Tuesday, June 9

The Chosen

A few days ago a postcard came in the mail. I glanced at it casually, expecting another local politician's plea for my vote.

"It is my pleasure to tell you that your household has been chosen to participate in a Nielsen Household survey!"

A thrill of excitement went through me. Moi? A Nielsen household? I have grown up with the knowledge that it is the Nielsen households who control the destiny of television shows. My grandmother had a subscription to TV Guide, and I learned early on that entertainment was a competitive business. Audiences could be lost in the crucial early minutes of a show, and the Nielsen ratings reflected this. I wondered what it was like to live in a Nielsen household, where you had to write down everything you watched.

"In a few days you will receive a large blue and white envelope," the postcard read. "In it you will find a brief Nielsen Household survey. This is a special opportunity for you to represent your opinion."

I waited eagerly for my large blue and white envelope to arrive. While I don't think I am ready to make the commitment it takes to be a real Nielsen household, I was quite willing to fill out a survey. I couldn't wait to tell them about how I always watch the first few minutes of 30 Rock after The Office and rarely make it through a whole episode. Or about how the ABC online episode player makes Firefox crash. Or that I would watch The Amazing Race if it didn't come on on Sunday nights. Or that the spelling bee on MPB was one of the most entertaining things I've watched on TV in months. Yes, this little postcard was my ticket to influence the entertainment world.

And finally, the survey came.

Dear reader, I'm sure you've learned by now that life is full of disappointments. The Nielsen survey was very short, and the closest I got to sharing my carefully planned answers was in the single line after, "What types of television shows do you typically watch?"

Life does, however, pleasantly surprise us at times. The Nielsen Company didn't want to know what I think about 30 Rock, but they did enclose two dollars for my trouble. Two dollars!

If anyone else would like to give me money for my opinions, just let me know.

Saturday, February 28

Books read 2008

I know I'm two months late with this, but just in case you like books and lists and lists of books as much as I do, here are the books I read in 2008.

1. The Irrational Season by Madeleine L'Engle
2. If On A Winter's Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino
3. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (audio book)
4. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
5. The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith (audio book)

6. The Interesting Narrative by Olaudah Equiano
7. The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes
8. My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
9. The Life and Destiny of Isak Dinesen by Frans Lasson and Clara Svendsen
10. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
11. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

12. Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson
13. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
14. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
15. The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry
16. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

17. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
18. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
19. Growing Pains: The Autobiography of Emily Carr by Emily Carr
20. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
21. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs
22. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winnifred Watson

23. Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

24. Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins
25. Sweet Valley High #1: Double Love by Francine Pascal
26. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoefer
27. Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
28. The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz (audio book)

29. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
30. Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency by Andrea Oppenheimer Dean and Timothy Hursley

31. The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
32. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
33. The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
34. What Are People For? by Wendell Berry
35. Saturday by Ian McEwan

36. Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar

37. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
38. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (audio book)

39. Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
40. Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton

41. The Case of the Smoking Chimney by Erle Stanley Gardner
42. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Gilead was easily one of my favorite books of the year. It reminded me to look for beauty all around me and to take the time to enjoy it, no matter how it came. Something as simple as a sprinkler on a sunny day can be glorious.

The Penderwicks and its sequel, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street were so charming. Rosalind, Jane, Skye and Batty Penderwick are four sisters who live with their widowed father and have active imaginations. These books reminded me so much of being younger, both in the way that I devoured them so quickly (like I used to do all the time), and in the ways I could relate to all the girls. These books have been criticized for being more innocent and old fashioned than the world is now, but I had a childhood much like this in many ways, and these books were a refreshing reminder of the best things about it.

Sailing Alone Around the Room gave me hope that I may come to like poetry someday. If you want to like poetry but struggle through it most of the time, this "best of" collection is a good place to begin.

Rural Studio documents the work that Samuel Mockbee and his architecture students at Auburn University have done in poor, rural communities in Alabama. Using salvaged materials, they design and built structures for the needy that are both usable and beautiful. To do something that helps people, is responsible with materials, and is artistically excellent—that is an exciting idea to me. I like to hear about any way to have a creative career that meets human needs and is others-focused.

Speak begins with Melinda's first day of 9th grade. Her schoolmates shun her because she called the cops on an end-of-summer party, but we don't know why she made the call until Melinda can find the strength to speak. Melinda narrates this story, and her voice, so darkly funny and honest, makes this one of the most powerful books I've read in a long time. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 25


This morning I saw a woodpecker hammering away outside my kitchen window. Unfortunately he flew away before I could get a better picture. I am so thankful that the sun is usually out when I get up now. It makes mornings so much easier. I like to stand in the sunniest spot while I eat breakfast. That spot happens to be a rather crowded corner, so I'm sure I look funny wedged in an awkward position when the rest of the kitchen is empty. But seeing everything bathed in morning light makes even ordinary things beautiful.

