Monday, March 31, 2008

What the?

Peanut, in sudden tears as we're leaving to pick up her sister at the bus stop:

"I feel like nobody likes this hat!"

This is the same hat she's been wearing all winter... a purple knit hat with a pompom and ear flaps that give it a sort of wacky aviator vibe. It's adorable. Maybe I'd even be less eager for warmer weather, if I thought every time she puts it on might be the last time I'll ever see her in it. At any rate I'm certain that nobody's ever said a word against this hat. (Unless... hm. I shall interview that Bean, who might need to be reminded that it was her hat, once upon a little blonde head.)

Rainy and cold today. Come on, spring. Come on.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Who are all the old ladies in the red hats?

The Bean got a last-minute call to play at a friend's house this morning before school, so Peanut and I were out and about earlier than usual. We decided to check out a new cafe that's opened in town. It used to be a bagel shop, which was cool, except that Mr. S. kept getting rocks or something on sesame bagels from there. After more than one time crunching down on something much too hard to be a sesame seed, he decided he couldn't trust bagels from there any more, so I stopped going. I figure it's like the occasional pebble in a bag of beans or lentils, and he just had rotten luck. But it doesn't seem to happen with bagels from BJs, so we get them there now.

ANYhoo, the bagel shop closed, and a chicken restaurant opened in that location. We were underwhelmed, and didn't go. Evidently we weren't the only ones, because eventually it closed too. Driving by today, I saw a sign for the new cafe there, and we gave it a try.

I'm happy enough; we could use a new breakfast place, the menu and prices were fine and the people seem nice. Peanut was bummed that they didn't have crayons. She has a point, as it's easy enough to keep plastic cups of crayons to keep kids busy drawing on their paper place mats before their meals come. Maybe they'll come around to that. Then again, maybe other kids draw on the tables instead, which might discourage me from giving them crayons, if I were in the restaurant business. Anyway, I usually have crayons in the car for this kind of thing, so now we know this is one place to bring them in. In the meantime Peanut carefully constructed and dismantled a tower of coffee creamers, then sorted all the rectangles of jelly into piles according to color and restacked them in their little caddy. Then, from our window booth overlooking the lovely parking lot, we counted cars of different colors.

We became very interested in the diners across the room: a dozen or so old ladies, all in kooky red hats. The hats were everything from patent leather baseball caps to giant felt affairs with satin ribbon and purple feathers. The ladies seemed to be enjoying themselves very much. When some of them stopped near our table to put on their coats and gloves on their way out, I sort of asked them what's the deal. "We are very curious about your beautiful red hats!" I said. Turns out, they are a chapter of the Red Hat Society -- haven't I heard of it? They're older ladies who put on crazy red hats and get together doing whatever any of them wants to do. "See what you have to look forward to!" they told me (" soon as you can ditch junior" they left unspoken).

My favorite bit from their website:
"The spirit of the Red Hat Society forbids rules, per se. There are, however, some common-sense guidelines that we must insist upon:
  • You must be a woman of 50 or over (or you may be a Pink Hatter under 50), and you must attend functions in full regalia, (red hat, purple outfit for women 50 and over, or pink hat and lavender outfit for women under 50)."
Well yes. Common-sense guidelines. Of course.

I'll be eligible in less than 10 years, folks. Given how hard it is to find a hat that both fits and flatters, I don't think it's too soon to start shopping for a red one.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Really? Cause I figured her for an "Obamaton."

This just in: Nancy Reagen is endorsing John McCain.

Shocking, I know.

As one who will vote for the Democratic nominee whoever it turns out to be, it's frustrating that this race is going on so long, while the other team has its leader and is getting all kinds of fundraising, ad- crafting and general preparation done.

Not-death, resurrection, and taxes

"I'm not dead... I'm feeling better... I think I'll go for a walk..."
"You're not fooling anyone, you know."

I am recovering, sort of. Now I just feel like I have a garden-variety cold. Mr. S. has a sore throat but has "decided to fight." He's taking one of every vitamin supplement in the house, and rummaging through the pantry looking for cures. "How about coconut milk, is coconut milk good for a cold?"

Well sure, if it's mixed with crushed ice and pineapple juice and rum, and served in low latitudes. Which is to say, no.

The girls are coughing but not feverish anymore. They need to rest a lot, but forced rest makes 'em cranky. Bean is perkier; she can go to school. Peanut is going to have some serious couch time.

So that's our status.

