Friday, March 4, 2016

November's books (reposted)

#15, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884) and #16, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925).

Another two-fer.

Huck Finn was another book I read in high school that whizzed past my head. Zzzzzzzp! No traces left from the passing. Later, as an adult, I reread it and discovered what Twain was all about: that sharp, funny "American" voice that speaks as if naive but in reality sees the world just fine, thanks. I cannot believe anyone reading this book thinks or thought that Twain advocated slavery or racial inequality. It is of course Huck whose world-view is undone by the discovery that Jim is a man, like any man, not an object to be owned or ordered about.

Then, as now, Twain's bluntness (in Huck's mouth) offended people. He intended to do so, and intended that people stop being racist by confronting the dirty secret of their racism and change. It is a satire, folks!

It is not a young adult novel. I wish people would stop treating it as f it were, simply because Huck is a "young adult." It is a grown-up person's book, and if we recognize that, we'll all be happier and more sensible. Personally, I dislike Tom Sawyer. He is a Ferris Beuller-sort of hero, a show-off and a bully, and I like Huck as a character much better. I know too many Toms and not enough Hucks.

Mrs. Dalloway wasn't the first Woolf novel I read, but the first one I understood. It certainly helped me figure out what Woolf was doing with space and time in her novels, which was the modernist key, I think. Or maybe I am wrong and never got it. But... this novel opened the world of Woolf's writing to me, and coupled wiht Hermoine Lee's brilliant biography, made me understand Woolf's art and voice. Better, actually, than all that talk about Woolf as a feminist and as a woman writer--how about just as a writer, like Twain or Hemingway or any other of the writers on my list.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

New Frugality and Becoming Clutter-Free (Repost)

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." William Morris

Morris is one of my personal heroes, and I have this quote hanging in my home office, brought directly from Kelmscott, the William Morris home in the Cotswolds.

This quote alone has been making me think deeply about the many, many things in my house right now... and how some of them need to go to a new home. My second donation of the month--donated to the thrift store for a fund for breast cancer survivors--is growing and growing. Thus far, my 6.5 digital crockpot, my old canister vacuum cleaner, kitchen bakeware (including cookie sheets, pieplates, and a springform pan), 3 rolls of Contac paper, 4 pairs of shoes, purses, clothes, sheets and pillowcases, and a lovely beige throw are in the mix. In addition, I am getting 7 items out of my house and out of my life, back where they belong (7 in 7).

This entire exercise has made me realize that I own three of everything... "Just in case." The funny thing is that my taste makes me buy the same things, but I either forget I have two already or simply think I need three, all evidence to the contrary.

The energy that has come out of getting things out of my life has been tremendous and surprising. As I have said, the incoming new possibilities are also exciting. I am determined to spend the next several months paring down, donating and selling and throwing out. My goal is to create breathing space in my life and to get myself unstuck, in a variety of ways.

This has also been helped by commiting to the Express Lane Checkout Challenge: wearing only 15 items from my closet, not including outerwear, shoes, accessories, and lingerie. Week Two and going strong.

To get specific about my New Frugality, I also hope to generate some monies from selling clothes, books and media. That's Part II of the plan, which can't be initiated until I feel more energy and self-generated movement beyond simply bundling up and dumping off stuff.

Unfortunately, I can't say my spending habits have been exemplary during this month. I will have run through the saved money in my primary savings account by Friday, sadly. Next month I hope to have some left over to move into the secondary, long-term savings account. We'll see. I did make some changes already, paying myself first, by scheduling a transfer of last month's saved grocery monies, etc., into my long-term account as soon as the paycheck comes in (see counter at right); this puts my long-term saved at nearly half my goal.

Beyond that, November means:
  • creating a budget for weekly grocery buying, including planning to take advantage of gas discounts from a favorite grocery chain;
  • commiting to emptying out the pantry of beans, rice, canned vegetables
  • commiting to emptying out the freezer of broth, soups, frozen vegetables
  • limiting my eating out/drinking out events to Sunday breakfast, Tuesday dinner, and a weekly drinks with friends
It also means starting to pay down my two remaining credit cards in a serious way, putting me on a schedule to be debt-free of one card by April 2011, and of the other by May 2012. Given that I also plan to stay in Big D over the summer, writing and researching while teaching two courses... I might even get ahead of that schedule. Specifically, by the time I teach at Oxford again, I will be debt-free with savings.

