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?
R they THERE YET?
Txt me the SECOND your ride gets there.  
Is ur ride THERE YET? 
DO I HAVE TO PICK YOU UP MYSELF?
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?

Addendum

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.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Come come, Mr. Bond...

We had a beautiful weather this weekend:  cool, sunny and dry.  It was "homecoming" weekend at Charlottesville High School, a concept I've never fully understood.  The novels I used to read as a teen made frequent references to homecoming queens, homecoming games and homecoming dances but my own school had no such event, nor did any of the other schools I knew of.  I thought that maybe Buffalo just doesn't do homecoming--sometimes it seems like Buffalo isn't really even a part of the United States, but the other day I asked my mother-in-law about it and she said that homecoming is a public school thing.  Even so, I don't remember hearing anything about it from the public school kids I knew. So it's funny to see my daughter staying after school to help decorate for homecoming and to deck herself out in black and orange for the big game (which they lost).  Saturday night we had a group of girls here getting ready for the dance--having a "date" for the dance is no longer a requirement.  Grace went with her girlfriends.  No long dresses, as of yore described in my teen novels.  One wears a short dress and outrageous shoes.  Cell phone stored discretely in one's bra, a la eighteenth century ladies, (or was it the Victorians) who I believed stored all sorts of useful items in their cleavage.

Since bullying is getting news coverage lately, I asked Grace what would happen if someone who was gay took a same sex date to the dance. She seemed surprised at the question and asked if I was referring to a gay teacher coming with his or her partner. I explained that I meant a gay student with a same sex date, and Grace told me that no one would think twice about it. Since she brought it up, I asked her if there would be a different response for a homosexual teacher and she referred to an openly gay teacher who brings her partner to school events. Again, not a big deal. I'm not saying this proves that no one in C'ville is ever bullied for his or her sexual orientation, but it's nice that same sex couples can at least appear at a school dance without bringing the entire community to a screeching halt, complete with hate speech and national news coverage.


Tomorrow is election day.  It's an off year, so just small local elections, but it's these seemingly less important elections that have the most impact on our daily lives.  A friend of mine, Jennifer McKeever is running for school board.  I know she will bring intelligence and dedication to the job.  There have been times in the past when I was so fired up about one issue or another that I attended most school board meetings and spoke at them.  I don't know how it is in other cities, but here school board members are highly accessible to the public.  Most of us know them, at least by sight.  You can call them at home, email them, address them at the meetings, and feel like you have some input in how the business of our schools is conducted.  Even if you don't have children in public schools, it's still important to vote for your local school board, since the education of the local community affects us all.

There's also the City Council election. Democrats and liberals dominate the political scene in Charlottesville, and since I have democratic and liberal beliefs, that's fine with me, but there's something about being surrounded by like-minded people that makes you hypersensitive to their flaws. Sometimes I am physically incapable of rolling my eyes hard enough at some of what I hear out of city council, although I can't think of any specific examples right now.


Last night I watched The Trip, which was recommended to me by a friend who has very discerning taste in movies. It's very funny, but not likely to have mass appeal. It's a sort of mockumentary in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon--who are hilarious together-- play themselves on a foodie tour of the north of England and spend a lot of time doing impressions, sometimes saying the same line over and over for several minutes. I particularly enjoyed, "Come, come Mr. Bond, you enjoy killing as much as I do, " and "Gentlemen, to bed, for we leave at 9:30!" (ish) which they repeat in ever more sonorous tones with miniscule changes of inflection. The scenery is stunning and you get an interesting view of fancy food being prepared and presented in pretentious restaurants.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment

Let's travel to the 18th century for this week's Friday Reading Assignment. Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard is a biography/history of the Lennox sisters, great-granddaughters of Charles II and daughters of the 2nd Duke of Richmond. I watched the BBC miniseries by the same title and immediately rushed out to get the book from the library. This was a couple of years ago, but last week I watched the miniseries again because it is one of my favorites.