Easter came and went much the same. None of us was well enough to manage church. Mr. S. colored eggs with the girls on Saturday. Bean was concerned that they might not be feeling well enough for a protracted hunt, so she had him leave the Easter Bunny a note: "Dear Easter Bunny, Please hide the eggs easy. Bean and Peanut are sick." At bedtime she asked him "what does the Easter Bunny look like? Is she like a regular bunny?" Oh! She really does believe there is a bunny that does this stuff. I imagine she will experience some righteous indignation at her eventual enlightenment. Hopefully we can mollify her by letting her keep the Peanut fooled. When Peanut finds out, she's not likely to mind so much.

Also in the spirit of the season, we submitted our tax stuff. Getting it all together occasions a general review of how much we've spent and saved, and whether it's more or less than previous years. Oil and gasoline have eaten up more money despite our stinginess with them. However, we've done better with electricity and some other things. I noticed a huge savings on groceries, accounted for by my shopping less at Stop&Shop and more at Trader Joe's. I'm so glad Trader Joe's came to Cape Cod.

And with that: more chicken soup.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

No flowers in your yard yet?

Grow some on your monitor. Click, or click and drag. S'fun for a minute or two.

I'm still sick. However, the Bean is fine today. The Peanut woke with a fever overnight but is fine today as well. So that's good.

Better me than them, but still. It's really, really getting old.

Here's a Holy Week tidbit: After Bill Richardson endorses Barack Obama, James Carville likens Richardson to Judas, saying “Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic."

I think the Jesus analogy is stretching things a little, no? I know it's got to sting, but damn. Maybe the Clinton folks need to get over themselves.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Still Knocked Flat

I appear to have moved from the sinus headache phase to the really sore throat phase. Still very tired. Aside from standing up just long enough to shower, dress, and feed the girls, I've been unconscious till mid afternoon today, when I woke up feeling still rotten, but somehow more solid, not quite afraid of falling over anymore, and I can think more clearly.

So that's some progress -- just in time to notice the Bean was shivering uncontrollably, which is how I started. Poor Bean. I hope she doesn't get hit as hard. She has taken over my place on the couch, requested Mozart (!) and her stack of library books. I think she'll drift off. The Peanut, as yet unaffected and ever jubilant, has retreated to the playroom where I can hear her singing and playing trains.

I'm so sleepy.

Headline on The Onion page-a-day calendar page that I was using as a bookmark in The Outermost House: "Texas Environmentalists Lobby For Solar-Powered Electric Chair." Hee!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Knocked flat.

Some goddamn virus has been kicking my ass for a couple of days now. Two nights ago I didn't sleep hardly at all for shivering -- I just could not get warm, highly unusual for me. I was shaking, teeth chattering, the whole 9. Next day I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I hung out on the couch groaning and the girls had a "movie day" (Monsters, Inc. We dig it. I do an excellent Roz when I'm feeling myself: "Your stunned silence is very reassuring.")

Last night I was warm enough, but the all-over aching makes it really hard to stay lying down, so again, little sleep. Today: worst. sinus. headache. ever. More hanging out on the couch groaning, hoping my head doesn't explode in front of the children. And now, I'll try to sleep again. I hope I've turned the corner on this thing; I don't want to stay on the couch groaning for another day.


In between groaning and holding my head, I watched Blood Diamond this afternoon. It's a 2006 movie about a Sierra Leone fisherman named Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) whose village is stormed by rebels with machine guns mounted on pickup trucks who shoot and/or mutilate as many people as possible, for no obvious reason except that it's what they do. His wife and girls barely escape. The rebels take Solomon's son for their child army, and they take Solomon to work in diamond mines.

He finds a diamond -- a big one -- and manages to hide it before government forces take over the mine and throw him in jail, where Danny Archer, a diamond smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio) happens to have landed in the cell across the hall, and gets wind of it from one of the rebels who suspected Solomon was hiding something. Danny's connections spring them both, and they form an uneasy alliance to get the diamond and Solomon's family back. Danny cares only about the diamond. Solomon cares only about his family.

American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelley) cares about bringing the story of conflict diamonds to the world. In exchange for solid information from Danny, she helps them get where they need to go.

Along the way, an awful lot of people are shot and maimed. We see what's happening to Solomon's boy as he's brought into the rebel army, and it's just horrifying. This is not an easy movie. I think it was a good movie (allowing for some typical Hollywood oversimplification -- the "issue-tainment" factor), but I hated the things I saw. Just so violent, and with the news out of that part of the world not so far off from the fiction -- well. Upsetting.

