Thursday, January 31, 2008

Facebook

My eleven year old daughter Miss G created a facebook for me. I protested half-heartedly, but she was insistent that facebook is a vital social tool for the information age and that life as I know it could not go on until I had my own facebook page. Then, in my name, she contacted various people that I know—mainly nieces and nephews—and invited them to be friends with me. So now I have approximately 45,000 facebook friends, because I'm so popular and everybody wants to be friends with me. No, that was a joke. I did acquire a large number of friends in 24 hours, though. Some of them wrote sweet little notes on my “wall” and it all seems friendly and harmless, although I worry about Miss G recklessly sending out invitations from me, since the nieces and nephews are now probably wondering what has gotten into their crazy aunt who sees them once a year and even then, doesn't have a whole lot to say.


Then there was the issue of my profile. I noticed Miss G set it to say that I am interested in men. Why, I asked, did she put that? That makes it look like I'm trying to meet men.

Miss G: What did you want me to put, chickens?

Me: Is that an option?

Miss G: No! You have to pick men or women. Those are the only choices.

Then I discovered the networks. You can, for example, join a network of everyone who graduated from your college. I went to Canisius College, a small Jesuit college in Buffalo, and after just ten seconds of browsing I knew I had to join. Too bad I'm required to have a canisius.edu email address. What the hell? I graduated years ago, live in another state, but have to have an email address from the college in order to join a facebook network? That requirement pretty much excludes 98% of alumni from joining. I tried entering my virginia.edu address, thinking that the “.edu” might fool it, but no, I was told that this email was no good and why didn't I join the UVA network, since clearly I has slipped and typed Canisius College when what I meant was University of Virginia? Now I was mad and if I couldn't join the Canisius network I had to join a different one. Charlottesville! Buffalo! My old high school! Things were getting interesting, but alas, we have just one computer and Miss G wanted to visit her facebook. Soon we were engaged in the sort of family fight you see on sit coms and she was trying to wrest the mouse out of my hand, yelling, “You can't have facebook anymore!


Monday, January 28, 2008

House hunting

A friend's funny blog entry about her struggle to find a house in northern Virginia brought back memories of when we were shopping for our first house. Who knew that in a city like Charlottesville there are so many dwellings that are utterly uninhabitable? And yet, for sale.

We had to rush into buying a house, because the landlord had put the house we were renting on the market and we gave our realtor fits because we insisted on buying a house that met four seemingly impossible criteria:

1. It had to be in the city, preferably an easy bike ride to UVA.
2. It had to be an old house. (Later, I had to further specify what age was acceptable, since our realtor was showing us houses built in the 1960s and calling them old.)
3. It had to be large enough for a family with four children.
4. It had to be in our price range.

And so we looked. We looked at a house that had no furnace. We looked at a house that backed up on a junk yard. We looked at a house in which the washing machine was reached by going outside and around the side to a separate basement door *and* the ceiling in that basement was only about four and a half feet high, so you had to bend yourself in half in order to do your laundry. We looked at houses in which every wall was covered with fake wood paneling. We looked at a house that was so filthy I wanted to go home and take a shower immediately upon leaving. We looked at a house with the most incongruous addition imaginable, not unlike a double-wide nailed to the back of a 1950s ranch. We looked at a house in which the owner kept an enormous turtle in a plastic wading pool, right by the back door. The woman who lived across the street came running out to greet us. She appeared desperate for someone, anyone, to buy that house and make the turtle neighbors go away. We looked at a house that had been on the market for ages, but that we hated, for some reason we couldn't explain. Later, the seller's Realtor called ours to find out if we were interested, and if not, why not. "Because we'd need a priest to do an exorcism before we moved in," I said. Our Realtor ran this through her convenient brain-located client translator and came up with, "It doesn't have that Old World feel they're looking for."

Where was Pimp this House (or whatever that show is that teaches you to maximize your curb appeal) for these people?

Now we have a house. It was a perfectly acceptable house when we bought it, but we've torn it to pieces to such an extent that it has come to resemble the houses of horror we looked at when we were shopping. Maybe not quite that bad, but what was once a decent bathroom is now a pile of rubble. Putting our house on the market and opening it up to the scrutiny of buyers is unthinkable. It's a good thing we don't have plans to move any time soon. I think I will just die in this house and leave my children the hassle of selling it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Weird jobs

Zoe has tagged me to list seven weird jobs I've had. I'm not sure if I've worked at seven jobs in my whole life, but let's see.

