Tuesday, November 30, 2010


What does one say to someone who is so self-absorbed that they appear oblivious to the fact that they a/ ignored and trampled on your authority? b/ appropriated your "stuff" and then act as if they did you a favor?

And who, by the way, has unleashed long-term ramifications to your job by doing this?

Just a question. Because I am speechless.

November's books -- final days!

How did I get behind? Hmmm.

#29,  Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee (1997) and #30, Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968)

Back to influential women writers and subjects, in fact.

Virginia Woolf is a marvelous subject but frankly I was more stunned by Lee's approach to biography and to writing history. Her biography of Virginia Woolf is a model of scholarship and compelling writing combined, which is what scholarship should be about. Forget addressing the closed audience of scholars (please!) in jargon-laden phrases that point out our superiority to normal people (please!) and imagine reading interesting, intellegent, and intriguing prose about  intruiging subjects.

This book showed me the way to writing prose for "regular" people as well as scholars. There are too few models.

Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Didion contains an essay that completely exemplifies the way I felt about leaving New York, that marvelous city, when I was 27. "Goodbye to All That" is basically about leaving a party where one has had a good time, but the party has turned sour, for no particular reason, and it is time to go. Hard to leave, but definitely time. I left New York because I had changed, my idea of "adventure" had changed, and I was tired of the antics of the people there. Even now, however, when I read this essay i find myself crying because it was a good time, for a while, and like a lover you remember with pain and happiness, you regret that it did not work out better.

The rest of the essays are also good, but that one alone speaks to my life as if Didion and I were intimate friends.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November's books

#27, Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger (1951) and #28, Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (2005)

I read Catcher in the Rye as a grown-up, which makes much more sense, like reading Huck Finn as a grown-up. It is less an instruction manual than a memory play, and leaves one nostalgic but happy to be an adult and through this terrifying phase of youth.

I thought Salinger did indeed catch the voice of youth and the tone of combined hopelessness and powerlessness one can feel at that time: not old enough to make changes in anything but yourself, but not smart enough to know that is a good thing, ultimately.

We forget he wrote it in 1951: well prior to the usual time of teen angst, the 60s. Fifteen years later, the Holden Caulfields of the 50s were the young generation rebels of the 60s. But it is a post-war novel, too, encompassing all the chaos seen and expressed so differently in European novels (and drama).

Julie and Julia was an eye-opener for me. Julie Powell was stuck, as I have been, and started cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well as blogging her daily experiences, to get out of it.

I found her writing charming and her setting of this odd goal refreshing. Why not? Mastering cooking? Why not? The movie focused more strongly on the Julia Child plotline, and given the actors, of course, one would say. Julie Powell comes across as lesser and a bit whiny, as played by Amy Adams, which is more the script than anything. And yet Powell does what Ephron herself did: writes herself out of a dead-end place and into a better one. I found it inspiring, and started a blog to record my own, what? adventures, exploits, etc.

Why not?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Oxford rooms

This was the way I walked into my rooms all summer. Jusr some random pictures for the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

If I were in Paris... Friday, November 26 (late!)

I missed the last two week's of this round-up, so this is a slight catch-up post. I know we were all too busy with eating turkey and spending Christmas dollars to miss it.

Today in Paris it is nearly freezing (34 degrees F),so I would opt for indoor happy places.

I would definitely try to get tickets to LULU, by Frank Wedekind, playing at La Colline, in the 20th. This is a brand-new production of the play and the production photos look great. There are two English-subtitle performances coming up. Wedekind began this play in 1892 and finished it in 1913, thereby spanning the entire period of early modernism/abstract theatre.  Most famously, this was translated into film by G.W. Pabst, starring the incomparable actress Louise Brooks. This production looks to be using the 1960s as the erotic background.

Overiew from website: "In a world where eroticism seems to have become a common law, no man can resist Lulu, even if death is the consequence of pleasure.... In Lulu’s story, the enchanting eros, promise of happiness, ends up turning to trash. The grotesque accents Wedekind valued so much echo till the very last tragic burst of the plot. It is this vim and the combative strength of this writing St├ęphane Braunschweig will nourish his staging of the “monstrous tragedy” with."

Besides that, I would definitely be tempted to go see the windows (surely up by now!) at the major department stores. Just as in American, Galleries Lafayette, Printemps, and Bon Marche come up with something brilliant as their theme and decorate inside and outside to the fullest extent of the law. Here's an example from 2008:


Given, too, that this is not a time for tourism, I would certainly enjoy longer, less crowded trips to the Louvre, the d'Orsay, and any other museum usually so crowded in the summer or Christmas time that visits are painful. Now, there would be room to stroll, linger, and visit those odd little rooms that do not hold famous treasures.

I would definitely be interested in the current exhibition at the Musee de Cluny, the premier medieval museum in Paris, on "Out of Gold and Fire: Art in Slovakia at the End of the Middle Ages." This is the kind of event one can see in Paris that in the US people would simply ignore. Again, with 60 different works--as well as mthe museum's superb gift shop--this would make for a lovely afternoon's visit. Followed by a walk through the Jardins de Luxembourg and a glass of wine or cup of hot cocoa on the Rue des Rennes, while staring at the windows. Even with the cold, this walk--with frequent stops--would allow one to get fresh air, exercise, hot cocoa, and see medieval treasures.... what more could one ask?

November's books

#25, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and #26, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Never Let Me Go is a frightening and moving novel that seems both science fiction and an accurate rendering of the me-centered people we have become. It is now a movie, which I haven't seen, but when I came across this book in 2005, through a friend's recommendation, I read it in a single day. Coud not put it down.

