Tuesday, November 6

Don't teach me about politics and government...

...Just tell me who to vote for. Today is election day in Jackson, and I don't have a clue who to vote for in most of the elections. The candidates running for state representative and senator in my district have been bombarding my mailbox with mudslinging flyers for the last several weeks with the result that now I don't want to vote for anybody. Gee, thanks, guys. You all have exhibited bad grammar, terrible graphic design and unprofessional behavior. I will be leaving a lot of boxes unmarked when I go to the polls today. Meanwhile, dear reader, I leave you with this shocking photo evidence that Mississippi State Senatorial candidate David Blount fathered a child we've never seen on his promotional flyers.

You be the judge.

Wednesday, October 31

This just in: Martha Stewart is a weird-o

I've long suspected that Martha might be one of those crazy pet people. You know what I'm talking about. Well, now we have proof. I will let the images speak for themselves.

Friday, October 26

Brown paper packages tied up with string

Here are some things I've been enjoying lately.

Couscous and feta stuffed peppers. I made these Wednesday night. If I hadn't forgotten the salt they would have been smashing. This recipe is definitely worth making again, very colorful and healthy and comfort-foody. Tonight I'm planning to attempt pumpkin bread pudding. My mouth starts watering as I type those three words. Pumpkin. Bread. Pudding.

Martha Stewart and Carole King. How much awesomeness can you fit in one room? These two women shaped who I am today. My Sunday School teacher gave me my first Martha Stewart Living subscription when I was 14, and my life has never been the same (see couscous and feta stuffed peppers above for evidence). My best friend Paula and I used to listen to Tapestry together on vinyl when we were teenagers. I was intrigued by the fact that her hair was frizzy---and somehow that was okay.

The Office is back to half-hour episodes, which I think are stronger than the hour-long ones. I loved Daryl's song and Michael's commercial last night.

Atonement by Ian McEwan. A really absorbing novel that is so carefully paced. I could hardly stand the understated suspense of waiting for the story to unfold. The story begins in England in 1935 and moves on to Dunkirk in World War II. I won't tell you too much more because you'll enjoy it more the less you know about what is going to happen. The movie trailer looks promising too, and it's getting good reviews.

In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra. It was this review in The Wall Street Journal that prompted me to put this album on my Half.com wish list a while ago. When a lot of my friends got engaged and my roommate moved away, I thought, "Well, if I'm going to be sad and lonely this winter I'd better have some good music for it." And oh, boy IS IT! This album is the closest thing to perfection I've heard in a long time. I don't profess to be knowledgeable about Sinatra or music from this era (1955), but I can tell you what I hear: He embodies these songs written by others so thoroughly that you're sure he's lived it all and can tell you from experience. The melancholy is so beautifully balanced, never overwhelming. He delivers a silly line like " You had what I lack, myself / Now I even have to scratch my back myself" with so much pathos, that I give a quick smile followed by a sigh. He's so alone, and it's so beautiful! Listen to this at night in a quiet room on good speakers.

Friday, October 19

An Adventure Averted

After a short storm on Wednesday afternoon I came home from work to find a tree limb pinning down a power line just outside my house. I didn't have any electricity, but that was okay with me since I was headed to my church small group for the evening. But the power was still out when I got home at 9. I thought about just going to bed early, but men were buzzing away with chainsaws right outside my window. "No way I'm going to be able to sleep through that," I thought. I weighed my options: I could escape the darkness and go to Barnes & Noble, or I could embrace it by lighting candles and settling down with a book. I thought of the Ingalls family and went for option two.

Ever since the hurricane I've been determined to keep at least a small supply of candles on hand in case of emergencies. So I dug them out from under the bed and found saucers for them all. Now--what to read? I'm in process on Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover, so that was the first thing that came to mind. But Dave Ramsey by candlelight? NO! Every feeling revolts! Reading a financial book by in dim, romantic lighting is just wrong. This is an adventure, I thought. I need an adventure book. I had only to crack open The Return of the King and glance down to read, "Oathbreakers, why have you come?" and I knew I'd found my book.

I settled down to read, book turned toward a bunch of candles to catch as much light as possible. But y'all, I hadn't even finished the synopsis of the previous two volumes before I noticed a soft glow coming from next door. Hmmm. I flipped a switch and winced at the light that came on. NO again! Just when I was excited about not having power--it comes back on. I'm not sure what the moral of this story is... Enjoy the simple pleasures in life? Keep your house clean because you never know when you'll have to get around it in the dark? Try to remember you're not Caroline Ingalls?

Monday, October 1

It's so damn hot! Milk was a bad choice.

