Archive for July, 2011


Camp: Week 2

Various observances and overheard conversations:

88˚ and 81% humidity is just too too.

No matter how much you like it, or how many ways they make it, a person can only eat hummus so many days in a row. (The same can not be said about coffee or chocolate.)

Anything cooked over a campfire tastes better. Okay, maybe not a cake, but you know what I mean.

You will only see something like this at camp:


Overheard outside the dance building:

Junior girl 1: “I’m really worried about my hair.”
Junior girl 2: “Your hair’s awesome!
Junior girl 3: “I wouldn’t say awesome, but it looks fine.”

Which girl are you? I’d be 1, wanting validation, and 2, wanting to be encouraging, thinking maybe I should be 3 and not allow 1 to go through life misapprehending her actual appearance.


There is something wrong with boys of a certain age.

For example:

Heard in the piano building, Intermediate camper, boy: “It’s a known fact that everyone is secretly in love with the smell of their own farts.”

Four boys are walking across camp this morning. One bends over, picks up a wood chip and drops it through the hole in the drainage tile. The other three stop to watch. “Heh, heh, heh.”

Three 12-year olds are rehearsing the scherzo movement of Schubert’s Piano Trio in B-flat. (I know, right?)  The pianist (girl) and violinist (girl) are poised, arms ready for the downbeat. The cellist, (boy), is leaning, elbows on knees, poking a bug caught in a spider web dangling from the piano’s leg. “What IS that?”


What does it mean?


This morning’s conversation:

Forgetting to put peanuts in the Pad Thai –> Forgetting to put the stuffing overflow into the oven for Thanksgiving dinner –> if the point of stuffing is to stuff the turkey why do we make so much and should we be eating less? –> the French Canadians make stuffing with a grain rather than bread and chopped turkey liver –> is it a good idea to eat the organ that is responsible for removing toxins from the body, and wouldn’t it be just like taking the fuel filter out of your car and eating that.

All before the first cup of coffee.



the weirdness of facebook

I posted about this just the other day, but now it’s getting even weirder.

My dentist wants me to “like” him on facebook.

I guess I could look at it as a member of a misunderstood and unappreciated profession trying to redeem himself — “I’m likable, really I am!” — as no one really seems to like to go to the dentist, myself included. And even if I liked him, (which I don’t, really, I barely know him), does that mean I have to “like” him?

(In a barely related story, I actually think dentistry is quite possibly one of the most ingenious scams ever visited upon mankind, as a dentist can tell you, for example, that your child has “suspicious” areas on his or her teeth which really should be tended to, as the dentist points at ambiguous gray spots on your child’s Xrays that look an awful lot like a lot of other spots on other of your child’s teeth on the Xrays, and you nod sagely [the emperor has no clothes] and agree because god forbid you look stupid or be an inadequate parent and cynically refuse to take care of your child’s teeth.

I also think that dental insurance has been the one of the worst things that could happen to the average consumer — have any of you been given a reduced rate for procedures because you don’t have insurance? They try to spin this as aren’t-they-considerate-they-are-giving-you-a-break, but it seems to be more like stores that mark their goods up 25% and then have a 15% off sale. Some insurance companies are countering the possibility that they’re being scammed by limiting what they’re willing to pay for a given procedure, but the last two dentists I’ve dealt with merely passed the excess on to me.)


What I really see it as, (remember what “it” was?), is a perversion of what most of us understand to be facebook’s “mission,”* and a descent into rampant and shameless self-promotion/advertising. You know how most people can’t stand to watch network TV anymore, because for every 19.3 minutes of “entertainment” (and I’m using that term loosely, considering the state of 99.99999% of what’s on television) you have to slog through 11.7 minutes of commercials? Pretty soon we won’t be able to check what our barely-acquaintances are eating for dinner without paging through 3 pages of status updates from our dentists, acupuncturists, internists, and the postman.

Do you think, if I do “like” them on facebook, they’ll at least stop scamming/overcharging me?

*Have any of you actually seen facebook’s mission statement? Maybe I’m missing the point entirely, and it was just to make a boatload of money, in which case it’s not a perversion at all.


Another of LIfe’s Persistent Questions

In the car, Sunday.
Daughter: Mom, who invented the oval?

Does it say somewhere in the How to Be a Child handbook that he or she must ask lots of questions, and it’s important that some of the questions don’t have answers?

Or maybe one of you out there know.

Did someone invent the oval?

Inquiring minds want to know.


First Week of Summer Camp

(This was written yesterday, Wednesday, but not posted until today, Thursday, because I don’t have internet access at “home.”)

Left home on Sunday for three weeks of teaching at an arts camp in northern Michigan.

Sunday was a very hot day, and since we were moving all of our stuff up in two small Toyota cars, had to make discretionary decisions regarding what to bring, such as: decent pots and pans, and bedding, or an air conditioner. Being the foodies that we are, and the fact that we don’t really enjoy sleeping on bare mattresses (not that we know this for a fact, as we never have done so, it is not hard to imagine the unpleasantness), we left the air conditioner at home.

I am now seriously questioning that decision, as this week coincides with one of the hottest weeks on record, with today’s temperatures very near 100˚ and humidity around 74%.  I like to say, on days like these, that there’s no air in the air. Luckily I got to spend much of my day in air-conditioned buildings, but I’m still exhausted; every venture outside feels like a kick in the chest. How do people in equatorial climates and without air conditioning actually get anything done?  (Seriously, how? This is not a rhetorical question, I really want to know.)

Yesterday was Day One of camp, a.k.a “Can You Find the Missing Camper? Day” I put a lot of miles on my tired, hot, socked* feet trying to track down poor hapless early adolescents. I was 2 for 3. (Be reassured, the 3rd one was never here, which would have been good to know yesterday, when they were telling us that he was, but nobody knew where. )


A friend and colleague rescued a foreign girl, lost, near tears, and escorted her around with a gentle hand on her shoulder.