There are three parts, about three children who grow up. I can't really tell you anything about them except that they are British, without giving you a spoiler. And the fact is, the truth of the sotry ahs to creep over you, through Ishiguro's amazing ability to keep you reading despite not knowing what the hell is going on... and the growing fear that it is... I'll stop there.

I am now afraid to read any of Ishiguro's other works, because this one was too powerful. Great testament, isn't it?

Despite that, I highly recommend it.

The Big Sleep is only one of Chandler's few novels. Too few, in my opinion, but it obviously took Chandler a great deal of time to write a complete novel. We should be grateful (and I am) for the handful he left us.

Of course, The Big Sleep features Philip Marlowe, Chandler's most famous detective, living in L.A. during the 30s, 40s, and 50s... when it was something other than the sprawling mega-entertainment mecca it is now, When it was, in fact, in transition. 

Chandler is a fine writer: detailed, exact, and precise, he captures an era and a society that have passed away, other than in period films. His descriptions of the crooks, molls, moguls, wealthy, and down-and-out that pass through Marlowe's life are crisp and compelling; his plots are tightly twisted, surprising, and logical, in the world of illogic and chaos that is moderntity. Although his works were first published in pulp magazines, his writing transcended that. Marlowe is the American version of the alienated man of modern fiction, different from Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammet's detective and Marlowe's peer, because he has no secretary, no partner, no long-time girlfriend, no sidekick.

I also love Chandler's short stories, and especially the collection Trouble is My Business... I only because I wish I could say that when I meet new people: "Hi, I'm Pearl and trouble is my business." "What do I do, you ask? Trouble is my business."  Just for fun.

If you seek good, tight writing and a thrill, read Chandler. Warning: Like Ishiguro, the moral and ethical complications of the life lived in the novel is not easy to take.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bella in the shop

Finally, I took Bella for her annual check-up to the new location of my bike shop, the same place I bought her from. They've moved south of DownTown Big D to a funkier, warehouse-y area that will probably all too soon be gentrified and bland.

I strapped her to the back of the car using the new bike rack and gendered-holding bar, and actually drove through the busy streets of Big D yesterday.

Bad news: the beautiful panniers I bought are disintegrating. The straps apparently cannot hold up to the sun, heat, and nasty water of the area, and literally fell off in my hands. Ugh.

Good news: Bike store is fully-functional in new space and funkier than ever. They are checking her tires (both flat!) and gears and springs, etc. Picking her up Saturday.

She needs a hosing down, too: lots of mud from the last couple of weeks.

Glass windows, University College, Oxford

These windows date from the 17th-century, made in Holland. They are not stained glass, but painted glass.

In order: Jonah and the whale, Jacob and the ladder, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac. Dig the funky whale.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Boat trip, Oxford

Some of my students from the summer, on a trip down the Isis.

Happy Thanksgiving!

An appreciation of the holiday:

Have a great day, eat just a little too much, and enjoy time with friends and family.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oxford Bikes, 2010

I just found a folder full of photos from this summer that I never uploaded. Bikes from Oxford's City Center.

Beading 101.. sort of

I am starting my goals of 2011 early, wherein I will take classes in things I am really interested in. Like jewelry making.

This past Saturday I fnally took the class in wire wrapping that I had scheduled for an evening in September... but a tornedo touched down and the class went all cancelled. I finally called and asked when we were rescheduling... and it turned out they had forgotten to call me.

Fortunately there was an opening this past Saturday. Which was great timing.

I already make myself necklaces by stringing beads. I have made some lovely ones and learned a fair amount along the way. I tend toward beads of natural stones, silver, and glass, and my designs are far from wacky. Since I am small, I also tend to make things that are not "statement" necklaces in terms of size but hopefully are in terms of design.

The shop, Beading Dreams, I spoke to had three intro courses: color choices, wire wrapping, and knotting. I chose only the wire wrapping, because it is a basic skill and I feel I already have a great color sense.

The 2-hour course was fun. It started an hour before the store actually opened, so we could get undivided attention and no distractions. We began by learning how to use the 3 versions of pliers on cheap/base wire. I shared a table with three other women, one of whom had taken the other two intro courses and the other two who planned to. A nice group.

Our teacher, who also owns the shop, was very direct and went s-l-o-w-l-y as appropriate. Then she turned us loose. We got to make a bracelet and pair of earrings; I chose to make mine to match two scarves I have acquired in the last year which both feature yellow and bits of red. Not common choices for me, so the new bracelet and earrings match both scarves and have already come in handy. I poked myself once with the pliers, but avoided real damage. Surprisingly.

Once I did a couple, the whole link-making thing made sense and was fun. I plan to go back on Friday (Black Friday!) for their early 50% off sale. I can buy the pliers I need for the wrapping, as well as some beads for projects. Of course, I have lots of beads. I am such an international beader I know great stores in both Paris and Bath--huzzah!

Photos to come of the final projects, but I think they both turned out nicely. We could choose from two trays of relatively inexpensive but funky beads. I chose some flat, pale yellow beads in hard plastic, with lines slashed in them, and small red textured beads. The yellow was very pale while the red is bolder--like both scarves, actually.

A worthwhile two hours! My next class: I actually hope it will be on the firing range, wherein I will learn to fire a gun. My goal is to reduce my own fear of firearms (is it possible?) and one of my students from last summer in Oxford has offered to go with me, as she is very familiar with guns from family hunting events, etc. Like the opposite of my family.

