Monday, July 31, 2006

jim disagrees about pee-wee

Movies that do not need to be shown in high-definition, and therefore should not be used to promote the cable company's new HD service:

Blown Away

A Night at the Roxbury

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

Seriously, TimeWarner. Have some self-respect. Or at least get a better advertising firm.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

eh?political revisited

Because we tend to watch our TiVoed Comedy Central shows at a hefty delay, Jim and I are just now watching last Thursday's Colbert Report, which featured the already much commented-upon interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's delegate to the House of Representatives.

My favorite moment? "You flatter yourself, sir! What makes you think I find you at all attractive? I didn't find you gay!"

I want to be able to vote for her, even if she can't vote on the House floor. She rocks.

cooking up a plan

Yesterday, despite all my best efforts to avoid doing so, Jim and I ran some errands at the mall.

Usually I try to avoid the mall at all costs, which I'm sure no one believes, given my penchant for shopping. However, the mall -- particularly on a summer weekend, when every bored tourist in a hundred-mile radius descends upon South Portland -- induces a pretty strong cringe reaction in me.

All of the items on yesterday's to-do list, though, involved either a zero-sum or negative outflow of money, which was kind of a motivating factor. I had to return one item that it turned out I did not actually need to own, and redeem a few magazine tear-away cards for free and interesting merchandise that was, in an odd turn of events, actually worth acquiring.

Hey, you can never have too many pairs of comfy cotton underwear. Seriously.

Of course, we had to make a detour into Williams-Sonoma, which may never fall out of favor as my all-time favorite browsing locale.

Perhaps my mind was primed to be in a kitchen-store mood after the morning's parental phone call. Mom and Dad discovered a phenomenal place in Charleston, which we shall now visit when we spend a couple of days there in November. I had also already been mulling over what to cook for dinner, since the heat pretty much demanded pressing the outdoor grill into service, and nothing in the fridge was calling to me. I was thinking something seafood-y, but I just couldn't settle on anything.

Sonoma had a huge window display of ... something, I don't actually remember what, but above it was a massive photograph of some mouth-wateringly beautiful grilled shrimp. It was a portent. We had to go in.

Jim is a patient and indulgent human being, because taking me into a kitchen store can be a time-suck of epic proportions. I don't remember being entranced in childhood by candy stores as per the old adage (although the penny candy at Spencer's Five and Dime was pretty fun). But plop me into a sea of cast-iron casseroles, cookbooks that double as art, and shiny new microplanes? Let's just say it's a miracle my eyes remember to focus and I can control the drool reflex.

Of course, there was nothing I really, truly needed at Sonoma yesterday, but I could happily bring home, oh, just about everything they sell. Or almost everything: I don't really need any more mustard scoops, since they come as a decoration on every wedding-wrapped gift. In fact, let me know you if need some. I think we saved twelve or so before we started just chucking them with the wrapping paper.

After wandering around in a state of utensil-lust-induced psychedelic trance for a few minutes, my eyes lit upon a wonderful sight: the non-stick flexible spatula. I generally use wooden spoons when I scramble eggs, which I do nearly every morning, and my wooden spoons are dying horrible splintering deaths, one by one, probably as a result of over-washing and general disrespect. The flexible spatula, though, in the small size, is the perfect egg-scrambling tool.

I wanted this spatula. I needed this spatula. And Jim, bless him, bought me this spatula.

When you leave the mall toting bags and yet having netted a few dollars in the process, I can tell you, it's a good day.

Our next port of call was the grocery store, to recycle a month's worth of bottles and find something appealing for the evening's menu. After some butcher counter perusal, I decided on swordfish to fit the bill for finishing off a good day with dinner in style.

So for dinner, I made grilled prosciutto-wrapped swordfish kebabs with an avocado, cherry tomato, and endive salad in a mustard-lemon vinaigrette, and we opened a Portugese vinho verde that surprised us in being not just light and crisp but slightly sparkling -- and, it seems, just the thing to accompany a lovely summer meal.

I have realized, of late, that I am very happy when cooking. On days when work or life uncertainty has got me down, I find myself drawn to the kitchen, making big batches of two-bean salad or complex herb-infused marinades. I'm not entirely sure where to take that impulse -- is there such a thing as a cookbook librarian? -- but believe me, ideas are starting to simmer.

Right now, though, I think some scrambling of eggs is in order.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, my parents had a T-Shirt.

