Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Food and opera

This entry at The Traveler's Lunchbox made me remember a lot of things about my childhood that had to do with food. Nothing as interesting or odd as corn chip and ketchup sandwiches, but we did have peanut and banana sandwiches, one of my dad's specialties (not fried, like Elvis', though!).

My dad also made Jell-O for us when we were sick, using orange juice for part of the liquid, which makes it kind of a different texture, somehow thicker, almost chewy. My grandmother would make sugar sandwiches for us when we wanted something sweet and she didn't have anything else in the house--white bread, butter, and sugar--brown sugar was the best. I think that's what made me start thinking about the subject, since the first item on that link was "The Sugar Box." At home, in my cabinet, I have a jar that my grandmother kept cocoa in, and I use it for sugar, and think about her every time I get it out.

I remember tea parties that I had with the little girls next door. We had tiny little teacups filled with tap water, and bread and butter to eat (nothing elaborate here, but it obviously made an impression on me). My mother would make "picnics" for us that we would take out in the backyard and eat; I don't really remember what kind of food was in them, but I remember sitting out in the backyard on a blanket and eating. Whatever it was, food always tastes better outside.

Food always tasted best at grandma's house, too. My mother's mother made wonderful fried chicken, I remember that, and the dish I remember most from my father's mother's kitchen was oyster plant casserole at Thanksgiving. A very odd dish, and one that I don't think any of my other siblings would ever try. And something that I've never seen anywhere else, or tried to duplicate. "Oyster plant" is the common name of salsify, a root vegetable. I don't even know whether I could buy it in the store; maybe I should try. These recipes sound good.

My mother always let us choose what she fixed for our birthday dinners, and I always chose Swiss Steak--cubes of presure-cooked beef in a tomato-based sauce over mashed potatoes. And for my birthday cake, Devil's Food with a white icing that was almost like divinity. She would color the icing different colors with food coloring; one memorable year she made a several-layers high cake with different colored icing between each layer.

Which makes me remember my childhood birthday parties. Oh, she went all out for us! We would dress up in our party dresses and invite our friends over, and mom would make the decorations. Flowers made from tissue paper or actual tissues, gathered with wire. She would buy little pipecleaner ornaments, like bumble bees, at the dimestore, and attach them to the flowers. We had the parties down in our basement, and would play pin-the-tail on the donkey and musical chairs. We also had hats that Mom made out of tissue paper. I'll have to see if there are photos of those sometime when I'm home. I know there are home movies.

As for the opera part of the title, well, I don't know anything about, or care for, opera as it is generally thought of. I don't like "show tunes," I can't stand musicals of any type, in fact, I don't like live theater at all, but that's a discussion for another time.

Musicals just seem so contrived to me. When I watch a movie, I want to be able to suspend disbelief, to at least try to believe that the scenes I'm watching could actually be happening. Of course, most real life situations don't come with background music, but they could; more importantly, we usually don't burst into song at the slightest provocation. Well, Bob does . . .

But against all reason, I've become a fan of what I think I've seen called "Popera," that is, opera sung to a rock beat, or modern songs sung in the style of opera. Who would have thought? Certainly not me. First it was Il Divo, and now it's the East Village Opera Company, whose album has become my preferred workout music. I think it's probably just because, by virtue of the fact that it's sung in a language I don't speak, it can become background music, but it's not boring background music.

I really have no idea. I just know that I love it.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Annoying the cats

I seem to be waking up early again, like at 4:30, and lying there awake thinking about all the things I have to do. Then I fall back asleep, only so be so deeply asleep at 6:30 when the alarm goes off that I reach out and hit the snooze button without even realizing it, and do that several times until I finally surface about 7:15 and realize I have to get up if I want to make it to work on time.

Yesterday morning I really didn't want to wake up; then I got to work and my computer wouldn't wake up.

Macs outnumber PCs at my office; four of us are on Macs (me, Cello, Kurt and Dave) and John and Dan are on PC's. And Eugene, but he's offsite currently. But anyway, Cello is the Mac hardware go-to guy, and fortunately he was there yesterday. We spent most of the day working on it -- getting it to come back on, then reinstalling the OS, then frantically backing stuff up in preparation for the next time it won't start up. He thinks the hard drive is going out. Hopefully it won't go out before we get a new one.

