Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment 12/30/11

Remember the nineties?  That glorious time of a shit economy and nothing to do but hang out with your friends and bitterly criticize the baby boomers who were hogging all the jobs and why couldn't they just die already?  The nineties live on in today's assignment, The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn.  I chose it because it's the time of year when people contemplate making a fresh start, and the Christmas credit card bills are arriving and we are just becoming dimly aware that soon we will have to pay taxes again.

The general vibe in the early nineties was one of tightening belts, of making do, of going without.  People were concerned about the environment, but the emphasis then was on using less, not on consuming more as it is now.   (If your cruelty-free sunscreen comes in a plastic bottle, it's not exactly eco-friendly. Sorry.)

One cold winter day in 1993 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Jon was in grad school for comparative religion(!) I was watching Phil Donohue.  The guest was Amy Dacyczyn, sharing her tips for frugal living.  Phil's mouth-breathing audience was giving her a hard time.  They could scarcely believe the deprived environment she had created for her children in which they were never taken to McDonald's and wore clothes she bought at yard sales.  When she described how she used a cheese grater to scrape the burned layer off of cookies the audience all but stoned her.  I admired how Amy handled their horror with aplomb.  A cookie is a cookie, motherfuckers.  This was a woman I could learn from and I immediately bought her book which is really a compliation of issues of the frugal newsletter she published from her house in Maine.

My pressing concern at that time was how on earth we would afford two babies in diapers.  I had a diaper service for Ian, but diaper service for two was beyond our budget.  Amy Dacyczyn has six children, so there is a LOT of information about diapers in The Tightwad Gazette.  When I read that the Tightwad solution to diapers was to wash them yourself, I realized my diaper problem was solved. It had never occurred to me that I could wash diapers myself.  We didn't own a washing machine, but if Amy could take her kids' diapers to the laundromat, (which she did) then so could I.   (This was, by the way, long before the advent of trendy super-expensive cloth diapers.)

Diapers aside, the driving force behind The Tightwad Gazette was Dacyczyn's refusal to conform to the notion that it is impossible to raise a family on one income.  Not only did the Dacyczyn family want to raise their family on one income, they wanted a large family and they wanted to buy a farmhouse with attached barn in Maine.  They were successful because they made such a stellar effort to spend less and save more. Furthermore, their lifestyle seemed fun, not deprived.

I'm no stranger to thrift--my parents were thrifty and drilled their habits into my head, but there's always more to learn. From The Tightwad Gazette I  picked up a  mindset that allows me to creatively come up with my own money-saving ideas.  For example, I wondered if I could set my dishwasher to do a "top rack" wash with dishes in the bottom rack.  I discovered that dishes on the bottom rack WILL get clean during a top-rack only wash, as long as you load it lightly.  The top rack wash cycle runs for 38 minutes and uses less water than the regular cycle, which runs for over 70 minutes.

But you're saying, "Patience, I have money to BURN.  I don't need to read about washing and reusing zip lock bags."  That's fine, but what sets The Tightwad Gazette apart from other frugal lifestyle books is that it's so entertaining, particularly the letters from readers.  Nothing beats  a New England yankee for parsimony and most of the letters come from New Englanders.  There's also the environmental factor, since a frugal lifestyle is kind to the environment and here you will find a wealth of information on reducing your footprint and none of it involves buying expensive organic products.

When our economy turned sour in 2008, I hoped that there'd be a silver lining:  that people would return to thrift and decreased consumption, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  Or maybe I've become so affluent I've lost touch. I no longer need to make homemade baby wipes out of paper towels and baby shampoo, but I reread The Tightwad Gazette every so often to give myself a reality check. I think it's time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

On fait le Christmas Pyramid

And so it came to pass that another Christmas happened in which we did our annual Christmas pyramid, a tradition that dates all the way back to 2004 or thereabouts. Here is this year's movie, which you should watch if only to hear my sister's famous laugh.  It's so infectious that two companies have actually tried to buy it from her.  Once, she was yukking it up in a bar in Buffalo, NY when she heard, "That laugh!  Take me to that laugh," and so found herself being introduced to Frank Gorshin who played the Riddler in the Batman television show.  If the Riddler thinks you have a great laugh, you really have something going on.  But that is my sister's adventure, not mine.

We edited out a LOT of arguement and discussion, unlike last year when I posted a full three minutes of drivel.  You would think that after six years, we'd have mastered this thing, but you would be wrong.

My sister and her husband are still here, and since we have exhausted everything Charlottesville has to offer the girls are going to take a little trip to Richmond while the boys go for a hike in the Blue Ridge.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In which: Jonukkah

Tis the season to do a blog post about your Christmas decorations.  Friend Jen on the Edge puts together a holiday homes tour every year which I didn't participate in because I judge my house to be not worthy.  However, it is fun to see what other people have done.  My own style can best be described as slapdash.

But what the hell?  Why not post a few pictures? I also can't resist linking back to the story of one of my favorite absurd predicaments.  Here's how we got a free Christmas tree and erroneously believed we had committed a crime on the property of James Monroe, the fifth US president.

Our tree.  

This year, I bought the tree at Whole Foods, after buying groceries.  Being too inept to tie it to the roof of the car, I stuffed the whole thing into the back of my little scion, along with the groceries (and Seamus).  The back door wouldn't close, and as we drove away, some of my groceries fell out of the back of the car into the middle of Hydraulic Rd. where I couldn't retrieve them without getting killed.  Another Christmas tree fail. 

 We gave up on the family trip to get a tree years ago.  After the fiasco linked above, we returned to Ashlawn the following year.  No crimes were committed but just when we were in the middle of the pasture carrying a heavy tree, a herd of cows appeared. All the cows I've ever seen have been behaving placidly, but these cows were actually galloping, as if they were pursued by the hounds of satan and we were the corn of salvation.  It was disconcerting, to say the least, but then the farmer appeared with a cart full of feed and they thundered past us to tear at the feed.  Those cows were hungry, and I swear--herbivores or not--if that feed cart hadn't appeared, they would have eaten us.  The next year, we drove out to a farm in Nelson county and the effing tree fell off the roof of the car when we were still a good twenty miles from home.  We had to retie it with bits of whatever--mostly shoelaces.  After that, our trees came from catalogs and grocery stores.

The mantle.

I like shiny glass ornaments, like this  friendly duck.

I made this treetop angel, back when I was an at-home mother and actually had free time.

Our house doesn't look quite so trashy after dark. 

But Bubbles feels right at home. 

You don't know Bubbles?  Watch Trailer Park Boys

What is this Jonukkah referenced in the title?  It's a special holiday, invented by Jon (get it--Jon/JONukkah) for those of us who have no self control can't wait until Christmas.  Such people are allowed to open presents that have been sent by out of town relatives.  By the time Jonukkah is over (Christmas Eve) Ian, Jon, and Grace have no presents left.  Brigid has ALL of hers and Seamus and I are somewhere in the middle.