How's this for complete contrast: I also finally finished Henry Beston's The Outermost House, which he wrote about a year (1926) spent living alone in a cottage on the dunes on the outer beach of Cape Cod. It's the opposite of upsetting.

You can't whip through this book; it takes its time. Beston is a self-described "writer-naturalist." He details the sights, sounds, and smells of his time on Eastham Beach (now called Coast Guard Beach), and his observations of all manner of life there. I have to admit, the bits about birds I sometimes found slow going. But then I'd find myself in a calm and happy place, after a paragraph such as this:
One March evening, just as sundown was fading into night, the whole sky chanced to be overspread with cloud, all save a golden channel in the west between the cloud floor and the earth. It was very still, very peaceful on my solitary dune. The whole earth was dark, dark as a shallow cup lifted to a solemnity of silence and cloud. I heard a familiar sound. Turning toward the marsh, I saw a flock of geese flying over the meadows along the rift of dying, golden light, their great wings beating with a slow and solemn beauty, their musical, bell-like cry filling the lonely levels and the dark. Is there a nobler wild clamour in all the world? I listened to the sound till it died away and the birds had disappeared into darkness, and then heard a quiet sea chiding a little at the turn of tide. Presently, I began to feel a little cold, and returned to the Fo'castle, and threw some fresh wood on the fire.

Lovely. There are lots of passages like that, that just capture a moment so beautifully. In another of my favorites, Beston describes seeing the lights of the nightly Coast Guard beach patrol:
Every night in the year, when darkness has fallen on the Cape and the sombre thunder of ocean is heard in the pitch pines and the moors, lights are to be seen moving along these fifty miles of sand, some going north, some south, twinkles and points of light solitary and mysterious. These lights gleam from the lanterns and electric torches of the coast guardsmen of the Cape walking the night patrols. When the nights are full of wind and rain, loneliness and the thunder of the sea, these lights along the surf have a quality of romance and beauty that is Elizabethan, that is beyond all stain of present time.
So, Cape Cod fans and/or naturalists, give Henry Beston's year in the dunes some of your own time. Well worth it.

Does that idea, of spending a year living by yourself in a tiny cottage in the dunes, appeal to you? I think I could do it, but it would make me a little [more] weird. I like some solitary time, some silence. But a whole year. Hm.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pastors and Politics

Something that strikes me about all the hullabaloo over Barack Obama's (and Mitt Romney's, for that matter) having had to answer for words of his pastor:

How many Catholics, for example, are devoted to their church, and tithe to it, in spite of its substantial flaws and all manner of generally backward stances of its leadership?

Do we suppose that, say, Billy Graham, "spiritual adviser" to U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower to Bush, and an evangelical Christian who accepts the Bible as the infallible word of God, never said anything stupid or bizarre or just plain wrong?

Are we all cool with everything we hear, if we hear it from a pulpit?

Of course not. And Barack Obama, too, can think for himself.

The Jeremiah Wright "issue" is a red herring. Could it still bring Obama down? What a tremendous loss that would be for our country.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Water for Elephants"

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, is the story of Jacob, a young veterinary student who's about to complete his degree and join his father's rural practice when his parents are killed in a car accident. It's 1931; hard times have taken everything his family had, and Jacob is left with nothing. In grief and desperation, he jumps on a moving train. Turns out it's a circus train -- fortunately for Jacob, this circus could use a vet. Unfortunately, it's a second-rate circus run by truly cruel people, and he has to watch his back as well as the animals. Needless to say, he grows up fast.

Jacob tells his story in flashback. He is ninety, now, or ninety-three; he doesn't really know. He's in a nursing home and beginning not to recognize his children and grandchildren. The circus comes to town, and triggers memories that seem more real than the face he sees in the mirror.

This is a really good yarn, and an absorbing, fast read. It's also well-researched. Gruen truly evokes the life of a Depression-era circus behind Jacob's touching story; her characters are vivid and real.

Some in our reading group thought that the ending was overly fanciful; I can see this criticism, but forgave it. Part of the novel's charm, I thought.

Highly recommended!

How 'bout you, read anything good lately?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Oh yeah, St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is a bigger deal around here than some places. One in four people in this part of the world are of Irish descent. That's a lot of Colleens and Kellys, Patricks and Brians.

