visitors according to StatCounter, with an average of 23/day.

  • Only did one meme, but I wrote a lot of commentary on it, which was not part of the meme. Did one quiz.

  • Hits:
    • Oddest hit from google query this month: Toss up between ounces in #2 cam and black and white picture of Paul Newman in bath.
    • Most frequent hit query: concept that heaven is 3 feet up.
    • Query I found the funniest: someone in Denmark who returned to my site a few times with the query I peed my pants.
    • Seven queries took the inquirer to landing pages from last year's NaBloPoMo.
    • Queries that most pleased me: Four related to the opera Dr. Atomic and the aria from that opera based on John Donne's sonnet Batter My Heart 3-person'd God

    Congratulations to all who undertook the NaBloPoMo Challenge this month. Give yourself a round of applause!
  • 28 November 2008

    Local, Organic, Food (Part 1)

    I don't know about you, but I'm still digesting a hearty, caloric, too-high carbohydrated, Thanksgiving meal. So one would think it would be unlikely that I would again be writing about food today. But, here I am, posting about food again, even though I'm not too interested in eating much of anything now.

    Late in the summer, we received word about a benefit dinner, sponsored by Slow Food Indy, for local chefs who were planning on attending the biennial Terre Madre conference in Italy. We attending two of these dinners, one at a one of our favorite restaurants (R Bistro locally owned, local foods, great chef) and one at a farm in a nearby community where dinner was served in the barn. At both of these events we were treated to wonderful, locally grown, in season food.

    I think that one would have to have been living (or eating) under a rock if one were either a foodie, or environmentally oriented, not to at least have an inkling of an idea about the local foods movement. But, as a consumer, one is bombarded by terms like organic, local, natural when at the grocery store and sorting out the marketing bandwagon hype from the local movement can be slightly daunting.

    I don't think that I had really taken any time to educate myself about why locally grown is a good thing until this summer. I'm not an expert, by any means, but I have learned much in the last few months. For the last several spring/summer seasons, we've frequented the local farmers' markets. There is now one within walking distance from me, although I usually buy at a larger one that is in the same area as other places I go while making the rounds for my usual Saturday morning tasks. This year, there is a Winter market that I'll try, and there is small market stand that sells local produce in season that will be open this winter. There isn't much local produce one can buy in the winter months in the Midwest, but I want to see this place survive -- and Florida oranges are Florida oranges whether I buy them here or at the big-chain market -- so I'll continue to go there.

    On top of the pile of books I've started and have been meaning to complete are Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma.

    But, the event that I'm looking forward to most immediately, is a lecture next week by Alice Waters, chef at Berkeley's Chez Panisse, local-food, slow food guru, and originator of the Edible Schoolyard project. Waters is speaking at the Indianapolis Musuem of Art. The IMA's blog has posted a portion of an interview with Waters (here). I particularly liked what she had to say about working with artists:
    The reason I’m interested in working with artists is to take food out of that ‘foody’ place and put it into the beauty of culture. Food is a universal language.

    I'll be posting about the lecture soon.

    27 November 2008

    Gratitude and Grace

    The house is starting to overflow with the aroma of spices and cooked foods. Colorful entrees are starting to be lined up on the counter - a golden brown pumpkin pie, a bright orange sweet potato casserole, crimson-colored cranberry sauce, green Brussels sprouts and apples, deep plum-red wine - waiting to be boxed for transport to my sister's house where they will be placed on the table with turkey, stuffing, salad, mashed potatoes, and other pies. We'll have a toast of champagne and share something for which we are thankful before we sit down to eat. Despite occasional failures, disappointments and setbacks, a troubled world that sometimes seems on the brink of overwhelming us with financial fears, political strife and divisions, we have many reasons to be grateful: health, family, love. Without the overabundance of food and wine, we would still have these. We live with grace everyday; it is there in what we choose to see, in the recognition of the daily blessings in our lives.

    I walked out of my office building last night and saw that the traffic on the interstate was moving slowly, but not stopped. There were no flashing emergency lights for the nearly two-mile stretch I can see. For just one moment things were running smoothly, people were on their way home, or to the store, or to visit loved ones. The air had a crisp, autumnal quality to it, not quite as cold as it had been in the morning. The sun had already set but the sky was still blue, on the edge of turning black. A few stars were shining. It had been a busy day at work, but I felt like I had accomplished much. It had been an ordinary day, a good day. I was thankful for all of these things: smooth-flowing traffic, crisp air, twinkling stars, a rewarding feeling for work well done.

    It is so easy for me to gripe at times about working with people who do things that seem idiotic to me, who's agendas are different than mine, who have different things to accomplish that don't align with my goals. It's easy to kvetch about dealing with traffic jams, and not to consider the misfortune of those with the flat tire or broken down automobile blocking the exits or even those exhibiting the inconsideration of others when they try to cut into traffic because they have places they need to go too. It's easy to complain about how it's almost winter and I'd rather be somewhere warm.

    But these are all minor things. It is just as easy to be grateful for having transportation, a job, a cool night with a starry sky, a family to go home to. I often forget that. My goal from now until the end of the year is to recognize something to be grateful for each day, some occurrence of grace in my life or the lives of those around me, and to be thankful for it.

    Today I can be grateful for the love of family the comforts of a secure place to live, a home, and the abundance of food. But I can also be grateful that this world has little things of beauty abounding in it, like misshaped sweet potatoes covered in dirt that someone worked hard to grow, to transport to the market, for the man who is struggling to operate the local growers' mart, so I could buy them to grace my table.

    Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. May your life be full of blessings and joy.

    From, links to poems about Thanksgiving.

    26 November 2008

    Variation on 6th folder meme

    Ho hum. Getting towards the end of the NaBloPoMo thing, and while not running out of ideas, certainly getting low on motivation. Looking for something quick, I'm taking this from UnrelaxedDad, the 6th folder meme.

    Instructions: Go to the 6th folder on your hard drive. Post the 6th photo in that folder.

    I got halfway through the assignment. Don't you think that the person who made this up liked the 6th photo in that folder? So, I figured I could pic & choose too. Besides, I could probably find a way to sort the file so that this was the 6th, but it sounds like too much work!