3.2.16: In the spirit of clutter-free and recycling, I am recycling some of my most popular posts from the early years of this blog. Yes, I still have and believe in the Morris quote, I am still recycling items out of my house (this week: clothes, kitchen items, makeup brushes, magazines, books, and health & beauty items given to my students!). While I will never be a minimalist--lightbulb!--I am determined to have 25% less "stuff" in my closets, on my bookshelves, and in the huge plastic tubs that store... things. How about you? Any great stories about decluttering or recycling out there? 

Friday, February 26, 2016

New Treat: Le Creuset pot

For an early birthday present, I bought myself a prezzie: my first Le Creuset pot, a 2.75 qt. round Dutch oven. It arrived yesterday.

Oh, it is so beautiful! I cannot wait to use it.

This is super-great, too, because I just unloaded a large group of older pans to Goodwill. This one will more than fulfill the use of those older pots. It is also perfect in size for my single-life cooking,w here I really only want to cook two or three servings (not eight!) for me. Part of my New Year's resolutions for 2010, to cook and eat better. Meaning in part smaller, cheaper, more skillfully.

Yay, me!

2.26.16: Six years later and not a week has gone by I didn't use this... except when I was out of town. Soups, stews, and all sorts of delicious cookings. Next to the crockpot, this pan is probably one of the best investments I've made for my kitchen. Bad news, this color, Cobalt, has been "discontinued" by Le Creuset. There are three or four other blues, but none this gorgeous. Good news, before they were gone I got these beauties:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Favorite Things: Shadow of a Doubt (Repost)

One of my favorite movies is Hitchcock's 1943 Shadow of a Doubt.

Apparently, it was one of Hitchcock's favorites, as well, although there are lots of people who have never seen it. It is not as famous as other of Hitch's films, like Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, or To Catch a Thief. Each of those had bigger names or, in the case of Psycho, overtly more famous scenes (Janet Leigh's slashing murder in the shower, combining sex and blood, mmmm).

I have always found Shadow of a Doubt terrifying, creepy, and a fine mix of comedy and skin-crawling suspense.

The scriptwriters are worth noting. One was Alma Reville, Hitchock's wife. She was his editor and assistant director, but one of the writers not only on this film but on Secret Agent, Suspicion and The Paradine Case for Hitch. The other two are more intersting to me, personally. One was Sally Benson, the author of Junior Miss (a novel that became a successful play and radio program, one of my period favorites when I was a pre-teen, about the wholesome experiences of a young girl in high school....), as well as the filmscripts for Anna and the King of Siam, Little Women, The Singing Nun, Come to the Stable, and (hilariously!) Viva Las Vegas, yes--the Elvis film! If you know these films, you recognize them as generally wholesome, optimistic, upbeat films. Her most famous filmscript is undoubtedly Meet Me in St. Louis, the Judy Garland/Margaret O'Brien musical.

...and Shadow of a Doubt? Her first film credit.


The other writer is Thornton Wilder--yes, the author of Our Town. Only five years after writing Our Town and winning the Pulitzer Prize for it, Wilder co-pens this disturbing view into the emotional corruption of a happy suburban girl.

The participation of Benson and Wilder in this film actually intrigues me and freaks me out.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright are marvelous as the central duo, young Charlotte, known as Charlie, and her maternal Uncle Charlie. This is one of Hitchcock's films based on visual/metaphorical duets, like Strangers on a Train or Vertigo, where two characters mirror each other's emotional, psychological, or physical acts. Charlie is a young woman from a nice middle-class family who lives in Santa Rosa, California; she has no job, seems to have graduated from high school, and appears to drift without direction or purpose--in the most pleasant and charming manner. Uncle Charlie, in his niece's eyes, is a sophisticated, handsome man-of-the-world for whom she has been named and in whom she seems to see a kind of shadow self (male, older, wealthy, unattached) who can do the things and go all the places she fantasizes about. In reality, however, Uncle Charlie is the Merry Widow Murderer who marries and strangles wealthy widows, using all that charm, all those good looks, all his focus to seduce and kill.

The script opens with a remarkable dual sequence showing, first, Uncle Charlie in ugly East Coast Philadelphia, living in a tenement, pursued by government agents, and apparently sick to death of life. The rooming house with its gossipy landlady, the slum streets, and the overhead angles make the city look as filled with exhausted, as broken down, and as empty as Uncle Charlie does. Then we fly to Santa Rosa, young Charlie's city, where everyone smiles, the town sparkles, and golly, there are trees and big houses with shady porches. But Charlie is bored, distracted, and irritable with her lovely, simple family.