Another young girl – 12? 13? carried a bass down the sidewalk that was at least a foot taller than she was. Why would anyone play an instrument bigger than he or she was? Oh, hmmm, right.

We were awakened the other night by an approaching storm, and then laid in bed while we experienced what felt like the apocalypse. I have never seen that much lightning. Apparently there are 1,000 storms over the planet earth at any given moment, but Saturn has only had 6 in recordable history, the last of which was last week, and all of which have encompassed the entire planet. Saturn is at least 9 times the size of the earth. That’s a lot of lightning.

This afternoon I put Only Daughter in the bathtub with water as cool as we could get it from the tap (not that cool, unfortunately), and two trays of ice cubes. I told her I was making a H_________ cocktail; needing only either a maraschino cherry or an olive.

Turned pages for a friend’s performance tonight, and then we snuck backstage to sit behind the curtain, with our backs to the air-conditioning vent, listening to the rest of the concert. The stage lights made a beautiful scalloped shadow of the curtain hem along the floor, and listening to performers we couldn’t see contributed to actually listening, rather than listening while actually mostly watching. There was a premiere of a piece by a composer who teaches here in the summer. One of the few contemporary composers who doesn’t seem to be writing absolute crap, but music with melody, and color, and actual development of musical ideas. It was evocative, lovely.

Then this soprano, this wonderful soprano.

Please allow me to digress, briefly.

One of the requirements of this particular camp, as of many, is that faculty and students wear a uniform. One of the requirements of our uniform is that our shirts be tucked in. I don’t tuck in my shirt. I’d like to lose 10 lbs., maybe 15, and I don’t tuck in my shirt. I don’t tuck in my shirt at home, and I’m not going to tuck it in here. I don’t like my little tummy to show, and that’s that.

This soprano is at least 50 lbs overweight, probably more. She is beautiful, and blond, and can sing like no one I’ve ever heard before, and she stood on stage with her shirt tucked in, surrounded by 8 “violincelli,” and sang beautiful Spanish music in a beautifully Spanish way. (If you don’t know what that means, it means she flirted shamelessly at the appropriate times, and had a helluva good time doing it.)

I want to be her when I grow up.

Including not caring that I have a tummy, caring so little that I tuck in my shirt when I’m supposed to, and flirt shamelessly with 300 people at once, tossing my head and sending my beautiful voice ringing to the rafters. And having a helluva good time doing it.

Yeah, I definitely want to be her when I grow up.

Oh, and it’s so hot that I’ve made yogurt by heating a quart of milk, letting it cool, adding 2 tablespoons of yogurt, and LETTING IT SIT ON MY COUNTER. This is cool as far as science experiments go. Nevertheless, I still haven’t decided if I will actually eat it.

And it’s so hot that Only Daughter and I were recently commenting on the fact that things really seemed to have cooled down, and when I checked the temperature on my iPhone it was 90˚. I’m not kidding; this was cooler. And it was 9:40 p.m.

Oh, and I have poison ivy. On both arms. The rash doesn’t like the heat. I look like I have impetigo. Or leprosy. Or something really disgusting and really contagious. As I was passing chamber music parts around to my two groups today I noticed some of the students recoiling from my arm as it passed in their vicinity. This was not mentioned in the Blood-Borne-Pathogens movie nor in the How to Cough/Sneeze Properly video.  A colleague sat next to me at a faculty meeting yesterday and pretended to scratch his arms. But he played beautifully tonight, so I’ve decided not to steal a spark plug out of his car or replace the water in his ice cube trays with vodka. I am, however, open to less destructive but equally entertaining suggestions which may or may not include planting poison ivy around his cabin. (I wouldn’t do that, he has innocent children to be spared, although his youngest son threw dirt at me at lunch.) And the rash has spread to my left, well, hmmm, ribcage area. This is an awkward place to scratch. And anyone who tells you that poison ivy doesn’t “spread,” that you can only get it from the plants is LYING TO YOUR FACE AND DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED. No poison ivy plants touched my left, umm, ribcage, and yet, there it is.

Crap. I’ve gone over 600 words again. Sorry.

*Socks are part of the uniform requirement. Wearing socks in the summer offends me on every level. And yet.


The joys of contact dermatitits

Do deer get poison ivy?

Just wondering.

(I was going to post pictures of the rash from my Google images search, but they’re disgusting. Don’t do it. And if you do anyway, you have only yourself to blame; don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I do think it’s interesting that the human species has managed to bring about the extinction of thousands of species of plant and animal, yet we can’t quite figure out what to do about poison ivy.


heard in the car, today; a synopsis

Daughter: “Can I go live with Dad? He has a dog.”

Me: “No.”

Daughter: “Can I go to horse camp? It only costs $500.”

Me. “No.”

Daughter: “Can you quit your job and become a doctor? They make more money than you do and then you could afford horse camp.”

Me. “No.”

Daughter: “Can I have a frog? He can live with my fish.”

Me. “No.”



how do you know when the honeymoon’s over?

Last night Husband and I found ourselves home, alone, for the first time in weeks, and we spent the next two hours, yup, you guessed it, unwrapping marvels of modern engineering and setting them up on the counter. There were no passionate embraces, no shedding of garments, no fevered groping amid piles of cardboard detritus and bubble wrap.

Why, you ask? Is this an indication of a loss of passion? Are the flames of love dwindling? Have we grown tired of each other, bored, listless about what was once, not all that long ago, the driving force of our existence?

Well no, not really; at least I don’t think so.

Rather, the phenomenon can be explained by this single act:

Husband just bought a new espresso machine and coffee grinder.








They are very nice, and very pretty, and very intimidating, and I hope I don’t set the darn things on fire or run the boiler dry accidentally or forget to temperature surf before making my next shots of espresso. (Don’t ask.) (Okay, if you must know):

(Who knew?)

