Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rest in peace, Jimmy Damour.

Early yesterday morning, a man was trampled to death by people breaking down the door at the Valley Stream, NY Wal-Mart.

That's right: a young man is dead now, because a crowd of people stomped on his body as it lay between them and Big Savings.

Christmas spirit - yay!

(WTF is inside a Wal-Mart that's worth trampling over someone for? Really, what?)

Wal-Mart called it a "tragic situation," swept up the broken glass and reopened the store at 1:00 PM. Nobody from the company bothered to call the man's family to tell them he'd been killed. His father heard it from a friend, and went to identify the body.

I don't think it's being overdramatic to say there's something evil about that.

Something is very, very wrong with this culture. Buy stuff, buy stuff, buy stuff, buy stuff. Buy cheapest, buy most, buy first.

"Black Friday" has been perverse for a long time already. Now there's a death count.

Oh, but who doesn't love a bargain?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Dinner tonight was quick and simple: whole wheat penne with cherry tomatoes, garlic and spinach in a gorgonzola cream sauce. Both girls ate without complaint. Later, saying goodnight to the Peanut, she got a dreamy look and said "I can't wait for Thanksgiving dinner... of course we won't have tomatoes or spinach with Thanksgiving dinner."

Hm. Actually, Peanut, that can be arranged. Mwahahahaha.

Nah, I wouldn't. Those little onions in cream sauce that her Daddy loves so much -- he is peeling them as I write, and I can smell them from here -- will be surprise enough.
Those little creamed onions some people dig so much.
Photo by Lisa Scanlon, Mr. S's are bound to be similar.

Anyway, I'm not cooking this Thanksgiving. We will be over the river -- that is, several rivers and a honkin' canal -- and through the woods, to spend a couple of days with family in Connecticut. My sister in law pulls off Thanksgiving like it is no big deal, which just amazes me. Even when I enjoy doing it, it always feels like a Big Deal. I admire how she makes it look effortless; truly doesn't stress, and the more family around, the better.

We have much to be thankful for, this year as always. High on the list of Important Things I hope to teach my children is to be grateful -- for family and friends, house and home, good health and good food -- and mindful, too, that so many others don't have these things to be thankful for.

Based on reports back from the Bean, the story of the First Thanksgiving appears to have been kept pretty simple in school, which is fine. Basically, she understands that the Pilgrims came to this land, met the Native Americans, and at first the groups weren't sure about each other but the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, and they had a turkey and corn dinner together to celebrate.

In the car tomorrow (captive audience!), we might talk a bit more about what it must have been like. I'll tell her they also ate deer, and ducks, and probably fish; that all of it was cooked over fires, and that people ate with their fingers, sitting on the ground. Oh, and they didn't have pie. Or indoor plumbing.

We'll leave it at that, even though having just read Mayflower, I've had Pilgrims on my mind lately. Says Nathaniel Philbrick:
The First Thanksgiving marked the conclusion of a remarkable year. Eleven months earlier the Pilgrims had arrived at the tip of Cape Cod, fearful and uninformed. They had spent the next month alienating and angering every Native American they happened to come across. By all rights, none of the Pilgrims should have emerged from the first winter alive. Like the French sailors before them, they all might have been either killed or taken captive by the Indians.

That it had worked out differently was a testament not only to the Pilgrims' grit, resolve and faith, but to their ability to take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity. During the winter of 1621, the survival of the English settlement had been in the balance. Massasoit's decision to offer them assistance had saved the Pilgrims' lives in the short term, but there had already been several instances in which the sachem's generosity could all have gone for naught. Placing their faith in God, the Pilgrims might have insisted on a policy of arrogant isolationism. But by becoming an active part of the diplomatic process in southern New England... they had taken charge of their own destiny in the region.
Granted, their destiny included King Philip's War just a few years after this, but hey, it was a good start.

Another thing to be thankful for this year: a change in our government, and hope that some of the world's conflicts might be better managed because of it.

Happy Thanksgiving, all, and safe travels.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Couldn't happen to a nicer person.