Jon's present to me:  he hired a piano tuner to come to the house and fix and tune my piano. It was all done secretly while I was at work.  One of the hammers in the piano broke off, so I have had no F sharp, in the first octave for the right hand for TEN years!   The piano used to be my grandparents, then my mom's, and she left it to me when she died.  The tuner who came the other day showed Jon the 20 watt bulb inside the piano's innards and the electric cord that had been hidden--for over fifty years!--with which to plug it in and keep the piano warm and dry.  The whole concept that my piano is supposed to be plugged in, and the fact that the fifty year old lightbulb still works,  is more surprising than the gift of the tuning and repair, lovely as it was.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Literary Meme

I can't resist a good literary meme.  I got this one from Mad Housewife.
1. What author do you own the most books by?
Barbara Pym, if I discount books that belong to the same series.
2. What book do you own the most copies of?
None right now, but I used to own multiple copies of Anne of Green Gables and Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright.
3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I have to pick just one?  My top literary hotties are Lord Peter Wimsey, Lucius Malfoy, Frank Greystoke from The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope, Almanzo Wilder, Aragorn, Captain James Aubrey from Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, and Harry Flashman.
5. What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children, i.e. Goodnight Moon does not count)?
Little House on the Prairie
6. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Ten was a tough year for me.  We moved to a new town just before Christmas and I was miserable at my new school and our new house was ice cold all the time (we discovered 10 years later that the heating ducts had never been connected to my bedroom) and I couldn't master long division.  I was drawn to books about lonely girls who hated their schools.  The one that stands out is The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom.  Also The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnet.  
7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
The Mists of Avalon by Zimmer Bradley.  Another huge best-seller that is total crap.  It's the story of King Arthur told from the women's perspective--Morgaine and her crowd.  A heavier, more humorless book you will not find anywhere.  
8. If you could force everyone to read one book, what would it be?
The Evolution Man or: How I Ate my Father by Roy Lewis.  This is one of the funniest books I've ever read.  When I finished it, I felt a strong urge to go out on the streets and press copies of it into people's hands.
9. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
I have no idea.  
10. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope.
11. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
The Flashman novels would be disastrous as films.  Once you edit out everything that's offensive, there's nothing fun left.
12. Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I read The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner all in one day, cramming for an exam in college.  I had weird dreams that night.
13. What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
14. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
15. What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
Alas, I've only seen well-known Shakespeare.

16. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
The Russians.  In high school, our AP English teacher was a Russian.  This was at an all-girls' school that had just two other men on the staff: the American history teacher and the janitor.  So along comes Mr. Roman the Russian with his mournful, vodka-soaked Russian accent, and we were all in love within the first five minutes of our first class.  The entire curriculum that year was Russian literature, except for a brief, brain-killing detour through the works of James Joyce.
17. Roth or Updike?
I am embarrassed to admit I've never read any Roth.  He's on my list, I swear it!  So I will have to go with Updike.
18. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
I must be the only person in the US who has never read David Sedaris.  I know that some serious literary people sneer at A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but I liked it.  His descriptions of his mother's illness and death are very similar to what I experienced when my own mother died.  And I could relate to his encounters with the pretentious parents of Berkley--he calls them the "Berkley parentiscenti" and they sound an awful lot like a some Charlottesville parents I know (and wish I didn't).  I'm giving this one to Eggers. 

19. Shakespeare, Milton or Chaucer?
20. Austen or Eliot?
Austen but I also like Eliot.
21. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I don't think I've read even one book that was published in the last two years.
22. What is your favorite novel?
Who could ever have one favorite novel?  If I want something delicious and cozy: Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.   If I want to laugh:  My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.  If I'm gently melancholy:  Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor.  If I'm in a pre-war state of mind:  Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood.  If I want to be miserable:  Dubliners by James Joyce. If I want to feel better about getting older:  The Diaries of Jane Somers by Doris Lessing.  If I am feeling wicked: anything by Iris Murdoch or Flannery O'Connor.  If I want romance: The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning.

23. Play?
Reading plays is unnatural.  If I HAVE to pick one, then let it be The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
24. Poem?
Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
25. Essay?
"The Crackup" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
26. Short story?
"Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor.

27. Work of nonfiction?
Again, it's hard to pick just one, but since I just finished reading it and it was excellent, I'll go with London: the Biography by Peter Ackroyd.

28. Who is your favorite writer?
This is just like asking me to name a favorite novel.
29. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
John Grisham.  
30. What is your desert island book?
Buddenbrooks, maybe?  Or The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O'Connor.
31. And…what are you reading right now?
Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment 12/16/11: Christmas

I don't read much holiday themed literature, but here is a list of my favorites, such as it is.  Most of these are children's books.

The Doll's Christmas by Tasha Tudor.  I have always been in love with Tasha Tudor's illustrations and I love this sweet little book in which two girls and their dolls enjoy a Christmas party.

Becky's Christmas by Tasha Tudor.  Tudor's "Becky" books are charming and I used to love reading this one (and The Doll's Christmas) out loud to my children.  This is a nostalgic look at a traditional American country Christmas, greatly enhanced by Tudor's delicate illustrations.

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden.  An orphan, an unwanted doll and a childless couple come together in this story that would be awfully sentimental if it weren't written by Rumer Godden, whose other doll books I loved as a child, especially The Doll's House and Impunity Jane.  Excellent illustrations by Barbara Cooney.

The Christmas books of Miss Read.  I believe all the titles are Christmas at Thrush Green, No Holly for Miss Quinn, Village Christmas, The Christmas Mouse.  I don't know if I've actually read all of these, but I started reading Miss Read during a dark period of my life in which our move to Virginia followed hard on the heels of my mother's death.  Miss Read, whose real name is Dora Saint, writes gentle stories of life in country villages in England.  When we first moved to Virginia, while I was still relying on Miss Read for comfort lit, I was indignant to find that Miss Read's books were shelved at the Charlottesville library under "R" for Read instead "M" for Miss as they were in Buffalo.  I took this as a sign of a backward society.  (That, and the appalling discovery that the public libraries here use the Dewey decimal system instead of Library of Congress.)  Yes, I am a nerd, but I worked in a library in high school and all through college and my grandmother was a librarian, so I take these things more seriously than most people.

What are your favorite holiday books?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree Stand

I'm finding it difficult to accept that the stock of Christmas tree stands in local stores sells out every year.  A Christmas tree stand is a durable item, so I can't understand why, at this time of year, everybody rushes out to buy one.  Don't most people already own one?  Or if some people don't, can it really be possible that the total number of tree stands for sale in stores can be less than the number of people who need to buy them?  It can.  And this, considering that you can also buy them from catalogs, is astonishing.

Last year, I tried to buy a new Christmas tree stand, and stores were sold out, so we made do with our old one for another year.  Our old one was my grandfather's.  It has been in use yearly since about 1957--hence my surprise at our population's urgent need to buy out stores every year.  Our stand is trashed, probably because of my method of extricating the tree after the holidays--a brutal process that involves shaking it like a gorilla with a baby doll until the tree eventually falls out.

I really wanted one of those classy cast iron stands from L.L. Bean, but they too appear to be sold out.  A boy in Grace's class told her that there were tree stands at Roses.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't take advice from a fifteen year old boy, but THIS boy, I know has a sensible mother. If they got their stand at Roses, then to Roses we would go.  In thirteen years of living in Charlottesville, I'd never been to Roses, but I must say that the NO FIREARMS ALLOWED sign in the window (illustrated with a picture of a hand gun) was promising.  I'm sure you will not be surprised to hear that Roses did not  have tree stands.

