Do you remember the summer of the perfect pie?
We laughed and cooked in your parents' kitchen, an enormous meal for extended family who had congregated for your upcoming wedding. We were to meet the groom's parents for the first time. That afternoon, we had chosen peaches heavy with fragrance, artistically painted by the sun with a swath of deepest red that faded to a pale tangerine. But with peaches, looks can be deceiving, and so we were prepared merely for pie. We did not expect perfection. As they emerged from the scalding pot, and we slipped off their skins, the astonishing brilliance of their glossy flesh, firm and slippery, tempted us to a taste. Juice running down our arms, we could hardly believe there had ever been better peaches in the history of the world. In the far-too-hot kitchen, we blanched pounds of peaches, marveling over their ripe weight, their astonishing satin fruitfulness, their toothsome yielding to our many many tastes. In the far-too-hot kitchen, we laughed at our own exquisite stickiness. And we made pies. A row of lush, crystalline odes to the golden days of summer and the jubilance of youth.
Do you remember the backyard open house?
It happened in my thirteenth summer. John sat in his shirt-sleeves in the shade, his ageless face peering intently at the heavy metal crank he turned. Was he 65 or 80? We never knew. Teresa emerged from the house bringing him more ice and rock salt and sweet tea. We, the children of the neighborhood, gathered around strangely quiet. Our coltish legs and incessant movements were stilled by the solemn sight of confection in the making. "I think we're 'bout ready," John said, his voice gruff and low. And Teresa brought the peaches, chopped small, and poured them into the vat John was churning. How many hours had it taken her to peel and chop those peaches? The question did not cross our minds. Instead we simply watched, anticipating the moment when John would pronounce the ice cream finished. And then we ate. Deep bowls, bowls that could be refilled as many times as we liked. Bowls and bowls and bowls and bowls of sweet cream softly frozen into perfect peaks and punctuated with plump tree-ripened fruit. Later, when the street lights came on and the June bugs congregated in the puddles of brightness, we leaned on the hood of the car and watched the sparkles in the asphalt twinkle like stars. The lightning bugs filled the trees, and the hum of your voice filled my head, and I realized that peach ice cream and longing tasted identical.
Do you remember your son's first peach?
We had walked over The Farm, and you had pointed out the packing shed where you once spent long late-summer days, and the fields--now houses--that had held your family's groves. You told me your father had kept himself a "little piece" of land, just ten acres, and that he still had a few fruit trees. "But they're mostly peaches," you said with some contempt. I could hardly believe that you did not like peaches, but the fuzz, you said, the fuzz used to get so thick in the packing shed that sometimes you had to wear a mask. All that fuzzy furry skin...to this day, you didn't want to touch it. And so, I waited until you were preoccupied, and I quietly went out to the trees nearest the house to choose some peaches. Enormous fragrant globes, paler than I'd expected, but promised to be ripe, hung silent, waiting. I made my choices slowly, carried them inside. And when I cut into them, I felt foolish for mistrusting a farmer's word on the ripeness of his fruit. Your son and I sat, juices running down our chins, grinning at each other, and eating peach after peach at the table where you'd grown up. Satiated at last, he looked at me and chortled as only babies can. And so I mashed him one more bite of golden summer and we shared a glimpse into your childhood.
Do you remember the wretched cobbler?
Bitter beyond belief, it was ruined by a mis-read recipe. All the promise of seven sweet peaches, all the anticipation of an afternoon, dissolved on the very first bite. "I was going to take one for the team," you told me, "and try to finish mine. But I don't think I can." Of course you could not. It was inedible. "I cut up the butter," our son said, "and sprinkled the sugar." Our daughter piped up, "I poured the milk." And my deep disappointment also began to dissolve. We three, so intently fixed on making our family dessert, had stirred and spread, tasted and collaborated, breathing deeply the aroma of a sticky summer afternoon. "I don't want to eat this cake," said our daughter. "You don't have to eat it, darlin'," I told her, "it's terrible cake." I looked ruefully at the dish of cobbler, and then up at you, "I wouldn't feed this to pigs," I said. And as I scooped her more ice cream instead, you smiled sympathetically at me and replied, "Oh, sweetie, I would give this to pigs." Hooting with laughter, I picked out a slice of still-warm peach to eat with my ice cream.
Did you know?
Peaches are the taste of love.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Do you remember the summer of the perfect pie?
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
You may think, if you contemplate a tie-dye project with your preschoolers, that the obvious question is "what should we tie-dye today?" but I am here to tell you the truth. Because the fact of the matter is that what to tie-dye is pretty obvious: t-shirts are the simplest (though you should do the extra five minutes of work to buy 100% cotton ones, since they will take the dye much better than the cotton/polyester blend ones). I suggest that you get more t-shirts than one per child, or be prepared to let your kids do one each for the grown-ups in the family, or think creatively about what else you might be willing to sacrifice to Ganja Fashion, since the process of dyeing one shirt is too fast to satisfy the degree of anticipation leading up to it.