ANYWAY, these “marvels of modern engineering” (I was corrected, firmly, a couple days ago after calling them “contraptions”) came via FedEx yesterday. This was a relief, as the monitoring of the check-in points along the shipping route and the logistics of making sure someone would be home at the pivotal moment was taking up most of our free time.

They are, according to Husband, the best machines available at a comparably reasonable price, with 237 grinding options (I’m not making this up) available on the Baratza Vario grinder and solid stainless steel construction plus some other features I don’t understand well enough to list here on the Rancilio Silvia (we will call her Silvia for short) espresso maker.  (Husband actually launched into a long explanation last night, but all I heard was “Wuh wah wah waaah” like when the teacher talks on Charlie Brown.)

Last night, after the lesson on tamping pressure using a glass and the bathroom scale (I still don’t tamp hard enough, as my espresso comes out in under 15 seconds, and we’re aiming for a leisurely 25), and my ignored Dance of the Seven Veils, I fell asleep while Husband read the instruction manual.

He did wake me at 7:15 this morning. . .

with an expertly foamed cappuccino, followed by a lesson on appropriate grinding (!), brewing, and foaming technique.


He is very cute when he’s all professorial, and it was important that I learn how to run the MoME while home without him here as my barista.

I’m now working on my 5th and 6th shots of espresso, this time with milk that I actually foamed (last time it just got really really hot.)

I’m very proud.

I think they send the 2 lbs of coffee for “free” because they know you’ll use up one of them on Day 1 just practicing. Maybe they should include some tranquilizers to counter the effect of AlL tHaT cAfFeInE!!!!


Will You Be My friend?

When I take my daughter out to places like the beach, the pool, the zoo, and there are any other children girls there approximately her age, she’ll hang out around the perimeter, play a little, look at them again, play a little closer, etc., until she finally gets up the courage to go and ask if they want to play with her. Sometimes names are exchanged right away, sometimes later, but, almost always, they become her “friend,” just for that little while of shared experience and entertainment.

I envy her her ease and confidence while hoping that it persists in the face of the disappointments and frustrations of school friendships and cliques.

When I logged in to facebook yesterday, where I have 135 carefully chosen friends, (meaning people I actually know and care to have a conversation with, and who survived a recent “pruning”) I noticed that I had, as usual, some friend “suggestions.” And, as I do every few months or so, I decided to click on the link and see who facebook thought I wanted to be friends with.

There are, currently, 1,860 people facebook is suggesting I might want to be “friends” with. And the most frustrating thing is, I believe I have to delete them individually.

Without going through the laborious task of doing an actual count, I’m going to make some estimates.

92% of them I don’t know at all.

5% I know but don’t really want to know what they’re going to eat today or where they are on vacation or how many laps their child swam at swim practice or which political party they are a member of.

The other 3% would be downright weird to be “friends” with, including my former husband, my husband’s former wife’s new husband, and the woman who made darn sure I wouldn’t be interviewed for the permanent position I had been filling for two years already, contracted by her.

Now I understand that the algorithm is a simple one — if you’re “friends” with this person, there’s a chance you might want to be “friends” with their “friends,” and every once in a while someone does pop up who I had kind of forgotten about and would like to catch up with, like, say an old college roommate. (Although it has happened more than once that, once I do “reconnect,” I remember why we had lost touch with each other in the first place.) I’m not really blaming facebook for this; the algorithm has to function and the network has to grow somehow, and many people see the number in their “friends” column as some kind of indicator of their social viability.

It does make me ponder the nature of friendship itself.

An article from NPR on July 12 points out that sociologists have determined that most people can’t actually keep track of more than 150 people at once, and can facially recognize no more than 1,500. These numbers actually seem a little high, but maybe that’s because I have ADD some kind of name recall/facial recognition disorder which sometimes prevents me from remembering the name of a student I had in a 15-week class the previous semester.

I am currently following Jeff Nunokawa on facebook, a professor at Princeton who writes a short daily contemplation on a quote from literature, and who I discovered from a mention in a New Yorker article. I like his page, and his contemplations, very much, but wonder if his work is better suited to a blog. Plus facebook is going to cut him off at 5,000 friends, and he’s already at 3,991, so someone someday soon is going to be disappointed.

We also read warnings, and rebuttals of warnings, about children under the age of 13 using social networking sites like facebook.

Only Daughter wants three things right now, and keep in mind that she’s 10: 1) a cell phone, 2) a facebook page, and 3) a boyfriend.


What I want for her is a friend. A real friend. A GIRL friend. Someone she can tell anything to*, with whom she can be completely herself*, who thinks she’s funny and smart and beautiful and strong, and vice versa*. Who is there when she needs her, and accepts her help when she offers it.* Not “friends” who will manipulate her, or use her, or boss her around, or cut her down to make themselves feel better. Who can tell her if her butt actually DOES look big in her pants (fat chance; ha!), if that dress IS too short (if you have to ask, it probably is), if she SHOULD get that pink streak in her hair. I don’t want her bullied, or cyberbullied, texting during class, or sexting, ever, anywhere. But to grow up and have friends like the friends that I am so lucky to have. Who have shared life’s experiences with you, who call you as you reach for the phone to call them, who you can talk to after 6 months and pick up like you just hung up the phone yesterday.

On facebook we post about an interesting article we read, or what we ate for dinner, or what movie we’re going to see, and we post pictures of our kids or our cats or our vacations. But we don’t really talk about anything, because what we talk about depends on who we’re talking to, and there we’re talking to everyone. It’s kind of like trying to be the most popular kid in school, or a popular musician, or a politician. We want everyone to like what they hear, we want everyone to like us, so we can’t really come out and completely be ourselves.

What’s lost, then, in those “relationships”? And what do we lose of ourselves?

I recently read that a blogger who wants to become popular should follow certain guidelines — not be too personal, be consistent (always earnest, say, or always political, or always funny), and not to write more than 600 words because you risk the reader being bored and going somewhere else for quicker, more accessible entertainment (oops; bored yet?).

