Monday, June 11, 2018

Moving Day

We've moved to wordpress!

My new blog, The Small House in Charlottesville, is now live, although not all my old posts from this blog have made it over there yet and currently the only new content at the new site is a welcome post.  There are also a few design details that may need refining, but basically, the site is ready to go. The new URL is I hope to see you there!

Monday, June 04, 2018

Slowly but surely

I'm sorry for the long delay at launching my new website. I finally resolved a major technical issue, but now am having trouble importing my posts from this blog into the new one. It seems like a simple enough process. You run a back up utility on blogger that gives you an xml file that contains your blog's entire contents. You then run an importer tool in Wordpress. When I did this, all my blogger content landed in the media library and I have no idea how to configure it so it appears as posts. So I've begun the slow and painful process of reviewing all my blogger posts and manually putting each one into Wordpress (backdated). Of course this stupid method of content transfer means all comments will be lost, although they'll live on in the old site. You probably think I am stupid now, but the fact is, I AM stupid. So no worries.  I enjoy time-wasting, pointless tasks.

At least now the URL is working properly, which was the big technical problem. My plan is to spend this week transferring as much content as possible and I hope for an official move by early next week. My archives will look weird, as I'm adding the oldest and newest content, hoping to meet in the middle some day, so you'll see a bunch of recent stuff and some things from 2006.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Chance Encounter and the Curse of Mother's Day

Early yesterday morning, (05:55 to be exact) I went out for a run. A few blocks from my house, I spotted a man standing on a street corner. I had to decide if I would change my route to avoid him, or run past - a routine decision that all women have to make when they're alone and are approaching a strange man. This man appeared to be weaving on his feet and I can easily outrun a drunk so I decided to proceed. When I got close, he approached me, indeed without any respect for boundaries so I had to hold up my hand and tell him not to come any closer. I wasn't afraid, but I was annoyed. I asked him to tell me what he wanted. He was wearing a baseball cap, glasses, and clothes that, although rumpled, had probably seen a washing machine recently. In an educated voice, he asked me if I could help him. I cut him off, saying I didn't have any money and then went quickly on my way. He didn't try to follow me.

At first, I felt guilty that I had rebuffed this man so brusquely, although truly, I had no means to help him. I don't carry money with me when I run and I didn't even have my phone. But then I realized: He's a white man. No harm will come to him. Had he been non-white, someone might have called the police about a "suspicious" person. Had he been a woman, there might have been offers of help along the lines of "Hey baby, want a ride?" But he was a white male, secure as King Henry II's proverbial virgin with a bag of gold, perfectly safe to stand on a residential street corner at 6:00 am, accosting random women.

My feelings turned in a different direction entirely and I found myself angry with the man rather than with myself. Honestly, how feeble to find yourself stranded and to just expect someone to rescue you. The man had two legs that worked, he could have used them and walked downtown and found help.

Anyway, screw him. I changed my route on the homeward run and didn't see him again, but the whole incident made me realize that I don't like men. Sorry men, but a lot of you really suck. And even the relatively decent men who don't sexually harass or condescend are still standing around basking in their male privilege in a very irritating way.

It must have been a rough night in Charlottesville on Saturday. Two blocks from the man who accosted me, I saw someone sleeping in their car and I also encountered a man passed out on someone's front yard - something you might see in a student neighborhood, but unusual for my neighborhood. The man who approached me, I suspect was a tourist, lost, drunk, and bewildered in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Yesterday was Mother's Day, which I try not to acknowledge because it's the most angst-filled day of the year. This year was my first Mother's Day without a single child in the house and I was free to do what I wanted - EXCEPT - on this day of all days, Phoebe got sick. When I took her out for a walk, she refused to go into the park and insisted on standing in the vacant lot, munching on the tall grass. Inside again, her stomach made such ominous noises, we had to go straight back out and my sacred morning routine of tea and a book was upset because I had to stay out with her, waiting for her to puke. Classic Mother's Day - even when your kids are all taking care of themselves, you still can't escape being responsible for someone who's about to puke. Jon, of course, slept like a baby through all the events just described.

