Monday, December 15, 2008


A simple reminder for my budget-minded friends that toast is not just a little burnt crust on the side of a plate. Toast is a meal.

French toast! We like challah French toast best, but in a pinch, white or wheat sandwich bread does just fine.
Cinnamon toast!
Camel Eye or Bird's nest or Bullet Toast. (I always liked the term "camel eye" best.) This is where you butter your frying pan, bite a small hole in the middle of your bread. Stick bread in pan. Crack egg in bread hole. Flip the whole thing over easy. Salt and serve.
Rarebit: This is basically cheddar cheese, doctored up and melted, over toast. Follow the link for a recipe.
A friend of mine likes to put baked beans on toast.
And let's not forget cheese toast!
Pizza toast!
Mushroom toast!
Feta and garlic toast!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


This week's generic item:
Product: Harris Teeter Brand coffee-flavored ice cream
Rating: Decent. Definitely more mellow/less flavorful than some brand-name coffee ice creams I've tried, but still creamy and incredibly edible. A little less flavor for a little less money. Right now I'm good with that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


That's right! It's Financial Lockdown time again! Some friends told me once they actually looked forward to my budget tips, so I thought I'd let you know that this week, we took the last of our pumpkins and turned them into
a. soup
b. roasted seeds
c. compost!

The soup recipe was in the back of a book called Pumpkin Soup that my son checked out of the library.
The seeds we roast every year, with a little olive oil, salt, and Emeril's original essence seasoning. I put the oven on too high (I always forget the best temp) and they started popping like popcorn so I had to pull them out early. They were still good though.
The compost is looking lovely. (Note: Our jack-o-lanterns from Halloween stayed on the porch until the squirrels were done with them. Obviously they rotted early and were not used in the soup.)

My thumb. Small cut, big blood. I HATE PEELING PUMPKINS. But when you're on lockdown it seems like such a waste to throw a perfectly good pumpkin away.

In other budget news, tis the season to start buying GENERIC PRODUCTS.
When I try them, I'll try to remember to rate them. If you have any products to share, please do.
Today's products:
Item: Harris Teeter Black Olives
Rating: Absolutely as good as brand name
Item: Safeway's Lucerne Mozzarella Cheese
Rating: Ugh.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Amazing Cece Bell

Hi, and welcome to my (sporadic) blog. I have come out of hibernation to talk with Cece Bell, author, illustrator, and friend, and to help her launch her new book, Bee-Wigged (Candlewick Press.) Some of you may know Cece from her other picturebooks, which include Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood, Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie, and Sock Monkey Rides Again. Or from her board books, Busy Buddies and Food Friends. If, based on some of these titles alone, you detect a theme of friendship in Cece's work than you're one smart cupcake. Bee-Wigged is no exception. The story is about a giant bee who is feared by everyone. One bright day he finds a wig resting on the sidewalk. He puts it on and voila! Everyone thinks he's a boy. He makes friends everywhere he goes, until one day the wig blows off and Jerry's true self is revealed. When the wig begins to speak (!) Jerry realizes he has made the best friend of all. Plenty of other bloggers will focus on Jerry. Me? I'm going to focus on Wiglet, who has a moral authority I haven't seen since Linus. It's pretty clear he needs a book of his own.

Mad: If I didn't know you and your personal habits before I read this book, I would have said: Cece, WHAT EXACTLY WAS IN THAT ICED TEA? But since I do know you, I'll ask you to tell us about Jerry's wig instead. What can you tell us about the name: Wiglet?

Cece: Believe it or not (and the first time I heard it, I didn’t believe it), “wiglet” is a word in the dictionary. It may be the funniest word in the dictionary, ever, and Webster’s says it means “a small wig used esp. to enhance a hairstyle.” (So we can call the hair extensions favored by Britney and her ilk wiglets, too.) The first time I ever heard the word wiglet was when my friend Kelli Huffman (to whom Bee-Wigged is dedicated) told me that her beloved Nana used a wiglet to, you guessed it, enhance her hairstyle. We were walking at the time that she gave me this information, and I think I came darn well close to wetting my pants from laughing so hard. I was sure she had made up the word. When we returned from our walk, I looked it up in the dictionary, and there it was. So anyway, I knew I had to have a wig character in a book, just so I could use the word wiglet.

Mad: Is it true that you have the original wiglet?
Cece: Kelli did give me Nana’s original wiglet. Kelli had taken the wiglet and sewed it to the top of a bill-less baseball cap, so that her pre-school students could wear it when they played dress-up. The wiglet looks horrible, but Kelli tells me that back in its glory days, she got to comb and style it for Nana before Nana wore it to various glamorous events in DC.

