Sunday, December 10, 2006

Five Pillars of Urban Living--part II

Local Newspaper

I'm sorry. I started to write a series, and then neglected it. I've been busy with final exams and projects. Also, I've been hesitant to write about C'ville's newspaper. When I mentioned the local newspaper as one of the pillars of urban living, I meant the degree to which that paper reflects the city's local character, as well as the quality of the news reporting. I don't know how to say, without sounding unbearably fatuous, that I have no complaint about the locally written articles in our daily paper. I don't subscribe to the Daily Progress because it has little more local character than USA Today. With a few exceptions. The letters to the editor are sometimes highly entertaining, although I wish there were more of them. Today's paper, the Sunday paper, has just one letter to the editor. What's up with that? I prefer, however, to read the C'ville Weekly or The Hook, although their coverage of some issues is unashamedly biased. It would be nice if the Daily Progress had its own Sunday Magazine instead of brainless, aimed-at-the-lowest-common-denominator Parade or USA Weekend or whatever it is they put in the Sunday paper. Charlottesville's newsreaders deserve better than that.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Five Pillars of Urban Living--Part I

I have defined the five pillars as:
1.Public Transportation
2.Local Newspaper
3.Local TV News
4.Public Libraries
5.Quality of the Pizza
Let's see how Charlottesville measures up.
Public Transportation: I am one of the few people in C'ville who actually commutes by bus to work. There's a bus stop half a block away, and it is reliable enough that nearly every day, I clock in at UVA at exactly 6:49am. Getting home is another story. The Number 3 bus—the one that runs between Belmont and Greenleaf Park, runs just once an hour. If I get out of work at 3:00pm, I must wait a good 15 minutes for the bus, which then takes me on what is admittedly a fascinating tour of Belmont, up steep hills and around tight corners on impossibly narrow streets. The problem is, after a long day of work, you don't want to be riding through the Sunrise Trailer Court, thinking, “I could have been home 15 minutes ago.” I usually walk home and get to my house just as the #3 is passing. Walking saves me time because I'm spending my commuting time getting my exercise. I know other bus routes run more frequently than once an hour. While I wait for the #3, the #7 “Fashion Square” route bus will pass me three times, which is like a slap in the face.

Can we talk about Sunday service? The biggest employer in Charlottesville—UVA (medical center in particular) is open seven days a week. Why don't the buses run seven days a week? In the morning, I wait at the same stop with a woman who works the food service line for UVA students. Students tend to eat every day, so the food service people must work on Sundays. On Sundays, this woman has to take a cab to work, which takes a big bite out of her pay for the day. Also, the buses stop running too early. When my husband worked evening shift, getting out of work at UVA at 11:30PM, he could run and grab the last free trolley to the downtown mall, but he'd have to walk home from there. How lame is that?

There's also the idiocy of all the buses including a circuit of downtown on their routes, allowing for transfer stops. What other city has seven routes that all overlap each other? I fail to see how the new bus transfer station will help the situation. I suppose it means we won't have a queue of six buses lined up at Market & Second St, or along Water St anymore, but it still means that every bus rider must pointlessly circle the Downtown Mall.

Lest I forget, let me say a word about the “trolleys.” Is this a city or is it Disneyland? The fake historic is just cheesy. Sorry. I believe the trolleys were intended for tourists, who, it appears want to be endlessly shuttled between UVA grounds and the Downtown Mall. I've never seen anyone remotely touristy on the trolleys. They are used instead by people who want a quick free ride down Main St—which is a nice thing to have—but riding in a city bus that's disguised as an old fashioned street car gives one the same ridiculous feeling you experience when riding a kiddie ride at an amusement park.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I like living in Charlottesville. I fully realize how privileged I am to live here, on the fringe of downtown, walking distance from work, in this micro-community in which I've come to think of anything more than a 15 minute's drive to be "far away." I could be living in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, or Merrilleville, Indiana or (God forbid) Amherst, NY, but I am here and I recognize that this is a piece of good fortune beyond what I deserve.

However. The Hook's latest cover story about C'ville as the Little Apple, a veritable mini Manhattan, has me cringing just a bit. The very fact that an article was published saying, "Look at us! We have a martini bar! Bikram Yoga! We vote Democratic!" rubs the veneer of urban sophistication right off our smug little faces.

I haven't lived in very many cities. I spent most of my life in Buffalo, NY, lived in Boston as a young child, spent a year and a half in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Still, from this, and my time here in C'ville, I've come to recognize what I'm calling the Five Pillars of Urban Life. No doubt, there could be much debate over what these five pillars should be, but since this is my site, and I thought of it, I'm naming the five pillars:
1.Local Newspaper
2.Public Transportation
3.Public Library
4.Local TV News
5.Quality of the pizza

How does C'ville measure up against the Five Pillars? I'll have to return to that subject another day, since I'm at work right now.

OK--why is C'ville blogs not updating? It's driving me crazy, and the backlog of updated blogs must be tremendous. It hasn't updated since Friday.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Cost-per credit hour at Piedmont: $71

Staying up until midnight on much balleyhooed registration date for Spring 2007 semester, only to get the following message, "Registration for this class begins November 13, 2007. Please try again on or after that date": Priceless

So Very Virginia

(I stole that from Outskirts.)

So Very Fucking Virginia.

On the bright side, the classes I need, which usually close quickly because they are in high demand, are still open because nobody else could register either. Would love to be a fly on the wall in the registrar's office this morning, when they realize their mistake.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Useful Lesson

Mad Scientist and a friend were passing a paperback book back and forth and snickering. "Check out page two" advised the friend, and after Mad read it, they both laughed uproariously. "Let that be a lesson to you," the friend said. Later, I had to see what was so funny, and was surprised to see that the book was a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov. The page two story, in its entirety:


All of Earth waited for the small black hole to bring it to its end. It had been discovered by Professor Jerome Hieronymus at the Lunar telescope in 2125 and it was clearly going to make an approach close enough for total tidal destruction.
All of Earth made its wills and wept on each other's shoulders, saying, "Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye." Husbands said good-bye to their wives, brothers said good-bye to their sisters, parents said good-bye to their children, owners said good-bye to their pets, and lovers whispered good-bye to each other.
But as the black hole approached, Hieronymus noted there was no gravitational effect. He studied it more closely and announced, with a chuckle, that it was not a black hole after all.
"It's nothing," he said. "Just an ordinary asteroid someone has painted black."
He was killed by an infuriated mob, but not for that. He was killed only after he publicly announced that he would write a great and moving play about the whole episode.
He said, "I shall call it "Much Adieu About Nothing."
All humanity applauded his death.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Snow Patrol

My dad called me to say that at his house in Buffalo, they got 26 inches of snow, on October 12.
Since trees in full leaf can't handle the weight of heavy snow, many, many trees have fallen and hundreds of thousands of people are without power, heat, and water. The loss of that many trees is devastating.

