Monday, November 29, 2010

Alternative Holiday Weekend

Good Morning. I hope all my dear readers had a happy Thanksgiving. We had our Thanksgiving on Friday because I worked on the actual holiday. With two nurses in the house, the Friday Thanksgiving has almost become the norm for us. Friday Thanksgivings rock for several reasons:
  • All businesses are open, so if you discover that you need more wine, or forgot to buy something, it's no problem. (It's funny how Americans, myself included, feel a tiny bit panicky at the prospect of going even ONE DAY without unlimited access to a grocery store despite the fact that our pantries are crammed full. The horror of wanting half-and-half for one's coffee and not being able to buy it.)
  • You have an excuse not to get caught up in the Black Friday hysteria.
  • It's more relaxed, and friends who otherwise wouldn't be able to come over because they have to do their Thanksgiving with their own families, will stop by and help you eat up all your excess dessert.
  • There's mail delivery. I like to get my mail.
  • There's no stupid football.
Our dear friends came to visit for the weekend and we all celebrated together, along with a random assortment of teenage friends of my kids and neighbors. The friends, I found out, get story fodder from the sometimes-outrageous behavior of Charlottesvillians, to share with their friends in the big city, who were actually asking them to retell stories about a big party we had a few years ago, at which someone got hit in the face with a biscuit, and some C'ville moms' parenting style provided amusement.

I attempted the "Salt Roasted" turkey that's featured on the cover of the November, 2010 Bon appetit magazine. The procedure is to rub the turkey with a mixture of coarse salt, lemon zest and herbs and let it sit for twenty four hours. Then you rinse off the salt, stuff the turkey with chopped lemons and celery, brush it with a lemon juice/olive oil combo and roast. The result was certainly attractive, but the taste was not appreciably different from any other turkey I've ever roasted. I don't think the salt-lemon hoopla was worth the effort.

Fresh home from work on the "real" Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Three things


Why am I walking like one of my patients? Because I started a new workout routine. I've been a runner since I was 18--with a few breaks for pregnancy and injury and impossible Buffalo weather. I've realized that running is now just a default thing that helps me maintain a certain level of cardiovascular fitness, but otherwise isn't doing much to help me look fabulous as I approach a certain age. (Maybe I already am a "certain age." No one ever defines what the certain age is.)

I don't watch The Biggest Loser and I had never heard of Jillian Michaels, but now I find myself in possession of her "30 Day Shred" workout. I am determined to do it for thirty days and see what happens to my body. Today is day three. I can't lift my arms above my head. I am reduced to shuffling rather than walking. When I am in a hurry, I look like an 80 year old woman with stress incontinence, searching for a bathroom at a shopping mall. Getting into and out of chairs is agony--and this is after the ibuprofen has taken effect. How I am supposed to get to work tomorrow is a mystery.

The workout is divided into three six-minute cycles which contain three minutes of strength training, two minutes of cardio, and one minute of abs. The cardio and abs are easy--it's my practice to go for my usual run as a "warm up" and then do this workout--but the strength training is KILLING me. Which shows I was correct in thinking that my usual routine favored cardio over strength.


Dave Matthews came to town this weekend. It was the check out girl at Foods of All Nations who informed me of Mr. Matthews holy presence. I remarked that I had better pay closer attention to the news and that at least now I knew why the traffic was so impossible. "Oh yes," she said. "Whenever people know he's here, they line up outside just to see him." She made it sound like Dave Matthews was actually in the store at that moment which made sense because if Dave Matthews was going to buy groceries in Charlottesville, he'd probably go to Foods of All Nations. I tried to remember if I'd seen any spectacular cars in the parking lot, and I wished I had smartened myself up a bit before leaving the house. Then again, on that day I was tracking down the ingredients for a particularly complicated curry and if Dave Matthews had given me a big kiss on the lips, I probably would have asked him if he knew where I could find tamarind paste. (Which I never found, by the way, and the curry was another FAIL on my extensive record of cooking disasters.)


I am reading The Road to Oxiana by Robery Byron. Travel diary-- classic upper-class Englishman bemused at non-English peoples in other countries, which in this case are Cyprus and the Middle East. He notes that carob is an important crop on Cyprus and then likens its flavor to a "glucose doormat." I can't tell you how many times I have tried to come up with a phrase that describes carob, and it turns out that "glucose doormat" is the very phrase I have been searching for! There was a time in my life, when I subscribed to a more natural life style than I do now, when I would actually buy carob and use it as a substitute for chocolate. It didn't take me too long to realize that this was a path to madness and I restored chocolate to its rightful place in the pantry.