If this is true, then I have to do something I don't usually do as a result of someone's having been hurt:


That is all.

While we're on textiles, sort of...

I don't buy towels very often; good ones last a long time. However, with the going out of business sale at Linens & Things, it seemed like time to get the next set. It takes many, many wash/dry cycles to get towels in their best shape. The towels I got a few years ago are at their peak now... they've retained their thickness, but lost that horrid slippery soft feel that new towels all have. Why must this be? What the hell substance are towels treated with to make them soft as blankets, but completely inabsorbent? And why do people like that?

I got two different brands, both 100% cotton, same price range and thickness. Each had that mushy-soft brand new feeling, but one set seems to be shaping up after a wash, while trying to use the other is still like drying your hands on a fleece blanket: ineffective and annoying. Back in the wash they go, until they're tolerable.

I am beginning to understand why people might pinch towels from good hotels. It's not because they don't have money for new towels of their own; it's because new towels take so long to get as awesome as good quality hotel towels that are basically boiled every night and dried without fabric softener.

Soft towels, pffft. If I want a blanket, I'll get a blanket, damnit. I want my towels to DRY ME.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thumbs up, thumbs down, and a question for ya.

Saw the new Bond movie last weekend, and it did not disappoint. The theme music, as feared, is unpleasant (enough with the goddamn wailing already). But the movie rocked, and must be seen again ASAP. I really, really like how they've reinvigorated the Bond character. Go, see. Report back.

On the home screen (that is to say, the home wall... eventually we'll get a screen, and probably kick ourselves for not having done it sooner), we had A History of Violence (2005). Briefly, for the five Americans who haven't yet seen it: A small town family man owns a diner. When bad guys come and try to rob it, he reacts so spectacularly that it makes big news, drawing the attention of mobsters who believe him to be someone he claims he isn't. Trouble ensues.

I know a lot of people really liked this movie. I didn't. Not even a little bit. The performances were either oddly wooden (Viggo Mortensen as Our Hero) or caricatures (Ed Harris and William Hurt as the mobsters). The script was stupid. The sex was gratuitous -- these scenes were really just, ahem, stuck in there, and completely lacked the chemistry they were supposed to be showing. Yeah, we get it, they're connecting -- but how come it doesn't look like they're having any fun? Yeah, we get it, they're conflicted but still attracted -- do we have to watch them pounding it out on the stairs for five freakin' minutes? Yawn. (Can we stipulate that I'm not a prude? I guess you'll have to take my word for it, and/or I'll have to come up with a post of great sex scenes.)

Anyway. The whole thing was predictable and tiresome and, even at 1 hr. 40 min., probably a half hour too long. Better suited to cable.

It did serve one purpose: the friend who recommended it to me and I can reasonably conclude that we usually hate what the other one loves, and ignore each other's recommendations henceforth. We only see each other a couple times a year, but she'll often tell me, essentially, "that book/movie you said six months ago that you loved? was really, really bad!" and I sort of shrug and change the subject, because I can't even remember recommending whatever it was. When I hate something she loved, I usually don't bring it up; I can express opinions pretty strongly sometimes, and don't want to be misinterpreted as insulting her.

When someone tells you a book or movie is a must-read or -see, and you hate it, do you make a point of telling them so? If they do, are you insulted?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Walking the Shores of Cape Cod

Six years ago, when the Bean was new and tiny and I carried her everywhere on my chest, I thought it would be fun if we walked around Cape Cod. Literally. I thought it would be a good idea for me and the babe to hoof it around our fair peninsula's every mile of shoreline. Double distance, because we had to walk back to the car on our every excursion.

Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't a good idea, but one thing's for sure: the Bean grew a lot faster than I had opportunity to hike. Over time, we did walk every mile of beach in Sandwich, from the northeast end of the canal out to Sandy Neck in Barnstable. And I looked out at Sandy Neck, a lovely six mile stretch of barrier beach with a parking lot at one end, and I thought, hm. Twelve miles, averaging, say, two miles an hour, is six hours walking - a long time for a baby. I knew I wasn't going to do the whole thing.

