Wednesday, June 30, 2004

What's good enough for Hitler...

Pilates classes have always been too expensive for my budget, so most of what I know about Pilates comes from videotapes. But this all changed last night, when I coaxed my friend Lynn to attend a strangely affordable Pilates class here in the Rust Belt. Location: a church basement. Level of intensity: Less than vigorous, although the instructor promised that subsequent classes will be more challenging.

The instructor began the evening with a short history of Pilates' founder, Joseph Pilates, who "developed his muscle lengthening and strengthening techniques while rehabilitating prisoners--I mean patients!" she blushed. If ever we doubted Pilates' effectiveness, we should remember that "Hitler was a great admirer and wanted Joseph Pilates to train his prisoners. Uh, or rather, to train his elite guard. That was during World War I." (Lynn and I were by now exchanging worried glances, which, in the mirrored basement, the instructor caught.) "Or one of the World Wars. Anyway, Joseph Pilates fled then to England…"

After class came the inevitable sick humor. Matt asked if we would be returning "to take the master race—-er, master class.” Adam wanted to know if the instructor often urged us to ex-heil.

What I can't figure out is why, in seven years of using Pilates tapes, I've yet to come across one that touts this Hitler connection. When the instructor puts on the tinkly new-age music, should we regard ourselves as prisoners or convalescents? And is she the elite guard?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Yesterday, Adam and I caught a matinee of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911. Even if a few of Moore's techniques are suspect and precious few of the film's arguments are brand new at this point, it's still worth seeing. And it's also worth eavesdropping on the conversations of those leaving the theatre.

As the credits rolled, someone in the back of the (packed) matinee hollered, "DON'T FORGET TO VOTE!" A mother rubbed the neck of her sobbing teenaged daughter. A middle-aged couple worried aloud if Moore's film, cutting though it was, was "preaching to the converted." Behind them, a 60-something man and his elderly father argued over the film's message. "That man! War isn't like that," sputtered the older man. "But we're not talking about your war, Dad..." the younger man said tentatively.

We got in an elevator with two white-haired couples. The taller man was saying "...and with a film like this, with a message like this, there's going to be a revolution." His wife nodded: "This war was supposed to be okay. We bought it, hook, line, and sinker." "And we were wrong," said her husband. "We were wrong."

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Cape Scapes / Scrapes

We're back from the family reunion WEEK (yes, a full week!) in Massachusetts. Technically, the reunion continues, because we have in-laws and little nephews staying with us for a few days.

It was a interesting week, perhaps because I had the luxury of being related only by marriage to those assembled. Unhindered as I am at this point by any past narrative or interactions, I found myself liking everyone quite a lot.

Back soon on the blogwaves...

Thursday, June 17, 2004

June Scapes

Every vegetarian should have neighbors like Jane and George, whose meticulously tended garden has yielded our most exciting culinary finds this year. Tonight, George introduced us to the wonders of garlic scapes, those elegant swirls and seedpods that develop atop hard-neck garlic stalks in June.

Thanks to those scapes, we dined tonight on one of the best pestos we've had in months. (And that's saying a lot, since we regularly make fresh pesto from our basil plants.) Scape pesto is smooth and flavorful, but in a subtle, garlicky-lemony way.

The recipe is trés simple:
• 6-7 garlic scapes, chopped
• approx. 1 c. olive oil
• 1 c. grated parmesan or asiago cheese* (The latter tastes best.)

We used a mini-chopper to combine the scapes and olive oil, which turned a brilliant, if watery-looking, green. We blended this by hand with the fresh-grated (hard) mozzarella and poured it over angel-hair pasta, which we then garnished with toasted pine nuts, olives, and fresh tomatoes.

Garlic scape pesto apparently freezes well. Not that we'd know, since we reluctantly turned over the remaining portion to Jane and George. Sigh. It was the right thing to do. But, as God is my witness, my June diet henceforth will be heavy on the scapes.

P.S. If you don't have generous, gardening neighbors, you can still get garlic scapes at the farmer's market or food co-op. (And probably some grocery stores, too.) For more neat garlic scape recipes, visit this site.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Confusion in Store, pt. 2 (Icy Pop)

Pity the fathers of the world. Greeting card companies are doing all they can to erode daddy's dignity. Or so I deduced while on a particularly tough assignment: to find a Father's Day card not only for my own father, but also for my new father-in-law.

