Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weekend excellence

We are at the point, alas, at which people are going to start using "weekend" as a verb.  Myself, I am not ready for this level of devotion to Saturday and Sunday.  However, we did have two weekends in a row that meet modern weekending standards.

Last weekend we flew to Buffalo to attend a cocktail party, and this weekend my sister and her husband visited from Florida, and we celebrated Seamus and Grace's birthdays--they were both born on February 24th, three years apart.  Brigid came home for the weekend as well.  We all ended up at a nice restaurant downtown, (Commonwealth, for Cville people who are wondering) the menu of which prompted many questions from the children:

What are gooseberries?
What's half a chicken?
What's wild boar?

With the seven of us, plus Grace's friend, plus a friend who stopped by and sat with us, we were the largest and rowdiest table.  We went home for birthday cake but Jon and my brother-in-law delayed us by stopping in a bar on the way home from the restaurant.  I called Jon to find out why he wasn't at home yet.

Jon:  We're in the car.
Me:  You're not in the car, you're in a bar.  

My sister then called her husband to find out what the story was and I heard her say, "You're not in the car, you're in a bar."

Two men telling the same idiotic lie. How stupid do they think we are?  Do they really think we won't notice the thumping music and the noise of many voices in the background?  Later, when I asked Jon about this, he said, "We were almost in the car." So we had birthday cake at 11:00pm.  Next weekend, I am looking forward to doing nothing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Who's Afraid of Iris Murdoch

I used to be afraid to read Iris Murdoch, assuming (wrongly) that her novels would be impossibly serious and difficult.  Then I read Nancy Pearl's Book Lust in which she categorizes Murdoch's novels as "Books I wish I'd never read so I could read them again for the first time"--or something like that.  Since then I've been reading my way through Murdoch's oeuvre and have discovered that her novels are delightful, and also  wicked and very funny.  Most of her novels share some common elements:  they are almost always about upper-middle class British people who live in beautiful houses, which Murdoch describes compellingly. There is usually some sort of love triangle, and often a saintly wife.  There is often a sinister character who manipulates the others, and people behave absurdly or badly.  There are often dogs involved.  

This week's novel is The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, written in 1974.  It has all the classic Murdoch elements:  Harriet the saintly wife, Blaise the rotten husband, his girlfriend, their disturbed child, Monty a next-door neighbor author who functions as an observer, Pinn, the evil manipulator, and a cast of dogs, described lovingly.  You can't help loving the dogs, even when they are attacking somebody.

I haven't quite finished reading this, but I'm far enough along to feel unhappy with the ending, which is irrational because you shouldn't expect a traditional happy ending from Iris Murdoch.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Weekend in Buffalo

And so it came to pass that Monday morning, at a time I had fully expected to be getting ready for work, I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Queens, idly watching a prostitute conclude some sort of business with the front desk staff while Jon smoked a cigarette outside and the automatic door opened and shut with no stimulus, admitting a freezing wind that goose-pimpled the prostitute's bare legs.  And I wondered, not for the first time, "How did I get here?"

Thus concluded a weekend getaway for Jon and me.  We went to Buffalo to attend a party given by my mother-in-law and all went well until our Sunday night flight from LaGuardia to Richmond was cancelled due to snow.  Then our hotel turned out to be a brothel, which explains why it wasn't on the list at the Kiosk for Distressed Travelers.  Stick to the list, people.

Actually, our "whoretel" was quite clean and convenient, although the shuttle driver returned us to LaGuardia like we were in the last cab out of 'Nam.  We LITERALLY almost crashed into a hummer.  Not one minute later, our driver, with aggressive horn blowing, so discombobulated the driver in front of us, he pulled onto the median like a wounded animal and let us pass.

The weekend was lovely though.  We took a day off from work and were in Buffalo by noon on Friday.  We spent Friday evening at my brother's house in Black Rock, laughing our asses off.

Black Rock
 Saturday we took Ian out for breakfast at Sweetness 7, my favorite breakfast place in Buffalo.

Sweetness 7

 Later I went for a walk in Allentown, one of my favorite Buffalo neighborhoods, and found the mother lode of Great Lakes nautical charts in an antique shop on Elmwood Ave.  I spent a happy hour unrolling every last one, looking for a copy of the chart of the Canadian shore of Lake Erie that fascinated me as a child, but I couldn't find it and settled on one of Toronto Bay and another of Presque Isle near Erie, PA.  The shop owners kindly rolled the charts into a cardboard tube, telling me they'd be perfectly fine as a carry-on.  Little did I know what a burden that cardboard tube would become as I dragged it in and out of airports and planes and cabs.