I'm so ready for fall that I went ahead this weekend and made a fallish meal, even though it's still hot outside. So I had to turn up the AC and I still broke a sweat. I just couldn't wait any longer to make this recipe for Butternut Squash soup, which came from my friend Carla. I love how easy it is. And the color, which just says, "Hello, fall!" It does take the squashes (or is it butternuts? I really don't know--you so rarely hear them mentioned in conversation these days) some time to bake, so start early or else you'll be sitting down to eat supper at 9 o'clock like I did. I ate it with Ann's No-Knead Bread, which is also very easy. Are you noticing a theme here? I usually make it with whole-wheat flour, but I found that I was entirely out after I'd already started. So, white it was. I discovered I actually like wheat better. Whew.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 tsp. curry powder
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. apple juice
1 cooked butternut squash (or 4 c. cubed)
1 c. pear or apple, peeled and chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
milk and/or sour cream (optional)

Heat the butter in a pot and saute the chopped onion until soft. Add curry powder and cook 1 minute. Add the broth, apple juice, squash, pear or apple and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Blend or mash once the ingredients are soft. Thin with milk if needed and garnish with sour cream if desired.

This is a pretty flexible recipe. This time I used water instead of chicken broth and milk, and applesauce instead of apple juice. I also added a dash of cloves, some cinnamon and some chili powder, and ground pepper just before serving. To cook the squash, I used two small ones because they're easier to cut. Just scoop out the seeds (these are good toasted as well--memories of American Indians using the whole buffalo flashed through my head at this point, when I almost threw them away) and bake somewhere around 400 degrees. Mine took about 50 minutes.

Both make good leftovers.

Wednesday, September 12


My cousins and I went to a ceili Saturday night. It's held every year as part of the CelticFest at the Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson. We danced and watched and danced some more. The room was crowded, and I met friends I didn't know were there as I passed down the line.
Girls wore their skirts and slippers. And hoped there would be enough boys to dance with.
The gentlemen listened carefully to instructions. To tread on a lady's foot is embarrassing and painful for all concerned.
Suspenders and newsboy caps were also donned. I like to see the couples lined up like characters in a Jane Austen novel. If he asks you to dance twice, it is a compliment, since there are so many other young ladies to choose from. Just remember to hold on tight during the spins, or else you'll go flying.
Which might not be a bad thing. It's what the music makes you want to do anyway.

Friday, August 24

Regarding Henry, or The Fish Who Lived

This is Henry. He’s a betta fish who came to live with me in May. Henry enjoys swimming and eating. I’m still trying to discern his taste in music. I think we can say he likes Pet Sounds, doesn’t care for Wilco and is ambivalent about the Beatles. For some time after he arrived, the theme song from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood would run through my head every time I fed him. Yes, Henry, I will be your neighbor.

He has done well for the most part. He seems to enjoy his home in a Pier 1 candle holder, as it affords more rooms for swimming than the vase he arrived in. That is until about 3 weeks ago when I slacked off changing his water regularly. He developed a white spot on his back, stopped eating, and hung around at the bottom of the bowl. When I finally realized the effect my negligence was having I was stricken with guilt and acted quickly. I started changing some of his water every day until it was clear, hoping that he could hang on until then. I have had fish die on me before, so I tried to prepare myself for the possibility that I could walk in one day and find him floating lifelessly. It was an anxious time.

Henry joined me just in time for Summer 2007, which shall be known in the future as The Summer of Harry Potter. I finished rereading the released books, saw Order of the Phoenix in the theatre, anticipated, read and afterwards discussed The Deathly Hallows. It’s no wonder that with so much Harry on the brain I kept wanting to call Henry Harry instead. During these days when his life was hanging in the balance I thought, “I might as well have named him Harry, seeing as how all I do is wonder whether he’s going to live or die.”

Henry must come from good stock, because his immune system rallied and fought off the white spot. Now in clean water, he perked up, starting swimming around and once again greeted me with those expectant bulging eyes at mealtimes. I breathed a sigh of relief. The rescue of Henry (from myself) was a success.

He still has his off days. Sometimes he sticks pretty close to the bottom, and I start to get apprehensive. But I’m proud of him for pulling though and sticking with me. He’s The Fish Who Lived. So far.

Thursday, August 2

Then we shall find out who is right…and who is dead

It was tough transitioning back to everyday life after finishing The Deathly Hallows last Monday night. For a while I didn’t want to read anything else while the conclusion simmered in my head. Then I hit on the idea of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, which was a short but profound read that Deathly Hallows had reminded me of, and it helped me get my thoughts about it in order.


First of all, who is right:
Thank goodness I was about Harry, Ron, Hermione, and most of the Weasleys living. I also called Mad-Eye’s death in battle and the bad guys’ downfall. I’m giving myself partial credit on Neville. At first I was disappointed that he didn’t get to take out Bellatrix, but I had been concerned all along about how exactly he was going to do that. I didn’t want him to have to cast a killing curse, so I’m really pleased at how things turned out. Mrs. Weasley was fabulous, and Neville helped kill Voldemort! I’ve loved watching him grow and mature as the books go on, and when he came out of the tunnel in the Hog’s Head I was so thrilled to see him. He was bruised and beaten, but still strong and hopeful. When Harry says, “Kill the snake,” Neville kills the snake. In front of Voldemort. How cool is that? Lets hear it for the Neville Longbottoms and Samwise Gamgees of the world; without them our heroes wouldn’t be heroes.

I’m also giving myself partial credit on Harry’s interaction with Dumbledore at the end. So I was wrong about him going through the veil to do it (although I think there are multiple ways to get to King’s Cross, and the veil is one of them), but I was sure that Harry would willingly give up his life, pass to a place beyond, and return to defeat Voldemort.

