Monday, December 24, 2007

Cookie disaster

Here's what the magazine promised:

Here's what happened when I attempted it:

When will I learn not to trust recipes published in home magazines?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Inflatable snowman = infertility

My ninth grade daughter's biology teacher told the class that those inflatable lawn snowmen cause infertility. I want to know, what sort of interaction with the snowman is required in order to be rendered infertile by it?

2007 New Years resolution accomplished

At last. After nearly a year, I finished reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, thus fulfilling last year's New Year's resolution to read at least one book that I'd bought but hadn't yet read. And not a moment too soon. This book was a bestseller, but I bet fewer than half of the people who bought it actually read it. Alexander Hamilton was an extremely active person and prolific writer and his prose has a wordy and florid style that makes for difficult reading. Add to that complex political imbroglios and you have a biography that is a struggle to read.

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson loathed each other. I was raised in New York, where history classes had lessons dedicated to him. Now we live in Jefferson's territory and my kids do not seem to be learning much about Hamilton in history. I distinctly remember my fourth grade teacher telling us that Burr and Hamilton dueled because Hamilton insulted Burr's daughter, an idea she must have gotten from Gore Vidal's novel Burr. In reality, no one knows what, precisely, Hamilton said about Burr to spark their dual other than that it was something “despicable.” Chernow loses his objectivity and insists, somewhat implausibly, that Burr was all but jumping with glee after the duel.

For 2008 I resolve to see the Falsies in concert, because everyone tells me how good they are, to see something--anything-- at the Gravity Lounge, because I've never been there, and try at least two new restaurants.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fatuous Observations

I felt I ought to offer a few, since it is the title of my site:

  1. People always become cheerful at the prospect of bacon.
  2. Harris-Teeter shoppers have better manners than Giant shoppers.
  3. The home dental care kit: more fun than anybody should be allowed to have.

I don't suppose enough people read this site to post outraged comments along the lines of, "I shop at Giant and I adopt homeless kittens!" "I shop at Giant and I donate my kidneys to orphans!"

I shop at Giant too, and the shopping experience there is no fun at all because everyone--shoppers & employees--is in a perpetual funk. I suppose I am too while I'm there. At Harris-Teeter, everyone radiates serenity, prosperity and contentment: "The concierge called in sick, so I thought I'd check out this grocery shopping thing. What fun!"

What else? The Jackson-Via mobile showed up at our house, startling the crap out of me. It is rare to have visitors during the day and Jon answered the door while Mr. McP and I peeked over the banister. "Mom, that looks like Mr. P my gym teacher!" said Mr. McP. Impossible, I said. But no, the car in the driveway had a Jackson-Via sign on the door. The assistant principal and the gym teacher had come over to see why Mr. McP wasn't in school today. He had a dentist appointment and I'd decided to let him skip for the whole day. If there's ever a time for a mental health day, it's when you've just been to the dentist.

Apparently it's school policy to pay a visit when a kid misses school. The reasoning is that many parents don't have cars, and if a child feels ill in the morning, and well again later, the school can pick him up and take him to school. "Better late than never" the ass't principal told Jon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Work Christmas party + cheap wine

Work Christmas party + cheap wine + final exam today=bad.

Jon and I work in the same department, although at different jobs. At last night's party I mused witty observations about work holiday parties in general and mine in particular. Today I think it's better if they are left unwritten. Once again, my boss forced me to dance the electric slide. Jon and I knew the drinks situation would be grim, so we stopped at the newly opened Beer Run and picked up a six pack to smuggle in. Gawd! How juvenile and unprofessional! I felt guilty enough to drink the Turning Leaf chardonnay provided by the bar while Jon & friends drank a hop heavy beer.

Not to sound too much like a helmet-headed suburban mom, but Beer Run's parking lot is a tad tight for the minivan.