The party was lovely and elegant.  Most of Jon's family was there, and believe me, it is a considerable feat to get everybody together at one time.  There was an after party at Founding Fathers, one of my favorite bars.

We managed to land in Richmond by 9:00am Monday and I was at work by noon.  It was odd, sitting on the Charlottesville Trolley when I had awakened in New York just a few hours before.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Silly Knitting Pattern of the Week

Actually, I think this was my Girl Scout uniform.

I'm introducing silly knitting patterns because we need a little more fun around here. Not weekly, as the title implies, but occasionally.  Actually, I own enough silly knitting patterns (an inheritance from my grandmother) to keep up a weekly feature for, oh, two or three years, but one must be cautious with one's stock.

How would you caption this fine image?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: The Saxons are Coming

I'm worried that this week's assignment will forever relegate me to geekdom.  Nevertheless, I present to you The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff, which I've just finished reading.  Rosemary Sutcliff was a British writer of historical novels, mostly aimed at young adults.  The Lantern Bearers takes place in Britain, about the time the Romans gave up on it.  It's about Aquila, a young soldier whose life is ripped apart by a Saxon invasion.  This is mostly a plot-driven novel, but well-written.  It's the sort of book you look forward to reading.

In researching Rosemary Sutcliff for this post, I made the happy discovery that a movie was made last year, based on one of her books, The Eagle of the Ninth--another story of Roman-era Britain.  I've added it to my queue and if it's any good, I'll let you know.  The movie is titled The Eagle and it stars people I've never heard of such as Channing Tatum.  Has anyone seen it?

Monday, February 06, 2012

House Envy

Yesterday there was an open house in our neighborhood at a house I have been longing to see.  Originally the lot held a typical Belmont cottage of the 1920's.  I remember when it first was put on the market. The real estate listing made it sound dreadful.  I imagined something small, dark and smelly, with fifty years of cat pee soaked into the carpets and mouse turds in the backs of the cupboards.  Here's the original listing.

Someone bought it and tore it down and built a new house in its footprint and I've been watching the progress of this project for months.  It is for sale by owner, so there's no MLS, and no website but I scanned a couple of photos from the flyer.

 The price is a tad ambitious at $385,000 for an 1800 square foot cottage on a shabby block of a busy street.   It is lovely, though, with high ceilings, and built-ins, with an antique cupboard incorporated into the kitchen, a beautiful system of built-in drawers in the bedrooms.  The house is bright and light and has little thoughtful touches like the chalkboard paint on the side of a narrow cupboard--with a little tray for the chalk-- in the kitchen.

Grace, who came with me to the open house, wanted to buy it immediately.  It was so seductive, those clean neutral walls, and shining, smudge-free windows, the lot, innocent of weeds and covered with straw and baby grass.  I was half-ready to make an offer myself. It was like, if we moved into this house, our lives would become perfect.  I have since come to my senses and remembered that the minute we moved all our seedy, doggy, scratch-and-dent paraphernalia into this pristine little house, it would immediately become a wreck, and our lives wouldn't change at all, except that we'd have a much bigger mortgage payment and I'd have to back my car out onto a busy street, which would quickly drive me mad.

A fact about having kids and dogs:  they trash your house to shit.  The day our new couches were delivered, I told my kids in thunderous tones that they absolutely were not allowed to eat on them.  Within ten hours--TEN HOURS--someone had spilled chocolate pudding onto the arm of the new loveseat.  Do you have kids?  Do you have dogs? If so, share below something of yours that they've wrecked. 

But let's say a fairy gave me sparkling and perfect furniture to put into this new house.  There's still the problem of selling my current house, which is over 100 years old and has many, many things wrong with it.  For example, there's some sort of unspeakable leak between one of the chimneys and the wall.  Previous owners concealed under drywall the evidence of a fire in the closet under the stairs.  Last year when Jon and I exposed the charred underside of the floorboards that make up our landing, we tried to fortify it with wood putty.  Now chunks of the charred floor are breaking off.  An alarming crack has appeared between two of the boards.  Someone is going to end up putting their leg through the floor, or possibly even falling into the closet.  I shudder at the memory of the day when, oblivious to our disintegrating floor, we brought the new washing machine upstairs and it was stuck on the landing until we found a way to force it the rest of the way up the stairs.