Who is dead:
Whenever the possibility that one of the twins could die crept into my head before I read the book, I banished it quickly. “No, she won’t go there,” I thought. “It would be too much. Fred living without George? George without Fred? No way. She won’t do that to us.” But she did. Yes, I was sad and shocked by little Dobby’s death (who has annoyed me since book 2—I never thought I would be sad to see him go), but when Fred died everything just stopped. I’m glad I was wrong about Percy coming back, but part of me wishes it had been him instead. What will George do without his partner?

I’m also disappointed that more didn’t happen with Draco. He remained a coward throughout, never willing to do too much either way. Perhaps the curt nod he gives Harry in the epilogue is the best he can manage. It is, after all, much better than the way his father treated Ron’s dad. But I can't help thinking that J.K. Rowling could have done more with his character.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Deathly Hallows. I never cried much, but I was on the verge of tears most of the time I wasn’t laughing, gasping or saying a shocked, “What?” to the book. It was an emotional experience, concluding this journey with Harry. My two main criticisms—the wand-conquering info was too complicated and slowed things down at the critical moment, and the epilogue was a bit too twee—don’t stop me from recognizing all that was wonderful about this book. It’s given me lots to think about regarding sacrifice and life and relationships and death and purpose, which is what a good book should do.

Tuesday, July 17

I frequently act as though I am not possessed of the Inner Eye, so as not to make others nervous.

*Spoilers for books 1-6 below

Well, folks, we’ve just 4 days to go before we say hello to The Deathly Hallows and goodbye to Harry and his friends. So I’d like to go on record with my predictions for what will happen, realizing of course that I could be totally wrong. Let’s hope I am, because I’d hate to think I’d figured the whole thing out. Fortunately, J.K. Rowling is good at surprises. I mean, did anyone expect Voldemort to be living on the back of Quirrell’s head? Or Mad-Eye Moody to not be Mad-Eye Moody?

Harry—Even though I’ve been confident all along that Harry will be victorious and live to tell about it, for some reason I started getting a bit anxious after I saw Order of the Phoenix. Then I had a beer and reread the first chapter of the first book. It calmed me down like Holly Golightly visiting Tiffany’s. The effects of the beer have worn off, and I’m still convinced: He’s the Boy Who Lived, people! No way he’s going to die!

Ron and Hermione
—They should have the same fate. Rowling hasn’t taken this much time slowly building their relationship only to have them parted in death. They’ll either die together or live together, and I think they’ll go on and be the next generation. The world must be peopled.

Neville—He’s got a score to settle with Bellatrix Lestrange. I hope he doesn’t die in the completion of it, but it’s a definite possibility. Perhaps he’ll take down Voldemort too. After all the fuss about the prophecy applying to Harry, how cool would it be to have someone the enemy overlooked creep in at the end and bring about his destruction, totally unlooked for, while he focuses his concentration on Harry? Maybe I am thinking too much of The Lord of the Rings.

The Weasley family—Bill has already been bitten by Fenrir Greyback and Mr. Weasley was attacked by the snake, which is enough hardship for them. Charlie… I hate to say it, but he seems expendable. Percy will be too prideful to accept the chance for redemption and probably die because of it (or live with the consequences, which would be even more interesting). Fred and George have a bright future ahead of them, but I’m worried about Ginny and Mrs. Weasley. They’re beloved by Harry, which isn’t a good sign, but I don’t think it necessarily spells doom either.

The teachers—Every time Rowling has told us a major character is going to die, I’ve expected it to be Hagrid, so I think he’s due. Moody will probably die in battle. It’s how he’d like to go. But someone has to run Hogwarts, so McGonagall is safe. Trelawney will make her third and final prophecy.

The baddies—Voldemort, Snape and Bellatrix Lestrange are all going down, of course. Draco, unlike Percy, will accept the opportunity for redemption, and this I’m excited about.

Is Snape good or evil? I hate this question because regardless of where his ultimate loyalties lie, Snape has done terrible things all through the series. He’s bullied, humiliated and tortured his non-Slytherin students for years. Even if his killing Dumbledore was part of an ultimate plan against Voldemort, taking human life is still wrong. If Rowling works it out that somehow this was okay, I won’t be pleased.

What else?—Harry and Voldemort will go beyond the veil (I think this is what is on the cover art). Perhaps while he’s there Harry will interact with Dumbledore (this would fit with Rowling’s statement that Dumbledore was giving her some trouble in book 7, even though he was dead) and—this makes me emotional just thinking about it—his parents.

Thoughts? Predictions of your own? This is your last chance for bragging rights!

Wednesday, July 11

Go ahead! They're not called don't nuts!

I'm sorry that I tend to post about the same subject multiple times in a row, but this is just too good to pass up. In a brilliant marketing move, 7-Elevens across the country are becoming Kwik-E-Marts to promote the upcoming The Simpsons Movie. Add this to the list of things I never thought would happen: I want desperately to go to a 7-Eleven and buy junk food! Buzz Cola, Krusty-Os, donuts with sprinkles--they have it all. Well, almost all. There is no Duff beer, thanks to the movie's PG-13 rating.