November's books

#24, THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein

This is a children's book, and I hate to ruin anyone's happy childhood memories so SPOILER: don't read this is you love this book.

I hate it.

Why? Get a clue, readers! The tree is female, the child male. She "gives" him everything until she is just a stump, and finally, old and worn out, he comes back and sits on her for comfort. Perhaps Silverstein didn't realize the political implications of his abusive message, but I do: enable your man, Tammy!


If Silverstein had written the book so the child was female and the tree male, the moral would not be "be selfless" but, "stop being selfish, bossy!" "You should be nicer!" "Share!" "Stop defacing that defenseless tree!" All good lessons for children (male and female) to learn, granted, but certainly in our culture gendered. How do you get a boy to like you? Be like the tree! Do everything for him, make him feel good, overlook your needs for his, and rely on the fact that, deep down, he loves you... no matter if he takes your apples, cuts off your branches, and turns your trunk into a boat so he can SAIL AWAY FROM YOU!!!!!! and all his other responsibilities.

You should certainly help him all you can with that. And be glad he comes back. Later. Old and useless. Without gratitude or a gift. Or an apology. Oh, yeah: let's model THAT behavior. Gak: the message for girls is dangerous and stupid.

The message for boys, equally so. It's all "take, take, take," use the people who love you without respect or apology, avoid unhappiness by running away, but there will always be someone waiting for you--without you earning that right. This is not only destructive (talk about entitlement!) but suggests men remain children who need to be handled. That they are incapable of deeper emotions, commitment, and generosity. That there is no price to pay for unremitting selfishness.

Too much?

Okay, it is also an anti-green message. Take, take, take from the environment because it is all here to support man (in this case, Human-Man) and will always be there... no matter what...

Uh, not so, sport. Start paying back, stop abusing, and water that tree. And you will have shade, food, and a companion for life, you lazy mook. Or just keep cutting everything away until there isn't anything but a stump. Your choice.

For me, this book was a lesson in looking at the bigger picture, the message behind the pretty shiny love duet being sung in front of the curtain. What, exactly are the political implications of this book as a gender message, or an evironmental message, or even a social message? Who do you want to be, the child or the tree? Why?

And every Tree needs a Sassy Gay Friend (and this one leads to a reference to one of my favorite books!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Weekly savings... or not

This week's total's:
  • Spent: $81.52
  • Saved $15.26 (19%)
Not such a great comparison, but I did buy spices and herbs for cooking, so that was a bit of a pile.

November's books

Damn,  three-fer.

#21 The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
#22, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem
#23, Writing s Woman's Life by Carolyn Heilbrun

The Prince is a fascinating, cynical, eyes-wide-open look at politics and the people who use them. I read it in a comparative literature class,and found it both practical and disturbing... like The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Machiavelli wrote it during the rule of the Medici family in Florence.

One of the objections to The Prince is that Machiavelli advocates immoral actions; in fact, he advises princes who would succeed to be ruthless and to be practical rather than good (one of the things I always admired about Louis XIV in my study of him). The work is not based, however, on political theory or the "should" school of action, it comes from Machiavelli's direct observation and experience of successful rulers. He is obviously aware of classical works on the subject, like Aristotle's Politics, but suggests those classical treatises do not apply to the modern Renaissance world.

One can certainly disagree with Machiavelli about the "proper" actions to be taken by a prince who wants to be "succesful," and even the definition of successful. What cannot be disputed is that Machiavelli is, sadly, on target in most of his thinking.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions was one of the first nonfiction books I read that could be called feminist. I was working and living in NYC. Why did it take so long? Good questions, because it was immediately clear that I am a  feminist. Still and despite the bad press for using that word in this modern 21st century world.

"Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful": this is Steinem on academic jargon. I want to have a t-shirt with this emblazoned on it!

Steinem is one of the most intelligent and far-seeing of the feminists who changed the way we think about women (a little). Her book is personal but profound using everyday prose to detail the ways in which she observed misogyny and anti-women actions in the 1970s and 1980s. As a young woman, I found it profoundly eye-opening about the realities of my life, the daily interactions going on around and to me.

Steinem never shows off. She simply speaks in a straightforward style that anyone can understand, even if you do not agree with what she says. There is no hiding, no colonizing, no appropriation of resources. Which of course makes her dangerous, not only to misogynists but to the feminists who wish to control the argument, rather than include all women, all men, all persons in the movement toward true gender equity.

Writing a Woman's Life is a non-fiction book by Carolyn Heilbrun, and it was probably the first book I read in a feminist grad class. A small book, it rocked my world as a writer, a future academic, and a woman. Heilbrun addresses the myth of women, specifically women writers who actually lived, by interrogating the ways in which male biographers and female autobiographers construct those lives.

In other words, how they turn fact into fiction/myth that suits the general stereotypes about women as artists, writers, creators (outside of maternity), and individual actors of their own reality. It is not a pretty book, and like most feminist writers of the 1980s, Heilbrun (like Steinem) sees the room for vast change and the need for it now. Both women wanted to educate a generation of women--mine--about how to be truthful about their own, life experiences even if those life experiences did not conform to social mores.

So... three writers who do a bit of "Emperor's New Clothes" revelating. No wonder I am interested in them, then and again now.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I've been reading a lot of minimalism blogs and about minimalism during the last few months. I am sure readers have noticed my ceaseless documentation of Goodwill, purging, saving, etc...