I won't bore you with all our perambulations, except to say that I was ready to attempt to put up the tree without the benefit of a stand.  We could suspend it from the ceiling.  We could pile heavy books around the trunk.  But then Grace suggested K-Mart, where, on a vast, empty expanse of shelving, was the last Christmas tree stand in all the land.  It is plastic, it is ugly, it is the furthest thing imaginable from the classy cast iron LL Bean one, but it only cost $8.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pride & Prejudice movie showdown.

Get your Jane Austen geek on because here is a guide to the Pride & Prejudice movies.

1940: Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.

How does this movie annoy me?  Let me count the ways.  The ditzy chickens in the hen house soundtrack is one clue that Jane Austen is turning in her grave.  I am not the first person to observe that the costumes are from the wrong time period but good Christ, the gaudy fabrics and appalling bonnets are caricatures of an uninformed mixture of styles from the 1830's through the 1860's.   It's like they hired Chris March and instructed him to design a "fantasy" Pride & Prejudice.

Jane Austen was hardly a feminist, and 1940's Hollywood certainly didn't make it a priority to portray women as anything but sex objects, but in this Pride and Prejudice, the irritating music the chatter, the giggling, the absurd costumes, the bows, ruffles and ringlets, the appalling behavior (such as the carriage race between Lady Lucas and Mrs Bennet, both in a rush to make their husbands call on Mr. Bingley first) all send the clear message that women are very, very silly creatures indeed with no object in life other than to catch a man.  Even Lizzie, who is supposed to be sensible, is only distinguished by being rather less ditzy than the other women.  Austen's works are known for lampooning the faults of human nature, but she always presents a dichotomy:  the sensible vs the idiots.  Here, all are idiots.

Laurence Olivier's D'arcy is the most genial, the least haughty of the D'arcys.  His appearance is close to how one imagines D'arcy should look.  As for Greer Garson in the role of Elizabeth, I can't get past her over-tweezed 1940's eyebrows and false freaking eyelashes.  She looks wrong and while she tries to exude the sparkling personality of the literary character, I think she mostly fails.  I just can't warm to her.   Edward Ashley as Wickham and Melville Cooper as Mr. Collins are both competent in their roles although both are too old, and it is a stretch to consider Wickham as handsome.  Lady Catherine De Burg is a horse-faced monster.  Charles Bingley gets about three seconds of screen time, and Frieda Inescort as Caroline Bingley is perhaps the strongest performance of the entire cast.

This movie does have its moments, such as the "ball" at Netherfield (a ghastly imitation of the big party at Twin Oaks in Gone with the Wind) where Elizabeth Bennet and Caroline Bingley insult each other so effectively.

1980:  Pride and Prejudice starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul

The typical low-budget BBC film.  You wonder why they bothered, until you remember that when this movie was made, it had been forty years since the last adaptation.  This film is not visually exciting.  The houses are not much to look at--the Bennet's house, with its Palladian windows looks like something you'd see in an American cul-de-sac.  The costumes are uninspired and cheap.  David Rintoul way overplays Mr. D'arcy's haughtiness and seems to be always cradling a little pile of pebbles on his tongue.  Elizabeth Garvie is a likeable Lizzie, but she can't save this film.  The rest of the cast left no impression on me so we will have to conclude that their performances were forgettable.

1995:  Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle

This is the movie generally held up as the best adaptation.  It is certainly very well done and the entire cast is excellent, although I can't say I love Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth.  She's too heavy, somehow, and I don't mean fat, just a tad ponderous for someone who is supposed to be lively and playful.  Colin Firth plays Darcy as a smoldering hunk of repressed lust which is very effective, I must say.

This six-hour miniseries follows the book closely and with great accuracy.  Some of my all-time favorite scenes in movie history are here:  Sourpuss Caroline Bingley facing the horrors of Cheapside, Mr. Bennett saying, "And yet I am unmoved" in response to Mrs. Bennett's declaration that a little sea-bathing would set her up forever.  Mrs. Bennett shrieking about wedding clothes at the news of Lydia's elopement,  dimwitted Lydia asking “Where is everybody?” as she is marched up the steps of the church to her wedding, Mary informing her sisters that the loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable,  the piano scene at Pemberly, and Eliza and Darcy dancing at the ball.

Alison Steadman is the Mrs. Bennet and plays the part with comic brilliance.  No one else can touch her in this role, with her nerves, her flutterings, her scheming, her facial expressions, and a voice that drills itself into your eardrums.  Every time she opens her mouth, she says something hilarious and she manages to steal the scene even when she's just in the background..  Indeed, without her, this movie would be altogether too serious for what is supposed to be a comedy.  Benjamin Whitrow is the best Mr. Bennet of the bunch as well.  David Bamber as Mr. Collins is funny but also far creepier than I think Austen intended him to be.  Lucy Scott exerts a presence as Charlotte Lucas and Anthony Calf is charming in the small role of Colonel Fitzwilliam.  Adrian Lukis as Mr. Wickham is not handsome enough and appears shady from the beginning, which is all wrong

2005:  Pride and Prejudice, starring Kiera Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen

This is the most visually stunning of all the movies.  Everything:  the costumes, the sets, the landscapes, is gorgeous.  I love the Bennet's house in this film, which looks truly lived in.  The colors, the clutter, the laundry hanging in the back yard, the enormous pig, and the geese are all perfect.  The costumes are the best of all the P&P movies.  Some of you may say that Elizabeth's clothes are drab--and she does spend too much time bundled into a shabby old coat--but the details, the delicate prints, the simplicity are all lovely. There are no bountiful bosoms unlike the 1995 version, in which everyone displays a deep decolletage except for poor, pimpled Mary.  In this age of Victoria's Secret, birth control pills and breast implants, it's expected that all women have enormous breasts.  I'm glad no one was artificially enhanced for this movie.

A movie like this will always be judged according to how closely it follows the book, but as I watched this  P&P, I realized that if the producers had tried to create an exact retelling of Austen's novel, it would have come out as a bad imitation of the feted BBC version. This movie is a skillfully unique production. It doesn't try to live up to the BBC version, in which nearly every line comes verbatim from the book. Also, where authenticity is concerned, the Kiera Knightly version, I think, gives a more accurate picture of life in the early 1800s. The 18th century, with it's freer manners and moral standards, had barely ended when P&P takes place, and this is apparent in the new movie, both in the fashions—the young girls wear empire gowns, but the older ladies cling to the tight bodices and big hair of their own youths--and the behaviors. Yes, the manners are formal, but when Caroline Bingley wonders, at the ball, if they will all be forced to chase a piglet, you can see why she asks.  I loved the apr├ęs-ball scene, in which the Bennett family is clearly hung-over.