Other than that excitement, things are pretty quiet. Bob went to the lake last weekend, so I spent most of the weekend cleaning and doing laundry. I cleaned out my bookcase in the front room and hauled a couple of boxes of books to the basement, and I even started alphabetizing the CDs in the living room, but my legs started hurting from sitting on the floor so long, so I abandoned that somewhere in the "B's."

I tend to go on cleaning sprees when Bob's out of town. I think it's a combination of things. One, it's partially boredom, I guess. And secondly, I don't want him to think I just lazed around all the time he was gone, I want there to be some concrete evidence that I actually did something, although I'm not really sure why. It's not as if he criticizes me for not doing anything. It's probably just mostly a way to fill the time with something productive. And it's always fun to annoy the cats with the vacuum cleaner.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Every day you write the book

I posted this the other day on the weblog, but I think it's important enough to post it here again:

To be quite frank and not only that but possibly boring and repetitive as well, the way you get through the year is you do it one day at a time. One day at a time you get up in the morning and one day at a time you go to bed at night. If you are a person of faith you call on that faith every day. Every day, if there's a prayer that you know, you say it. If your doctor says you're depressed, every day you take your medicine. Every day, if there's a posture that you assume, you assume it. Every day you write the book. Every day you notice the minute shifting of light as the earth quietly surrounds the sun. Every day you take note of the precise quality of the miracle of life. Every day you write down your check numbers. Every day you count your change before leaving the counter. Every day you press the button for your floor.

And never do you let the coming year rise up like a monstrous wave and crush you with unimaginable tedium. Never do you let the dread sink in until you feel cold and dead inside; if you find yourself staring into the abyss you switch seats and think of ice cream.

This is advice from Salon.com's advice columnist, Cary Tennis, in an article entitled Must I have a grand calling in life? Mr. Tennis seems, to me, to have a very down-to-earth outlook, a way of saying what you need to do to get through things, to do what you have to do and get on with your life.

I don't know whether I know myself very well or not; I try to. One thing I've noticed over the past few months is that I can allow myself to spiral downward into depression if I don't catch myself. Sometimes that seems almost seductive. I'm not sure I understand that, but maybe it's kind of a self-indulgent thing, a wish to crawl back into the womb or something, a wanting to curl up under the covers and not come out. It's easy to wallow in misery, to worry, to start thinking about every bad thing, everything that might go wrong, every problem, every stressful event. It's easy for life to turn into 3:00 a.m. 24 hours a day.

I don't think this is a new thing for me, but my recognition of it and my conscious effort to stop the spiral is. When I recognize it happening, I try to stop the thoughts, try to think of something else. Easy to say, not so easy to do, but I try. I try to read things that I enjoy, and that can take me out of myself. I listen to an audio book in the car instead of listening to the news, most days. I feel guilty about that, because at some level I feel that bearing witness is important, but I also realize that I do what I can do -- I send what I can afford to help the relief effort, I donate some canned goods -- and it isn't going to do anyone any good if by immersing myself in other people's misery I become miserable myself.

There is always more that I could do, but I try not to feel guilty about it. I've got enough to feel guilty about.

I light a candle, and I hold a cat, and I listen to some music, and write. I put one foot in front of the other, and I take deep breaths. Every day I write the book.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I thought that Terry Pratchett's new book, Thud, didn't come out until next week, so I was excited to see it available at Audible this morning. I finished Night Watch last week, and have been alternating between NPR and listening to music in the car, because I didn't know what I wanted to listen to next. Or rather, I did know--Thud, or Neil Gaiman's latest, Anansi Boys, which apparently does come out next week (the 20th). I just didn't want to start anything new. So I'll download Thud tonight and burn it onto CD, and can start listening tomorrow morning.

The other possibility was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I have all the previous books on tape, and while I wasn't crazy about this particular book, Jim Dale's narration is so wonderful that I know I'd enjoy listening to it. But my new car doesn't have a tape deck, just a CD player, and the CD's are so expensive! I couldn't decide whether to order it from Amazon, or buy it from iTunes, or wait until I had a Border's coupon, or what. I mentioned it to Bob, and he said that ZBS had it for about the same price. He loves their dramatized stories (I don't), and said if possible, he would like to support them (I think his exact quote was, "they're the last of the hippies"), so I went ahead and ordered it from them last night.