It all reminds me of the Simpsons-themed party my roommate threw a few years ago. We carefully planned the food and rented the episodes, only to have it crashed by some of the people invited, who showed up late, dressed in strange costumes and bringing people we didn't know. They paraded in and ate the food, interrupting the guests who were trying to watch tv and making us all uneasy with their bizarre behavior and clothes. Needless to say, these boys weren't invited to any more parties. At the end of the evening we had learned our lesson: don't cast your pearls before swine, even if your pearls are only season 3 episodes of The Simpsons.

There don't seem to be any 7-Elevens located around me, which is perhaps for the best. I am spared the temptation to buy food I don't actually like just because it makes me laugh. It also removes the temptation I would otherwise feel to steal promotional materials like this sign:

Kwik-E-Mart Flickr photoset

Thursday, July 5


My family as Simpsons characters. Have some fun in Springfield at Simpsonsmovie.com.

Tuesday, July 3


Andrew Osenga called the short songs on The Morning “chapters” after vignettes in The Complete Stories of Hemingway. I don’t have enough for a single full post, so here are some mini ones.

1.6 million people can’t be wrong

Today while reading Posie, a craft blog I adore, I clicked on an Amazon link to a cookbook called My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris. Why? Because I just saw Ratatouille. Watch it and you’ll want a French kitchen too. Scanning down the page of reviews applauding the recipes, I find this interesting fact. What do 5% of customers buy after viewing My French Kitchen? Why, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, of course.

“How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?”

As I was driving home from work a couple of weeks ago I saw an elderly man without a shirt on. He was striding purposefully across the lawn of a neat little house. What attracted my attention was that he was also barefoot, and his khaki shorts were rolled up as far as they could decently go. I saw him again a half-hour later while I was driving to my church to help out with snacks at Vacation Bible School. This time he was loping across the baseball field, slightly hunched over, with gray hair flying. I zipped around the curve in my air-conditioned car and cast an eye at the 3 dozen chocolate-banana muffins I’d made for the VBS staff sitting in the passenger’s seat. “If I were in a Flannery O’Connor story,” I thought, “that crazy man would be an instrument of grace and break into my life to show me my smugness and self-satisfaction. Here I am freshly showered, in my nice clean car, going to volunteer at church with my homemade muffins.” I felt like Mrs. Turpin in “Revelation.” I know I’m saved, but one day even my virtues will be burned away.

Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1

Speaking of Andrew Osenga, he’s newly released an acoustic EP called Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1. All 6 songs were written and recorded in a 2-week period and inspired by stories, pictures and phrases submitted by fans. If you’ve wondered about Mr. Osenga, now’s your chance. Download the EP for free, and if you like it send him a donation as suggested.

Friday, June 1

I am making all things new

This week we’ve been painting the office suite where I work. It’s in a great location with lots of cool places nearby, but the building itself is pretty dingy. I’ve been dying to paint, de-clutter, and organize ever since I came to work here three years ago. Now the time has come. When my boss said she was embarrassed to have someone important come by the office, I jumped on it. “Have you considered painting?” I asked. “I would love to paint!” she answered. “I’ll do it!” the words nearly fell over themselves in their hurry to get out of my mouth. My answer to any task that will improve the look and function of this place is “I’ll do it!” Prime and paint the ugly laminate bookcases? I’ll do it! Clean out the dark and dirty storage closet? I’ll do it! I feel like Pig Will in Richard Scarry’s book. “I will,” said Pig Will. “I won’t,” said Pig Won’t. And what happened to Pig Won’t? He got a spanking. Meanwhile this Pig Will is going to have a cool workspace.

Yesterday I woke up with a lovely Christmas song from Over the Rhine stuck in my head. I meditated on the beautiful words as I rolled Belgian Waffle on the walls and thought about making things new. “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming)” seems very fitting right now. Sure, it’s June, but for those of us who still think of time in semesters it’s the end of an old year and the beginning of something new. Friends are moving—some to other states and some just a few blocks. I will have a different roommate in a couple of months. It’s a time of transition, and sliding creamy yellow paint over grimy walls to make them new and clean reminds me of God’s mercies that are new every morning. I love that Over the Rhine opens “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming)” with, “So it’s been a long year / Every new day brings one more tear / Till there’s nothing left to cry.” It’s a recognition that we all still have burdens to bear, but mercy and forgiveness can still break through. Darlin’ the snow is falling / Falling like forgiveness from the sky.

Download a free MP3 of “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming” from the generous folks of Over the Rhine. The album Snow Angels is sold out but will be re-released this fall.

Thursday, May 24

Question: which is better: Macs or PCs?

Answer: PCs. They are the computers employed by Dunder Mifflin Scranton.

Tuesday, May 22

It’s good to stay the color you are

When my brother Wendell was about 4 years old he made an observation while watching a basketball game on TV. He noticed early in life that most African American players were better than most white players. According to the logic of a 4-year-old, he must have thought that trading your skin color for the ability to play better basketball was an option, but concluded that it was an option he would pass on. “It’s good to stay the color you are,” he remarked. We still laugh at this story, and the sentence has entered the family canon of frequently used phrases. I even use it when no one else will know to what I am referring. On Sunday afternoon my roommate donned her sunglasses and took off her shoes. “I’m going outside to try to get dark,” she announced. “I’ve decided to stay the color I am,” I replied.