The cast is good too.  Brenda Blethyn is a more motherly, anxious Mrs. Bennet.  She's not as funny as Amanda Steadman, but she's more sympathetic.  Donald Sutherland is a grave and serious Mr. Bennet.  Rosamund Pike is my favorite Jane.  Jena Malone and Carey Mulligan as Lydia and Kitty look like the very young girls they're supposed to be---you can see why it is so shocking for Wickham to pick Lydia to run away with. In the BBC movie, Lydia looks more adult, and with her confident manner, it's more like she's the one taking advantage of Wickham, rather than the other way around. I'm glad Mary was allowed to be pretty in this movie--why should being bookish mean you must be ugly?  When I read the book for the first time, I was younger than any of the Bennet girls, Mary and Kitty were the characters who fascinated me, because they were peripheral to the story and thus an unknown quantity. Rupert Friend plays Wickham--a handsome Wickham at last!  Unfortunately, he's in barely three scenes.  Simon Woods is the most appealing Mr. Bingley. Tom Hollander was a good choice for Mr. Collins, who, in the book, is described as being twenty-five years old.  Why all the other movies had to make him middle aged is beyond me.  The young Mr. Collins here is perfectly ridiculous, but not creepy like David Bamber.  Kiera Knightly is not my favorite Elizabeth.  She reminds me of Winona Ryder trying to be Jo in Little Women.  (Knightly's not that bad, and she's good in the other historic roles she plays, but she just doesn't seem like a Lizzie to me.)  Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy never seems truly haughty, but instead just shy and sensitive. At the movie's opening, I thought he was all wrong, but his D'Arcy becomes more appealing as the movie progressed.  This movie has the best Elizabeth/Darcy sexual chemistry.

2008:  Lost in Austen starring Jemima Rooper and Elliott Cowan.

In this movie, Amanda Price lives in modern London, has a dull job, an oafish boyfriend and a cynical mother. Her idea of a good evening is one spent curled up on the couch with a glass of wine and a Jane Austen novel.  One day she finds Elizabeth Bennett in her bathroom, where the door behind the pipes turns out to be a conduit to the Bennett household, which Amanda enters just as Netherfield Park has been let at last.  Elizabeth stays in the 21st century, and Amanda is trapped with the Bennetts, where no one behaves quite like they do in the novel and the plot unravels in an alarming way.

I love this movie.  It's the funniest of all the P&P's and it's certainly the only Jane Austen movie you'll ever see with a reference to a pubic topiary.  Since the story goes all awry you are dying to see how it turns out--another novelty in a Jane Austen movie.  Jemima Rooper is hilarious as Amanda Price, although you can't help wondering how she maintains her artfully straightened hairstyle while living in the 19th century.  Gemma Arterton looks the most like how I imagined Elizabeth Bennet does in the novel, but since she spends most of the movie in Amanda's world, we hardly see her.  We have another superb Mrs. Bennett in Alex Kingston and Tom Riley is the best Mr. Wickham in Pride & Prejudice movie history.   The Bennet sisters are all delightful, especially Ruby Bentall as Mary. Guy Henry as Mr. Collins takes the role from creepy to straight up pervert. The only disappointment is Elliott Cowan as Mr. Darcy who is appears to be wearing wooden underwear and who has zero chemistry with the character who is supposed to be his love interest.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment 12/9/11: Gritty

This week's assignment, A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews, belongs to the Grit Lit genre, which means (as I understand it) painfully realistic, darkly comic literature, set in the American south.  A Feast of Snakes has it all:  sex, violence, crime, murder, and high school football.  It's set in the town of Mystic, Georgia, which is about to host its annual event, the Rattlesnake Roundup.  Readers may have difficulty with the misogyny and the violence--I found the abuse of pit bulls and their fights to be particularly upsetting.  Nevertheless, it was this sort of lit--Flannery O'Connor's writing is a precursor of the style--that made me think I might be able to tolerate living in the South.  In college, I was an ardent admirer of southern lit.  I actually felt that I needed to live in the south to become a better writer.  It's still my opinion that the south has a richer literary tradition than the north.   A Feast of Snakes is a tragicomic white trash opera.  I love it because of its unashamed declaration that people are bastards.

Monday, December 05, 2011


I have a pretty poor track record when it comes to crafts.  Whenever I attempt a project, even if I follow the instructions carefully, the result is usually a fail.  Take, for example some Christmas cookies I saw in a magazine a few years ago.

These are the cookies as presented in the magazine.

This is what happened when I tried to bake them.

The other day, I saw these cookies on Pinterest and I was tempted to leave a comment about my experience with it, but I decided against it.  There are some things people need to learn for themselves and anyway, the Pinterest crowd doesn't seem to be very interested in reality.

 Pinterest is where I saw this Advent calendar.

I liked its clean red and white pallet. How hard could it be to paint a bunch of clothespins and glue them to a board?

For years I have wanted to make an Advent calendar.  Upscale catalogs have nice ones but they're usually things you could make yourself with fabric or yarn scraps and it's ridiculous to pay $98 for twenty-four tiny mittens on a string at Garnet Hill.

I've tried to knit my own tiny mittens, and always got bored before finishing even the first one.  This time I was determined to succeed.  I found twenty-five clothespins and gave them to Seamus to paint while I went out to buy the rest of the materials.  I did some calculations:  twenty-five clothespins spaced three and a half inches apart meant I needed an eighty-seven inch board.  That's more than seven feet.  For some reason, the Pinterest photo had led me to believe that the Advent calendar would be small and manageable, you know, like the size of a photograph on pinterest.  Now it appeared I was making the world's largest Advent calendar.

No doubt I amused the Lowe's shoppers who saw me attempting to scan the end of an eight food board at the self scanner and nearly take a guy out by the ankles.  I also smacked it into the top of the doorway when leaving the store.  At home, Seamus had painted ALL the clothespins red even though I had told him that we needed to paint half of them white.  I will spare you all the painful details, but in the end, I didn't even have a wall long enough to hang it on and had to resort to the space over a doorway.

Jon was not happy with the hooks I bought to hang it with as he felt they would work themselves off of the nails and the calendar would fall on the unlucky head of someone walking through the doorway.  I like excitement, but not that much excitement, and allowed him to improvise a way to hang the thing with leather thongs.  Leather thongs don't exactly say Christmas, but neither does an Advent calendar that doubles as a guillotine.

The finished product.  Not only is it long, it is heavy.  See my left hand, straining to hold it up in this picture?

There aren't packages hanging from all the clothespins.  That's because wrapping twenty-five tiny presents is HARD.  Hanging them is hard too, when you've accidentally painted the clothespins shut. Don't worry, I got them all wrapped and hanging eventually.  Note that the gifts are out of reach of the children.

After all that work, I read about how to make a clever Advent calendar from rolled-up pages from the Anthropologie catalog.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment 12/2/11

I don't read many best sellers, but one popular author I love is Bill Bryson.  He never fails to make me laugh and if you haven't read any of his books yet, what are you waiting for?   This week's assignment is one of his earlier, less well-known books, The Lost Continent:  Travels in Small Town America.  Starting in his hometown in Iowa, Bryson makes a road trip through much of the United States, specifically looking for the ideal American small town.  Bryson hadn't quite reached his writing stride when he wrote this, but it is worth reading, nevertheless.

Bryson is mostly disappointed.  He envisions a small friendly place with a green courthouse square, useful shops along Main St., a centrally located post office, movie house, library, and residential neighborhoods within walking distance of downtown.  What he finds are mostly dreary towns whose businesses have succumbed to competition from big box stores on the outskirts of town.  It sounds grim, but Bryson has a talent for becoming embroiled in ridiculous situations, some of which are even to be found in the index.

