Sunday, May 25, 2008

"The Last Gift Of Time"

My book group had an interesting discussion last week of The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn Heilbrun. Not being over sixty myself, and never having heard of Ms. Heilbrun, I wasn't expecting to relate much, but whatever. Most of the rest of the group is in their 60s and beyond, so I was interested in what they had to say. Turns out there was plenty to think about. Last Gift is a collection of essays about some universal themes of women's lives, brought into sharper focus through decades of experience and reflection. However the essays are of uneven quality, and as I found the ones toward the beginning of the book pretentious and dull, it was kind of hard to get into.

Heilbrun begins by saying she'd always planned to commit suicide at seventy, feeling that useful life would probably be best wrapped up at that point. However, reaching seventy, she chose not to do herself in. Thinking of her life thereafter as "borrowed time," each day actively choosing to live on, gave it more power than she might have felt it had otherwise. Fair enough. She goes on to discuss the need for solitude, a theme to which I expected to relate, but to my reading her essay about it came off peevish. She has three adult children and a companionable marriage, a Central Park West apartment and a house in the country. Plenty of space. Yet at sixty-eight, she buys herself another house, to be alone. And at this point I am thinking... yay you, Carolyn. And I mean it -- I think it's great that she had both the self-awareness and the means to create the kind of place that makes her feel most fully realized as a human, and the fortitude to carry it through in her later years. But this was written from such a place of privilege -- luxury, really -- that I'm sorry, but it's dull as dirt. I wouldn't publish my journal, please don't bother me with yours -- especially as I've just come from reading Greg Mortenson's powerful book about his work building schools for impoverished girls in war-torn places. You know, making the world better for people in real need, instead of sitting on one's ass thinking about how it might be made better for oneself.

Eventually I found points to relate to and admire. Heilbrun's essay On Not Wearing Dresses was short and to the point; she relates, with humor and satisfaction, her decision to dispense with ever again wearing dresses and nylons. Her true self, she feels and has always felt, is androgynous. What freedom to declare in one's sixties not to be subject to what society expects you to wear by the accident of your assigned gender. I thought it was terrific - a bright spot among the forgettable pages of introspective muck.

Having since learned more about Carolyn Heilbrun's distinguished career and accomplishments as a writer, critic, professor and feminist, I can judge all the introspection somewhat less harshly. Still, it isn't the kind of thing I most love to read.

Incidentally she did kill herself at 77, leaving a note that said simply, "The journey is over. Love to all. C."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Opening Season

Memorial Day weekend. Though the solstice is weeks away, this is the symbolic start of Cape Cod summer. Route 6 is packed with everyone coming down to Open the House for The Season. BJs was packed with people stocking up this morning. Well, good for you guys. Someday maybe I'll have something to open for the season, but with two college tuitions looming on the financial horizon I kind of doubt it. I also feel that for me, one house is enough of an anchor, though I am delighted that mine is where it is.

(Oh wait, does a shed count? Mr. S. is building us a shed, which I'm sure to be Opening for The Season for the rest of my natural life :).)

It's been an absolutely glorious Spring. Lots of sunshine and cool breezes, and the temps haven't been much above 60 (F), which I think is just perfect. Last week a friend remarked what a warm Spring we've had, and I laughed, because I'd been about to say the opposite. We're both right. Daytime highs haven't been as warm as in past years, but we also haven't had a frost in weeks. It's all good.

So the daffodils are done and the forsythia's faded, but the rhododendrons are rocking and the oak leaves are opening. Which means the caterpillars are crunching. Hopefully we won't be hit too hard by those this year. The past two caterpillar seasons have been like a plague - really revolting. The trees need a break to recover.

This is also the year for the 17-year cicada. I hate them, hate them, hate them. Which is irrational, because they don't bite or sting. They just hang out in trees making a god awful racket, and blunder noisily through the air, clumsy and stupid, banging into everything. Years ago a friend changed my mindset about them a bit by pointing out it's as if they're saying "whoa... how do you fly this thing???...." then, crash. And it does help to see them as ridiculous rather than loathsome, particularly if I happen to be what they're crashing into. But I still hate 'em.

In my brief search for cicada links, the top sites I found were owned by people who love the damn things. ("are you ready for Brood XIV?") warns that if you have a shellfish allergy, you shouldn't eat them.

That's right.

Wherever your season and/or wings are opening,
I wish you a joyous and relatively collision-free time of it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kennedy Diagnosis

Malignant brain tumor. It doesn't look good.

Still, he's said to be in good spirits, and telling aides to get back to work.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Oh that Mike Huckabee -- isn't he a riot?