When to tie-dye is also easy to answer: whenever you need an excellent distraction for your three-year-old to keep her from messing with all the tiny orange bandaids plastered over her torso to cover up the skin treatment effected by the pediatrician that morning. Or any time you are hankering to clean up endless amounts of highly-staining product from every available horizontal and vertical surface in your kitchen/bathroom. Duh.
How to tie-dye is easy or complex, depending on your skill level and patience. You can find tons of great information about twists and dyeing methods here. Given children's desire just to squirt vast amounts of dye at fabric willy nilly, however, I am of the opinion that a few basic folds/twists/rubber band methods is all you need.
With what dye to tie-dye is controversial. (Who knew?) There are the fabric dying purists who will tell you that Rit and other brands of cheap and easily accessible dye will not really "stick" permanently to your fabric without boiling the garments in the dye for a solid 3o minutes, and even then will be prone to fading. Of course, you can boil the t-shirts for half an hour if you want. But that sort of negates the kid value of the project, since allowing small children to use long wooden paddles to stir clothes in large boiling vats pretty much went out of fashion with the advent of the washing machine. Not to mention the fact that the boiling pot method only allows you to dye a shirt with one color -- and what kid do you know who will be happy with that?
The purists thus recommend ordering "real" cold-water dyes online from specialty shops, so that the children can have a party of squirting many colored dyes at t-shirts. But that kind of ordering takes much longer than is permissible if you've been promising a tie-dye project to your five year old for two weeks and really MUST make good on it this morning. And quite frankly, if you're not planning to stock a new Etsy shop full of fabulous tie-dyed creations, I'm pretty sure the cheap "Groovy Tie-Dye Kits" at craft stores (on sale for $6.99!) are just fine for your purposes. (Sorry, purists.)
So that's what we bought yesterday morning. And we did okay by our t-shirts, if I do say so myself.
The best question to ask of any tie-dye project, then, is: who will tie-dye whom, and where? Daughter started it off by unceremoniously plunking her compactly coiled t-shirt into a bowl of her favorite dye and effectively splashing Son's chest with boiling hot pink spots. Then Son managed to dribble something onto his chair and dye a nice blue streak down his knee. Then Daugher leaned into the table while making Daddy's shirt and covered her whole naked belly with blue and green. Then Mama's glove leaked and produced two magenta fingertips. Then Daughter's thoroughly dyed hands left a perfect green fingerprint on the bridge of her nose. We washed and scrubbed, showered and lathered, but apparently even the cheap "will hardly stick to your fabric" versions of dye do an incredibly good job of staining skin.
Hence, my children will be heading to daycare this morning proudly sporting their new shirts. And I will have to make my excuses for the bruise-like amoebas decorating vast swaths of their bodies. (Here's a tip: instead of thinking that asking them to take off their good shirts is a great idea because they won't accidentally dye them, try asking them to put on a painting smock so that they don't dye their skin.)
And if you've made it this far in this post, I can offer you a bonus tip that has nothing to do with crafting or messes. If you have a hard time remembering when to use who or whom in a sentence, just remember the key question here: Who will tie-dye whom? Who is always the subject of a sentence or clause. Whom is always the object. The easiest way to remember this is that you use who anywhere you would use he or she, and you use whom anywhere you would use him or her. He would tie-dye her, or she would tie-dye him, but him would not tie-dye she. Get it?
Just don't go thinking that at your house no one would tie-dye him or her because that is a fantasy that is simply incompatible with putting dye into the hands of any little he or she in your house.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I took exactly seven photos at BlogHer this past weekend. Two of them were of me with Frankie, the mascot from the online gaming world called JumpStart, because I thought such a picture would tickle my son. Two more contain me sporting my trademark Most Unphotogenic Human on the Planet face, which involves half-closed eyes and a half-open mouth and an awkward stance halfway between a pounce and a faint. For the rest of the weekend, despite the leaden weight of the bag on my shoulder, I kept forgetting to pull out my camera. So this won't be a post full of pictures of grinning people in tiaras (yes, there were tiaras).
Also? I went to BlogHer without my laptop.
I do not own a Blackberry or any device that starts with i and ends with Phone.
As a result, I sent precisely one tweet the entire time I was in Chicago. (Thanks, roomie, for letting me jump on your computer!)
I did learn how to text people. Sort of. Nearly all of my messages were some version of "Where are u?" or a garbled answer to that question, as in "i cant come into book panejkj l where r u" -- because of course my cell phone does not have a letter keypad, and it was not until I was in the airport on the way home that I figured out where the "backspace" button was, so any mistakes I made while texting simply stayed in the messages. Also, I didn't figure out how to add punctuation until I was waiting for the interminable delays of my home-bound flight to be over.
Hence I texted questions like: "call me after ok" and simply hoped the recipient could read my mind rather than my text and understand that I was not issuing a royal command.