Bryson City, North Carolina 87-91
            panty shields incident in A&P, 90-91

Before I owned a copy of this book I used to read the library's copy and someone wrote elegant little margin notes refuting some of Bryson's assertions.  I think I may have left my own elegant little margin note on the page where he declares Lake Erie "dead."  Since Bryson's writing is less mature than it is in his later books, he indulges in a few cringeworthy judgements, but mostly I join him in being appalled at the disintegration of the American small town.  And road trip books are awesome.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

For Better or for Worse

Yesterday was our twentieth anniversary.  We celebrated by going to a very fancy restaurant and we did enjoy it but I'll be honest, this has not been a good year for our marriage.  Below is a picture of us shortly before our wedding. We were so happy!

Here we are on Thanksgiving.  I was pissed at him for something and am elbowing him away from me.

Our marriage is not one that's all sunshine and rainbows and saccharine facebook statuses. Those lovey-hubby posts always irritate me anyway.  On the other hand, this is no Kardashian marriage.  When we stood before the priest and vowed "for better or for worse" we didn't know how much "worse" we were in for.  A lot, it turned out.

We spent our honeymoon driving to Michigan where Jon was in graduate school and had to return to class.  We didn't care that we weren't getting a proper honeymoon.  We were in love!  We'd have a honeymoon someday.  (Hasn't happened yet.)  Our first anniversary was spent driving from Buffalo to Michigan in a snow storm with a crying baby.  We got to our ice cold house late in the evening and--I remember this particularly--ate vegetarian hot dogs that looked like scalded human fingers and freezer burned wedding cake.  I was already pregnant again.  Our second anniversary was the day of Jon's brother's funeral.  He died tragically young of a brain tumor.  We had two babies by then.

And so it went, an opera of mishaps both comic and tragic:  home renovations, deaths, illness, road trips, DIY carpentry, hurricanes, blizzards, leaky roofs, being robbed, shitty landlords, mice, rats, squirrels, birds, ants, fleas, poverty, broken down cars, puppies, the occasionally appalling behavior of our children and much much more.  Much of this blog is a catalog of our more comic disasters.  To give one example, here's the story of how I had to help him find the suitcases so he could leave me.

Lately we've been facing a new crisis and seeing a counselor.  She gave us an assignment for the night:  to go out to dinner and discuss what we'll be doing twenty years from now.  It's always fun to make plans for the future and the exercise served its purpose--for us to visualize ourselves together.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday in Charlottesville

Our Thanksgiving was lovely, although if you saw my panicked Facebook and twitter updates, you might have gotten the impression I've never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner before.  It has actually been my responsibility every year since I was in my twenties and my mother died.

This year, the main difficulty was I had no time to do much advance preparation.  Add to that the fact that I overslept by two hours on Thanksgiving, and the cooking got off to a very late start indeed.  It seemed we wouldn't be sitting down until midnight, but in the end, dinner was served at 8:00pm.  The menu:  roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, mashed potatoes, "golden winter puree," bacon-wrapped green beans, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, maple cheesecake with maple-cranberry compote.  All of this was made 100% from scratch, with the help of Seamus.  After all that, we sat down at the table and Jon said, "Where's the gravy?"  I could have punched him.  The problem with gravy is that you have to make it after the turkey is finished.  You're tired, you feel like this meal should be done already, but OH NO, you have to stand over the roasting pan and labor over a revolting concoction of fat and meat juices.

At least we were all together for the holiday.  That's Seamus in front, on Brigid's lap.  The back row is me, Grace, Jon, & Ian.

I actually shopped a little on Black Friday.  I went downtown, which was crowded with out-of-towners.  How could I tell they were from out of town? Charlottesville people, surely you too are able to immediately identify who is local and who is not.  Perhaps because local people don't tend to stand like statues in front of crosswalk buttons.  And we're not likely to exclaim,  "Oh look!  They have...." while gazing slack-jawed in shop windows.  I shouldn't be uncharitable, after all I have been a tourist myself in many places, but it would be NICE to be able to go downtown on the weekend without it being overrun with people who are here because they read in The Washington Post that C'ville is a good place for a day trip.  You just want to buy stamps or pick up a prescription and you have to run an obstacle course of people who want to stop and take photographs directly in front of you and who take up ALL the restaurant tables.  I know there are advantages to living in a place that attracts people, but it's irritating all the same.  At any rate, I did officially buy two Christmas presents at local businesses.  Every year I think I will start shopping early and I never manage to buy gift one until after Thanksgiving, and sometimes I don't start shopping until well into the middle of December.

Yesterday I put Ian on a plane back to New York.  At the airport was another college student and his parents who were literally weeping as he left them.  I felt like crying a little too, even though Ian will be back home in three weeks for the Christmas break.  Later I drove Brigid to her school in Richmond. And so our holiday weekend has come to an end.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment: Books to be Grateful For

Since yesterday was Thanksgiving, I'm going to copycat Looks & Books and list the books I'm grateful for.

Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Believe it or not, I had trouble learning to read and at the end of first grade, was still struggling.  At the start of the summer vacation, I picked up my mother's old copy of Little House in the Big Woods and was immediately engrossed and in the space of ten minutes, mastered reading utterly.  I read the entire Little House series that summer, along with most of the Betsy-Tacy series, and several other books.   Over the course of my life, I've reread the books countless times and read them aloud to my children.  Laura's character--her fearlessness and independence--hugely influenced my own.  This is one of those series in which the illustrations are as much a part of the book as the words.  I can't imagine these stories without the beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams.

Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

Of all the characters I've encountered in literature, Anne is the most real.  The books are alternately funny and tragic.  It's hilarious when Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk, but I always cry when Matthew dies.  I love the entire series, which concludes when Anne is in her forties and her children are grown.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Another book I read that summer after first grade.  Mary Lennox, raised in India, is sent to England to live with her uncle after her parents die of cholera.  She has been ignored by her parents, allowed to tyrannize her nanny, and at age 10 is as spoiled a brat as you will ever see in literature but her new life in England, where no one is willing to spoil her, effects a marvelous transformation on her character. The Tasha Tudor illustrations are essential.  The Secret Garden was another important piece of the phalanx of comfort literature with which I armed myself in childhood. It was my mother's too.  When she learned she was dying, she called me and asked me to bring her copy of The Secret Garden to her in the hospital.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

This is the book that made me want to be a writer.  I know, everybody says that, but it's true.  At any rate, it must only inspire people who are already inclined to be writers.  My kids have all read it and none of them say it made them want to be writers.  Anyway, it's not just about writing, it's about a girl who unwittingly causes her nanny to be fired and suddenly finds herself rejected by her peers.  I read Harriet when I was seven and immediately started my own spy notebook. I still have it.  My seven-year old observations of my siblings, parents, neighbors, and the shopkeepers of Eggertsville, NY are hilarious.  My mother observed me with my spy notebook and gave me a diary for my 8th birthday and I have been keeping a handwritten journal ever since.

The Diary of Anne Frank.