In other news, my new website is coming along but isn't quite ready to be launched. offers a bewildering array of tools and it's been scolding me because I suck at SEO. Of course I want readers, but maybe it isn't a super high priority for my blog to land near the top of searches. Also, I installed a new theme which undid much of the work I'd already done with one of Wordpress' standard themes. Maybe in another week or two it will be ready. This may be the last post that I write at this site. I intend to migrate all my content here to the new site.

Monday, April 30, 2018

More Dog Drama

The very best days, in my opinion, are those that are a pleasant mix of work and relaxation. I am happiest when I'm accomplishing something, but my weekend coffee breaks are sacred. These are about an hour and a half each Saturday and Sunday in which I read and knit or embroider and look at decorating or gardening books. Saturday was a glorious mix of work and play, but yesterday morning, our younger dog Phoebe launched an unprovoked attack on our older dog, Sancho. If you've ever seen a real dog fight, you know how distressing they are. To see your sweet and cuddly pet turn into an angry, snarling, wild animal is truly horrifying. Jon pried the two dogs apart, and after we reintroduced them to each other, Phoebe made apologetic gestures to Sancho, nose touching and tail wagging, while Sancho resignedly tolerated her. Sancho wasn't hurt, at least.

More than a year ago, they'd gotten into a fight and I'd read that younger dogs will sometimes try to usurp the older dog's position as pack leader. The book I read said to reinforce the older dog's precedence. So I made a point of always allowing Sancho out the door first, giving him his meals and treats first. That seemed to work for nearly eighteen months until yesterday.  And then, several hours later, they got into another fight, again, unprovoked, as far as we can tell, although the fights always start when we aren't looking. Still, there was no food and no toys in the vicinity. This time, Sancho has some superficial bites to his snout.

So now we have them separated until we decide what to do. Phoebe has the dining room and sun room to herself, where there's a comfortable bed and plenty of windows. Sancho has his usual space in the living room. We have always kept distance between them at meal time.

Jon and I both hardly slept all night, and he is going to call the vet today. We are wondering if Phoebe has an illness or something that's making her lash out.

I don't usually crowd source about problems, but let me know if you've had dog fighting issues in your household. I've read some articles online and one suggests that the attacking dog may be stressed, perhaps by an ear infection. We also had traps set for a ground hog on our property on Friday. The traps are baited with some sort of ground hog sexy times scent and we theorized that Sancho had gotten some of this on himself and smelled irresistibly of ground hog. So I bathed him last night, in case that is the issue.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dog Shaming

The two pictures below sum up how the washing machine delivery went.

I thought I was so clever, putting a plate of chicken in the sun room with which to lure the dogs so I could lock them in for the delivery. Phoebe fell for it, but Sancho didn't and let me know that if I tried to make him go into the sun room, he would bite me. So I had to build a ridiculous furniture barrier between the living room and the hall. It looked like a child's fort with chairs turned sideways and tables and desks all pushed together to keep Sancho in the living room. And of course when you move furniture, you stir up a lot of dust, so the house became filthy. The delivery men were very nice, but they must have thought I was nuts. Both dogs barked ceaselessly the entire time they were here. It was mortifying.

Hastily constructed furniture barrier
Attempting to console Sancho during the process

When the men were walking to their truck, I followed them out with an envelope for each and asked them to have a beer on me.  After I released Phoebe from the sun room, she went upstairs and liberally decorated the floor in front of the washer with poop, to show me just what she thought about being locked up during its introduction to the household.

But it's lovely having a washing machine again - this time a commercial grade one that blasts through a load in twenty minutes. And now that I'm no longer spending hours each week at the laundromat, I'll have more time to work on my home and gardening projects. Plus, tomorrow I'm starting ballet class at the School of Richmond Ballet.  Oh! And, and, I finally got to the top of the library hold list for Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. I'm reading it now, but am only a few pages in.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Happy Friday

Just popping in for a quick update. It's Friday and I'll be working from home for the day because our new washing machine will be delivered today. Our "old" one (we bought it only seven years ago) has had multiple breakdowns lately. I've been without a washing machine for over three weeks now, so I'm eager for the new one to arrive, but also dreading the delivery itself since I'll be alone and will have to somehow control the dogs and gracefully pass tips to the delivery men. Jon is usually in charge of both of these things, but he can't stay home today.

