Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Vacation -- And, Yes, Everybody Cleans Behind Their Refrigerator, Right?

Jason and Sadie have run off to join the circus.  Sort of.  They're in Sioux Falls for the week, working at the Shrine Circus and hanging out with Jason's parents.  They're also taking in a Brian Regan show while they're out there.  And I am at home having my vacation.  Spring cleaning!

Everyone cleans behind their refrigerator, right?  I asked Jason to help me move it out yesterday before I took them to the airport so that I could get behind it.  The act of pulling the fridge forward caused a water line to crack and, behold, water started spraying everywhere.  Jason immediately attributed this ill-timed catastrophe to my insatiable cleaning habits.  "Oh, you just had to clean behind the fridge!"  "Don't you blame me," I retorted with fire in my eyes, "everybody cleans behind the fridge!"  Luckily, we have a separate water shut off for the refrigerator, so Jason was able to make it to the airport on time with very little fear that I would return to a flooded kitchen.  The plumber came, pulled the line and capped it, and it is all good.  $200 worth of clean refrigerator space good.

And, in the end, I was able to clean out the rest of the kitchen yesterday, too.  The cupboards got it inside and out.  Cookbook shelves are spotless.  The kitchen table gleams.  I was a little disappointed that my kitchen was not nearly as filthy as I had anticipated.  I guess I'm always finding time to dump and scrub and re-order in there.  But, that's OK.  I can console myself with many, many other projects in my dear, little house.

Today, I shall clean the walls of our vaulted ceiling living room.  They are covered with soot from innumerable fires during the winter and the candles that I burn incessantly year-round. Yech.  Also, we never painted our baseboards after we had the floors redone in 2008 -- and you know how impossible it is to keep unpainted baseboards clean -- so out comes the paint!  Ooh, and closet clean-outs are on the horizon!  And gardening!  I just love my alone time, don't you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Notes: April 15 - 21

Imagine dining on a 600+ page serving of lutefisk.  Revolting, right?  Then, imagine an opportunity soon afterward to snack on some Biscoff cookies.  How heavenly they would seem, especially in comparison with your previous meal!  So, I finished Doctor Zhivago and immediately began Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate with a Kinsella chaser of Twenties Girl.  Delightful, refreshing, insubstantial, ebullient concoctions of witty fluff that just race breathlessly along.  And, of course, written by Brits. Ah . . . now I'm home!

This was my second try with Nancy Mitford.  I first read The Pursuit of Love a couple years ago.  I enjoyed it well enough.  I enjoyed Love in a Cold Climate even more.  Could that be because I has just plodded through the lugubrious Doctor Zhivago?  Perhaps.  But, there is quite a bit to love about Love in a Cold Climate, regardless of whatever fare you were subjected to immediately prior.

Fanny is back as the narrator of all -- far enough away from her subjects to expound upon their follies with the proper irony; close enough to give us the real scoop.  This time, it is her feckless cousin of sorts, Polly, who is causing general consternation and hullabaloo among the family members. Can Polly even feel the love her mother expects her to fall dutifully into?  Well, she sorta, kinda can -- at least when it means engaging herself to her recently widowed uncle!  Everyone spends a great deal of time up in arms and out of sorts over her choice -- until the heir of Polly's dad's entailed estate shows up from Canada via Paris and gives everyone something new to talk about.  It all rolls pleasantly and amusingly along and the ending leaves all the characters in one mode or another of happiness and the reader satisfied.

Even more toothsome and nutritionally bereft than Love in a Cold Climate is Sophie Kinsella's recent offering, Twenties Girl.  If you just enjoy very funny writing that is not at all taxing on the grey cells, you ought definitely to read Kinsella.  Her novels are screwball comedies with dizzy, lovable heroines and appropriately dreamy leading men.  I have never read a Kinsella book without laughing out loud at least a dozen or so times.