This is the sixth snowiest 24 hour period in Buffalo's history, or at least in the 137 years they've been keeping track. I remember that 37.9 inch snowfall in December 1995. It was a Sunday. The entire 37.9 inches fell between 7:00 am and 7:00pm. And yet, I managed to drive to work the next day (and I did not have 4 wheel drive.) We Buffalonians know how to handle snow.

My Dad used World War II imagery to describe the aftermath: "Like Berlin after WWII" is how he described it. Interestingly, my SIL also referenced WWII in describing this storm. She said it made her think of London, being bombed, since you'd hear the crack of a tree breaking, and worry for a few seconds before you heard the thud. With each crack, you wondered if this would be the tree to crush your house. Buffalo hasn't even recovered from the Dutch Elm plague--I think that was 40 years ago--and now 50% of its trees are damaged.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fifteen nanoseconds of fame

I was reading some old entries at my Xanga site, and I thought I'd share this one that I wrote in September, 2005 since it is of local interest.

Today's adventure: we were filmed in a political TV commercial.

This morning, we noticed all kinds of to-doing in the park across the street and went over to investigate. A commercial was about to be filmed for Creigh Deeds, who is the democratic candidate for Virginia Attorney General. Miss G and Mr. McP were invited to join, as kids playing in the background, and they asked me to be in it too. I was sent to make-up first, the producer saying, "We need to put some powder on, er, that," 'that' being my large forehead. J, arriving late on the scene, wondered, "Who's the hot chick in the chair?" and then realized it was me.

First, we--Creigh Deeds, another woman and I--were filmed talking. I had to stand on a box to camouflage my shortness. Next, Deeds was filmed playing with the kids (a carefully balanced mix of black and white) on the playground, while I hovered in the background as a token parent. Last, Deeds and I had to stand and talk--the focus of this commercial was "Keeping our children safe" and Deeds played the concerned politician, while I played the Concerned Parent. In reality, we talked about how ridiculous we felt. The cameraman kept urging us to stand closer, "That's right, unnaturally close," he joked. The last time I stood that close to a man in a public setting, a priest was saying, "I now pronounce you man and wife.”

Of course, the campaign that commercial was for is now long over with. When the commercial aired, all that showed of me was a brief glimpse of the back of my head. It's just as well. As Deeds and I stood talking for the cameras, I realized I'd walked out of the house without a bra.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Moving Day

At long last, we are able to properly move into the renovated part of our house. There are still a couple of minor things to finish, like some baseboards, and trim around one door, but with the floors now refinished, the last major interior job is done. I spent Sunday moving furniture, alone because J was at work (my kids helped me move a few of the bulkier things) and I made a photo chronicle of the process. It was a little like playing "Traffic Jam," that children's game with the little plastic cars.

Step one: Remove all dishes from china cabinet

Step two: Move futon temporarily into new room to get it out of the way.

Step three: Move china cabinet to new dining room.

Step four: Move table to dining room.

Step five:Wash every single dish that had been in the china cabinet. All but two wineglasses were coated with a thick brown grime left over from the renovation. My dishwasher is broken.

Step six: move the piano. It is on castors, so this was easier than it looks, but it was still very, very hard. I spent a lot of time tugging uselessly while my feet slid out from under me. Halfway there. I was mainly worried that the piano would crash through the floor, since the old floorboards are in terrible condition, and there is no subfloor.


Step six: move futon to where piano used to be. I don't like futons, but I won the $250 gift certificate to Atlantic Futon in the WNRN fundraiser, so a futon became my destiny.

Still unclear about purpose of new room.

Late in the evening, after J got home from work, we moved the impossibly heavy shelving unit which spent months blocking the kitchen doorway, into the dining room.

The next day, Jon put castors on the bottom of my old sea chest. I bought this at my grandfather's yard sale for $5. When I got it home, I noticed the name "Murphy"--barely discernable---stenciled across the front. I called my grandfather to ask him about it, and he said, oh-s0-casually, "Oh, yes, that's the chest that came over with your great-great-great-grandparents from Ireland in 1847." Underneath all that varnish is red milk paint. Some day I hope to restore it, and get the name Murphy visible again. For now, it makes a fabulous coffee table and mitten holder.

When you include all the consulting, planning and getting the loan, etc, this project has been a full year in the making, although actual work started last February.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Computer dependent

Being a college student in the 21st century is quite different from what it was like when I first went to college. Before classes started, I worried that there'd be a scene like the one in the movie Legally Blond, with Elle, on the first day of class, taking out her notebook and a purple feathered pen, while the rest of the class open their laptops. In fact, I am more worried about providing my children with laptops when they go to college, than I am about paying their college tuition. Luckily for me, at Piedmont, people do still write in paper notebooks.

The biggest difference is the dependence on the internet. At Piedmont, there's a program called Blackboard that you log into and can download all your instructor's notes and powerpoints for the lectures. In the lab I am taking, we did not have to purchase a lab manual, since instructions for each lab are posted on blackboard for us to print. Quizzes and some exams are also put on Blackboard, so we can take them at home. It's all very easy and convenient, but it does assume that every student has access to a computer and a printer.

The other day, while browsing through Blackboard, I clicked on the “tools” option and then discovered “my grades,” a feature that is sure to become an obsession with me over the next few years. When you go to “my grades” not only do you see a neat summary of all your test and quiz grades so far, you also see how your grades compare to the class average. Brilliant!

And it's not that I went to college in the dark ages. We were heavily dependent on computers too. These pictures were taken in 1990, when J and I, who were then dating, traveled to Charlottesville to visit J's brother who was in medical school at UVA. It was our senior year in college. See J disporting himself irresponsibly at the top of Old Rag? See the backpack he's holding? It contained the one and only floppy disk with my senior honor's thesis and annotated bibliography. The bibliography alone was over fifty pages long. When I got back to New York, I told my faculty advisor about how J had jumping from rock to rock and swinging that backpack over his head, on the extremely windy mountain summit, and how I'd suddenly realized I'd left my thesis in it. The advisor said, “Ah, but if you'd lost the paper, you could have gotten it back from the disk.” When I told him that it was the disk in the backpack, he turned pale. I turn pale thinking about it, even now.
That last picture was taken in The Virginian. I don't think it has changed at all since 1990.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


More ranting about our car-dependant lives.