That’s what facebook, and Twitter, offer. Recently in our city there was a series of tragic, violent acts, committed by a man who was bipolar, not taking his meds, and on cocaine. I tried the next day to read about it, and all I could find through my online news source was a series of twitter-type feeds. Is this the extent of our attention span? And do we have only ourselves to blame?

Roger Ebert posted recently on a bastardization of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The television news is a series of sound bytes that don’t really tell you anything. Our children’s teachers seem to feel that their first job is to be entertaining and their second job is to be fun.

What happened to the idea that the things worth having — skills, abilities, friends — might take work, effort, sustained attention? Instead we’re living in a speed-chess version of relationships, information, thought.

I’m thinking seriously about quitting facebook. I find the illusion of connection often makes me feel more lonely than I would otherwise, and maybe, when I’m just sitting alone in my house, I’d rather be reading a book, or the Sunday Times, or thinking about which friend to call or to invite over for dinner.

(that’s not me)

* Thank you, (you know who you are) — your friendships mean the world to me and I don’t know for sure what I’d do without them. I am so lucky, and can only hope that I’ve repaid you at least in part.


summer in Michigan

Set my alarm for 8 a.m. this morning (I know, right!?!) so we could go pick sweet cherries before the forecast 90˚/90% humidity hit.

When the alarm went off I sputtered “yeah, right,” turned it off, and went back to sleep for an hour. When I woke up at 9 I realized why that was so easy to do; a) we stayed up til 1 a.m. watching My Cousin Vinny (loved it! “Yeah, you blend.” Ha!), and b) the sky was darker at 9 a.m. than it had been at 9 p.m.

Thunder, lightening, wind, rain, for about 7 minutes, and then ebbed away. All smoke no fire, so to speak.

By about 9:30 the weather looked promising, and the radar map indicated that the weather would be clear until at least 12:30, so off Daughter and I went.

We drove 20 minutes through beautiful, lush countryside, hills and valleys and quaint barns with fences and horses grazing and a beautiful stone home with a pillared porch and vibrant flower baskets. (sigh)*

There it was ahead, with a hand-painted sign, B_______________ Orchard’s (why the apostrophe? why?). We pulled into a tiny little parking lot, gazed with bewilderment at a set of porch steps I wouldn’t trust not to collapse under the weight of a small house cat, encountered a youngish scruffy man talking on a cell phone and carrying a vacuum cleaner (?), and went into the barn where a woman who might have been older than God was talking to her sister on her cell phone. Not quite Deliverance, and not even remotely as bizarre as our experience buying grapes to make wine a couple of years ago, but still.

Two buckets, a short walk down a dirt road, and two very slimy mud puddle encounters later, we found the cherry trees. The cherries came off by the handful. I suggested to Daughter that she might want to pick several buckets and set up a stand at the bottom of our driveway, selling them for half what those suckers at the grocery store are paying for imported (from Washington) cherries, and maybe earning enough to pay for college (ha!). She speculated whether it would be money better spent at Justice (?) and on iTunes, but I disagree, considering that the money she spends on iTunes is JustinBieberSelenaGomezKatyPerrycrap. We filled two buckets, ~ seven pounds, in about 20 minutes. Which was a good thing, because around minute 21 the sky started to glower, clouds chased each other across the sky in interesting folded formations, (not unlike the ceiling at Severance Hall, which is pretty in a concert hall and quite intimidating in a cloud), thunder rumbled, the trees started to dance in the wind.

Daughter: “Mom! Look at those clouds!”

Me: “Wow! Let’s get the heck out of Dodge!”

We walked, muddily, back, paid, and headed towards the car as it began to sprinkle. By the time we reached the end of the (very short) driveway it was pouring.

The cherries are delicious. I’m trying to decide if we just want to eat them all or if I should make Cherry Cordial.

Cherry Cordial

Poke 3 c. of sweet cherries with a fork and put them into a quart jar. Cover just over the top of the cherries with brandy. Cover and let sit for one month. Strain liquid from cherries, add another cup of brandy and 1/2 c. sugar.


Poke 3 c. of sweet cherries with a fork and put them into a quart jar. Add 1/2 c. sugar, then fill jar with brandy. Cover and let sit for one month, shaking gently every week or so to distribute the sugar. Strain liquid from cherries after a month.

Store in a bottle with a screw top or a cork-lined stopper.

*I’ve given up on the hanging baskets. Bought these at World Market yesterday instead. They’re made of glass, so I can’t possibly kill them, although I could break them.


sex as the draw

So, I’m on the Weather Channel website, tracking the big storms moving through the midwest while we sit under threatening skies, and my step daughter drives through another cell of storms north of Chicago.

On the right of the page I notice this woman:

with the advertising tag “How to Sleep Through The Night.”

Naturally, I’m curious about what a woman with ginormous breasts has to tell me about this, as, I imagine, any normal person would be.

Here’s the article.

No sign of HER anywhere.

I feel cheated, and ashamed.

In retaliation I’m going to show THEM and not read the article.

So there.




Home Alone

And no, I don’t feel like this

I feel like that a little sometimes when I’m Home With Children (HWC). I haven’t been in this house alone, I think, since April. I try to be a good mom. I try to be a patient mom. I try not to bite my daughter’s head off when she interrupts me for the 47th time to get her the cherry fruit snacks that we’ve hidden from Second Son (a.k.a. the SnackFooderator) or make her some toast or help feed her snake or paint her fingernails or spot her while she practices her walkovers or, well, you get the idea. I worry sometimes that my level of preoccupation is manufactured by my subconscious to mirror the level of my mother’s preoccupation — except she had 8 children, and I only have 3, and only 2 of them live at home, so What’s My Excuse?