The sisters, Caroline, Emily, Louisa, Sarah, and Cecelia grew up in the 18th century and lived what I suppose are typical lives of people at the highest echelon of society. Marriage was their only possible life choice, but within the strict confines of a woman's life at that time, they were able to assert their will. Caroline eloped with the famous politician Henry Fox and was mother to the even more famous politician Charles James Fox. From what I recall of the book, her house became a salon for the era's personalities. Emily married the Irish Lord Kildare--who may or may not have had a foot fetish-- and pretty much gave birth continuously thereafter, but still had time to take a lover. One of her children was the Irish revolutionary Edward Fitzgerald. Louisa, the "good" sister married well and lived an exemplary life. The Prince of Wales, later George III,  fell in love with Sarah but married someone else, and Sarah went on to cause scandal with her unhappy marriage and lovers.

I love the 18th century. I've heard of people who identify with a certain time in the past, to the point of feeling like they lived a past life in that time. If I've ever had a past life, it was probably in the 1700's. I also love the fashions, but the wigs, not so much.

The miniseries is excellent too if you like historic costume dramas.




This book is: engrossing

Time it will take to read: about two weeks

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Parking Lots of Doom

Let's discuss the parking lots of Charlottesville!  This post may not be of much use to people who don't live here, but you too may visit as a tourist some day.


Barrack's Road:  Where to begin?  The little lanes and side roads created by the islands of shops so that there always seem to be cars coming at you from twenty different directions?  The poor visibility? The fact that if you have to park in the section close to Emmet St, it's impossible to cross that busy road within the parking lot?  The odd bit that dead-ends into a dumpster? The intersections with three-way stops at which you can never remember which side (it is never your side) doesn't have the stop sign?  With stop signs the size of index cards?  The intersection with the light, leading out onto Emmet St, where cars coming from the side can pull right up to the front of the line and there's no clear direction as to who has the right of way?  Assholes who park there for UVA events?  The fact that you can't walk from some parts of the shopping center to others?  For example:  you've just been to Harris-Teeter and now you'd like to go to Chipotle for lunch.  Can you walk from one to the other?  It's unthinkable!  No, you have to get in your car and drive 100 feet and park again.  The whole thing is a giant clusterfuck, and, I am realizing, has become a symbol to me of everything that is wrong with Charlottesville.


North Barracks Road:  this is an oddly-shaped, long, narrow lot.  It could be a mess--it seems they like to change the direction of the roads--but it mostly works.  After Anthropologie opened, they mysteriously painted a white striped box of nothingness in the middle of the parking area.

"Old" Whole Foods:  Oy, how I used to hate this parking lot!  It's a textbook example of bad engineering, from the confusing way you're immediately shunted into a left-turn only lane on entering from 29N, to the always-irritating three-way stop right at the entrance. HATE.

"New" Whole Foods:  Some people are going to disagree, but I think this parking lot works well.  Here is the secret to managing the new Whole Foods parking lot. On entering, take the FIRST left turn into the lot.  Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to drive through the pedestrian crosswalk.  So now you are in the furthest lane to the left, simply drive all the way to the end, turn right, and you have easy access to all the rows of parking.  I score a sweet spot every time, even on weekends.  Exiting is easy, as long as you use the driveway at the back of the lot that takes you up to that other driveway between WF and K-Mart.  Unless you are very foolish, you will not attempt to leave the parking lot through the driveway everyone enters from, or from the little one-way drive that shoots you directly onto Hydraulic Ave.

Fashion Square:  Again with the three-way stop intersections.  How many accidents do these cause? People who are not accustomed to our ways are likely to get T-boned. Plus, there's the vaguely punative nature of having to stop when you are leaving the mall, while those who are arriving get to blow past everybody. "Come and spend money!  We won't even put a stop sign in your way!"

Seminole Square:  It has issues, such as the inexplicable one-way exits.  That whole shopping center is a spread-out mess in which you are forced to drive from one business to another, similar to but worse than the situation at Barracks Rd.  It does have the bonus of the K-Mart cut-through for easier access.

Albemarle Square:  Generally inoffensive, except for the area by the theater.  Lots of stupid drivers queued up at the Rio Rd exit.  Jumbo-sized pedestrian crosswalk in front of the library and yet I still see cars that don't yield.

Pantops:  Does anyone even shop there anymore?  Extremely annoying speed bumps in front of Food Lion.

