Monday, April 14, 2008

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

A couple of low-level Imperial gunners, in the midst of a space-battle of epic bloodshed and destruction, improbably decided not to shoot down an escape pod devoid of life-signs -- what, were they trying to save ammo? -- allowing two bumbling robots to make it to safety with the information key to saving the entire galaxy, and Star Wars, the Odyssey of the late 20th century began.

I was four, and I was enraptured. Have been ever since. Sleep-overs at my house included a required marathon of Episodes IV-VI. To this day, my best friend insists she's not sure how the saga ends, as she invariably fell asleep during the Jabba the Hutt scenes.

When the movies were re-tooled for re-release, I dutifully went to every one at the theater, then bought the box set. That box set is what Buddy watches now. We also have The Phantom Menace, but unfortunately I can't stomach Episodes II and III enough to justify purchasing them.

Spike TV ran the whole thing in HD over the past two weekends. I DVR'd, so I could give watching the Hayden Christensen episodes another go, but have already deleted them to make more room for our South Park collection. I STILL haven't made it through Revenge of the Sith in one sitting. I'm not even sure it's called "Revenge of the Sith." Is it? I can't even be bothered to go to IMDB to check...

But I'm saving the old ones. For one thing, my copy of The Empire Strikes Back was lost a few years ago in an... incident. Also, HD truly does do justice to the visuals. I didn't have time to sit through them fully over the weekend, when they were on live, but I called up Return of the Jedi this afternoon, mostly because I didn't feel like actually interacting with my children.

Can you BELIEVE it? Maybe you bought the full DVD box set a couple of years ago and they're like this, so you already knew... they've changed it AGAIN! It's a tiny little thing, at the very end of Jedi, where, ten years ago they redacted the perky "Yuppa Yuppa Ya" Ewok celebration song and added in shots of Bespin, Mos Eisley and Coruscant joining in the fun -- complete with a delightful shot of the Emporer's statue being pulled down in a Coruscant square.

Now they've added a shot from Naboo, which is cool, 'cause Naboo is pretty, but they put it in place of the Emporer's statue being pulled down. That irks me a bit, because I liked that shot, and I only like it more now that the Iraqis (consciously? unconsciously? I could probably look it up... nah) copied the move in Baghdad.

Also, I was gearing up to have to explain (again) to Buddy who the old guy was hanging out with Yoda and Obi-Wan in the final scene, but, oop! He wasn't there! It was Hayden Christensen! I was totally weirded out. I have to admit, it gave me a frisson, like, Oooh, the circle is complete, sort of thing, but at the same time, a girl's gotta ask: three times? Old George has gone and changed this movie now, THREE TIMES? How can that be okay? I mean, I'll be the first to say, it's George's movie, he can damn well do what he pleases with it, but... three times?

The truth of the matter is, and I think I've said this before, the thing that sucks for those of us who fell in love with Star Wars before puberty hit is that, no matter how much George tweaks it, we grew up, but the saga never did. I feel that way about The Neverending Story, too.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It takes me awhile, but eventually I get it...

I saw the girl who stopped swimming in the window at Park Road Books and thought to myself, Hey, look! I didn't know Joshilyn had written another book. And then I felt a pang of guilt because I had never actually read Joshilyn's book that I did know about -- gods in Alabama. So I went to the library that afternoon, read it in as much as one sitting as I can manage in these small-child-infested days, and then saw the girl who stopped swimming yesterday at Costco, and just finished it about 10 minutes ago, acknowledgements and all.

I'm making it sound like I know Joshilyn personally, which I don't, but I'm closer to knowing her than any other proper author on the planet, and that's what makes the blogosphere so darned cool. I've always been intrigued by the structure of the network that joins one blogger to the next, so you'll have to bear with my while I play Six Degrees of Separation...

When I started up Mean Teacher, I managed to somehow catch the eye of Jay Allen, then author of The Zero Boss. Jay was a card-carrying blogosphere D-lister, and his periodic links to me brought Mean Teacher whatever tiny little fame it ever enjoyed. Through him I found a host of other friendly and interesting bloggers: Goldie, MIM, Robin, possibly Mande (I can't remember if I got to Mande through Jay)... the list continues. Anyway, Jay was a great one for keeping the sphere alive, spotlighting lesser-knowns, sparking wild conversations, and creating opportunities for all us repressed David Foster Wallaces to get our gab on.