Anyway, I’m in my house alone for the first time in almost three months. It feels good. I’m sitting on my (purple) couch in my air conditioned house eating tabbouleh, fresh mozzarela, and sipping delicious coffee. Does it get better than this?

It did, of course, take some kind of divine intervention for this to happen. Planets aligned just right with moons or something.

Stage One:  Second Son is finally working. He had a job lined up in April, they asked him to wait three weeks while they trained their first round of new hires. He waited three weeks, they told him they had hired too many people and didn’t need him. I thought this was really a crappy thing to do, and that they should have at least given him 10 hours a week for a month or six weeks or something to account for the fact that MICHIGAN’S ECONOMY IS IN THE TOILET and he waited through the three most important job hunting weeks for an eighteen year old — the three weeks before all the college kids come home. SO, he started over. Looked for several weeks, got hired in early June to work in the kitchen of a new hotel that was supposed to open on June 20, and which has taken its first bookings yesterday. When he went in last week (finally!) for the scheduled training there wasn’t even a kitchen yet, just a big empty room covered in sawdust. The crew stood around with their hands in their pockets, moved a few 2x4s, the chef bought them lunch and sent them home. So, finally,  Friday they installed shelving, yesterday he worked thirteen (13!!!) hours stocking and learning how to make things like spinach-artichoke dip and risotto (cool! but no, they didn’t get to eat it, and he didn’t bring any home. What’s Wrong With This Picture?). Today he is back for another long day.

Stage Two: Daughter is camping with her dad. There is apparently a pool, a camp store with lots of candy (Daughter: “There’s a camp store! With lots of candy!” Me: “Great! Do you still have all your teeth?”), and two boys, sons of friends of Former Husband, one of whom Daughter likes. I believe she may have told him that she liked him. Such bravery.

She’s ten, and wondering if this is an appropriate wedding dress:

I said no, unless you’re a jellyfish. She also wants to know who my Hollywood Crush* is (not Orange, or Grape, but maybe someone along the lines of that Logan kid who played Percy the Lightning Thief, or godforbidJustinBieber) and if it was okay for her to kiss boys now that she was going into fifth grade. (NO! NONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONO!!!)

Stage Three: Church was cancelled this morning. I’m the pianist, and this never happens. Every Sunday morning I whine about having to get up, and shower, and practice my little Bach pieces or my little Debussy pieces, and then the sermon goes too long, and I don’t get home until noon, whine whine whine. Not today. I was up, and showered, and had practiced all four of my little Bach pieces yesterday, when my phone rang.

Pastor: “Are you playing today?”

Me, in my head: “The time changed again? I thought I already missed that service back in March!” (I have issues.)

Me, out loud: “Yes?”

Pastor: “Take the day off. The power’s out: no elevator, no parking ramp because the door can’t open, no lights, no sound. . .

Me, in my head: “So?”

Pastor: “. . . no air conditioining.

Me, out loud:  “Oh! Now I get it!”

Anyway, there are lots of elderly people, lots of stairs to get to the sanctuary, it’s going to be VERY warm today. I get the day off. Nice. If only I’d known that before I’d gotten out of bed, showered, gotten dressed, put on makeup. But still. Sunday off. Nice.

Stage Four:  Stepson and Husband are playing paintball. I’m not kidding. Husband bought it on Groupon, and the expiration date is fast approaching, and the friends Stepson wanted to invite couldn’t make it, so they’re off playing paintball. It’s supposed to be 90˚ today, and they’re going to run around like commandoes (not to be confused with going commando) and shoot 500 little paint pellets at each other and anyone else who crosses their paths and have a rip-roaring good time.+ I think it would be kind of fun, definitely more fun than laser tag — a form of entertainment that must be one of the most shameless ripoffs known to man, right up there with bottled water, the ever-shrinking boxes of pasta, and the price of a box of tampons.

I digress.

I’m home alone.

Why does this feel so much better than being home with one teenager who sits in a chair and stares at a screen all day? It’s not like they interfere with my productivity, or prevent me from smoking crack or hooking up with strangers or something.

I can’t quite figure it out.

Anyway, I’m either going to go read my book, the Sunday paper, practice the piano, or, if I get restless, get groceries, or drive to World Market to buy important things like bamboo steamers, honey pots, and a large jar to make Limoncino in.


Using a vegetable peeler, cut the yellow part of the peel from 15 lemons, Be careful not to get any of the white pith.

Pour 750 ml of vodka or everclear into a gallon jug.

Add the lemon zest.

Cover and let sit for at least 10 days, up to 40 — the longer, the better. Don’t stir, or fuss with. Just let it sit.

When done waiting, (patience! patience!), mix 4 c. sugar with 5 c. filtered water in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Boil for ~ 7 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Add sugar syrup to the lemon/alcohol mixture. Cover jar, and let rest for another 10-40 days.

Strain the limoncino through cheesecloth to remove the zest. Pour into smaller individual bottles. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.


+Breaking news: Paintball hurts. Husband’s Observation: Every kid who spends hours in front of video games yelling “Boom! Headshot!” should go and get blasted a few times by someone they never see coming. Something to think about.


*Robert Downey Jr., Javier Bardem ( long as he looks like he did in Biutiful and not like he did in No Country For Old Men), George Clooney, and Johnny Depp.



I can’t remember how

it ever made sense

to get up in the morning

of a day

that didn’t have

you in it.



I want to rant about Michelle Bachman and her pandering pledge, or about the ridiculous position of the U.S. government and its inability to recognize that if your budget is in trouble you need to cut spending and raise income, just like the rest of us.

Or maybe about the sputtering economic recovery, the fact that despite our best efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan anti-American sentiment grows, (why? you like the Taliban? you don’t mind that your daughters aren’t allowed to go to school? what?) or that Rupert Murdoch has finally been revealed to be the sneaky, pseudo-journalist skank we always suspected him to be.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn maybe have raped the hotel maid, but she’s a liar and a cheat, so that will be the end of that. And Casey Anthony has been acquitted, despite the fact that her daughter was missing for weeks? months? (the whole thing makes me so nauseous I don’t even have the stomach to research it) and she failed to report it. I might understand not knowing where your toddler is for a minute or two, but beyond that, if you aren’t worried, you’re guilty.