Mad: (Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!): In your book, Wiglet talks and turns out to be ...a guinea pig! Why a guinea pig?

Cece: Guinea pigs are good and hairy, and also kind of blobby, which was just right for the shape I had in mind for Jerry Bee to wear on his head. Also, a guinea pig’s hands and feet and ears are tiny and could presumably be hidden under all that fur.

Mad: What other animals did you consider?

Cece: I think I considered a dog for a long time, but decided that it would be too hard to hide a dog’s dogginess, especially its longer legs and distinctive ears.

Mad: Have you ever worn a wig?

Cece: Yes.

Mad: What was the occasion?

Cece: I am compelled to put a on a wig anytime I am close to one.

Mad: Did you/do you feel like a different person?

Cece: I feel like an absolute fool!

Mad: When I think of Big Wigs, I tend to think of Jan Brady, although she used her wig to be DIFFERENT from everyone else. Jerry uses his to help him conform. Can you think of other Big Wigs in literature? And since I thought of Jan Brady first, I'll extend that question to include film or TV.

Cece: That big wig of Jan’s may be one of the all-time great moments in television. I’m having trouble visualizing anything right now other than that beautiful big black wig, so I think I’ll have to pass on this question. Let’s just say I’m pretty unschooled in the Big Wig Motifs of Great Literature.

Mad: So, wigs: Conformity or distinction?

Cece: I’d say distinction, no matter what. You just can’t miss a wig.

Mad: You've mentioned before that when you were growing up and The Only Kid in the Class With a Hearing Aid, you were worried about fitting in. That's on top of the normal fitting-in worry that you already had just by virtue of being a kid. What's the craziest thing you ever did to try to fit in when you were young?

Cece: Do you remember those purses that were popular in the early 80’s? They had these curved wooden handles and were kind of clam-shaped. They had all these different covers that you could get to match your outfit. The finest girls in school all carried them, and if you were super-fine, you got yours monogrammed. Well, I convinced myself that a purse of this nature would open up a whole new world of popularity and pizazz. The problem was that carrying anything not 100% essential was, and still is, totally anathema to the Cece Bell way of life. Not only did I feel ridiculous carrying extra stuff that I didn’t need, I am sure I looked ridiculous with a tiny purse that didn’t ever match my ill-fitting clothes. I think that purse lasted all of one week. Total garbage! Thank goodness I didn’t get into the whole add-a-bead disaster.

Note from your hostess, who did get into the whole add-a-bead disaster, though she never got past one bead: Bermuda Bags!

Mad: You once told me that you thought people were nicer than they were because -- being hard of hearing -- you couldn't overhear any nasty asides they might have made. How do you think that transfers into your work? And I have to add: I find it interesting when you draw/paint, especially in the Sock Monkey books, you have everyone saying something at once in a crowded room! Could you take that sorry approximation of a question and just run with it?

Cece: Well, “missing out” on things that are said has probably affected my life and work in two ways. The first is that I do tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses, and think that people are essentially good -- I never hear them say anything bad, so why not? This is, I know, not always true, but heck, whatever works. It probably keeps my writing and my illustrating very positive, which usually works well in the children’s lit field. The second is that “missing out” probably made me more creative. For example, I watched a LOT of television as a kid -- and that would’ve been before there was closed-captioning. Why I would do something so idiotic is beyond me, but what I ended up doing was kind of fun: I would make up stories in my head to go with the pictures I was seeing. I had lots of crazy stories about Horseshack and Mr Kotter, Bugs and Daffy. Seriously weird stuff. Closed-captioning came along when I was 12 or so, and my creative skills probably plummeted.

Mad: When I read the first draft of Bee-Wigged, I thought: I love this! But I didn't think that Candlewick would publish it because a talking wig might be outside of their comfort level. (I tend to think cozy when I think Candlewick's picture books. Not that this isn't a cozy story, but you know what I'm saying.) Did you have any trouble convincing them or did they snag it right away?

Cece: They snagged it right away. I’ve never seen anything like it. I sent in a dummy version; two weeks later to the day, they bought it. Nuts! Would that they were all that easy.

Mad: Cher or Dolly Parton? (Both proud wig wearers.)

Cece: Are you kidding? Dolly Parton by about a mile. They have both had plastic surgery, which is not a good look for anyone, but Dolly has better songs and, I think, a really good attitude. Maybe Cher has a good attitude, too, but that robot voice stuff in “Do You Believe in Life After Love” makes me queasy.

Mad: Burt Reynolds or Ted Danson? (Both toupee wearers. Not sure about the proud part.)

Cece: Burt Reynolds, but before his relationship with Loni (and with his plastic surgeon). I love him in Deliverance and the Smokey and the Bandit stuff.