Evidently there was a noise offstage during Mike Huckabee's speech to the National Rifle Association today, giving him the opening for this little gem: "That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair. He’s getting ready to speak and somebody aimed a gun at him and he — he dove for the floor."

I don't even know what to add here, except that I wish I were as surprised by the comment as I am disgusted.

Mike Huckabee, man of God. Boy that just makes ya feel good, doesn't it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hold on a second sweetie, er, Senator

Does it bother me that Barack Obama called a female reporter "sweetie"? Sure. It's patronizing as hell. You don't have to have a vigilant inner feminist to see that.

But as a parent of two girls, as is he, I'm actually surprised it doesn't happen to him more often. "Hold on a second, sweetie" is a stock phrase in my house, and I'll bet it is in his, too.

Am I looking for reasons not to be bothered by this because I think he's terrific and I don't want to like him less? Yeah maybe. But I also know how easy it is to slip into auto-parent mode. It happens. So I'm prepared to let this one go.

I am so going to call him "sweetie" if we ever meet, though.

"Mr. President, sweetie," that is.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mysteries celestial and divine

So the Vatican has officially said that believing in life on other planets is not incompatible with Catholicism. Groovy!

But God help you if you use a condom here on Earth, pal.

Different bedrooms, different worlds

Why the Bean is awake in the middle of the night: "I was thinking about how the Earth can make a shadow on the moon, so I wanted to see if I could see that."

Why the Peanut is awake in the middle of the night: "The doggie on my bed won't stop playing games and talking to me even though I tell her not to."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Wait, that costs MORE?

The Cape Playhouse brochure arrived in today's mail, describing the shows that'll be put on there this summer. We're not big theater-goers, maybe a show a year, but probably not even that. We get the brochure because we took the girls to see The Gizmo Guys there last year. So I'm hovering over the trash, browsing this quickly just in case anything catches my eye before I toss it, and I notice the ticket prices: $25 to $50. Fair enough, but what surprises me is this: There is a $5 surcharge for musicals.

I realize they have to pay musicians and all, but as someone who'd readily pay extra not to have to see a musical* , that cracked me right up.

*exceptions: Spamalot, which was very very silly, and Wicked, which I haven't seen but would love to, because the book was awesome.

The universe is sending me spa stuff!

First! In a raffle drawing two weeks ago, I won a gift certificate for a spa manicure and pedicure.

Then! Last Monday morning I was Caller #8 -- who knows what possessed me to run to the phone, as I had a mouthful of toothpaste -- to our local news station, and won a gift certificate towards services at another local spa.

And! The moms' club I'm in had a Spa Night last Thursday, at which we all got to try various luxurious products that smelled intoxicatingly good. Or maybe that was the Pinot Grigio. In any case, when I got home, Mr. S. began singing about "de lime and de co-co-nut."

Sure, there are people who do the mani/pedi thing as a matter of routine; I am not one of 'em. I like to get a pedicure at the beginning of New England's "exposed toe" season -- roughly now, if it weren't 50 degrees out today -- and another in midsummer. So it's nice to have them in the bank, as it were.

Better than a sharp stick in the eye, no?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Say it isn't so

It can't possibly be true that all BMW drivers are also flaming assholes. It just can't be!

So why is there so precious little evidence to the contrary?

Um, no thanks, I'll take the next one.

It could be worse. You could be commuting in Tokyo:

How do people ride these trains without freaking out? I would have to be carted away to a padded cell. I all but had a panic attack just watching it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Town Meeting

It's Town Meeting season across Cape Cod. Best form of local government ever! The whole town (potentially) gets together and votes on our budget, capital expenditures, zoning issues, etc.

Whaddya mean, "zzzzzzzzzzzzzz"? It's cool! Really!

I've been to just about every Town Meeting since we became homeowners in this lovely community, almost 10 years ago. They are held in the high school auditorium. The Selectmen (elected to run the town), Town Manager (a town employee who oversees all the municipal departments' operations and budgets), and Town Counsel (lawyers come in handy) sit on one side of the stage. The Finance Committee (appointed to work through the budget and oversee the town's long-range financial condition -- I won't say "health," as these are trying times -- ) sits on the other side with the Town Clerk (appointed to do various things you'd expect one with that title to do). The Town Moderator (person elected to conduct town meetings and appoint the Finance Committee members) runs the show from a podium between the tables.

We townsfolk sit in the auditorium. People seem to have their favorite section and return to it every time. There's a special place for the press and other non-voting parties. A podium is set up on the auditorium floor, from which anyone can speak on the issue at hand.