Thursday, November 11, 2010



I don't like to admit what I'm cooking for dinner. Oh sure, if the answer to the question "What's for dinner?" is "take-out" or "pizza" I can say it out loud with pride. Usually I say, "Food," but that doesn't fool anyone because if we were having something good, I would have said, "take out" or "pizza." I have a weakness for experimenting with new recipes. Have you noticed how many recipes there are that look interesting on paper and are absolute trash when cooked? The very worst--from back when I was a vegetarian--was "baked squash with tofu sauce" which has a nice ring to it--say it out loud-- that does not translate to the table. Jon, who has never made it a priority to model adult behavior for our children, lifted a ladle of tofu sauce to his mouth, and then "vomited" it back into the pot while making loud retching noises. One can not skulk forever, nor hide behind euphemisms like "a recipe I found in a magazine." The other night I decided to proclaim our dinner. I said, "Spinach-lentil-fish-curry." The house did not fall down. Indeed, small portions of spinach-lentil-fish-curry were consumed by all, and if the kids tactlessly baked themselves a batch of peanut butter cookies after dinner, and I will be stuck eating spinach-lentil-fish-curry leftovers for lunch for days, it's OK. I owned that dinner.


I took Brigid to National Portfolio Day at VCU in Richmond. National Portfolio Day is like American Idol of the art school world. Representatives from the country's best art schools were there and what you do is stand in line--you stand in line for hours--to show your portfolio to the schools you are hoping to get into. People travel from all over to attend and the line to get into the building stretched down the street and around the block. Once the doors opened, people scattered to the schools of their choice, but there was still a lot of standing around. Brigid had been warned that the art school reps are usually pissed-off grad students who will tell you that your portfolio sucks simply because they feel put-upon and want to spread the misery, but that was not our experience at all. We only got to see three schools--School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pratt Institute, and Cooper Union--but she got great feedback and positive response to her art. She started a portfolio blog, if anyone is interested in taking a peek.


I saw an book at the library the other day and I had to have it. I stick so doggedly to my written book list (to which I continuously add) that it takes an enormous effort of will to read something that isn't officially on the list. I also enjoy changing the font color of each book after I've read it. I have a color coded system that tells me how much I liked each book, and if I want to read more by that particular author, I highlight his or her name in pink. A bit rigid and obsessive, I know, but my book list is a harmless eccentricity, although I do have a vague feeling that if I ever get to the point where I've read every book, I might actually die. But anyway, the book that tempted me away from my list is The Maples Stories by John Updike. It's an exquisite little volume--I DO judge books by their covers--the kind that comes with its own cloth bookmark. It wasn't just the cover design or the bookmark that got me, it's also the fact that I like John Updike and this volume is a collection of short stories he wrote about the same married couple, starting in 1956 and ending in the seventies. (This is both when the stories were first published and the time period in which they are set.) It is a compelling portrait of a marriage. I haven't finished reading it yet, but I've read enough to tell you that it's awesome. Beautifully written, wryly funny, touching, sad--it's like looking at my own marriage, although this patently isn't my marriage. But some of the emotions are the same.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Emma, Emma, Emma, Emma

I think I will never tire of film adaptations of Jane Austen novels. No matter how many are made, it will always be my pleasure to watch and compare in the manner of a Leonard Nemoy-obsessed Trekkie. Of Austen's novels, Pride & Prejudice and Emma have the most movies made of them. There are four Emmas, and five Pride & Prejudices. I have recently watched each of the Emma movies and here is a brief comparison.