I had to pay shipping, so it would have been cheaper to buy it at iTunes, but it kind of bothered me to buy something so expensive from them when they don't offer an extended download, i.e., you buy it and download it once, and that's the only chance you get. At Audible, everything you buy stays in your library forever and can be downloaded again if you need to. It doesn't worry me spending 99 cents for a song and not having that option, but spending $50 for an audio book does make me think twice.

In any event, I will soon be "spoiled for choice" as the Brits say, with The Half-Blood Prince, Thud, and Anansi Boys in my "to-be-listened-to" pile.

My to-be-read pile grows ever larger, particularly since I haven't been reading much lately. I did check Necklace of Kisses out from the library, and read it over the weekend. It's Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat, all grown up. I had never read any of the Weetzie Bat books--they were after my time--but when I noticed this one, it intrigued me, and I adored it. So I went to the bookstore over the weekend and bought Dangerous Angels, which is all four of the books in one volume.

I'm looking forward very much to reading them, but I haven't started them yet, because I also bought Good Grief, by Lolly Winston, which is what I'm currently reading. It's a book about a young woman whose husband dies, but while of course it has some sad parts, it's basically kind of funny, and very, very good.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Summer, winding down

I can hardly believe it's September already. I feel like I kind of wasted the summer, although it seems like I feel that way every summer.

It's hard to take vacation when you work for such a small company as I do anyway, but this summer I didn't take any time off. We've been incredibly busy, and while it has ebbed and flowed a bit, the past couple of weeks have been busy without any let-up at all.

A friend wrote yesterday and said he hadn't heard much from me, and wondered if everything was okay, and I said yes, I was just busy and tired. I've been working a little later than usual most nights, and by the time I get home and eat something for dinner, it's generally almost time to go to bed.

Also (not that this has anything to do with not writing), I strained my back Tuesday morning, I think, so I haven't been sleeping well (because every time I want to turn over, I wake up fully because it's painful), thus making me even more tired. The restless leg thing hasn't been bothering me too much, unless a pain in the front of my calf is related. I certainly haven't been walking enough to have shin splints . .

Boy, that sounds whiny, doesn't it? I absolutely love my job, and wouldn't want to do anything else, and of course it's better to be busy than not. I'm sure once things settle down a bit (if they do), I'll be longing for the days when I was busy non-stop . . .

Speaking of restless legs, several people wrote with their remedies, folk and otherwise. One woman wrote that she gets up and sleeps on the couch, and another wrote that her mother used to tie a scarf or long sock around her calf. The weirdest one was also one I had heard before -- to put a bar of soap under the sheet. My mother suffers from restless legs and leg cramps much worse than I do, and she had called and laughed about the bar of soap trick, even going so far as to say that the person who told her said that it needed to be a certain kind of soap. Irish Spring, maybe? I can't remember now, because of course it sounds so ludicrous. I'll have to ask her if she tried it. ;)

Bob's away this weekend on a road trip to do some hunting and fishing, so I'm going to try to devote a lot of the weekend to sleeping. I more or less did that last weekend, too, but I figure there's nothing wrong with catching up, if that's what I need to do. I also thought I might rent some movies, which I hardly ever do. Having a couple of movies to watch might allow me to finish my sweater. I'm getting very close to finishing it -- just a couple of dozen rounds, probably on the last sleeve. Then I can start on a sweater for Betsy, Bob's parents' Boston terrier.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005


I've been on a Terry Pratchett kick lately as far as audio book listening. A few years ago I read a few of the more "outlandish" ones -- Carpe Jugulum, which concentrates on the vampires; Hogfather (probably my favorite of all the ones I've read), which deals with the disappearance of the Hogfather (Discworld's version of Santa Claus) and Death's decision to take his place; Soul Music, which talks about a new kind of music, "music with rocks in."

I had never read (or listened to) any of the Watch-specific books in the Discworld series. The Watch is the Discworld police force, and from what little I knew, I thought those books would be mostly humorous, mostly "Keystone Cops" kind of thing, so oI hadn't taken any notice of them. Then I decided to start listening to some of the more recent books, and started with Going Postal, about the revitalization of the Ankh-Morpork post office, which was wonderful, and The Truth, about the origins of the Ankh-Morpork Times newspaper, both of which were more or less "stand-alone" novels about Discworld without many of the more familiar characters, except in peripheral roles.