My husband and I work in the same department at UVA and we almost always take the bus to work from our house in Belmont. Parking at UVA is a hassle and it makes no sense to park at the stadium and take a shuttle to the hospital, when we can just hop on a city bus practically in front of our house. But yesterday I got an email from UVA about possible flooding this morning, and last night we decided to drive, in case the busses couldn't run.

This morning, it was clear that the busses should have no problem running their routes, but J had his heart set in driving because it is "easier." Sure, it's so much "easier" to drag 2,000 pounds of steel with you everywhere you go.

We left our house just as the city bus was passing. Employees can park in the hospital ramp for free on weekends. By the time we'd followed the long, slow moving line of cars to the top of the ramp where there was a space available, we'd spent just as much time as we would have on the bus. And our walk from the top of the ramp to the hospital was no shorter from walking to the bus stop to the hospital. How is this easier?

Usually, I walk home, so today I will be deprived of my walk. On another occasion that I drove to work, it took me so long to get out of the ramp, due to traffic, that I arrived home exactly five minutes earlier than I would have had I walked the entire two miles.

A car is just a two ton piece of baggage that you much check every time you need to go somewhere.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Car-centric shopping centers

We need to go out more often on Friday nights. I love the whole downtown street partying scene. J and I went to Bang for what was supposed to be a quick, quiet drink (and shared an order of their delicious pork spring rolls w/ Vietnamese dipping sauce.) We ran into some friends, which led to more drinks, which led to all of us going to Rapture and meeting more people and more drinks.

Why must shopping centers be designed in such a way that you are forced to drive from store to store, even if those stores are just a few hundred feet from each other? I took my son to the car was benefit for the CHS orchestra. It was held in the Chevy Chase parking lot in front of the new Harris-Teeter at Hollymead Town Center. The parent who has been generously donating her time to supervising these car washes all summer, practically threw herself across the hood of my walnut-juice-spattered vehicle. “You really need a car wash,” she said. I agreed and decided to walk over to Target while I waited. First of all, walking across a vast, baking parking lot on a hot day has to be one of the worst things you could possibly do when you have a hangover. Secondly, it's pretty much impossible to walk from the Harris-Teeter end of the shopping center to the Target, without being menaced by passing cars. There are some sidewalks, but they lead nowhere and end abruptly. You are forced to walk in the road. I have the same problem at Barracks Road Shopping Center, where, I might want to stop at the post office and go to Harris-Teeter and have to park at the PO, and when finished there, drive just a few yards to H-T. Ridiculous! Our car-centric society does not appeal to me.

And speaking of the CHS car wash, it went well. My son told me they had a pretty steady stream of customers. He also mentioned that while he was standing along Rt. 29, holding up a sign, he was given the finger by two separate people. People who went to the trouble to roll down their windows and thrust their hands rudely out the car windows to insult him digitally. These were adults. To them I say, you are losers.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Recycling etiquette

I went to the McIntire Road Recycling Center today. I'm there at least twice a week, since a household of six people goes through a lot of cereal boxes and milk jugs.
Generally, the recycling center is a happy place. Everyone there has the air of someone who is feeling virtuous---Look at me! I am modern and enlightened! I recycle!---and people who feel they are behaving virtuously are generally cheerful. I do have a tiny recycling center etiquette tip to pass along. As you know—because I'm sure we've all been there—the typical procedure is to climb a short flight of steps to a platform and toss your paper or cardboard into open hatches at the top of enormous green bins. Usually there are several open hatches to a bin. The problem is that some people stop at the first open hatch and block the entire platform while they toss their paper into the bin, while other people wait at the bottom of the steps. If other people are waiting to toss their stuff, is it so hard to move down to one of the other hatches so that more than one person at a time can unload their paper? Because it drives me crazy to have to stand at the bottom of the steps and wait because one person has blocked the entire platform with him/herself and giant boxes of cardboard. The recycling center is a happy place, but that does not mean I want to spend the entire day there.
Speaking of recycling, why can't all this stuff be picked up at the curb? We visited friends in Manchester, NH—a town generally more backward than Charlottesville—and people there are issued huge trash-sized recycling receptacles with lids, into which they can toss all bottles, cans, papers, cardboard and plastic and it is collected at the curb once a week. When we lived in Buffalo, paper/cardboard and plastics/glass/cans were collected on alternate weeks. The only thing we couldn't recycle were pizza boxes, which has made me furtive about recycling pizza boxes here in C'ville.
One day, a couple of years ago, I threw some pizza boxes into the “corrugated” bin at the recycling center and the attendant asked me if they were empty. At least that's what I think he asked me—he had a strong accent. I told him, yes, they were empty, and he responded by shaking his head and saying, “No good. No good.” I gaped at him, wondering what I was supposed to do, and he launched into a long speech about something I could not understand. His manner was genial, and so I nodded and murmured, and pretended to comprehend. The man finished his speech with a loud guffaw of laughter. Relieved that everything seemed to be working out after all, I laughed too, at which point the man stopped, and with diction that was suddenly as clear as the Queen's said, “You haven't understood a single word I've said, have you?” I admitted that I hadn't, and offered to climb into the bin and take out my pizza boxes, but he said it wasn't necessary.
Still, the people who run the recycling center make it very clear what you can't recycle, and I've never seen a sign saying “NO pizza boxes,” so I continue to recycle ours, but I try to do so when there's no attendant watching.

Business: Charlottesville High School Orchestra is having another car wash Saturday, 10-2, to raise money to help send the orchestra to London in April. This one will be held up at the Hollymead Town Center, near the Harris Teeter. So, if you're in the area and have a dirty car, consider stopping by.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

First day of school

Charlottesville City schools started yesterday. Each of my four children is in a different city school, which means we're in for a crazy year. I had been homeschooling my two youngest children, but this year enrolled everyone in public school because I am going to school myself this semester, and working part-time and just don't have the time to homeschool anymore.