Staying the color you are is good advice. I really have decided to give up trying to get tan this summer. Don’t get me wrong—I love being in the sun, and I don’t have a skin cancer phobia, but trying to get tan has always been a hot, headachy and unprofitable ordeal for me (except for the summers I worked at Twin Lakes). It will be much easier to let the chips fall where they may: If I get sun, fine. If not, that’s fine too. Just as going green, being energy efficient and recycling have all become cool, I predict that being white (or the color you are) will eventually come back into style. It may not be until I’m in my fifties, but when it does I’ll be ready.

As with many things that children say, “It’s good to stay the color you are,” hides a profundity beneath its funny exterior. It’s not just the paleness of my skin I need to accept, but so many other things about the way God made me and the culture and location in which he’s placed me. After my parents’ attack we got word from the Hambys that their children were praying for us. “Why does the dog bite?” 2-year-old Simeon said. And I thought then, in the midst of all the chaos, as I hovered back and forth between my parents’ hospital rooms, that Simeon had grasped the core of what was going on. Why is there evil in the world? Why does the dog bite? The effects of Adam and Eve’s sin have stretched out to touch everything, and because of their disobedience my mom’s left arm will be shorter than her right. God has been very good to us in the midst of this trouble. He’s brought my family, which was already close, even closer to each other and to him. He’s shown me that he is real and can be trusted. He made me the color I am for a reason.

Monday, May 14

Rereading Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix

In preparation for the release of the final Harry Potter installment, The Deathly Hallows, this summer, I’ve been re-reading the series. After finishing The Order of the Phoenix for the third time, these are my conclusions.

J.K. Rowling knows how to end her books well. Even though this book drags at times and is need of some serious editing (I remember reading a quote where she admitted the same thing), at the end I can’t put it down and even wind up a bit teary over things that never moved me before. The more time I spend with these characters, the more I come to care about them.

For example: Neville. The “Christmas on the Closed Ward” chapter, his hard work with the DA and brave fighting at the Ministry of Magic show us that there is so much more to him than would seem. What I want from book 7—more than Voldemort’s downfall even—is for Neville to do something really cool and for Bellatrix Lestrange to die a painful death after seeing her lord destroyed. Oh dear, did I just say that? Is it okay to want revenge on a fictional character?

Wednesday, March 28

Harry Potter cover art

The cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released this morning. Some thoughts: Harry and Voldemort appear to be reaching for something; somehow I doubt it's the golden snitch. And Harry is wearing something around is neck; is it the horcrux locket? Voldemort's hands look like the grinch's. Harry is looking up, but Voldemort seems to be looking elsewhere (at Harry?). And finally, look at those bumpy shapes lining the background. If they are people, and this is the final confrontation, then my dream about spectators watching in a sports-like event may just prove to be true. Maybe you should call me Sybill Trelawney.

Tuesday, March 27

Operations on my sweater

I don't have a digital camera, so here is a drawing to show you what I've been doing. This is the pink sweater I started knitting in autumn 2005. It sat on the needles for a year before I took it up again this winter. The inspiration came in the fall, when the weather got cooler. The determination came in January, with New Year's resolutions. And the desperation keeps me going now, even though I feel less and less like knitting the warmer the weather gets. Finishing this sweater is part of my spring cleaning. As you can see, I've done the two fronts, the back, and about a third of a sleeve. Alicia at Posie has made whole blankets in the time it's taken me to worry out this little sweater. It's not a race, I have to tell myself. At least I get to watch lots of movies!

My mom gave me a little Singer sewing machine she had when she was my age, and for some time I confess I've been a little bit afraid of it. I grew up helping her sew, but I've never attempted much on my own. But when the piles of fabric I kept buying and never sewing mounted up, I pulled out the machine from its Jadeite green case. First, something simple: two café au lait colored squares to hide my pantry items from view. Next, two flowered slipcovers for the throw pillows in my room. They actually look much better than this. Think shabby chic rather than early nineties beach house.

I think this post was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, which I just finished reading. He includes a number of black and white drawings, with detailed explanations of what is going on in each one. My hasty Illustrator scribbles are thanks to him.

Quote of the day: "Next week [I] shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend."--Jane Austen

Thursday, March 15

You can never hold back spring

Tom Waits is right. You can never hold back spring. It has arrived here in Mississippi, first with a blanket of pollen, followed now (thankfully!) by much-needed rain last night. I went down on Monday afternoon in a cloud of yellow dust, conquered by a sinus headache. But pain-reliever and decongestant revived me in time to make Pad Thai and watch Out of Africa. I fell in love with the beauty of it. Now I want to slipcover everything in white, polish the dark wood until it shines, bring in fresh flowers and dress in khaki.

Monday, March 5

In which I find bargains

Three new books came home with me from Jackson Prep's garage sale this weekend.

The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene

Rising Tide by John Barry

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

I also got a Gap jacket that shows no signs of wear, even if it is from Spring 2002. And Jackson Prep students have $4 more for their prom fund. Everybody wins.