I read this book twice before I turned ten and was too young to understand it.  I didn't fully comprehend the horror of the holocaust, I was appalled at Anne's crush on Peter, but I immediately grasped the concept of diary as confidante.  Now I am grateful to Anne Frank for writing--I believe this is the last line in the diary before she and her family were discovered by the Nazis-- "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart."

The Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum

If you are familiar only with the famous first book in this series, then you are deprived because there are fourteen books in the series and The Wizard of Oz is not the best.  I am partial to The Road to Oz and Ozma of Oz and we owned the entire series--they had been my mother's when she was a child-- and she read them all out loud to us.  It seems like it took my entire childhood to get through every book, but we loved them. I loved reading them to my own kids.  I'm grateful to Baum for creating these fantasies as a vehicle to cheerfully mock American society.

I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

This is the first book by Bill Bryson I read.  Its daft cover photograph, looming down on me from a high shelf at the library attracted me at once.  Bryson, an American, lived in England for twenty years, then returned to the US with his family and this book is a collection of essays about the contrast between our cultures.  It's the sort of book that makes you laugh out loud in public, and I'm grateful to it because it led me to look up Bryson's other books, and these are now firmly entrenched in my collection of books I read when I need cheering up.

Flannery O'Connor:  The Complete Stories

I read this in college and loved it so much, I used it as a template for my own writing.  My early short stories are identifiably O'Connor-like.  They make me laugh, even while I am cringing.  I'm grateful to have found Flannery O'Connor to be my muse because there's so much worse I could have found.  That sounds like damning with faint praise, but these stories are really, really excellent, and the supreme example of the darkest of dark humor.  I think even now, there's a bit of O'Connor's influence in my writing.

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist

Another collection of short stories that influenced my writing and made me want to be a southerner.  Once you've been introduced to "Rhoda" you never forget her.

This post is getting very long and I'm thinking of more and more books to be grateful for.  Barchester TowersExcellent WomenCollected Stories of Eudora WeltyMary PoppinsTowers of Trebizond!  The Lord of the Rings series!  I will stop here.  What books are you grateful for?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Weekends to remember

This weekend I encountered a domestic crisis of a peculiarly distressing nature.  I thought I had pretty much seen it all, as far as domestic crises are concerned. For example, in one ill-fated weekend in 1999,  the dining room ceiling collapsed on us and our house guests, and we were thus forced to shut off the water to the upstairs toilet, after which I and one of our guests promptly came down with an intestinal virus--all this during a time when we had a five-week old puppy (Luna) and an infant (Seamus).  Not to mention that in that very same weekend Jon carelessly backed into our guests' car and tore the entire bumper off our Volvo.  These are the sorts of incidents that punctuate my life.

I am sorry to be coy, but I am not going to describe this weekend's crisis.  Let's just say it has led me to suspect I may be living in a Dickens novel.  Or perhaps a Camus novel. It has also forced me to confront the fact that until now, my understanding of the habits of rodents comes from Charlotte's Web.  Yes, I have been allowing a children's book that features talking animals to be a guiding principal in my actions about pest management.

But let us avert our eyes from this sordid scene.  What else happened this weekend?  A friend of Jon's announced that she has a litter of puppies to give away. The puppies are a Beagle/Rottweiler mix and  Jon became convinced that what we really, really need right now is a new puppy.  You know, because it would be so sensible to get a THIRD dog when we're both working full time and have two kids in college and can't possibly take on the expense or the time commitment that a freaking PUPPY would require.  Today he called me from work to say that there was only one puppy left and couldn't we please, please, please get it?  I put my foot down.  We are NOT adopting a puppy.  There will always be more cute puppies.

Ian came home from school for Thanksgiving break.  He'll be here for an entire week, and since he hasn't been home since March and I haven't seen him since July (and then only a bit because he was working full time) it is most exciting.  He came home with a suitcase full of laundry--his apartment has no washer and he's developed an appalling method of washing his clothes.  If you are a fan of Trailer Park Boys, think of Bubbles and his hockey stick.   It's truly a pleasure to get his clothes cleaned and sorted, to toss the hole-y socks and buy new ones, to cook his favorite foods.  Brigid comes home Wednesday and I am cooking a bang up Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment 11/18/11

I've always been interested in the ways that place molds us.  With that in mind, The Horizontal World:  Growing up in the Middle of Nowhere by Debra Marquart (2006) is this week's Friday reading assignment. Would I be a different person today if I hadn't spent the first twenty-eight years of my life in Buffalo, NY, a land defined by boundaries: canals and bridges, a river, two huge lakes and an international border?  Now my children are being raised away from the water in a place hemmed in by mountains, defined by trees.  How will it shape their characters and world view?

The prairie is one landscape I'm unfamiliar with. I was driven across Nebraska by my parents on a long-ago family trip to the Rocky Mountains, but that is my only experience with it.  Of all the books I've ever read, the Little House on the Prairie series--many of which are set in South Dakota-- had the most profound effect on me.  Laura Ingalls Wilder references again and again the beauty of the wide, clean space and its overpowering silence.  The prairie comes with hardships: blizzards, droughts, suffocating heat, intolerable cold, dust, and a non-stop wind from which there is no shelter.  In a way, the prairie, a dry, flat place with no boundaries is the opposite of the landscape I come from.  I like uncluttered landscapes.  I think I might like the prairie. One of these days I'll take a trip out west and really see it for myself.

Debra Marquart was raised in North Dakota and The Horizontal World is her memoir about growing up on a farm, yearning to get away, escaping, but ultimately being unable to escape.  She tells of the hardship of the farmer's life, her teenage rebellion, departure, and her mystical connection to the land she tries so hard to flee.

This book is: engrossing, sad.
Time it will take to read:  less than a week

Thursday, November 17, 2011

She rants again

Here I go, bitching again.  This time it's about midnight premieres of movies.  My problem is the fact that the movies that tend to premiere at midnight are movies that appeal to children and teens, many of whom do not have driver's licenses, or if they do, have parents who don't want them driving home at 3:00am.

What is the expectation for parents?  That we drop a group of kids off at the theater at midnight and then somehow stay awake until 2:00 or 3:00am to pick them up again? Yes, I see you waving your hand at the back of the classroom.  You want to ask about car pooling.   You want to tell me that one parent can drop the kids off and another can pick them up, so everybody can get a little sleep.  But that's not how it works, because if you're the lucky parent who gets the midnight drive, do you think you are going to be able to sleep peacefully while your child is out in the middle of the night?  You will not, and if you don't believe me, then you are not the parent of a teenager.  Trust me, the older your kids get, the sketchier their ride home arrangements become.  As the wee hours pass, you will be sending your child an increasingly hysterical series of texts:

Is ur ride there yet?
WHO did you say is picking you up?
Txt me the SECOND your ride gets there.  
Is ur ride THERE YET? 
Y RN'T U ANSWRING ME??????????
If I do not hear from u in 10 seconds I am CALLING THE POLICE!!!

There is no rest for the parent with a kid at a midnight premiere.

And what of the parent who gets to pick the kids up when the movie is over?  Do you think it's easy or convenient to force yourself to stay awake or to nap with your cell phone clutched in your fist, your alarm set for 1:45 am?