Emma: 1972

This low budget BBC adaptation seems awful at first, but if you stick with it, your patience is rewarded. I don't know what was going on at the BBC in the 1970s, but they seem to almost have made it a policy to employ unattractive actors. Doran Godwin, as Emma, is prim, sour-faced, and as rigid as a statue. I know from her bio that she was only twenty-two when this movie was made, but bad lighting, an unflattering hairstyle and an assortment of dreadful bonnets contrive to make her look closer to forty. She is also living proof that it is possible to be too thin. Debbie Bowen, who plays the hapless Harriet Smith, is more suitably girlish but over the course of six hours, her only line is to say "Oh, Miss Woodhouse!" in various states of breathy excitement or dismay. Ellen Dryden is a motherly and pleasant Mrs. Weston and Ania Marson is agreeable as Jane Fairfax. Constance Chapman performs admirably as Miss Bates in one of the most comic roles in this film. Of the ladies, Fiona Walker steals the show as Mrs. Elton. My main complaint about all the Emma movies, except this one, is that they cut Mrs. Elton's role down to a minimum, but this film gives full range to her role as the interfering, vulgar, loquacious bride of the odious Mr. Elton.

Of the gentlemen, the only one who makes an impression is Donald Eccles as Mr. Woodhouse, who is perfect as the fussy old man. John Carson as Mr. Knightly is probably the best the BBC could scrape up, considering their apparent dearth of attractive actors. Ditto for Robert East as Frank Churchill and Timothy Peters as Mr. Elton—who Jane Austen must have intended to have some qualities of a hottie or why would Emma and Harriet twitter over him so? They all turn in competent performances except for Robert "Frank Churchill" East who is so falsely genial you suspect his face might crack.

Overall, the cheap sets, polyester costumes, and cast that look nothing like you'd imagined them may make you want to stop watching, but by the time Mr. Elton returns to Highbury with his bride, you find you are hooked on the story and want to watch it to the end. The Emma character unbends considerably as Mrs. Elton provokes her temper.

A scene from this Emma--that's Miss Bates, with Jane Fairfax and Mr. Knightly and Emma, with her back to us.

One-sentence summation: Only for diehards.

Emma: 1996 (I)

The Gwyneth Paltrow Emma is a good effort, for Hollywood. Of all the Emma films, there's the best Emma-Mr. Knightly chemistry between Paltrow and Jeremy Northam. Ewan McGregor is foppish as Mr. Churchill and Polly Walker's Jane Fairfax is as dull as Emma says she is. I love Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates and Juliet Stevenson's Mrs. Elton has a hilarious way of savoring the phrase "Lord Suckling" in almost every line she utters. I admire Juliet Stevenson, but Mrs. Elton's part is the briefest in this film, which is disappointing, although they do let her chatter through the closing credits. Toni Collette is another actress I admire, but she is not right as Harriet Smith who is supposed to be pretty and charming, not plain and awkward. Alan Cumming performs admirably as Mr. Elton.

One-sentence summation: Good light entertainment.

Emma: 1996 (II)

The Kate Beckinsale Emma was overshadowed by the more glamorous Gwyneth Paltrow version, but this movie is well worth seeing. The Harriet-Mr. Elton "courtship" is dispatched speedily here and we move quickly to the weightier story of the Frank Churchill-Jane Fairfax-Emma love triangle. I like it that this movie gave more footage to some minor characters, such as Mr. Knightley's brother, who bitches mightily about having to leave the comfort of Hartfield for a Christmas party at the Weston's. This movie also does full justice to the strawberry picking party and the excursion to Box Hill, which I seem to recall are treated as one event in some of the other Emmas. Kate Beckinsale is a wonderful Emma, likeable yet faulty. Mark Strong is an angry Mr. Knightly and Bernard Hepton is so adorable as Mr. Woodhouse, that I want to put him in my pocket and take him with me everywhere. Prunella Scales (of Fawlty Towers) puts a lot of personality into the Miss Bates role. She appears to be really enjoying herself. Raymond Coultard is a glamorous Frank Churchill and Samantha Morton plays Harriet Smith well, although she has the odd look of having only just lost her baby teeth. Olivia Williams is Jane Fairfax and she is the only "Jane" you can believe actually being in love with anybody. This movie has the best Jane-Frank Churchill chemistry. Lucy Robinson is hilarious as Mrs. Elton. (If she looks familiar, it's because she played the snobbish Mrs. Hurst in the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride & Prejudice.) I liked the dialogue in this film—I haven't read Emma in ages, but it seems closest to the book.

One-sentence summation: The brainy choice.