First day of school was a success, I think. No one missed the bus, everyone got home safely. I was late going to meet my second-grader and he surprised me by arriving at the door just as I was getting ready to leave. He wasn't traumatized at having no one to meet the bus, just happy to be home. He was cheerful and told me all about his day, which included eating cupcakes because one kid had a birthday today. The girls seem pleased with their schools too--one is at Walker, the other at Buford-- although Miss G has not been officially placed in any classes because they still need to assess her. It seems they've put her in the above grade level classes as a default.

Mad Scientist wouldn't tell me anything about his first day of high school. At least not at first. Later, he commented that he was the only kid in his history class who'd heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh. (Because I read it out loud to him and Drama Queen a few years ago.) “What did your teacher say?” I demanded breathlessly. Mad glared at me. “Nothing.”

What did I expect the teacher to say, “Mad Scientist, I am so impressed that you are familiar with Gilgamesh! You must have a truly impressive and excellent mother. Let me look up your phone number so I can call her and congratulate her on her perspicacity.”

No, of course I didn't expect the teacher to say that!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Stupid Sprint

I know that Sprint (now Embarq) is notorious for poor customer service. For a while, it seemed that every other column by Barbara Nordin--the consumer reporter for The Hook (or is it Cville Weekly?) was about someone having a run-in with Sprint. I considered myself lucky that we've had a relatively trouble-free relationship with our phone service provider.

Until today.

We recently switched our internet service from Ntelos to Embarq, and for some reason this involved "upgrading" our phone service. You see, if we upgraded, we'd get the $10-dollar-a-month cheaper DSL, plus caller ID. We'd previously had no long distance service on our home phone, but part of this upgrade requires us to get Embarq long distance, which, I was assured would cost us nothing, but was required for the DSL bundling package. Whatever. I was on the phone with them for something like 45 minutes, but our new modem arrived promptly and the new internet service is great.

But here's the problem, I got a letter the other day saying, "...To ensure your service is activated quickly, please call us today at 866-406-7717....If we have not heard from you in 10 days, your order will be cancelled."

So I called the number. It's a non-working number! The fucking phone company sends me a letter telling me to call a fucking non-working number!

I don't care if I have long-distance service or not, we have no need for it on our home phone, but I don't want our internet service to be disconnected over something so silly. My options are to a.) do nothing and see what happens, b.)call Embarq, wait on hold for at least 20 minutes and get the correct number, or c.) try calling tomorrow--maybe it's just a bad day for Embarq today and their phones aren't working. Or d.) vent about it on my blog and then do nothing.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Charlottesville: place or pseudo-place

I'm reading Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars by Paul Fussell. In a chapter that contrasts travel and tourism, Fussell says,

Tourist fantasies fructify best when tourists are set down not in places but in pseudo-places, passing through subordinate pseudo-places, like airports, on the way. Places are odd and call for interpretation. They are the venue of the traveler. Pseudo-places entice by their familiarity and call for instant recognition: “We have arrived.” Kermanshah, in Iran, is a place; the Costa del Sol is a pseudo-place, or Tourist Bubble, as anthropologists call it. The Algarve, in southern Portugal, is a prime pseudo-place, created largely by Temple Fielding, the American author of Fielding's Travel Guide to Europe. That book, first published in 1948, was to tourism what Baedeker was to travel. It did not, says John McPhee, “tell people what to see. It told them..what to spend, and where.” .... Because it's a city that has been constructed for the purpose of being recognized as a familiar image, Washington is a classic pseudo-place, resembling Disneyland in that as in other respects. One striking post-Second War phenomenon has been the transformation of numerous former small countries into pseudo-places or tourist commonwealths, whose function is simply to entice tourists and sell them things. This has happened remarkably fast. As recently as 1930, Alec Waugh could report that Martinique had no tourists because there was no accommodation for them. Now, Martinique would seem to be nothing but tourists...

I fear that Charlottesville is well on the way to becoming a pseudo-place, if it has not already become one. The Court Square beautification project—was that done for the benefit of city residents, or was it done for the benefit of tourists? The Downtown Mall--there was talk of removing newspaper machines from the Downtown Mall because, as I understood it, they make the mall look cluttered and ugly for the tourists. Never mind the needs of locals who just want to grab The Hook as they're walking past. It's not that I dislike tourists, and I can appreciate how the business they bring to town benefits us all, but Charlottesville is a city—albeit a microcity—with residents who need to pick up dry cleaning, shop for food or buy stamps, and I'd rather live in a city and not a living museum. I'm now reminded of my friends who live in Harper's Ferry, WV. Residents there are required to pick up their mail at the post office. Mailboxes are illegal. I asked my friend why and he commented dryly that, "mailboxes aren't historic."
And shouldn't we give tourists credit for some intelligence? Presumably they know that this is 2006 and not 1776. Is it necessary, for tourism's sake, to make Charlottesville conform as much as possible to the look of an era that has long past and will never return?
I hope I don't anger people by writing this--or sound too uninformed about local issues. It's just that I read that paragraph quoted above and could see in it an echo of C'ville.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dubious distinction

Thanks to sitemeter, I learned that if you do a google search titled "Eyes sucked out with vacuum cleaner" this site is at the top of the list of what comes up.

Goodbye, I tried to stay with ntelos as our internet provider, but the portable broadband they offer was endlessly frustrating, and our request for DSL ended up in limbo for two months. We've switched to embarq DSL, and have had to give up being --our email addy since 1998—and join the crowd at earthlink. Once Cornerstone Networks was bought out by Ntelos, and “” email servers dwindled away, I felt our address had a certain distinction—I imagined it as the internet equivalent of arriving on the Mayflower. Alas, nothing lasts forever.

Which reminds me of telephone exchanges. Have you ever wondered what your telephone exchange says about you? This is something I first contemplated when I was 10, and my family moved to an outer suburb of Buffalo, NY. Our new phone number started with '631'. The city and the closer-in suburbs, such as the one we moved from, all had exchanges starting with '8'--we had been '835'. I was the new girl in school, and exchanged phone numbers with another new girl whose exchange was also '631.' My cousin, who'd lived in that town for her entire life, had a phone number that started with '688.' Suddenly it seemed that all the cool kids had phone exchanges that started with 688 or 689, rather than 631 or 634. We 631s were parvenus: greenhorns of the world of cul-de-sacs and brand-new colonials. And so began my mini-obsession with the first three digits of one's phone number.