And look at what else I just found. Don’t we live in a wonderful world? Not to mention the man in Grand Rapids who went on a bipolar/cocaine-induced rampage that resulted in him killing two ex-girlfriends, their two children (one of whom was his), one of the girlfriend’s parents, and taking two hostages before killing himself. I’ve already wondered, in a previous blog posting, how he managed to get a gun. My next question is, if you’re this angry/depressed/psychotic, if you must do this, why not turn the gun on yourself first and spare the innocent?

Look at this man, who has just found out that his daughter has been killed. Can you look at that without weeping?

But I’m tired of all this. I know I’ve said this before, and I hate to be Debbie Downer, but enough already?

The Old Testament claims that we were made “in God’s image,” and many of the world’s religious people believe that tragedy and sickness and moral struggles indicate the darkness of our deepest selves, the importance of prayer in controlling our Free Will, an opportunity to do service to the world through acts of redemption and humanitarianism and kindness.

Maybe they’re right, and we’re just not praying hard enough. Or maybe they’re wrong, and there are things we’re supposed to be doing besides feeding our families and putting gas in our cars and complaining about the pants in our closet that don’t fit or how our teenagers stare at screens all day and don’t clean up after themselves.

I think I’m going to go on a news fast. Not sure what I’ll have to blog about. I have teenagers, and pets, work that simultaneously enriches and frustrates me, a husband I love dearly and am grateful for every day. That might be enough.


Wish I Had a River. . .

How much money would you have to make not to worry about money anymore?

How emotionally healthy would you have to be to actually be qualified to bear and raise children?

What country could you live in where hard work, discipline and industriousness were rewarded, but the disadvantaged were nurtured and encouraged?

Where is there a society where no one needs to take drugs to escape reality, or where all recognize the innate worth of everyone else?

Our children are going to graduate from colleges their parents can barely afford with more than tens of thousands of dollars in debt into the worst economy since the 1930s, the government can’t pay its bills and the wealthy won’t pay their share, the Fukushima power plant is no closer to stability than it was months ago, who knows what kind of damage the Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion and spill has done to the Gulf, stupid people still drive ginormous cars that get 9 miles to the gallon, states are under water both literally and figuratively while others deal with drought and children in Africa are starving and going blind from vitamin A deficiencies, Al Qaeda revamps its image by changing its name and North Korea starves its own people and Greece is going broke and America sells its elections and its court to the highest-bidding corporations and I eat too many potato chips and look in the mirror and see old and think that actually qualifies as a problem.

But you’ll be happy to know that the pay for the top American executives is again on the rise — up 23% from 2009!!! and that the Libyan rebels are inching toward Tripoli.

I can’t even just decide to go to bed and get up tomorrow and face another day because it’s all just going to be the same thing. Just the same.

08 River


yeah, right

Here’s “Emily” before using ReJuv’s miracle-working face cream:

And here’s “Emily” after:

If you’re interested, you can click on either picture to get directly to the webpage.

Another benefit of this miracle-working cream, one which is not disclosed on the label, is that it apparently also changes the user’s eye color.

Who knew?


grammar wars: it’s hopeless?

Browsing around online, looking for an agent to talk to regarding a children’s book series I’ve worked on on and off for a few years.

Found one that looked promising, (well, it wasn’t a FedEx Kinko’s copy center or their equivalent,) so clicked on the link to their website.

Here is a direct quote of the testimonial that headlines their website:

I recently contacted D_________ Publishing Company to publish my material entitled “The Memoirs of an Old Country Bishop” and I found them to be very professional and courteous.   The options that they gave me was fair and affordable. Their access to the public through technology is overwhelming.  I highly recommend them to new authors looking to publish their material.

Apparently their services don’t include editing.



to the woman on the beach, with the shovel

I’m sorry, I probably should be minding my own business, and just sit over there on my fraying pink bedsheet reading my book and eating my pull-apart licorice, and perhaps you have a good reason for doing what you’re doing, but I’m wondering if you realize that ALL THAT BEACH GRASS YOU’RE DIGGING UP ACTUALLY HAS A PURPOSE!

It’s not like weeding your flower garden, even if it’s true that the dune grass has sprung up there of its own accord and with no help from you. In fact, it’s an important part of the beach ecosystem and should be left alone. If you’d like to know more, read this. Besides, there’s a good 25′ of un-grassed beach for your four vinyl lounge chairs and your little umbrella. The dune grass keeps this beach you seem to love so much, as evidenced by the leather-like quality and maroon hue of your skin, from blowing away.

And yes, I understand that it’s your personal property and you can do whatever you damn well please on it, but when your beach is eroding and your front lawn has fallen into the lake, please do not come to the taxpayer and ask for money to help restore it.

That’s all.

Have a nice day.


whose rights?

Hundreds of mentally ill people successfully petition the court each year to have their gun rights restored, often after a hearing that lasts less than 5 minutes and which does not always include the judge asking to see written reports from psychiatrists stating that the person has recovered from their mental illness.

Even when it does, the reports might be written by a general practitioner, or a psychiatrist who has just met the petitioner, and has been duped. Often friends and family who can testify to the instability of the petitioner are not questioned. Or the petitioner shows up in court, wearing full camouflage and muttering gibberish to himself, and has his gun rights restored anyway.

Why aren’t these cases being looked at more carefully?

I think the source of some of the problem is that the right to bear arms is a national one, but the regulations relating to the purchase and possession of firearms fall to the states to create and enforce. And states don’t always talk to each other, or mental health facilities don’t share their information with the state or the FBI, or when information is requested from a state or the FBI privacy laws may prevent its disclosure.