Friday, March 2

The evolution of Jane Eyre

Another post about Jane Eyre! When the BBC's newest adaptation of Jane Eyre came on PBS last month I missed the first half, but my kind parents taped part two for me. I watched it last night. As with all the versions I've seen, there are things to like and dislike.

It got me thinking once again about all the different versions of this classic story. A YouTube search yielded the "after the fire" scenes from four of them. In 1944 Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles choose not to discuss the cause of the fire, but to talk about Adele instead. Despite Zelah Clarke's unfortunate bed cap and bad production values (turn your speakers down when the music swells then up again to hear the dialogue), the 1983 version with Timothy Dalton might be my overall favorite. In 1996 Charlotte Gainsbourg cuts her hands on thorns while saving William Hurt. In 2006 Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson emphasize the attraction between Rochester and Jane.

Now, dear reader, I will take you on a tour of the proposal scene throughout history.

A platinum blond Jane tries on earrings, and then Bertha walks downstairs and introduces herself.

This one’s not too shabby. The filmmakers got the line about the string joining them right, but lookout for that flash of lightning!

Charleton Heston as Rochester. Jane is pretty much a pansy.

Check out Mason’s smirk when he breaks up the proposal. And Bertha is chained to the bed!

The script here is closer to the book than in any other version I’ve seen.

Ouch! Some are put off by the violence of Ciaran Hinds’s affections and others are turned on. What say you?

I wish they’d filmed this at night, but otherwise it’s pretty good.

And that closes our tour of Jane Eyre through the years. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Gives one hope about the quality of modern filmmaking, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, February 28

28 days as a general rule are plenty

A clean slate: this was the theme of Martha Stewart’s January issue. Well, we’re two full months into 2007 and I’m still working on cleaning my slate. I determined to finish books and projects underway and to do the things on my “list of things to do” before I undertook anything else. And while I haven’t followed this plan completely (there was that impulse reread of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire a couple of weeks ago), I have made some progress. Bethany, Hilary and David all have had the books I borrowed returned to them. Salvation Army received a load of cast-offs. The sweater I started knitting last fall is inching along again.

Today is the last day of February, and I’m glad of it. The Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance was right: for such a beastly month as February, twenty-eight days as a general rule are plenty. I’m ready for sunshine warm enough to enjoy outside and not just through windows. It will be a bit sad to say goodbye to scarves and my red suede shoes, but that’s a small price to pay for strawberries, Birkenstocks, skirts and fresh herbs.

On Monday night I dreamed that I was Harry Potter on the night before my final confrontation with Voldemort. Don’t ask how I knew it would happen the next day; I just did. It was evening and hundreds of people were camping out in tents on the Hogwarts grounds (which looked like the lawn surrounding Mt. Olive Presbyterian Church). They had built bonfires and there was a festive sense of expectation in the air, not unlike the Triwizard Tournament. Everyone believed that I (Harry) would be victorious—except me. I was anything but certain of it, and I felt alienated from everyone else. I peeked into the windows of the Riddle house nearby (which looked like my parents’ living room—the Riddles have the same butterfly rug, apparently), and some ghostly flashes of light told me Voldemort was at work.

I would say July 21 can’t come quickly enough, but I’m in no hurry to have this series over. And my dream didn’t make me any more confident about Harry’s chances of survival. In 2005 I dreamed that the Belhaven library accidentally put out their copies of The Half-Blood Prince a few days early, and I had a chance to read it before anyone else did. That’s two dreams about Harry Potter. Can anyone help me? I seem to have a problem.

Monday, February 26

Them kids are in a funny way

It was about ten years ago that my dad took Wendell, Paula, Micah and me to hear Livingston Taylor play at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile. On Friday night Paula, Tuan and I were privileged to hear him again at the Manship Theatre in Baton Rouge. I grew up hearing Livingston and his brother James on the turntable in the background during family evenings. I remember staring at the cover of Echoes, taking in every detail down to his long pale eyelashes while I tried to figure out if this was two brothers who looked eerily alike or the same man shown twice. Record covers allow a lot more scope for visual contemplation, you know.

On Friday night Livingston took the stage in his characteristic oxford shirt, bowtie and suspenders. He is down-to-earth and approachable. He chats with fans before, during intermission and after the show. After each song he steps out of the spotlight, snaps his long frame straight and bows. His rubber face registers mock surprise when the applause continues enthusiastically, but he seems genuinely honored to be doing what he’s doing. When I’m Not as Herbal as I Ought to Be is met with (relatively) thunderous applause Liv chides the audience, “I didn’t know you liked the cheap stuff! Heck, I wore a bowtie and everything.” The audience is pretty mellow, but when a smattering of applause breaks out at the opening of his children’s song Pajamas, he grins, “That’s right—the hits just keep on coming!”

The audience is almost entirely composed of people my parents’ age. I suspect that most of them are probably liberal. “I am young and conservative,” I think. “How did I get here?” But Livingston himself is an odd mixture of northern and southern, liberal and conservative. He grew up in North Carolina and now lives in Boston. Why Wasn’t I Born Gay? makes me a bit uncomfortable, but before long he’s singing gospel songs, which probably makes other people uncomfortable. At the climax of Step by Step (But Satan has no weapon / No arrow, knife, or sword / That can take away the love / Of Jesus Christ the Lord) the audience breaks into cheers.

