Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Wait for Marcy--a recap

Mid-century young adult novels for girls is a fairly narrow niche, but one that rarely fails to entertain.  Wait for Marcy by Rosamund du Jardin (1950) has more WTFs than others I've read, but that just adds to the fun of this genre.
This cover is my favorite, although it's curious
that Marcy's gown, corsage, and Steve's jacket are as described
 in the story, but her hair is the wrong color.

Marcy is fifteen and is ignored by boys, until her older brother Ken, using a little ham-handed psychological manipulation, convinces her that his handsome friend Steve is interested in her.  They go to the dance and Marcy wears the beautiful white formal that her grandmother gave her for Christmas, and they have a great time.  OK, so that brings us to chapter three.  What else could happen?

A predatory girl, Devon, arrives for a summer visit and ensnares Marcy's brother. (They meet at a party in somebody's "rumpus room.")  Ken is broken hearted when Devon, on the eve of her return to New York, tells Ken not to write to her or visit because he is too much of a hick.  What does Ken need to cheer him up?  A bike tour of Wisconsin with his best friend Steve, only Steve refuses to go because he is now besotted with Marcy.  Ken realizes this is all his own fault for manipulating Marcy and Steve together in the first place, so he does a little more manipulating and soon has Marcy fixed up with Biz, one of his other friends.  Steve is pissed, so he agrees to go on the bike trip after all.  But then Steve GETS THE MEASLES.  Ken invites Biz instead, and Biz won't go because NOW HE'S BESOTTED WITH MARCY TOO.  It's a regular Greek tragedy.

Marcy drops Biz and makes up with Steve, and they're very happy, and yet there are still more pages!  Enter Jerry Bonner.  He's Marcy's father's new assistant manager.  Jerry is new to town and is staying at the grim local hotel, so Marcy's father invites him to stay with them until he can find an apartment.  Marcy develops a crush on Jerry, and soon she's turning down dates with Steve so she can stay home and let Jerry teach her how to play bridge.  Steve doesn't like that one bit, no siree bob, and he breaks his date with Marcy for the country club dance.

Jerry has no idea he is the cause of strife between Marcy and her boyfriend.  The night of the dance, Marcy is so glum that she wrecks the dinner table vibe and her parents feel obligated to explain the situation to Jerry, who has a solution:  " about me taking Marcy to the dance?...Maybe, when she and Steve see each other there, they'll make up.  Then I can turn her over to him, and he'll realize how unfounded his suspicions of my motives were..."  Marcy's parents think it's an awesome idea for a twenty-seven year old man they've known for two weeks, to take their sixteen year old daughter to a dance.

The dance is nearly over and everybody realizes that Marcy and Jerry are gone.  They were seen, hours earlier, getting into Jerry's car and driving away.  Steve is freaking out.  He's all, "Guys, he's twenty-seven years old, they left in a CAR, they have been gone for two and a half hours, and his last name is ONE LETTER AWAY FROM BEING BONER."  They other kids are like, "Dude, chill.  They probably just went out for a hamburger," and Steve is all, "THERE IS FOOD HEEEERE." They decide to go to Marcy's house to see if she's there.  She's not there, but their whispering and blundering wakes the parents, who are a little slow to start, but eventually arrive at panic mode and realize that maybe they should have vetted this Jerry Bonner person a little more thoroughly.

Marcy's dad is just about to call the police when Marcy and Jerry come breezing into the house, all casual.  Marcy is SHOCKED at how upset and angry her parents are, and that's just a tad disingenuous, don't you think?  Anyway, there is a perfectly innocent explanation.  Jerry is MARRIED.  And his wife sent a telegram during the dance, asking Jerry to pick her up at the train station over in Clay City.  So Jerry went to get her and took Marcy along and then the train was late.  And everybody is SO relieved because Jerry's being married makes everything OK, and THERE'S NOTHING WEIRD ABOUT LEAVING A DANCE WITH A JUVENILE AND NOT TELLING ANYBODY WHERE YOU'RE GOING.  In fact, everybody is so happy, they invite Jerry's wife to stay with them too, and they all eat hamburgers and Marcy and Steve make up and are totes going to have the best relationship ever.
There is no excuse for this atrocious cover art.