Who came up with this system?

And why is it more important to preserve the rights of those with mental illness than is it to preserve the rights of the rest of us not to die a violent death at the hands of someone who may be unable to discern fantasy (i.e. the voices in his head) from reality?

Judge Lookabill “. . .would feel a lot more comfortable if there were more safeguards.” Ya’ think?

There are concerns that this constitutional right must be upheld, and that if people can demonstrate that they have recovered from their mental illness the rest of us don’t have the right to refuse them. But that’s ridiculous. First of all, most mental illnesses seem to be of the chronic sort, and any recovery is more like a remission, and completely dependent on a) the patient staying on their meds and b) no extraneous emotional stresses in the patient’s life. Is the judge going to monitor that somehow? Is the patient going to come back in a few months and say, “Ya’ know, I was feeling pretty good, so I stopped taking my meds, and now I’m unemployed again and my ex-wife won’t let me see my kids because I’m hearing voices of the people that live in the walls of my house, so I think that, given the circumstances, I probably shouldn’t have these weapons available to me right now”?  Somehow I doubt it.

Secondly, I understand that it’s an illness, a disease, so I’m trying to come up with a comparison like a diabetic’s right to eat candy bars or someone in the final stages of lung cancer and their right to continue smoking, but in those cases they are only going to hurt themselves. We’re talking about guns, here. Guns. Guns that they might not only turn on themselves, but guns that are often turned on others: bystanders and coworkers and fellow students and teachers and completely random strangers.

We should be being more careful about this.

The Second Amendment was written right after the revolution, when our ability to become an independent country and write our own constitution and govern ourselves had been challenged and fought for. Any revolutions we want to fight now are supposed to be fought at the ballot box. Is there concern that we might need to fight one again? Maybe the poor and downtrodden, you know, the 90% of the country that holds only 28.5% of the country’s wealth, (are YOU one of the top 10%? I know I’m not) will decide THEY need to take THEIR country back. But somehow I doubt this will happen.


Maybe we should give it back. They took better care of it than we do, and were here first.

Yeah, let’s give it to this guy, he’ll know what to do with it:

(In my quest for the pictures above I ran across this:

Seriously? That’s offensive, reprehensible, irresponsible. Maybe if you want to be taken seriously you should try not to be such a wingnut. Although comparing Obama to Hitler might not interfere with your right to get your gun rights back, the racist implications alone are disturbing, not to mention that Hitler had millions of people killed because of their religious beliefs. So much for that basic right the conservatives are always harping about. And it’s interesting that when I look up Leninism on Wikipedia I find the theory explained that a communist revolution will only occur under a pre-condition of an economically exhausted industrialized nation, so maybe we should keep those gun rights available just in case.)

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent, not unrelated to what happens when I spend any time at all on youtube.

So. . .

. . .what is it about guns, anyway?  Can someone explain to me the fascination? If you’re not a hunter, or in law enforcement or the military (the last two of which, if no one had guns, we would maybe need less of), what’s the attraction? Can someone explain it to me? I know this is going to make it obvious that I’m a girl, as if you couldn’t tell that already, but I JUST DON’T GET IT.


well that’s a relief


My response to Circular Running’s Response to “functional illiteracy”

This blogger recently commented on this post and linked me to this post of his from last August.

Here’s my reply:

I actually remember reading the Atlantic article when it came out, and as an adjunct instructor at a community college (I omitted the for-profit because it seems redundant these days – aren’t all colleges actually FOR profit?) I feel the author’s pain. The difference is my adjunct job is my FIRST job, or tied with the private teaching I do at home at least, and definitely not the apex of the career path I had laid out for myself while in my 20s or even 30s. I also know that this has deterred some of my better students – they see what I’ve accomplished professionally as a performer, and with a Doctorate in my field, and how hard I have to work to make a living, and decide to do something else. I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve always said that if you don’t HAVE to be a musician, you should do something else, but this is certainly not the result I would have said I hoped for if anybody would have asked.

And I agree that what seems to be holding students back is to some degree innate (talent), and possibly to a much greater degree, apathy (the desire for ease). We could address the first point by NOT requiring college educations for certain types of work – packaging for example, or “soil science.”  Here are some examples of academic programs at a typical large American university that seem to me would possibly be better delivered via trade school:

Apparel and Textile Design
Apparel and Textiles
Athletic Training

Construction Management
Crop and Soil Sciences
Food Industry Management
Food Science
General Management
Interior Design

Landscape Architecture
Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism
Professional Writing
Supply Chain Management

While there might be relevance for some of these topics as graduate programs  — somebody has to be doing research into the science of soil, for example, or someone has to have the breadth and depth of knowledge to TRAIN budding dietitians or maybe even aerobics instructors or a golf-course maintenance crew, but is it a good use of time and resources to require the dietitians or aerobics instructors or golf-course maintainers to spend time and money taking two semesters of social science, two semesters of English composition and/or literature, etc. etc.?

But let’s get to the real problem(s).

1.  Students can’t write complete, coherent sentences. Many of them can’t even speak complete, coherent sentences, even if you remove all of the “like”s. Most are unfamiliar with the rudiments of spelling and punctuation, and can’t see why they should have to change that, as they are planning on going into, oh, I don’t know, the police academy, or nursing, and can’t see what writing has to do with anything. (Ummm, duh?) But even if this is something which should be required of all citizens (except for the mentally disadvantaged, of course), is college really the time to be doing it? Shouldn’t this problem be being addressed in their elementary through high school years? Why isn’t it? Maybe we should stop focusing on “creative” writing and spelling things whatever-which-way and actually teach children how to write a sentence first. Or at least sooner. Or at least at all.