1. My very first job was in an Italian bakery in Buffalo, NY. Alas, the owners' first language was Italian, not English, and a fatal misunderstanding arose. I thought they wanted me to work Tuesday afternoons and Saturdays--a nice schedule for a teenage girl getting her college applications in order. It turned out they wanted me to work every day except Tuesdays and Saturdays. I was fired. It was a relief.

2. I was a "page" at the public library. This involved re-shelving books that had been returned, checking out people's books, "reading" the shelves--making sure the books were in the proper order--and working at an ever-growing list of books that were missing but that had been "claimed returned." I turned out to be good at that last task, and found a number of books that had been missing for ages. This was my first real introduction to working with that terrible beast, the General Public. I would wile away the hours observing and judging people's reading selections.

3. I was an environmental activist. I worked for NYPIRG. This job involved going door-to-door asking people to pledge their love of the environment with a donation. Preferably $15 or more. It was our habit to all go out for lunch and then car pool to whatever site we were canvassing. On the second day, we ate at a dive in Niagara Falls, NY. My fellow activists dumped me in the type of neighborhood in which all the houses have chain link fences in the front yard, and pit bulls behind all those fences. I didn't even bother to knock on their doors, I knew no pledges would be forthcoming. Niagara Falls, NY is one giant slum, for those of you who don't know. I wandered around the city, finding not even a coffee shop where I could rest my legs. I was also starting to feel sick, and when the day was finally over and we were driving back to Buffalo, I threw up in the car of the semi-hot environmentalist who was car-pooling us. It turns out I'd gotten food poisoning from the restaurant we ate at. That night I wrote in my diary, "The entire stinking city of Niagara Falls can die of cancer for all I care

4. I was a nanny. Not quite like the Nanny Diaries, but it was enough to scare me off of taking care of other people's children forever.

5. I was an unpaid writer. My sister worked for Artvoice, the Buffalo, NY equivalent of Cville Weekly or The Hook, and she would get me writing gigs from time to time. The editor's policy was not to pay his writers. Like all aspiring writers, I hoped it would pan out into something. It didn't.

6. I was an editor. A new-age bookstore hired me to edit their monthly newsletter, which offered a myriad of classes in new-agey things like rolfing and fen shui. They also paid me to write reviews of the books they were selling.

7. I am a mother. For someone in my social class to have a baby at 23 and forgo a real career in order to care for him, and then have three more babies in quick succession was weird. Not just weird, unheard of. I practically became an outcast. And there were no stay-at-home mothers in 1993. I thought that as long as I was married and not on public assistance, I could have as many babies as I wanted and no one would judge. I was never more wrong about anything in my life. I've learned to recognize the look on people's faces, when they learn I'm the mother of a fifteen year old, as they quickly count backwards from what they guess my age is and then come to that fatal conclusion: TEENAGE MOTHER.

Friday, January 25, 2008

School bus screws us

Being a nursing student and a mother means my child management strategy is sometimes a bit precarious. If one thing goes wrong, the whole structure collapses. I often have to be in school or at the hospital before my children leave for school. They are not babies. The youngest will be nine in February. They can, and do, get themselves off to school. Charlottesville High School has the latest start of any of the city schools, so my two teenagers are home to wait with Mr. McP at the bus stop, and to lock up the house, etc before they leave for school.

This morning, I had a skills lab at 8:00am. I was at home when my eleven year old daughter caught the bus to Walker. I left at 7:45--the same time my daughter Drama Queen takes Mr. McP to his bus stop. I saw them both waiting for the bus as I drove past on my way to school.

My lab let out for a lunch break at 12:15, and I thought I'd just run home and let the dogs out. I was expecting to come home to an empty house, so you can imagine my surprise to see Mr. McP and my two teenagers there. What happened? There was a substitute bus driver for Mr. McP's route, who drove right past my son as he waited at the same street corner he always has--the same street corner designated as the official bus stop on the form sent home by the city schools.

Not only that, there was a chipper little message on my answering machine, something like, "Hi, this is Jackson-Via school and we noticed that Mr. McP isn't in school today, and we'd really like to achieve 100% attendance, so couldn't you please, pretty please bring him to school?" The assistant principal had also stopped by the house, but my children had hidden from him because they had a vague idea they would get in trouble.

I called the school immediately and it's lucky for them, and me, that I got the answering machine because I was ready to tell them where they could put their "100% attendance." I was calmer when the principal called me, and we agreed that she would come and pick him up and take him to school. I was all for letting him stay home for the rest of the day, but it developed that today was the honor roll ceremony, and Mr. McP would miss getting his honor roll certificate if he stayed home.