Speaking of vehicles, no word on the scooter, although my gut tells me it was given a new paint job--probably at the corner of 6th st and Palatine--and is now being heartily trashed. Oh, and our homeowner's insurance won't pay for the loss because it is a "recreational vehicle." If the thieves had taken our lawnmower, that would be covered, but not a scooter.

The way I see it, we've just payed our ghetto tax, which was long overdue since we haven't been robbed in over 14 years. That was in Kalamazoo, Michigan where we lived in the historic district, in a neighborhood similar to Belmont, with a diverse mix of residents. There were some kids who Jon would sometimes hire to sweep the porch, etc. One day, when Drama Queen was just a few weeks old, they came over and asked to see the baby. I let them in the house, because I didn't want to seem unfriendly, and they stole my wallet out of my bedroom. Actually, that robbery was more psychologically traumatic.

Jon and I have always lived in gentrifying-yet-still-slightly-seedy urban neighborhoods. This is the type of neighborhood we prefer. We bought our house in Belmont a hairsbreadth before the prices here skyrocketed. When I think of the money we've saved in mortgage payments over what we'd have paid if we'd bought in a conventional "safe" neighborhood, compared to the price of the scooter, we're still way ahead.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scooter stolen

We are, as my mom would have said, "All in a fooster" (phooster?) today. Very early this morning, some Belmont shitbag with a bolt cutter stole Jon's scooter. I'm willing to bet it's now concealed in a shed or basement on Palatine Ave. or Sixth St. They can only have gone as far as they can have pushed it because, Jon says, you can't hotwire it. You're not going to get very far pushing a 178 pound scooter up Belmont's steep hills. I drove around looking for it, but it's hard to drive and look at the same time.

The thing that has me kicking myself is that one of our dogs gave a few half hearted barks during the night--moany, wimpy, I'm-bored barks--not OMG THERE'S AN INTRUDER barks so I ignored him. Jesus H. Christ, he barks his head off for every little old lady with a poodle who passes by in the park, but someone comes right up onto our front porch and cuts through a cable and all he can do is moan a little?

I'm hoping that either it will be found, or the thieves will abandon it when they realize they can't start it. Otherwise I think our homeowner's insurance will pay for it. We have no garage, but I guess the future scooter will have to live in the basement.

If anyone notices their shady neighbor suddenly acquired a shiny red and black Piaggio Typhoon, send a comment my way. :)

EDIT: It's possible the scooter was painted bright yellow by the thieves. Today, twice, I heard the sound of a scooter engine that sounded just like Jons. Both times I saw a bright yellow scooter going up Avon St. The first time, I immediately dismissed that idea that it was Jon's because of the color. The second time, I noticed the driver was looking at me, really staring, as he drove past. (My house is not on Avon St., but is separated from it by a large vacant lot, and we get a good view of cars going up and down that big hill.) Anyway, I thought it strange that I'd never noticed this yellow scooter before, and today I saw it twice, and its driver seemed very interested in staring at me. I got in my car and tried to catch up to it, but wasn't quick enough. I drove around where Sixth St. and Palatine Ave come together--there are a lot of people roaring around on scooters down there but I did not see Jon's or the bright yellow one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


If I go into a coma right now, each of my children will have at least two presents from Santa. Most of them are wrapped, even.

My big Cumulative Final Exam is Friday. I should be reviewing electrolyte imbalances and sensory deficits. I should be boning up on the acid-base balance and oxygenation. So why am I writing my second blog entry of the day plus commenting on the serial rapist discussion at Cville news and getting involved in the "cheap beer=Sign of the Redneck" discussion over at Cvillain?

Now I am inflated with espresso and can't even consider settling down to study. Here's what I did do: I shopped!