    The 6th photo is a photo of a Monet that hangs at Musuem of Modern Art. I took it as a closeup because I was trying to capture the brushstrokes. But, if you didn't know what it was, it looks like the camera accidentally went off inside one's backpack. So, I'm posting a picture I took on the same trip (about a year ago). I like this painting very much:

    The Dance, Henri Matisse

    I always smile when I see this painting, not only because I like it, but also because of my reaction the first time I saw it. Although I had seen photos of this painting, I hadn't seen it before, or at least not that I can remember. It was on my first trip to MoMA after they re-opened following a major renovation project. Since I was only in New York for a few days, I was trying to stuff as much experience as I could into the trip, and was trying to take in as much of the museum as I could. Note to reader unfamiliar with MoMA: This is a really stupid idea; the museum is simply too big to see everything in all the galleries in one day, without your eyeballs and brain exploding.

    My feet were getting tired and I was about to call it quits. I walked out of the gallery and thought I was headed to the escalator. I entered a stairwell. As I turned around to go back into the gallery, I saw this magnificent painting on the wall. It is very large, 12' 9 1/2" x 8' 6 1/2", but instead of overpowering you, it envelopes you with its liveliness.

    When I saw the painting I remembered an episode from high school, where one of my friends who frequently worked crew in the theatre department, was asked to help with some sets at the local university's auditorium. She, of course, agreed to do so, although she knew nothing more than that they were moving some scenery drops -- and she got to get out of school early to go help. The next day she exclaimed: I got to touch a f'ing Matisse! A real Matisse! You wouldn't believe the colors. What she had been drafted to help with was to hang some drops that had been used by The Ballet Russe, and one of them had been painted by Matisse. I was jealous then, and remain a bit so now, nearly 30 years later. (Link to website about the drops here and here)

    The colors of this painting grabbed me as well as its composition. It is very muted, and that gives it a dream-like quality, enhancing the floating movement of the dancers. What I didn't know at the time is that this was a study for the commissioned painting. The commissioned work is nearly identical in composition, but the colors are much different: bright red, green and blue. The color choice gives the painting a completely different feeling. You can see both paintings here.

    I don't get to MoMA frequently, but when I do, I always try to walk into that stairwell to see this work. I always smile when I do.

    25 November 2008

    New Books in My House

    A box was left at the usual dropoff point, the place on the front walkway near the edge of the drive that looks like a front porch only to the driver of the big brown truck. I'd been looking for it for a few days, my latest order from Amazon.

    It's an interesting collection of books, three books that have nothing to do with one another, that might appear to not have been ordered for the same reader.

    The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan, is a book I heard about on NPR when it was published a few years ago. It sounded like a interesting book but I never got around to ordering it. I thought of this book as recently as a few months ago -- I even remembered its name -- although I have no idea what caused the title of this book to drift across my brain. So, when I heard The Lemon Trees was the next title for one of my book clubs, I thought If only it was the same book.... This is not the type of book that we usually read, and the selections recently have been rather lightweight. When I went to order it, I was surprised to find that it was exactly the book I had heard reviewed previously.

    The second book is for another book discussion group, and it, too, is unusual for this group. The Lemon Tree because it is non-fiction and somewhat serious might be an appropriate book for this second group. But, what are we reading for December? I rubbed my eyes in disbelief when I saw the email: Anne Rice's Christ the Lord Out of Egypt. I almost didn't buy it, but decided I was being too much of a snob. I have so many preconceived ideas about this book and am convinced that I will hate it. I decided I wouldn't spend more than $10. It was .20 cents over and I needed the extra to qualify for free shipping (so I could have it arrive on time, in the middle of the yard, in the rain...). The book was stuffed into the box in a way that crumpled the cover. Even though it is a book that I'm not too excited to have, I wasn't happy at the packaging. I read the first chapter. It is about what I expected and don't know that I'll make it through the entire 337 pages, but I'll try to keep an open mind. Blahhhhh!

    The third book, and the one that I was most eager to arrive, is Sandi Shelton's Kissing Games of the World. I've been reading Sandi's blog for awhile now and I always find it worth my time to stop by to read her posts. BlogLily recently wrote a review of it that prompted me to click open another browser window immediately and order Sandi's book. I read the first chapter this evening and knew that if I didn't put it down, I would stay up all night reading it. Unfortunately, I have to work tomorrow, so it will have to rest until tomorrow night, when I can start to read it while doing some preparatory baking for Thanksgiving.

    It struck me after I leafed through the opening pages of each of these books, that I have one book that is about a historical figure, but is completely a work of fiction as there is no historical record for when Jesus of Nazareth was seven years old, one work of fiction, that, in the first few pages, grabs you with very real characters, and one non-fiction book that tells the stories of several people, who in telling their stories, are conducting a very real political act.

    24 November 2008


    Many years ago, I had a friend who always organized a dinner around Thanksgiving time, with all of the traditional fixings, but with none of the traditions or expectations of a family gathering. Only women were invited (my son did make an appearance as honored guest when he was 7 weeks old and had just come home from the hospital a few days before), and the intent was to just have a nice relaxing time with friends without any pressure for a ridiculously clean house, fancy table decorations, extravagant food, or bickering relatives.

    Each year the hostess would assign each attendee a dish to prepare. It was always well planned, and there was little stress. I wasn't much of a cook at the time, so I think I always brought something foolproof, like fresh fruit, or a salad, or deviled eggs. But one year, the usual hostess needed a break. She agreed to have it at her house and would cook the turkey, but she asked someone else to plan the rest of the menu. The stand-in planner was not nearly as organized. She waited until it was close to the time of the event and then simply told people to bring whatever they wanted.

    There was almost a mutiny. How was that going to work? So, she revised her instructions. Her assignments were a bit more specific: drinks, vegetables, desserts. I was assigned vegetables and decided to be a bit more daring than salad and settled on a green bean recipe that I couldn't mess up: green beans with slivered almonds. Hardly even cooking: beans in pan, heat, add slivered almonds, and, most importantly, put in fancy cut-glass bowl that makes anything look special. I knew it was lame, but it fit the bill.

    I arrived at the dinner with my veggies in hand. I hadn't made too much, as I calculated that nobody would be very interested in eating them anyway. As I went to put them on the table, I started laughing. My green bean dish took its place next to several other vegetable dishes, each different in execution, but all some combination of green beans. Green beans with mushroom soup & onions. Green beans with pinto beans & almonds. Green beans with wax beans. Green beans and almonds and crispy fried onion rings, mixed with sour cream. Green beans & onions and almonds held together by something undefinable. Green beans in a souffle. Green beans in a casserole dish. We all laughed at the variations and had fun trying the different recipes even if it did make for a lop-sided dinner.

    That is how pot luck suppers go; you never know what anyone will bring but it always seems to turn out. And so it is with my virtual thanksgiving feast.