Of course, it's not Jackson-Via's fault that the substitute bus driver is an idiot. I'm not sure I like the idea of the assistant principal showing up at the houses of kids who don't go to school. To me, it smacks of the attitude I hate most of all in public schools--that we parents are too stupid to make decisions about our children and that they must swoop in and rescue our kids from us. I homeschooled for two years, and I know the environment in my house is much more enriching than that at the school. That's not true for every household, of course, but the push to attend school every day, no matter what, really irritates me. Conversely, I'm irritated that my high-schoolers missed school. They get so much work that missing one day sets them up for loads of stress.

And I didn't get any lunch, in all the fuss over calling the school and being mad about the situation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bookish

The websites for readers have given me hope that literature is not dead after all. I joined Library Thing last year and spent a happy hour adding books to my virtual library and then never visited the site again.

Later, I heard that shelfari was good and once again joined, added a few books, and promptly forgot about it. Now I get creepy emails inviting me to "see what my friends are saying" over at shelfari. What friends? In fact, I just logged in at shelfari to investigate and discovered two invitations from people who want to befriend me. One of them has been sitting in my inbox since August. Guess what? He's an award-winning poet and author of "suburban fiction"! On his shelf are books he has written, plus books that appear to be borderline pornographic and which may or may not have been written by him. I wanted him to go away, so I declined.

I just googled "Suburban fiction" and discovered that it is reality-based stories that are ignored by the major publishing houses. Whatever. I have plenty to read that has been published by major publishing houses without turning to a weird genre like this.

Now everybody is talking about good reads, which has a slicker look than shelfari (those virtual wood bookshelves are really dumb) but again, the focus is on socializing.

I've decided to dust off my Library Thing library and share it with all my readers in a side bar on my site. Isn't that exciting?

Frosted glass

I took this picture of an iced-over window in my house because it reminded me of growing up in Buffalo, NY where in the winter, all the windows in our house would be frozen like this, for weeks at a time. In other words, not only were the days short and dark--and you can sometimes go for a month in a Buffalo winter without seeing even a glimpse of sunshine--but the windows were perpetually frozen so you couldn't see outside. It was bleak.

My bedroom, a large room on the windy southwest corner of the house was more icebound and frozen than any other room in the house. The thermometer that my father set on my dresser would register an indoor temperature in the low fifties in my room. My parents figured it was because of the relentless winter winds and the large size of the room combined with a small heat register. I would do my homework kneeling on the floor, using my bed as a desk, until my fingers were too numb to hold a pencil. The wind would whistle and shriek through the cracks in the storm windows and the chill hardwood floor would numb my feet. My toes used to erupt into agonizing itchy blisters. I later learned these blisters were called chillblains, a medieval sounding malady that tortured me every winter until we moved to Virginia. Years later, my parents had major work done to the house and it was discovered that the heating duct leading from the furnace had never been hooked up to the duct in my bedroom.

Bleak indeed. On the other hand, I liked bleak. I think I am genetically programmed to be drawn to the bleak. My favorite childhood books were about girls who faced poverty and hardship. I wanted to be an orphan, or a pioneer girl. I gloried in my freezing bedroom. It made it that much easier to pretend I was Laura Ingalls or Sara Crewe. It was a tiny piece of the past in the midst of the soulless, affluent, suburb in which we lived.

Monday, January 21, 2008

She quit cleaning for two days and the mess got so bad her son accidentally put his arm through a window

Here's how it happened. Tuesday began my housework strike. Wednesday evening, for reasons best left alone, my fifteen year old son, Mad Scientist, barricaded himself in his room by pushing furniture in front of the door. Eventually, he unblocked the door, but his room was a cyclone of books, clothes, and rubbermaid under-the-bed bins. I looked at the mess. I longed to restore order but I didn't. I was on strike, remember?

Thursday morning, I went for an early run. When I got home, I noticed broken glass on the ground in front of the house. I looked up and with horror saw my eight year old son's skinny little arm waving to me through a jagged hole in his bedroom window!

I rushed up the stairs. What happened was this: Mad Scientist had gotten out of bed, and unaccustomed to a big mess in the middle of the floor (because in the past I had always cleaned his room) he tripped over one of the rubbermaid under-the-bed bins, went flying forward with enough force to put his arm through the window. Miraculously, he wasn't hurt. Not even a scratch. I think this is because his arm went through the plastic blinds first, and they acted as a sheathe.

Glad as I was that no one was hurt, I was still very, very upset. Here it was 7:00 am, a big snow expected, the kids needed to be sent off to school, I had a 9:00am Pharmacology class and there was a giant, jagged hole in the house!