Phoebe, I will probably be able to lure into a bedroom and shut her in. She is young and headstrong, but I know she won't actually bite me. Sancho is more difficult as he can't climb the stairs anymore and he will threaten to bite if you collar him and try to make him go somewhere he doesn't want to. Our usual method is to entice him into the sunroom and shut the door and then barricade the open entry into the kitchen with chairs. But he is deeply suspicious and even with treats as a motivator, it is extremely difficult to get him to go where he doesn't want to. Who could guess that the two sweet-looking dogs below are the absolute bane of my existence and have made us the outcasts of the neighborhood?

The garden is coming along. The radishes got off to a slow start, but they are growing. It has been a cold spring this year. I sawed many limbs off the trees along our back property line and also pulled up miles and miles of Japanese honeysuckle and English Ivy. I also successfully uprooted many wild grapes. Now the poison ivy is starting to appear and I pulled up all I could find, and even after careful scrubbing, the rash is coming out on my arms. Hopefully it will be confined to the arms only. And honestly, if I achieve a pesticide-free poison ivy eradication, the rash will be well worth it. Our property hasn't seen a drop of chemicals since before 1990 and I don't want to break the record.

I read an excellent book, Farm City by Novella Carpenter. This is the book about the urban farm she created out of her rented upstairs apartment in a bad neighborhood of Oakland, California. She didn't have enough land and squatted on a next-door vacant lot. This wasn't just a big vegetable garden with a few chickens. She kept bees and raised animals for meat - turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and even two pigs right in downtown Oakland. The pigs, she and her boyfriend fed by dumpster diving from the finest restaurants in the bay area. This is a fascinating read, fast-paced and also very funny in parts. Sometimes you encounter an author who feels like a kindred spirit and I sense that with Novella Carpenter. I love her determination and her ability to thumb her nose at convention. I think I shared that my long term goal is to turn my own property into an urban farm of sorts. (Although I have no intention of keeping pigs. They sound exhausting.) And I'll also be squatting, on the city-owned hill on the other side of our driveway. It gets the best sun. But for this year, I'm sticking to one cautious bed in the back with my radishes and chard.

Oh, and finally, I'm starting the process of switching to Wordpress. I've bought a domain name and have a host. Now I'm working on setting up the space and eventually migrating all my content here over to there. I'll let you know as this develops. The new site is nowhere near ready to be launched yet.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Reading Lately

I've been plowing through books this year. Here's a selection of what I've read lately.

Country Chronicle by Gladys Taber (1975) Taber was well-known for her books about Stillmeadow, her farm and 1600's house in Connecticut. This book consists of musings categorized by the four seasons, with recipes interspersed. One such thought, which I wanted to quickly write down before I forget, concerns the many tourists that come to New England in the summer. Taber observes that you always take yourself with you when you travel. In other words, the way you behave when you travel is a reflection of who you really are, since you are away from the constraints of the community that knows you. This isn't the first of Taber's books that I've read and it won't be the last.

The Headmistress, Growing Up, and Miss Bunting by Angela Thirkell (1940s) There's a comforting sameness to Angela Thirkell's novels and while I can't reconcile myself to her classist and sexist world view, there's still something endearing about these books. She's adept at portraying awkward social situations and difficult people and you can't help laughing at some of her characters. On the other hand, Thirkell makes it clear that women should be content to accept men as their superiors, the serving classes are happiest if they are being subservient, and that social mobility is anathema. But what are these books about? Thirkell herself pokes fun at herself through her Mrs. Morland character who writes novels that are "all the same." All three of these novels are about small communities in the fictional region of Barsetshire, dealing with World War II, and the vagaries of human nature, with bits of romance thrown in as well.