    Litlove tried to make a traditional US Thanksgiving meal, but she found herself short on two things: time and the ingredients for thetraditional American meal. She writes that she is perplexed by the American combination of sweet and savory dishes -- noting that only an unseasoned palate, like that of her adolescent son, would think it starchy potatoes and marshmallows sounded wonderful. Instead, she opted to roast a chicken, surrounding it with root vegetables in the roasting pan. Sounds simple, elegant and delicious.

    Emily does a turn at being a food historian in her post on Sweet Potato Casserole, discussing the evolution of her recipe from a run-of-the-mill to a no-fail, crowd-pleasing favorite that she is asked to make every year. I think it sounds wonderful, and I'm planning on making it this Thanksgiving. I love sweet potatoes and don't usually add sweet ingredients to them, but I think this sounds like it will be something that the family crowd this Thanksgiving will like.

    In a post that eschews the meat-centered Thanksgiving table, Stefanie writes about how she and her Bookman have defined their own traditional Thanksgiving dinner while staying true to their vegan philosophy: they don't eat animals or anything that tries to mimic meat. Her tradition is an enchilada casserole. It sounds delicious. Unlike a turkey, this isn't something that you have to spend hours preparing. Stefanie also contributes a vegan pumpkin pie. I can't wait to make this one and I love her suggestion for chocolate bits on top (chocolate can go anything, right?), though I think that I will make real whipped cream, an indulgence that I only do a few times a year and Thanksgiving is one of those times!

    So Thanksgiving, this year, is more about rest and less about the food, Courtney writes. I think that is a recipe for a great holiday. I think holidays should be about rest, relaxation, finding ways to de-stress and to remember that we sometimes need to remove ourselves from the worries of hectic lives. Courtney's recipe isn't a traditional Thanksgiving recipe, but a recipe that she is thankful for. I think her Steak, Ale and Cheese pie would be great to make when you tire of all the leftover turkey (and the wait for pizza delivery on Saturday will be two hours), or to make anytime during the cold, grey winter months.

    So my contribution? I've never made a turkey and I don't know that I ever will. It really seems like too much for a small gathering, and I don't think I could handle cooking for a big crowd. (Note: my family = big crowd if everybody shows up.) Last year, I shared two of my favorite Thanksgiving meal side dishes - cranberry sauce and the thing I make with sweet potatoes and apples. I have the cranberries to make the sauce, but I'm the only one in my extended family that really likes cranberries, so I think I'll just make it for me. Earlier this month, I posted a recipe for Brussels Sprouts and Apples. I'm bringing the Brussels sprouts, Stef's pumpkin pie, and Emily's sweet potato casserole this year. My husband is making his Corn Souffle (1 can cream corn, 1 can corn, Jiffy Mix cornmeal, some eggs, some sour cream, jalapeno -- I know this isn't a recipe. I don't know his secret recipe.)

    So, what will I bring to this virtual feast? Although I already wrote once this week on alcohol (usige, whiskey, scotch or bourbon?), I'm bringing wine, just as I am in real life.

    A tradition in my family is that we always have champagne at any holiday celebration. I like sparkling wines, the drier, the better. My mother, who is a very good cook who never skimps on quality, likes a really sweet champagne. She buys the really inexpensive, too sweet champagne you find at the grocery. Sometimes I feel like I should buy her a bottle just for herself because I think you should drink what you like and who cares if it isn't rated highly in Wine Spectator?

    But, as long as I'm responsible for bringing the libations, I will bring something I consider good, compromising a little on the sweet/dry issue. This year, I decided to bring a Spanish Cava, Segura Viudas Aria. It is a dry wine, but has a touch of sweetness. I think it will please. When I was at my favorite local wine store the other day, the store owner convinced me to buy a bottle of a sparkling Rose of Malbec, Reginato Celestina. Haven't decided if I'm going to bring it to my sister's on Thanksgiving, or save it for hubby and me to share on some occasion. For table wine, I'm bringing one of my favorite, anytime wines, Red Truck Red. It's a blended California wine that is medium bodied and absolutely delicious. No need to be a wine snob or to spend a fortune on this. Best yet, in Indiana, which has weird and archaic beer and wine distributor laws, it is readily available in the grocery store. I haven't tried Red Truck's white wines yet, but I bought two bottles of White Truck White as well. It's advertised as not having anything oaky about it, which I should like. Last, although it won't be my contribution to the party, I'm pretty sure that we'll end the evening with dessert, and coffee with either Bailey's or Kahlua.

    So, what are you cooking, baking, buying, eating or drinking this Thanksgiving? Leave a comment or a link to share. I hope you have lots to be thankful for and enjoy your holiday!

    It's Not Too Late: Share Your Thanksgiving Recipe

    It's not too late to participate in the Virtual Thanksgiving Feast. Send me a link before noon (Eastern time) Monday and I'll link back to your recipe. I've already decided to include two of the recipes on my Thanksgiving menu. Check back tomorrow to see which one. See details here.

    23 November 2008

    Join Feast, post recipes, chance to win a prize

    Just in the nick of time to help you with planning your Thanksgiving meal!

    Attend The Virtual Thanskgiving Feast! Tell your blog friends -- the more the merrier.

    To join:
    1.Leave a comment letting me know your participating.
    2.Post to your blog your recipe.
    3.Send me an email with the link by Sunday Nov 23rd.
    4.Post on or before Thanksgiving on one ot these topics:
    - A favorite holiday tradition in your family
    - A favorite holiday memory
    - Something that you are grateful for this year

    See original post for details on prize giveaway.

    Check back here on Monday Nov 24th.

    Joining in:

    Uisge, Uisge Everywhere And Plenty a Drop to Drink

    I'm a bit befuddled sometimes when I order a cocktail. Sometimes it's easier to order something with a frou-frou name from the 'specialty' menu, than to navigate into unknown territories of mysterious libations.

    When I was in college, it was common to drink Rum and Coke. It didn't matter what kind of rum; there was only one: cheap! A Seven & Seven was something a little more sophisticated, but the first time I ordered one, I was asked if I wanted the well brand or Seagrams. Uhhh? Yeah, I said, not having a clue. Scotch aficiandos might find it scandelous that, over the years, I've come to like Scotch & Seven, rather than Seagrams or any other kind of whiskey with 7-Up.

    Martinis were something that my dad drank and I learned how to make them when I was about 12. Couldn't stand the taste, though I made them per directions for my dad frequently. When I came of drinking age, I always preferred whiskey drinks over anything made with gin. My mom always said that my dad's family drank alcoholics' drinks - Manhattans, Martinis, Old-Fashioned. Aren't they all made from alcohol? I remember thinking. It wasn't until I was older that I understood what she meant - drinks that were a mix of liquor and liquor, rather than liquor and something non-alcoholic.