I say "my parents" because, frankly, I've never been entirely sure to whom said T-Shirt belonged. I'm mostly sure that it was, at least originally, my father's, but then Mom started "borrowing" it in that way that couples do, and eventually it was sort of a communal shirt.

Let me back up a bit. The T-Shirt dated to well before I was even a twinkle in my parents' eyes. (Can there be a communal twinkle? Eh, why the hell not --if there can be a communal shirt, right?) I'm not sure if it found its way into my father's possession before my parents' marriage, but it almost definitely lived with them when they were Windy City denizens. They were young, they were cute, and they loved to bike along the lake.

Huh. Actually, all three of those things still apply to my parents. Although these days they bike to the beach on the island. Well anyway.

So Dad, as is his wont, got pretty into the biking during the many years when it was his main form of transportation, and what with one thing and another, he acquired the T-Shirt. Made of wonderful soft thin cotton, imprinted with the Motobécane France logo, it may have been no more than a bicycle brand promotion, but that never mattered to me. In fact, I have no idea if Dad actually had a Motobécane bicycle; I think I was into my teens before I ever knew that the brand was a bicycle-and-motorcycle brand, not just a clothing company. Bikes shmikes, frankly; it was all about the T-Shirt. And as it grew more worn and beloved over the years, it became, to my child's eye, the world's most wonderful piece of clothing.

I still can't quite recall how I came to be in possession of the T-Shirt. I probably snagged it as a sleep shirt, and Mom and Dad graciously let it stay in my dresser drawer. Not that this was a rare occurence, since I'm pretty sure I stole my mom's "Ladue 63124" tee --yes, there was a time when we all that was very clever -- along with both my mother's and my father's versions of the Smith College centennial shirt (motto: "A Century of Women on Top" -- can't you tell, looking at those Smithies there? Heh).

But those shirts were just clothing, utilitarian. Not like the T-Shirt. Every time I wore it, I felt a little bit special, a little bit more connected to a life my parents had led that I had not known.

The T-Shirt traveled with me from St. Louis, to Cambridge, to Manchester, back to Cambridge, and to Portland. After a few years, I noticed that the T-Shirt didn't look quite as hale and hearty as it once had. It found a pleasant home in my t-shirt storage linen basket, and I let it rest.

Recently I uncovered the T-Shirt and pulled it out. The cotton has worn so thin in so many places that there are irreperable holes all throughout the shirt. The logo is so faded that the words are only visible to eyes that knew where once they lay. Perhaps it is symbolic of the company, the trials and ultimate downfall, the fading from the public eye. A talisman, a safety blanket, and a reminder of another time.

Or maybe it's just a shirt. But to me, it will always be the T-Shirt, holes and all, happily whiling away its days in my drawer, and occasionally accompanying me to bed on a hot summer's night.

I'd just better be sure not to wear it out of the house, because some of these holes? Damn.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

laundering money

One of the washing machines in our laundry room is broken.

Normally we have to insert two dollars in the form of quarters to start the washer. (It's a little on the pricey side, no?) However, the machine on the right has decided that it is permanently full of quarters.

The "coins to start" countdown reads zero, and adding coins to the machine has no effect. Rather, the washer is just ready and rarin' to go, all the time.

Sure, we could choose to use the correctly-functioning machine, which we do if we have two enormous loads that cannot both be crammed into the single free washer. Still, I have no problem with doing laundry more often if it means fitting everything into the friendly, loveable machine that no longer enjoys eating money.

Come on. Free laundry. It's like a dream come true.

And after all? We're not complete larcenists.

We still have to pay for the dryer.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

brings new meaning to "taking a header"

From today's AP wire:

MSNBC Aims to Get Edgy 10 Years Later.

Really? Why start now? And just how do they plan to define "edgy," anyway?

"The boldest move was to cancel Rita Cosby's show and institute a two-hour block of documentaries starting at 10 p.m."

Wow! Sign me up!

I'd say it's due to a slow news day, but given the proto-World War III activities in the Middle East, that's clearly untrue. I guess the good headline writers have weekends off. Nice work if you can get it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

camp d'etat

Today's final camp production was outstanding. The kids were just absolutely phenomenal, far more so than I anticipated. I can't even begin to describe how wonderful a job they did with their joke-telling ("What do you get when Batman and Robin get run over by a steamroller?" "I don't know, what do you get?" "Flatman and Ribbon!"), their play (all the egg jokes!), and their circus-themed dance drama ("The Sad Clown" --no, really).

What most impressed me? They got huge laughs from the audience during the stand-up comedy section, and not just because the audience was mostly, um, their parents.