Thank Heaven Fasting by E. M. Delafield. (1932) A deliciously cynical, although somewhat somber, novel about Monica Ingram, a young girl being groomed for the marriage market. Her upbringing is both impossibly sheltered and cynical. All people are gauged according to whether or not they are "useful." A young man who's attracted to Monica isn't a marriage prospect because he doesn't have enough money, but he's deemed useful because his presence helps prove that she is attractive and will thus attract more eligible men. Monica's parents, on the one hand push her into adult society, on the other, treat her as a child and leave her utterly unequipped to deal with men. And so, because of the very innocence her parents try to preserve, Monica does serious harm to her chances.

Goat Song by Brad Kessler. (2009) Another back to the land book; the most satisfying of the ones I've read so far. Kessler and his wife Dona buy a farm in Vermont and raise dairy goats. The book is a pleasing mix of the down and dirty details about animal husbandry and cheese-making, and a poetic celebration of the goat and the special relationship between a herdsman and his animals. I like Kessler's voice; lyrical without being pretentious. I was surprised to learn how many of our words come from goat behavior. Capricious, for example, from capri, comes from the finicky way that goats eat. There's also a frankly shocking description of goat sexual behavior which helps one understand why the image of a goat is associated with sexual depravity. (The description also raised my hopes for what might be revealed in the Steele Dossier. Ahem.)

Happy reading! Feel free to share what books you've enjoyed this winter.

Monday, March 26, 2018

March for our Lives

Saturday was a perfect day for a protest in Washington:  sunny and cool. The whole day was great and I'm really glad I attended this march. I bought a ticket on one of the Rally buses going up from Charlottesville for the event and we departed at 7:00 am. An elderly man was there, just to stand by and see us off, which was such a sweet gesture. I went alone because I like doing things alone and also because it is easier in situations like this to have only yourself to keep track of, although on the bus, as another single lady sat next to me, I had the uncomfortable realization that I am a middle aged woman who goes to protests alone. I'd packed a piece of stiff fabric and some sharpie markers, and attempted to make a sign but before I finished I felt so car sick I had to abandon the effort and breathe deeply and stare fixedly ahead and hope that the stiff fabric might double as a barf container, should such a thing be needed. It wasn't needed, but I didn't feel better until we were nearly there. My slogan was to be: IT'S EASIER TO BUY A GUN THAN TO OPEN A POUCH OF LAUNDRY PODS which it totally true, by the way.

We arrived at Union Station well before the official march start time, so I was able to get a fairly good position. Not very close to the stage, but within good view of the large viewing screens and speakers. They played music until the rally officially started and it was fun to watch the crowd swell and see all the signs. We were on Pennsylvania Avenue, and I was positioned just forward of the Newseum, where my sister used to live.

Here are a few of the signs I liked.

By the rally start time, the crowd was so tight, I was wedged in without even enough room to move my arms or plant my feet more than a few inches apart. I was right in the middle of the street and to move sideways to the edges of the crowd was literally impossible. I'm not particularly claustrophobic, but I did have to take a few deep breaths at times and remember that this was all for an important cause. And the speeches and entertainment were superb. I got to see Lin Manuel live! I was also blown away by Demi Lovato's performance and the student speakers - many from Parkland, but others from around the country who'd lost siblings to gun violence or who had survived school shootings. These kids are impressive and while I'm ashamed that we adults haven't managed to create a safe world for our kids, I am deeply grateful to these students for taking matters into their own hands. It was also really neat to see the crowd shots on the screen and I realize I was in the middle of that mass of people. I heard 800,000 attended the march in DC.

After the march, which ended promptly at 3:00 I had a few hours to kill, so I went to the National Gallery, hoping to see the Cezanne portrait exhibit, but it didn't open until Sunday. :( Then I went to the Museum of American History, my favorite museum in all the world, and revisited the huge dollhouse, Julia Child's kitchen, and the first lady gown exhibit. (Melania Trump's gown, isolated in its own case was being pointedly ignored by almost all the visitors.) I took a break to sit on the grass on the National Mall and eat the snacks I'd packed and then it was time to head to the station. 

People threaded their signs through the fences along the Mall after the rally.

I wore sunscreen, but still got quite the burn, from standing motionless in the sun for five hours.

Here's to a future in which weapons of war are outlawed and kids don't have to worry about being shot in school.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What I've been up to lately

We tend to hibernate in the winter and not socialize very much, but I've been busy with various projects.