I am a gatherer by nature. Part of it is probably because my parents were minimalists: they didn't call it that, but having grown up through the Depression in middle-class families on limited incomes, they were prudent with money. My paternal grandfather was worked in the Pittsburgh train yard and my paternal mother was a schoolteacher, while my maternal grandparents were farmers and my grandpa worked as a postal clerk on the NY trailroad system.

When I was a kid, there were no credit cards in the house. We paid cash for everything and lived completely within my dad's earnings, with considerable savings. I remember when my folks bought two cars from Ford, both new, completely for cash: a Pinto and a station wagon. We had a nice house, ate well, took vacations, and had nice furniture. But my folks never spent recklessly or extravagantly on themselves or us.

One problem was that they didn't pass this lesson on--not their fault, more about me.  My folks obviously thought that such logical behavior would naturally follow with their children. It didn't (actually, this was kind of a pattern of my upbringing). When I started working, I started spending. I've carried debt a good portion of my adult life--like a good consumer-American--and mostly for things that completely depreciated after purchase, like clothes and meals out.

The reason I say this is because being minimal goes against my nature: not owning extras, or stuff, whatever, creates a little anxiety in me. I feel secure with "stuff."  A few years of therapy might clear that up, or not. But the last couple months have been very good for me in general: Getting rid of excess "stuff" (whether giving it away, throwing it out, or best of all selling it) has been a way of becoming un-stuck. Which is huge.

Here's what I have learned or am learning:
1. Nothing will happen if that excess baggage leaves your clutch. You didn't need it, you won't need it, and God knows we live in a world where you can find a duplicate on-line if you do need it.
2. "Papers" should be digital, regardless of sci-fi paranoia. If the grid goes down, are you really going to want your electricity bill in hard copy?
3. Debt is a bad thing: no one cares about you as a person at banks or credit bureaus, and why should they? You are a number and they have lots of numbers. Credit cards don't put people in debt, people do: I put myself in debt and I have to get myself out. And like most adult crap it is harder to get out than in. Figure it out!
4. Technology is actually helpful. I don't want to stop reading real, material books, but a digital reader is going to be fine for the kind of crap paperbacks I love to gorge on whole as relaxation. Lighter, quicker, cheaper, and far more green than paperbacks I either have to toss (heartbreak!) or sell (lugging!). Jessica at Minimal Student points out the wonders of the iPhone with 3G--which I hadn't considered. I am going to be far more respectful of my cell now.
5. Lots of stuff means ugly stuff and useless stuff that nags at your brain. I've said it before, here:  "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."  Which also means, figure of what you need and love, and sometimes the two are one!
6. Sometimes giving yourself a lot of choice only leads to getting stuck. Or knowing intuitively the five things you really love and use within an over-stuffed closet.
7. Someone else will love it and use it, if you release whatever the "thing" is.
8. Empty space means breathing. It is the space between the notes, as someone said, that makes the music. Meaning, too, as I tell my writing students: don't be afraid of pause, silence, beat.

I still have lots of things and probably always will. But I don't "need" so many of them and I don't want the debt that makes me feel like Marley's Ghost at times. I am far luckier than many people, who have huge debts and/or a family that needs to be fed, clothed, and transported on one salary. Which, again, I have come more and more to think about.

I earn more than my dad did for most of his adult life; unlike him, I support one person. He financially supported five without debt. So. Being mindful of my blessings and of the fact that I choose how I use my resources (money, time, health) is better than being oblivious or stupidly focused.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday mess

I have been trying to keep up with posting every day, but today got away from me. Two reasons: first, it is the kind of cold, gray, could-be-rainy day that makes me want to stay in pajamas and under the covers, and second, I am busy writing.

Not this, but something... else.

Thank God I am going through a fertile and connected writing time. (Knock wood, now that I say that aloud!) I am working every day (!) on a project, started in mid-September and about... two weeks from done. Dun. Doooonnnnneeee. Hallelujah.

This is very good, as both inspiration and the plain old will to write has eluded me, thanks to the High Drama (that's Draw-Ma!) nature of my job during the last... eighteen months. I've been like Sisyphus, rolling a really, really big rock up a hill: writing got done, just badly and slowly.

When inspiration and fertile thoughts hit, you simply have to put the phone on voice mail, push the Barney video in the VCR with "repeat", ignore the mail and the wash, and work it. So, forgive me, but I am happy. And if you don't forgive me, whatever, because I'm still happy!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November's books

#19, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone byJ.K.Rowling and #20, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

You might have noticed by days are slipping by too quickly!

I actually include Harry Potter #1 in lieu of the entire series, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Okay, maybe except for the last book, because I completely thought D*#@&%*!e was actually alive and would return. Yes, that's how certain I was: ruined the final book for me. Truthfully, my favorites in the series are #3 Prisoner of Azkaban and #4 Goblet of Fire.

This series single-handledly made kids read again. And who isn't for that? Sure a bunch of cranks and sad people, but everyone else at least was happy boys were reading (!) and girls had significant roles in the stories without being all caught up in their haircare. Good stuff! Adults and kids could read it, and yes, it got quite dark towards the end (I was simply torn up by the end of #4! Shocked, as well!).

Rowling is, simply, a great storyteller. One who cares about her plot and characters, as well as the details of the world she creates. I admire her precision, imagination, and moral vision.

Personally, I either wanted my own wand (which one would choose me?) or to run the wand shop.

The Prince of Tides by Conroy is, in my opinion, his best novel. And, again, I read them all. From The Water is Wide, to The Great Santini, to The Lords of Discipline, in my opinion Conroy is one of the great novelists of his generation and of the American landscape in the 1960s and 1970s. Underappreciated, frankly.