One of his best notions was Blogging for Books, a competition in which he and a guest judge, who was a published author, would put out a topic and invite anyone and everyone to submit blog entries on that topic. The guest judge would determine winners and the prize would be one of their books.

Early on I earned an honorable mention with a musing about my ignorant mistreatment of one of my students. After that, I caught the bug good and participated in "B4B" as often as inspiration would allow. Ultimately real life caught up with Jay and he ran out of whatever steam was necessary for keeping B4B alive. Some point after that, though, Mir at Woulda Coulda Shoulda and Joshilyn Jackson took up the torch. I entered one last time -- resulting in a brief, not-particularly personal correspondence with Joshilyn, who hosted the contest at her site -- and actually got third prize. I made another friend on that foray with Deb Richardson, who did not frequent Jay's site but tried out B4B for the first time through Joshilyn.

All this is to say that it was really cool to read two wonderful novels and know that, in a vague and meandering way, I kind of have met the author and she's a very real person. And it was even cooler to think, when learning that the main character in the girl who stopped swimming made art quilts, Hey, I wonder if Joshilyn got that idea from Deb Richardson, who makes stunning art quilts. And it was even cooler to read the acknowledgements at the end of the novel and see Deb's name there, big as day.

I can't recommend both novels enough. I sucked them down like strawberry milkshakes, got very attached to the characters, and was very bummed when they ended. I will be on the hunt for Joshilyn's third novel, Between, Georgia (and full marks to her for capitalization on that title) probably tomorrow.

I'll also probably get around to reading the novel I won, Confessions of a Super Mom, by Melanie Lynne Hauser and to purchasing and reading Trina's books, because she's been a very nice blog buddy with whom I've had actual lovely conversations, and clearly I'm on a roll here.

Many, many of the blogs that were going strong when I joined the sphere are dead or atrophied now, mine included, but I do hope this wonderful, egalitarian world of the brain doesn't implode (as I tongue-in-cheekly predicted it would in my winning B4B essay) as these kinds of connections are the best of what the internet really has to offer.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

But I still don't believe in Mount Rushmore...

Greetings visitors from planet Diaperswappers! And I have no idea who gave me the props, but they are my new best friend.

Buddy's in the back yard setting up a leprechaun trap. The original notion of such a trap came from his kindergarten class (where a note I found stuffed in the bottom of his backpack two weeks after the fact informed me that he was not allowed to build a leprechaun trap as a result of having done something stupid with scissors).

leprechaun trap, however, is a pure-D Buddy Creation: it's a box with Lego guys set up inside to "look like they're having a fun party." The idea is that the leprechaun, unable to resist the temptations of such a rockin' affair, will be lured into the box, at which point Buddy will slam shut the door and... well... I haven't quite gotten him to think through the next part. I believe gold theft is part of the plan. My question is, what do you feed leprechauns? Whiskey? I don't think we have any...

I will admit that, one sunny afternoon when I wanted to watch Ghosthunters and didn't want to have to spend my next drive to school denying the existence of spectral dead people lining the road, I did tell Buddy that there were elves that lived under the cedar tree and maybe he should go look for them. Though he hasn't yet spotted any, he still seems to believe me.

I remember visiting my mom's Uncle Donald in his cabin in Colorado once. Another random young relative and I build a fort of some sort in the trees. The next day, we found the fort in tatters. Uncle Donald told me soberly that the Artesians had done the dirty deed by dark of night. I believed him and was rather frightened of Artesians (without ever really knowing what they were) from then on.

I also had myself convinced for quite awhile that I was secretly a unicorn.

Buddy's doomed, isn't he?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Aten't dead...

I just finished reading Elegy for Iris, a memoir by literary critic John Bayley about his marriage to novelist Iris Murdoch, and his thoughts on her journey into the neverwhere that is Alzheimer's.