Finding a card for Dad was pretty easy. There was exactly one card with an acceptable message, and I snapped it up with relief. The message sounded right — not too sappy, but also heartfelt in its praise of a father I love a lot.

Now. On to card #2. Adam's a close reader, so I knew already that anything I picked for his father would be mocked. My task, therefore, was to keep the mockery to a minimum.

It didn't look good.

Have you ever noticed how Father's Day cards all feature the same three designs? Fish. Sailboats. Autumn leaves. (It's a JUNE holiday, people.) Somewhere in Imperial Cardland, someone deemed as "sufficiently manly" these three icons. Allowable substitutions include mallards, lighthouses, and the odd seashell. But it must be a manly seashell; i.e., one that would have no place on a Mother's Day card.

Once you get past the paucity of designs, there's the problem of message. In terms of sentiment, Father's Day cards fall into four broad categories, expressing Distance, Thinly-Veiled Scorn, Solipsism, and/or the Back-Handed Insult.

What it says: "Although life is busy and we rarely spend time together..."
What it means: "We never talk, but I've banished my guilt with this $8 card."

What it says: "You should relax on Father's Day! Yeah, saying 'Go ask Mom' must really be taking it out of ya!"
What it means: "I really don't think you've earned this holiday."

SOLIPSISM (plus back-handed insult):
What it says: "Edison was the father of the lightbulb. Einstein was the father of relativity. Lucky you, you're the father of ME."
What it means: "Wow, your life's been a wash."

What it says: "What is a Father? A father is loving and patient and wise..."
What it means: "These are qualities I've admired in other kids' dads."
(A sly evasion. The card extols many fine traits, but never claims any of them for its recipient.)

I finally snatched up a hideous card, one with a blandly benign sentiment to counterbalance its irridescent-orange sailboat design. Adam thinks it might be kinder to send no card at all.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Confusion in Store, pt. 1 (Obsolete)

For about twelve minutes, in 1999, I was computer savvy. Or, to be more precise, I was pretty adroit with all things print and web design. My university had begun offering dozens of computer classes, and, with the ferocity of a kid going for Eagle Scout, I made it my goal to attend every one. I became my office's one-woman graphic design department. I accompanied my boss to her elegant faculty club functions, because I was the only one who knew how to run her laptop-presentations. Eventually, I was allowed to design an entire conference web site — in part because I was stupid enough to volunteer the extra hours on it and in part because the office could pay me a smidgen of what it cost to hire a professional.*

Five years hence, my particular brand of techno-savvy is a lot like the public pay phone. Both represent a by-gone era. And both are dwindling to the point of extinction.

And so I found myself in Target yesterday, staring in bewilderment at the shelves of blank CDs and DVDs and feeling nostalgic for the past. (Wouldn't the sale of "Media for Computer Burning" once have seemed incongruous, or even insane?) But, hey, I'm adaptable, and I had read all the directions for my new CD-burner, such that they were. This wasn’t rocket science**, so I should be able to find what I needed for my data storage.

Data storage. The GameBoy chirping and twittering in the aisle behind me made “data storage” sound suddenly frumpy and outmoded. It didn’t help that most of the blank CDs were for recording music. I started to wonder if “RW” CDs really existed, or if I had conjured them in a dream. I also pondered the value of the 100-audioCD pack in kid-currency. (Would the 100-pack make an exciting gift — in the same way that a jumbo pack of blank cassette tapes once gladdened my 14-year-old heart?***) There appear to be different economies of music burning for those born before and those born after 1984. Insist on buying your blank CDs in cases and each costs about a dollar. But buy the enormous stack of loose CDs and separate CD cases and then each CD+case cost only 50-odd cents. (Btw, like traditional liner notes, cases are increasingly passé.****)

Thus distracted from my “data storage” project, I was starting to feel old. Rip Van Winkle old. I’m accustomed to panic attacks in Target. But, this time, the usual “Why-do-we-need-all-this-crap?” feeling had given way to a feeling of“Why-do-we-need-all-this-expensive-and-soon-to-be-obsolete-crap?”.

Desperate, I pounced on two teenagers who came up the aisle. Bless them, they gave me the information I sought. But not before exchanging a glance that made clear how adorable my helplessness.