When I left home after college—fleeing Buffalo's suburbs for a studio apartment in the hip Colonial Circle neighborhood near the Elmwood stip on Buffalo's west side (photos included)—my phone exchange was '885.' Any phone number starting with '88' designated the desirable areas around Delaware, Elmwood, and Richmond Avenues, plus the lower west side and the arty Allentown neighborhood. 885 was OK, but I thought 881 was hipper. To me, '885' said, “recent emigre from the suburbs” and 881 showed a lifelong city dweller. Funnily enough, I actually met someone who shared my obsession. He was outraged by his '881' phone exchange and wanted '885' or '883'. He told me, “881 is a west side dirtbag who fixes his car in the street in front of his house.”

I lived in that neighborhood, in three different flats, for much of my adulthood before moving to Charlottesville. Shortly after getting married, we lived in Kenmore, NY (877) and then Kalamazoo, Michigan-- 383—but then returned to the west side and an 885 exchange.

As soon as we arrived in Charlottesville to look for a house, I recognized that the old-timey phone numbers all began with '295' or '296.' We were assigned a '984' exchange, which to me screamed, “just moved here from New York,” which we had. I've come to terms with 984, but I think I'll always miss a little.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Couches again

My brother, after reading my couch entry, sent me this email:

Nice couch! Did you ever wonder how we came to call a cushioned pew a couch? I can't find it or Davenport in my etymological dictionary. It must come from the French Coucher, to lie down. Sofa? Sofa comes from Arabic or Turkish. A davenport is 'a large sofa.' Websters claims this usage is U.S. Only. In the UK a davenport is a small writing desk. A davenport table is a 'a narrow table with drawers, having drop leaves at both ends,placed in front of or behind a sofa. Also called sofa table.' Davenport would make a great name for the protagonist of a gothic novel. "Roger Davenport rode to hounds the day following his wife's suicide."
Hoping I've answered all unasked questions,

Does anyone know the origins of the word davenport? I suppose it isn't a huge leap from sofa table to the sofa itself. The only person I ever knew who actually used the word, referring to a couch, was my grandmother. And since I boldly displayed a picture of our shamefully shabby old couch, I now present the new Crabstick living room ensemble.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Book review

I started the devil wears prada, by Lauren Weisberger, and while reading the first chapter I decided that the writing wasn't so great, but it did have potential to amuse me. Chapter two got on my nerves. The protagonist, whatshername--Andrea--is just your typical small town girl, you know, Ivy League education, post-college tour of Europe, mad dash to exotic Asian locations. Mmm-hmm. She wants to break into magazine publishing and says,

Although I knew it was highly unlikely I'd get hired at The New Yorker directly out of school, I was determined to be writing for them before my fifth reunion. It was all I'd ever wanted to do, the only place I'd ever really wanted to work. I'd picked up a copy for the first time after I'd heard my parents discussing an article they'd just read and my mom had said, "It was so well written--you just don't read things like that anymore," and my father had agreed, "No doubt, it's the only smart thing being written today." I'd loved it. Loved the snappy reviews and the witty cartoons and the feeling of being admitted to a special, members-only club for readers. I'd read every issue for the past seven years and knew every section, every editor, every writer by heart.

Oh, come on! I think Weisberger imagined an audience of mouth-breathing yokels. Not recommended, although I think I may watch the movie (once it comes out on DVD.)

Now reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I'm only on page 95, so perhaps it's unfair to warn people away. The writing is better than Weisberger's and I love the premise: a guy who spontaneously travels through time because he is "chrono-impaired." Too bad the only time traveling we get to see are his visits to his wife, as he travels into the past and waits for her to grow up and marry him. Oh, and he visits himself as a child. Maybe it will get more interesting, but I doubt it, and this book suffers from the same middle class pretensions as the devil wears prada. Clare, the "time traveler's wife" is an artist. Naturally. Because wildly romatic adventures happen only to artists and never to bus drivers or nurses. She tells us that her sculptures are "about birds and longing." Whatever. Henry, the time traveler, in the Art Institute of Chicago, looking for someone to pickpocket, says,

I'm looking for easy marks, and just ahead of me is a perfect illustartion of the pickpocket's dream. Short, portly, sunburnt, he looks as though he's made a wrong turn from Wrigley Field in his baseball cap and polyester trousers with light blue short-sleeved button-down shirt. He's lecturing his mousy girlfriend on Vincent van Gogh.
"So he cuts his ear off and gives it to his girl--hey, how'd you like that for a present, hugh? An ear! Huh. So the put him in the loony bin..."
I have no qualms about this one.

Aw. Leave the poor prole alone. Are we supposed to be impressed that he takes advanatage of people who are less well educated than he? And on Henry's fifth birthday, his parents take him to the Field museum of natural history. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but in the context of this book, it was like having another mother at the playground say, "Oh, you took your kids to the zoo? We took little Henry to the Field museum. Now he's classifying every animal he sees with its Latin name."

I'm still fresh from reading Paul Fussell's Class, and find these ridiculous pretensions irritating. I have a feeling I'm going to stop reading this book soon as well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I'm now reading the book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System by Paul Fussell. Absolutely fascinating, and sure to raise hackles. Fussell divides Americans into six classes:


Upper Class

Upper Middle


High Prole (Proletariat)

Mid Prole

Low Prole


Some of you are probably offended already. And really, this book does descend into the superficial and silly, as Fussell uses long lists of exterior markers to define the classes people belong to. According to him, even the flowers in your garden advertise your class:

Anyone imagining that just any sort of flowers can be presented in the front of a house without status jeopardy would be wrong. Upper-middle class flowers are rhododendrons, tiger lilies, amaryllis, columbine, clematis, and roses, except for bright-red ones.... prole flowers include anything too vividly red, like red tulips. Declassed also are phlox, zinnias, salvia, gladioli, begonias, fuchsias, and petunias. Members of the middle class will sometimes hope to mitigate the vulgarity of bright-red flowers by planting them in a rotting wheelbarrow or rowboat displayed on the front lawn, but seldom with success.