Containing the hole was the first priority. The only cardboard in the house was a six pack box that advertised Hop Hog beer. With this, last week's C'ville Weekly, a rolled up towel and some blue painter's tape, I managed to cover the hole. Only now, not only did I have a broken window, I had a Hop Hog beer box taped to a broken window on the front of my house for all the world to see. Classy. There are HOA's that forbid leaving children's toys in view after dark. I'm sure glad I don't live in an uptight neighborhood like that, or we'd probably have had the deed to our house revoked.

Then it started snowing, and soon the broken glass on the front porch roof was coated with a slick layer of snow. My class was canceled, my children were returned from school before lunch, I didn't want to risk getting in an accident, so Hop Hog had to stay up in the window for a whole day. Friday was mild and Jon had the day off, so we were able to fix the window before it got cold again.

I'm good at finding humor in bad situations, and Thursday morning, it was that absurd Hop Hog box that I focused on. Actually, I was too upset to find it funny at that moment, but I did think that once I'd calmed down, I'd think it was funny, and I was right.

The whole situation was kind of funny, really. I mean come on! I quit cleaning for two days and the mess gets so out of hand my kid trips over it and puts his arm though a window? It's hilarious!

It could have been worse. I broke a lot of windows when I was painting the house this summer, and one of them was the storm window for the boys' bedroom. I'd had the glass replaced in the old storm window frame, but never got around to putting it in the window. If I had, Mad Scientist's arm would have gone through two panes of glass, and he definitely would have cut himself.

FYI: I am still not cleaning, although I made an exception on Thursday and put away all the bins and books in the boys' room. The house is limping along. Some things get picked up, some things don't but overall the house is still livable. Only now, because I'm compulsive that way, I have to say to Mad Scientist every night before he goes to sleep, "Be careful when you get up in the morning so that you don't trip and put your arm through the window."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Square splendage: a DIY primer

I am interrupting the blogging of my housework strike to show off my new tub faucet.

The old faucet.

The new faucet. Fancy, eh?


The tub itself needs some attention but it is good enough for now. The great thing is, now that we have something that somewhat resembles a shower, we can demolish the real shower in the other bathroom. It is in desperate need of new tile. That whole bathroom is half-gutted right now. Indeed, here is an excerpt of something I wrote on my other site a year ago.

I'm turning my attention to our downstairs bathroom. Several months ago, it looked like this.

A view from above.

Now, faced with the task of making it decent, I hardly know where to begin, although gutting it seems the logical first step and we tore out the old sink months ago. Now I am trying to get up the old tile floor. The tools I selected were a hammer and small chisel. After about 15 minutes of hammering and chiseling, I'd removed an area of tile about the size of a Splenda packet. Jon suggested that we simply put the new floor on top of the old one, an idea I considered seriously, until I realized we wouldn't be able to open the door, and also could find no support anywhere on the Internet for laying new ceramic tile on top of old ceramic tile. It was time for the sledge hammer. Jon had grave concerns about me sledgehammering straight through the subfloor and into the basement, so I sensibly chose a day when he was at work. “I'll be gentle,” I told myself. After about 15 minutes of gentle application of the sledgehammer, I had demolished an area of floor the size of *two* Splenda packets. “The hell with gentle,” I said and started banging away as the toilet lid clattered in a frightened sort of way and the house shook. All the while, like a drumbeat in my head were the words: Hire someone. Hire someone. Hire someone.


The website that had recommended the sledgehammer, also mentioned a floor scraper, and I realized we have a tool similar to this. It is on a long handle, like a garden spade, which makes it difficult to maneuver in a 25 sq ft bathroom, but with this new tool and diligent effort, I managed to scrape up about twenty Splenda packets worth of floor. By this time, I had jarred all my vertebrae loose, so I swept up the debris and retreated to my favorite chair with a cup of tea and Buddenbrooks.

A splenda packet has an area of roughly one square inch. If my floor is 25 square feet, then I calculate my square Splendage to be about 300. Or is that 3,000?


That was a YEAR ago, and the only progress I've made is to completely get up the old floor. We've also removed the door, so what was once a bathroom is now an open cubicle with a shower and a toilet. This is the reason we never invite people over.

Coming soon: the tale of how my housework strike was indirectly responsible for my 15 year old son putting his arm through a window. Don't worry, he's not seriously hurt.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Day Two: One woman't stand against household slackers

Thanks for all the supportive comments!