I've never read any of Iris Murdoch's work, but one thing Bayley's rambling, whimsical narrative makes clear is that Iris' was a unique and powerful personality. Now that that personality is completely devoured by the memory-destroying disease, who is the person inside the body of his wife? And where or what is the woman he fell in love with fifty years ago?

It is, despite the light, loving and positive tone, a very disturbing book.

It must be a very good book, in it's odd little way, because it has obliged me to reflect on many things. My grandmother, who was the light of my early childhood, suffered from some form of senile dementia. When I met her for the last time, with a three-month-old Buddy in tow, she did not know me or understand that she was holding her first great-grandson. When she died a few months later, I took comfort in the conviction that, upon arrival to Heaven, God took mercy and restored her memories to her intact, including the ones formed in the end, and that she was rewarded with an understanding that I had come to see her one last time, and that she had met Buddy.

But that is a posthumous comfort, and not available to the friends and family of the living. I can only approach the puzzle of Iris in quick feints, because the whole of the question is terrifying. And also the whole of this question: what if it should happen to me?

Another author, one who's books I have read -- all of them, multiple times -- also has Alzheimer's. Iris Murdoch is an abstract puzzle to me, but Terry Pratchett is a blow much closer to home. Along with Douglas Adams (oh, well) and Neil Gaiman (get in line) he is one of the few authors I've ever wished to meet in person. I certainly have a complete imagined personality ascribed to him: a quite, thoughtful man, with a devilish streak and a secret lust for bad puns. His voice and his values pervade his work, and those books are reliable old friends that I turn to, when, more that anything in the world, I just need a bit of fun.

I imagine that he, like Iris, is very much loved by those who truly do know him. And that the spectre of his disappearance by inches... well, mustn't wallow. In a blog post on the topic, Mr. Pratchett himself quoted his greatest character, Granny Weatherwax, saying: I ATEN'T DEAD. And he would thank folks not to mourn him prematurely.

Meanwhile, in a style that fits my image of him to a tee, he has done something proactive and positive by donating nearly $1,000,000 to the Alzheimer's Research Trust. And a movement has come out to support him and his cause. Click and check out Match it for Pratchett.

I have zero money at the moment, but I can at least envision the purchase of a sharp tee-shirt in my near future. I think thirty bucks to help good people fight a disease that scares the living crap out of me is a smart investment.

While composing this post in my head, it even occurred to me that I could auction off a Feegle, provided anyone would be so louche as to purchase one. If you think that's a good idea, comment and I'll get to work on it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My public needs me...

I know you're being quiet and reserved about it, and I respect your civility, but I can tell that teh innernet is once again crumbling without my participation. I don't actually have a story to tell or an annoying picture to post (what do you have to DO to actually get up on icanhascheezburger? Maui's lolcat wasn't exactly genius, but it could hold it's own, I felt.)

But that's okay, because House is coming back someday and in the meantime, New Amsterdam isn't half bad and I'm all about some American Idol. I just wish Simon and Ryan would have sex or shoot each other already and get it out of the way. The problem with that whole side-drama is that Ryan Seacrest has about three fewer IQ points than an empty Coke bottle and is standing around all smug like he just launched the Killer Zinger From Mars when in reality he was just being...

Lord, need to shut up about that.

Moved four-fifths of a truckload of wood chips this weekend. That's about 12 cubic yards. That's about a drivewayful. How long does that take? Exactly six hours, thank you very much. (He Who Looks Hot in Jeans was at work, he got the other three cubic yards moved today. ) Anyway, guess which body part hurt from this assault of unaccustomed physical activity? And guess who had to sit on said body part all day on Monday? Not pleasant.

Busier than a one-handed paperhanger, to tell the truth. But just wanted to let all my worried fans know:


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

i can has lolcat...

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

I'm not html literate enough to make this fit properly on the page, so click to see my clever caption!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Everything I need to know about life I learned from playing with my Legos...

Buddy's teacher has said, on multiple occasions, that he has a hard time following directions. Especially multi-step directions. I'm willing to believe this.

A few weeks ago, Buddy received several Star Wars Lego sets. One afternoon, he sat down and proceeded to put together a kit with 248 pieces and 29 pages of instructions. My assistance was in the department of "clicking" fiddly bits, not in the department of interpreting directions. He did that all by himself.