Perhaps it is because his novels do not break new ground in terms of style or language. Conroy simply chooses to tell a compelling story with fascinating (if not always likable) characters. This novel moved me terribly, because it is about confronting the past, no matter what, in order to live. The movie stinks, turned into a vehicle for Barbra Streisand's ego. Ugh. The novel is lyrical, gorgeous, and naked.

7 in7 -- purging and saving

Yesterday I completed #6. I have to go on and sign some papers, but yes, the refund from '08 will be in my hands soon. And then in the credit card company's hands...
  1. a week's meals from pantry and freezer only
  2. box of student plays #2 to office
  3. penultimate pile of magazines to dumpster
  4. CD rack purged for Goodwill
  5. DVD rack purged for Goodwill
  6. tax man: talk to him about 2008 -- try #2
  7. consignment store -- try #3
Happiness is mine!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday, and it's Hamlet

I've been teaching Hamlet to my sophomores. Oh, if only I had the lost musical version... oh wait!

Ah, Shakespeare, Gilligan, and Bizet! And this, which is the one I cannot forget:


7 in 7 -- purging and saving

 So far, so good.
  1. a week's meals from pantry and freezer only
  2. box of student plays #2 to office
  3. penultimate pile of magazines to dumpster
  4. CD rack purged for Goodwill
  5. DVD rack purged for Goodwill
  6. tax man: talk to him about 2008 -- try #2
  7. consignment store -- try #3


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Express Checkout Experiment--going beyond

This week I kept the same basic 15 pieces, just added in four new pieces. So far, so good. I am still experimenting with accessories, and since the temps have dropped, shawls and scarves are very popular in my daily dress-up.

I have noticed that two of the original pieces aren't getting much rotation. This does surprise me, since I chose them because I thought they'd be useful and fit into a weekly round nicely. Wrong! The only red piece I have is a silk tunic I bought at Target two decades ago (imagine!) which has always been a go-to piece for me. This fall, however, I notice that it is finally looking frayed at the cuffs and the color is tired. The original color was a lovely lipstick red, a blue-red, rather than a primary, which looks great with my skin tones. The blue shirt simply feels wrong: the fabric is too stiff and the color is too gray. I love blue shirts, but after hunting the net, I think I might go into Brooks Brothers and try out their women's shirts for fit and fabric. And color: I want a nice British banker blue.

In general, though, this has been a great experiment. I have variety, but not so much I am stumped by choice. I have already purged through the closet, and it is almost time--over T'giving, perhaps?--to purge again, with more serious intent. I have a pile of Goodwill options, as well as consignment possibilities.

But I still feel as if I am dressing well every day.

November's books

#17, Aftermath by Frederick Downs and #18, Inferno by Dante Aligheri

Well, an interesting combination.

Aftermath by Frederick Downs was one of the last books I worked on in my old life as a publicity specialist/book publishing, long, long ago. Fred was an Indiana farm boy who enlisted for Vietnam at 18, went to war, and returned some time later with medals (lots of medals! including the Silver Star) and multiple scars/wounds from stepping on a land mine. When I met him, he was 38 or 40 and one of the most dynamic, interesting, charismatic people I have ever had the privilege to meet. The Killing Zone is the first part of the story, and takes him up to the moment where he steps on the landmine; Aftermath is the "after" part, where he wakes in the hospital, weans himself off pain meds, and begins a slow recovery of mind and body. He then returns home at the height of the protests about Vietnam, to be greeted cruelly at the airport with shouts of "Baby Killer," etc.

Reading this book and meeting Fred was a mind-blowing experience. I was, of course, anti-war (still am!) and grew up in a place where that was taken for granted. I remember Huntley and Brinkley and the nightly count of dead on the TV screen. I lived in a house where my parents slowly came to change their minds about Vietnam, Nixon, and "the truth," which they never hid from us kids. But Fred came from a different tradition and mindset: he felt (and still feels, I am certain) that is it an honor and a duty to serve your country--two words that have little meaning any more, to too many who use them--and has never been ashamed of his service. He was also clear: at 18 with little education in central Indiana, the Army offered him something he wouldn't otherwise get, an education and a future.

Fred lost an arm, and suffered massive injuries. And when I met him he drove fast cars, boats, and acted as an extra in films. Now he is the Chief Procurement Officer and Clinical Logistics Officer for the VHA. In our conversations, he never pushed a pro- or anti-war agenda, only a pro-veteran one, simply by being himself. So many of us think we know what should or should not happen, given war. I believe we should not have gone into Iraq, and I deplore the senseless deaths and crippling of Americans and Iraquis. That crippling is not only physical but emotional and mental, and those soldiers will suffer for a long time. So will their families. And for what?  But that is vastly different than being on the ground, in the zone, and making decisions, surviving and keeping your comrades alive. That is completely different than politics, strategy, long-term goals, and global economics: that is what Fred writes about.

Before you talk to a vet about what happened, read this. When I was in grad school, a friend who had been in Vietnam introduced me to a lot of vets. I was glad I had met Fred and read his books before she did.

I still cannot believe that I never read this in college or graduate school. And I was took courses in Italian and Comparative Literature, as well as majoring in English as an undergrad. I found the series of translations by Robert and Jean Hollander, and never looked back (on Paradiso, now). The series offers a side-by-side translation, with Dante's original Italian on the left and the Hollanders' English on the right; not only am I loving the series but reawakening my Italian skills, which had sorely lapsed.