Actually, I am a bit shamefaced today. I was expecting to be neck-deep in garbage by this time. Indeed, by dinner time yesterday, a Dr. Pepper bottle, a second drinking glass and two candy wrappers had joined the fork and the peanut lid on the desk. There was an empty Pringles can on the floor by the couch, an empty bag of tortilla chips in the sunroom. (Note—I don't even buy Dr. Pepper or Pringles, but when you have adolescent children who have their own money, they can, and will, supply themselves with junk food from the corner deli.)

The kids were oblivious, and I was annoyed, yet smug at the same time. Oh boy, won't I have a post brimming with righteous indignation tomorrow! Then Jon came home from work. “Pick up those glasses,” I heard him say, and Mr. McP scurried into the kitchen with an armload of glasses. “Are pop bottles recyclable?” he asked, and then, “Pick up that peanut lid from the desk.”

“Oh my GOD, you READ MY BLOG!” I screamed.

Actually, he hadn't. He does get the prize for being the only person to notice that I hadn't cleaned the house.


Then he took the time to teach me how to start an IV and I successfully started an IV on a banana.

Still. This isn't over. The carving knife is still in my desk drawer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Patience initiates an experiment

For sixteen years I have been cleaning up after my children and husband. As of today, I am done. I hate disorder. I can't be relaxed or comfortable in a messy room. Clutter makes me anxious and depressed. Which is why I spend an inordinate amount of my valuable time working as an unpaid slave for my husband and children.

Once the kids leave for school begins my morning housecleaning routine. My reward is a quiet afternoon in a peaceful house with the winter sun slanting through the windows. The floors are shiny and free of dust. The counters are clean. The dishes are clean. The pets(we have three--two dogs and a bunny) are fed, exercised and contented. The beds are made. The pajamas, left carelessly on the bathroom floor are folded and stowed neatly beneath the bed pillows. The clean laundry is folded and put away. The bills are paid. There are no stacks of papers, no clutter, no toys, shoes, tools out of place. Every day--even on those I work or have school, I proceed through my house from top to bottom, bringing order to chaos.

I bask in the peacefulness of a clean house until the first child comes home from school. By evening, there are backpacks, musical instruments and shoes strewn everywhere. Chip crumbs collect on the computer desk, drinking glasses on every flat surface, bowls of half-eaten cereal are pushed under the couch.

And it's not that I don't ask, tell, beg, cry, yell at them to pick up after themselves. I do, and they won't. Not only does my family not help around the house, they are quick to criticize if their comfort is impinged on in any way. Example: Occasionally a bowl will come out of the dishwasher with some dried food on it. I will hear, "Mom, YOU didn't clean this bowl properly before you put it in the dishwasher!" Or else it's "Mom, how come you never wash my fucking sweatshirts?" (Because your fucking sweatshirt is stuffed under your bed where I can't see it.)

Enough. I am not cleaning up after these people. I am on strike, starting today. I have done this before, and it is hard to resist giving in and cleaning anyway. I have to remind myself that it is weak to continue as an enabler to a houseful of inconsiderate people. The strong thing to do is ignore the mess. I need to be strong.
Photographic evidence.
Day one. This is the mess that accumulated after less than 24 hours of me refusing to clean.

Mad Scientist drops his books wherever he happens to be standing when he stops reading. This is the threshold between the kitchen and family room.

I started to pick up these socks, but stopped myself. They are wet, by the way.
I have asked my children 1,000 times to CLOSE their drawers.

The old Patience would have made this bed.

Jon's shirt, on the floor. We have been married for sixteen years and for all the times I have asked, he still will not put his own clothes away.
My computer desk. Note the fork, the lid to a jar of peanuts, the drinking glass. In the drawer, a carving knife. Nice.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Nursing school, vicious as Roman Rule

I am in for 17 weeks of hell. Last year, when I was applying for admission to the nursing program at PVCC, I felt that once I was admitted, I could relax a bit. I knew I'd have to work in my classes, but I felt that once admitted, the pressure would drop. I was unprepared for the nursing school round of "Jump through this hoop, or get KICKED OUT of nursing school." "Now, jump through this hoop or get kicked out..." Are medical students and law students threatened in this way?

Nearly 40% of the class failed out after the first semester, mainly due a math test on which you had to score an 80%. You got two tries, and I got a 93% on the first attempt, but the test consisted of 15 convoluted word problems, with extra numbers thrown in deliberately to confuse us. The math itself wasn't hard, it was figuring out how to set up your equation. I've learned, to my consternation, that we must repeat this process every semester, only now you have to get at least a 90% to stay in the nursing program. I'm good at math, I've always been an excellent student, but I am nervous. The test is January 25, and the only preparation we are getting is a sheet of seven practice problems. I would be feel more comfortable if they gave us twenty or more practice problems, since there is so much riding on this one test.