Mad: And one last question: Knowing that SM can be more than a little vain at times, I was wondering what he thinks about all of this?

Cece: He is beyond furious.

Mad: That wraps us up. Thanks, Cece, for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope everyone else will tune in for the rest of Cece's blog tour. Locations and links follow.

Monday, Dec. 1, Sam Riddleburger's Blog
Tuesday, Dec. 2, That was me. You were here.
Wednesday, Dec. 3, Plastic Pumpkins. Over the top. You will thank yourself for checking it out.
Thursday, Dec. 4, Through Internet magic, Cece and Jerry Bee are in TWO PLACES AT ONCE
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
and Bookstogether, where a crack panel of 4 to 8 year olds will ask Cece probing questions.
Friday, Dec. 5: 100 Scope Notes
Saturday, Dec. 6: Stop back at Cece's web site for chance to win something bee-wonderful!


Because I was (and still sometimes am) a music writer, I feel compelled to provide a playlist inspired by Cece's Bee-Wigged tour.
If you're a kid, this one's a no brainer: Go listen to Laurie Berkner's "Bumblebee"
And if you're not a kid and you're seeking something with more of an edge,* might I suggest:
Husker Du's "Flip Your Wig" From the year I graduated high school. Bob Mould. Lovely, angry guitar playing. It's a great album and if you missed it 23 years ago (ouch) here's your second chance.
The B-52's Bouncing off the Satellites album includes a track called "Wig." Much bouncier (duh) and friendlier than Husker Du. This one's kid friendly, too!
Southern Culture on the Skids: SCOTS is one of the wiggiest (and hardest working) bands out there, and their 1994 album Ditch Diggin' features a playful guitar track called "Wig-Out." Plus, Southern Culture is largely from Roanoke, Va., which is just a few miles up the road from Cece Bell. Kismet!
The Soft Boys: Can of Bees. Early Soft Boys, but here there's nothing soft about 'em (though "Sandra's Having Her Brain Out" is quite melodic). No wig songs. No bee songs. But lots of weirdness and a promise of the good things to come.

*Please note, I am a strong advocate for letting kids listen to edgy stuff, too! I just haven't done my usual swear scan on any of these lyrics. I will say that SCOTS is in heavy rotation on our kid playlist, and The B-52s could be, if everything we owned weren't on vinyl.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

coming up

Yes, it's a preview. I usually don't do those, but it's been so long since I've posted anything I figured I should get people geared up by announcing that I will host an interview with Cece Bell, here, at this very blog, on Tuesday. I don't usually interview friends -- in the journalism world that would be a conflict of interest. But this is BLOG WORLD, very different, and I can do whatever I want. In fact, maybe I should interview ONLY FRIENDS. Which means that Mary Hill will have to talk to me when her new book of poetry comes out in January. But for now: Cece! This week! Talking about Bee-Wigged! Stay Tuned!
And if you can't wait until Tuesday, the Blog Tour starts tomorrow at Sam Riddleburger's Blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's Complicated

My son checked a new picture book out of his school library last week, "The Cats in Kraskinski Square." He'd chosen it, he said, because it was sitting on top of the shelf and it was opened to a page with a picture of a giant steam engine. My son is a sucker for giant steam engines. He took the book back to his classroom and started reading. When he came home, he handed it to me and asked me to read the story. Because the book wasn't about trains at all, it turns out. It was about the Holocaust.

Until last week, my son knew nothing about World War II, and I would have waited even longer before trying to explain that particular chapter in world history. There are many chapters I haven't tried explaining yet. I'm fortunate. Because throughout the world we have 6-year-olds LIVING THROUGH the things we'd like to protect them from.

As books on this subject go, I'd easily recommend the one my son picked, which is written by Karen Hesse with illustrations by Wendy Watson. I just would have picked it three years from now.

The story is about a little girl who has escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and is trying to get food to the people inside. She keeps playing with these cats that roam around the town -- cats who no one owns anymore. When the Gestapo finds out that the people are trying to smuggle food into the ghetto, the girl and her sister round up the cats and put them in their baskets. The cats are released, the Gestapo's dogs chase the cats, and the food makes it to the hands of the starving people. My son got the nuances -- no one owns the cats because the owners are dead. The girl and her sister are all that's left of their own little family because their parents and brother are dead. There's no escaping that. But people are fighting back, and in this one instance, at least, they win at their task -- appreciated for this age group because I think one of the hardest things for a kid is the idea that he can't do anything about the horrible things that are happening in the world. (That's one of the hardest things for me, too!)