How to make Patience spend as much money as possible in as short a time as possible? Set her lose in New Dominion Books. I found some lovely books for my children there today. For Mad Scientist, the last three books in the Artemis Fowl series. He's a bit old for them, but he enjoyed the earlier books, and I enjoyed reading them as an adult, so age doesn't matter with this funny, superbly written series. For Drama Queen, a gorgeous illustrated hardcover of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I've never read it, but I couldn't resist. For Miss G, Nancy Pearl's Book Crush. Brilliant! The author who brought us Book Lust has written a similar book for children--right up through the teen years. For Mr. McP, The Collected Tales of Nurse Matilda. I had no idea the movie Nanny McPhee is based on a book. A cute little movie, by the way. Or maybe I liked it so much because I had really low expectations. Either way, I suspect we will like the book, charmingly illustrated by Edward Ardizzone.

Finally, also for Mr. McP, The Dangerous Book for Boys. This book stirred up some controversy. (Why not the dangerous book for boys and girls? Why do boys get to learn about Latin and history and grammar and do cool stuff and not girls? Why are only boys supposed to be interested in sports and famous battles? ) I don't care, this book is awesome, a fascinating mix of cool activities, stories of famous battles, a little Latin primer, English grammar lessons, sports, geography, science. I'm excited for Mr. McP to read it.

Benjamin Franklin

I just finished Benjamin Franklin by Edmund Morgan. Every American kid learns about Ben Franklin in history, but what I remember of those lessons is a vague montage of an old man flying a kite, writing pithy "Poor Richard" sayings, and somehow involved in establishing American independence. The school history books give the impression he was an old man his entire life.

This picture, by the way, is totally inaccurate. And no, I am not referring to the cherubs assisting in the advance of science, but rather to the fact that Franklin looks like he's about 80 years old when he did his famous kite flying experiment. In reality, he was in his early 40s. And was probably quite a looker, by all accounts. As a young man, Franklin was athletic--a powerful swimmer in a time when most people couldn't swim at all--charming and funny. Not to mention brilliant. The impression you get from reading his biography is that he was supremely charismatic. He loved people and people loved him. Women, apparently, found him irresistable, even in his old age.

Franklin was no provincial country bumpkin American. He spent years living in London, corresponded with influential people in Italy, France, Holland and other countries, was considered an authority on a variety of scientific topics, although he himself felt that devotion to public service was more important than furthering scientific knowlege. Franklin was a tinkerer, a figure-outer of things. He invented bifocals, the lightening rod, a new way of rigging ships. It was Franklin who figured out that lead is poisonous, by observing what handling lead type did to himself and other printers, plus observing and talking to painters, plumbers and glaziers (leaded glass). He also noticed that plants died in areas where lead was smelted.

Most of his life, Franklin considered himself an Englishman. He spent years devoted to a goal of a united English Empire in which the American colonies were full members, and not merely colonies. He also worked to move Pennsylvania from the rule of Proprietors, to the rule of a royal governor--thus earning the enmity of the Penn family.

When it became clear that his vision of America and England united in a single powerful empire would never happen, he devoted himself to the cause of American independence. Arguably, he was the only American sophisticated enough to parry with upper-level French government officials and lived in Paris during the American Revolution, gaining money and support from France.

The interesting thing about this book is the transition of Franklin from Englishman to American. We Americans, when studying our Revolution, emphasize the British as "other" when in fact they weren't. It's difficult to grasp the concept now, 200 years later, when we have a clearly established national identity different from the UK's, that the Revolutionary war was really a civil war--Englishmen fighting Englishmen.

I highly recommend this book although I confess I skimmed some of the more convoluted political passages.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tree Crimes and Misdemeanors

This year's Christmas tree was shipped to us directly from Maine, via the L.L. Bean catalog. It has a distinct list to starboard, but otherwise it is the perfect balsam Christmas tree of my bourgeois dreams.

We were not always so prosperous to order our trees from L.L. Bean. Six years ago, we had a somewhat traumatic tree-hunting expedition that typifies the absurd predicaments Jon and I find ourselves in. Our children at the time were 9, 8, 5, & 2.

It started with a budget crisis...