My inner purist protested. I sympathize with Appalachian Trail purists, thru-hikers who won't take side trails to cut off even a quarter mile here or there of the AT proper. The compulsion to walk only and exactly along The Path, be it marked in the physical world or just in the mind -- I get that. However, motherhood forces all kinds of compromise, and flexibility is growth, right? Right. It was time to modify the grand plan.

It made more sense to go 'round the Cape walking only as much as we felt like of every reasonably accessible beach, instead of every single inch of shoreline, be it sand or muck, public or private. Walking mucky marshes is unpleasant and potentially dangerous; people do get stuck. We'll stick to sand. Public beach access points can be hard to find along some stretches. I'm not above walking on private beaches in wintertime when nobody's there to care, but I'm not going to sneak through people's yards for the sake of not missing a hundred yards of otherwise inaccessible shoreline.

With our newly flexible guiding principles, we did an incomplete but still long walk down Sandy Neck, and have since walked the north side beaches of the rest of Barnstable, then Yarmouth, Dennis and Brewster. We don't go in summertime because of the crowds, and because I'm too cheap to pay for beach parking. These aren't issues after Labor Day, but soon enough the weather interferes. Sometimes I'll think it's a great day for a beach walk, pack a lunch, get to where we left off, get the girls out of the car, and in approximately 90 seconds they want to go home. (Grrr. Whose children are these?) Needless to say, the goal is now both flexible and long-term. I could easily be in my 60s by the time we reach Monument Beach in Bourne. At least, if I need to be wheeled along after that, there's the paved bike path along the canal that'll bring us back to the Sandwich end, where I started with the baby Bean.

The baby Bean, after one of our walks. Good for a couple hours, but not six.
Salt marsh out the window.

Sometimes when I tell people about this back-burner hobby of mine, they say, "oh, someone did that and wrote a book..." and the small part of me that ever considers writing anything for publication thinks well shit, someone did it already, but another part thinks, hm, maybe he knows how to avoid guard dogs in Osterville -- that could come in handy. So I found the book. It is Walking The Shores of Cape Cod, by Elliott Carr (1997).

Without little ones in tow, and with someone to do car shuttling, Mr. Carr was free to undertake the route of the purist, braving the muck and swimming channels when necessary. (Shoot, his wife even swam across Falmouth Harbor, in the path of incoming vessels. That's just nuts.) The book has a chapter for each segment of his walk, with helpful maps and tips about when to walk (low tide, if possible). He did Thoreau's famous hike along the outer Atlantic beaches -- a trek I imagine we will significantly abbreviate -- and concludes, essentially: eh... don't do this unless you really have to. All that walking on a sloped beach, one leg higher up than the other, eventually gets really uncomfortable.

There's a fine line between "long satisfying hike" and "pointless forced march." In my experience, you don't find the line until you've already committed to completing whichever character-building experience it turns out to be.

Carr's book is more than a hiker's log. He reflects on many of the fundamental problems facing Cape Cod, as he walks areas where they're especially evident. Development and private vs. public interests are common themes. People come here to enjoy the shore, right? Nobody vacations here because the Cape Cod Mall is a unique or wonderful shopping environment, or moves here because Yarmouth has a world-renowned school system. Yet much of our beautiful shoreline is inaccessible or not used to best advantage. Clearly we've lacked planning, where development's concerned. Beach erosion is another issue; even if counter-erosion measures were effective, and there's plenty of evidence that they're not, is this a worthwhile use of public money... particularly to protect private beaches whose owners refuse public access?