And then I was basically out of the ones that I thought would be interesting, but tried The Fifth Elephant, which was about Sam Vimes of the City Watch, and it wasn't like I had expected it to be at all. I loved it. It was darker, more like a detective novel then the comedy I had expected, and when I finished it, I wasn't ready to be finished with Sam Vimes, so I bought Night Watch, which I'm listening to now. Night Watch is very dark, and it involves time travel (I've noticed that almost all of the books I consider my favorites involve time travel), and it's wonderful. I'm very much looking forward to the next Discworld book, Thud, which is also about the Watch and Vimes.

I don't really know how to talk about the disaster in New Orleans, and I'm not sure I should even try. It's just too big, and it's not simple. It's so hard to imagine what it would be like to suddenly lose absolutely everything in your life--your home, your job, your possessions, even your family. To go from living a normal life to suddenly becoming a refugee in your own country with nothing but the scraps of clothing that you were wearing, completely dependent on others for shelter, food, everything.

As I read more and more, though, I see that there is more going on than what we see on the nightly news, the crises that are unfolding in the stadiums where most of the refugees were originally located. There are employers who are trying to locate their employees to reassure them that they will continue to be paid, if only they can find them and figure out how to get the money to them. There are numbers to call to start to arrange for unemployment benefits--if only the phones worked, I suppose. There will be insurance, in many cases, although I doubt if most people living in flood-prone New Orleans have flood insurance, but I heard someone say flood insurance is federal, so maybe. I don't know anything about it.

All I know is that as bad as it is, there is hope.

And that no matter what, there will always be people who take advantage of a bad situation. In New Orleans, just like anywhere else that this kind of disaster could happen, there are people who are taking advantage of the absence of societial pressures, and even presence, and taking whatever they can. Breaking into stores not for the things that they need to survive, like food and water and medicine and clothing, but television sets and stereo equipment. Breaking into banks--although in my experience banks don't exactly just leave money lying around, and you can't generally break into a vault with a wooden club--I guess maybe you could steal a computer or two, but it would be a long walk through the water to find someplace where you could plug it in.

One of the worst things I've heard said is that some people feel that anyone who lives in a place like New Orleans deserves what they get, that they should realize the danger and move. It just isn't that simple. I'm sure that the majority of the people who found themselves still in New Orleans when the hurricane hit didn't choose to stay there. They didn't leave because they either had no car, no money, or no place to go. They didn't choose to stay. They had no choice. When you're working in a low-paying job, or probably, more than one job, you don't just pick up and move somewhere else, somewhere away from your family, somewhere away from where you've lived all your life. It just isn't that simple.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005


I've sat down several times to write a journal entry, but it seems like every time I get interrupted, or just can't think of anything to say. I've been incredibly busy at work, working until about 7:30 or later every night this week, and by the time I get home, I'm too worn out to do much more than eat something, check my email, and go to bed.

Last night Bob was gone -- today was the first day of dove season, so he spent the night at John's and they got up early and went hunting this morning. (He called and said all the little doves of peace were safe from them today, though, thank goodness. I hate to be glad when he has a bad day hunting, but I really am.) I find it easier to work late when I know he's not at home waiting for me, so I worked until 7:30, and got home about 8:00.

He had made me a double baked potato for my dinner, with bacon and green onions and cheese (actually, he made me two, and I brought one to work for my lunch today), so I stuck that in the oven, and then started installing Mac OS Tiger. I had installed it earlier in the evening at work, and while it was installing I knit a couple of inches on my sweater sleeve. It went pretty easily, the only problem I had was I didn't realize I needed to accept the username it gave me, and I tried to give myself a new one and ended up not being associated with any of my bookmarks, mail, etc., and had to create a new username that was the same as my old one, then delete the other one. It was a panicky few minutes when I didn't have any of my email, but I solved it easily enough.

Also, I couldn't get on the Airport, and I thought maybe the password had been changed and I hadn't been told, but all was fine this morning, so who knows?

I was glad I had installed it first at work, so it wasn't quite as scary doing it at home. Upgrading the OS always makes me nervous, but I've never had a problem with Macs. Upgrading Windows OS was always terrifying, and I can remember having a LOT of problems with that. I guess those feelings will probably never go away.

The only thing that's really different are the "Widgets," and I haven't really had time to explore that yet, although I'm sure I will soon.

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