I don't feel any special attachment to the holiday. We're not even part Irish, the term "boiled dinner" doesn't conjure anything particularly tasty to me, and kelly green isn't my favorite shade. The Bean did put her bright green shirt on today, but had to change because it got dirty before school. Oh well.

However, I am totally on board with this:

Also, thanks to Wikipedia, a few things about St. Patrick's Day are in the you-learn-something-new-every-day category for me. I didn't know that Saint Patrick used the shamrock to help explain the Holy Trinity to pre-Christian Irish folks, and I didn't know that Montserrat, the little Caribbean island with the active volcano, is the only place in the world other than Ireland and parts of Canada to celebrate St. Patrick's Day as a public holiday.

Montserrat, go figure. I wouldn't mind spending St. Patrick's Day down there. Beats the hell out of March in New England.

Anyway here's hoping you had a joyous St. Patrick's Day if that's your thing, and a joyous regular ol' day if it isn't.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Not blogging lately.

Been reading some newsy, politicky blogs. Am accordingly numb and/or depressed. Trying to care, but failing. Must... avoid... talk... radio.

Also: Can only communicate in fragments.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Client 9 from Pouter Space

I haven't heard any speculation as to the identities of clients 1-8, have you?

I wonder if the Spitz was pissed off that he was that far down the list. Given everything I'm hearing about his personality, I have to imagine that the question occurred to him.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

song of the day:

The song in my head all day today has been Nine Inch Nails's Closer.

I like this tune, but with the kiddos around, it's not exactly the kind of thing I'm playing lately. So where it comes from as the latest earworm in my head, who knows.

I must be reading too much news about the not-so-honorable Governor of New York.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Excise tax makes me cranky.

We Massachusetts residents pay a tax every year on each of our cars. Somehow the value of our car is decided, and our town annually sends a bill for the appropriate (ha!) amount of tax thereon. Tax goes down as value goes down. I just wrote a $35 check for the tax on a mid 90s Corolla with almost 300,000 miles on it (which by the way has been a great car. There's arguably nothing at all wrong with it if you don't mind road noise, don't care for air conditioning, don't rely on your gas gauge overmuch, aren't unsettled by an increasingly loud and undiagnosed rumbling noise coming from the rear axle-ish, and-- this just in-- if you carry some extra oil in the trunk just in case. Toyota, hello? I'm ready for my close-up!)

So... we paid tax on the income used to buy the car. We paid sales tax on the price of the car when we bought it. This extra tax is for what, then -- for owning the car? How is that even legal? I own other stuff... but my town doesn't send me, say, mattress excise tax, or kayak excise tax, or air compressor excise tax.

I could see a municipal tax on street parking. This isn't that. I could even see a road use tax -- though collected by whom, I don't know -- based on the weight of your vehicle and the miles you drive. But this excise tax on cars is so completely without defensible rationale, such a baldfaced "because we can -- just try to stop us!" that it offends me more than the many other taxes I pay without whining about 'em.

It's bullshit, is what it is.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I've got a bad feeling about this.

I'm concerned that the process of choosing a Democratic nominee for President is going to get really, really ugly.

It seems the decision will come down to "superdelegates" (who btw should be required to wear capes and tights at the convention, or lose their Super Status) or -- God help us -- courts. That would feel more than a little slimy, and possibly cost the Democrats the election in November.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Winter Fatigue

Yes, it's getting warmer, but it's still cold out. And cold in. I won't bitch and moan about the cold out, because much of the country has had it a lot worse than we have. But the cold in? Perhaps I shall whine a little about that. Indulge me this once.

Mr. S. and I didn't design or build our house. If we had, energy conservation would've been one of our most important parameters. We'd probably have opted to heat with a geothermal heat pump and supplemental wood-fired furnace. Mr. S. loves the idea of supplemental heating with wood; none of its myriad disadvantages will sway his opinion. He is always saying, "now can we get a wood stove?" I just leave a pause in the conversation where "goddammit, NO!" would usually go, and carry on as if I hadn't heard it. Me, I love the idea of drilling a deep hole in the ground and getting energy out of it (and bonus rocks!). The installers would have to shoo me away. (Can I help? Please can I help? Can I just see? Now can I see?)

However, instead of our dream heating systems, we have a spiffy new double-walled oil tank, filled about three times a year at increasingly alarming cost. We have clear plastic stretched over our biggest heat-losing windows, and Mr. S. just designed, built and installed a *perfect* insert for our skylight to prevent heat loss through it (wood stove obsession notwithstanding, he's very useful). Our attic and basement are insulated. Last year the heat was never set over 65 F.