Emma: 2009

This is the Romola Garai version and at first I was turned off by how the story starts in the infancies of Emma, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax, with a narrator telling us that the three of them are somehow "bound together." What a load of claptrap! After a while, however, this film grew on me. This movie boasts the hottest Mr. Elton—Blake Ritson is dreamy. Romola Garai is certainly lovely and is a pettishly selfish Emma, although I may be confusing her a bit with the character she plays in Daniel Deronda, which I also saw recently. I like Louise Dylan's portrayal of Harriet Smith—she is the closest to how I imagined Harriet when I read the book-- and Michael Gambon is wonderful in everything he does, so he makes a nice Mr. Woodhouse. Johnny Lee Miller is too boyish to be Mr. Knightly, which is a shame because I loved him in Byron. Tamsin Grieg plays Miss Bates and she seems to be modeling her performance on Sophie Thompson's. She looks nearsighted and vulnerable and is the unhappiest-appearing Miss Bates of the four. I know Tamsin Grieg as the wine-swilling and hilarious "Fran" of the TV show Black Books, so it's hard for me to reconcile her in this role. (Incidentally, Black Books—the only TV show that appeals specifically to bookish, antisocial people such as myself-- is my all-time favorite show.) Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton is more bitchy than funny, and too young. You could argue that a new bride was supposed to be very young, but Mrs. Elton of the book is so pushy and forward and set in her opinions, that you imagine her as mature. Laura Pyper and Rupert Evans did not make much of an impression as Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. This is a four-part BBC miniseries, so there's time for more details than you'll see in the previous two Emmas. One-sentence summation: A fabulous Emma extravaganza.

Blake Ritsen

The Official Patience Crabstick Emma Awards.

Best Emma: (tie) Romola Garai and Kate Beckinsale

Best Mr. Knightly: Jeremy Northam

Best Harriet Smith: Louise Dylan

Best Mr. Elton: Blake Ritsen

Best Jane Fairfax: Olivia Williams

Best Frank Churchill: Raymond Coultard

Best Mrs. Elton: (tie) Fiona Walker and Lucy Robinson

Best Mr. Woodhouse: Bernard Hepton

Best Miss Bates: Prunella Scales

Best Costumes: Emma, 2009

It's hard to say which film is best overall since each has its strengths and weaknesses, but I am partial to the Romola Garai and the Kate Beckinsale versions.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Everyday life

Things I've had to scream at my kids lately:


DON'T PICK UP THE BATHTUB! (This, to Seamus, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the back legs of the tub were two inches off the floor. The thing must weigh 400 pounds. What was he thinking?)

YOU ARE GOING TO THE ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN IN THE FIELDS CONCERT! (This, I wish my mother had been present to hear, since she was a big fan of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and now they are coming to Charlottesville and Grace thinks her Friday night is better spent at a football game. She can think again.)

Seamus, at least, won't be able to lift the bathtub for a while since he broke his arm. Which isn't all that remarkable, since what 11 year old boy doesn't climb trees? I was at the store and after falling out of a tree in Belmont Park, Seamus picked himself up and found Jon at a neighbor's house, only Jon's years of experience in emergency medicine have made it impossible to impress him with an injury. As far as Jon is concerned, if you are breathing, you're fine. Poor little Seamus took himself home alone, managed to open a bottle of Advil all by himself (there were pills spilled everywhere) splinted his arm against a pillow, and waited for someone to rescue him. It wasn't too long before I arrived and I could tell from the bloated look of his arm that it was broken. This was Halloween afternoon, but I figured we could get him into the ER and get his arm splinted and be out of there in time to go trick-or-treating, which is exactly what happened. Seamus broke his right radius and ulna and was more concerned about losing the ability to text than about how much it would hurt for the doctor to push the bones back into place, which did hurt a lot, but my boy is tough. It was actually a pretty good day for Seamus. The friend he'd been tree climbing with was a girl, and he'd been about to ask her out when he fell. After he got home from the hospital, he called her and asked her out and she said yes, because what girl can resist a boy in a cast? So he got a new girlfriend, tons of attention, he didn't miss the trick-or-treating--and some people gave him extra candy for his broken arm, and others gave him extra candy because they liked his Dwight Schrute costume. And he can still text! But he's excused from gym and doesn't have to write! Or practice his bass! And he gets to have many new shirts because we've had to cut his sleeves to fit his splint! It's like all the forces of good combined to push my kid out of that tree.

Freshly discharged, ready for trick-or-treating

Dwight K. Shrute