Here is the set list for Friday evening:
1. Life is Good
2. I’m in a Pickle
3. Letting the Whiskey Do the Talking
4. Never Lose Hope
5. North to Alaska
6. Last Alaska Moon
7. I’m Not as Herbal as I Ought to Be
8. Olympic Guitar
9. Why Wasn’t I Born Gay
10. Kitty Hawk, December, Nineteen-Three
11. There You Are Again
12. Tell Jesus (to come to my house)
13. Pajamas
14. Heart and Soul
15. Yes
16. Answer My Prayer
17. Step by Step
18. Best of Friends
19. On and On
20. I Wish I Were a Cowboy
21. Carolina Day
22. City Lights
23. Railroad Bill
24. Our Turn to Dance
25. My Baby Don’t Mind
26. Over the Rainbow
27. Grandma’s Hands

Thursday, February 22

Things are gonna get better in the bye-and-bye

"When we were young," I told my cousin Anna, "and your dad used to play his bluegrass albums, I thought I would never like that kind of music. I remember thinking, 'Uncle Scott is great and all, but he's just got it wrong on this one.' And now look where we are." We were standing in line at Hal & Mal's on Saturday night, waiting to hear Old Crow Medicine Show. Anna laughed and we went inside the smoky room to slip up to the front, ready to hear some good live music. While we waited for the band to start I mentally added bluegrass to the list of the things about which I've been wrong. I'm glad to have grown into an appreciation for rural music. Perhaps a steady TV diet of The Andy Griffith Show made it inevitable.

Old Crow delivered on the good live music. I'm only peripherally familiar with them--I don't feel much ownership of artists unless I own at least one album--through a few mp3s and hearing them open for Gillian Welch at Hal & Mal's two years ago. Back then they were up-and-coming bluegrass newcomers; now they probably have more mainstream recognition than Gillian Welch does. Fiddler Ketch Secor plays with almost Chris-Thile-like intensity, and the band was loud, tight and raucous.

There's a certain dorkiness inherent in bluegrass music. I have to admit I'm surprised OCMS is as popular as they are. Mountain music has been around for a long time; is it because these boys are young and sexy that it's suddenly cool to listen to? One of the things I love about bluegrass and rural music is its acknowledgement that life is hard but still worth celebrating. This view is shared by a lot of traditional folk and Celtic songs (another love I didn't see coming). Some of these have been brought to my attention lately by the lovely Kate Rusby. Her amazing voice wraps around lyrics like, "When Jimmy talks about the wars, it's worse than death to hear him / I must go out and hide me tears, because I cannot bear him" (The Recruited Collier) and our hearts break for the girl who's lost her love to the military. In another Kate Rusby song, Drowned Lovers, William and Margaret lose their lives thanks to meddling mothers and a strong river, but the music urges us to dance.

The bluegrass tradition in general recognizes that God and the Devil are real, the world is broken, and good things come into it but more is promised after life. Dancing to a song like Drowned Lovers might seem incongruous, but a worldview that allows for beauty and pain, fun and death, music and tears lets us do that.

Monday, January 22

It felt good to be sad and lonely

When winter settles in and a gray chill creeps into everything, an inevitable feeling of sadness comes with it. There are two courses of action to take when this happens. The first is to fight it. This involves things like drinking orange juice, wearing red, forcing bulbs, listening to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, watching something funny and redemptive like Groundhog Day or Enchanted April and perhaps going for a jog if the sun shines for a few moments at a time—anything to keep gloominess at bay.

The second course is to embrace the melancholy. You accomplish this by reading something in which the characters are hopelessly flawed, like Wuthering Heights, or unhealthily introspective, like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by eating large quantities of soup, knitting a sweater you will probably never finish, staying firmly ensconced on the sofa and by listening to sad music. I like to be prepared with music appropriate for any situation (I’m still working on this—there are gaping holes in my music collection), so I put together a little “Winter Melancholy” iTunes playlist. The links are free downloads.

Bleecker Street—Simon & Garfunkel
“The fog’s rollin’ in off the east river bank…”
Every Ship Must Sail Away—Blue Merle
This was an iTunes free download from way back.
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning—Carly Simon
A columnist for the Wall Street Journal said that Frank Sinatra’s album by this name was his best work. I’m tempted to hunt it up on eBay.
Sketches—Daniel Lanois
This sounds like fog, clouding your thoughts and sapping your resolution.
Sho Heen—Kate Rusby
She’s from England, where it is almost always cold.
First and Last Waltz—Nickel Creek
The music sounds far away, like spring.
Old Friends—Simon & Garfunkel
“Winter companions, the old men/Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset”
Gotta Have You—The Weepies
I mean, The Weepies…
Alice—Tom Waits
Death, a frozen pond, insanity, lost love: this is winter melancholy at its best.
Holland—Sufjan Stevens
So quiet and still, like a day when it’s too cold to move.
Dou Way Robyn/Sancta Mater—Trio Mediaeval
Another free download from iTunes.
Love and Loneliness—Wendell Kimbrough
Written in Maryland, where the sun shines even less than it does in Mississippi.
Mary’s Waltz—Over the Rhine
It’s been said that OTR’s music makes sad people happy and happy people sad.
The Survivor—The Normals
Maybe it’s just because there are bare tree branches and a gray sky in the album art, but Coming to Life has always felt like a winter album to me.