Inferno is beautiful: Dante's storytelling skills are fantastic and the Italian is simply gorgeous. Dante wrote this as Italian was emerging as a written langauge (in 1300 c.e.), and this is a model for poetry and Italian and narrative all in one. Simply amazing!

The Hollanders are a formidable team, but the end result is accessible and moves quickly. The images evoked of the narrator's stroll down into Hell are powerful. Dante draws on Biblical and Christian ideas, but also on classical literature and his own sense of justice.

Christian or not, believer or not, one hould read Dante's epic poems for the beauty of the work and the imagination of a brilliant mind. And of course because Dante, like all good artists, challenges authority and the reader's expectations, forcing one to grow and change. Like all good books.

7 in 7, purging and saving

Yesterday, I got everything done--surprise!
  1. a week's meals from pantry and freezer only
  2. box of student plays #2 to office
  3. penultimate pile of magazines to dumpster
  4. CD rack purged for Goodwill
  5. DVD rack purged for Goodwill
  6. tax man: talk to him about 2008 -- try #2
  7. consignment store -- try #3

 Actually, I am not purging for Goodwill, but the local resale chain. Come December, I plan to take books, videos, DVDs, and CDs there for resale. So right now my living room space holds the filled and half-filled cardboard boxes.Not so neat. But it is soooooo satisfying to pile up the giveaways. I did the same with the CDs in my office at My U, too. So far I have found 3 CDs with duplicate copies, all of which were already on my iPod. Sigh. I will keep some CDs, because of the CD/tape boombox in my office: more convenient than playing them on the laptop, and I have yet to invest in an iPod speaker system. Why? I don't know... does seem like the future, doesn't it? I guess because I'd have to get a set for the office, and a set for home... then what?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

7 in 7, purging and saving

Oops. The day got away from me. I did take out two garbage bags and cleaned out the litter box, but somehow forgot this. To be done today! And #4: purging CDs.
  1. a week's meals from pantry and freezer only
  2. box of student plays #2 to office
  3. penultimate pile of magazines to dumpster
  4. CD rack purged for Goodwill
  5. DVD rack purged for Goodwill
  6. tax man: talk to him about 2008 -- try #2
  7. consignment store -- try #3


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Frugal week report

This week, I didn't spend as much on groceries, because I didn't have the monthly "Big Shop." But I did stock up, as planned.

Groceries: spent $66.76, saved $19.49; which equals 30% saved.

I also got a free tall coffee with empty Starbucks ground coffee bag, which is another $1.85 saved. (This is a great deal: bring the empty bag to any Starbucks counter for a free tall drink.)

As I planned, I bought brown sugar, flour, butter, chicken broth, aluminum wrap, baker's chocolate, and walnuts, all on sale. With vanilla and baking soda from last week, I am ready now to bake muffins, cookies, and pumpkin/spice bread for the holidays. And maybe for the next three to four months. Still have to restock spices, but I plan to wait until December for that: the bulk spices aren't on sale, and I have to buy several new jars too, although my rack won't hold them.

Yesterday I also received my most recent "ebate" from Ebates in the amount of $46: that will go directly into long-term savings! (i.e., the mattress fund.)

I did spend money on some household items, however:
  • A bike rack for the car, the "girl's bike" converter (grrrrr!), and a safety vest (ORANGE!). Upside: now I can get Bella's annual check-up. Downside: I'll look like a dork. A safe dork, but a dork.
  • 2 martini glasses and olive picks. Love to make martinis at home, but no proper glassware. Instead of buying 8 or 12 however, as in the past, I bought 2. One for me and one for a guest, or one for me and one for the dishwasher. Win, win.
  • Cupcakes at Sprinkles, for me. Because I needed them. And the salty caramel will go away too soon.
I also joined the bike store's co-op. Since I was paying over half (!) of the amount needed to recoup the lifetime membership fee, and since I have a bike that will always need "stuff," as the salesman so elegantly put it, this seemed a smart notion. The store is a national chain, on-line too of course, but they sell camping gear, clothing, and even maps as well as biking "stuff." That's where I got the vest, and I had been looking for a while. I re-coup 10% of what I buy, so over time this seemed a smart option of earning back actual money. We'll see.

7 in 7, purging and saving

Day Two.
  1. a week's meals from pantry and freezer only
  2. box of student plays #2 to office
  3. penultimate pile of magazines to dumpster
  4. CD rack purged for Goodwill
  5. DVD rack purged for Goodwill
  6. tax man: talk to him about 2008 -- try #2
  7. consignment store -- try #3
As I said yesterday, I cooked five-bean soup. I ate the last of the potato-leek soup last night, so will start on this today. That potato-leek-bacon soup was delicious--and very thick and filling. The homemade pumpkin bread went very well with it. 
I also have an acorn squash that needs cooking. I'm going to make a filling with wild rice, walnuts, and cranberries, and then the squash will give me at least 2 side-dishes with the soup. Again, all bought before Sunday and from pantry or freezer.
I have one final pile of magazines to dump. I've been resisting since Jack likes to sit on it and look out the front window. Here in the Metroplex we have long windows that are no more than 18" above the floor. But I've found a solution for the magazine pile, or two, really, so that we can try and see which one Jack likes best. The point is to get the magazines out of the house.
I've been resisting doing this because they are the magazines I like, and I am certain they hold articles I "need." But I never look at them and never look to see where those "needed" articles are. So... dump. Everything is on-line anyway, and I get articles form this magazine in my emailbox. Which is why I don't buy the print edition any more. Hasta la vista, baby! 