Twenties Girl is about the haunting of Lara -- a 27-year-old corporate headhunting entrepreneur who daily fights an unhealthy obsession with the boyfriend who dumped her two months before -- by Sadie, the twenty-three-year-old ghostly incarnation of Lara's 105-year-old aunt who just died.  Sound confusing?  Stick with me.  Sadie needs Lara to find for her a very special glass bead necklace that has a dragonfly pendant at the end.  Over the course of the book, it is revealed why this necklace is so very important. 

The pacing is brisk, the writing is effervescent, and the heart and soul of the book is Lara's developing relationship with her great-aunt's sassy young self.  And, like all of Kinsella's heroines, Lara finds herself in embarrassing and side-splittingly funny situations and finds the most inventive ways out of them.  And, as in every stand-alone Kinsella book, the heroine finds some at-first aloof and then beguiled leading man in which to fall deliriously in love.  If you like this sort of thing -- and I do -- you will do yourself some good to read Sophie Kinsella.  Highly recommended are the first Shopaholic book, The Undomestic Goddess, and, now, Twenties Girl.

I'm in the midst of another favorite British author's work: Lucia's Progress by E.F. Benson.  I hope that by the time I have finished it I will have utterly done away with the depression of spirits that attended my reading of Boris's banal blatherings.  God bless the Brits!

Wonderful, Frustrating Vermont

Vermonster . . . King Arthur Flour . . . Calvin Coolidge . . . Gardeners' Supply . . . and now, Terry!

I received their catalogue in the mail yesterday (probably because I belong to the Adventure Cycling Association).  OMGoodness!  I cannot believe how much I love their products!  Stinkin' Vermont.  Stop being filled with goodness.  I'm on the verge of forgiving you for Howard Dean.

These are the cutest cycling clothes I have ever seen.  I am tickled by all the skirts and dresses offered -- 'cuz cycle chicks need to be pretty, too, as well as awesome.  And get this: open-toed pumps that are designed for biking!  Really!

Terry is making it totally easy to sell my car next month and be bike-a-licious all the time.  Bring it on!

Update: Of course, lest you think that Vermont is too cool, you come across articles like this.  Aargh!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Flowers and Frogs

As I was planting geraniums yesterday morning, I saw something move near my hand in a very unexpected way.  Leaning down, I saw a little green frog!  It was about the size of an Oreo cookie, bright emerald hue, just beautiful!  I wonder whence it came?  There is no pond near our driveway's border where I was planting flowers.  No place for it to tad its pole.  Just a little miracle of an amphibian.  I called Sadie out to see it.  She played with it a moment or two, then set it gently down where I found it, and it hopped off -- grateful thoughts swelling in its froggy heart, I am sure.

And I think to myself, "What a wonderful world . . ."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm All In For Mitt!

A little late to the {grand old} party, I know.  While dear friends were putting their necks on the line for candidates long ago, I vacillated in the quagmire. Such a dearth of choices for the GOP!  How is a girl to choose?  Oy.  Up until September 2011, I fully expected to go booster-to-the-extreme for Sarah Palin's candidacy.  My heart broke and my interest waned on the day she announced a no-go.  Then, I went all Pontius Pilate -- washing my hands of any involvement with this primary. 

Soon after, though,  I started to have dreams about Mitt Romney.  Not sexy dreams.  Just stop it.  Nor dreams wherein your house has turned into a jungle and you have to swing on vines to get to your kitchen.  No, just dreams where I met him and he was nice.  Genuine.  Good guy.  I awoke each time feeling rather Mittish.  In one dream in particular, I remember that I was eating breakfast at IHOP and Mitt was there, too.  Then, something terrible happened (shooting?  terrorism?) and the restaurant was in lockdown.  Mitt said, "Let's pass the time by singing hymns."  He led the way with a stirring rendition of "Then Sings My Soul."