So, I am a blogger who went to a blogging conference at a schmancy hotel with wifi everywhere*, and I basically spent the entire weekend as un-wired as if I'd gone camping (plus indoor plumbing and really really nice beds).
And let me tell you: It was fabulous.
Instead of being all bloggery, I talked myself hoarse. I came home last night with a scratchy voice and a dozen new reusable faux-canvas shopping totes**, bouyed rather than tired from the incessant conversation.
The only thing I regret is that my plane home was late, and I could have stayed in the hotel lobby and talked some more, and met a few more of the people I was hoping to run into but never did, before I dashed off to the airport.
Here's what happens at a blogging conference: there are panels, some of which are thought-provoking, others informative, others deeply moving. But in between and around those panels, and sometimes in place of them, you meet people. People whose faces you have up until now had to invent and whose voices you have only imagined. You are swooped up into the strong-armed hugs of women whose writing you adore. You have quiet chats with people who swear they are nearly incapacitated by social anxiety, and you want to never stop talking to them because they are so real, so sincere, so friendly, even though they are famous and you are anything but.
You laugh. A lot. You sit up until three o'clock in the morning laughing and only go to bed because all the lights are coming on in the bar.
You talk. You cannot stop talking. You talk with people who sort of feel like old friends whose life stories you know but who also feel a little like first dates with the most desirable single guy in high school. It is incredible the grinning high you feel over the simple act of sitting across the table from someone you've had a writing crush on for months (or years) and talking.
You meet new people whose blogs now glimmer on the edges of your mind like a shelf of carefully chosen but still unread new books. You already know the cadence of their voices; now you will get to lunch on their prose.
I know there are some stories from the weekend worth telling -- ones that involve chocolate fountains, green paper bracelets, random encounters with potato chips, and promises to run a remote Iron Chef competition.
But for right now, I simply want to celebrate the sense of community, the exhilarating exhaustion that is friendship forged over the internet and solidified in a marathon of conversation. Everyone who makes a connection online should be so lucky as to be able to hug those people in person.
* a debatable assertion in that the wifi didn't work very well, and was clearly not equipped to handle 1800 people all trying to send Twitter messages over the network at the exact same moment
** yes, it is true that there is vast amounts of "swag" (free stuff) being thrown around; it is equally true that at least half of it is product placement, and another quarter of it is in such limited quantities that it's only available to those willing to leap over less agile members of the crowd to get it; that is not me. I came home with a small pile of kid toys and a giant pile of reusable shopping bags, which I call awesome.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Hem skirt (because I didn't buy this dress)
Grade student response papers (12 papers x 11 students = many hours of reading and commenting)
Locate everything the kids need to take to preschool tomorrow and Friday
Charge cell phone
Make local arrangements for wedding we're all going to in two weeks
Transcribe cell phone numbers for and/or make lists of all the people I'm dying to see in Chicago
(the list is much much longer, but I ran out of words to link)
Comment on a thesis chapter
Pick up kids
Cook them dinner
Snuggle them outrageously during bedtime to make up for missing the coming two nights of bedtime
Get on a plane with her
Walk into rooms full of hundreds of people I've never met in person, hug them, and grin a lot
If you're going to be in Chicago this weekend, and I should be keeping my eyes peeled for you, leave me a comment. (Hint: I only have a lobby pass, so I won't be at any panels.) If you aren't going to The Conference That Shall Not Be Named and wish you were, just know that I was you last year, and I will miss you and wish you were there too. If you aren't going and are sick of hearing about it already, I apologize and promise not to be all gushy-gushy for days.
But for just a minute? Indulge me. How often in this life do we get a chance to step a little out of our comfort zones with a really good chance of coming away from the experience with some really good friends who don't only reside in our computers (though such friends can be invaluable) but who are huggable, real people with infectious laughs that we can now identify?
Not too often. I feel very very lucky.
And a little panicked.
Because those papers aren't going to grade themselves, and my plane leaves in a mere 18 hours...
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Son hasn't started Kindergarten yet, but there are lots of things that he has already learned in that way that all children have: something like osmosis, a little like the workings of a sponge, and one part mimicry. I have purposefully tried to teach him too, of course. ABCs and counting, parts of the body, days of the week...there is a very long list of things that we make our children learn and practice as they are learning to talk and walk.
It struck me the other day again, though, just how tremendous is the amount of information a human child must glean from its environment.
Reading and writing get taught to them, more or less purposefully, as we first sing the ABC song (off-key) 842,456 times with them in toddler-hood, then give them letters to trace and copy, then start playing letter games and issuing spelling challenges. But every single day, children learn things despite a lack of explicit lessons. They extrapolate from their experiences and situations, trying to figure out how the world works. Something deep in the development of the human brain understands that in order to flourish, they not only have to learn to read and write; they have to learn to take turns, to lose gracefully, and to be generous.