Monday, November 15, 2010


My beautiful bike Bella has been having a hard time of it.

She spent the summer outdoors while I was away, and now is the beginning of the rainy season in our fair city.  Unfortunately, when I was out back last, she also had a flat. The bike store where I bought her, which specializes in cruisers, has moved downtown, and there is no other place nearby.

Which means buying a bike rack for my Ford Escort, so I can transport Belle to the bike shop for her check-up and possibly a new tire (this is the third flat on the same tire). I found one online that carries only a single bike (rare!) and can be used on a hatchback as well as a sedan. It is even in a store near here. Since I bought a "girl bike" I also need to shell out $36 for a bar to carry my bike like a straight-bar bike. Once again, being a girl costs extra for accessories! $36! The rack costs $50!

But I want to get Bella up and running so I can stay a/ healthy and b/ cheap on gas. Want to become an all-weather rider, as well as expanding my bike route. Ideally, I will be using it to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, and coffee shop, as well as school. "Ideally."

Update: bought the rack Saturday, as well as the "girl bike" converter. And an ORANGE safety vest, which Ihad been wishing I had for some time, given the dark mornings and afternoons. This week, I hope to get the tire fixed as well as the check-up, and then we're off! Back to riding in to work.

7 in 7, purging and saving

New group for the coming week.
  1. a week's meals from pantry and freezer only
  2. box of student plays #2 to office
  3. penultimate pile of magazines to dumpster
  4. CD rack purged for Goodwill
  5. DVD rack purged for Goodwill
  6. tax man: talk to him about 2008 -- try #2
  7. consignment store -- try #3
This one, I've gotten started with a five-bean soup, all from pantry. Cooked it yesterday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November's book

#14, The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

I read this novel in college, for a different class.

A complicated look at Hollywood and the burgeoning of 20th, now 21st century culture. The story focuses on a group of people with aspirations in Hollywood,and the failure of most of them to make it on any level, including interpersonal relationships.

It is a bleak, fearsome novel about desire, gratification, superficiality, and desperation. I remember being strongly affected by it, esepcially because I have always loved movies from the 1030s and 1940s, where West sets his story. But the pretty images are just that: pretty images.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November's books

#13, The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander (1965)

This book along with The Legends of King Arthur were the first books I ever bought wiht my own money, at a book sale at the Unitarian Church we attended (where I learned to make macaroni pictures and do magic tricks!). I still have both.

This is part two of a five-part series (note the Macbeth-y witches on my cover!). As a kid, I never got that it was part of a series. It is a "Lord of the Ring" type medieval/fantasy saga that includes knights, magic, and quests. I don't think I ever read more than one or two of the rest of the series, but I loved the spookiness and size of this story, the magic and fantasy. It took me a while to get thru it--I was five when I bought it--but I guess I see where I got my love of this type of epic saga. Oh, and with King Arthur tales...

Cooking and frugality

This is the time of year to stock up on baking and cooking ingredients. In all the grocery stores there are endcaps and stand-alones of sugar, flour, spices, nuts, etc., and the adverts are full of the great prices as well.

For someone without a pantry (like me!), however, this might pose problems in storage and over-buying. On the one hand, I love to cook and bake, and having supplies on hand makes it easy to whip up cranberry-orange muffins or pumpkin bread and round out a week of soup menus with home-made/low-fat/natural food goods. On the other, things do have a shelf life and take up shelf space.

Spices: might be a good time to empty and refill my spice containers. I buy in bulk--rather than in jars--and keep them above the stove. Some get used up a couple of times during the year, and some don't. Setting an annual clean-and-buy might be a good tradition to start for the freshest spices. And while I have 12 jars, I also keep a handful of plastic envelopes of spices that I don't have a jar for. Buying some inexpensive jars might be smarter and give more of a sense of what I definitely need to keep on hand.

Buying in bulk is cheaper than buying jars, and you don't have to get rid of the used/empty jars. I think the spices are fresher, too. Unfortunately, only one natural foods chain in town carries bulk spices any more, and I avoid them as they are Temptation Central. But one massive trip for everything would be a focused, one-stop shop... especially if I don't go at a busy time.

Sugar: Buying brown sugar and confectioner sugar at this time of year might be smart. It is on sale everywhere. I like to use the brown in combination with or instead of white sugar. I have Splenda, but the cost is prohibitive. I also get ants, which means double-bagging the sugar and storing it carefully. Big paper bags of sugar are wasteful users of fridge space; again, I buy white sugar in bulk. Only use it for baking: not coffee or tea, etc.

I have cut way down on sugar as well, so am consciously reducing the amount asked for by 1/3 to 1/2, or finding subtitutes: brown sugar, Splenda, sometimes applesauce. Between storage and insects, not worth it to buy big amounts, no matter the savings. Brown sugar--yes.

Baking power, baking soda, corn starch, and flour: These dry goods have the same issues, storage and insects. I just replaced my baking soda, the powder is good for another six months, corn starch is good forever (isn't it?). Flour is another matter: here again I buy in bulk, both white and whole wheat. I store it double-bagged on counter in tin cannisters, but most goes in the fridge, also double-bagged. Since flour is used in greater bulk than anything else, buying more at a time seems smart. So yes, I'll probably be buying new 5lb bags of flour during the holiday sales. And storing them all winter/spring. The savings issues are actually worth it, since running out of flour stops one dead in cooking or baking. And flour is flour, after all. Coupons and sales means a bit of stocking up.