If you love the Lord, you have to put at least a little credence in the power of dreams.  Dreams of significance and their waking partners, visions, are peppered throughout our sacred texts.  Maybe the old women will be dreamers of dreams, as well?  I don't know.  But, those dreams helped me at least get used to the idea of a candidate for whom I had hitherto had little to no interest. 

I have since found many things that I love about Mitt.  Mostly having to do with his marriage with the estimable, gracious, and lovely Ann.  I adore Ann Romney.  Did you know she is a Grand Prix level dressage rider?  Suh-weet!  I used to ride dressage in my teens.  I only showed at level one; but, I was working on level two tests when my dressage horse developed laminitis and had to be put down.  I love dressage! Some may have danced ballet on stage in their teen years . . . I danced ballet on horseback in mine.  ;-)

Most of my hesitation about Gov. Romney had to do with his personality (i.e., did he have one?) rather than with his policy positions.  I'm totally GOP.  I cannot find any plank in the Democrats' platform that I can even half agree with.  Even a Democrat idea that might sound reasonable is always followed up with the implied or stated addendum: And so the government should . . .  That is their one-trick pony -- and, horse lover though I am, that pony should be euthanized.  It broke its legs back in the 1930's and its neck in the 1960's.  Put the poor beast down.

So, I am all in for Mitt.  Frankly, I would have been all in for any Republican at this point.  Even Newt (pace, Flicka).  Pro-life, pro-business, pro-family, pro-freedom.  That's my GOP.  And, I just donated to Mitt's campaign today to be entered in a drawing to have a meal with Ann the Awesome.  Hope I win!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Now, What Was I Supposed to Do on April 18? If, Indeed, I Was Supposed to Do Anything.

Ever just had a date moseying along mid-air above the synapse trail?  Hovering sinisterly amidst the grey matter?  Just a date and a feeling that something important was either going to happen on that date or you were supposed to do something important on that date or . . .??  April 18 is my such date.  Why on earth do I feel a sense of dread and immediacy when I contemplate that date?  Like I really, really need to either do something or have something happen on that date.  Hmmm . . .

Library book due?  No.
Bill to pay?  No.
Writing deadline to meet?  No.
Playdate set up?  No.
Am I taking a trip?  No.
Is Jason taking a trip?  No.
Did I promise to do something for someone on that day?  Maybe; but, who knows what that something is? Certainly not I.

Anybody have any suggestions to jog my prematurely senile memory?  Help!

Hooray!  Just remembered that I needed to put together the donation box for the charity pick-up on April 18!  Thank goodness that's solved.  Now, where are my car keys . . .

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sowing Something Beautiful

The He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord."  And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice.

And if the Lord has preceded His revelation to Elijah with song, it might have come out something like Ahna Phillips's new album, Small Seed of Hope.  Intimate, unassuming, deceptively simple with depth and richness in its foundation -- this album is not for the casual listener looking for winds and earthquakes and fires.  But, when you focus on its still, small voice, you will reap astounding rewards. 

I have listened to this album quite a few times through so far since its late March release.  The songs themselves are individually beautiful -- each one, indeed, a small seed of hope.  But, I think, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  The songs are very language-oriented.  By that, I mean that the music seems -- though always enchanting and a necessary frame for the lyrics -- like an afterthought.  In that way, this album hearkens back to an earlier time in devotional music, when prayers and praises were set to simple, somewhat monotonous, melodies -- so that the music did not interfere with the words. 

When you push play on your iPod or CD player, you are transported into a complete and encompassing world.  Some of my favorite outposts in this world are as follows: 

"Weary One" leads off the collection in a minimalist way -- just a girl and her guitar.   But, such a voice!  Then, in comes the most subtle and mesmerizing percussion.  Wait, is that a banjo?  If so, it is an unobtrusive one.  There is a meditational quality to this song.

"If I Were Brave" is lovely and kind of funny.  There is an unexpected twinge of sadness to it, as well.  I like the rhyme of "ocean" and "sunscreen lotion."