2.  Students have spent their elementary, middle, and high school years being patted on the head for showing up, for bringing a pencil, for turning in their work no matter how poorly done. Parents hover, bail them out of difficulty (you forgot your lunch? Your library book? Your homework? I’ll be right there sugar pie), try to get coaches fired for teaching them to behave decently, complain if little Johnny or Susie got the prize or the award or the trophy and their little Jimmy or Sally did not.  The ironic thing is, these acts of support don’t actually help little Jimmy or Sally be any happier when they’re adults, possibly even the opposite. The teacher can’t “criticize” the student because that would make the student feel badly about him/her self, but must couch “critical” terms in “would you like to try it this way?” or “very good, you really tried hard, let’s go ahead and do the next one.” If the teacher really does challenge the student, the student can pay them back by ripping them to shreds on the student evaluation forms, an evaluative tool which has taken on way too much significance in the evaluative process of the teacher by administration.

One of the most powerful and effective experiences I had as a piano student was when I played something for my teacher, and she looked at me with a look of bewilderment, and said, as if she knew I was already in agreement with her, “well, that wasn’t very good, was it?” The compliment of her treating me as capable of identifying that paired with the challenge of making it better was all I needed.

I have very few students I could be that frank with, even if I thought it was exactly what they needed to hear.

3.  College = business. Grant proposal obligations, a slash-and-burn approach to tenure-track positions with replacement by overworked, underpaid, un-benefited adjuncts, coerced residence of undergraduates in dormitories and required overpriced meal plans, raises based on student-as-customer evaluation forms. And while the student is the “customer” who is being catered to, sometimes blatantly so, their needs are not being met. The prominence of the student-as-customer evaluation forms is most disturbing, as it seems to be based on the premise that students know what they need, when most of them really, really don’t.  And the self-esteem-boosting, let’s-pave-the-way-for-you-and-make-it-as-painless-as-possible approach seems to be institutionalized, and not just at community colleges. I actually had a student tell me once, in the midst of a very disrespectful and plaintive email exchange where I was being berated for being too “tough,” that her adviser had recommended she take the class (Music Appreciation), because it would be “easy,” and that she felt ripped off and betrayed when it wasn’t. First of all, it’s not easy, and if it’s being offered as a college class it should NEVER be easy; second of all, what a ridiculous thing for an adviser to be telling a student.

The blurring of the line between student and teacher doesn’t help. There is no ingrained sense of respect, of deferrence. The plaintive email exchange I mentioned in the previous paragraph is an example of that. I would never have even thought much less dared to speak to my professors in any circumstance the way some of my students speak to me, both in person – calling me by my first name, for example – or via email, where I’m addressed as “hey” if addressed at all, written to in txtspk, told that he/she doesn’t like my attitude. If I thought a class was too hard, I might have complained to a colleague, or my roommate, I would never have complained to the teacher. (It was inappropriate then, and it’s inappropriate now, and teachers who cave to complaints about work load or difficulty of material only make it worse. If you as the teacher have thought carefully about what the students need to know and the best way for them to learn it, then the only thing left for you to do is stick to it. If you haven’t, and you don’t, well, then, maybe you shouldn’t be teaching.)

I have a few policies in place now which really seem to have helped draw this line for them.

1. If a student emails me in txtspk, or lacking the rudiments of formal written communication, the student gets this message in reply:

Dear Student:

It is my policy not to reply to emails unless they are written in a formal style. If you would like a response, please reformat your message to include a greeting, complete sentences including appropriate capitalization and punctuation, and a signature.

Thank you.

2. I do not reply to emails sent between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. I state this in my syllabus, and encourage the students to network with their colleagues in case they have emergency questions. I have a life, too. I think it’s good for them to know this.

3. The use, no, the appearance of ANY electronic device — laptop, cell phone, etc. — is expressly forbidden while class is in session, and earns the student a “0” for the day.

4. I graciously refuse friend requests on facebook from any student who is currently attending the college where I teach. I write back: Thank you for your friend request. Unfortunately, I am unable to accept, as it is my policy not to be “Friends” with people who are currently students. Please feel free to follow me on my professional page: ____________________.

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with Circular Running’s statement: In fact, in most cases, you have to pay for the abuse being heaped on you, and sometimes you have to pay a lot. Put simply, the educational process is all about discomfort, both personal and financial, and that’s a good thing because it makes you grow.

I would add, if you don’t want to grow in such a way, save yourself the money and both of us the anguish, and find something else to do.


Notes from Sunday

My good friends and colleagues are off for a month-long trip to and from Alaska, with gigs scheduled hither and yon. They are taking his father with them as their “groupie.” This is an act of either great patience or of extreme foolhardiness.  We shall see. I’m curious as to whether asking “Are we there, yet?” is or is not allowed.

There can’t be a job worse than cleaning out the refrigerator to make room for the haul from the grocery store. I’ve decided that from now on that there will be something urgent that must be attended to for at least the first fifteen minutes after the groceries come home. Husband claims that my needing to be in the bathroom for that long might be suspicious. Other suggestions will be accepted.

Oh, and food should not look like this. It’s too funny. It’s also funny that Husband had to come find me in the grocery store to show me, as if he were still twelve years old. Or maybe it’s not.

Notes from the bike ride:

Just because it says in The Gender Stereotypes Handbook that a) he should be waxing the Camaro and b) she should be tanning in the driveway, it doesn’t mean you have to.

If you’re going to make your kid wear a bike helmet, you should wear one too. The layers of hypocrisy are not lost on him, and are going to cause problems for you later.

Down is way more fun than Up.

If you’re biking around town on a Sunday, and you’re dressed like this:

you look ridiculous. You’re not in the Tour de France, you’re in a little town in the midwest, biking on a bike path, trying not to ride through dog poop and checking for cars coming out of side streets.

Just because you can’t haul your ass up that hill doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your bike.

Notes from the return:

Flatbread and hummus and an ice-cold Rolling Rock tastes really good after a bike ride.

Hard to think of something more entertaining than watching two teenagers try to figure out a) how to, and b) who is going to, clean up the dog puke.

Happy Sunday!

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