My son asked to read it again and again -- his way, I think, of trying to understand. Had he not already tried reading it in school by himself, I absolutely would have steered him away until he was older. I still haven't said anything to the librarian. I haven't quite figured out how to approach it, I guess. Just like I haven't quite figured out how to approach this post, so I'm ending it here...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

chipmunk wars

I'm blaming the chipmunks. My mother-in-law says it could be birds and a friend says it could be squirrels, but I saw the hole coming up in the middle of the tomatoes and, after I stopped that one up, in the cucumbers. The chipmunks have been attacking my garden. Small veggies disappear, leaving behind a stubby stem. Big veggies have big bites chomped in the side (see above).
I shouldn't complain. We've had a great haul this year, the best ever thanks to my husband's reading up on sheet composting. We managed to avoid store-bought lettuce for two solid months. We've eaten more turnips that I've had in my entire life combined. We've gotten sick of yellow squash. But we've lost most of the cukes and now the chipmunks are getting into the tomatoes, just when they turn red. Wartime.
I've been scanning the net for battle plans and so far I've tried two.
1. Juicy fruit gum. The net says that the chipmunks hate the smell and this will scare them off. My neighbor, Dan, says that this is an urban myth put out by the Juicy-Fruit People. Dan's probably right and my attempts haven't worked so far, but I still have some extra packs. When I see a hole, the gum is going in.
2. Cayenne pepper. I've plugged up three sprayers trying to get my own mix on the garden so I finally resorted to a red pepper spray, purchased at Ayers, the greatest hardware store in Northern, Va. It hasn't worked so far. This morning we went out and found more tomatoes bitten than ever before. My son thinks the chipmunks are angry and looking for revenge. I'm angry, too, but not so angry that I'm ready to try the third battle plan I found on the internet, the so-called Bucket of Death.
They're too cute to kill. I may be ready for some humane traps, though. I think they need a nice little vacation several miles away...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


A couple of years or so we saw an ad for a Muppets Exhibit at the Smithsonian. We went and found a glass case containing some of our favorite Muppets but ... nothing more. Sure, the Swedish Chef was there, and that counts for a lot. But we left disappointed. We were NOT disappointed this weekend, though, when we journeyed over to the International Gallery, nextdoor to the Smithsonian's Castle, to see "Jim Henson's Fantastic World." Storyboards, early sketches, posters, drawings, and video footage of some of Henson's early commercials, including those for Wilkins Coffee and for the La Choy Dragon, running in an endless loop. Hard to see everything with little kids in tow, but just reading the timeline at the beginning of the exhibit is enough to make you realize you're in the presence of genius ... if you hadn't already realized it before. (We had.) In this exhibit you'll find Kermit and Ernie and Bert, along with Rowlf and the puppets from Mahna Mahna. Swedish Chef is sadly absent, as are many others. ("WHERE'S FLOYD PEPPER?" my daughter demanded, very loudly. If anyone knows, please post...) He was there in spirit, if not plushy flesh. And I definitely spotted the pen drawing of Dr. Teeth. The exhibit also has apuppet theater for the kids, a make-a-face station, and a little counter where the squeakers can work on their own storyboards while you check out everything that's hanging on the walls. That probably would have been easier for us if we'd gone on a weekday; we went on a Sunday and it was packed. We're planning on going back for a closer second look. The exhibit is in D.C. until the beginning of October, when it goes South to Florida, Kentucky and Georgia. If it goes near you it's definitely worth a look.

For more information visit

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

gender differences

I've always been fascinated by gender differences between my kids -- and all kids. So just wanted to note the following observation:

Perfection to a 6-year-old girl:

Perfection to a 6-year-old boy:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

summer reminders

Tomorrow is the first day of summer. Earlier today I posted a few pictures that I thought captured the essence around our house so far. Feel free to send a link to your own pics if you've got 'em.

Meanwhile, I wanted to remind those of you with kids to sign up for your local summer library reading program. Our library in Arlington has incentives for preschoolers through teen-agers.

My friend Leigh Anne turned me on to the Barnes and Noble reading program, too. They don't need the extra publicity, but YOU NEED FREE BOOKS so I want to take a minute to make sure you check out the program, too. It's a good deal: Your kids, grades 1 to 6, read eight books and say what they like best about each one. Turn it in and you get a coupon for a free book from a list of eligible titles. In normal something-for-nothing land, that would mean your kids would be bringing home How to File Your Fingernails with a Back Hoe or Gourmet Cooking with Sawdust. Only I checked out the titles in my son's age group and they included: Ramona Quimby, Age 8, the Tale of Despereux, and Clementine. Since the kids are going to be reading anyway, may as well fill out the paperwork!