There are lots of mid-century cultural WTFs to chew on in this book. The girls are essentially treated like property by their boyfriends.  Marcy's mother, who came of age during the flapper era, wants to know how the dances are arranged.  In her time, a popular girl would only dance a few steps with one boy before another cut in.  This system led to humiliation, as it was mortifying to be a girl that boys didn't cut in on.  Marcy explains that their system is much kinder and that the boys arrange between themselves who their dates will dance with.  It seems the nineteenth century system with the dance card is the most enlightened.  At least it gave the girl some measure of control.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

One Girl, Forty Martinis VII

I've been busy drinking.
Prickly Pear Mojito

Prickly Pear Mojito.  This one is a sneaky fucker.  It was DELICIOUS, and the alcohol was nearly undetectable.  I was very thirsty and sucked it down like it was an innocent glass of lemonade.  Usually, I will nurse one of these cocktails over the course of an entire meal, but this time I was finished before our food had arrived, and I didn't feel any effects.  I nearly ordered a second drink, but by the time we had finished eating, I was schwasted.  As for the taste, the prickly pear flavor was subtle.  What I mostly tasted was the fresh mint.  A fantastic summer cocktail.


Posmo:  A pomegranate cosmo.  Of all the cosmo variations I've had, this was my favorite.  I love the sharp sweetness of pomegranate, and it makes a pretty drink. The evening of the posmo was one of the rare evenings in Charlottesville when it is too hot to sit outside.  Like an idiot, I asked for an outdoor table anyway.  Our table was in the shade, but I felt sticky and itchy and miserable.  I couldn't enjoy the food, and a good portion of my delicious posmo spilled on the table. It was possibly the most physically uncomfortable meal of my life.  Boo Hoo.  That said, I would definitely order the posmo again.

Secret Garden

Secret Garden:  Green tea with sweet tea vodka.  I cannot tell a lie.  I hate green tea, so this one didn't go over too well.  Well then why did you order it, dumbass?  Because I am committed to drinking EVERY MARTINI ON THE MENU.

Sin City

Sin City: the martini that started it all.  Jon and I have been going to Bang for many years.  The Sin City was the first martini I ever ordered, and I liked it so much, I usually ordered it every time we went there.   It's nicely tart and made of blackberry puree with lemon and vodka.  I've ordered virgin versions of this drink for my kids, which are also yummy, but the vodka gives it a certain je ne sais quoi.  The Sin City is delicious, but I felt like I was in a martini rut, hence this martini project.

The Snoop

The Snoop: Gin and juice!  Orange, pineapple, and cranberry, with the pineapple dominating.  Another good summer drink.

Strawberry Fields: Strawberries can be cloying, but the sour mash in this drink saves it from being too sweet.  I can't remember the exact ingredients, but it's a vodka based drink--strawberry vodka, if there is such a thing, or else a berry vodka-- juice and sour mash.  Comes with an umbrella and a maraschino cherry.

Monday, August 26, 2013

House, Hiking, and Deep Space

Much progress on the house, although once again the work was slowed by rain.  I don't want to show the full frontal until the trim is finished and we have all the tools and debris cleared away, but here's a preview of the back and sides.

Sunday morning, Ian and I hiked Humpback Rocks, which is our go-to hike when we don't want to make a project out of it.  It's a short but fierce twenty minute ascent. We charged our way to the top without stopping to rest.  As we approached the summit, and I was congratulating myself on my superior fitness, I heard the unmistakable sound of a newborn baby crying.  Then a bride appeared, who had apparently hiked the whole trail while carrying a perfect bouquet of roses and a garment bag that contained (presumably) her veil and gown.  So much for my superior fitness!
Approaching the top

Ian at the top
We were home by 12:30, just in time to help our neighbors kill the keg from their party the night before.  Also on the agenda this weekend:  taking care of Sancho, who is sick and needs a special diet, and medications, and I also gathered enough ripe figs to make jam, and also put up some peach chutney.  We love chutney and it's nice to have an alternative to the sticky Major Grey stuff.