Giant shopping center (top of Pantops):  Meh.  No major complaints, and at least there is a FOUR WAY stop and a nice view of the Blue Ridge.

Main St. Market:  Christ.  I once carried an eighteen pound roast of beef and a bottle of whiskey far, far down W. Main just to avoid parking here.  It's like there's a cosmic vortex that sucks every entitled asshole in a supersized vehicle to this one place.  IT'S A PARKING LOT THE SIZE OF A HALF BATH.  WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO STUFF YOUR FORD EXCURSION IN HERE?  Particularly heinous at the holidays.  Oh my GOD.  Avoid.  Avoid at all costs.

South St:  Jon likes to park here when we are downtown.  I do not, mainly because at any given time, there are ten cars circling, ready to do battle for the first spot that opens up.

Beer Run:  Be sure to drive a tiny, precious car so that you can fit it into their tiny, precious lot and drink their precious beers.

Amtrak:  This parking lot got a lot of public attention because of its crater-like pot holes and extremely dusty gravel. It was finally paved, to everyone's satisfaction, I presume. I've looked down onto it as I pass by on W. Main St., but I have not parked there since they paved it and turned it into a life-sized pinball machine.  I confess I am fond of this lot, simply because I taught my nephew how to drive a stick shift here.  We went around and around the oval until he got the hang of it and no one bothered us or seemed to care that we were using the lot as our personal driving school. The pot holes were not as deep then and there was no guy with a clip board, wanting to know your business.

Aqui es Mexico:  This gets my nomination for the absolute worst parking lot in all Charlottesville. You enter on a steep incline and will scrape the bottom of your car if you're not careful.  There are parking spaces around the perimeter of the lot, plus an area in the middle that isn't really big enough for a double row of cars, but is generously sized for a single row.  The parking lot people addressed this issue by painting a row of extra-long white slashes and leaving it up to the drivers to decide how to proceed.  I have seen every possible permutation of double and single parking in this area.  If there is any conceivable hint of a space that might fit a car, someone will be trying to stuff their vehicle into it.  It doesn't help matters that the little driving lane is always full of cars, circling or waiting for someone to leave so they can park or that sometimes the line of cars trying to get into the lot extends backwards into Carleton Rd.  One cold winter night, I was helplessly trapped here until the troglogyte  who'd blocked me in appeared--at his own convenience--and moved his car.  Another evening, we got partially blocked in and Jon, who is genius for making a bad situation worse, stuck his head out of our car window and called the offending driver a puta. (The users of this lot are mostly hispanic.)

Buford Middle School: not technically a public parking lot, but I mention it here because I've had a child at Buford almost continuously for years, and so have several hundred other Charlottesville citizens. This parking lot was adequate until they built the new Boys & Girls club and pool which took away half the spaces in the Buford main lot. I was a Buford parent during the entire time of the construction, and not once did any communication go home to parents about the parking lot, nor do there appear to have been any plans made for dealing with the loss of spaces. It's not an issue during the day, but school events such as concerts have become a nightmare because there is not enough parking. Why did no one address this issue? Even a note or an email alerting parents to the new dearth of parking with encouragement to car pool would have been better than nothing. I have solved this problem for myself by parking along 9th St SW, but other people are probably not willing to do so as the neighorhood has a bad reputation and it is a long, dark walk to the Buford back entrance.  Myself, I would rather be mugged than expose myself to the parental mayhem in the Buford lot.


I would be remiss not to mention the Corner Parking Lot, but as I have never parked there myself,  I can't comment on its design.  It's the only parking lot I know of that is the subject of a critically acclaimed movie, which I highly recommend, even if you've never been to or plan to visit Charlottesville.  Indeed, if I had the power to make people do my bidding, one thing I would make them do is watch The Parking Lot Movie.  It's available for streaming through netflix.  My favorite part of the movie is the story of the attendent who eventually married a woman who parked in the lot.  What attracted him to her?  She was a good parker.

Below is awesome clip about the insanity of suv's in parking lots.




If someone were conducting a poll, and asked you which was the worst parking lot in Charlottesville, which one would you choose?