Or so I like to tell myself. Especially since not a one of them actually, you know, mastered the juggling. Although it might be funnier to watch them chase scarves all over the stage, if you think about it.

I would love to rave about some of my favorite kids, including Caleb, the almost-seven-year-old with osteogenesis imperfecta who is as bright as many kids twice his age and a natural-born comedian; or Corey, who has now done Drama Kids for two-and-a-half years and has the most adorable giggle on the planet, if not in the entire universe; or Olivia, who at ten years old has powerful projection, expert expression, and a knack for handling kindergarteners that made her an invaluable tool for me.

However, due to my overwhelming -- but good -- exhaustion, in lieu of that, I give you the script of the Drama Kids written, produced, set designed and drawn, and even house managed (they drew their own tickets and then collected them) world premiere, The True Story of Humpty Dumpty. (Yes, I'm going all-out sap-tastic tonight. Normal content to return...eventually.)

Opening Scene: The Great Wall of China. Humpty Dumpty is trying to balance along the top of the Wall. His friend the Cheese is there too.
Cheese: I’m going to sneak up behind him! This is the first time I’ve ever scared someone! (pushes Humpty, who falls)
Humpty: I think I broke some shell! (faints)
I’d better call 911. (dials) Hey! There’s no service!
King and Queen pass by on sightseeing tour.

Help! Somebody help! My friend fell off the wall!
King: I think I should send all of my horses and all of men to put him together again.
Queen: It’s only a silly egg. If we don’t save Humpty Dumpty, we could feed a lot of our people, and that’s no yoke – I mean, joke!
ng: You crack me up! But I like my idea better. Come on, King’s Men and King’s Horses!
Horses and Men ride up.

Horse E:
Neigh! What happened? (they shake HD)
I don’t remember. (faints again)
What a gooshy mess!
Horse H:
Somebody should call his parents. (looks at the Cheese, who is trying to hide)
Ugh. We don’t know how to fix this!
Horse H:
Load him on our backs and we’ll take him to the hospital.
K’s Men:
We’ll come too. What a great idea!
Horses: Why thank you!
Who will tell his parents to go to the hospital?
Oh, we have the Royal phone. We’ll call them.
We get egg-cellent service.
All arrive at the hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Dumpty are waiting for them.
Mom: Humpty! Are you OK?
Dad: How could you be so clumsy?
: Now now, be nicer to him. I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose!
Are you insane? I bet he just did it so he doesn’t have to go to school.
: Hmph. Well, even if he did, we still have to help him get better!
Doctor Grace and Nurse Mary enter. They look at Humpty.

Hmmm. I think we should glue him.
No! We should use tape!
Mary and Grace ad-lib about the merits of tape versus glue, zippers, Velcro.

You both have it wrong! You have to sew him back together!
Of course! Why didn’t we think of that?
Let’s do it!
(They sew HD up and he sits up)

Where am I? Where’s the rest of my Kung Pao chicken?
We sewed him back together, but I think he has amnesia!
Call the amnesia specialists!
(from offstage) Come on, Nurse Cora! We might have to do some scrambling on this one!
I’ll go get the amnesia medicine!
: Oh, my poor eggy!
Now now, no use crying over spilled yolk.
Here, drink this. (Humpty drinks.)
Now we can ask him some questions!
: Humpty, how do you feel?
Like I fell off the Great Wall of China.
You DID fall off the Great Wall of China!
I did? But how?
Everyone ad-libs wondering how it all happened, what went o
n, etc. Finally the Cheese can take no more.
It was me! I pushed him!!
I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to sneak up and scare him, but he …went over easy!
Humpty, can you ever forgive me?
I don’t know. Sire, what do you think I should do?
Well, a grilled cheese sandwich does sound pretty good…
Everyone gasps in horror.

He’s just kidding! You should be friends again. That is, as long as you’ve learned not to horse around anymore!
I definitely won’t scare people anymore.
Then we’re friends forever.
: And Humpty, if you ever fall off the Great Wall again?
Try to land sunny side up!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

heads shoulders knees and -tos

I had two six-year-olds suffer kindergartener meltdowns today. Nine to three is really long for them -- even though they've done a year of full-day kindergarten, that usually includes naps, which camp does not.

So first Cora lost it because she didn't have her swimsuit with her and we were hooking up the sprinkler at lunch time. I called her mom, who was at the beach, and couldn't be bothered, really. (Hmph.) She pointed out that there were extra clothes in Cora's bag so she could run through the sprinkler, although Cora did astutely notice that there were not extra undies in there. Regardles, she calmed down and all seemed well.