I would like to finish the front hall, but now I have a more pressing project:  I will be going to a week-long conference for work to the Epic's "intergalactic headquarters" in Madison, Wisconsin, and I need a "deep space" themed costume.  What do you think would be original and also work-appropriate?  There will probably be 800 Princess Leias and Lieutenant Uhuras.  I'm thinking maybe Mrs. Which from A Wrinkle in Time or Miss Pickerell from Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars.  These are more my line than minidresses and go go boots.

Other ideas?

They really call it the "intergalactic HQ"

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Angela Thirkell

I read somewhere that Angela Thirkell was the new Anthony Trollope, so of course I had to read her, and chose Wild Strawberries because it had the earliest publication date (1934) I could find at the library.  It's probably not fair to judge an author by one of her earlier works, but I think it's accurate to say that Angela Thirkell is not a second Anthony Trollope.  Trollope has way more substance, but Thirkell is still worth reading for those of us who like cozy, genteel comfort literature, set in the British countryside.

Wild Strawberries has all the usual suspects:  the vicar, the vague upper class matrons, the pretty young girl the charming young men, the enviable country house, not too far from London.  In general, I liked this novel, but with some reservations.  It's a product of its times and the "n" word makes a startling appearance.  There's a certain aristocratic brutality and xenophobia.  A tedious character is labeled a "toady" and treated unkindly.  A career driven woman announces she will be part of a "companionate marriage"--a union between a straight woman and an openly gay man.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, if that is what you want to do, but Thirkell has this way, as you will see, of funneling different social types into groups she finds ridiculous.  More examples: A French family comes to stay in the neighborhood.  The mother is annoying and vulgar, but the quiet, unassuming father is considered acceptable.  It's implied that one could like the French if they weren't so annoyingly French.   A group of weekend warriors at the train station make the "fascist salute."  Thirkell's not approving of nazism here, but it's strange how she makes a point of identifying a mildly irritating group of tourists with such a repugnant ideology.  (Then again, wouldn't it be convenient if bothersome out-of-towners always identified themselves with an outward signal of some kind so we would know to steer clear of them?)

That said, I really enjoyed this book.  There's an exquisite bit in which a thoughtless young man invites the young girl to lunch ( she has a crush on him) and he also invites another woman.    Lady Emily, the matriarch of the Leslie family, is hilariously vague and absentminded.  Wild Strawberries won't require you to expend much intellectual effort, but you will be entertained, although not without a few eye rolls.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Panic at Charlottesville High School

I don’t often succumb to full-on panic attacks, but yesterday evening at Charlottesville High School’s open house for freshmen, I had the full onslaught of symptoms: pounding heart, chest pain, dizziness, nausea.  I would have fled, but for the two Stepford PTO drones who were guarding the entrance to the auditorium.  My experience with the public schools in Charlottesville has been so bad that it triggers this visceral reaction every time I enter the building.

Our children had been collected by school bus a few hours earlier, to attend the student orientation, and now the parents were gathered at the fabulously inconvenient time of 5:15 for our indoctrination.  Much of the meeting was spent discussing the tablets, which our children were, at that moment, receiving in a different part of the school.  I sent Seamus a text:  Tell them your mom refuses it.  He texted back: Now is not the time for a rebellion.

So the tablets.  I wrote a long, angry piece about them when they were introduced, and followed up with an email (less angry) to the superintendent of schools who called me at home and talked to me as if I were a five year old.  Why am I so opposed to them, when we all have iphones and laptops and computers at home?  It’s one thing to choose to use these devices, and it’s quite another to be REQUIRED to do the bulk of your learning on it.   Will there be long-term, detrimental changes to the ways that our children learn, or even their brain development?  No one knows, and the city schools, apparently, don’t care.  The crucial issue is that this is a public school. Public schools are required to educate all children who live in their district.  This public school is saying that it is impossible to educate my child without a tablet.  Not only that, this public school is requiring that parents accept responsibility for a device that costs more than $1000 and to agree to pay for damages incurred to it. Not only that, students who live in houses without wireless internet, have to seek out free hot spots in which to do some of their assignments.  I’m no lawyer, but that sounds unconstitutional to me.