    Last week, I ordered a Manhattan, one of my favorite cocktails. Maker's Mark okay? the waiter asked. That's fine, I thought, although since I had recently posted some drink recipes for Charlotte, I knew that a Manhattan should be made with whisky rather than with bourbon. But, what is the difference between the two? I wouldn't have been able to tell you.

    Uisge or Uisce is the Gaelic word for water. Uisge beatha is a Scotch word literally meaning water of life. Whiskey (with the e) generally refers to American or Canadian Whiskey. To be a Bourbon, a US whiskey must be distilled in Kentucky, aged at least three years and one day in an uncharred new oak barrel, and be at least 51% corn. A Tennessee whiskey is almost identical to a bourbon, but is filtered through a sugar maple charcoal. To understand this difference on the palate, compare a sip of Jack Daniels with a sip of Maker's Mark. Canadian whiskies are often called 'rye whisky' but aren't required to have any specific proportion of rye.

    Scotch whisky is made from barley and must be made in Scotland and matured for more than three years in oak casks. Single-malts are the creme de la creme of Scotch, although many brands of Scotch are blended malts. Irish whiskey is similar to Scotch, but is usually distilled three times and usually distilled in a pot still. Some Irish whiskey is peated and the aroma is distinct. If you've ever been in Ireland when peat is being burned, your sense of smell will transport you back when you open a bottle of a peaty Irish whiskey. There is a cocktail that I like -- a Rusty Nail -- that has a bit of an urban legend surrounding it. Made of whiskey and Drambuie, a liqueur made from a secret recipe of honey, spices and Scotch, a Rusty Nail supposedly earned its name from irate Irish bartenders who thought that by diluting a good whiskey with a Scotch liqueur was like stirring a drink with a rusty nail.

    Taste Test: Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon.
    (l to r) Tyrconnell Single Malt Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey, Chivas Regal Blended Scotch, Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky.
    I poured each of the three types of whiskey I had and did a taste test today. There is an obvious difference in color, although the Irish Whiskey was similar to the Scotch. The Scotch had a stronger taste, one that had a slight burn as it goes down the pipe. But the Bourbon is much different than the others, in color, aroma and in taste. It is sweeter and much smoother. It may not be the best description on the web, but you can find out more general facts about the difference between Whiskey, Scotch and Bourbon at this Wikipedia entry.

    So, does this clear it up for me? Not much. Like with wine, I think it comes down to one important thing: what you like.

    22 November 2008

    Reading Notes: Reading for work

    Most of the books I read that are work related are technical books, not the kind of material that one reads 'just because'. A book with a title such as Managing A Software Development Project without Losing Your Staff or Your Cool isn't something that you'd curl up with on a grey Saturday afternoon. When I have to, I don't read these books, I skim them. I have such a book on the credenza in my office right now, something my boss ordered, for some sort of business intelligence software. Implementing that software will be one of my objectives for next year. Oh hum, boring!

    Recently, the training manager offered a leadership class for employees, and is conducting the class as a book study. We meet weekly and there is an internal wiki page where participants can comment. Only once before have I been in any sort of book-related study at work. I'm finding it to be an interesting experience.

    The book that we are reading is Leading from the Front: No excuse leadership tactics for Women, by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch, who are former Marine officers. We discuss one chapter each week. I have to admit upfront that I haven't read the chapters when I've known that I wouldn't be able to attend. When I do attend, I block out about 30 minutes during the week to read. That block is usually compressed into 15 - 20 minutes, right before the session. But, I'm finding that is enough time, because after the discussion, I usually re-read sections from the chapter.

    One of the interesting things about this exercise is that, although the book is aimed at women, there are both men and women participating in the class. I work at a company (and in a field) which is predominately male. According to some statistics I've read, it is more male than any other field in the US (except perhaps, I guess, the Catholic priesthood).

    I've found that by discussing the book, I'm seeing some of my colleagues in a different light. I've been surprised at how involved emotionally some of the men are with their work and their staff. (I don't mean emotionally involved as in romantically involved.) Some of them seem to be much more caring than I thought, and others more tolerant of dealing with the foibles of the staff than I would have guessed. Reading the book is sort of an equalizer: everybody's opinion is valid and there isn't any org chart considerations given to the makeup of the group. Since schedules don't allow all to attend each week, the wiki has been an welcomed adjunct to the weekly sessions, although I think the HR leader would have liked more people to participate in the online discussion. It's an interesting exercise for me and I'm glad that I participated.

    This week's chapter was on crying at work. I have always worked to NOT do this at work. I was surprised that there was an entire chapter in the book about it. Who would think about crying at work? Sure, there have been times that I've been upset and have sought refuge in my car or a bathroom stall to shed a few tears, but crying in front of a supervisor or a colleague over a typical work situation would be humiliating for me. But, one of the interesting things about this chapter is that it also discusses how other emotional outbursts have the same effect as crying: one loses her credibility, is seen as weak, people avoid, or superiors pass you up for plum assignments because you can't handle stress. Griping, whining, complaining and angry outbursts are in the same category according to the book.

    I am sometimes prone to 'vent'. This is something that took me a long time to realize wasn't going to fly with my boss. When I was on a high-stress project that was not going well last year, he frequently had to "talk me down". Some of it was understandable, but back in the office, I realized that it was important that I not be so negative when talking about my projects and the roadblocks we were experiencing. While I caught on that I wasn't doing myself any favors, I never thought of it as being akin to crying. I don't think that it is as bad, but I can see how women doing this can be perceived by men as something that it isn't meant to be.

    Interestingly, last year, the feedback I got in my review was that my team didn't think that I was a very emotional person. It's a tricky way, the tightrope that a woman manager needs to travel on between being too sensitive and emotional, and being seen as aggressive and cold-hearted.

    21 November 2008

    Lame Blog Post for Friday

    I find the results rather funny. Seems like someone interested in things religious might have issues with the numerology aspect of this. Still, given much of what I've read this year, it seems rather close to reality.

    Camille's Dewey Decimal Section:

    262 Ecclesiology

    200 Religion

    The Bible and other religious texts, books about the general philosophy and theory of religion.

    What it says about you:
    You don't mind thinking about the unknown or other very big ideas. You will never feel like your work is finished. The 200-series is dominated by Christian topics, so you may feel like you're constantly surrounded by Christians.