Whereas beaches in most coastal states belong to everyone, Massachusetts still operates under a 360 year-old ordinance that allows private ownership of the area between high and low tides (wading in an inch of water at low tide is fair game). Cape Cod has 427 miles of shoreline, two thirds of which are private. Here, as elsewhere, we struggle to balance public good and individual rights. Carr sees this contest manifested on many segments of his walk. His observations are at once sharp and gentle:
I never saw a new house that looked as good as the open space which it replaced. That, in a nutshell, is the Cape's dilemma. Every time another house is built, a seller realizes the value from the land, a buyer is made happy to be the latest to cross the bridge, and a realtor, a banker, a lawyer, and a builder all make a little money. But, another piece of Cape Cod is gone, particularly if the new home is on the shore and the owner chooses to close the beach.
As to guard dogs, I didn't get any practical advice. However, to their almost-amusement, Carr and his wife were physically removed from a Nantucket Sound beach by local police, who arrived in two cruisers, having been summoned by neighborhood security guards in their two cruisers. Nice, huh? I suppose a middle-aged couple taking a walk represents a huge threat to the quality of life of the mansion set. Four cars and flashing lights required, pronto.

I'm almost looking forward to that part, myself. By then the Bean might be a teenager, prone to total embarrassment every time I say or do anything, and there I'll be with my feet wet and a copy of the 1641-1647 Colonial Ordinances in hand. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two and a Half Books

My book groups and I have been reading some interesting stuff.

I can't say enough good about Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower. It is, yes, the story of the Pilgrims' establishment of Plymouth Colony in 1620, and its growth and struggles in the decades that followed -- but this is a story most of us probably don't know very well, obscured as it’s been by centuries of myth and sentimental overlay. I knew that the Pilgrims arrived near wintertime, and had a tough go of it... after reading Mayflower, I'm amazed any of them lived to procreate. I had a general sense that the region's Native populations had a more complicated political structure than the traditional telling of this story has us believe, and it was fascinating to learn those details. And I had a very hazy recollection of King Philip's War from high school American History -- that is to say, I'd heard the words "King Philip's War" before -- but, wow. Now I know. And so should you -- but even though you'll feel all virtuous and wicked smaht afterwards, reading Mayflower isn't like taking medicine. Philbrick has a real gift for telling history through different, compelling points of view. It makes for a richly informative work, and a reading experience like delving into a fat, complicated novel. This is not a book to scan in short bursts, though, so give it a couple hours at a time. It's a fascinating read. Southern New England residents especially will love the maps.

The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany, is an Egyptian novel, a best seller there since its publication in 2002. It’s kind of a soap opera centered on a Cairo building, from the poorest, who crowd its roof, to the aristocrats, businessmen and politicians who occupy its spacious, elegant apartments. If you can keep the characters’ names straight, then this is a book that can be read in short sessions, though you won’t necessarily have to, as it keeps its pace, and it’s not too long. It isn’t an especially well-written novel – he’s no Khaled Hosseini -- though translation may account for some clumsiness of phrase. Still, The Yacoubian Building is engaging, and its characters’ relationships are interesting, if sort of dismal. We follow the coming of age of the doorman’s son and his sweetheart (and learn what different things that means, for a young man and a young woman), the scheming servants of an aging aristocrat, the sexual exploits of the aristocrat and others, the corruption of “elected” officials, and a homosexual romance. Most of these stories have tragic arcs, as if the author is trying to show that life in Cairo causes people to bring out the absolute worst in each other. The novel has a curiously depressing effect that isn’t entirely abated by the happy note on which it ends. I would be very curious to hear if Egyptians find it that way too.

Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation is just terrific -- also, sadly, I’m just not going to finish it. Inspired in part by the intensity of her despair during the Bush administration (almost over! almost over!), the author goes on a mission to find out as much as she can about the people who were unbalanced and dangerous enough to kill Presidents. (“Hello there!” she waves from the pages of her prologue to the FBI agents who will doubtless be assigned to read her book.) Assassination Vacation is the wacky account of her dragging people along on trips to scores of historical sites, some world famous, some bizarrely obscure, connected to the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Vowell is funny and insightful; the perfect historical tour guide. The Lincoln stuff, which I loved, takes about half the book. For whatever reason I couldn’t get to Garfield. After many months I admitted defeat; it appears I’m just not going to get to Garfield. But I recommend you take this jaunt at least as far as I did. It’s a hoot, and you’ll learn stuff.