The problem is that once young Charlie and Uncle Charlie get into the same house, something's got to give. Charlie sets out to learn her uncle's secret--not knowing there is one and how bad it is. She simply wants to know more about the man she admires and emulates.

The film follows both of them, young Charlie as she discovers the ugliness behind her uncle's handsome facade and Uncle Charlie as he tries to evade government agents and his niece's questions. He tries to kill her three times--unsuccessfully. He reveals the nastiness inside himself--but only to her. He takes her to a bar, where she has obviously never been; this is a great scene, a kind of spiritual initiation for young Charlie into Uncle Charlie's world.

I love this film for its creepiness, for its weird mix of the obliviously happy/normal Santa Rosa folks and the self-aware/transformed people (like young Charlie, the government agent who is our romantic hero, and Uncle Charlie himself) who have been infected by the negative stuff of the 20th century (serial killing, consumer envy, urban blight). There is a scene that suggests that Uncle Charlie's "disease" comes from a fall he took on a bicycle when he was six or so, smacking his head and nearly dying. As his sister, young Charlie's mother, notes, "After that there was no holding him." Before, Uncle Charlie had been a bookworm, a reader, a quiet, well-behaved boy; after, an adventurer, a rover, a physically active boy who detached himself from their household. I like that this is hinted at but not some easy Freudian explanation of where a serial killer comes from; the scary thing is that Charlie himself doesn't seem to have any kind of conscience or guilt about his murders, simply the desire to enjoy its fruits and to stay out of jail... which seems more about freedom and preserving his reputation than fear of authority, either civil or religious. Uncle Charlie is almost, nearly a prophet: he looks at the modern world and seems corruption rather than progress, disease rather than stout health, and self-absorption rather than optimism. But he is, of course, corrupt himself, and murdering silly, lazy women isn't actually justifiable because they're, well, silly and lazy.

Wilder's participation in this is most interesting to me, because this seems the flip side of the simple optimism and flag-waving patriotism most people see in Our Town, without looking more deeply into the playwright's message. I have always thought that Wilder used that play to send a message about complacency and knee-jerk self-satisfaction; I think he does the same here.

It is a brilliant, chilling film with many individually fine performances, including and especially Patricia Collinge as young Charlie's mum and Uncle Charlie's older sister. The sequence in which she bakes a cake for the government agents is marvelous, highlighting the character's obliviousness to what is happening in her house under her nose. Because it is so "normal" Uncle Charlie's performance is scarier, in many ways, than the one-off horror of Psycho.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reposting favorite older posts

I'll be reposting some of the older posts that have gotten lots of comments and check-ins. I think a lot of these are actually pretty useful and still current. Check in with your comments to let me know what you think.

I'll still be writing new posts, but only a few times per week.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Top Ten Items in French Pharmacies... well, my 10 anyway

Recently I have been reading a lot of "top 10 items" under this particular heading. The interesting part is now that we're all global and everything, these items are more or less available without having to step foot in a French pharmacy... which is a shame, to be honest.

I love shopping in Paris pharmacies and Monoprix cosmetic sections.

My favorite pharmacy is everyone's favorite: City-Pharma at 26 rue du Four. Here's the Yelp review. Why do I love it? Um, the prices (which are even better than Monoprix prices), the madness of the customers inside, and the variety of wacky stuff I can buy, including organic teas.

This place is NOT for the faint of heart. French women push and shove and call you names in an attempt to get around in an admittedly overcrowded store on two levels, where the aisles are barely wide enough for one skinny Frenchwoman, and there are 300 of you.

Make sure--if you go--that you hit both floors, the organic/vitamin area, and the baby product areas. Have a list. Be polite but shameless. Look into other women's baskets to find out what they are buying and what sales items they've discovered.

If you cannot take this (and you'll know in about 60 seconds whether you can), go to Monoprix. Many of the same products can be found there, again at bargain prices, and it is rarely quite so gladiatorial. Here is an article with City Pharma but two other suggestions; there are pharmacies all over Paris: wander in and browse. It is education!

My top 10 favorite products from City Pharma or any Parisian pharmacy include:

1. Crealine H2O from Bioderma. This micellar water removes makeup beautifully and is recommended by models everywhere (well, then!). Recently, US brands have caught on to this: don't be fooled. Also, I recommend the sensitive skin version (pink cap) but there is also a version for acne-prone skin (Crealine Sebium H2O) that I use (green cap) that smells faintly cucumber-y but works for my skin.

2. Vichy's Purete Thermale 3 en 1 is also a makeup remover, a milky, soft-smelling cream that removes eye makeup including mascara (without stinging), general makeup, and acts as a toner. One tube lasts forever: worth every penny, because it leaves your skin feeling silky and read for nighttime moisturizer.