    Find your Dewey Decimal Section at

    Found this at Emily's who found it at Stefanie's.

    20 November 2008

    My Blog, Review Copies, Honest Criticism

    I haven't participated in Booking Through Thursday before, but I do read the posts of some who do regularly. Today Ted's post caught my attention.

    I received a review copy yesterday and I started reading it today. Someday I will post about it. But, like Ted, I have no obligation to write niceties about a book simply because the publisher or publicist gave me a copy. When I first started writing reviews, I tended to be very harsh in reviewing books that I didn't like. I have soften that somewhat -- not because I don't want to hurt the author's feeling, but because I don't want my blog to be a snark-fest. That doesn't mean that one can't be critical, however. If I choose to write about a book -- whether it is a review copy given gratis or a book I have purchased -- I will write about it honestly. As Ted writes in his post: This is my blog.

    Only once have I had an author comment about a negative review. The comment was very simple; paraphrasing, it was something like: I'm disappointed you didn't like my book. It pained me at first to read that. I thought: Oh, he actually read my blog. I might have hurt his feelings. Then I recovered, realizing that he shouldn't -- who knows, maybe didn't -- expect all reviews to be positive.

    Upon further reflection, I realized that I was not only disappointed in the book, but disappointed in the author's comment. I wish that he had addressed some of the issues I had brought up (this was a non-fiction book, and I questioned his approach and assumptions). It seems like there was a lost opportunity there.

    I don't get too many requests to review books. I do get review copies sometimes through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program, and occasionally through a program offered by Harper-Collins. I have been approached a few times, but I've been wary about accepting them. When I first started blogging, I had someone, who appeared to be a publicist, request that I review a book. I agreed, but was astonished at how amateurish the book was. I didn't finish reading it and I never posted. I figured that if it wasn't published professionally, a negative review might not be accepted in a professional manner either. I never regretted not having reviewed the book.

    19 November 2008

    $51 -- it's adding up

    I promised when I started NaBloPoMo that I would make a charitable donation for every comment I received this month. So far, I've received 51 comments. That's $51 dollars for a good cause. 11 more days. I'd like to reach 100 comments. $100 dollars for 100 comments.

    I said that I would donate to a cause dedicated to helping eradicate hunger and water scarcity. A few facts about water scarcity on our planet:
    Each year more than five million people die from water-related disease.
    2.5 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation, including 1.2 billion people who still have no facilities at all.
    Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.
    Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources.
    At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease.
    These facts come from the website of the organization I have chosen to donate to: Water Partners International.

    Water Partners is a non-profit dedicated exclusively to helping provide safe drinking water and sanitation to people in eight developing nations: Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Guatemala, India, Kenya, and the Philippines. The organization partners with other organizations 'on the ground' in these countries and also offers micro-loans to villages to build their own water infrastructure.

    Here is an indication of how funding can help Water Partners Int'l provide people in need with safe water:
    $25: provides someone with access to safe drinking water for life.
    $150: meets the water needs of an entire family.
    $200: provides a household water tap and toilet to a family in Honduras.
    $1,000: provides public water points and latrines to a village of 400 in Bangladesh.
    $5,000: covers construction of a spring protection system for a village in Ethiopia.
    $10,000: Provides water hook-ups and toilets to 300 people in an urban slum in India.
    $20,000: covers the cost of a deep borehole well for an entire village in Kenya.

    Isn't it amazing what so little money can do?

    18 November 2008

    5 Things I learned today

    Taking a cue from Emily, because you don't have to be in school to learn:

    1) The weather outside is so much more enjoyable when you wear a warm coat. (Like I've lived all these years to learn that!)

    2) My cousin gave me some Samphire and Seaweed bubble bath. I didn't have a clue what Samphire was, but it smells heavenly. Samphire is a coastal plant in Great Britain, has white flowers, and is mentioned in King Lear.

    3) It was driven home this evening that how one acts when leading a meeting can really go a long way towards setting the tone, especially when delivering bad news. It wasn't easy, as I was disappointed too, but by acknowledging my disappointment and then stating that we weren't going to dissect the decision that we couldn't change, the group was able to focus on new, positive ideas that will help us accomplish our goal, although in a different manner, with less money, in a different time period.

    4) The fastest way to burn your butt is to turn the seat heater to max heat.

    5) The last President who was also Secretary of State was James Buchanan. The last Secretary of State to run unsuccessfully for President was Edmund Muskie. Definitely news you can't use -- unless trying to win an argument about whether Hillary Clinton will use Sec'y of State to launch her next presidential campaign in 2016.

    : I'm not so sure that I'm running out of ideas for posting daily, but I'm sure running out of energy to write long posts!

    17 November 2008

    Not at all James Bondian

    Saturday morning, as I sat in Catherine's kitchen drinking coffee and watching the fog slowly lift to reveal the magnificent cathedral of St John's the Divine, the phone rang. It was her friend Taradina, who I had the pleasure of meeting while in NYC on business last year, calling from Senegal.

    Catherine told her that I was in New York to meet someone from Germany, along with some NY-area people, none whom I had ever met in real life.

    Really? Sounds rather James Bondian she said with a giggle.

    Well, I didn't have to get any sort of combo driving-flying-boating spy vehicle to arrive at the rendez-vous point. There were no secret passwords or handshakes. I simply walked out the door and around the corner to the designated spot, The Hungarian Pastry Shop. I didn't even have cool boots and an umbrella a la Diana Rigg. The Avengers was always more my thing than Bond. Not that anyone would ever mistake me for Diana Rigg -- or a spy.

    The Pastry Shop has more of a college vib than some sort of secret service haunt in a Rive Gauche cafe, a Monaco casino, or hookah bar in Marrakesh: cramped, crowded, oddly matched tables and walls covered with literate graffiti, flyers for happenings at nearby Columbia, ads for people selling dog-walking services or organizing one's apartment, people busily scribbling in notebooks or typing on laptops, or just chatting with friends. As I walked in, I only glanced for a nanosecond at the delicious baked goods in the display case. To walk past this is an act of courage for most sweet-tooths. I immediately spotted a table at the back with 6 people looking expectantly at each person who walked in the door. I immediately recognized Emily from pictures on her blog and Hobgoblin because I remember him writing once that he wore his hair in a ponytail. Then I saw Charlotte, who has also posted pictures of herself on her blog. Immediately I was introduced to them and to Dorothy, Marcy, and Becky.