Phew. What's on your nightstand? The books, I mean. The books.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A 5 Things Meme (mostly different from the other 5, 2, 7, 8, n- things memes)

JLK at Pieces of Me has tagged me for this Five Things meme. I enjoyed reading her responses to it, which include that she was, among other things, a teenager a decade ago. Why, when I was a teenager +10, blogging hadn't even been invented yet. I was signing on to AOL via a sporadic dialup connection with a 2400 bps modem attached to my PowerMac 6500, for which I'm not even going to say how much I paid, but thinking about it makes my stomach turn.

Also, I had a mobile phone that weighed about 40 pounds and had to be carried around in a little suitcase. It made a handy free weight, but using it to make actual phone calls cost approximately $748/minute.

But enough reminiscing. Or maybe not! Our very first 5 things question brings me just to teenager +12.

5 Things I was Doing 10 years Ago

1. Applying to law schools. Yes.
2. Hating my job so intensely, and doing it so badly, that I was prone to periods of intense despair -- the kind of despair that makes a person think, hey, spending my 30s in law school and the rest of my life in debt might actually be fun, or at the very least, the LSAT oughtta be an ego boost. Which it was. What can I say, I test well.
3. Living in a really great little loft apartment. The longer ago it gets, the better it was.
4. Eating mostly spaghetti. I didn't exactly cook in those days.
5. Dating a handsome oceanographer fella.

5 Things On My To-Do List Today:

1. Deliver children to bus stop and preschool, and retrieve them from same at the appropriate times.
2. Make packing list for weekend trip to the leafy suburb of my misspent youth.
3. Pack for weekend trip to the leafy suburb of my misspent youth.
4. Make lasagna for family to eat while I am visiting the... yeah, that.
5. Get car inspected. I just noticed the "10" sticker on it, and I do try to get it done every 13 months. -ish.
6. Who the hell has a to-do list with only 5 things on it? Whaddya mean, you don't care anymore? Fine.

5 Snacks I Love:

1. Cereal.
2. Dark chocolate nonpareils melted onto Italian bread. Don't knock it till you try it.
3. Cheddar and Triscuits.
4. Clementines.
5. Those ridgy little chips that are green and orange and yellow to make you think they're made of Real Vegetables, but they really are just potato chips.

5 Things I Would Do If I Were A Millionaire:

1. Build a substantial addition to the house, which would include: a mud room, a large casual dining room, a guest room with bath, and my own bathroom, baby. Also solar panels, and some expansions/reconfigurations of kitchen/baths. Why not just move? Meh. I hate moving.
2. Build an entire barn for Mr. S's automotive restoration and woodworking projects in progress, and where he can put a wood stove, since he loves wood stoves so much.
3. Give a bunch of money away. Get on some boards of directors of things, and start directing.
4. Never fly coach again.
5. Hire cleaning and landscaping services.

These last two are repeats from the other Five Things Meme I did a while back:

5 Places I've Lived:

1) NYC, briefly
2) northern NJ
3) southern CA
4) western MA
5) Cape Cod, MA

5 Jobs I've Had:

1) clerk in a nurses' uniform store
2) library page
3) locksmith's assistant
4) teaching assistant (oceanography)
5) environmental consultant

5 People I'll Tag That I Don't Know Enough About:

Well, here is where I breach blog etiquette. Even online, I am much too socially awkward to tag people. But I encourage you (you!) to do this and let me know where you did.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans' Day

A happy Veterans' Day, and heartfelt thanks, to all who have served our country with honor and courage.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ten things I feel like I'm supposed to like, but I just don't.