No matter. I went home and learned how to work our DVD player, burn data to a CD, and download music (legally). All in one day.

Maybe I'll have another twelve minutes of techno-savvy before I die.

* Proof that stupidity can produce smart results: At least that gig gave me an excuse to spend long hours with my future husband.
** I hate that expression, which seems designed to mock the self-conscious liberal arts student. "Nope. It ain’t rocket science, but, then, nothing in your life ever will be, eh?"
***Am I correct in observing that, apart from toilet paper, few products are promoted as “Jumbo” these days?
**** So is spelling out “by the way,” btw.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Vienna Teng's Gravity

I've been listening to Radio Paradise fairly regularly lately. Today they connected listeners to a new (to me) singer of whom I'm already quite fond: Vienna Teng. It turns out that Teng's “Say Uncle” had lodged in my ear well over a year ago. But if I succeeded in recording her name back then, it was lost in the flurry of post-it notes that dustily accumulated by my computer in that too-full time.

Those post-it notes began as a strategy. Each yellow scrap carried a promise of future explorations, future life. Vienna Teng may have gone missing for a while, but then she surfaced again — her creamy soprano as startling and welcome as the sun. It's a good omen for the recovery of other things lost or briefly forgotten, or so I'd like to think.

Speaking of omens, Teng performed tonight in Pittsburgh, home to one of my favorite people. She’ll be there again July 14. Maybe Benedict and Kingmob can check out her show.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Unsteady Progress

I pad around in a pair of slippers that are too wide and a trifle too long for my feet. Slippers, indeed. Sliding around in my wooly footwear, I have only a loose grip on the earth. To move about the kitchen is disaster. My wayward feet upend the cats' food bowls, sending an avalanche of kibble dancing across the tile.

Slippers + misplaced glasses = a watercolor world, by an artist not well schooled in perspective. Why is my manuscript / my will / my good intention not where I thought? I could use some focus. I could use some traction. The spirit is willing, but the body has (clay) feet.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Empty Nest

They looked as if they were smirking, those baby birds. Their bright yellow-lined bills tipped upward as if to beg a meal, but their jaws and eyes were squeezed tight.

I hopped nervously from chick to chick, hoping they had been only recently displaced. "Nope," they grimaced. "You're too late." An insect crawled greedily up one bird. Some predator had peeled the other bird's belly like a fruit. Rigor mortis had not come yet, but both little bodies had roasted on the driveway's heat.

Each bird wore a smudge of feathers, a pre-pubescent fuzz, on its wee shoulders and head. The translucent wings I at first mistook for fins. These resembled tiny marine fossils, and so my brain skipped illogically to the sea. I leaned closer and observed the rows of delicate, grey-white pin feathers—freshly sprouted and freshly irrelevant.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Do you want to talk about your anger? The counselor says to me later.

No, I say.

Having access to your anger can be a wonderful thing, says the counselor, anger can be a very useful accessory.

I was thinking of it more as a foundation garment, I say.

— Shannon Olson, Welcome to My Planet, p. 81

I resisted reading this book for a long time, mostly because I distrust the “chick lit” genre. Also—full confession—its intimidatingly good-looking author and I once worked in the same department (this was years before her first book was published), and she always seemed standoffish when encountered in the women’s rest room. My then-boyfriend had once gone out with her, and he had less-than-complimentary things to say. (That is, apart from his observation that "she was the hottest woman [he’d] ever dated.” Oh, honey, you say the sweetest things.)

Last week, Q sent me her copy of Olson's book, which I enjoyed despite myself. Now I think I missed out on knowing someone interesting and cool. Perhaps I should phone the old boyfriend to tell him so.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Jesus Loves Me

Perplexing message on a Pennsylvania church's sign:


(Hopefully not as a disincentive to noshing.)

Saturday, June 05, 2004

For There She Was

Finished Mrs. Dalloway Thursday night. (Wish I'd read it before The Hours, as both the film and the Michael Cunningham novel did constantly intrude.) I am becoming very fond of Virginia Woolf, who does remarkable things with commas and semi-colons. Consider the following, transcribed here exactly as it appears in the text:

"…Clarissa had a theory in those days—they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. It was unsatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people. But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not “here, here, here”; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere. She waved her hand, going up Shaftesbury Avenue. She was all that. So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to, some woman in the street, some man behind a counter—even trees, or barns. It ended in a transcendental theory which, with her horror of death, allowed her to believe, or say that she believed (for all her skepticism), that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death...perhaps—perhaps." (231-2)

I had to read the last line several times before falling in with its meaning and rhythm of Clarissa's thought. (Her "odd affinities" theory sums up well the emotion I associate with the heady first years of college.)