Even quantifiable things like how to tell time, count objects, and divide volumes in half come to them as much through extrapolation as through lessons.
"How long until we go to Grandma and Grandpa's house?"
"How long is that?"
"Well, today you'll play, have dinner, then go to sleep. That's one day. Then you wake up and do it two more times."
"So, it's three go-to-sleep-and-wake-ups before we go to their house?"
"Okay." [contented sigh]
And then suddenly, the unintended consequence of this conversation is that things that happened at daycare in the morning (before naptime) happened "yesterday." After all, didn't we come to the conclusion that every time you go to sleep and wake up, it's a new day?
Children learn practical things, like how to open a straw, through experimentation; it quickly becomes clear that the answer is not with your mouth because the soggy paper becomes unremovable from the desirable contents. Through trial-and-error, they learn how to ride bikes and how to wipe their own bottoms.
But, much more interestingly, through trial-and-error, they also must figure out far less tangible things like how to tell jokes and what constitutes funny in different situations. They decipher who likes to be hugged and fawned over and who prefers a simple "hello" in greeting. They intuit what constitutes a moment for sympathy.
Watching my children learn these things is fascinating to me because I see them not only learning the schema the world has created for how to understand concepts but also creating schema when they have not learned the "official" one.
The other day, for instance, Son was walking down the stairs when he stopped suddenly. He pushed the heels of his feet back against the riser and looked down at his toes. "Wow," he said, "my Crocs sure are big." He looked up at me for agreement, so I nodded. "They're almost as big as the steps." It was true. With his heels back as far as they would go, his toes were only about two inches from the front edge of the step. When, I wondered, did my son grow so big? But before I could wax nostalgic, he finished scrutinizing his feet and looked up at me helpfully. "They're just one mouse sideways bigger," he declared and kept walking.
I stood there for a moment, trying to register what he'd said. "One mouse sideways?" I asked.
He had reached the bottom of the stairs by this time, and he looked helpfully up at me. "One mouse," he held up his hands, parallel to each other about two inches apart, cupped slightly as if he were holding the precious mousie, "sideways," he turned his hands, still parallel to each other, sideways -- and quite obviously, there was a perfect measure of the distance between the toes of his shoes and the edge of the step.
I was speechless. Later, when I told the story to Husband, I laughed, and we joked about using mice sideways as a new unit of measure. "How tall will these flowers get?" "Oh, about three and a half mice sideways." But once I got past the giggles, I hit awe. The matter-of-fact delivery, the quickness of his assessment stunned me. Not in a "my child is brilliant" way, but in a "the human mind is awesome" way. I realize that we have not taught him inches and feet, and so he had no reliable standard measure to use to indicate the size difference. He knows he is 48 tall and that he weighs 50, but he doesn't seem to grasp that these two things are measured with different units. To him, they are both simply numbers. And so, lacking "inches" in his conceptual framework, he invented a measuring system. While I love the creativity, I also see that his mind, faced with a problem of measurement, did precisely what our forebears did when they decided that a foot made a good unit of measure. They chose something that seemed a recognizable size, and used it to draw a comparison. How cool is that?
I can see that there are still lots of things Son will need to learn. For starters, perhaps some basics of distance. But for now, I am reveling in the creative, interpretive learning, the exploration and extrapolation of childhood.
For a little while longer, at least, I think I'm going to let him keep measuring in mice sideways.
If you have a baby or toddler need to buy a gift for someone else's, you might want to enter to win the $75 gift card I'm giving away to a great website for all things baby. Check out the details here.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
When I was about thirteen, I decided it was time to shave my legs. I remembered my grandmother saying that she shaved every day, on dry skin, without any kind of shaving cream, before she took her bath. So that's what I did. I'm pretty sure I cut myself once or twice with the razor, but what I recall most vividly is the incredible rash of raised, red, stinging welts that covered my legs afterwards. It was neither attractive nor comfortable. I was mortified.
Lesson #1: always use a shaving gel or cream on your legs.
Eventually, I figured out the shaving thing, but I never liked how quickly the stubble appeared (overnight!?!). And the fact that my skin was a little sensitive meant that I couldn't shave every day, which left me terribly self-conscious that someone would notice the millimeter of stubble and get everyone to start calling me Gorilla Girl. (Don't tell me things like that didn't happen in your high school. That was a totally legitimate fear.)
When I was in college, I thought perhaps there might be a better way. So I went down to the local beauty college (here's a tip: beauty schools charge almost nothing for procedures that spas charge a lot for!) and I had the lower halves of my legs waxed (here's another tip: you pay almost nothing because a student who has not graduated from How To Wax Legs School is doing the procedure). Here's what I have to say about that experience: I have tremendous respect and awe for anyone who has lived through a real fire. I was in such intense pain that I could not stand to have even a sheet over my legs that night as I slept.
Lesson #2: these procedures require actual professionals.
Waxing, apparently, was not the answer either. So I went back to shaving.