This year, with the heating oil bill significantly up, I have had the daytime heat down to 60 F. However, I'm a little panicked about it. I mean, there's nowhere to go from there. We're truly doing everything we can. 60 F does not make for an overwarm house by any standards. I'm pretty sure the internal temperature of a well-constructed igloo can approach 60 degrees. People who aren't used to it rub their hands together and decline to take off their coats when they come over. Being used to it helps. So does wearing a lot of fleece. But still -- 60 is chilly.

(A parenthetical rant: Were I Queen of the Universe, no public building would ever be heated to more than 65 F or cooled to less than 70 F without specific need (computer rooms, laboratories, etc.). Am I right that the last administration to include aggressive conservation measures as a part of a sane energy policy was Jimmy Carter's? Why are Americans so stupid on this issue?)

So I'm just tired of winter. Tired of having a cold nose and cold hands. I've felt an odd eagerness to run errands in recent weeks; sadly, this is not because there is anyone riveting anywhere I have to go, but because I can crank the heat in the car, and my hands will be truly warm for a short while. I'm tired of getting into a cold bed. Not tired enough to buy or plug in anything to prewarm it, but still. I'm so ready not to have those shivery moments every night.

I've been trying to keep my winter whining to myself, but evidently it isn't just me feeling it. At the bus stop one day last week, the Peanut started kicking piles of stubborn leftover snow into the street and yelling "Go AWAY, snow! We're ready for SUNSHINE! And SPRINGTIME! And FLOWERS! So GO AWAY!"

You tell it, kiddo.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Barack Obama Folded My Laundry

It rocked. He's such a great guy; he didn't even have to, because I love him already.

What did he do for you?

vantage point, cool; Vantage Point, eh

For the past two weekends I've had an afternoon off, and because the weather hasn't been great for beach walking, I've snuck out to a movie on my own. Last week I saw Juno... a first-run, Oscar nominated movie, right before the Oscars... and guess how many people were in the theater? Go on, guess. How many people do you think would hit the midafternoon show on a cold and rainy day?

One, is how many. Just me. Where to sit, where to sit? You have to love Cape Cod in the wintertime. Everything that's great about going to the movies... the big screen, the big sound, the cupholders... and no boors with candy wrappers and/or cell phones and/or chatty companions.

Yesterday I decided to see Vantage Point. Me, and six other people. Gah, I hate a crowd.

Unfortunately the movie was underwhelming. The premise: The POTUS is shot while about to give a speech before an anti-terrorism summit in Spain. We see the same events repeated from the perspectives of eight strangers, including Dennis Quaid as a Secret Service guy, and Sigourney Weaver (looking awful! I mean, wow awful. Which I guess is refreshing in its own way -- it's high time we stopped insisting that every damn person in every damn role in every damn movie is so improbably stunning -- but still took me by surprise) as the director in the cable news trailer.

It could've been more interesting, but there were some gaffes that got in the way. For example, what do Secret Service people wear? Dark suits and sunglasses, right? These dudes are famous for their sunglasses. Well here we are at high noon under the searing Mediterranean sun, and no shades on anyone. A small quibble? Maybe, but this kind of thing distracts me. It's not incidental. I mean, this is an assassination movie, the Secret Service plays kind of a large role -- might as well get it right, hmmm?

OK, so maybe that's minor. But the whole thing came off schlocky.

And the cinematography: There's a looooong car chase, which is cool, except that the camera work was so shaky during the whole ordeal that I'm using the word "ordeal." I started to wonder if people get seasick in movie theaters, and couldn't there have been a better balance struck here between excitement and nausea.


So: eh. Not all bad, but when one of the upsides of a movie is that "at least it isn't too long," maybe there are better things to see.

Or, maybe it's Cape Cod in wintertime.

More things that make me feel old.

My annual ob-gyn checkup now includes a... (fearing tmi? you can quit now)

...rectal exam and a mammogram.

Also, calcium supplements* were recommended.

Yet I still have all the hassle and, let's face it, considerable monthly pain, of being probably fertile. I asked if the words "elective hysterectomy" ever come into play in her office, and she just said, um, no.

OK then. Contraception and calcium.

She's saving the incontinence talk for next year I guess.

*take calcium supplements with Vitamin D for better absorption. And, as with many things, brand name supplements are a waste of money. Generics are the same product, just as effective. Unless you dig those Citracal radio ads, in which case, go ahead and pay for them.