...I remembered that Ashlawn-Highland, the home of former US president James Monroe, was giving out FREE trees. We grabbed the tree saw, and headed down route 53. Jon drove ahead in his truck, and when the kids and I spilled out of the Volvo, we saw a young couple dragging a perfect Christmas tree toward their car. When questioned, they told us that the best trees were in the vicinity of the sheep. I popped into the gift shop to make sure we understood the rules of this venture, and was told we were free to cut down any cedar tree, and that donations to Ashlawn, in any amount, were gratefully accepted. Fair enough, although I kept to myself the fact that I didn't know what a cedar tree looked like.

Our first challenge was climbing the fence into a large field with woods at its edge. There were no suitable trees in sight, and there was a disconcerting lack of sheep. But what these woods lacked in sheep and Christmas trees, they made up in other organic matter, for the area had recently been occupied by a large herd of cows. After a long and dreary walk, we stumbled on a barbed-wire fence. The trees are always more Christmas-y on the other side of the barbed wire. Boosting four small children over the barbed wire fence was considerably more difficult than climbing the first fence, but we managed it, and were deep in a wood of enormous trees of one species that I assumed was cedar. They were all much too tall, and just as we were about to give up, we spotted the sheep and a tree that appeared suitable, or at least, diminutive compared to its neighbors. There was a long stretch of trunk before the branches began, but we were confident that once trimmed down, this tree would be perfect. Jon set to work with the saw, the tree fell with a resounding Whump!, and it became horribly clear that this tree was HUGE, and that we didn't have a chance of even dragging it to the car, let alone fitting it into our living room. What also became clear was that we had committed a crime. Our first impulse was to hide the evidence. Jon quickly began sawing the tree into smaller chunks, much as an axe-murderer chops his victims into pieces that will fit into a briefcase. The kids and I dragged the amputated tree bits to another fence nearby and tossed them over. Even two year old Mr. McP was scurrying to and fro with small branches. We were just in sight of the house and Jon alternated between bellowing at us to hurry up and hissing at us to be quiet. It was at this point that I remarked that our donation had better be in cash. And so we floundered through the muck--for the cows had been here too--frantically disposing of the tree, while ducking and dodging in order to remain invisible. The sheep, curiously, seemed oblivious to the sudden burst of activity in their pasture.

Once we'd hidden the evidence of our crime, we began our search anew. We now realized that our sense of perspective was somewhat skewed but when we found a second tree, we were at least able to judge that it was much smaller than the first one. As Jon started sawing, the three youngest children started to cry. "I don't want a Christmas tree!" sobbed Drama Queen. This tree, however, turned out to be easily portable. Even better, we discovered a broad stile over which we surmounted the fence with ease. Jon put the tree into his truck and headed home, while I stopped by the gift shop, gave them $10, and left in a hurry.

When I got home, there stood Jon, holding the tree up against the house. It was several feet taller than the front porch roof. We did, however, cram that whole tree, every bit, into our stairwell, where its top nearly reached the second floor ceiling and its branches bulged through the banisters and almost completely blocked the hall.

The really amazing thing is that the following year we returned to Ashlawn for another tree.
This year's mantle, artfully arranged by Drama Queen.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Maybe local food is cheaper after all

When I was buying food at local stores, I was constantly conscious of price, and individual items are definitely more expensive at local stores. Yesterday, I tallied my spending for November--most of which was spent buying food only at local stores--and I was stunned to see that we actually spent less for food in November than we did for the past several months. In November we spent $895.24 on food. In October, $1106.83, in September, $925.97, and in August, $1018.86. This is for six people, two of whom are teens.

By "food" I mean food and not toilet paper or toothpaste or dog food or any of the other things you can buy at the supermarket. "Food" also does not include alcoholic beverages. Food bought in restaurants is a separate line item on my budget. Interestingly, in our month of buying local, we spent far less at restaurants too.

Why was shopping local cheaper even though prices are higher? I think it's because I stayed away from packaged foods, which are expensive anywhere, but are especially pricey at stores like Foods of All Nations.

I am once again rethinking how I buy food in Charlottesville.