Anyway, last night, during the tablet talk, the administrator opened the discussion by saying, "We know your kids are plugged in when they're at home, and we want them to be plugged in while they're at school too."  We were given generic advice about policing our children on the internet.  We were told (incorrectly) that our children will not be able to access distraction sites like facebook on their tablets. 

Parent questions were brutally dispensed with.  One parent talked about how some tablets malfunctioned during testing last year.   All tests are now taken on the tablets, and you can imagine how frustrating it would be for your tablet to die in the middle of a test which you had studied for and just wanted to be over already.  The parent was told, “If that happens to your child, she should raise her hand and tell the teacher.”   Parents persisted in asking about the tech problems that have plagued the tablets since they were introduced, and the answer quoted above is a good indicator of the administration’s attitude toward us: sit down and shut up.  Finally, (after a frustrating waste of time discussing LOCKERS, and could the kids leave their tablets in them overnight) we were told that only two more questions would be allowed. 

At the end of the tablet discussion, the principal told us that the planned family dinner wasn’t quite ready yet and she still had ten minutes to kill, so how about we watch them perform a silly CHS cheer? (WHAT ABOUT USING THAT LAST TEN MINUTES FOR MORE QUESTIONS?)  Then she said something about how we can contact her with concerns, and with her arm raised in the classic, “I’m done listening to you people” gesture, she dismissed the meeting. 

I met my friend in the cafeteria and she showed me the portable keyboard that had just been issued to her daughter.  It had food slopped over it leftover from whoever had owned it last year.  That’s pretty gross, and it also doesn’t validate the school’s claim that they’re taking the tech issues seriously, if they’re not even giving these things a cursory inspection at the end of the year. 

Oh, and the student orientation?  For which they were required to go to school for half a day on the last day of vacation?  I assumed they would have a chance to walk through their schedules, maybe get lists of supplies from their teachers.  No.  The afternoon was made up entirely of bullshit activities, like learning the school fight song. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Storm windows, habaneros, cherries, and pie

Because of the house painting project,  I haven't made any progress on the front hall.  I can handle only a limited amount of improvement at one time.  The carpenters were somewhat hampered by rain, and yet, amazing progress!  The eaves are now neatly encased in new trim.
Last Week

This week: No More Exposed Attic

The painters took down the hideous aluminum triple track storm windows.  This is a golden opportunity to wash the windows, which I pointed out to Jon on Saturday morning, but he was not nearly as enthusiastic as I was.

I know storm windows are a necessity, but they are ugly and the view is better and the house is prettier without them.  I've been researching storm window alternatives for old houses, but there don't seem to be many options unless you have an unlimited cash flow.  Indeed, according to the internet, storm windows are getting hard to find because everyone has replacement windows that don't need storms.  Old houses with shitty replacement windows are an abomination.

Our basement window needs some attention.

Brigid came home for dinner on Saturday, so I made a peach pie.  The Piled High Peach Pie from the August, 1995 issue of Bon Apetit is, as far as we're concerned, the only peach pie recipe.  I don't make it often because it is so much work.  Seamus made barbeque ribs for the occasion, with homemade succotash. 
Pie: it's not just for breakfast

Before dinner, Seamus and I inspected the garden.

A bumper crop of habaneros

Ian tried the ripe hab and says it is really hot.  Coming from him, that really means something because he has a high tolerance for capsaicin.  Most of our crop will become Mad Hatter.

Sunday, I made cherry butter.  I'm not so sure about the finished product.  According to the recipe, three cups of chopped, pitted cherries should yield one pint of butter, but I got just a half pint. Maybe I cooked it down too much?  I was in a rush and turned the heat to high to shorten the cooking time.  The consistency is a bit stiff, almost approaching leather territory, but it tastes nice, and used up a bag of cherries that nobody seemed interested in eating.  We like cherries in theory, but we don't like dealing with the pits.  I'll call this a job well done.