The meeting begins with a little prayer led by one of the clergy in town -- this year it was the local Coast Guard chaplain -- which always causes pockets of the audience to grumble about the separation of church and state. It doesn't bother me; the invocation is always short and generic, sort of a humble plea for wisdom. Were I an atheist, I think it would amuse rather than offend me. (It sort of amuses me anyway: Dear God, please let us approve a budget without causing bloodshed or heart attacks, Amen.)

We also say the Pledge of Allegiance, which doesn't outrage me either. However, I might note if any of our Selectmen are wearing flag pins, especially if running for reelection. Should I hold it against them as pandering? Should I esteem them as True Patriots and wonder why the rest of them don't love America? Decisions, decisions.

Then it's on to business, and we address the issues at hand. There are a few familiar characters who can be counted on to come to the podium every year. Town Meeting is the only time I ever lay eyes on some of these folks. This year one of my perennial favorites, a guy about my age, needed reading glasses to see his notes. He fumbled with them a bit. "Don't start my time yet," he said, referring to his allotted five minutes to speak, "this is my first time with these."

Some of the regulars rise to speak on every question, whether or not they have anything to say. Others repeat the "my taxes are the highest on the Cape!" mantra, whatever the issue, and whether or not it's relevant or even true. There is some overlap. We also have the one-issue folks -- once the school budget's passed, they'll leave in droves, happily abandoning the zoning questions to the senior citizens and town government geeks. I suppose I'm in that latter category, and will eventually be in both. I always stay till the bitter end, partly because I care about the zoning as well as the school budget, and partly because it's only once or twice a year my opinion matters this much, so I might as well make the most of it.

Often, amendments to the questions we vote on are proposed from the floor. Ideally, these proposals are made by well-informed people who've read the questions before the meeting and alerted the Moderator in advance what they plan to suggest. However, the more entertaining ones are sudden inspirations scribbled on scrap paper mid-meeting; the Moderator has to determine whether these are even valid proposals. She has her work cut out for her, with amendments galore, keeping discussions on track, keeping us clear what the vote is specifically about, and whether it requires a simple or 2/3 majority to pass. (For some reason people can't seem to keep track -- are we voting to vote on the question, or are we now really voting on the question? Are we voting on the amendment, or the question as amended?) As an added bonus, this year's meeting featured the visibly twitchy presence in the audience of the former longtime Town Moderator, who was defeated in last year's election. By the end of the night, he was actually shouting at her from the back of the room. It gets crazy, I tell you.

Part of the difficulty of Town Meeting is that the questions we're called to vote on have been discussed, wrangled over and otherwise hammered out in months and months of committee and board meetings, and it can be hard to get the nuances across to the general public in a few minutes. But this difficulty is, I think, one of Town Meeting's great advantages as well. It forces our leaders to be able to distill and explain each question to every one of us who cares to ask what it means, even if they (and I) would prefer that by Town Meeting time, people be more aware what's what.

Lately most of our Board of Selectmen has been bickering with most of our Finance Committee. The Selectmen wanted to pass a 3.5% budget increase over last year. The Finance Committee thought 4% would be healthier. The difference amounts to $153,000 or so. They went back and forth over it for weeks, with varying degrees of temper in play. At Town Meeting, after hours of discussion, amendments, discussion, more amendments, voting down the capital improvements budget(!) and then voting to vote on it again, and passing it; after many consultations with Town Counsel, and prolonged confusion about what's the question, again? -- well, as it turns out, the 4% budget passed.

Much of the fuss was about whether the additional money should come from the stabilization fund vs. tax funds. One speaker put it well: "it doesn't matter which pocket you take it from. We are talking about the same pair of pants." Yet, the pocket sort of did matter, because it had implications on what kind of vote was required to approve it.

What what what? You're bored!? OK, how 'bout a Town Meeting Drinking Game. Sneak in a flask, sit with your friends. Drink whenever:
  • someone mumbles about church and state during the invocation
  • speaker declares "I've lived in this town for ___ years!" Two slugs if the number's over, say, 40.
  • someone yells "CALL THE QUESTION" from the back row.
  • Moderator says "please confine your remarks to the question at hand, which is _______." Two slugs if she gets it wrong.
  • Moderator says "hold your applause."
  • someone submits an unintelligible amendment. Two slugs if it causes Moderator to consult with Town Counsel. Three, if it is an amendment to an amendment. Four, if we vote on the wrong one and have to do it over.
  • Add your own rules! By these alone, I'd have been completely snookered about a half hour into the meeting.
So what's your local government like? Do you pay attention to it? I know not everyone will be riveted by a Town Pavement Quality Survey broadcast on local cable (for some reason I found this fascinating), but give it a shot. Democracy favors the participants -- might as well participate! It probably won't turn you into the kind of goober I have clearly become.