Oh, you say, you could just stay at the theater and see the movie with the kids!   Um, I think not.  How is it fun or even sane to sit through a movie when you've been up for nineteen hours?  I've been through this midnight premiere bullshit with some of the Harry Potter movies, and now with the new Twilight that apparently opens this Friday.  Am I a bad person, that I was secretly pleased when Grace could not get a ticket to the midnight show?


This morning when I came downstairs, there was an ominous hissing noise coming from under the sink. After removing all the aerosol cans and the fire extinguisher--hoping that the noise was coming from one of them--I have pretty much confirmed that the noise is coming from the plumbing.  When you ask the internet about hissing sounds in pipes, you get scary information about water main leaks and tearing up of floorboards.  Meanwhile, I HAVE to go to work and Jon has urgent business to take care of today. It's not a gas leak because there is no gas smell, so that's good, I guess.

Post script to the addendum

Jon diagnosed the hissing as a leak in the hot water pipe that feeds the sink and dishwasher, which is bad, but not as bad as it could be.  It's temporarily fixed with duct tape but it seems that this is another sign of  mice.  God. Damned. Fucking. Mice.  I thought I had gotten rid of them after the dog food in the oven incident, but apparently they simply moved their base of operations to the space in the wall behind the sink and underneath the kitchen floor.  No droppings in the sink cabinet itself which is odd.

But I shouldn't complain when there are  larger issues, i.e. police who douse peaceful protesters, including an 84 year old woman, with pepper spray.  God damned fucking bastards.  I am disgusted with my country.  But we must shut our mouths and bow to the "job creators."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sunday morning detritus

The Sunday morning streets are quiet, but they hold clues to the excesses of the night before:  students passed out on porch roofs, cars abandoned in odd places with one or more tires over the curb, broken beer bottles in the street, slicks of vomit on the sidewalk, and at my house, the Sunday morning procession past our kitchen window of unkempt men, trudging up the long Avon St. hill,  after being released from the drunk tank in the local jail that's about a mile down the road.

Sometimes, however, we hear the evidence of awful proceedings in the street below, and in the morning see no trace of what happened.  Our house sits on a hill overlooking a somewhat notorious corner.  It looks like an ordinary intersection, where a small side street exits to a busy, two-lane road on a steep grade.  Jon and I have witnessed many car accidents at this corner.  It's so notorious that the garbage truck drivers, hurtling down the hill on their way back to their base, always honk loudly as they approach.  One night I awoke to the sound of metal coming into contact with an unyielding substance:  tree or stone or more metal.  There was the most horrid grinding sound.  If a vehicle was a living thing that could be tortured, this is what it would sound like, as the driver worked to extricate his vehicle--it sounded like a truck-- from whatever it was stuck on at that corner.  The engine died,  then restarted, coughing and gurgling.  With a drawn out screeching scream of metal on stone, the truck freed itself and drove slowly away, dragging injured parts of itself behind.  In the morning, there was not the slightest bit of evidence that anything had happened there at all.

The corner is also a spot where crime seems to happen.  It's not a bad neighborhood, but it used to be and like ghosts, the criminals haunt it.  The house right at the corner was long a source of crime.  We've seen a succession of tenants deal drugs, neglect their dogs, have loud domestic disputes, pace up and down the sidewalk talking angrily into their cell phones, and eventually pack up and leave in the middle of the night. Our kitchen window, looking down from our house's lofty place on the hill gave us an excellent view of what we called White Trash Theater.    Then the house was sold and renovated and is rented to quieter tenants.  But crime still happens there.

This Saturday night, about 12:30, I woke to loud voices in the street.  This is not terribly unusual and I went back to sleep only to be awakened again by the sound of sirens.  From far away, I heard a second set of sirens, approaching rapidly and then a third, coming from a different direction all converging on that corner.  Silence for a few minutes, then voices, then a man screaming "FUCK!" over and over, then silence.  The cops were gone, we went back to sleep only to be awakened again by one of those mysterious happenings that is outside your consciousness.  I heard a muffled report at the corner below our window.  A gunshot?  Surely I'd dreamed it in my half awake state, but then Jon said, "Did you hear that?"  We waited and once again the sound of sirens approaching from across the dark city.  Voices, three or four more gun shots, silence.   Jon watched an ambulance arrive then the duty chief's car.  He could see little in the darkness other than the fact that the driver of the duty chief's car is someone we know.  After a while, the ambulance left, driving slowly with its lights on.

In the morning,  we checked the local news outlets and found no mention of a shooting in the night.  I looked out onto the corner and there was no trace of the Saturday night drama.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bloggy Business

Look at me blogging on a Sunday night when I know perfectly well everybody is cooking their Sunday dinners and trying to pretend that tomorrow isn't Monday.  If you click into my blog, you've probably noticed the new look.  It's just one of the canned layouts that blogger makes available to everyone but since  today I published my blog on kindle, I decided it was prudent to take down that image in my header. The world of public domain images is murky indeed, and apparently, you can't even put up an internet picture of the Mona Lisa on your blog without paying fees to whatever service put the picture up there in the first place.  Or something like that.  You could take your OWN picture of the Mona Lisa and post it, I think.   I'm not even 100% sure if my canned blogger background will translate to the kindle.   I have an image-in-waiting if it doesn't, a picture I took myself in Rome, of the view out our bedroom window with a neighbor's laundry hanging above the street.  I picked the picture because I like it, then realized that the image of airing one's laundry in public is perfect for a personal blog like mine.

If you read me in a reader or a feed, you'll see that you no longer have to click through to see the entire post.  This is because in order to publish to kindle you need full posts in your feed.  This will diminish my hit count, but since I don't put ads on my site, it doesn't really matter.

It was a series put up by More than Just a Mother that gave me the idea to put my blog on kindle and I hoped I was getting in on the ground floor of a new and exciting opportunity, but it turns out there are already thousands of blogs you can subscribe to on kindle.  The price is low-- $0.99-- and the advantage is convenience, an ability to read your favorite blogs without an active internet connection and an ability to see the background and all images, unlike a feed.  I don't own an e-reader myself, so I'm not entirely sure how the content gets on there.

Publishing your blog to kindle is fairly easy, although I ran into some problems.  The kindle publishing site doesn't work on Safari so I had to use my laptop, which is the most abominable piece of shite to ever carry a motherboard.  Of COURSE all my images are on my imac and we don't own a camera right now and I am shamefully inept with computers, despite my full time job as a medical software "expert."  The best way I could think of to get my images from one computer to the other was to email them.  Don't tell me about bluetooth.  I  JUST mastered transferring contacts from one cell phone to another with bluetooth and I didn't want to push my luck.   Another problem was that when you enter your phone number, which is required, you need to enter the country code and how the hell do I know the country code of the United States?  When you ask the internet a simple question:  "what is the country code for the United States phone calls" you are directed to useless websites that want to give you information about everything in the world EXCEPT the county code of the United States.  Finally I entered a 1, because,  I don't know, it seems like the United States would be number 1.  I used to know this, by the way.  I used to have international calling DOWN, but not any more.