I did occasionally try waxing again, with more experienced people doing the job -- but the cost was so prohibitive and the student salaries were so small that I generally confined myself to bikini line necessities right before a beach week.
Somewhere along the way, I tried depilatory cream. Seriously, whoever thought that putting chemicals so strong their "fragrance" will singe your nose hairs into a sweet little pink package and promising "instant results" was a giant sadist. Not only does the stuff stink like burning rubber; it's also messy and complicated. And, it doesn't remove all the hair from your legs anyway.
Lesson #3: if the box makes it sound too good to be true, it probably is.
I discovered "sugaring wax" at once point and thought I'd found nirvana. It's a gooey substance in a dispenser like the old roll-on deodorant. You warm it slightly, roll it on, and use cloth strips to remove wax and hair in one quick motion. But because it's made of sugar instead of wax, the residue rinses right off when you're done. And, for reasons I cannot explain, it works many times better than regular wax (yes, I have tried home waxing kits too). Of course, the brand I loved was discontinued, and I have yet to find another that works as well.
Lesson #4: when you find a beauty product you adore, buy a whole shelf worth so that you have time to find a reasonable substitute for when it's taken off the market.
I tried pre-waxed strips (pretty good: much easier than warming wax and trying to spread it on yourself, but time consuming and not perfect).
After every foray into some new Hair Removal System, I'd sigh resignedly and go back to buying razors. Of course, over all those years, razors had gone from having one blade to two blades to three blades, now with gel strips and softening agents, and who knows what other absurdities. But the fact remained that the stubble? Was not my friend.
Then I was pregnant throughout a long winter and quit removing hair from my legs altogether. I'm sure it looked terrible, but I could no longer see my own legs, so I didn't care.
Lesson #5: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Then I decided to try something like an epilady, which is basically a gizmo that you use like a razor, but that yanks out the hairs instead of cutting them. Advantages: hair pulled out grows back much finer than hair shaved, which means that stubble is barely noticable (you can feel it but not really see it). Disadvantages: the first time you use this thing, you are sure you've been transported back to the Middle Ages and subjected to a torture device. But once you get through that initial uncomfortable (on a scale of splinter removal to childbirth, I'd call it a solid "kicked a stone wall barefoot") procedure, weekly maintenance is not really painful at all. And, it works. And there was much singing.
However, I am finding that it leaves me prone to a lot of ingrown hairs, which are increasing in number the more I use this thing. Also, now that the hair on my legs is finer, I think the gizmo misses more of them, which is terribly annoying.
Lesson #6: even a silver bullet isn't perfect.
So now, here I am, nearly forty, and still annoyed by my leg hair. Which seems completely teenaged girl of me, but there you have it. I know there are people who will say, "Just don't worry about it. There's no rule that says you must get rid of it." Those people, however, are either (1) way more granola than I am; or (2) blond, and therefore unaware of what the legs of good strong Eastern European stock look like in their full complement of hairitude; or (3) very fond of slacks, even in summer.
I am this close to starting to experiment with my own recipes for sugaring wax out of a desperate desire for something that honestly just should not be this complicated.
Either that, or I'm buying stock in LongPantsYearRound.com.
Friday, July 17, 2009
I'm really really tired right now from teaching what is normally a semester-long graduate course in just six (very long) days. But I don't think it's just tiredness that's making the models in these pictures look all crooked.
Is it just me, or does someone need to explain to these poor women how to stand up straight -- or draw in a little bookcase or column or something for them to lean on?
Looking at these photos makes me wonder whether I would have to stand like this in order to look this good in these shirts. Because honestly, I don't think it looks very comfortable.
But not comfortable. And once you look at a whole bunch of them all together like this? Really, I think it's just more weird than anything else. Seriously: who stands or moves like this ever? Am I just too tired to get this?
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Did you ever not buy something that you really couldn't afford, or didn't need, or couldn't justify, and then regret it for years afterwards?
For me, that thing was the most plush, lovely, sweet-faced stuffed gorilla. I was about 15 years old, and we were on a family vacation, and the gorilla was on the top shelf of some store in I Can't Even Remember Where. He cost $20, if memory serves, and was about a foot high. I held him, stared into his sweet face, fingered his price tag, and longed to be richer until finally my mother said it was time to go. Regretfully, I put him back on the shelf. I was too old for toys. I didn't need a stuffed gorilla. I certainly didn't need to spend $20 on one.
What I could not know, of course, is that there were years of teenaged longing still ahead of me. There were scores of nights in which I would be unable to sleep because He (whoever the He of the moment was) had not looked at me once in Physics class, or had looked at me but not like it meant anything, or had looked at me like it meant something but still hadn't called...or whatever. You remember those days. It would have been some comfort to have had a mute, constant, huggable companion on all those lonely nights of youthful heart-ache. To this day, I still think I ought to have bought that gorilla.