Later on, though, while being too silly during Arts and Crafts, she bumped heads with her sister and collapsed into a puddle of tears. I did some lap-sitting and hugging and boo-boo kissing, and through sniffles she murmured, "I'm tired... I wanna go home!" So I suggested we go over and curl up on the couch for a little.

Lo and behold, once Cora was snuggled into the corner of the couch, whom should I notice but Sully, back to the world, hunched into a little ball. I picked him up and pulled him onto my lap, and got him to tell me what was wrong.

"They hurt my feelings," he said, his face scrunching up into a big red mess.

Well, we never did figure out who "they" were, but someone said something that Sully thought was "You're a bad colorer" and he took it hard. Luckily, my eight- to ten-year-old girls are very handy; they gathered around (who can resist a cute crying kindergarten towhead?) and assured him he was an awesome colorer, they loved the fire he drew coming from the dragon's mouth, and he should be very proud. I got him to take me over and show me the dragon and we all praised it to the heavens, and he seemed better, but still pretty worn out.

So I did the only thing I could do. I got out the emergency box of Cheetos, Fritos, and Doritos, and the kids helped themselves to a snack bag each.

Thank you, Frito-Lay. Is there anything your cheesy goodness can't do?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

the true story of humpty dumpty

Undereye concealer: The camp counselor's best friend.

I look like death warmed over, but I'm having a fabulous time. Yesterday just flew by, and today did too, even with the pop-up thunderstorms that kept us in the gym during lunch.

So far, the best part has been that pretty much every parent, upon delivering his/her child to camp this morning, burst out with some variation on, "S/he had so much fun yesterday!"

Other entertaining parental comments:

"Sully was so tired that I asked him what he wanted to do, and he said, 'Just watch Little Einsteins.' He never does that!"

"Caleb woke up at quarter to five this morning asking if it was time to go to drama camp!" (My internal reaction: "Oh please the Lord, no! Don't we start early enough?")

"Corey was just chat-chat-chat-chat about camp yesterday. I don't think he wanted to come home." (Great, now I'm inheriting children.)

"Grace spent all yesterday afternoon trying to juggle!" (This from a dad who reported the event while juggling three balls seamlessly, far better than I can. Um, Mr. Hartley? Want to come teach my camp?)

I just hope they had as much fun today. We got into rehearsing the play, which is never as much fun as writing it, which we did yesterday, because you have to be quiet and listen and Joseph you've asked me what time it is every five minutes for the past three hours so now I'm not answering you anymore.

The play, though, is indubitably hilarious, and the amazing thing is, they wrote it themselves, with just a few suggestions from me.

Don't believe me that fourteen six- to ten-year-olds can write a play? Consider: Humpty Dumpty on the Great Wall of China, with a best friend who is a big wheel of cheese, has a cell phone, and with all sorts of characters who continually make egg-related puns. I couldn't write that stuff if you paid me.

My kids rock. I sort of want to scoop them all up at the end of the week and conscript them into my personal childhood drama cabal.

Right now, though, I need to shower and see if I can do anything to disguise the pervasive exhaustion creeping over my body. Bring on the Maybelline.

Friday, July 07, 2006

clownin' around

Next week is Drama Kids Summer Camp. It's a full-day camp, Monday through Friday. Melissa and I decided a while back to combine the two curricula that DK put forward for camp this summer, and to that end, our kids will be learning about comedy and clowning and writing their own play.

For the play, they'll be turning a nursery rhyme into a play, more or less. We'll talk about how to expand upon a known character, figuring out what s/he would say and do outside of the part of the story we already know.

Technically, they get to choose which rhyme they want to expand. In reality, I'm leaning towards forcing -- er, gently suggesting they consider -- Hey Diddle Diddle because the characters are fun, and there isn't one main "lead" role. Plus, what kid wouldn't want to be the Spoon?

They provide and/or make their own costumes, so we want to keep it as low-key and simple as possible. The whole point is to foster their creativity, and I'm really excited about hearing what they brainstorm for everything: lines, costumes, props, and more.

For clowning, they're going to learn about types of clowns -- Auguste, Hobo (or Character), and New Vaudeville clowns, for example. They will learn some jokes and practice some mime techniques, but the big event, right off the bat, is learning how to juggle.