Photo titles:
Patient Father
Shy Bullfrog
Hakurei Turnips

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Last night my husband and I went through a bunch of junk we didn't need anymore. We made a pile for the thrift shop and a pile to get rid of. Unfortunately my son found the get-rid-of pile as soon as he woke up and rescued from the top a broken Whoopee Cushion.
"I think we should fix this," he said.
"I think we should just get a new one," I said.
"No, Mommy," he said. "Reduce, reuse and recycle."
Time to bring out the Duct Tape.

(Note: The Duct Tape worked. Good Old Duct Tape. Further proof that my husband's theory of parenting is on target: All you really need is a ball, a stick, and a roll of Duct Tape.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


It occurs to me, as my daughter asks me to find "the gray socks with the pink on the ends," that I am, among other things, laundry impaired.

Monday, May 19, 2008

night at the smithsonian

They're filming the sequel to "Night at the Museum" in D.C. this week, and for some reason this makes me inexplicably happy. I never saw the first movie, but I'm always excited about seeing something filmed in a place where we spend so much of our time. (When we lived in Cambridge, Mass., my husband and I rented every movie about Harvard that we could find, including "How High," which didn't even attempt to make it look as if it were taking place in the Northeast.)

Anyway, we spent Sunday buzzing in and out of museums with our friends Tom and Cece and I passed a display at Natural History that could be a horror movie unto itself. This particular display has fascinated me ever since my kids and I first ran into it a couple of years ago during a mad race to the bathroom. My son stopped dead in his tracks, his bodily needs temporarily frozen.
"What's THAT?
"What are they DOING?
The exhibit was a little dusty when we first saw it, and I seem to remember red lights, but maybe I made that part up. Anyway, I was glad to be able to share it with Tom and Cece, if not our children, whose eyes were covered. And I snapped a couple of pictures so I could share it with you. At the very least, this helped me grasp why the theory of evolution is a little scary for some people...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Car seat on a what?

Just returned from Florida without going to Disney World which is either an amazing triumph or rodent blasphemy, depending on your point of view. The highlight, other than seeing extended family at the bat mitzvah of the only 13 year old living in Boca Raton, was the Kennedy Space Center. My husband and I emerged, misty-eyed, from a number of the exhibits and films, all of which promoted the idea of a world without borders and people working together to reach the stars in something that looked like it shouldn't even make it to Palm Beach. The mantra: Nothing is impossible. It was hard to go out of there a pessimist, though the guy behind me on the last leg of the bus tour was working hard at it; I think he was disappointed because he kept missing the alligators when the guide pointed them out.

More on that trip later.

For now I wanted to take a second to mention another trip, written up in How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel, an anthology of essays about traveling with children, edited by Sarah Franklin. My contribution is about my first trip to New York with (mobile) kid in tow. But there are many other essays by many other writers. I'm not so good at self-promotion, never having had to do it before. It will probably be easier if I promote THEM, so when I finish the book, look for a few notes on my favorites.

Monday, April 28, 2008

i will survive

So sings Gloria Gaynor. So sings me!
I made it through my reading tonight without blowing into a paper bag (though it was touch and go there for a moment). I wore a skirt and am certain it was crooked when I was on stage. BUT I survived. They are very brave, those poetry people, putting it all out there night after night. I'd consider doing it again. Next time I'll wear pants.

Friday, April 25, 2008

new years resolution part three

At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to do a public performance of some kind. I hadn't done anything in public since I was a bee in ballet class, unless you count marching band-- though who could see me under the hat? Anyway, I started by playing guitar at my daughter's preschool, just three chords while the kids sang. Mission accomplished.

Now I'm going public again, with a poetry reading on Monday at Busboys and Poets in Shirlington. Fortunately, I will be with the five other, more experienced poets who were part of this year's moving words competition for Arlington. Our poems will be published on buses here and in Fairfax County. We'll each read for 10 minutes or so, followed by an open mic night (which means if you go, you can bring a poem of your own).

Before this, I had threatened to be a part of an open mic night or even a poetry slam, which is something I'd always wanted to do in college, but didn't because a. I was chicken and b. I spent every waking minute at the school newspaper. I always had some regrets that I didn't do the artsy thing because I figured that was the only time in my life when doing the artsy thing would be an option. It was certainly the only time of my life I could've gotten away with wearing a beret.

I will not be wearing the beret on Monday, but I will be trying to tap into that creative side that has spent the last 20 years buried in newsprint.

P.S. I'm still chicken.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I try not to go too heavy on the parenting advice, the underlying reason being that basically I'm just winging it. But I just thought I'd mention that, if you happen to have a 6-year-old boy and he happens to have a best friend, it is a very good idea to take the training wheels off of their bikes at the exact same time.