This book, while at times exasperating, has had me relating almost everything I do to what it says about social class. For example, we have been shopping for a new couch. First of all, “buying a couch” is a quintessentially middle class activity, especially if you do so at national chains or mail order like Pottery Barn. Stores like Rent-a-center serve the “proles.” The Upper and Top classes probably do not buy couches as such, but “discover” them at auctions, or else the same couch has been in the family since 1817. In fact, if the shabbiness of one's couch is a class status indicator, then I am the Queen of England:

So anyway, there we were at Better Living, with its “tasteful” “rooms.” The front of the store held the middle class couches—those that ape the style that might be seen in upper middle living rooms—although there was a surprising number of stiff little T-cushioned fussy plaid or floral couches that I thought went out of style in the 1980s. We wandered into the back of the store and I could see we were in the Proletariat room. All the couches had those big waterfall-like cushions such as you see on reclining chairs, and many came with built in cup holders. After considering the options available to us at Better Living, Grand's, Bassett Furniture Direct, Artful Lodger, and Under the Roof, we selected something called the “khaki classic” at Grand's. With matching love seat. To be delivered Thursday.

I know it's mass-produced crap—but when you have four children and two dogs, mass-produced crap is a sensible option. I know, the more sensitive person would buy a second-hand couch, but I have always furnished my house with hand-me-downs or items from Circa and Second Wind—even a few garbage picked things—and for once, I'd like some upholstery that will bear only the stains of my own family and not someone else's.

Who knew that buying a couch could be so intellectually intense?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

No friend to Pennsylvania

Spent 11 hours in the car the other day, driving the whole family home from Manchester, NH. I95 through NYC is too horrible to be contemplated, so we selected a more western route, which has more miles but takes less time. It was a difficult trip due to the fact that the night before I skipped dinner, but foolishly drank two martinis and a glass of wine and stayed up well past 1:00am. Even worse, we had to drive through Pennsylvania. I'm sure Pennsylvania is home to many fine people, but driving through it is no fun. Surely it's the largest state on the east coast? It always takes way more hours than you think it should to cross it. Pennsylvania has the topography of rucked-up bedclothes and it's a massive barrier between me and anywhere I want to go. I've driven through every state on the east coast, plus much of the Midwest and as far west as Colorado, and Pennsylvania must have the biggest road sign budget of any state in this country. The interstate chatter is just annoying:






Not only are we bombarded with safety warnings, but the signs you want to see are curiously useless. For example, it was years before the Pennsylvania DOT saw fit to inform travelers that I76 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike are one and the same. Never mind that most maps label it as I76, that motorists don't realize that what they really want is the “Penna” Turnpike—that inane abbreviation drives me batty-- and will drive miles past their exits because of mislabeling. That particular issue has been rectified, but let's turn to the issue of mile markers. On Pennsylvania's interstates, there will always be signs telling you how many miles to Ptymtuning, or Minersville, or Cochranton, but you will never be informed how many miles to where you want to go, which is always the state line. Because the minute you cross the border into PA, your children start the siren-like whining: “Are we STILL in Pennsylvania?” Example: driving on I79, there's a junction with I80, and what does the sign say? I80 West, Sharon and I80 East, Clarion. Never mind that westbound travelers might have it in mind to travel beyond the town of Sharon, PA. Perhaps Sharon is a lovely town—I couldn't even find Clarion on my map—but somehow I think it's the kind of place where they hold a parade when they finally get a Starbucks. All I'm asking is in addition to listing the little towns on these signs, perhaps mention a major city somewhat beyond, like they do in New York, where you get on I90 just east of Buffalo and are immediately informed the number of miles to Albany and NYC. At least the NYS Thruway Authority understands that most travelers are not heading for Pendleton or Medina.

And now we come to the chief reason that Pennsylvania is such a pain in the ass to traverse by car: that the interstates are designed to detour travelers through as many small towns as possible. Imagine getting onto I64 from I81, only being forced to drive through downtown Staunton. That's how it is at practically every interchange in Pennsylvania. The idea is to bring money into the towns because the parade of shopping malls and fast food restaurants will entice travelers to stop. In reality, people just want to get where they're going, and they're not going to stop at some fucking shopping mall in Cranberry or Breezewood.

On this trip, driving down I81 in Pennsylvania, we got off just to switch drivers. What should have been a thirty second pause turned into a ten minute waste of time because we discovered that there was no way to get back onto the highway. Instead, we had to follow signs directing us “to” I81 South, which took us in an annoying and pointless loop through the business district of what I think was Carlisle, PA. And when we finally got back onto the interstate, we were in one of those “Safety Corridors” because we were in—ooooo—Carlisle, PA, and you can't have people driving faster than 55mph through such a busy metropolis.

My apologies to Pennsylvanians, but driving through your state sucks.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Elementary carpentry

This is the windowsill that Patience built.

This is the window, as yet lacking the windowsill that Patience built:

This is the guy who stars in the video which guided Patience through the windowsill that she built. That's Tom Silva from This Old House. I worked night shift, something I don't usually do, and during the 3:00am-5:00am dead time, I looked up home improvement help on the internet and found some neat little how-to movies. J and I built the windowsill together. I was in charge of measuring and planning and he made the cuts.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Crown molding again

We are not going to let the crown molding defeat us. A friend advised us to use corner blocks, which eliminate the need for mitering one's molding. Better Living had never heard of these things, but we found them a Lowe's. They're called E-Z trim, or something similar, and serious carpenters probably disdain people who use it, but I don't care. I hate Lowe's with the white-hot hatred of a thousand suns, but they do cater to the clueless, such as J and me. These pictures show part of the room with and without the molding. And isn't that a fine ceiling fan?

d isn'tng fan?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Eighth grade celebration

Today was eighth grade graduation for Buford Middle School, held at the performing arts center. I love my son very much, I'm proud of his accomplishments, and I realize that moving up to high school is a big deal, for all the kids. I must admit, however, that graduation ceremonies are exceedingly tedious and today's was no exception, although, thankfully, the speeches were kept to a minimum, and one of the musical entertainments—the 8th grade string quartet was excellent.

Somewhat disconcerting was the police presence at the celebration. As I waited in my seat for the ceremony to begin, a Charlottesville police officer stood nearby—so near that I could have taken the gun out of his holster. It was strange, sitting there at a middle school graduation, for crying out loud, with a loaded gun inches from my face. I'm not sure why the police were needed. Two years ago, this exact same crowd gathered in the Performing Arts Center for the Walker 6th grade graduation. No police were needed then.