The saints approve.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Miss Mole

I had never heard of E.H. Young, until accidentally stumbling onto reviews of two of her novels at The Bamboo Bookcase.  These reviews were compelling enough that Miss Mole (1930) went to the top of my reading list.

Hannah Mole hides a keen wit and mischievous sense of humor under a drab appearance.  Brought up on a farm near the fictional town of Radstowe (actually Bristol) her parents scrimped to send her to a good girls' school with her snobbish cousin Lilla.  Now about age 40, Hannah is a spinster who has spent her life in dreary employment as an upper-level servant to various elderly ladies.  Cousin Lilla, rich, married, and active in the chapel, is ashamed of having a cousin who is a housekeeper.

The opening adventure is only explained to us in bits, as the story progresses, but Hannah, by breaking a basement window with her shoe, prevents a man's suicide, which puts into motion the rest of the story.  At its center is the fact that Hannah is a woman with a past, and an unctuous clergyman who knows her secret, arrives on scene to ruin her reputation for no reason other than it is his "unpleasant duty" to do so.  Miss Mole's ending is eminently satisfying, although we never do learn how she came to be in a position to break that basement window.

This is truly a character driven novel.  Miss Mole is likeable and flawed and has the ability to see herself objectively.  The other characters are similarly complex and E. H. Young is extraordinarily skilled at putting into print the subtleties of human interactions.  I am looking forward to reading more of her novels.

Monday, August 12, 2013

In which we strive not to have the trashiest house on the street

After weeks of inertia, the outside of our house is now a hive of activity.  The project of respectability has begun.  It is all go at the Crabstick household right now.    The carpenters came Thursday and ripped all the crown molding off the house.  Friday they ripped off the soffits and the unnamed strip of wood that the gutters are attached to.  (And, of course, the gutters.)  The attic is getting an airing such as it hasn't had in a century and the house looks like a gentleman whose hat is on the verge of blowing away.

I am regretting the ripped out soffits, although they need to be replaced in order to install modern attic ventilation and squirrel defense system.  Much of the wood is as sound as it was when it was milled over 100 years ago. Everybody on pinterest is making mantles and kitchen islands with reclaimed wood and it's a pity to throw old growth oak into the trash, but finding a place to store it, for some as-yet unplanned project is problematic. Then again, all the original bead board wainscoting is still piled in the basement, waiting to become something.  In order to feel productive, I made a board at Pinterest about it.

Soffit with original green paint
A few more like this and we'll have kitchen shelves

The house was originally white clapboard with dark green trim and green shutters.  The shutters are long gone, their existence proved by the imprint of the hinges on the window frames.  (Maybe they are under the bead board?  We have never fully investigated the pile.) If I were ever to become a multi-millionaire, I would have the stucco ripped off and the clapboards restored, but right now, that project is well beyond our means.  Anyway the stucco isn't so bad and is definitely preferable to aluminum, asbestos, or vinyl siding.

Saturday, the carpenters arrived at 07:00 and got several hours of work in before the most torrential of downpours happened--and the house with the attic exposed and no gutters.

This is as far as they got before the rain started

They also put up a some swatches for us.

We think we prefer the one on the left
Painting the porch ceiling will be another DIY, although it's possible that blue will look great against the yellow.
The same paints on the sunny side of the house.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: The Town

Faulkner again!  The Town continues the story of the Snopes clan, which began in The Hamlet.  The- Snopes have left Frenchmen's Bend for the larger town of Jefferson, where Flem Snopes is involved in various money making schemes.  The story is mostly told from the point of view of Charles Mallinson, one of the children of Jefferson, and his uncle, Gavin Stevens, who is in love with Flem Snopes' wife Eula.  V.K. Ratliff the sewing machine salesman who we first meet in The Hamlet, also narrates a few chapters, and we learn what his initials stand for and the romantic story behind them.