So yeah, my blog is on kindle (or will be in the 48-72 hours it takes them to "approve" it) and I'm pleased.  There's nothing to lose and--fully realizing that I may eat these words some day--I'm pleased at how Amazon is throwing down the publishing industry.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday reading assignment

I have the most delightful book for you this week:  The Diary of a Country Parson 1758-1802, by James Woodforde.  James Woodforde, (1740-1803) was an 18th century British clergyman.  The diary begins when he is eighteen and a student at Oxford, with references to drinking, and an incident in which he is locked out of his rooms, naked.  They consumed astonishing amounts of alcohol in the 18th century, and our little parson, while despairing at the drunken behavior of his brothers, at one point describing his brother John as being "much disguised in beer" is certainly no slouch himeself when it comes to imbibing, as we will soon see.

More than forty years pass with not much happening as Mr. Woodforde settles in to a country parish in Norfolk.  He never marries, but lives with his niece Nancy as housekeeper.  The servants are a source of drama in the Woodforde household as the girls, a succession of Nannys, Bettys, Sallys, and Mollys, have a naughty tendency to get pregnant out of wedlock and the boys are given to drink, impudence and diseases of a "venereal nature."  Mr. Woodforde is tolerant of their flaws, except for one poor girl, Sally Dunnell, described as a "fine, strapping wench" who is fired after only one day for incompetence.  Nancy the niece is "saucy." She hurts the parson's feelings by giving him the slip when some younger relatives come to visit and sulks about her small gambling debts.  Animals populate the pages with horses named Phyllis and Punch, a cow named Polly, several greyhounds, and a succession of unnamed fat "piggs."  Year follows year in the same soothing pattern.  Mr. Woodforde hands out pennies to children on Valentine's day, buys tea, gin, and rum,  from smugglers, oversees his harvest, hunts for rabbits, collects his tithes, distributes shillings and pence to the needy and invites the poor men of his parish to dinner every Christmas.

Most of the excitement in Parson Woodforde's life comes from small dramas:  "Poor Mrs. Collyer coming in at my Kitchen Door an old Nail caught hold of her Apron, a very fine Muslin one with a deal of work on it, and rent it in a most shocking manner indeed.  We were all very much concerned about it."

What the diary is best known for is its descriptions of what the household ate for dinner.  "..a very genteel dinner, Soals and Lobster Sauce, Spring Chicken boiled and a Tongue, a Piece of rost Beef, Soup, a Fillet of Veal rosted with Morells and Trufles, and Pigeon Pye for the first course--Sweetbreads, a green Goose and Peas, Apricot Pye, Cheesecakes, Stewed Mushrooms and Trifle."  Or, "We had for Dinner a nice boiled Leg of Lamb, a very nice small rosting Pigg, Apricot and Gooseberry Tarts Oranges and Nutts by way of dessert.  Soon after Coffee and Tea..."  And, "We gave them for Dinner a Couple of boiled Chicken and Pigs Face, very good Peas Soup, a boiled Rump of Beef very fine, a prodigious fine, large and very fat Cock-Turkey rosted, Maccaroni, Batter Custard Pudding with Jelly, Apple Fritters, Tarts and Raspberry Puffs.  Desert, baked Apples, nice Nonpareils, brandy Cherries and Filberts.  Wines, Port & Sherries, Malt Liquors, Strong Beer, bottled Porter &c."

James Woodforde lived to the age of 62.  He held quaint notions about health:  "The young Ladies looked but poorly as did Master John--they have been too free with fruit I shd. suspect." He seems to have been healthy, and when he does complain of being unwell, a dose of rhubarb, which I know from uncomfortable personal experience is a purgative, seems to fix him right up.  His health began to break down in his fifties, and the diary entries refer to gout (surprise, surprise), a recurring ankle infection, "epilectic fits" and complaints of weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath and swollen legs, which makes me suspect congestive heart failure or "dropsy" as it was called then to be the cause of his death.

Image from the book's wikepedia page.

A note on the edition:  the full diary contains several volumes, not easily accesible to the public.  UVA has it, but only in their special collections, which I don't really have access to.  Actually, I do have access to special collections, and Ivy Stacks, but only for work related purposes.  Let us pause and have a sad at all the books I can not get my hands on.  And I've tried, believe me, and even succeeded on my first attempt, when Martin Boyd's Outbreak of Love somehow slipped past their work-only net.  I suppose the word "outbreak" in the title fooled whoever it is that manages requests from health sciences employees.  Since then I've had an encounter with a librarian who asked me pointedly if Six Months in the Sandwich Islands by Isabella Bird was work-related and I had to admit that it wasn't, and so was denied it.  Anyway, in the 1920s, a shortened version of the diary was published (and mentioned by Virginia Woolf in The Common Reader, which is how I heard about it).  At 622 pages, it's not exactly short, but it makes for quick reading.

This book is:  the ultimate comfort literature.
Time it will take to read:  three to four weeks

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

In which tootsie rolls help me select a school board candidate

I was a bit late to the election day party and spent last night cramming about issues so I could vote with intelligence. The big issue for city council is water supply and I've been aware of the dam versus dredge debate for years and felt like I sided with the dredgers, although without taking a firm stance. In the end, for city council, I voted for two anti-dam candidates, both independents, and one pro-dam candidate, a democrat, because her argument in favor of the dam is the only one that makes sense to me (that it should confine development to Charlottesville's urban ring and leave rural Albemarle rural.) I know this particular candidate personally and I feel like she will do a good job. There are, of course, no republican candidates. This is Charlottesville.

For school board, we are allowed to vote for four of seven candidates. One candidate, Ivana Kadija, is running on a pro-health platform, which at first I thought was wack-a-do, but on reading further, I think what she says makes sense and I voted for her. She's tying the importance of good nutrition to academic performance and behavior. I read that the C'ville chief of police is interested in a nutrition plan for the middle school, which he seems to believe will lessen early juvenile criminal behavior. I think there's something to this. We all react to chemicals differently. As a nurse, I saw this all the time. To take a simple example, one patient can't look at a percocet tablet without retching, another can knock them back on an empty stomach and have no problem, and another will become intolerably itchy. The same chemical, three individual reactions to it. I know from personal experience that some children do behave differently when they consume certain food additives. Ian is extremely sensitive to chemicals. When he was in first grade, his teacher called me, shortly after Halloween, to say that she was concerned because his behavior had taken a sudden change for the worse. He was fine all morning, she said, but after lunch was wild and difficult. "After lunch" were the key words and I realized I had been putting two small tootsie rolls--leftover halloween candy--in his lunch box. Each tootsie roll is about an inch long, but this small amount of candy was turning my son into a monster in the afternoon. I stopped giving him the tootsie rolls and his behavior improved. Then there was a summer when I was so sick of my children's fighting and misbehavior that I banned all foods with artificial colors, and their behavior improved, a lot. I also like Kadija because she owns the Stork diaper service and I am a huge advocate for cloth diapers, or used to be when my kids were in diapers. I also voted for Jennifer McKeever, because she impresses me as being smart, open-minded, and reasonable. I was less invested in my other choices for school board, but tried to select candidates who expressed the most reasonable views about the BLAST inititiative, i.e. those who questioned it. I don't want blind followers of academic fads on the school board.

I'm kind of pleased with myself for leaving for work just ten minutes early, walking somewhat out of my way to Clark Elementary, our polling place, voting, then walking all the way to work and still getting here by 8:00am.