"Stephen" is another sad song.  If you die a tragic and untimely death and you are vaguely acquainted with a songwriter, they're going to write a song about you.  They cannot help it.  Since tragic and untimely deaths are none too uncommon, every songwriter I can think of has indulged in the pathos of a death song.  And that's OK; it's just sad, you know?  That said, surprisingly "Stephen" has one of the more up tempo melodies in this collection.

"Who Loves You in the Dark" is pretty and quiet and encouraging, and I think the arrangement employs a glockenspiel -- and it is so fun to hear and say and type out glockenspiel.  I'm always looking for more opportunities to do all three.

"None Too Soon" is the shortest song on the album, and it is one of my favorites.  Not because it's short, but because it is perfect. It is a cri-de-coeur that is both a wee plaintive but filled with humorous goodwill about living in God's time.

"Never Not Belong" is another favorite for me.  Simply gorgeous and complete in its conception and heart-rending in its presentation.  I drew my breath in sharply when I first heard the first two lines of lyric -- you know, the way you do when you are confronted with a stark and concise truth.
Fallen angels could not ache for home like you do
Neither mercy nor anger can make the truth be more true

I do not know much about Ahna Phillips.  But, I am so glad -- with that deep, bone-marrow gladness -- that she made this beautiful album and set it free into the world.  Go and buy a copy and encourage this talented and needed voice that sows such hope in our fallen world.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Free! Free! Free!

No more Doctor Zhivago -- EVER!  Yay!  My lands, what a waste of wood pulp and the fourth dimension.  Not since the execrable A Prayer for Owen Meany have I read a book in which I so thoroughly detested every scene, character, sentence.

Reading DZ makes you think that, perhaps, those lousy Russians got everything they deserved in their bloody, gawd-awful Revolution.  If ever a dull and insipid group of self-important banalities deserved a reign of terror, it is these characters created by Boris Pasternak. 

Wanna know how such a tedious nothing of a book won a Nobel Prize?  Well, first of all, it's no great shakes to win a Nobel Prize.  The Scandinavians seem to lack utterly the ability to disperse awards in any sort of rational manner.  But, in the case of DZ, there was further international intrigue that led to this ponderous pomposity's being elevated far, far above its merits.  DZ was first printed in Italy in 1957 (height of the Cold War, folks -- though it seems that any given year between 1946 and 1991 can be called "height of the Cold War").  People started reading it because they hadn't anything better to do, and it was, like, so cool that it had been written in secret by an actual Russian behind the Iron Curtain and he was all sorta, kinda critical about the Soviets and maybe the author was -- even then -- in the gulag. Then, the Brits and Americans thought that it would be a thumb in the eye of the Reds to get this book awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Stick it to the commies!  So, they began a campaign on its behalf with the dumb as a sack of rocks Nobel committee.  Voila!

Aside from everything else (which, I assure you, was uninspired), the main problem with the book was the two main characters, Yuri and Lara.  This is supposed to be an epic and sweeping love story?  You're kidding me, right?* Could you care, did you care, a whit about these two people?  Did they even have personalities?  If they did, I missed it.  Here is a typical snatch of dialogue from Part Thirteen: Opposite the House with the Figures:

[Lara blathering incoherently on about her miserable life] And suddenly this leap from serene, innocent measuredness into blood and screaming, mass insanity, and the savagery of daily and hourly, lawful and extolled murder.  Probably this never goes unpaid for.  You probably remember better than I do how everything all at once started going to ruin.  Train travel, food supplies for the cities, the foundations of family life, the moral principles of consciousness.

[Yuri interjects, unable to contain his enthusiasm for her sagacity -- or, perhaps, overcome by her Slavic hotness] Go on! I know what you'll say further.  How well you analyze it all!  What a joy to listen to you!

