Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Books - October 2007

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
I should not read something that starts off sounding like a knockoff of one of my favorite books. This is an ambitious story, but it was never going to be as good as I wanted it to be, and it really fell apart at the end.

Heat by Bill Buford
Another side of Molto Mario, shown by a writer who spent over a year in his kitchen, keeps the pace quick. Mario stories are interspersed with the author's later experiences as an apprentice chef and butcher in Italy. Pick it up if you are a FoodNetwork junkie, especially one who loves Italian food.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fame and Fortune

Matt, who is nine years old, has just posted an interview with me on his blog, In the Air. It's part of his series of blogger interviews, and I was really happy to get the opportunity to participate.

Read the interview here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bubble Wrap

Do you have things, little items in your life, that give you joy? I mean things like pencils, or fuzzy blankets, or a particular pair of socks that make you happy.

I love my butter dish. I was musing as I took it out of the refrigerator this morning (toast for breakfast) upon its perfection. It is an unusual butter dish - a round pottery bowl that fits in my hand, with a smoothly glazed interior and a grey, nubbly exterior. Its crowning glory, the special feature that raises it above the mere everyday piece of dishware, is its lid. It is slightly rounded and fits perfectly on top. It is decorated with a pretty and slightly abstract blue flower, painted subtly in glaze.

The dish was a gift from my terrific Aunt Carol, who I see roughly once a year and who always finds the best gifts for me even though we don't talk very often and she has not spent much time at any of my homes. Clearly, all those childhood summers when I stayed with her and she and my cousins taught me to sew and play Barbies and bake toffee bars left my impression in her brain somewhere because somehow she just knows what I like.

I used to fill the bowl with Hershey's kisses and put it in the fridge (a habit inherited from a different wonderful aunt). A cold Hershey's kiss is just the thing for that after-lunch hit of creamy sweetness. And then we moved to a place where Hershey's kisses just don't exist (THE HORROR). So candy bowl became butter dish and I discovered that really it had been a butter dish all along, for it was the perfect place to store butter. The lid protected its contents from retaining that fridge-y taste, and it looked pretty on the table, and it was much easier to clean than those long skinny traditional butter trays with the lids.

Do you see how I've begun typing in the past tense? Because tragedy struck this morning, my friends. Just a moment or two after I thought to myself , "I just love this dish, it is the perfect thing, I will keep it and use it this way forever," I dropped it on our cold hard ceramic tile floor and it broke.

That will teach me express my admiration first thing in the morning. What are your favorite things? And before you put your loving thoughts in writing, place the special item in bubble wrap, please.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Why does my oven only have a top burner? This causes my peanut butter chocolate chip muffins to become crispy on top.

Why did Theo wake up at 5:30 a.m. two days ago and sleep until 8:30 a.m. this morning?

Should I be embarrassed that, when I read that one of my favorite bloggers is pregnant again, it takes me several minutes to realize that I can't gossip about it to my friends because I don't know her in real life, and they don't know who she is?

Where can I find a scenic pumpkin patch in the greater Nurnberg area?

Should I be panicking because my thesis is due in eight weeks, and I'm writing an inane blog post instead? Also, was it a stupid idea to join NaBloPoMo when I should really be spending my writing energy in November on said thesis instead of asking questions on my blog?

Monday, October 15, 2007


We're halfway through our day over here because SOMEONE decided to get up at 5am. And then, instead of cuddling with his stuffed giraffe and going back to sleep, he decided that my lower lip should be his comfort item du jour. That'll teach me to forget to clip my baby's fingernails.

Tooth number six is headed down the turnpike. The hair follicles are still far behind. However, in the long run, teeth are more important than hair, right? I mean, there are always hats, and scalp sunscreen. But those teeth you keep in a glass by the side of the bed are a real pain, I hear.

On Sunday, I ate:
A Hungarian delicacy resembling an elephant ear, topped with garlic butter, shredded cheese, and sour cream
Bratwurst in a roll, with mustard
Hot mini donuts
Now that the local street festival has closed, I should probably have some salad.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Twenty years ago I lost my wallet during the overnight bus ride from London to Glasgow, Scotland. I stumbled off the bus into my host father's arms and before introducing myself announced that I had no money, no travelers checks, and no passport. He took me home and sent me gently to bed and spent the rest of the day at his (very busy and important) job phoning around to see if he could locate my identification. He had no luck.