There were some rather unexpected entertainments, such as someone offstage screaming, “FUCK YOU!” during the string quartet's performance. Also, included in the Student Recognition segment of the ceremony, was the presentation of academic achievement awards from President Bush. Each winning child received a pen and a letter from W Himself. The assistant principal read the letter aloud—it was exactly the “This-is-a-great-nation-congratulations-on-your-achievement” form letter that you'd expect. “Sincerely, George W. Bush,” concluded the assistant principal. The audience responded with very little applause, and even a scattering of subdued “boos.” It's childish, but I admit that this pleased me, although I was not one of the boo-ers. Then the fire alarm went off just as the kids started parading across the stage to get their diplomas. We all froze, and in a fire-drill first, we were told, “Everybody stay seated. Just stay where you are,” and Mr. Leatherwood, CHS principal dashed off the stage to find out what was going on. The building was not on fire, and the ceremony proceeded without further incident. I wonder if the offstage screamer was the same one who pulled the fire alarm?

Monday, June 05, 2006

A cautionary tale

Once upon a time there was a Charlottesville housfrau who endured great inconvenience and disruption in order to put an addition on her house. When it was finished, she painted her new rooms with a paint described as “Jade White” but which might more accurately have been labeled “Operating Theatre” or “Chlorine.” She tried her best to get used to the color, but every time she looked at her new rooms, her heart sank. So she went back to the paint store. She looked and looked at paint chips, careful to go with colors labeled “warm” or “neutral” and avoiding “Clean,” “Cool,” or “Fresh.” Not that she didn't want her rooms to look clean, cool, or fresh, but she had learned the hard way that these hues could make a room feel either cold and clinical or manic and hyper.

She picked a new paint, brought it home, and opened the can. It was the exact same color as the old paint! Different paint company, different name, same color. She hastily slapped some paint on the wall, and noticed a subtle difference. “This new paint is warmer,” she told herself. “I will go ahead and repaint and the effect will be subtle, but Important.” So she painted her rooms with the new paint. There was a difference, although it was so subtle it was nearly invisible, and when the housfrau's husband came home he didn't notice that the color had changed, and so never found out that his wife wasted money on a whole new gallon of paint.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Paint Chip is Always Greener...

Oh, what have I done? I chose “White Jade” as the color for our new rooms, and now I'm kicking myself, thinking that “Morning Waterfall” would have been better. My rooms are green, green, green. They look like 500 cartons of Bryer's Mint Chip ice cream exploded in there. I'm not going to repaint—yet. What I'm hoping is that once the door and window casings, the crown molding and baseboards are installed (they will all be white) the immense expanse of minty freshness will be broken up and become less oppressive. Plus, I need furniture. Lots of white, with a bit of pink would look good against all that green.

I also learned that one should never, try to conduct any sort of business on the first Tuesday after a Monday holiday. I always avoid banks on these Tuesdays, but who knew that all Charlottesville would be at Meadowbrook Hardware yesterday, attending to the hardware needs they couldn't take care of on Memorial Day? The paint counter was a scene reminiscent of a battle ground. We finally emerged with our paint, but in the confusion, I left my paint chip behind and now I'm annoyed, because I swear this paint dried a lot darker than it looked on the chip. And those paint chip cards make the best bookmarks.

Speaking of books, I just finished a novel about the Peloponnesian War--The Road to Sardis by Stephanie Plowman. You can't get it in Charlottesville, since it's out of print and not included in the collections at either the public library or the UVA libraries. I had to do inter-library loan. A sad book, but some of the events in the book parallel modern events in an oddly striking way, particularly since this book was written in 1966. Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesion War is also on my book list, and I'd been putting off reading it, but now I feel more interest.
Now reading A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

more before & after

J just couldn't wait to move the furniture back into our renovated space. We've been living crammed into just the living room and kitchen since February--and that's two adults, four children and two dogs. The amazing thing is that none of us killed someone. So, obviously, there's still trim to put in, and paint, but we ate dinner in our new dining room last night, and it was great. The old dining room will be a family room open to the kitchen.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Before & after

Here are a few before and after pics. As usual, they're a bit behind the times. We have now finished the drywall! J put the final coat of primer on while I was at work today. Now comes the fun of picking a paint color.

Explanation: The first two pics show the same view, looking across the back of the house. The last pic shows the same view now, with that old closet demolished and a new room where that pile of crap is. Once we finish painting, the electrician will come and install the fixtures and turn on the juice back there, and we'll get the floors finished. We also need to install trim and paint the exterior, plus the bathroom needs a complete overhaul, which will be DIY.

Friday, May 26, 2006

drywall hell

Our renovation is progressing. The workmen have gone, and J and I have been working hard on finishing the drywall. Since we work opposite shifts, J and I almost never work together, and a certain inconsistency in the covering of seams has become a problem. Not to worry, I devised a so-clever-it-ought-to-be-patented plan of color coding the seams so we know at a glance which ones still need work. I bought yard sale stickers and put green stickers on all the seams I think are finished, red on the ones that need more coats of mud, and yellow on the ones I think might be finished, but want J's opinion, since he's the one with the drywalling experience. I enjoy applying the mud, but the sanding is horrible. The other day, I got a fabulous haircut at Moxie, then went straight back to sanding, with my hair tied up in a bandanna. Two hours later, my kids caught me weeping on the floor of the new room. "I can't manipulate this drywall, and I ruined my new haircut!" I sobbed.

I want to post some pictures, but our internet connection is so slow, it's too frustrating right now. Pages are so slow to load, I've been reading magazines while waiting. We have portable broadband (wireless) and it's inconsistent. Sometimes it's fast, and other times it's even slower than dial up. And we live right near the tower, too. Don't get suckered into buying it. We're in the process of switching to DSL.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bye-bye driveway dumpster

We haven't been able to park in our driveway since February, so it was so nice to see the giant, orange dumpster, loaded with aproximately 1/8 of our house, get hauled away. These pictures don't really show the grade of our driveway, which is a tad steep for the hauling away of Titanic-sized containers holding large chunks of one's house, but the truck made it out of the driveway.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Pointless and Rambling, but mainly about food.

The scary thing about installing your own insulation is when the city comes to inspect it. We passed, which is a relief. I thought for sure, she'd point to a few of the saggier batts and insist we rip them out and start again.

We went back to Tea Time Desires today, this time for lunch. I had the steamed pork dumplings, which were delicious. The prices are low, and I was expecting tiny portions, so I was astonished that the spicy chicken noodle dish my children ordered was a heaping plateful of noodles. These also were tasty, with cilantro being the dominant flavor. I had another bubble tea and liked it better than the first. Last week, when I tried my first bubble tea, I didn't realize I was coming down with a mild stomach virus, which may have been the reason I had difficulty drinking it.