They chaw on like this page after page.  It's like being trapped in a really bad college bull session -- without the beer.  There's hardly even vodka, as both Yuri and Lara pride themselves on not drinking much.  I now understand why the Russians have such a reputation for going to the cups: they have to talk to and be around other Russians all the time.  Oh goll -- I'd drink too!  I think it took me several bottles of Riesling just to finish Doctor Zhivago.

So, this translation that I read by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is supposed to be the new gold standard.  People (probably drunk people) have waxed rhapsodic about its closeness to Pasternak's voice, its perfect capturing of idiom and flow.  God help us all, then.  Pevear and Volokhonsky have made something of a cottage industry out of re-translating Russian doorstops.  Pray for them.  They probably drink a lot of vodka.

Here is a spoiler -- or a beacon of hope, depending on how much you loathe this book and its characters:  Yuri dies at the end and Lara disappears and is presumed dead.  Uncork that champagne!  OK, that sounds a little callous, which is not typical of me.  I spent the last half of Destiny of the Republic weeping indecorously about the too-short life of James A. Garfield and was mocked mercilessly by my unfeeling spouse.  But, Yuri and Lara were never flesh and blood to me, so it was more like watching some unwieldy and intrusive pieces cardboard getting placed into the recycling bin than any sort of human tragedy.

And now I am done!  Done forever!  I feel as though a yoke has been lifted.  Here comes the sun, and I say, "It's all right!"  Though, Jason says he'll razz me forever because I flat out refused to read the 40 pages of Yuri's poetry at the end.  The translators note in the introduction: The poems of Yuri Zhivago, which make up the final part of the novel, are not merely an addendum; they are inseparable from the whole and its true outcome -- what remains, what endures.  Pbbblt!  I tend not even to like good poetry, written by Brits, so why would I read ol' Yuri's stuff? 

Here are my suggestions for future translators of Doctor Zhivago or any other Russian novel:  First, don't do it.  But, if you ignore that, then at least help us out with the names of the characters.  All the Russian names just sort of pile up together in a syllabic-laden lump, like hair on a lint screen.  This is because not only do Russians have first and last names of unpronounceable proportions, they also have a patronymic.  As though that weren't enough, they also have a fondness for nicknames and diminutives.  All this does not help their cause with the reader who is struggling against fleeing to a P.G. Wodehouse novel from the midst of a Russian wasteland.  Just re-name the characters.  May I suggest that all the romantic leads be named Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?  That will help waken the drifting reader.  And, maybe, reset those novels from dull and oppressive Russia to the English countryside.  And add in some funny parts -- you can hire a British person to help you write those.  Then, you might have a novel that comes closer to being worth reading. 

*A little homage to the speaking pattern of Lara.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Make Way for Ducklings!

Casual query to spouse: "How much trouble would I be in if you came home one day and we had a couple ducklings living in our house?"

Spouse's reply: "You wouldn't be in any trouble at all.  Ducklings are cute."

And, really, that was all it took.  You see, we live in a restricted area for livestock.  Draconian HOA by-laws have put the unequivocal kibosh on all sorts of poultry.  Boo and hiss.  BUT, I found a website from which one can order Mallard ducklings.  Now, Mallards are common in our area (aren't they common everywhere?).  Should a mating pair take up residence in our backyard, who could accuse us of violating the homeowners' covenant?  Nobody need ever know that they were hand-raised in our house for 4 months before quacking about our property.  Nobody need ever know that they imprinted on us as giant, wingless duck parents.  Ha!

And the bonus of ducks is this:  they are apparently excellent property protectors.  Not that they'd stop a home invasion; but, there is this little dust mop of a yappy neighbor dog that makes its nasty presence known and felt in our backyard daily.  I think that watching a couple ducks chase it off our property -- preferrably with many gleeful nips on its tail (see: Angus and the Ducks) -- would pretty much be the bomb-diggetty!

