Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Rainbows, Travel, Storm Windows

Nice touch, Obamas.

How about that rainbow White House?  Jon and I went out on Friday night and the restaurant (Mas) was giving free champagne to every customer who wanted to celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage.  This great news, following on the heels of the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, were a happy end to the week.

I love how UVA's Alderman Library created this book rainbow to use as their facebook profile page.

Our house is as silent as the grave lately.  Seamus departed on June 16th for twenty-four days in Germany.  He went with a group from his German class at school and another high school in the area. He's staying with a German host family in the city of Albstadt and attending German public school. Contact with him has been limited to seeing ATM withdrawals from "Volksbank"on my bank statement, and Instagram.  (I send him selfies and he comments on them.)

On the first night after he'd gone, our dog Sancho woke us up in the middle of the night, barking, and wouldn't stop until we made our other dog, Phoebe, get out of Seamus' bed and come back downstairs and sleep next to him.  Phoebe, meanwhile, seems to think we have sent Seamus away for the express purpose of letting her have his bedroom to herself.

Brigid, got a job as a counselor at a summer camp in the Crans-Montana region of Switzerland.  She left on June 20th and will return on August 30th. I didn't feel too much anxiety about sending Seamus off, since his whole trip was organized by his German teacher, who has done this with other groups several times.  Brigid, on the other hand, had to make her own way to the camp.  It's two hours by train from the Geneva airport, and then a twenty minute ascent via funicular. Nothing like sending your child off to a foreign country, knowing she'll have an immediate need to buy a train ticket with nothing but an ATM card that you hope will work. (Switzerland is not on the Euro, and I had difficulty buying Swiss francs in the US, so we just had to depend 100% on electronic banking.) Anyway, Brigid made it to the camp, where she is very busy, but we get occasional messages.  I've taken to stalking the camp's facebook page, and she has appeared in a few of the pictures there.

It's strange to think that two of my kids are so far from home on separate trips, and yet both in the same time zone.  They will not have the opportunity to see each other.  By the time Brigid has her first day off, Seamus will be back in the United States.

At the risk of sounding like an uncaring mother, I'll say that I had high hopes that the absence of two children would allow me to achieve a high standard of cleanliness around the house, but this hasn't happened.  The house was unbelievably chaotic the week before Seamus and Brigid left and I was itching to get a good cleaning on, but I've been more or less propped up in bed with a book or netflix, when I'm not at work, ever since they left.

This week we finally completed another major item on our to-do list for the house: get storm windows installed.  The old part of the house had dreadful aluminum triple-track storm windows, and we recklessly told the painters to get rid of them when we did the courtyard-building/house painting project.  It turns out that when you research storm windows, you're shunted to replacement windows.  I love my house's original windows.  With the exception of two windows, which we did have to replace, the frames are in good condition and the old wavy glass is preserved in some of the panes.  I was seriously considering the possibility of building them ourselves but we finally found someone who could install storm windows that look decent on an old house.  After replacing the circuit breaker box, this was the top item on our list.  Now I think we can focus on getting to the bottom of the issues with the dishwasher's plumbing.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


I love essays.  Short, no-commitment non-fiction, often witty; essays are serious reading for people who don't want to do serious reading.  I recently read these three collections of essays.

Portrait of Max Beerbohm by Sir William Newzam Prior Nicholson

And Even Now by Max Beerbohm.  Max Beerbohm was an early twentieth century caricaturist, essayist, and wit.  His name kept popping up in everything I was reading at one point, so I added this book of essays to my list.  This collection is a good illustration on how essays have a relatively short shelf life.  I know there are great essayists whose work has transcended time, but I fear that Beerbohm may not have been one of them.  These essays seem mostly irrelevant.

There's an essay about "Kolniyatsch," a literary "star" that not even google or the UVA library catalog have heard of.  Maybe it's some kind of joke that I'm too ignorant to get?  There's an essay about servants in which he muses that butlers have been getting younger and thinner lately. A piece about a series of luncheons with Algernon Swinburne.  Joseph Epstein, in a biographical essay about Max Beerbohm, calls him, "The world's greatest minor writer." Epstein holds Beerbohm in high esteem, and would probably not appreciate my opinion.  I haven't given up on Beerbohm entirely, and his novel Zuleika Dobson is also on my list.