The winter break went way too fast. Last year, I frantically tried to accomplish things over my break. I got my eyes examined, my hair cut, I demolished the old tiles in the bathroom. This year, my single accomplishment was to put the Christmas tree stand away in the basement. Often, it sits out on the back deck for months. Indeed, last year, it didn't get put away until September.

I spent most of my break reading Path to Power by Robert Caro. It's the 768 page first volume of his three-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. I read it at a rapid, punishing pace because I wanted it finished before the semester began. I did finish it, and it was good. Caro is a really good writer, and he's not afraid to criticize his subject.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pioneer Woman Pot Roast plus Jane Austen comes to PBS

Tonight I made the Pioneer Woman's Pot Roast. It turned out good. It turned out real, real good.


It has, however, become apparent to me that I am not a good food photographer. Gawd, look at that one carrot protruding from the onion. It looks like some sort of disease. Trust me, it tasted better than it looks.

So excited because tonight PBS unveils the new Masterpiece Theater with a brand new version of Jane Austen's Persuasion.
I like the older Persuasion with Ciarian Hinds and Amanda Root, although my friend and I agree that Amanda Root looks awfully haggard and old. But Sophie Thompson is superb as the annoying sister.

Further excitement--PBS is presenting new versions of Northganger Abbey, Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensibility plus a fictional movie about Jane Austen too. The Northganger Abbey movie from the '80s is absolutely dreadful. I am still haunted by the scene of the old lady pushing a needle through her fingers. And now, readers are scratching their heads and saying, "That doesn't sound much like Jane Austen," but I assure you, there was such a scene in that movie. There has never been a successful film version of Mansfield Park either. The 1980s BBC version is dull, and it appears to have been its aim to hire all the ugliest actors in Britain.

That was mean. I am going to hell. I bet the cast is gorgeous when they're wearing modern hairstyles. There's a 1990's version starring Frances O'Connor as Fanny, but it too is awful, with its implication that Fanny is being sexually abused by her father and the addition of an anti-slavery theme, both themes totally inappropriate in a Jane Austen movie.

Then, Sense & Sensibility--the Kate Winslet/Emma Thompson version is good, although Emma Thompson is much too old to be Elinor. There's also an older BBC version which is truer to the book, but suffers from the same dull, stage-set look of the BBC's Mansfield Park, plus an utterly unattractive cast.

Things that go WHOOSH in the night

Some time between 5:30 and 6:00 this morning, I was awakened by a loud WHOOSH. At least I think it was a whoosh. Since I was sound asleep when the sound happened, it's hard to describe it. All was then quiet in my house, but I got up to investigate. Mad Scientist, my aptly nicknamed son, has disturbed my sleep in the past by performing chemistry experiments in the kitchen in the middle of the night. (Indeed, in any sudden disturbance, my first thought is always to rule out Mad Scientist's involvement. And he knows it. When the earthquake of September 2001, rocked our house, Mad Scientist immediately screamed, "It wasn't me!") But this morning, Mad Scientist was innocently sleeping and I could find no reason why it wasn't safe to go back to sleep, which I did.

Upon arising two hours later, we noticed that Avon St. was closed to traffic between Rockland and Druid. Of course I had to check it out, convinced that a suspicious WHOOSH and the closing of a major street on a Sunday morning had to be connected. It turns out a power line had been damaged in the night. I'm not sure how. The Dominion guy said, "Something got on the line," but it looked like a downed power line to me. At least, I saw a power line lying in the street. We didn't even lose power at my house, or not right away anyway. Our power did go out for the last half hour or so that the VA Dominion Power crew was working. Now all is back to normal.

I never found out if the WHOOSH and the damaged power line were connected.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Toronto declares Buffalo is cool again

Check out this Toronto Star article.

http://www.thestar.com/Travel/article/292052

Buffalo, NY is where I was born and raised (aside from a couple of years in Boston) and it breaks my heart to see how it is dismissed and ignored by people who have never been there (or, if they have been there, never got beyond the environs of the airport, which is in Cheektowaga, not Buffalo.) You wouldn't expect people to be able to make an impression of Charlottesville if all they saw was 29N, would you?

Charlottesville is great. I know I am privileged to live here, but sometimes it seems like such a fake little Disney city. Buffalo, on the other hand, is dirty and gritty and real. You can buy real pizza at a real pizzeria on just about any street corner. Not only is the pizza good, but there are abundant excellent restaurants plus bars that are really bars and not restaurants with a bar added.