Close up of the wilderness I'm attempting to tame

Work on the brick path stalled, since the ground was frozen, and then wet and I'm stymied by the problem of making it level and how to deal with the slope. Instead, I've been vigorously pulling up vines and cutting down brush along the perimeter of our property, and preparing a garden bed. I have modest plans to plant radishes and Swiss chard and if these are successful, I may plant more things next year. My long term goal is to have most of the backyard converted to vegetables and bee hives. Our lot isn't big enough for a true urban homestead, but I think I could grow all the vegetables we need.

State of the brick path at the moment

Here's how it looked before I started


I recently read The New Bohemian Handbook by Justina Blakeney and it inspired me to take some steps to make my house more pleasant and comfortable. First step was a deep clean, in which I washed all the walls (so many cobwebs) and generally dusted and tidied. I focused on the living room, which we don't use to its potential because it is dark and cold and there's just something uncomfortable about it. I can't go crazy redecorating because we are going to have to rewire this room (indeed the entire front of the house) but I am looking at lamps, and after stalking large gilt mirrors online, I found a piece I really love to put over the mantle. It instantly brightened the room. There's a lot more to do, but this is a start. I wouldn't say that my style is truly Bohemian, but this book has some interesting exercises in it and is a useful resource if you're trying to figure out how to make your house a place you truly feel good in.
Space over the mantle

The mantle needs a vignette now. I'm working on it.

Inspired by a sign I saw at the Women's March, 2017, I designed a knitting pattern that depicts Trump as a simple set of triangles.

I didn't get a chance to take a picture at the march, 
but then I saw a photo of it in a book!

I used excel to design the pattern

Crude, but I think it's recognizably Trump and his KKK friends

I knit a second one, similar to the first only missing the KKK figures and hung it on a tree in Washington last weekend, when I was up there with a group of friends.

I know it's crooked, but it was unbelievably uncomfortable, hanging this, even with two friends. A man who was walking past yelled at me to take it down and then called me a traitor. Also, the tree was too big, but I'd already really upset a squirrel and there were no other remotely suitable trees nearby. 


I haven't been to nearly as many protests this year, but I'm going back to DC for the March for Our Lives protest on Saturday. Also, I participated in a spur of the moment chance to heckle my congressman as he arrived at an unpublicized event downtown. He actively hides from constituents. He was willing to meet with local white supremacists, but won't talk to constituents about issues related to healthcare or the republican tax cut.  Therefore, the strategy is to find him at events like this and ask him the questions he won't answer. There are some good videos out there of him furiously telling a woman that her family's healthcare doesn't matter because she's "just one family" and angrily saying that he won't answer yes or no questions.

Any of you guys planning to march this weekend, either in DC or at your local marches? The NRA must be destroyed.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Negotiating Charlottesville as a Pedestrian

I grabbed a screenshot of this headline because it exactly mirrors my thoughts about being a pedestrian in Charlottesville. The article pictured above is about Dublin (which has issues where pedestrians are concerned) but it translates to Charlottesville.

To be a pedestrian in Charlottesville is to know rage. Inconsiderate drivers are one thing, but in this post, I'm focusing on how local government is responsible for terrible pedestrian conditions. 

There are a lot of construction projects going on around town, particularly along West Main Street and absolutely no accommodations have been made for pedestrians, who are shunted from one side of the street to the other and back again because the sidewalks are closed. West Main is a busy, dangerous street to cross, particularly after 4:00 pm, when it has the highest volume of pedestrians and drivers. 

Yesterday morning, I walked down West Main to the library at UVA. Here's some of what I saw. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, West Main is one of the busiest streets in the city of Charlottesville. It is the connector from downtown to the University of Virginia. It sees heavy pedestrian, car, bus, and bike traffic. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow developers to take over the sidewalks and bike lanes here.

^Little traffic because it was early Sunday morning. 

Rumor has it that my office is moving back to this area so I'm going to have to walk through this mess every freaking day. And sure, these projects will end, but there's always a new one. I've already seen a few other projects from beginning to end, when different sections of sidewalk were blocked off, again with no pedestrian or bike accommodations. I have spoken at town hall meetings with city council, I have emailed city council, I have had numerous emails with Charlottesville's bike/ped coordinator. I've attended city forums about bike/ped issues. I have specifically asked that developers be required to provide temporary sidewalk access and I'm certain I'm not the only person addressing the city about this, and yet nothing changes.