Of course, I don't actually know how to juggle. Neither does Melissa's assistant, so a good chunk of our meeting today was spent with Melissa teaching us -- or, I should say, trying her damnedest to teach us -- how to juggle three items at least one time through the steps. If we can show the kids just one throw-throw-catch-throw-catch-catch-TA-DA!, we should be able to convince the children that we're old hands at this, and they'll take it from there.

It helps, Melissa assures me, that the kids have much better hand-eye coordination than we do. They'll probably pick it up instantaneously, and then I suppose I'll just have to prevent them from pelting each other with juggling balls.

Finally, each child gets to design his or her own clown face. This is a fantastic process that will eat up several hours of camp. Here's how it works: first, we will discuss the attributes of each face, including Whiteface, which the kids cannot do because it takes a boatload of white greasepaint and aside from the cost, the risk of it getting all over everything and oh my God it won't come off is too great.

The next day, they will get a piece of paper with a blank face on it and get to draw the face they want. They can do this as many times as they want, particularly if they do it so fast that they don't use all the assigned time.

And the day after that, they will recreate their clown face on a white-paper-bag-cum-puppet. They only get one puppet, but if it doesn't take them long to copy the face, they can decorate the rest of the bag as the body, too! This is the clown they get to take home and keep for posterity.

Finally, they will get to put on the full matching makeup for the dance drama we'll perform at the final show, in which they also get to juggle and one lucky kid gets to play the sad clown who learns to juggle and becomes happy.

In Camper World, the above process is called "Arts and Crafts Time." In Counselor Lingo, that translates as "I Need to Sit Down and Rest Before I Die Time."

Anyway, it's a toss-up (ha!) as to which will prove to be the more popular activity. If I were a camper, I'd be way more into writing my own play, because I'm nerdy that way. I imagine the kids are going to love the clowning, though, and it should be pretty fantastic to see by the end of the week.

That is, if I'm still alive. Five straight days of six hours spent non-stop with fifteen 6-to-10-year-olds? I didn't used to be one of those folks scared by clowns, but now, well...we'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Saturday night found us dining on French cuisine better than some we had in Paris, and it didn't even involve a plane trip.

The ever-lovely Monsieur et Madame Freed (a.k.a. Dick and Alisa) threw a phenomenal dinner party, as is their wont, although I do believe that this time they outdid even themselves. Lyette and Jay came up from Boston, and we dolled ourselves up and headed up the street armed with three bottles of wine and very healthy appetites.

The evening began with chilled prosecco and home-made pâté. Yes, you read that right: Dick and Alisa made pâté.

(Aside: I am never. cooking. again.)

The hors d'oeuvres having been attacked with gusto, we adjourned to the dinner table, where we each sat down to a crystal bowl of vichysoisse. I haven't had vichysoisse in years, although it's one of my absolute favorite soups, and I'm thinking I just might have to acquire a food mill solely so that I can make my own.

There was a hilarious interlude when the gentlemen adjourned to the area in front of the refrigerator to contemplate the relative merits of microbrews, and we ladies remained at the table discussing more genteel topics. Or maybe making fun of the men. I'll leave that to you to decide.

Conversation flowed as easily as the wine -- we'd moved on to red at that point -- and the Freeds sprang into action in the kitchen. The aromas wafting out to the dining room really comprised a divine form of torture; I'm fairly sure the four of us were trying desperately not to drool openly in anticipation. Alisa appeared briefly to set an enormous bowl of watercress and baby lettuces dressed with a garlicky Caesar dressing before us, then retreated into the kitchen for a few more minutes.


At last the host and hostess reappeared with gorgeously plated dishes for each of us: duck confit, haricots verts, and a wedge of absolutely delicious potatoes that seemed like a combination of pommes Anna and pommes soufflées (I should have asked precisely, but I was too busy eating them).

The food was astounding. It lived up to any Parisian bistro, and then some. Absolutely heavenly.

After we stuffed ourselves silly, we cleansed our palates with salad and settled back in our chairs to reflect while Dick once more slipped off to the kitchen. He ended our brief respite by presenting us each with a slice of peach galette topped with ice cream, and we figured we might as well finish yet another bottle of wine while we dove into -- I mean, politely supped on our dessert.

Coffee, tea, limoncello, and "dessert tequila" (ha!) were proferred, and we retired to the living room to chat some more before finally adjourning for the evening.

We'd just spent six hours in the heart -- and belly -- of France, and as Jim, Lyette and I stepped out into the cool night air (Mr. Spiros having decamped just a bit earlier), I could have sworn the stars sparkled like we were in Paris still.