Middle class people in Buffalo live in the type of houses that only millionaires could afford in Charlottesville. How would you like to buy this 2000 square foot house, in a fashionable neighborhood for just $286,000? The taxes are $3400 a year--one reason why Buffalo has trouble keeping residents. (Link to the house's page)
If Toronto says that Buffalo is a cool city, then Buffalo really is a cool city.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fatuous Observations on Cars vs Pedestrians

I am a frequent pedestrian, but I drive a car often too and I have seen exhibitions of bad behavior from both walkers and drivers. If there were a war between pedestrians and drivers, I would definitely side with the pedestrians, but I thought I would share these observations.
Pedestrians and drivers both carry a set of responsibilities.
Pedestrians: you can not just stride into the street without looking and expect cars to yield to you. Yes, cars are supposed to yield to you, but give drivers the chance of seeing you. As a driver, I don't like having to slam on my brakes and risk getting rear-ended. Also, unless you are elderly or disabled, once you are in the crosswalk, step smartly. Crossing the street is not a leisure activity. It is not a Sunday stroll. It is not the time to shamble, to dawdle, to pause to answer your cell phone.
When you are crossing the street at a traffic light, it is your responsibility to obey traffic signals. When the light for traffic traveling in the same direction as you is green, you may cross. Often, I'll be sitting at a light, with a pedestrian standing at the corner, and the minute my light turns green, they decide to cross in front of me. This is inconsiderate. By the time you've strolled, dawdled and shambled across the street, the light is red again, and we must wait. Being a pedestrian doesn't mean you are exempt from having to wait your turn. Also, if you are out at night, be aware that you are possibly invisible to drivers. It isn't just the darkness, but sometimes the glare from oncoming cars' headlights prevents us from seeing you.
I once almost hit someone—it was dark, and I was driving on 9th street at the intersection with Market. I had the green light. A man dressed all in black stepped in front of me. I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting him and he had the nerve to give me a dirty look. Dude—you were invisible and disobeying traffic signals. You put yourself in danger and you also put me in danger of getting hit by another car.
Drivers: You are controlling a machine that weighs thousands of pounds. For God's sake, be alert! As my driver's ed teacher used to say, “Look at the big picture.” If you see that cars in the oncoming lane have stopped for a pedestrian, you have to stop too. If you see a pedestrian standing patiently at a crosswalk, waiting for someone to let her cross, stop! If you are at an intersection, and are making a turn, and there's a pedestrian in the crosswalk, it doesn't matter that you have the green light, the pedestrian has the right of way. Because she has a green light too. Repeat after me: The pedestrian has the right of way. THE PEDESTRIAN HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY!!!!
If you think it's funny to rev your engine, or otherwise feint with your car to intimidate pedestrians, then you are an ASSHOLE. No exceptions.
I commute home from work by foot, a distance of 1.5 miles. I am also a runner. Here is a sample of some of the driving assholery I've had to deal with. I was walking down Roosevelt Brown Boulevard and crossed a small side street, in the crosswalk. (King St? Grove St.?) A driver on R. Brown Blvd wanted to turn onto the side street while I was crossing it. He screamed out of his window, “Get your ass out of the road!” He's lucky I didn't have a brick, or a baseball bat, because I would have put it right through his fat face.
Another time, I was out for a run, on Rialto St, a quiet side street in Belmont. I was about to cross Altavista Ave, when a large pick up truck stopped at the stop sign. Apparently he resented having to wait the whole two seconds it took me to run across the street because he revved his engine and then deliberately let his car roll toward me when I was in front of him. Nice going, asshole. I bet you feel real powerful and important now.
Irresponsible pedestrians deserve to have drivers roll their eyes at them and make fun of them to the other occupants of their cars. They do not deserve to be run over by cars. Drivers who are all, “Me and my car rule the road and we don't stop for nobody” deserve to be dragged by their thumbs behind a speeding SUV.
Pedestrians, please realize that traveling by foot does not give you some sort of God-given privilege to step into the street whenever it is your whim to do so. Drivers, please realize that in a battle of might between a car and a pedestrian, the car will always win. You do not want to hit someone. Imagine the psychological trauma that any reasonably sensitive person would experience, if he ran someone over with his car. Please, watch for people who are trying to cross and give them a chance to do so.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Roast chicken the Alice Waters Way

I've been having good fun with my new cookbook, The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Every recipe I've tried has been delicious. Today I decided to attempt her roast chicken recipe.

I've tried Roast Chicken the Adele Davis way: Set oven at an extremely low temperature and do not salt the meat before roasting. Result: juicy chicken with skin the color of vanilla pudding.