And now, for something completely different...Susan Choi's American Woman: A Novel, which I read for inspiration as I try to finish an article on 70s radicalism. In her first 50 pages at least, Choi seems similarly taken with commas and subordinate clauses, although sentences designed to convey character interiority click along linearly—soliloquies more rapid and more spare. It may end in a trancendental theory which, with my horror of banality, may yet cause me to believe, or say I believe (for all my optimism), that among writers in our 30s, the unseen part of us, the influence of 1970s television, might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this story or that, or even haunting certain contemporary prose to death...perhaps—perhaps.

Friday, June 04, 2004

How NPR You?

Dear friends' baby,

Welcome to the world. Although we’re barely acquainted, I know we have at least one thing in common. We’re both unemployed this summer. That means we both spend a lot of time around the house, listening to the radio. It also means that money is tight. So you can understand why, in lieu of store-bought gift, I send you these wishes for your future:

May you grow to possess
• the lucidity of Nina Totenberg;
• the quirky confidence of Ira Glass;
• the curiosity and instincts of Alix Spiegel;
• the wisdom of Daniel Schorr;
• the giddiness of Scott Simon;
• the un-self-consciousness of Mary Lou Finley;
• the conviviality of Isaiah Sheffer.

And may PRI not raise its prices any higher, lest our local affiliate broadcast even more episodes of “The Great Gildersleeve” at night.

We ask this in the name of Kassel, Keillor, and Felber. Amen.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Ducking the Issue

In today's mailbox:

• Our new New York state voter registration. These featured the punnily punctuated slogan "You're Right To Vote" over an image of the Statue of Liberty.

• The local "Pennysaver" classified ads paper, currently promoting the second annual Duck Race to End Racism. (I am not making this up.) On June 12, local third graders will float thousands of multi-colored plastic ducks down a creek "for fun and a chance to win diversity curriculum materials for their school."

It's come to this. Curriculum materials are reserved for those with champion ducks.

Union Made

One year ago today, Adam and I scaled a hill in Vermont and got married. The only witness to the event was Anne, the Justice of the Peace whom we'd met for the first time that afternoon. Anne carried a folder with the wedding vows we had emailed from the previous day's Amtrak stopover in Schenectady. We wrote the vows on my laptop, in the memorial chapel of Schenectady's (appropriately named) Union College.

I carried up the hill a riotous bouquet of lilacs, which, minutes before the ceremony, our motherly B&B host had cut, bound with ribbon, and thrust into my arms. Rita found us alarmingly under-prepared for matrimony, not having thought to arrange for flowers, photos, or even wedding guests. Although Adam and I were formally attired, I hadn’t had time or money enough to get matching shoes. And so I wore under my dress a pair of scuffed black pumps—happily discarded once we had settled in the grassy carpet of the sunny hillside.

After declaring us hitched, Anne scampered down the hill ahead of us. She wanted us to have a moment alone, she said. We beamed, blinked, and breathed the green. In the farmhouse below, Rita and Malcolm prepared the party that was to mark our wedding and their eleventh anniversary. You might say they thought of everything. Champagne. Roses. A heart-shaped cake. String quartet on the boombox. We loved them for their kindness, but felt more wedding-y on the next day’s impromptu nature hike, with Anne.

With wedding vows, it seems, we blindly/heroically promise the impossible, in so far as it is impossible to know what people we will become or in what circumstances we will find ourselves. That's one reason I'm partial to the totally private wedding ceremony preceding (or in place of) the more public one. The best vows function not as a tether rope, but as a constitution. A constitution that declares attachment, commitment, affection, passion—and what we intend all that healthful stuff will mean in our common lifetime. When we wrote our vows, I realized how much Adam and I believe in words, and in their ability to create, or at least make possible, a hoped-for ideal. We labored over every phrase, such that our actual wedding, the actual knitting together of our lives, may also have taken place at Union College. As it has taken place in all our intentional conversations, both before and after the day called anniversary.