Double bonus is this:  this foray into fowl fun will be a test case of baby bird care for when I finally commence my underground chicken ranching.  Oh, it's gonna be so sweet!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Notes: April 1-7 and April 8-14

I will admit it:  I needed a break from the Russians.  Nearly 500 pages into Doctor Zhivago, and I still do not like anything about it.  So, a break was in order.  My dad suggested the book he was in the midst of: That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion by Rachel Herz.  I enjoy books of this type.  A similar one that I read last year was Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us

Happily, I was able to obtain it quickly from the library.  And, it was OK -- fairly entertaining; somewhat enlightening.  I made the mistake of returning it to the library before attempting to write about it, so everything here is from memory.

Two things stand out.  The first is that when Ms Herz was writing about the newly awakened feelings of revulsion in pregnant women, she never once used the term "baby".  It was always "fetus".  Which really, really, really sounds unnatural to the ears of this formerly pregnant woman.  I do not know if I ever once thought of Sadie-in-the-belly as anything other than my baby.  I suppose it is a convention of women of a certain ideological stripe never once to concede what most women instinctively know: even before birth, it's a baby.

The second thing I remember is that Ms Herz goes to great pains to inform and convince the reader that disgust is a mechanism of evolution.  She posits that it is the last of our emotions to have developed.  This is interesting stuff.  Basically, she notes that for creatures that eat a wide variety of foods over the span of a large geographical region, disgust is a life-saving expression.  It allows others in your tribal group to know immediately if a newly tested food source is good or bad.  Disgust with diseases and filth are also potentially life-saving, as members of a human community will be more likely to survive away from germs and grime.  Then, she goes on at the end of the book to give readers self-help tips for overcoming their natural aversions to certain things such as homosexuality.  So, disgust is a positive evolutionary trait until it clashes with fashionable social mores.  Eh.

(By the way, I tested very low on the disgust-o-meter -- especially for a woman. I don't get grossed out by too many things.  In fact, though I did not test him, I am certain my husband would test higher than I.  But here's an interesting thing:  I know I have a higher level of moral disgust than Jason.) 

Last Friday, Jason called me in a mild state of panic.  "Tell me," he begged, "if I want to make a name that ends in 's' possessive, where do I put the apostrophe?"  Ah.  Well, I have about twenty books on English syntax, so I pulled two off the shelf while saying, "I think the rule is always to add an apostrophe and then an 's'."  "Even when there is an 's'?"  "I think so . . . let me look here . . ."  And back and forth we went, as I furiously flipped pages, looking for that elusive, definitive rule. 
Opening Lynne Truss's (!) book to The Tractable Apostrophe chapter, I began to read: Current guides to punctuation [. . .] state that with modern names ending in "s" [. . .], the "s" is required after the apostrophe: Keats's poems; Philippa Jones's book; St. James's Square; Alexander Dumas's The Three Musketeers.  With names from the ancient world, it is not: Archimedes' screw; Achilles' heel.  If the name ends in an "iz" sound, an exception is made:  Bridges' score; Moses' tablets.  And an exception is always made for Jesus: Jesus' disciples.

If the preceding paragraph got you giddy with excitement (my heartrate definitely accelerated a bit just typing that lengthy quote), then you really ought to read Ms Truss's (!) treasure trove of a book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves.  What I quoted above might give you a sense of the author's clarity, but it does not give you a sense of her supreme sense of humor -- making this book laugh-out-loud funny over and over again.  Truly.  My father gave me this book a couple Christmases ago, but it had sat upon the shelf until last Friday.  Shame on me!  After helping Jason out of his pickle, I turned back to the beginning and read the entire book straight through.  How seldom it is that such good advice can be mixed with a caustic and prickly sense of fun!  I will never look at a bag of Starburst Fruit Chews the same way again.

So, that's what I have been diverting myself with instead of finishing off Doctor Zhivago.  Yuri just got back to Lara, and she's spilling the details of her sad, sordid former life as love-slave to Komarovsky. And, I don't really care.  I hate them both.  But, I will finish that durn book, so help me.