    We each had some sort of delicious baked good -- I had an apricot linzer torte & a cup of tea, perfect for a foggy, grey day -- and commenced talking. Hobgoblin and Dorothy know Emily and Becky. Emily, Becky and Marcy know each other through professional contacts as well as their blogs. Charlotte and I were the ones who hadn't met any of the others in real life. After a bite to eat, we were off to the Strand with its 18 miles of bookshelves. Charlotte wanted to see some of the city by walking, but the 7 miles to the Strand was a bit too far. We walked for a bit and then took taxis. I appreciated that everyone was understanding that I, feeble-footed as I still am from my accident last year, couldn't walk very far.

    The Strand is one of those overwhelming bookstores that any booklover can't believe they've landed in. There are books on tables, books stacked on the floor, books on shelving up to the high ceilings -- on 3 floors. It is one of those places where you don't find books; they find you. My advice to anyone visiting the Strand - unless you have about a day & half to spend there -- is that you have a plan for 2, maybe 3 sections, that you want to browse. I immediately hit upon a section of travel essays and picked up two books, a translation of Guy de Maupassant's Afloat, and The Search for the Pink-Headed Duck: A Journey into the Himalayas and Down the Brahmaputra by Rory Nugent.

    The de Maupassant book is described as a merging of
    fact and fiction, dream, polemic and documentation in a wholly original manner. Humorous and troubling stories, unreliable confessions, stray reminiscences, and thoughts on life, love, art, nature and society....
    The Pink-headed duck is about a journey through India, which appears to have much to do with India, and only a little to do with a bird that hadn't been seen in a half century. How could I pass up either of them?

    But my real find of the day was found on a remainders table between fiction, literary biography and poetry: a book reproducing William Blake's illuminated poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience, with transcriptions and commentary on each of the individual plates. When I showed it to Catherine that evening, she said (as anyone on the business side of publishing might), This is expensive paper. I don't know why they used it in the signatures that are just text, yet they were too cheap to use colored end papers. As a lover of books, of poetry, and of art, who first discovered Blake's paintings as a young college student wandering through The Tate, I don't care how unprofitable such a book might be; I just care that it is a marvelous book, beautiful to hold and to read. I even like the two brown ribbons, for page marking both the plate and the corresponding commentary, that match brown fabric on the spine of the book. It is lovely. Although heavy, I carried it aboard the plane today so that I wouldn't chance the airlines loosing it.

    After The Strand, we had a late lunch. If you read Dorothy's blog today, you may have wondered about mimosas and mac 'n cheese. They don't really sound like they'd go together, but they mixed well with good conversation and an intermittent commentary on the 80's music that was playing. It was fun spending time with the other bloggers. As Dorothy wrote today, it does feel a little strange to meet people in real life who you know only through their blogs. It is like you know them, but yet, you only know their on-line persona, one aspect of their lives. I wasn't surprised by anyone though. I think that each is very similar to their online voice. I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet them. If you don't know any of these bloggers, go to their blogs now and meet them online.

    PS -- I also discovered the real-life name of Dorothy & Hob's pseudonymous dog, Muttboy. All I'll say is that it is fitting, although I will always think of him as Muttboy.

    16 November 2008

    Dr. Atomic

    I saw the Met's HD presentation of John Adam's Dr. Atomic (libretto by Peter Sellars) last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Spending a Saturday afternoon watching an opera about Robert Oppenheimer and the first atomic test definitely seems like something that might require an eclectic taste, and to be honest, I didn't think that it was a taste that I had. But, much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the opera.

    If you want an excellent review of the opera, you should go read Ted's post about it. He did a much better job of a review than I could ever do. But, I will endeavor here to put some sort of shape to the many thoughts I've had this week about the opera.

    The opera starts out with the chorus chanting Matter is neither created nor destroyed. This is a tenet that I've always thought of as being as much spiritual as it is scientific. I've known many people who have thought that this is a rather odd perspective. But, I've always looked at the periodic table of elements, with its perfect assembly of elements, as evidence (though not proof) that the universe was created by some sort of superior intelligence. I can't envision such ordered beauty could be developed randomly. In reflecting on the opera, this seems a perfect choice to start the opera, as there is a tension throughout about what the was being unleashed upon the world by man ushering in the atomic age.

    There is a Faustian undercurrent throughout. (How could there not be?) At first it seemed as if Oppenheimer scoffs at the idea of any sort of moral implications of the bomb, but throughout the opera, he suffers from doubt and awe at what he has done privately while admonishing physicist Robert Wilson about his efforts to have scientists petition the government not to use the bomb on population centers. The opera doesn't deal with Oppenheimer after the war, but allegedly he was very depressed after the bombings of Japan. Even people who do horrific things, or produce horrific things with good intentions as did Oppenheimer, have doubts privately.

    There are many literary references throughout the opera's libretto: Baudelaire, John Donne, Bhagavad-gita, Muriel Rukeyser, Native-American songs. I was fascinated by the use of entire poems in the libretto. While they complemented not only the music, but also the tension in the libretto, I was at first unsure about how I felt about the use, or why Adams and Sellers decided to include them. I liked them, but I was puzzled about why there was so much. But, afterwards I did some more reading on the opera, and discovered an interview with John Adams discussing the works the Oppenheimer read. Adams referred to Oppenheimer as being one of the most cultured scientists we have ever had. Two of Donne's works, -- one Holy Sonnet 14 was sung as an aria -- were cited by Oppenheimer as inspiring him to name the test site Trinity. I always thought that Trinity was a bit sacrilegious, but know that I know why Oppenheimer named it, I don't think that it was. Instead, I think that it might have been his way of acknowledging some inner struggle with what they were developing. But perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

    I loved the Batter my heart aria. I thought the music was lovely. I have always liked this sonnet, but have struggled with coming to terms with it. (I wrote about Donne's sonnet here last year). The poem is a paradox and is fitting in its use in this opera. It is violent, yet begs for mercy, love and redemption. This aria is a moving, tour-de-force. A few days after I saw this, I came across a passage from theologian Walter Brueggemann that discussed how scripture utters, shatters, destroys, and creates. I couldn't help but think about Donne's sonnet, and the opera. Matter is neither created nor destroyed.

    Here is a clip of Gerald Finley singing the Donne aria:

    15 November 2008

    Read this Blog

    Not this one. This one: Further Tales of Ngor.

    14 November 2008

    A Virtual Thanksgiving Feast -- Please Join Me!

    Please join me for a virtual Thanksgiving feast. Here's how:

    * Sign up in the comments for what dish you will 'bring'.

    * Post to your blog the recipe for your dish. Be sure to give credit if it comes from a published cookbook.