My current obsession in the category of Things I Pine for That I Cannot Justify Purchasing But Might One Day Kick Myself for Resisting is this dress:
It's bias-cut silk charmeuse, which for those of you who don't sew, can be roughly translated as "guaranteed to hug your curves properly, fit and float like a dream, and make you feel like a million dollars every time you wear it." Or, more succinctly, "luscious." Also, the style could not suit me more if I'd had a personal visit from the designer who then concocted a dress specifically for me.
It's also $242. Which, given inflation in the (mumble)ty-four years since I was 15, and the fact that I now earn more than $1 an hour which was my going wage back then for babysitting, is roughly the price of a 12" stuffed gorilla.
The designer is Amai Unmei, whose work I have never seen before I came across this dress, but whose collection quite simply stuns me. These are simple, gorgeous, elegant pieces that are grown-up without being the least bit frumpy. And oh-my-stars are they well made. How can I tell? Just by looking at how they hang on those dress forms. One thing you learn when you sew a lot is that there is absolutely no substitute for a well-cut garment. And these dresses, my friends? Are design gold.
That sound you hear is me, sighing quietly with longing.
For in all those years since I did not buy that gorilla, I have yet to find a scholarship that funds the purchase of deep and heartfelt but not really necessary consumer desires. But, oh, doesn't that silk look magnificent?
Monday, July 13, 2009
We are rife with jokes at our house lately. After about eleventy-hundred re-tellings of that great knock knock classic about the banana and the orange, we were all getting a little weary.
Don't know that joke? Here it is:
Banana who? (sighing)
Banana WHO? (with much impatience)
Orange you glad I didn't say banana again?
Daughter manages this joke very well, and she will even explain to you that you have to "say the banana three times" before you get to the orange. Even so, the cuteness of a three-year-old perfectly delivering a knock knock joke, even a long one, is in direct inverse proportion to the number of times one has heard said knock knock joke.
In other words: enough already with the banana and the orange.
We tried to interest her in some of other other knock knock jokes we can remember. Son thinks some of them are pretty funny. But Daughter is still too literal minded, still not linguistically advanced enough to comprehend fully the point of a pun. In short, she's mastered the knock knock form, but she doesn't really get how they work.
But, in an effort to assuage our impatience (she's a very thoughtful and sensitive little soul), she's been trying to vary the jokes lately. The first twist on the venerable classic was this:
Banana are you glad I didn't say orange?
After that was a hit, the Queen of Homemade Knock Knock Jokes was born.
Yesterday in the car we had:
Tree are you glad I didn't say muffin?
As far as I'm concerned, this is a perfect formula for a preschooler joke because a) it doesn't involve underwear, burps, or anything else we adults are also heartily sick of hilarity over; b) it's easy to remember; c) the utter randomness of the noun combinations trotted out for every iteration of this joke make it mildly funny. Much to Daughter's gratification, I giggled at the unexpected combination of trees and muffins, and what could be better than a joke that actually makes your audience laugh?
Of course, the fact remains that she still doesn't get the nuance of comedy. All her brother has to do is look at her and say "underpants" and the two of them fall over laughing. And yet, she occasionally nails the timing or delivers a line that wows me with its comic precision. I know she doesn't know why it is perfection, but I do know she has me in stitches.
Take the other night. I was reading stories at bedtime. I turned the page after the story ended, and there was one more picture. "The End," I said.
"But," said Daughter, "you need to read this part."
"I did," I replied. I ran my fingers under the only two words on the page. "It says, The End," I read carefully.
"No," she insisted, using her own short and still-chubby pointer finger to trace a slow line under the words. She pronounced them as deliberately as I had. "It says Read Again."
I laughed so hard, I almost fell off the bed.
I can't wait to hear what happens when she graduates from knock knock jokes forever.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
There are times when it is really worthwhile to read something slowly. Savor it. Really think about what it is saying. I came across this passage the other day, and I had to read it a few times just because I wanted to chew on it a while.
No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour, nor making of stuffs a thousand yards a minute, will make us one whit stronger, happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. And they will at last, and soon too, find out that their grand inventions for conquering (as they think) space and time, do, in reality, conquer nothing; for space and time are, in their own essence, unconquerable, and besides did not want any sort of conquering; they wanted using. A fool always wants to shorten space and time: a wise man wants to lengthen both. . . . We shall be obliged at last to confess, what we should long ago have known, that the really precious things are thought and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast; and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being. -- John Ruskin, from Modern Painters (1843)
Isn't that profound and quite beautiful? (Go ahead, read it again if you like. It's really worth it.)
And isn't it apt? We here, closing in on the first decade of the twenty-first century, have created an incredible pace for ourselves. We bust our own chops to finish our work, only to take on more work. We race our children around from one practice to another, from this activity to that. We schedule ourselves from morning through noon and far into the night.