Monday, April 21, 2008

tv turnoff week

I should not be posting today. I have this little internet problem and TV Turnoff Week (April 21 to 27) is about screen time, not just TV Time. In other words, they're talking to ME. They're saying: you don't really need to play Scrabulous on Facebook this week. They're saying: you don't really need to read a half dozen blogs. Shouldn't you be writing? Shouldn't you be practicing your guitar? Shouldn't you be going outside with the other slack-jawed, zombie-eyed children and trying to catch some sun?

So just this short note, to direct you to And to recommend that if you happen to have young children, you should start TV Turnoff Week at the library. I did, and came away $44 poorer (see previous post about daughter's book-ripping incident). But I also came away with 20 books, including Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator.

Tomorrow, hit the hardware store and buy some seeds. Climb a tree. Write a poem.

Tomorrow night, consider listening to NPR for your election returns. Consider taking a valium to make it easier.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I've started this post five times, talking about anniversaries and why newspapers cover them the way they do and what we should remember and what we should forget and what changes and what stays the same and the Iraq War and Blacksburg and thousands and 32 and what we should read and what we should avoid and what we should learn and what's too much and what's too little and gun laws and law suits and learning and ignoring and birthdays and funerals and brothers and sisters and parents and husbands and wives and children and survivors and ribbons made of magnets and pixels and cloth. And silence.

Ross Abdallah Alameddine
Christopher James "Jamie" Bishop
Brian Bluhm
Ryan Clark
Austin Cloyd
Jocelyne Couture-Nowak
Kevin Granata
Matthew G. Gwaltney
Caitlin Hammaren
Jeremy Herbstritt
Rachael Elizabeth Hill
Emily Hilscher
Jarrett Lane
Matthew J. La Porte
Henry Lee
Liviu Librescu
G.V. Loganathan
Partahi Lumbantoruan
Lauren McCain
Daniel O'Neil
Juan Ramon Ortiz
Minal Panchal
Daniel Perez Cueva
Erin Peterson
Mike Pohle
Julia Pryde
Mary Read
Reema Samaha
Waleed Shaalan
Leslie Sherman
Maxine Turner
Nicole White

Sunday, April 13, 2008

something new

The thing my husband and I argue about the most is time.
I don't have it.
Neither does he.
Mostly we argue about who has it the least or who needs it the most. So I totally understand when people say they don't have time to take a chance on something new. I'm guilty of that these days, too.

When we had more time, we used to complain about people like me. My husband was booking shows then, bands he loved and believed in, for some clubs back in Blacksburg, Va. Some of the bands were admittedly obscure. Some were local, just trying to get heard. Sometimes there was a good buzz and people showed up, but I can't tell you the number of shows I saw in which I was one of seven people in the audience. Still, the bands played on. On the way home (after a trip to the bank machine in which my husband had withdrawn his meagre savings to pay the band's $200 guarantee) my husband would rant: "Jesus, the shows are only $5! Why can't people take a chance for $5?"
"Maybe they only do that in Austin, Texas," I said. It was not a comfort.

Fast forward to today, when I went to a book reading by two friends. There was a decent enough crowd -- well over seven people. Still, I'd be willing to bet the authors knew everyone in the audience. Where were the new people? The reading was free. Plus, there were cookies.

In an effort to go somewhere with this spiel, to give myself a hook, I'll tie it loosely to TV Turnoff Week, which is approaching April 20th. But the time limit for this exercise extends far beyond next week.

What I'm asking is this: Promise yourself that this year, just once, you'll check out somebody new. For an hour. Drop in on a reading just because the writer sounds interesting in the paragraph you see in the paper. Go out and listen to a band, just because they're playing down the street at the Iota and the lead singer could channel Johnny Cash if Johnny Cash were a Japanese woman who played keyboard. Stop in a gallery because you see a splash of color that reminds you of the Virginia mountains during a winter sunset. I'll promise to do the same. And I'll also promise that even if the band sucks, if the writer reads in a monotone, if the artist makes you think of compost, your time won't be completely wasted. You'll get some karma points out of the deal, for one thing. And it might even inspire you to go write or paint or play (or read or look or listen more) yourself.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

hair today, gone tomorrow

Along with my obsession with church signs, I've also had an obsession with names of hair cutteries, specifically those that are built around bad puns.

My favorite has always been Hairport in Pembroke, Va. I almost declared a new winner after listening to today's Kojo Nnamde show, but the name of the shop turned out to be "Hair Rage" instead of "Hair Raid."

Others I've come across

Make 'n' Waves (Dublin VA)
Last Tangle in Washington (DC)
Hare Affair (Fairlawn, Va. Because rabbits need haircuts, too???)
Chopping Block (Wytheville, Va.)