    * Send me an email with the link (an cam jong AT yahoo DOTCOM) no later than Sunday November 23rd with the link. You can also link to this page if you wish.

    * Write a post on your blog on or before Thanksgiving on one of the these topics:
    - A favorite holiday tradition in your family
    - A favorite holiday memory from your childhood (or from anytime if you happily think that you can still have the joy of a child)
    - Something that you are grateful for this year

    I'll host the virtual dinner here on Monday, November 24th.

    Suggested menu:
    - appetizers
    - turkey (or some other main course if you don't do turkey)
    - a vegetarian option for the vegans who will visit
    - stuffing
    - corn souffle
    - some sort of cranberry dish
    - vegetables
    - potato dishes (mashed, smashed, baked, sweet, candied, etc.)
    - salad (we need to feel healthy, and some us will be)
    - libations -- before, during, after dinner
    - desserts of any kind
    - anything else that you would like to bring

    Will you join me for this virtual potluck? (or, as Hoosiers say, a 'pitch-in'). There will be prizes for best recipe and best blog post and to a randomly chosen dinner guest.

    13 November 2008

    Autumn Leaves

    Most of the leaves from the driveway have been swept away. While I'm glad that we no longer have the thick blanket of wet leaves on the drive, it also means that winter will be here soon. Most of the leaves have fallen and the trees are bare. Here are some photos I took a few weeks ago, when the leaves were flaunting their colors.

    Leaf on Drive

    More than Net

    Geometry in the Woods

    Light and Shadow

    Against the Wall

    12 November 2008

    Winter Hat

    A few years ago, I left home on a sunny early spring day for a business trip. It was unseasonably warm, the kind of warmth that makes you realize that winter really has been that long and makes you hopeful that the warmth will stay. It was a quick trip - just two days - and the weather forecast was all about how warm it was suppose to be for days on the Eastern seaboard. And so it was, for most of my trip.

    As I dragged my small roller bag from the train station into the office at the start of my last day, having already checked out of the hotel and confirmed car service to LaGuardia for early afternoon, I noticed that it was starting to sprinkle. No problem, I thought, I don't have to be walking about in this, and I'll be home this evening to spend a restful weekend.

    Thinking one will get home on time is the curse of frequent business travelers.

    Within an hour one of my colleagues, seeing the suitcase in the corner of the conference room, asked: You're not staying? You didn't keep your room?

    I looked puzzled.

    My flight was cancelled at 6 am this morning, due to weather he said. I'm leaving tomorrow.

    No, I checked in for my flight when I arrived at the office. Just a few minutes ago, I added as if to convince myself that he was wrong. Must have been a mechanical problem with the plane.

    I looked out the window. I saw nothing but a dim, light, greyness hanging over the Hudson. When you can't see Manhattan from across the river, you're in trouble.

    Within minutes, my cousin C and my husband both called me, C to offer her sofa and my husband to say that he didn't think I would make it home. No, I reassured them. The flight was still on.

    Within minutes, all three airports in NYC had been closed. There wasn't a snowball's chance that I would get through to the airlines, although there was suddenly plenty of snow everywhere.

    I made arrangements for the car service to pick me up at 5:15, rather than 2:30. No need to drag my luggage to the Upper West Side on the subway, I thought. I went back to work.

    Sometime during the afternoon, locked inside a conference room, the stranded travelers and those who only had a short distance to go home, decided to continue to work as long as we were stuck there. Our project had a deadline and we had been given bonus time. I cancelled the car service and continued to work. Somewhere around 7:30pm, we decided to call it quits for the weekend.

    I had tried all day to call the airlines, but only received a fast busy. Nevertheless, I told my co-workers that I would join them via conference call on Monday morning. I'm sure I'll get out of here tomorrow, I said, oblivious to the current weather conditions outside.

    I packed up my laptop and notebooks, grabbed my suitcase and a box I needed to bring home with me, and headed to the door. As I walked outside, I realized that I might have underestimated the snowstorm. First it had rained. Then it sleeted for a few hours. A few inches of heavy wet snow had been piled on top of the ice glazed streets. As I stepped off the curb onto the cobblestones, I knew it wasn't going to be easy crossing to the PATH station. A few steps and suddenly I was knee deep in a water-filed pothole. Bad enough that my shoes -- an impractical pump - had already filled with snow, but now my slacks were wet too.

    I continued on, grousing under my breath, that I never should have given up the car service and should have left a few hours earlier. I knew I had no chance of catching a cab after the short train ride across the Hudson. As I waited nearly 30 minutes for the next train, I was just short of shivering from my now wet clothes.

    As soon as the train left the station, I realized that I wasn't on the train I normally took. Not a problem, I assured myself, I can still get to where I'm going from the other station. It was only a matter of taking a different subway line; I had done it before. Had the weather been nice, I could have walked a few blocks and caught the train I had originally intended, but the other was a workable option, so that's what I did.

    Except I didn't know that the train made different stops after a certain time of night, so I couldn't switch where I wanted. Still, I had been on the NYC subways enough times to know my other options. I switched trains where I knew I should, and without a delay, caught the next train.

    But, it was now after 9pm. Track repairs had been scheduled. I sat on a track between stations for another 25 minutes. My hair was wet; I had no hat. My slacks were wet. I was toting a heavy briefcase, a box of manuals that I held with a plastic handle that cut through my hands, and a roller bag that suddenly seemed more suited for a 3 month tour instead of a 2 day trip. My fingers and toes were numb. I sat in the subway car, watching water pour down the sides, never wishing more that I was anywhere but where I was. I puzzled why there was so much water; it didn't occur to me that it was the melting snow from the streets above. Was there really that much snow?

    As I waited for the subway to begin moving again, I debating whether I would make one more train switch. I was tired. I didn't want to walk up any stairs carrying the baggage that I had. Yet, there was a nagging voice in my head that said that I should. Had I stayed on that subway line, I would have had to get off at a stop that I had only been to once, about three years before. I knew the walk to my cousin's apartment wasn't long, but I figured there must have been some reason why I always took the 1/9 train.

    I made the switch at the last minute and regretted my decision as I waited on an empty platform, watching several trains move through the station without stopping on the other tracks. Finally, a train stopped, and I hopped aboard. Within a few minutes, I was at the stop I needed. I'll be inside in a few minutes, I thought. I only had to get up the stairs with the suitcase.

    Once on the street, I realized that I my challenges were not over. The snow had turned to a sharp wind-driven ice, falling heavily and quickly, each pellet stinging you as if you were in a desert sandstorm. I had two blocks to walk. Two blocks to pull a suitcase through slush the consistency of pea gravel.