And I said to myself: This kid can follow directions.

How could I translate the Lego success to classroom success? I put forth a suggestion to his teacher: if Buddy had picture cards of each step of his directions, as visual cues, and also as elements of his own exercise of assembling the appropriate direction cards in the correct order, we might just have a strategy in place for improving this little deficiency.

She said it was a good idea. Several days later, she sent home a note with a list of directions he needs to work on.

This morning I made the cards, and brought them to school when I joined Buddy for lunch. She said they looked great and they'd give them a try.

This afternoon Buddy gets in the car and I check his backpack for homework and notes (S.O.P.). I find his direction cards in his folder with a note from the teacher saying she is barred, by law, from using the cards in the classroom without testing and documentation that he may use these modifications.

I'm flabbergasted. What's more, I'm a teacher. When I was in the classroom and had a kid who needed to go at it from a different direction, we worked on a strategy that would reach him or her. I know nothing about this law she's citing.

She's a first year teacher, and has all of my sympathy on that note. I'm sure she showed the cards to an experienced teacher, who rattled off this stupid notion, and she bought it hook, line and sinker. Part of my problem here is that I would never have done that, even in my first year. In fact, I was notorious for demanding, "Why the hell not?" Heh, still am.

She gets a little cringe-y around me, 'cause she can smell that I have a temper. What she very well may learn when I walk Bud into class tomorrow morning is that, up until now, I haven't unleashed it on her.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'll be showing at the Guggenheim, just you wait and see...

It's 6:30 in the morning, I have dishes to wash, children to breakfast, dress and load into the car, lunches to make and keys to lose. Sometimes I dress myself too, although there have been a few disastrous near-misses.

One of the hideous curses of my existence is that I am at my most clear-headed and productive of the day for a two hour window that opens roughly 45 minutes after I roll out of bed. The largest swathe of this time is generally wasted on Independence Boulevard, trying to enjoy Bob and Sheri while a tiny voice pipes incessant questions about fairies, the atmosphere, slime, addition, or the size of Spongebob's boat.

But I will not let motherhood and wifeitude smother the passions of my generative soul! The voice inside will not be silent all these years but will leak out onto a medium whose achingly transitory nature stands in stark contrast to the granite permanence that is my genius:

I am referring, of course, to lunchbags.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What I wrote on the fridge this morning * ...

What I found in the fridge this afternoon...

*Because I discovered that, sometime after midnight, my brand new pack of lunch meat had been ripped open, raided, and left open in the deli drawer. No, I don't actually think ferrets did it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My day continues to improve...

Which Discworld Character are you like (with pics)
created with
You scored as Lord Havelock Vetinari

You are Lord Vetinari! Supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork! Cool, calculated, and always in control. You graduated from the assassins guild, but failed a course on stealth and camouflage, because the professor never saw you there (even though you attended every class). You always seem to know what everyone is thinking, and after a conversation with you, people feel that they have just escaped certain death.

Order reasserts itself and the Great A'Tuin swims patiently on...

A few updates, since I've not got any good post ideas...

Maui has turned into an absolute monster since Sam has left us for sunnier windowsills. He was never nice to Grace, but now he's beating her up on an hourly basis. It's interesting to realize how much influence Sam apparently exerted, despite being old, creaky, and half Maui's size.

I've got to head to Michael's in a few minutes to get a stepping-stone kit. I had mentioned this to HWLHiJ as a notion for a headstone for Sam, and didn't think it'd made any sort of impression, but he brought it up yesterday, so I guess a) he was listening and b) he actually thought it was a good idea.


Buddy lost his First Tooth Ever on the ride home from school Wednesday. Fortunately, we had a little friend in the car with us who is a pro at losing teeth and who did a bang-up job of calming him down and explaining the wonders of the Tooth Fairy. The Tooth Fairy part was fun for me, too.