My friend Laura sent in Curl Up and Dye, though she can't remember where she saw it. Southwest, Va.? An Internet scan shows one in L.A., one in Vegas, and another in Minneapolis. (Laura is slightly reminiscent of Mary Tyler Moore, but I don't think she's spent much time getting her hair done in Minnesota.)

I'll add more when I think of them...

Friday, April 4, 2008

crime and punishment

One of the hardest things for me about parenting is finding the appropriate punishment when my kids do something wrong. Too often I go for No Television, even if the crime had nothing to do with television. Yesterday my 3-year-old pulled a doozy and did something that was completely out of character for her. She and a friend were in her room while everyone else was downstairs. After the friend left I went upstairs and found that they had shredded four library books. This hurt on a few of levels.

1. Books are sacred in our house
2. We're still on financial lockdown. One of the reasons we use the library so much is so that we always have lots of new books that are FREE, something I would never take for granted. Replacing these books is NOT going to be free.
3. One of the books was an Ezra Jack Keats book
4. Her crime was a combination of mistreating books and being a blind follower, which we discussed but which is a hard thing to get across to a 3-year-old.

So what do you do as punishment? Parenting books are always saying the punishment needs to fit the crime. In that case, I should probably take away her books or refuse to read to her for a week so she can appreciate the value of a book. But taking away books is like taking away breathing. Plus, I don't want her to go a week without me reading to her. Which leads me right back to television, which is something I don't want her watching anyway. She also loses her bedtime book choices for a week. I told her I would read to her brother and that she could join us and listen, but that since he respected the books in our house this week, he gets to chose which books we read. She will also have to pay one dollar the next time she comes into money from someone (a grandparent, an aunt, etc.) to help pay us back. (This one is tricky; she doesn't get an allowance so we can't take that, and the next time she gets money from someone is likely to be August, which is pretty far removed from the actual crime.)

I also took her to the library last night and had her apologize to the librarians. I tried to point out that this wasn't part of the punishment; when you do something wrong, you apologize for it. End of story. I called the children's librarians first and I told them we were coming in advance.

I'm still not completely satisfied with the punishment. But I am satisfied that it's something she won't do again.

Friday, March 28, 2008

time out for poetry

My son had a temper tantrum this week. A kicking, screaming tantrum, the likes of which I haven't seen in more than a year and the likes of which is not becoming in any kid, much less a kindergartner. I took him to his room and as part of his time out, or recovery time, or whatever you want to call it, I had him work on some poems about the way he was feeling. My object wasn't to instill poetry as punishment (egads, I hope that won't be a side effect!) but to get him to focus on words and feelings and communicating those feelings in a way that did NOT involve kicking and screaming.

It was a fascinating process. He dictated three poems and they got better and more eloquent as he regained control. He gave them titles after they were finished. Here's the first one:


I hate you
I don't like you
I do not like you at all
Because you were not nice to me.

Here's the last one:

When I Am Angry

When I am angry, I feel mean
I feel sort of like a volcano inside
Or a big, bubbly mud pit
But that's not all
I feel like I want mommy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

akron family

I didn't review these guys when I saw them, but in the hopes of keeping a sorta-kinda record of the bands I see, I wanted to add Megafaun and Akron Family to the list. I went into this show blind. With exception of a late start (something I could handle when I was younger but something that now, in the post-40 years, really pisses me off) I dug them both. You can follow these links to their myspace pages.
Akron Family

It's Alive

My daughter recently purchased a Baby Alive with her holiday money. Following is a brief survival guide should your child do the same.

1. Take little packet of juice mix which will later become pee mix. Hide.
2. Suggest that Baby Alive go commando during feedings.
3. Adopt refrain, "But sweetheart, all babies eat in the sink."
4. If Baby Alive insists upon wearing diaper during feedings, dry said diaper between feedings. A warm, sunny window works best. Note: This will only work if you follow Step 1.
5. Adopt refrain, "But sweetheart, all babies wear wipes and rubber bands to bed." Because seriously, if you've just gotten your kid out of diapers, do you really want to buy diapers for her doll?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

church signs

Growing up in the south, I've always had a fascination with church signs -- those changing marquees outside of churches that try to snag passers by in two lines or less. Things like "God is here. Where are you?" or "Think you're special? Try walking on water."

Never mind that I'm Jewish and a hefty percentage of those signs don't have me as the target audience. They still make for interesting scenery, a couplet of religion mixed in with the redbud along the highway. Some signs feature jokes or puns (mostly bad), some try to comfort. Some are mean-spirited and horrifying -- the kind of signs you figure must be written by men with white hoods instead of white collars. But the little white church near our house in Arlington, Va., has had a few signs lately that I've remembered for the right reasons. The first came in January:

For peace, look for the better you within you.