Chocolate: I do buy and store unsweetened baking chocolate and cocoa. This is a great time of year for both. I don't keep chocolate chips on hand: too likely to eat them some night when PMS or life makes me crazy. But the other two are always useful and store well. They also usually have coupons. So they go on my grocery list.

Butter, oils, cooking spray: Big savings now on all of these. I prefer butter and olive oil, but have learned the joys of baking sprays and olive oil sprays--without CFCs. I am also cutting back on the amount of butter I use in recipes: again by 1/4-1/3. Nothing bad has happened yet, and the taste of butter is better for me. But butter does go bad, so I don't buy more than one or two pounds ahead; the freezer is where the extras go. Oil I don't use as much, so buy small: I won't buy extra now because I don't like giving up shelf space to it. Where I can save, I will, but space is more important to me here, and a little butter goes a long way. I've already noticed a ton of grocery coupons for all of the above, if I need them.

Cranberries and nuts: I do stock up on these, especially cranberries and walnuts. They'll store in the freezer and go a long way, even one bag. Again, coupons and sale prices abound.
Update: I just cleaned out my freezer and found 3 bags of cranberries left over from last year, 2 containers of chicken stock (is it any good? I guess we'll see), and 3 containers of blueberries. All the excuse I need for cranberry-orange or blueberry muffins every week this month. And taking them into class on Mondays? Exta credit for me.

My big cooking plan this week is multi-bean soup, and I have all the ingredients, but fresh spices/herbs would be nice for it. And cooking the acorn squash I got with a new recipe for wild rice stuffing, with rice, cranberries, and walnuts. The rest of the pumpkin bread (which tastes fine, just looks funny) will round that out, and if I run out I'll bake cranberry-orange muffins. Hey, sounds good. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

If I were in Paris... November 12, 2010

I would probably be staying out of the way of the protestors. Oy! All France will be out, since the bill raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 is now law as of Wednesday.

It would be a good time to take a brisk walk, perhaps over in the 16th arr., in the Bois de Boulogne area. Few protestors will probably be here, simply because it is out of the way, far on the western side of the city. However, that is not to say there are not some lovely museums and sights in that area or nearby. The Maison de Balzac, home of the famous writer is here (I've never been!). The Musee Guimet, home to a collection of Asian art and artifacts. The Musee Baccarat (crystal and glass), the Musee Clemenceau, the Musee Galliera (fashion and costumes--small but stunning), the curious Musee de Contrefacon (museum of counterfeiting: I must go, next time I am in Paris!), Musee de l'Homme, and the ever-delightful Musee Marmottan-Monet, where a collection of Monet's work hides. This arrondissement holds more museums on more topics than any other section of the city!

I also love this part of the city because it is the "city" of Gigi and Paris's 19th-century playwrights and novelists. This is where the upper middle class families lived in apartment blocks. Les cocottes (some actresses) came here to show off the carriages, horses, furs, jewelry, and couture clothing bought for them by their lovers, and made the staid housewives and daughters envious.

It was a great place for rendez-vous, this "woods" on the outskirts of Paris, more refined than the Bois de Vincennes on the eastern part of town. And near the great racetrack.

And there is great walking: wide avenues with great viewing of people and buildings. After a while, the 16th is all the same, but it is always pleasant.

There is also the great walk of Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore/Rue Saint-Honore, which takes you through the 16th and down into the 1st. A lovely walk ith a 19th-century history, starting at Place des Ternes and ending near Les Halles.

Then one can eat in the inexpensive but again delightful cafe in the Trocadero Palace, entered from behind (away from the Seine). I might even walk all the way to the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de l'Etoile.

This time of year, when dark comes early and the lights are so gorgeous on the boulevards, I love to eat inside cafes and watch out through the windows. They all seem cosy, and the basic French fare is so hearty: roast chicken, onion soup, etc. Even having a simple crepe becomes wonderful, since it is warm and you are warm and the lights are so bright.

November's books

#12, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)

What can I say? A book that combines science fiction with magical realism.

I bought this again last year to re-read (haven't done so since I was 12, maybe), but it is still on the pile. I think I hope it is as good as I remember, that it stands up to time, and I am not sure if being "grown-up" will ruin such good memories.

It is a science book about a girl who has adventures, here. What's not to like for my nerdy/geeky 12-uear-old awkward self?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November's books

#11, Night Without End by Alistair MacLean (1959)

Yes, this one might seem off a bit, but in keeping with the theme of childhood books, somehow (?) I got hooked on this writer's action-espionage series when I found them in our library, while in sixth grade. Apparently, it sparked a life-long love affair with action-adventure, espionage, and well-written thrillers.

MacLean's books sparked a host of movies in the 1960s but this one and a couple of others I really liked never made it to the screen. This particular novel is about a passenger planeload of people who crash near the ice cap in Greenland. Ouch. Great fare for an imaginative child.

This series of books started my trend for reading everything by one author in a huge gulp. I love it.

The twists and turns of his plots, especially in these early books, are marvelous. How the hero and friends survive the weather and the baddies among them is masterful. See, the cover says so: "Master Storyteller." The fact is that we too often dismiss "popular" books and don't take the time to see why they're popular, or how they reach beyond genre or "pulp" to demonstrate real skill and technique. My students and I argued about the Twilight series and the Harry Potter series--they prefer the second, as do I--but Twilight is ragingly popular. Why? I don't know, but as aspiring writers perhaps they'd better take a look, at least, at the market, the audience, and different forms of "successful" or "good" writing, in order to make an informed choice about their own future path.

I never said they'd all be masterpieces!