Monday, February 16

Focus on the positive

Spring is coming, and I am holding on until then. A few daffodils have come from nowhere in my back yard. I want some red rain boots and feel for the first time in my life that I may be able to justify owning some. I have a 5-minute walk from my car into work now, and having damp ankles all morning is most unpleasant. There, I said I wouldn't complain on this blog, and I just did. Solid or dot pattern?

Thursday, September 4

Summer cooking

A couple of Saturday mornings ago I woke up smiling because I had just dreamed an original episode of The Office. Most of it was pretty hazy, but the final scene stood out in perfect clarity. In it, Jim and Pam got engaged. Apparently I am looking forward to the new season. After waking I thought it was a wonderful scene, but after trying to recap the dialogue to friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that the awesomeness was all due to the Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson in my head and not the quality of writing. The actors delivered perfectly the warm, awkward humor I have come to love. The cameraman was also right on target, zooming in to capture everyone’s reactions to awkward moments. It was a bit unnerving to realize how much the pace of the show must have become second nature to me in order to have such an accurate and thorough dream. I’ve been watching Lost on dvd this summer, and I don’t want to start having Lost dreams.

The crinkly yellow leaves that are starting to fall on the front walk tell me that summer won’t last, so I’m trying to make the most of the long days and good produce. One night last week I stayed up past my bedtime in order to make kefta and zucchini kebabs, visit a friend, eat said kebabs and make blueberry crumb bars. A pink sunset was still in the sky at 8 o’clock that night. I love summer. I will be sad to see the zucchini and blueberries go.

These meatballs—I could eat them dipped in cool yogurt-mint sauce over and over. And I did, for lunch the next two days. Sometimes cooking for one is a good thing.

I took the blueberry crumb bars to a fish fry at my church, and they were CLEANED OUT. One man even scraped the dish when I came to take it home. I’ll definitely be making these again, because I don’t feel that I got my fair share.

Smitten Kitchen has served me well: I’ve also made huevos rancheros (easy and satisfying), couscous with roasted tomatoes (more time-consuming but delicious), pasta puttanesca (I thought of Violet, Klaus and Sunny while I washed up), dead simple slaw (a hit at growth group last night), and zucchini bread (more zucchini!). I also found I can grill eggplant on a George Foreman, and I have a pot full of healthy mint in the back yard, a first for me after many summers of failed attempts.

I try to remind myself of small victories like this because the yard itself is still putting up a fight. I’m working my way around the back perimeter, clearing out everything that doesn’t have a right to be there. It’s slow going, and the mosquitoes seem to be on the side of the invasive plants. No poison ivy outbreaks or West Nile yet, for which I’m thankful.

And because bullet points are so much easier than writing a real paragraph, here are some links to things I’ve enjoyed recently:
• Cheryl Kline gave a speech about writing, using the Harry Potter books as an example.
Pete Peterson and Andrew Peterson tell good stories well in The Rabbit Room.
Noisetrade has lots of great albums available for free download. I started with Waterdeep and Matthew Perryman Jones.

Friday, August 29

Chair Redo

Hello, internet. I have not forgotten you. Well, actually that's not true. I did forget, but only for a bit, and during that time I've been gathering stories and pictures to share. I've been working away to make my house feel more like a home. Most projects are still in progress, but I did finish recovering a chair seat and two pillows. This chair was purchased in Texas for $6 several years ago, and I had planned to use it with other citrus colors in the living room of my old place. The citrus theme never came to pass, and now the chair is in my bedroom, in close proximity to these throw pillows. Pink floral and bold orange stripes do not go together (I have a lot to learn about design, but I am confident about this much). So I took advantage of a sale at Quilt Arts and covered both in Amy Butler fabric. Notice the closet doors, which I painted white.

Next time: I dream an episode of The Office and haul more debris out of the back yard!

Thursday, July 17

U stand for uptight. That's how I'm feelin.'

If I had kids who were going to sing the same thing over and over I would show them this upcoming segment from Sesame Street in which Feist teaches kids to count to--you guessed it--four.

She joins a long line of musicians who've appeared on the show over the years. Altering your hit song to help children learn is a worthy cause... although I'm not sure what my generation was supposed to learn from Smokey Robinson's Sesame Street performance of "You Really Got A Hold On Me."

Does anyone else remember being mildly creeped out when they saw Smokey being chased by a giant letter U?