Essentially, if you are an ordinary Charlottesville resident, you are a serf. Following that analogy, city government represents the ruling class, real estate developers are the nobility and the rest of us don't matter except for our payment of tribute (taxes) with which city government rewards the real estate developers. We serfs are supposed to passively accept that construction projects may shove us into the street.

At its heart, the pedestrian issue is a class issue. Is it a coincidence that the best conditions for pedestrians are found in the richest neighborhoods in the city?  The people building all the hotels and apartment buildings around town are the ones with the money. City council gives them what they want and lets the rest of us go to hell. Since pedestrians aren't a well-funded lobby group, we are at the mercy of local governments. They may choose to make things nice for us, or they may not. It's mostly not. 

It makes me wonder what our streets would look like if pedestrians and cyclists had a lobby group as powerful as the NRA. What do you think bike/ped conditions would be like if that happened?

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Wild World of Sewing your own Lingerie

I've discovered that sewing your own bras is a fun and extremely gratifying activity. It never occurred to me that it's possible to make a bra yourself until Ladybird, one of the sewing bloggers I read, wrote a few posts about the Watson Bra pattern. This bra meets all my requirements: pretty, but with no padding or underwire.  The Watson Bra pattern can be bought online as a PDF download. Ordinarily, I shy away from PDF patterns because scaling the pieces to print correctly is intimidating to me. Bra pattern pieces, however, are small enough to fit on a single page and the pattern comes with instructions on how to scale, so I had no difficulty.

For my first attempt, I bought a bra making kit from the Tailor Made etsy shop. Bra sewing is tricky in that it involves narrow seam allowances, curved seams, and lots of raw edges to be finished. On the other hand, if your finished bra isn't perfect, you can still wear it because no one can see it. My first and second attempts are far from perfect, but I wear these bras all the time because they're pretty and comfortable. They can also be laundered with no fuss because there are no molded cups or underwire. Below is a little picture essay on the process. Apologies to those of you who follow me on instagram, since this may be a rerun for you.

First, I traced the pattern pieces onto stiff cardstock

I made a practice version out of an old tee-shirt

Tracing the pattern onto the back of the fabric

All the pieces cut out. The fabric is a scuba knit - medium thick with a firm stretch.
The bra cradle is lined with powernet mesh. All of this came in my kit along with all straps and elastic, hooks, and a piece of stretch lace that I used as an overlay for the inner half of each cup.

Finishing the inside edge with tricot elastic

Cups sewn into the cradle - this is the hardest part


Sewing the top of a cup through the loop that holds the strap.

The finished bra - this was view B, with a narrow band.

I couldn't wait to make another bra, but for my second attempt, I ordered a different scuba knit fabric and a "findings" kit, which is a set of lingerie elastic and hooks. This time I made view A, with the longer band. I'm happy with the second bra too. Both of them fit perfectly. (Watson Bra sizes range from 30B to 40D.) These bras are more comfortable than my store-bought bras. Now I'd like to branch out into different types of fabric. Unfortunately, the fine dressmaking shop in Charlottesville went out of business. There's a quilters' shop, but I doubt they have lingerie fabric. Joann's has lots of stretch fabric, but all of it is unspeakably ugly and they don't carry a full range of lingerie elastic, so I guess I'll be shopping online. 

Second attempt at the Watson Bra - the topstitching is tragic, I know, but I hope to get better at it. By the way, I realized this post sounds a bit sponsored, but it's not. I'm not promoting the products I linked to, just sharing in case anyone is interested in attempting this project. I really had a lot of fun sewing these bras.