How apoplectic was everybody on the planet who set their DVRs to record House after the Super Bowl, went to bed, and got up on Monday morning to discover that, since the Super Bowl post-game coverage ran 20 minutes over, nobody knows how a whole brand-new episode of House ENDS? Oh my flingin'flangin' God, I know it shot my whole week to hell. Anyway, Fox finally got a clue and is re-running the episode this Friday, so it's good to know the western hemisphere will soon be able to get a decent night's sleep again.

Me? I rooted for the Giants, mostly to irritate HWLHiJ. Talk about satisfying.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Up next: "I like women who are ornamental and give me advantages in social situations..."

In the car this morning, in the midst of a conversation that careened around the topics of foster care, gross anatomy classes and what color the sky really isn't, Buddy commented that his dad was a good friend and that he planned on being friends with him when he was grown up and didn't need to be taken care of anymore.

Feeling reckless I said, "Is your mom a good friend?"

A serious, thoughtful silence emanated from the back seat. Finally, Buddy said, "I like friends who are real suckers and give me toys and candy whenever I want. That's why Daddy is my friend. I don't think you can be my friend."

It's good to know he's gotten such an important philosophy figured out. And now, more than ever, I have to say I'm completely fine with not being Buddy's friend.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This is the other, slightly less depressing thing I did with my weekend...

Ugly little bugger, ain't he?

He's a Nac Mac Feegle. I think he's Big Yan.

I made him out of polymer clay, a hanger, a marshmallow toaster, some cowrie shells, some leather thong, a safety pin and a small plaid shirt that neither of my kids seemed interested in wearing.

Buddy applied the shells.

We're very, very proud.

Monday, January 28, 2008


It was nearly 1 a.m. when I came home from poker night and went into the bedroom to put myself to bed. I heard a low Wroaowwwww and looked to my open closet door, where Sam, our oldest cat, was creeping out. His knees and elbows were splayed, and, even as he inched forward at a glacial pace, he still managed to stagger. Every few seconds, he’d moan again. He made it across the room, to the bathroom door, then hunkered, and wroaolled. I filled up a container with water, which he ignored, got a fuzzy sweater I never planned on wearing again, and wrapped it around him, then lay down on the floor and pet him. He stopped moaning, and started to purr. Finally, convinced he was as comfortable as he was going to be, and that he wasn’t going to die immediately, I told him he was a great kitty, that it was okay if he needed to go, and I went to bed, troubled.

When I first met Sam, nearly ten years ago, he was already an elder statesman in a house improbably full of cats. Between my future husband and his twin brother, their shabby townhouse had five cats, two lizards, a parakeet and, ultimately, a husky. Sam and Little Boy were the oldest, Clyde was the Cat in Charge, and the two females, Jiggy and Void, kept out of the way.

You couldn’t help but like Sam, a sturdy fellow with shiny grey fur and a white nose and socks. He appreciated a companionable pat, without Little Boy’s pushy lap-insinuation. His meow was a manly thing, atonal and loud. And he had a very odd habit, despite having been fixed, of stealing sweaters and having intense relationships with them. Generally in front of the TV when guests were over.

When HWLHiJ and I moved in together, Sam, Jiggy, and Kita the husky came along and failed to team up with Grace, my grey tiger stray. Sam and Jiggy claimed the upstairs of our tiny house, and Grace and Kita took the downstairs. HWLHiJ installed a fleecy kitty window-seat in our bedroom, where Sam would while away sunny afternoons, curled up in a rumbly grey ball.

If HWLHiJ said “Blblblbblbrrrtt!” Sam would often come and head-butt a hand for a scratch. He was a chin-and-ears man. Good cats usually are.

After Buddy was born, we moved to a real house. The move killed Jiggy, riddled with tumors. That was the first time HWLHiJ had lost a pet of his own, and he took it hard. By this time, Jiggy’s littermates, Clyde and Void were already gone, and their father Little Boy went soon after. What those cats had in personality, they lacked in good genes.

Sam and Grace never had much to say to each other, but Sam was a mellow chap, and he never bothered his feather-brained housemate. When Opal, the great Dane, came to live with us a few years later, Sam and Grace both assessed the situation briefly, said “Fuck this,” and moved outside.