And no matter how bad winter is, at least I don’t have to deal with this.

So what would go on your winter playlist?

Tuesday, January 16

You get so hacked, that you pay no mind to the great big sign that says oversized load.

It happened while my brother and I were driving in the car. I had to spit. There was no swallowing, no other course of action to take; opening the car door and spitting was the only solution. I explained my predicament to Wendell, and at the next four-way stop I quickly opened the car door and spat on the street. Then I slid down in shame, trying to hide from the world. "I'm always so grossed out when other people do that!" I said to Wendell. "And now I'm doing it!" "Well, now you know how they feel," he said. "Next time don't be so hard on them."

This happened years ago, but I still think of it whenever I see someone spit out of his car. "You know how it feels when you just have to spit," I remind myself. There are so many situations I find myself in that I thought would never happen to me, so many things I thought I'd never do. Whenever I new one turns up I think of spitting in the car with Wendell and wish I hadn't been so critical.

For example, I'm reading Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie right now. It's a Tommy and Tuppence mystery, and they're just chatting away not so charmingly while the plot does little to advance. I was getting irritated until I discovered that this is the last book Christie wrote. It was published when she was 83. Now I see the whole thing differently and will return to it this evening with much gentler expectations. I also know now what it feels like to be so tired at the end of a 9 to 5 office job that you just want to watch TV. I used to be so disdainful of people who would only flop down in front of the TV and watch whatever is on just because it was on, but now I know why they do it. I still don't think it's a good idea, but I understand. When I told my mom this, she wisely said, "Getting older is pretty much a process of learning you were wrong to be critical of anybody about anything."

Last night I made Blackened Chicken Pizza with Yellow Tomato Salsa. It was good, but entirely too spicy--and I left off the jalapeno! The pepper jack cheese and cayenne pepper together was overpowering. I will probably make it again with half plain mozzarella and reduce the red pepper.

I also remembered another book I read last year and forgot to put on the list: The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I really enjoyed it, although My Name Is Asher Lev was more interesting to me because of the art. He was a fascinating writer.

Thursday, January 4

Books Read 2006

Last year one of my favorite bloggers posted a list of all the books she had read in the past year. Even though she reads much faster than I do and finished over a hundred books, I was inspired by her example and decided to try for a modest fifty. I made my goal (only just), and looking over my year’s worth of reading I see that it is a very modest list indeed, including only ten nonfiction books and a great deal of children’s literature.

1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (reread)
4. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder (reread)
5. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (reread)

6. On The Way Home: The Diary of a Trip From South Dakota To Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894 by Laura Ingalls Wilder
7. The Moon By Night by Madeleine L’Engle
8. Aunt Jane’s Hero by Elizabeth Prentiss
9. Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
10. The Arm of the Starfish by Madeline L’Engle
11. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
12. Holes by Louis Sachar

13. The Young Unicorns by Madeline L’Engle
14. The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
15. The Giver by Lois Lowry
16. Camilla by Madeline L’Engle
17. The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket
18. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
19. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
20. Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

21. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

22. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)
23. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (reread)
24. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (reread)

25. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder (reread)
26. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle
27. Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar (reread)
28. Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (reread)
29. Leaving Cold Sassy by Olive Ann Burns

30. A Southern Belle Primer by Marilyn Schwartz
31. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
32. Troubling A Star by Madeline L’Engle
33. Gilbert & Sullivan and Their Victorian World by Christopher Hibbert

34. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
35. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (reread)

36. Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit by Sean Hepburn Ferrer
37. From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
38. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
39. The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery (reread)

40. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
41. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
42. Mandy by Julie Edwards

43. The Narnian by Alan Jacobs
44. At Home in North Branch by Arleta Richardson
45. Beauty Evolution by Bobbi Brown

46. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield (reread)
47. Lord Peter by Dorthy L. Sayers (reread)
48. Holiness by Grace by Bryan Chapell
49. The End by Lemony Snicket
50. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

I’m not including rereads here, only books new to me.
Maniac Magee—Wrote about it here.
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency—This was a simple and lovely little book.
A Prayer for Owen Meany—Probably my favorite book of the year.

I don’t usually read a book unless I’m pretty sure I’m going to like it, but sometimes I even I make a bad call.
Julie and Julia—I hesitate to put this on the list because it was an interesting idea, and I don’t regret reading it. Julie Powell turned to cooking to help sort out some of her life questions, but at the end of the year, she hadn’t come up with any really substantial or helpful conclusions.
Troubling A Star—Terrible. I liked most of Madeline L’Engle’s Austin family series until this point, but this was dreadfully boring. I wish someone had told me to skip it, since everything I needed to know was on the dust jacket synopsis.

I have no fixed plans for reading in 2007, other than my usual perpetual list. Do you have any recommendations? What did you read in 2006?