1. The Counting Crows. I can't stand that guy's voice. Ditto Elton John.
2. Breakfast in bed. Hate it. You can't sit up properly, everything wobbles on the tray, it's just awkward and annoying and gah, don't bother, I'll get up.
3. Scarecrows. Why do people love making scarecrows? I can't wait to get rid of the one in my front yard. I half jump every time I catch it in my peripheral vision. Why yes, I am wound that tightly.
4. I'd say clowns, but I think it's pretty well-established that nobody really likes clowns. Why aren't scarecrows covered by that clause too?
5. Fried clams. I live on Cape Cod, I'm supposed to dig fried clams, but I just don't. Ditto lobster. Lobster is revolting. Would you eat a giant insect? Of course you wouldn't. Same thing.
6. Beer. I used to drink it, but I never loved it.
7. Music recorded live. The concert experience is one thing, but for listening, the sound's better from a studio.
8. Exercise. People are always on about how great it feels. Seriously? Where the HELL are these endorphins I keep hearing about? Where?
9. Opera. I love classical music, but opera still sends me running for the door.
10. Fruit flavored ice cream. Meh.

Your turn.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The day after

At long last, here we have it.

A lot of sap and schlock is being written today about tears of joy shed last night. While neither of those things is especially my style, I have to say that where politics are concerned, I'm very pleased this morning. Moved, inspired, proud. Relieved. Hopeful.

All things it's been very, very hard to be for years now.

Those of us who lost a lot of respect for John McCain over these past months due to everything from his foisting Sarah Palin onto the national stage (thanks - not!) to putting dismissive air quotes around "women's health" (I'll never forget that revealing little gem - never) have reason to see much of it restored, after his gracious concession speech. Concession speeches can't be easy. They can't feel good. Senator McCain's showed real class, even if his booing audience could not.

Do I think Barack Obama will be a perfect President? Of course not. But he's going to be an extraordinary one.

At the very least, State of the Union addresses will no longer rank up there with dental surgery as unpleasant experiences go. Frankly, I'll shed tears of joy on that score alone.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008



My polling place is the Bean's school; Mr. S. works home on Tuesdays, so I'm usually there anyhow to have lunch with her (and the rest of the first grade, omg) and do some stuff for her teacher. Today I snagged us some cookies from the bake sale, bought an obligatory raffle ticket for something, and joined her in the cafeteria.

The kids are choosing sides, in their own way. Overheard:
"Obama's going to give us like TEN MORE HOURS of recess!"
"Who do you like? PLEASE don't say Obama!"
And my personal favorite, "I'd vote for Obama 'cause it rhymes with my favorite animal: llama."

After lunch I led her class back to their classroom, pausing to let elderly voters make their way through the line o'kiddos to get to the polls across the hall. It was a good day to have another grownup there as shepherd.

Returning to vote myself, I asked the poll workers how the day's gone. (It's the same old ladies every time; they always tell me (unasked) whether or not my husband has been in yet, as if he bears watching. Hm.) Steadily busy, they said. In this small town, that means no wait, but a constant flow of voters. They had a bit of a line in the pre-commute rush, and they'll have more in the after-work rush. But they much prefer that to knitting all day while hardly anybody comes, which also happens.

We use the old-fashioned, fill-in-the-arrow style ballots, which I really like. It's hard to do the wrong thing by mistake, but if you do, you can get a new ballot. No worries.

In addition to the national race, we in Massachusetts have someone trying to unseat Senator John Kerry (late of the Kerry-Edwards '04 ticket). Political views notwithstanding, I do think it's good for a long-time incumbent to have reason to at least pay attention around election time. The same thing's happening with our local state representative race, though the parties are reversed.

We also have ballot questions. One aims to eliminate the state income tax. Supporters of this wacky proposal say that doing so will not result in higher local (property) taxes, or an increased sales tax. They also don't think cops, schools, libraries, roads, etc. are essential government services. (In short, they are either patently stupid, or crazier than shithouse rats.) But they have an enthusiastic if short-sighted following, because the Massachusetts legislature was (by binding referendum just like this ballot question) supposed to have lowered our income tax years ago, and just never did it. People don't like to be ignored.

Question 2 seeks to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. It'd still be illegal, but wouldn't result in a criminal record. I'm inclined to favor this one.

Question 3 would abolish greyhound racing. This question has come up before, and if it doesn't pass, it'll probably come up again. I can't think of a reason why NOT to abolish greyhound racing, frankly. If half the things people say about how greyhounds are treated are true, then good riddance.

So there you have it.

How's voting gone in your neck of the woods? What's the buzz?