HWLHiJ had found Sam as an adolescent kitty, abandoned in an apartment in Chicago during his early days at Loyola. We’ve never been entirely sure how old he was, as a result, but he was definitely retirement age, well into his teens, when he moved outside. He did well, though. Brighter than Grace by a country mile, he avoided scraps with the local strays, and stayed close enough to home to never be bothered by the coyotes that live in the greenbelt. If you needed him, you could generally find him under the enormous hosta that hid our electric meter on the side of the house.

He got a little leaner, his knees were clearly getting arthritic. Periodically he’d get an infection in one eye – easily cleared up with a brief session of half-hearted struggle and the application of eye-drops. He made friends with our Russian neighbors, and was always up for a pat on the head and a bit of conversation. We got Maui, an immense indoor cat with a personality like a football field, and then the Bear came along, and all was well for awhile.

We made Sam and Grace come in this winter, when it started getting bitter cold. We’ve been worrying about Sam for awhile – he hid in our bedroom, peed in the bathtub, and started drinking water way too much.

He was alive Saturday morning, having forsaken the sweater for a space under the edge of the bed. I had to take Kita in to the vet to get her stitches out, so I showed Sam to HWLHiJ. Sam was alive, but not interested in opening his eyes or purring.

We had a conversation and made a decision. HWLHiJ speculated that he might die from the stress of the car ride. I, tasked with the terrible errand, kind of hoped he would. He didn’t, and a gaggle of kids in the waiting room crowded around to pet Kita, our canine fashion model. They asked about Sam, and I told them gently that he was old and sick, and that he’d appreciate being left alone, and they were very nice about it. I was glad they left before we did.

The vet checked him out, probably because she’s supposed to anyway. She told me he weighed seven pounds (a third of his normal weight) and was barely breathing, and that we had definitely made the right decision. She took him away for way too long to put in a catheter for administering the medicine, then came back with him wrapped in a towel. She had a white box with beveled edges. She turned out the exam room lights and flicked on the X-ray lamp, which I thought was corny, but she was trying so hard to make things okay for me that I didn’t say a word.

Kita, already relieved of her tummy staples, lay patiently by the door. I imagine she understood. She was very good.

I held Sam in my lap, he was already limp with a sad sort of exhaustion. The vet pushed the plunger slowly on a hypodermic full of clear pink liquid. As the last of the anesthetic went in, Sam’s nose came down gently on my hand.

We buried him under the electric meter, and I think HWLHiJ is going to be okay. When he told his twin brother about it, the response was, in our minds, exactly the right thing to say:

“So, how are your sweaters taking the news?”

In our house, animals are people, and they add much more than fur, excreta and dander to the fun of our lives. Sam was a fine cat, and he is missed.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

But I didn't have to go racing out to the store to buy bread...

It... er... slushed on Thursday. Big Urban School District (where I work, see) chickened out and canceled school. However, the Catholic schools did not, so I woke Buddy up ("I got good news and bad news, Bud. The good news is, it snowed! Now, as for the bad news..." -- I know, I know, Mother of the Year is in the bag, I can just smell it!) and drove us both into town.

So, things about that which suck: a) Buddy and I didn't get a day off and b) the make-up day for the slush day is the one (1) workday available for the rest of the year where we can do teacher training.

Now, I can understand the notion that less teacher workdays = more days with kids in their seats getting educated, but come on! Secondary teachers are truculent at best when it comes to showing up to workshops on a day when they've got nothing else to do. Now I have to figure out how to get them to come after school (at 2:30! That's practically suppertime, people!) to learn what they need to learn and get the rest of their professional development credits. Not to mention to get a good 'nother couple of hundred books distributed to them. Oy, Eddie Vedder.

The great bread experiment continues. I made up sourdough starter on Friday night for pancakes on Saturday morning. The pancakes were unbelievable (I honestly don't understand why you'd attempt to ingest any other kind). I had plenty of starter left, and there are sourdough bread recipes in The Tassajara Bread Book that call for the exact same starter. So I used it and kneaded it and left it in a nice little ball in a towel-covered bowl, and came back an hour later to a lump. Dunno what happened, but the little yeastie-beasties were not playing. Not so much as a burp.