We rarely, so rarely, take the time just to be. Constantly going, almost never being, we come to the end of a day too exhausted to take stock of what we have accomplished. We frantically note down our children's milestones in memory books or photographs -- in part because we want them to know what their own first words were and in part, secretly, I think, because we are afraid that what with all the other things we have to keep at the forefront of our minds all the time, we might forget to tell them those stories otherwise.
When I was a child, I remember that one of my favorite things to do was to sit and listen to my grandmother tell stories of what my mother was like as a child. Quiet and inventive, the little girl took her father's screwdriver, hid under the kitchen table, and methodically removed every screw from the joints holding on every leg. She piled the screws neatly at the base of each corresponding leg. It wasn't until my grandmother noticed the table swaying gently that she thought to investigate what was going on underneath. That little girl was both so much my mother -- curious, well able to keep herself amused, good with tools, never particularly concerned about the practical -- and so not my mother -- methodical, tidy, a risk taker, and (perhaps most of all) only three years old.
I hope that I remember to tell my children such stories of their own childhoods when they are older. I hope that I may one day tell such stories to my children's children.
More than that, I hope that I can learn to be better at the being, less frantic about the going.
For so long, I have had goals -- go to college, go to graduate school, get married, have children... large milestones and small challenges alike have kept me driven and focused. At what point, though, Ruskin makes me wonder, do I stop feeling like I must keep moving towards the next goal and just start enjoying today? When am I already at the place I've been trying to reach? What if I wake up one day and find out that that place is in fact already in my past?
Ruskin is so right: there is always more to see, more to read, more to do, more places to go. There are bigger goals to conquer, faster speeds to run. But at what price? Perhaps at the price of missing what you're seeing now.
When I was in college, I did my junior year abroad, and I spent my spring vacation traveling on the trains with my best friend. At some point, we found ourselves in a train compartment with a family from Texas. Everything about them was big and loud -- their clothes, their hair, their voices, their manners. We were somewhere in the South of France at the time, and we were lamenting that we did not have time in our itinerary to go to Paris on our way to Italy. "No time?!" the father boomed. "Honey, we were just in Paris. It don't take that much time. We've got it down to a science. I'll tell you how to do it. We take a night train in, see, so we don't have to pay for a hotel. We get there real early in the morning, and we jump right into seeing all the things you gotta' see. In Paris, we saw the Eiffel Tower, of course, and the Louvre, and the Arch de Triumph. We ate some food, saw some more, stayed up real late, and then jumped on another train." He took it as a point of personal triumph, a real reason for pride that, as he put it, "you don't need more'n 24 hours in any city in Europe. No reason to dawdle."
There's no reason to dawdle in Paris?
According to this man, you can see all of Paris in 24 hours. Having ridden past the major monuments in that time, I suppose it is strictly true that you can say you've seen much of Paris. But you don't know Paris. You haven't eaten a chocolate croissant hot and fresh just as the sun is peeking over the horizon. You haven't wandered lost down a quiet street and discovered a beautiful garden. You haven't struggled with the language or had a policemen hit on you. You haven't had numerous generous souls try to direct you or give you restaurant advice. You haven't gotten any kind of taste of the culture. Even at twenty years old, I knew it was better to skip Paris entirely, save it for a trip that would really do it justice, rather than to skim through it with a cursory glance.
Thinking about Ruskin's words, I worry that I am letting my life become that Texan's Paris. That I am dashing through, glimpsing the highlights, and not savoring enough. That the college me who was so thoroughly horrified at the notion that one could possibly absorb Paris in 24 hours has somehow given way to an adult me that is trying to accomplish that pointless feat.
I want, in the words of the inimitable John Ruskin, to use my space and time rather than simply conquer it.
I am not sure what that means for me. I am a chronic over-extender who has a hard time saying no. I am currently in the middle of no less than three book projects, with a novel that I really want to be working on patiently sitting in the wings. I have children with whom I want to share the discovery of the world. "You say to-mah-to, I say to-pay-to" Son sang to me today, and then looked up a little confused, sure something wasn't quite right. I want not just to laugh and spend the next five minutes purposefully mixing up to-may-to, to-mah-to, po-tay-to, po-tah-to, but to remember it and savor it and not feel at all as if I ought to be doing something else instead.
I want to move slower and more happily. That combination will be a hard one for me, as fast-and-goal-oriented has been my m.o. for a long long time. But I think there is something to be said for slowing down.
Ruskin abhored train travel. He thought everyone should walk everywhere or, if absolutely necessary, take a horse and carriage. Walking was best, he thought, because it enabled the person moving through the country-side really to see it and appreciate it. Traveling by train, he said, "is not travelling at all; it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel."
I've been feeling an awful lot like a parcel lately, zipping around from one busy task to the next, without taking the time to savor any of them. I have a few short-term deadlines I cannot change, but I am making a resolution for myself that come August, when all those deadlines are past, I am going to stop and get off the train for a while. Really look at the world around me. Make a new schedule and plan that has real time in it for being slow and purposeful.