The Middle of my Tether: Familiar Essays by Joseph Epstein.  My book list has a line item for "essays by Joseph Epstein"  and my library had several volumes to choose from. Browsing these was how I found the essay about Max Beerbohm mentioned above.  I chose The Middle of my Tether because it seemed the most general.  This book was a great pleasure to read.  It is funny but not facetious, serious but not ponderous, literary but not pedantic.  Published in 1983, these essays, while certainly far from irrelevant, still show that the essay is the sushi of literary genres.  Epstein writes about cliche and the modern reader can't help thinking what he'd have to say about hashtags.  An essay about the decline of letter writing, from the time before email.  An essay that asks, "What is Vulgarity" written without the context of social media and reality TV.  This essay was my favorite. We tend to view vulgarity as a bad thing, but Epstein points out that vulgarity is the garlic of society. Overpowering at times, but wouldn't life be boring without it?  Fittingly, the last essay in the collection is about the future.

Wry Martinis by Christopher Buckley.  This collection of essays was published in 1997, and were a bit disappointing--the first half of them, anyway.  They're breezy, humorous little essays, mostly covering various issues-of-the-moment in the early nineties.  I'm sure they were amusing at the time they were published, but now they seem even more irrelevant than Max Beerbohm's.  There's a drunken, fictional debate between Bill Clinton and "George Bush."  (No need to identify Bush with the H.W. middle initials at the time this essay was written.)  There's a tongue-in-cheek letter of recommendation for a two year old to an exclusive preschool.  The practice of getting one's kids into competative preschools hasn't stopped, but we are over marveling about it.  There's a facetious copy of the New York Times Best Sellers list.  (Number one in fiction is Wank and File by Tom Clancy.  OK--that did make me laugh.)  There's a dialogue from the original Star Trek in which vital information for the crew has been replaced with a VCR instruction manual.

The second half of Wry Martinis is more interesting.  There's an essay about what it's like to land a plane on an aircraft carrier--something I've always been curious about.  Buckley writes about his experience riding as a passenger with the USAF Thunderbirds, and having the presence of mind to turn off the self-cam every time he had to vomit.  There's a surreal cruise up the Amazon with Malcolm Forbes, the exiled king of Bulgaria, and--Cville people take note-- John and "Pat" Kluge, who appears on deck with a boa constrictor draped around her arms.  One of the Amazon customer reviewers seems quite put out by the fact that the second half of Wry Martinis is not as funny as the first half.  My own opinion is exactly the opposite.

I  haven't posted much about books lately because I'm still reading Ulysses which means I have less time for other things.  I'm wading through a dense section of my book list, so I won't get a break after Ulysses, but will have several other big reading endeavors.  Also, I've decided to dispense with posting about books on Fridays, and instead will write book posts whenever I happen to have one prepared.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sackcloth and Ashes

My godfather, who sometimes experienced various mechanical failures of epic proportion had a saying: Everything I touch turns to shit.  Lately I've found occasion to use this phrase about some of my own endeavors.   My latest sewing project, to name one example.

The inspiration:  (Image from anthropologie)

The pattern:

The finished project:

I look super happy about my sackcloth

It's a small consolation that in the video, the anthropologie model looks just as pregnant as I do. 

The pattern, of course, is ridiculous, with its clownish tie, hideous fabric, and neckline hoisted up to the chin.   For such a simple design, it needed a lot of adjustments. I thought I could just sew it up and drop the neckline by a few inches by lengthening the cord,  but that resulted in armholes hanging open nearly to my waist.  The pattern has six panels: a front, a back, and two on each side.  I eliminated the side panels and widened the front and back pieces which did effectively shorten the armholes, but also created too much fullness in the center front and back.  

The dress is tragic.  It can't be worn out of the house.  Obviously.  It looks like a garment of penance, like something you'd wear if you were into mortification of the flesh. It needs a whip and a hair shirt. Ironing didn't help.  Belting actually made it look even more clumsy and home sewn.  Frankly, I'm discouraged, because this has to be the easiest dress in the world to make and I still managed to fuck it up.  I'm not sure what to do at this point other than to cut it up and make a sleeveless blouse or place mats.  (The fabric is a lovely linen from Les Fabriques.)