Not one to waste a good sodden lump of goo, I made flatbread. Which is fine, except... well... it's flat. And I have no idea what to do with it. So I bagged it up and tossed it in the freezer with the idea that, should the Apocalypse come, or possibly Passover, that's one meal taken care of.

Today I attempted focaccia. Now that's the dream: fresh, slightly greasy, pungent focaccia made by my own two hands. And I had sworn to make this weekend's baking theme "More Yeast!" which went well with the focaccia recipe calling for three whole packets of the stuff.

Siiigggghhhh. It's good. It has rosemary in and a little salt on the crust (and the crust is delightfully crispy), but I cut the loaf open, bracing myself for clouds of steam to puff from dime-sized sponge-holes.

Yeah. No holes. No puffs. It doesn't even slice very well, just sort of... crumbles. I'm truly, truly at a loss. Maybe I don't love my yeast enough after all.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

And excuse to write "gobbed with gobbets of gluey ecru crud"...

It's Sunday again. My hair should be washed, my floors should be vacuumed, my laundry should be fluffy, folded, and put away.

Instead, my kitchen is coated with a light dusting of flour (as is myself) except for the parts that are gobbed with gobbets of gluey ecru crud.

I'm learning how to bake bread.

Item the first re: baking bread: it takes a really long time. Hence the horrible abuse of Sundays. Still, a girl's got to get good at something, right? I'm going to get good at bread.

I blame France completely. In France I learned to like all sorts of offensive things, like stinky, squishy cheeses that were probably still alive, fresh fish that came out of the oven looking utterly like a fish, and Jeunet and Claro movies, but the real lesson was in the bread.

So inculcated was I upon arrival with the view that bread should be rectangular and pre-sliced, that I hunted the aisles of Monoprix and came home more than once with what looked like proper bread, but turned out to be cunningly packaged Melba toast.

Eventually I got the hang of things, and learned the special joy that comes of hitting the boulangerie just after the loaves come out of the oven, and being obliged to purchase two because you're walking back to your apartment with this warm weight in your palm and this delicious scent wafting into your nostrils, and you'll find yourself in your kitchen with a small piece of crust and some flaky crumbs on your lower lip. So: one loaf is for dinner, and the other is for the walk home.

My boyfriend at the time and I would make a meal out of a good-sized loaf: bread and Boursin for the hors-d'oeuvres, bread and hard salami and swiss for the entree, and bread and Nutella for dessert.

I love good bread.

Good bread can be found easily enough, even in this cultural desert of a city -- I give full props especially to Nova Bakery, and not just because the lovely Serbian family that owns it employed HWLHiJ as a tutor last year. We used to live practically around the corner from them, but have since decided that some things, even good bread, are not worth so many rats in the walls, and have moved on to more post-Diluvian housing. Sadly, housing is far away from bakery. And it's possible to get a decent loaf at the local Harris Teeter, but sometimes one needs that arm and that leg. Anyway, I decided to learn how to bake bread. It's a craft. One should know a craft.

I'll tell you what: villanelles are easier. Spelling "Diluvian" is easier. Moving back into that rat-infested house on Eastway is easier than baking a good loaf of bread.

HWLHiJ helped matters greatly by purchasing self a very, very, very nice mixer. Alton Brown has this mixer, is all I'm saying. Mom helped further by buying self The Kata... Kala... fuck, I have to go get something... oh my, I was way off... The Tassajara Bread Book. It is considered the Bible for serious bread-makers. Granted, it's written by the granoliest hippie-assed motherfucker I've ever encountered, and he gets a little uncomfortably intimate on the degree to which one should cosset and love one's yeast, but it too has furthered my progress along the path to bread enlightenment.

Because enlightenment, so to speak, is actually the issue. I followed Alton Brown's sourdough bread recipe on my first attempt and got a doorstop. I figured I'd done the kneading all wrong and took a scientific approach on the following two Sundays: the first kneading significantly less, the next kneading significantly more. Two more damn doorstops. Then came the mixer and the book, and last Sunday was my first outing with both.