This is a difficult book.  I read it for the Fifty Classics project, and probably wouldn't have read it otherwise.  I think any attempt of mine to write about it intelligently will come across like the ironic first line in Meryn Cadell's sweater song:  "Girls, I know you will understand this and feel the incredible, intrinsic emotion." What did I get out of The Town?  Very little, to be honest, perhaps a skim coat of something that I can build on if I ever read it again.

I plan to read the final Snopes book, The Mansion, and then I will be done with Faulkner for a good long time.

Monday, August 05, 2013

We Can Pickle That

I don't know whether to be amused or annoyed that by taking up home pickling, I am following a trend that is big enough to be spoofed on Portlandia.

It was pretty easy to pickle green beans a few weeks ago, so this weekend I did peaches.  Altogether not so easy.  The peaches clearly did not want to be pickled and behaved like assholes from start to finish.  I took care to select only the most perfect peaches available at the farmer's market, but they bruised themselves on the walk home.  And thus my contribution to pickling lore:  if you are going to preserve tender fruit, drive, don't walk, to the market.  Then they refused to part with their skins, even though I blanched them and tossed them into a bowl of ice.  Then they wouldn't let me cut them into quarters or separate from their stones, and the slippery motherfuckers were shooting all over the kitchen, as if they'd conspired to be popcorn instead.  Most aggravating, and in a related accident, I dropped our friend Nate's mother's large glass bowl into the brush pile, although I rescued it and it wasn't even broken.

Fruit float, dammit

I'm not so sure about the finished product.  I believe floating fruit is bad.  Not botulism bad, just rookie incompetence bad. My mistake was too few peaches, not enough brine per jar.  I now realize I should have done five pints instead of six and saved the leftover for immediate consumption.  Pickled paches are delicious when Becky makes them.  I'll let you know how mine turned out after I taste them.

Then, when I was in the peaches-squirting-out-of-my-hands stage of the process, Jon came home and  and presented me with a huge bag of produce from a local farm.  For a moment, I was one with the farmwife of yore, slaving over a hot, sticky stove for hours to put up her fruit, and suddenly getting a peck of beans that need to be done too.  Luckily (?)  the produce Jon brought home turned out to be uncannable stuff like lettuce and peppers.

I did a little  rearranging and now have part of a shelf designated for canning supplies and products.

Also this weekend, we met a new friend, a one week old Berkshire hog.
Don't call me Wilbur

And found our first ripe habanero.

Still anxiously waiting for our figs to ripen.  I want to make fig jam!

Friday, August 02, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Three Men in a Boat

Some books, even really good ones, require that you read at least one chapter before you are fully engrossed in the story.  Three Men in a Boat, (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome is delightful from the first page.  I always imagine the Victorians as a stuffy lot, but here is proof of their sense of humor.

The narrator and his friends, George and Harris, decide that for the sake of their health, they need a wholesome outdoor escape, so embark on a rowing adventure up the Thames, accompanied by Montmorency (the dog).  The quaint Victorian notion of fresh air or the seaside as an actual medical prescription may not be based in science, but it has its appeal.  It was once accepted that weeks of recovery were necessary for the most common illnesses, whereas now, it's considered beyond the pale to be unwell for more than two days together.  One wouldn't want a full return to the Victorian medical age, but it might be nice to be expected to stay in bed for a week with a cold instead of hacking miserably in your cube and insisting that you feel perfectly fine.

The real three men--it's a true story.

So where was I?  These three strapping young men need a fresh air cure.  The narrator spends considerable time gently mocking his friends, which constitutes much of the humor, not to mention their inept handling of the boat, reminiscences and side stories. The incident with the pineapple tin made me laugh out loud.  Three Men in a Boat is a quick, light read, perfectly suited for an airplane or a beach.

In imitation of Leaves and Pages, I'm posting pictures of the cover art for different editions of this book. I have a minor obsession with cover art and a bad cover can ruin a book for me.  My own copy is a library-bound edition from the University of Virginia, with the original illustrations.
We're told that George wears the loud coat.

I don't recall this scene, but I'm not finished yet.

A little too cartoonish

Contemplative Montmorency

This is beautiful, but looks a tad wintry

The Penguin copy is my favorite.