While our rocky start did not cast a pall over my entire year with them, it did warn all of us that the times ahead were not to be comfortable and smooth. I was sixteen years old and away from my very small hometown and my very small family for the first time. My Scottish family was in the midst of a rocky year - health crises, work uncertainties, and what else I'll probably never know. I could tell my host mother wasn't so sure about me. They took me to plays and concerts and toured me around the country. Sometimes I was rapt. Sometimes I slept through the sightseeing.

When I left at the end of the year, I didn't cry, and they didn't promise to visit me. I felt slightly cheated out of the second family I'd been promised. I wondered if I would hear from them at Christmas.

Over the passing years, none of us has changed too much. But somehow we've kept in touch, just like a family does, even when we weren't in the mood. I took my mom to visit them when she came to see me on my London college semester. They showed up at my wedding, despite my host mother's broken leg (she dyed her hair purple for the occasion). I still felt the awkwardness sometimes, the inkling that we never quite belonged to each other, but still I sent them a picture of Theo when he was born. And still I wanted to visit them before life takes us far apart again.

Our weekend in Scotland was charmed in many ways (see photos below for proof) - warm weather, no wind, Hugh Grant at the golf course, delicious Argentinian wine, and the celebration of my host father's seventieth birthday. I met another of their exchange student daughters, a Japanese woman who had lived with them five years before I did. They shared updates from their other students too -- two from Mexico, another American girl, a Chinese teacher, an Indonesian college student. Their "waifs and strays," we're called. We sat together, like a family does, with our shoes off and the baby playing on the rug. There are many conversations we'll never have, and plenty of ways we'll never understand each other, but in this particular family that's how it works. And, finally, I've stopped trying to imagine what a better host family might be like and, twenty years later, started enjoying mine.

St. Andrews, Scotland

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Wee Holiday

We were in Scotland all weekend and now I'm talking like Sean Connery. I took virtually no photos and Theo barely slept. He was so delighted to get back home yesterday that we walked in the door and he almost wiggled right out of my arms with delight. We had a great time but now I need to go take a nap.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting

Screaming arguments just aren't my style. I am more likely to fume and scowl and walk out of the room and recount the injustice later along with all the reasons I was right. But I'm not sure how I will react the first time there's a hint of harm toward my child.

Our supermarket has an attached multistory parking garage and friendly signs designating parking spaces for families near the store entrance. We're used to seeing moms and dads and kids loading and unloading their cars, hauling plastic bottles to the recycling center and climbing in and out of strollers. When we returned to our car after shopping on Saturday evening, we could hear the shouting even before we saw the fight. Two couples, two children, one stroller, and a barrage of screams had taken residence in the family parking area. A thin mother in a yellow trench coat held her infant under one arm and shook her finger in the face of a scowling mom in a black sweatshirt. A tall husband yelled in the ear of a burly dad whose school-age daughter hid behind a car. There were accusations and there was anger. Someone had driven too fast in the parking garage, almost hit someone else's stroller. Someone shouldn't have had their stroller in the middle of the garage. Someone's child could have been killed - Killed! No one had a cool head. All of them, except the kids, were red-faced and seemed on the verge of physical violence.

Our station wagon was parked next to the fight and I scurried to pull Theo out of the shopping cart, sliding into the backseat and strapping him safely into his carseat. Jeff and I didn't make eye contact, we just hauled grocery bags and jackets and bottles of water swiftly into the back of the car, paying no attention to whether the eggs were safely stowed. The woman in the yellow coat retreated then returned, then ran back to her car, then surged back again toward the scowling family across the garage, and we could hear her high-pitched shouts even with the car doors closed; her face was wild with fright and anger. We waited for the clutch of people to move out of our way so Jeff could back the car out of our parking space. The burly dad stepped between the two women. The tall man carried the baby away from the shouting. The young girl looked up at her mother, who glowered angrily and silently.

We sat in our car and waited, hoping that everyone would climb into their cars and drive safely away. I wished hard for the little girl to crawl into the back seat and shut the door, wished her parents would follow her lead. Finally, one car pulled away from the other, its windows rolled down, shouts flying toward the angry gestures behind it.

If a careless driver almost hit our stroller, would I scream and shake my fist and yell out the car window? I think I might just cry and hold Theo tight and write down the license plate number. But maybe that's what the parents in parking garage thought, if you'd asked them last Friday, if someone almost hit their stroller, what would they do?