You know you have an awesome mixer when you turn the dial to "pulse," dough flies all over the kitchen, and all you can think is Wheeeee! Let's do that AGAIN! HWLHiJ actually had to make me go settle down. I still haven't taken that baby past 4 on the dial. I wanna get some egg whites in there and see what that bitch can really do.

Anyway, the attempt turned out a lot better than the previous efforts in the taste department (I still have some in the fridge actually, and it's still soft and muy delicioso) and it wasn't quite doorstop material, but it was still lacking the lovely holes of yeasty steam that I so yearn for. This week was even better (got better flour) but still not the pinnacle of perfection. Next week: more yeast! It's a million-to-one chance, but it just might work!

Honestly, I don't care. Half my brain has grown tired of the extra poundage I'm carting around and has sworn off glutens and all beverages except water. Of course the other, shall we say weightier, half of my brain is sucking down an egg-nog latte and saying, bugger that for a game of soldiers, we haven't even mastered ciabatta yet.

In other words, it's the journey, not the destination. Now I have to go get the chisel and start cleaning up the kitchen. And get started on the friggin' laundry.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fiddly bits [not necessarily in order of importance]...

Bought and watched "Stardust." I did not love it to anywhere near the degree that I loved "Beowulf." He Who Looks Hot in Jeans wandered in and watched most of it and didn't hate it anywhere near to the degree that he hated Beowulf.

Stardust, while not my favorite of the Gaiman oeuvre, is a novel that works (and may be a graphic novel that works as well, I'm waiting for an order of "fer funzies" books I did at work to come in and I included the original version in said order, as well as Coraline and The Wee Free Men and Dave Barry Slept Here and a "Get Fuzzy" anthology and 65 similar items because I am JUST THAT AWESOME) but the changes made to the script made no sense to me. It wasn't that complicated of a story line, and I think the changes were made in the interest of Cinematic Simplification -- not, in and of itself, a Bad Thing -- but I didn't see how they simplified.

The actors were excellent choices (well, actually, I'd say DeNiro was a strategically wise choice, and leave that one there) and the imagery was good -- where the story line coincided with the actual novel I was completely satisfied -- but it was a mere confection to Beowulf's meal.


My Grandfather, who just turned, I think, 99, is on the downswing. He went into the hospital right before Christmas with congestive heart failure and, dammit, his heart was the one part of his body (other than his mind) that was still working. Not so much anymore, and this has exacerbated other problems that were once merely intolerable but now are turning deadly. He's always been a robust, active man, and for him to linger in an invalid state much longer is not the best solution. So...


Our Main Dog, a Siberian Husky of somewhat advanced years (she is a Lady, so I will not specify), was having a very odd heat cycle, not at all how it normally goes. I called the vet and described the issues, and was pretty much allowed an appointment on suffrance, despite my being very, very silly. Of course, when the doctor looked at her, he sent her off immediately for emergency surgery. Turns out she could have dropped dead at any time while we stood around with our head on one side wondering if we should be worried about these symptoms.

We are now $1200 poorer (and this on top of breast cancer surgery for her a little over a month ago, which wasn't cheap either) but very glad that our dog is not dead. Mom was kind enough to point out that this kind of expenditure "... is a sad example of why having five animals (and two kids) is not such a good idea. " Her dad is dying, so I will give her a pass. This time. I love how the grandchildren are added as an afterthought.


Today Buddy did every mom's favorite trick of stopping in the middle of the Bi-Lo parking lot and crouching down over a puddle in the middle of the traffic lane.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?!!!" I screeched, a' la June Cleaver.

"I was baptizing my coins," he replied.


I got Legends II in hardback for $4.95 from the local used book store. Like finding a diamond ring in the dollar bin, if you ask me. I'm not even halfway through, but George R. R. Martin's "The Sworn Sword" was already worth every penny. Terry Pratchett's contribution to the original Legends, "The Sea and Little Fishes" is the entire reason that I now own (but two) every Discworld book ever written, and is also one of my Favorite Short Stories EVER in its own right.

Speaking of Martin, if you are a fan and haven't dropped by his site lately, he has updated his "Ice and Fire Update" (think: next year's Christmas present) and added a new chapter to the "Ice and Fire Sample."