Speaking of food, I'm having a grand time with a cookbook I picked up at the Northside Library: Feast From the Middle East by Faye Levy. Tonight for dinner we had the Chicken Pecan Bulgur Cakes with a tahini dip and a spinach and feta salad, plus the "Queen of Sheba" chocolate cake, which is more like a souffle than a cake: whipped egg whites, bittersweet chocolate, ground almonds, butter, and a minimum amount of sugar plus a bittersweet chocolate glaze. I highly recommend this book, but you can't have it yet because I'm keeping it the full three weeks. Also reading The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott. This is volume I of "The Raj Quartet" and I thought it was going to be a lame, written-with-a-mini-series-in-mind sort of novel, but it's a serious work of literature.

Before and after renovation pictures! Pictured first: back of house before renovation. Next: back of house now, with new, higher roof. The two final pictures show the newly built room which replaces an old unfinished porch where we used to throw tools and recycling. This porch was demolished, enlarged, with a new foundation, and rebuilt. New stairs down to the deck were also built. I'll try and sneak in another "before" picture.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fun with fiberglass

We've mapped the human genome, so why haven't we come up with a better way to insulate a house than wrapping it in fuzzy blankets of fiberglass?

Spent a truly hideous day yesterday installing insulation in the ceiling of our remodeled rooms. We were supposed to have a sub-contractor do this, but our builder suggested we do it ourselves. Building codes here require R-38 insulation in ceilings It's like stuffing a g.d. Futon into your ceiling joists. That's a slight exaggeration, but believe me, it's thick and unweildy and surprisingly heavy. I suppose I should just be grateful that we don't live in Maine, where they probably make you use R-600. We had to put on uncomfortable protective gear, including horribly uncomfortable breathing masks and goggles, and still the fiberglass got on our wrists and all over J's neck.

And you can't just jam it up there. You have to cut channels through it so it neatly surrounds your plumbing and electrical. You can't have air pockets. Never mind that prior to renovation, there was no insulation up there at all-- now we're fussing about freaking air pockets!

Now we're both slightly itchy. And speaking of itchy, one of Mad Scientist's friends tossed some poison ivy leaves down that back of his shirt. Oh, ha ha! What a funny, funny joke! MS is horribly allergic to poison ivy. Right now, his back is covered with tiny, fluid filled blisters. In about a week, he'll look like a sailor in the British navy, circa 1812, who's just gotten a taste of the cat 'o nine tails. I'm almost inclined to call the kid's mother, but I don't think he was being deliberately malicious, and I hate to be one of those mothers who complains to other mothers about their children.
I have no fun renovation photos to share. There's not an exciting visual difference between insulated walls and non-insulated. But I'll share a picture of my Siberian Irises. That's the new part of the house, off to the side.

Also, a picture of my dog, Sancho, who does a hilarious imitation of a human when he sits on the couch. He does this all the time: scoots his little bottom onto the seat and leaves his front legs on the floor. Maybe he thinks we'll let him sit on the furniture if he looks as human as possible.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

City council election

Can't I just vote for Dave Norris twice?

He says, in today's Cville, "[Charlottesville would be better if]: we had more affordable housing for the folks that do the hard work of making this city function (teachers, police officers, firefighters, retail/service workers, etc.)"

Thank you! I know, who am I to talk, a homeowner in the infamously overpriced Belmont-- and we're the ordinary working people Norris is talking about--my husband is a nurse and we lived on one income up until last November. But we moved to Charlottesville in 1998, when, if you mentioned Belmont to real estate agents, they'd respond with a shocked "NO!" (Although a neighbor of my brother-in-law, way back in 1998, told me that Belmont was the up-and-coming neighborhood. As I recall, she said, "That's the neighborhood where people our age are buying." And she was right.) So now we have this house, and are grateful for it, but what will we do if assessments go so high that we can't pay the taxes anymore? Sell it? And where would we live then? Kansas?

It's funny, because I come from Buffalo, NY, where there is, incredible as it may seem, a law that requires that all city employees--including public school teachers--live within the city limits. Police are exempt from this law, and possibly fire fighters as well, but it just blows the mind that there is a city that must actually pass a law forcing middle class workers to live there, when in C'ville, those same workers want to live here and can't afford it. And Buffalo, by the way, is a nice city to live in. There is a wealth of huge, gorgeous old houses going for prices that would make anyone used to this area tear their hair in frustration. Mixed comfortably among the houses are bars, restaurants and shops--at least on the west side, where we lived. It's a perfect urban environment. I wonder why Charlottesville is Charlottesville and Buffalo is Buffalo?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


More renovation pictures. We have also replaced the windows in our old sitting room, for taller ones that won't be too far below the new, higher ceiling. Before:


Saturday, April 15, 2006


We have windows! Real divided-light windows with real muntins (the strips of wood that divide the panes.) Those cheap windows with the fake, snap-in muntins are an abomination, in my opinion, especially in an old house.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Walls and thugs.

We have walls. Also pictured: some of our old clapboard, peeking out from behind the stucco. It looks like the house was originally white with black trim, which reminds me of summer cottages on the Lake Erie shore in Ontario. That big opening will be a window, but not a picture window. (No!) There'll be a bank of three two-over-two mullioned windows that match the windows in the old part of the house.

And now for something completely different.

A message to the feral kids out there: if you go breaking into cars at night, you may just find yourself getting chased down by a crazed man in a minivan, as happened to a group of local kids in my neighborhood this weekend. They're lucky he didn't catch them.

When we lived on the west side of Buffalo, NY (our hometown) my car was broken into at least twenty times. I never locked the doors, and so was spared a smashed windshield. The thieves would rifle my music collection--they never seemed to want my Tom Waits tapes--and otherwise leave my car unscathed. I never bothered to call the police and never got particularly upset. I decided I'd rather live in the city and have my car broken into every night of the week rather than live in the suburbs. Somehow it was different when it happened here in Charlottesville. Maybe it's because I drive a nicer car than I did in our Buffalo days, or maybe it's that the kids turned on J and moved to assault him when he confronted them. At any rate, it was all rather upsetting. The police came, but of course they didn't catch the kids, who had rifled our car as well as several others on our street. (Nothing was stolen from my car.) J swears he saw them at Stoney's the next day, paying for their purchases with large amounts of change.