No guarantees, though.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Well sure, as far as history's concerned.

Peanut's question this morning, two weeks to the day after her fourth birthday:

"Am I almost 5?"

Don't rush it, kiddo.

Sunday Free Association

I say ____ :: you think ______.

Words posted weekly at Unconscious Mutterings. Anyone can play!
  1. State :: union

  2. Lively :: fun

  3. Valet :: concierge

  4. Traction :: tire

  5. Official :: seal

  6. Red hot :: candy

  7. Powder :: ammo

  8. Replies :: email

  9. Flagrant :: brazen

  10. Tweet :: canary

Nothing too revealing this week. I think it's interesting that I associate "powder" more quickly with ammunition than with babies or beauty. "Canary" comes from this joke:

Q. What does a 500 pound canary say?


Eh, not funny unless you can make the font really huge. And even then, not so much. Best told in person. Maybe to a child. Maybe by a child. Maybe I should just quit typing for now.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Last Dinner My Girls Ate Without Complaining Even A Little Bit

Actually, as these things go, we do very well. Usually one or the other of them needs to be urged to "keep taking bites," but it's getting less and less often that it becomes a huge deal. And that, friends, is a hassle I will not miss. If I never again hear myself say "Just EAT!" it will be too soon.

So when there is a meal that everyone eats, and nobody says "my belly is getting too full" or "this ___ is hurting my tongue!" or "it's too [adjective that doesn't apply]" even once? When everyone eats steadily until their plates are empty without being told to, and even sometimes asks for more? I notice those meals, especially if they're so good I'd make them for myself whether or not children had to eat it too.

Here was one -- it's modified from a Cooking Light recipe.

Turkey Breast Cutlets with Port Wine Sauce
1 pound turkey breast cutlets (Shady Brook Farms is the brand around here. It's not the least expensive cut, so I can't buy them often. If they go on sale I get a lot and freeze them.)
2/3 cup low sodium beef broth (Trader Joe's has a concentrate in little tubes. I dig it.)
1/4 cup port (keep a bottle of the cheap stuff around for sauces like this)
2 T chopped dried cherries (Trader Joe's is less expensive than anywhere for dried fruit)
2 t black cherry fruit spread (again, Trader Joe's is less expensive, but Polaner makes one too. No, I don't work for Trader Joe's.)
1 t Worcestershire sauce (no comment, but now that I'm in the habit of parenthetical notes after each ingredient, I can't stop; also, wanted to prove I could go a whole two lines without mentioning my favorite grocery store.)
1/2 t balsamic vinegar

1 t cornstarch
1 t butter
1 shallot, chopped
1 t. chopped rosemary (I sometimes use dried; 1/2 t will do of that)

Melt butter in large skillet. Add turkey, cook 3 minutes, then flip and cook till done (it's not long).
While the turkey's cooking, combine 1/2 cup of the beef broth with the port, cherries, fruit spread, Worcestershire, and balsamic.
Whisk the cornstarch into the rest of the broth.
Take the turkey out and keep warm.
Put the shallots and rosemary in the skillet, cook for 3 minutes, stirring.
Add the port mix, bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes.
Add the cornstarch mix, boil 1 minute.

In theory, you serve the sauce over the turkey. In practice, I cut the turkey into little pieces and put a scoop of sauce next to -- but not touching! -- it.

Good with wild rice and green beans or baby carrots.

This is really tasty. There are no leftovers.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Answer with one word

If you get something out of a vending machine, it's most likely the: M&Ms
A word you sometimes catch yourself misspelling: occasionally
You least want people to see you as: disgusting
You're a little scared of: disease
The least attractive thing you do in your sleep: drool
The number of contacts in your cell phone: 35
How many of them are relatives: 7
You lose your cool when someone: tailgates
When you go to the drugstore, you often can't leave without buying: M&Ms
Your dance moves can best be described as: rare
The majority of your underwear is: clean
Something you eat even though you hate how bad it is for you: M&Ms
You think you're really not a great: athlete
How much cash is in your wallet right now: $43
The majority of your shoes are this color: black
You don't think you'll ever be able to get rid of your: anxiety
If your breath is bad, it's most likely because you had: heartburn
You feel embarrassed when you: fart
The last public place where you used the restroom: library
Something you don't like to debate in mixed company: Catholicism
You don't think you can pull off wearing: anything
Something you own entirely too much of: candles
Someone you would love to see in concert who might bring down your street cred: Justin Timberlake
The last thing that you spilled on yourself: chardonnay
If you were on a reality show, the producers would likely portray/characterize you as the: mommy

Tagging nobody! But do it if you want to, s'fun.