I'm not really being fair to my house, here.  It has *loads* of potential and has housed us comfortably for nearly thirteen years and something in its construction must be right, because it has survived several earthquakes and countless hurricanes.  Once we get done with two kids in college, we'll start another project.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Troubles

The thing about J.G. Farrell is that he can write about a deadly serious topic and make it funny.  I've loved everything I've ever read by J.G. Farrell, and Troubles is no exception.  Set in Ireland, immediately after World War I, it's about an eccentric family who own a grand hotel, the Majestic, on the seashore.  The main character, always referred to as "the Major" although his name is Brendan, arrives at the Majestic after recovering from "shell shock" in a British hospital.  He's engaged to Angela Spencer, of the family that owns the Majestic, or at least he thinks he is.  He doesn't recall proposing, but they kissed once at a party during the war and she signs her letters to him, "your fiancee," so he supposes he must be engaged and thus arrives at the Majestic in the summer of 1919 to claim his bride.  Things don't go as planned but the Major remains at the hotel, becoming deeply involved in the family's life, while Ireland is caught in a violent struggle for independence from Britain.

This  novel is deeply, achingly tragic, but it's so funny you're hardly aware of the fact until after you've finished it.  This is Farrell's gift.  He even manages to make a near-date rape seem comical and the appalling violence at the end has an absurd element to it.  Unfortunately, J. G. Farrell died at the age of 44--swept out to sea by a wave when fishing from the shore--and we are deprived of whatever else he might have written.

Image from BBC News

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Dreaded FAFSA

My job is taking up a lot of my mental energy right now and then I spent last night doing a rough draft of our tax return and filling out the FAFSA for Brigid, with the result that I found myself trolling anthropologie this morning looking for something ridiculous to blog about.  I could just blog about the FAFSA--the Free Application for Federal Student Aid--that bugaboo of parents of college-aged children.  Last night, not five minutes after I'd completed the FAFSA, I came across a notice from Charlottesville High School about a free class to teach parents how to fill it out.

A whole class devoted to teaching you how to fill out a simple form seems a tad excessive.  Most of the FAFSA's pages are for entering demographic information.  Then you tell them how many kids you have, how many of them are in college, how much you earn, how much you have (you no longer have to estimate the value of your house) and how much tax you will pay this year--information easily found on your 1040 form.  It took me ten minutes to do Brigid's FAFSA last night, after struggling with the 1040 and its attendant schedules for about forty-five minutes.  Maybe I should teach the FAFSA class.  Actually, I tend to be a little cavalier with the FAFSA, throwing in good faith estimates and round numbers because for us it's really sort of a joke as we never qualify for any aid.  The fun part is at the end when you get an instant read-out of what the Federal Government has decided is a reasonable contribution for your family.  They have deemed our contribution for next year to be an amount close to my total yearly income.  You see, I told you the FAFSA is a joke.

Another joke is the Education Credit on your tax return.  It doesn't matter how much you spent on tuition, the most you can take, per child is $4,000, from which you must immediately subtract $2,000 and then multiply by .25, which number you then add back to the $2000, and then divide it all in half, and that's your credit.  So the "$8,000" I was allowed to claim for my two kids in college (a fraction of what was actually spent) became a measly $1302 tax credit.  Don't you dare blame Obama. It was set up that way before he became president.

I loved my mother dearly, but every time I apply for federal financial aid I am reminded of the time I was a senior in high school when she dumped on me the all-time best mother-guilt line ever.  My parents had just gotten the results from the FAFSA and my mom said to me, "You don't qualify for any financial aid because your father and I have saved so much so that we won't be a burden on you in our old age."  The sad thing is, my mother never reached old age.

But you are wondering what ridiculous thing I found at anthropologie.  The thing about the ridiculous thing is that when I looked at it more closely I realized that I would totally wear it.


The Cloud-Ruffled Romper.  I would live in this thing. I would drink cups of tea and read novels and lounge about in this like there was no tomorrow.  Check out the darling buttons at the back.  Unfortunately, $148 is a little steep for something you couldn't wear out of the house, especially when you have kids in college.