Monday, February 19, 2018

I Was a Baby Borgia

Here's the story of how I poisoned the neighborhood kids when I was two. How do I know I was two? I'm able to date this memory pretty accurately, based on the house we were living in at the time, which we moved away from shortly after my third birthday, and the time of year. I was probably close to turning three or possibly just turned. Also, although it's the conventional belief that people have amnesia prior to age three, I have numerous memories from my babyhood, even one or two from infancy. It's a family trait to have a very long and accurate memory. As my uncle, who married into the family, said to Jon, "When did a Bermingham ever remember anything wrong?" (Narrator: Never.)

We lived in a little Cape Cod house on Pilgrim Road in Tonawanda, New York. It had a fenced back yard with a row of bushes along the back fence line. That summer, I must have shown a lot of curiosity about the berries on those bushes because my parents made a special point of telling me never to eat them. So of course I became obsessed. I have no idea what kind of berries they were, but after doing a little research, I think they may have been snowberries, which are toxic, but not fatally so.  According to Wikepedia, they cause vomiting, dizziness, and mild sedation when ingested by children.

Snowberry - these look like the berries I remember

One day, the other neighborhood children - we were probably all age four and under - were gathered in our backyard. I was suddenly struck with an idea of how to eat the berries and not be detected by the adults who were in the yard with us. We would play a game in which everyone skipped laps of the yard and every time you passed the bushes, you had to grab a berry and eat it. This is the part that seems the most unbelievable to me because I doubt I had the language skills to organize a game. Then again, we certainly played this game and as you will see, I got the blame for it. Round and round we skipped. On the first lap, I grabbed a berry. It was hard and tasted awful and I spit it out. We kept skipping, but I only pretended to eat a berry each time. The other children actually continued to eat them.

The next day, my mother stood over me and told me that the children I'd been playing with the day before had all gotten sick. One of them, the youngest, had been so sick he'd been taken to the emergency room. I understood the concept of "emergency room" because my great aunt was the chief administrator of a hospital and we would sometimes visit her in the convent on the top floor. The nuns' quarters were spartan, with no real space for visiting, so we'd walk around the hospital. I distinctly remember being allowed to play in an empty operating room around this time. So I was accustomed to making myself at home in a hospital and knew what an emergency room was, though I'd never actually seen one.

Easter Sunday, so a few months before the incident.
That's Sister Ellen, my great-aunt who ran the hospital.Also, my father and my brother, John.

Don't worry, no one died but the incident was considered serious enough that child protective services got involved. My mother told me that what I'd done was so terrible that someone from the county was coming specifically to yell at me. On the appointed day, my baby brother was whisked out of sight so he couldn't disrupt the meeting, I was sat firmly on the couch, and a woman - a social worker or visiting nurse, (police officer?) I suppose - arrived. I don't remember much about her. My memory may be faulty at this point, but I feel like she was somewhat nonplussed, like she'd been expecting me to be a teen age sociopath and had to quickly reshape her speech for a toddler. Not that I remember a word of what she said, but I do know she didn't yell at me because I remember feeling relieved that she hadn't.

My third birthday (and my brother's second) in late August, so right around the time of the incident.

That was the end of it. Really the end because my parents never spoke of it again. Not once ever in my whole life, and we're a great family for telling "Do you remember" stories. My poor mother must have been mortified and relieved that my father's job transferred us to Boston soon after. I thought of this as a funny story - I told it to great comic effect at the dinner table one night - but written down, it seems kind of awful. I'm certain I had no intention of hurting anyone and yet I did. It's one of the worst things I've ever done.

I didn't write about this to show off my precocity as a criminal mastermind (OK, that might have been part of it) but because I've been thinking a lot lately about early memories. I think it's harmful to say that no one can remember anything from prior to age three. Many people may be traumatized by things that happened before they were old enough to understand what was happening, or little snippets of disjointed memory that they can't be sure are real or were dreamt. They might be unwilling to seek help, or worse, be told that what they remember can't be real. I've read that for babies and toddlers, what might cement a memory are strong emotions, because at that age we are creatures of feeling rather than intellect. This is not my earliest memory, but it's the first memory I have that took place over multiple days and involved several people.

What do you think? Do you have memories from before the age of three?