    Snow and ice accumulates under the wheels of a roller bag, just as it does the wheels of your car. 40 lbs propelled by ice covered wheels may be less treacherous than a 1 ton car on icy roads, but it is not much easier to navigate.

    As I got to C's building, the door was open, so I didn't have to ring. (Her super would be at least one full blog post and it would explain why this could happen under his watch!) I got on the elevator and made my way to her apartment. There was a chef who got on the elevator at the same time. He had flour on his shirt and his checked chef's pants and he smelled like garlic. I wanted to follow him when he exited at the 5th floor. I'm tired, cold and hungry. Will you make me dinner? I wanted to say.

    When I got the C's, I was exhausted and out of breath from walking so hurriedly down the street, trying to get out of the elements as quickly as I could.

    Why didn't you call me? she said. I would have helped you carry your bag. I knew you would have a miserable trip, so I didn't have the heart to tell you that the elevator was broken.

    It's fixed now, I said. Had it been broken, I would have stayed in the lobby and slept in a corner. I don't think the super would have noticed, and I don't think his noisy kids would have kept me awake!

    After I had changed clothes, had a cup of tea to warm up, and a glass of wine to wind down, the 2 hour trip didn't seem so bad. I laughed at how ill-prepared I was with the only clothes that I had: a Spring-weight jacket, heels, no hat, no gloves.

    When I finally reached the airlines around noon on Saturday, the first flight available was Tuesday night. Somewhere over the next three days, I managed to find a pair of gloves and C gave me a hat. My clothes dried and I felt better about being stranded. By the time I was ready to leave Tuesday evening, I had worn the hat -- a beige, brown and red cloche -- several times. C said it looked like it was made for my head and that I should keep it.

    I don't live in a city where you walk outside much in the cold weather, so the hat doesn't get much wear, sometimes just a few minutes in the car. But, whenever I go to NYC in the winter, I wear it. It is a perfect hat for the subway: easy to take off without messing your hair, not so hot and heavy that you can't leave it on. I've come to think of it as my New York hat.

    Last Sunday, as I prepared to go outside, I realized that it was cold. I grabbed my hat and gloves. The air was not only cold, but it had that heavy, November feel to it that tells you that winter is about ready to knock on your door, announcing that Fall is over.

    I'm flying to New York in a few days to spend time with some friends (and meet some bloggers too!). The hat will be making the trip as well.

    Last winter, I was in an elevator in New York. There was a little boy about 2-years old in a stroller. He looked up at me and pointed. Nice hat he said.

    It is.

    11 November 2008

    Food Find

    I recently stumbled upon the blog 101 Cookbooks. A site started by someone who decided that she had too many cookbooks -- I think I have more than she did when she started -- is bound to be a site that I like.

    I found a delicious recipe for Brussels sprouts yesterday. I realize that some may think that one could never use the word delicious to describe Brussels sprouts, but if you think that, I'd bet that you've never had fresh sprouts cooked correctly. I think that they are one of those adult tastes that most adults veer away from because they have horrid memories of nasty, bitter, overcooked sprouts that some old relative cooked and made you eat. Nobody ever remembers their own mother cooking those horrible mini cabbage bombs; even the cruelest mom wouldn't force her offspring to eat such unappetizing green things.

    Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Apples turned out to be a perfect recipe for me. I did not use the tofu called for; (Warning: Vegetarians, close your eyes and skip to the next paragraph) instead, I used pork roast, leftover from the roast we had Sunday night. The combination of sprouts, apples and pork was great.

    I didn't have real maple syrup in the house, so I used some pure Indiana Shagbark hickory sauce. It isn't quite as sweet as maple syrup, but it worked fine in this recipe.

    I also didn't have any pine nuts in the cupboard, so I used a handful of pistachio and dried cranberry mix. The cranberries complemented the apples nicely, but the pistachios didn't seem to fit. I ended up picking them out by hand. The cranberries, though, added nice color to the plate.

    Heidi's site is mostly vegetables, but occasionally she features some dessert recipes as well.

    This site led me to another find: TasteBook. At TasteBook, one can design one's own cookbook, fill it with favorite recipes online, and then have copies printed and delivered. The ability to customize these books is really nice. I think that this would make a great housewarming present for someone with a new kitchen just begging to cook up something great.

    10 November 2008

    Touch Me Not

    I don't usually write about work, but today I'm going to write about a workplace situation.

    I'm not a very touchy-feely kind of a person. I take an interest in my co-workers, but try to keep a safe and appropriate distance. Obviously, there are some co-workers that I know better than others and might be more willing to share personal information with. I'm not a loner, nor do I shy away from interactions from people.

    But, I'm not a very physically demonstrative person. I don't greet my friends with hugs. The two-sided air kiss isn't something that you see here in the Midwest, although I've seen friends of mine do this in NYC. When I was first beginning my career, I learned how to have a 'serious' handshake -- one that wasn't too girly, nor too harsh. I struck me then that it was a silly thing to have to study, but I think that many people need to, especially women. Maybe that is changing with younger women, but when I first started working, it was still considered optional for women to shake hands.

    Perhaps I'm a bit of a germaphobe, but I really don't like shaking hands. I frequently want to grab the bottle of hand sanitizer. But, it's a necessity in the business world.

    So here is a situation I experienced last week. I flew to one of my employers offices on the East Coast for a meeting with members of four different functional areas. Everybody in the room knew each other because they work together on a daily basis. I was the only person in the room who didn't deal with everybody else regularly. In fact, I didn't know half of the individuals in the room.

    So, imagine my surprise when I walked in with the two colleagues who traveled with me and was greeted by the meeting leader -- with a hug!

    She had been seated and on the phone when we walked in. We had each taken our seats at the conference table. There was a mess of cables & power cords near where she sat. I honestly thought that she was about to fall as she leaned towards me. Naturally, I started to roll my chair away, in an obvious enough way that she said: I'm trying to hug you.

    That I never expected. We all got hugs and acted cheery and glad to be there. At the end of the day, there were hugs all around too, and wishes for safe travel. I understand that she was trying to be friendly and that she is a demonstrative person. I appreciate the 'have a good flight' sentiment at departure. But a hug hello & goodbye? I think everybody gets this type of greeting. I think this is very weird.

    How would you have reacted? What is the appropriate way to graciously deny a hug? Am I just wound too tight? Too much of a touch-me-not? I don't think that a man could get away with this. Her boss does handshakes or fist bumps, but I don't see him slapping his high-performers on the backside or exchanging hugs. What do you think?