I've tried roast chicken the Tasha Tudor way: Set oven at 350, put garlic cloves under the skin, stuff cavity with onions and fresh herbs, sprinkle with salt, dab with butter and roast for 20 minutes a pound. Result: your standard roast chicken. Juicy, brown, flavorful.

This is roast chicken the Alice Waters way: Season with tons of salt several hours before cooking. Push thick slices of garlic under skin, if desired. Roast at 400 for just one hour. Every 20 minutes turn chicken--first breast side up, then breast side down, then up again for the last 20 minutes. Waters says it's crucial for the chicken to be allowed to rest for 15 minutes before carving. I was skeptical, especially, when, at the last turning, with just 20 minutes of baking time left, the chicken didn't look even close to being done. Result: the chicken took somewhat longer than an hour to cook, but was extremely tender and juicy, but perhaps not as flavorful as Tasha Tudor's. Was actually slightly underdone in the thighs, but I fed those bits to the dogs, and organic chickens are less likely to have salmonella, right?

In future, I will combine Waters' and Tudor's recipes for maximum succulence.

Friday, January 04, 2008

In which I accept Marijean's double blog dare

Here's the "package of barely" note, corrected, although I forgot to use proofreader's marks.



Shoot. It didn't scan very well, so it's hard to read. If you click on the image, it enlarges.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A package of barely

Today Mr. McP brought home a note from school informing me of the "Tasting party" his social studies class will be having. The class will be cooking "Barely stew" the note said. "Barely stew?" I thought, and then figured it was something out of a book the class had read--a joke, like a thick soup that was barely a stew. But then I noticed that the teacher is asking for a parent to donate a "package of barely."

A package of barely? Are you kidding me? What she wants is a package of BARLEY. Maybe I'm an old fusspot, but this does not make me happy. Here are the scenarios:
1. The teacher wrote a note, to be sent to all parents, and didn't proofread it and naively expected spellcheck to guarantee a properly written note.
2. The teacher did proofread the note and saw nothing amiss in asking for a donation of a package of barely.

Typos are one thing, but barley was spelled as barely twice on this note, meaning this is how the teacher thinks it is spelled and I am trusting this person to educate my child.

Worst day of the year

The worst day of the whole year is when you have to go back to school after the Christmas holiday. I am not one of those parents who rejoices at the start of school. I like to sleep in. I don't like standing on street corners waiting for the school bus. I like to be free of the Tyranny of the Lunchbox.

At least I have almost two weeks until I have to go back to school. I plan to work on our bathroom disaster, indeed, have already made major progress by yesterday ordering a shower-converter kit for the claw foot tub upstairs, which will enable us to demolish the awful shower in the other bathroom.

Two years ago, when our one bathroom with a shower looked like this:

We all had to bathe in this, without the benefit of a shower nozzle.

It wasn't fun, but we managed, for several months, but this time Jon has put his foot down.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A lame new year's eve downtown.

Is it just me, or is First Night really lame? I considered buying buttons and having a big family event of it, but Jon had to be at work at 7:00am today, and he hurt his back, so that plan went out the window. I looked at the list of events and nothing appealed to me. I ended up taking Miss G and Mr. McP downtown, so we could check out the scene--loads of people milling about, all of them complete strangers, which is odd because I almost never go anywhere in Charlottesville without bumping into someone I know. So we strolled the mall, and quickly ascertained that there were just two things to do: 1. eat 2. buy crappy carnival souvenirs. We'd hoped we'd be able to see the fireworks from the downtown mall--like maybe at the top of the Avon St. Bridge, but we couldn't. So we went home.

New Year's Eve is, by far, my least favorite day of the year. When you're young, it heralds the end of your Christmas vacation from school. When you're older, it is fraught with angst--this desperate need to celebrate. And celebrate what? Why should turning the page on a calender be cause for celebration?

I do like the retrospection, looking back on the past year. I usually spend part of New Year's Day reading my journal from the past year. 2007 was a mixed bag for us. I was accepted into nursing school, Jon got a big promotion at work, Mr. McP made his First Communion.


2007 was also the year my Aunt Mimi died--my mother's older sister, and my last relative on my mother's side of the family. Also, Jon's father died. Both these deaths were not unexpected, but still sad.

2008 will be challenging, as I am up against a difficult semester, starting on January 14th. As always, I resolve to read at least one book that I own, but haven't read yet (I tend to read library books, exclusively). I also resolve to see The Falsies in concert, because everyone says they're so much fun. I also resolve to eat at that take out creperie on Water St. because it looks interesting, and I've always wanted to try it. Not very demanding resolutions, but they'll be fun to carry out.