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Palliser Novels

Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels are a series that grew out of his beloved Barsetshire Chronicles. The Duke of Omnium, wicked and politically liberal, is a minor character in the Barsetshire books. He serves as a symbol of moral looseness and he's the head of the family that forms the central core of the Palliser novels. While the Barsetshire books focus on the dealings of the Church of England, the Palliser novels focus on the British parliament. British government is not my strong suit, but each Palliser novel has its human interest angle in the form of a love story, so don't be intimidated. I enjoyed the whole series, but I did skim over some of the dense passages about politics.  And now onto the summaries.

Can You Forgive Her? (1864) If you're wondering who it is you're supposed to forgive, it's the protagonist, Alice Vavasor, for behaving like an idiot. Alice is a young woman, who, owing to her mother's death and her father's negligence, is rather more independent than most Victorian young ladies. She is engaged to the eminently respectable but boring John Grey. She also has a dashing cousin, George Vavasor, who has ambitions of getting into parliament and who seems more romantic and exciting than plain John Grey. George's sister Kate lobbies hard for Alice to dump John and marry George. Meanwhile, Alice's cousin Lady Glencora has recently married Plantagenet Palliser and things are not going well. Lady Glencora, immensely rich in her own right, had been in love with the dashing, romantic, but also profligate Burgo Fitzgerald. Her family conspired to force her away from Fitzgerald and into marriage with Palliser, who is the heir to the Duke of Omnium. Lady Glencora teeters on the edge of infidelity, while Alice Vavasor makes one stupid decision after another. There's a third, comic relief plot line involving George and Kate's aunt, the wealthy widow Mrs. Greenow and the competition for her hand between two bumblers. This book sets the stage for the other books in the series. The marriage of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser is the core of the whole series. George Vavasor's foray into politics introduces us to the parliamentary angle of the books. Overall, this was an absorbing story, with a few scenes of shocking violence.

Phineas Finn (1869) The title character is a young Irishman, charming and extraordinarily good looking, who gets a chance for a seat in parliament. And so begins his political career. I've heard people say they didn't like this book. There are some long, skimmable passages about politics, but there's plenty going on in Phineas' personal life to keep you interested. He has a girl who loves him back in Ireland and manages to fall in love with two different women in England and a fourth falls in love with him and he fights a duel, and in general behaves pretty badly while also being mostly likable. Also, the story of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser continues in this book.

The Eustace Diamonds (1873) One of my favorite Trollope books overall, and hands down favorite of the Palliser series. There's not much about politics in this one and the story shifts away from the Pallisers, who are mere observers of this drama. Lizzie Greystock, no better than she should be, marries and is soon widowed by Sir Florian Eustace. A valuable diamond necklace, belonging to the Eustace estate was given to Lizzie by her husband. She refuses to give it up and obstinately won't understand the difference between something you own outright and a family heirloom that is really only on loan to you. In the meantime, she looks around for a new husband and is attracted to her cousin Frank Greystock, who is already engaged to a lovely but impoverished girl but that doesn't stop him from dallying with Lizzie a bit. (Trollope's novels often feature young men who are basically good, but behave like jerks where women are concerned. See also Johnny Eames, Phineas Finn, and Silverbridge Palliser.) If the BBC made a movie of this, I'd watch the hell out of it.

Phineas Redux (1873) Takes up the story of Phineas Finn again, a year or two after the end of the previous book about him. This time, there's been a murder and our friend Phineas has been accused! Also continues the adventures of Lizzie Eustace.

The Prime Minister (1876) Our old friend Plantagenet Palliser (now Duke of Omnium) is the Prime Minister of England. His wife, the irrepressible Lady Glencora bestirs herself to help him in his career by inviting all and sundry to visit them and plans numerous parties, much to the PM's annoyance. Even worse, she uses her influence as the PM's wife to help the career of a blackguard with whom she has a passing interest, which leads to scandal and humiliation for the Duke. This novel is also the story of Emily Foster, who marries a man her father doesn't approve of and has to face dire consequences as a result.

The Duke's Children (1879) Not even being the Duke of Omnium is protection against young adult children doing stupid and infuriating things. Plantagenet Palliser's three children, Lord Silverbridge (the eldest and heir), Gerald, and Mary, collect gambling debts, get expelled from Oxford, and fall in love with people the Duke doesn't approve of.