3. Avene Cleanance is a moderately priced and very gentle but thorough cleaning gel. I use it every morning in the shower, and my skin loves it (I have combination skin, and I've over 40). It never makes my skin tight or flaky, and I can use it with my Clarisonic without stopping everything away. the regular size bottle lasts me 5-6 months. No nasty smell, either.

4. Avene Cold Cream lip balm. This is my go-to lip balm any more, and I've tried the Caudelie, Nuxe (stick), and multiple others. This works when my lips are wintry-flaky, dry from heated air or sun, and cools as well as heals. Now, it does nothing for you in terms of color or shine, but it is not waxy or sticky--a bonus, in my opinion--and last long time.

5. Nuxe Reve de Meil. Now, this is the Cadillac of lip balms. The version in the pot is much, much better than the stick, and feels oh so good going on. Tastes good, smells good, lasts a long time, and if you like pots (I get irritated with having sticky fingers), this will make you happy. I do recommend it if this is the version of lip balm you prefer. Beats everything America's got.

6. Nuxe Creme Fraiche. This is my everyday moisturizer for day; I started using it about eight years ago when I was having real trouble with flaking and dull winter skin. It has been the product I've used longest on this list: cannot live without it. If you need something slightly heavier, the Creme Prodigieuse is that one--I have used that too. Yum. Reviewers sometimes get stuck on the scent of this, which is definitely personal. If Creme Fraiche bothers you, try the Prodigieuse. One jar lasts me about 3 months. Both can be bought on

7. Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse. I am obviously a big fan of the Nuxe line. Love the dry oil phenomenon? Nuxe was doing it with this way before everyone decided to jump on the bandwagon. And it has Vitamin E. This can be used on skin, hair, face... and smells great. It also comes in a version with gold flakes in it, but I go with the traditional. I use this on the dry skin on my arms, neck, décolleté, and it never makes me feel greasy, slick, or messy. Drys almost immediately; I often put it on in the morning right out of the shower, then finish putting on primer and moisturizer on my face, and by then I can dress and the oil doesn't track onto my clothing. If you;ve never tried a dry oil but were thinking about it, you might really love this one.

8. Elgydium Toothbrushes. Ok, this may sound crazy, but my dental visits have been much better since I started using these toothbrushes. No idea why. I pick up a year's worth at a time. Maybe I like brushing my teeth more with a toothbrush from Paris? Who wouldn't... and they're dead cheap.

9. Topicrem Body Lotion. I had read about this body lotion on multiple websites and lists, and finally bought a bottle. Ooh la la, yes. It is all that and more. Love it! Plus, simply inexpensive but again works on that nasty winter heated air skin that makes me itchy and twitchy. I am finicky about body lotions--both smells and textures--and this one passed both tests. I like the light, not cloying scent that fades quickly and doesn't overwhelm my perfume. I also like the light, melt-in-quick texture. Great to wear to bed, because I don't wake up with lotion-slick sheets.And a bottle lasts a long time.

10. Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk. This is another item that shows up on everyone's list. And deserves to. It is great for that second-day had you don't have time/can't wash (and Frenchwomen do not was their hair every day, n'est-ce pas?). Spray or squeeze in, brush out and voila! You're gone. Again, a nice, light scent that doesn't overwhelm. And by the way, the entire line of Klorane shampoos, conditioners, and hair products are fantastic--and come in sample sizes, if you want to experiment.

I haven't even included the great line of sunscreens from La Roche-Posay Anthelios, the Caudalie Beauty Elixir (big fan!), the Avene Eau Thermale sprays, the Homeoplasmine balm, Avibon Vitamin A cream, and on and on. Or cosmetics! My favorite lipstick comes from Monoprix's (now defunct) Miss Helen line; the in-house cosmetics are just as good (better?) than those by the name brands Monoprix also sells.

When you go to Paris, visit some pharmacies and try the lines by Vichy, Nuxe, La Roche-Posay, Caudalie, Klorane and other French brands. Or most of these are available thru either or Have a little splurge and see what these "top 10 lists" are all about.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Checking in... late

Wow, it has been some time since I've uploaded a new post!

Life has been busy--to say the least--and so I've been working on multiple projects since I last posted. Most of those are completed or moving along smoothly, and today I just happened to journey back this way.

I feel like I've stepped into a place where I used to live, very happily, and find that time has stopped in that space. Hmm. Maybe we need a bit of a dust off, yes?