Perhaps, somewhere in my near future, I should consider finally making that trip to Paris.
Monday, July 6, 2009
What says summertime better than an ice cream cake? I'm pretty sure I don't know. I got a crazy hare to try making ice cream cakes after I saw a Food Network special on ice cream desserts. (Yes, this channel is Son's new favorite TV addiction. Somehow, it doesn't feel like he's rotting his brain cells when he's watching chefs whip up fancy sauces. I don't know why.) Anyway, I went a little nuts for my sister's 4th of July party this year and made two ice cream cakes.
I'm here to tell you that it's not as difficult as you might think. Also that you can make it much easier if you learn from my mistakes. If you want to impress the heck out of friends and family at your next dinner party, here's all you need to know to whip up an ice cream cake.
1. Start with a good, buttery cake recipe. The pound cake I made, which contains six eggs, 1 cup of sour cream, and two sticks of butter, tasted fantastic when frozen. The chocolate cake I made, which is always very good at room temperature, was not chocolaty enough for my taste when frozen, and I think it's because it's not nearly as rich as the pound cake. I would think that a decadent brownie mix might be a better choice for a chocolate cake layer.
2. Freeze the cake layers separately, once you've removed them from the pan. Then freeze the ice cream on top of the cake layers. There are two ways to do this. You can buy ice cream at the store, soften it slightly, and then press it on top of the frozen cake layers, stacking cake and ice cream alternately, and then freeze the entire thing (which is what I did for the pound cake and raspberry sherbet above). Or you can make homemade ice cream, churn it, and then freeze it on top of the cake layers.
For my chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream, I turned the cake layers out of the pan and froze them, and then I made homemade ice cream and froze it in the layer pans. I thought I was being clever, but none of the layers of ice cream or cake were perfectly flat, so they were hard to assemble. Next time, here's what I'd do:
Bake the cake layers in spring-form pans (the kind you use for cheese cake). Turn the cake out, and freeze those layers (no need to wrap them up yet). Once they're frozen and the cake pans are clean, put the cake back in the spring forms (it should only come halfway up the side of the pan), and then put the freshly-churned ice cream on top. Smooth top of ice cream as flat as you can. Freeze. This way, you can just unmold from the spring forms, and have two nicely melded halves to stack up.
3. Don't be afraid to be creative with the icing. On one cake, I used Cool Whip, which spreads easily and freezes beautifully. On the other cake, I used freshly-churned vanilla ice cream. It was very cold work spreading this on, and I had to work fast before the churned stuff melted (best to do this on a well-frozen cake), but it looked pretty good, if you like that casual home-made-icing-swirled-on look. Neither was completely smooth like fondant or professional icing would be, but both tasted great.
4. Have a plan for transport: meat is your friend. My sister lives half an hour from me. I took a small square cooler, and I put a container of frozen short ribs on the bottom of it. Then I lined the sides with packages of frozen bratwurst and stir-fry steak before placing the cake (wrapped lightly in wax paper) in the center. All those slabs of frozen meat kept the cake nice and cold for the journey, and we didn't suffer any tragic melting incidents. We did pop it straight into the freezer to firm up before serving.
5. Make more than you think you need. There were thirteen of us. We ate half of one cake and three-quarters of the other. Each cake contained nearly three quarts of ice cream, as well as a standard 8" layer cake recipe of batter. If I weren't so busy licking the leftovers off my fingers right now, I'd do the math to figure out how insanely much dessert we each consumed on the 4th. Suffice to say, people can eat a lot of this stuff when they're outside and being social.
It just goes down easy when you're fresh from the swimming pool.
Let them eat cake!
* * * * *
Need some time to make ice cream cakes? Here's how I bought myself a little time to get some cooking done.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
...or at least in my garage.
Can anyone explain to me how it's possible for one very small dead thing to produce such a very large dead odor? I don't know what thing is dead, but I do know that it about makes it impossible to go into the garage without fainting. I also know that we've looked for it almost endlessly and can't find it -- which must mean it's very small, like a mouse, perhaps? So small it's practically invisible. And yet, oh my goodness, the smell alone is practically visible.
This happened once before, in even more mysterious circumstances, where something smelled horrendous in our mudroom. It got a bit better as you went towards the garage, and it was worse when standing in the doorway between mudroom and laundry room. It was not in or under the shoe rack. Truly, the smell was worst in a completely open doorway where absolutely nothing could be hiding. The smell, though awful, only lasted a few days, and then it completely disappeared.
Could it be ghost mice? I feel like this is a problem that could be accurately solved by Scooby and the Gang, and I'm sure the real answer is benign (if yukky). But honestly, I'm thinking pirate ghost mice right now. It would explain the sudden onset, sudden disappearance, and lack of any visible signs, don't you think? If only the Mystery Machine were to roll up into our driveway right now. I'll bet then I'd have the answer in no time.