The second is the one that's up now:

Fall down seven times; stand up eight.

It's a spiritual fortune cookie; bumper-sticker theology, to be sure. But if I saw a car with that sort of bumper sticker, I'd let it pull out in front of me. I wouldn't even swear at it if it stayed in the left lane with its blinker on.

Friday, February 29, 2008

new years rez part deux

Not to brag, but I have now officially kept two (2) New Year's Resolutions from my lengthy list.
1. I got a physical.
2. I performed in public.

Okay, so the performance actually took place in front of 43 kids, ages 3 to 5. And okay, so my husband volunteered to play his guitar along with me so that I wouldn't have to do it alone. It still counts.

This marks the second time my husband has bailed me out of an uncomfortable situation (uncomfortable for me being anything that involves standing up in front of people.) When I wanted to speak before the school board over redistricting earlier this month, I signed my husband up instead. I was going to say he still hasn't forgiven me, but apparently he forgave me enough to join in at the pre school this morning. Whew.

Next up: A poetry reading in April. Now if I could just find a way to get him to read a few of those...

Friday, February 22, 2008


The ice cube out the window seems to have only brought us MORE ICE. Still open to new ideas...

Thursday, February 21, 2008


My son's teacher says that if you want it to snow, you're supposed to take an ice cube, throw it out the window, and make a wish on it.

My neighbor, who delivered our Girl Scout Cookies earlier this evening, says if you want snow you're supposed to sleep with your pajamas inside out.

If you have any other ideas, please send them along. Unless you'd rather debate about which Girl Scout Cookie is the best. (I might be alone in this, but I vote for Tagalongs).

feeling groovy

Financial lockdown, a death in the family, a school board fight and annoyances big and small have conspired to put me in a funk, and not the kind James Brown sings about, either. I mentioned this to my friend Cece recently and she gave me her best sources on how to clear up the gray skies and make the glass half full:
Anne of Green Gables
"Maybe you should add some sort of 'Ann' to your name," she suggested.
So I complained about my funk to another friend who replied: "Oh, but I'm sure it won't last!" Her name? ANNIE. I think Cece's on to something...

Meanwhile, despite the weather forecast, I'm determined to start keeping on the sunny side. Speaking of which: Sam Riddleburger got me hooked on this challenge from Miss Rumphius Effect to write a rhyming chant using a list of items, flowers, animals, etc. My poem doesn't exactly stick to the rules (I don't think) as I'm giving myself a lyrical head start: I'm using titles of songs performed by The Carter Family.* My meter isn't perfect, but it's still my contribution for Poetry Friday.

I'm working on a building
In the shadow of the pines
I cannot be your sweetheart
Little darling pal of mine
I have an aged mother,
A distant land to roam
Walking the king's highway
It's a long, long road to travel alone.
Dark and stormy weather
East Virginia blues
Sunshine in the shadows
Birds were singing of you
Help me climb the mountain
Over the garden wall
It is better further on;
The happiest days of all

*Just to explain my train of thought for those who aren't Carter fluent, "Keep on the Sunny Side" was one of The Carter Family's signature songs.

Whew. Perhaps I should consider turning all of the bad stuff that's been going on lately into a poem. Though, per Cece's advice, I'd be better off working on a poem with the good stuff, and there's plenty of that. (Don't worry; I'm not going to try to rhyme it.)

My brother's new baby
My son's vigil for the tooth fairy
A paying writing gig
The ability to stop myself when I start getting sappy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

poetry saturday

I missed poetry Friday this week (and many others) but my son brought home a paper from his kindergarten class that I thought I'd post. His assignment had been to make three wishes on a good luck dragon for the Chinese New Year, one for his family, one for his community and one for himself.

I'm leaving out the misspellings, which were endearing but could perhaps be confusing. Anyway, it read:

For my family: I wish they would not die.
For my community: I wish there was no littering.
For myself: I wish for Captain Underpants.

I figure if he could get me to cry and laugh in three lines, it counts as a poem.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

another extra thing to celebrate

By some sort of divine intervention, my beloved 1990 Toyota corolla has once again passed inspection. 232,000 miles and counting...

Monday, February 4, 2008

authors on candidates

The Washington Post had op-ed pieces this weekend from Michael Chabon and Erica Jong, who wrote about Obama and Clinton respectively. Because Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union is one of my favorite books from last year (which some of you would know if I ever sent out my holiday book list -- coming soon), I wanted to include a link to his piece here.
And since it had a companion piece, I'm linking to Erica Jong's work as well.

extra things to celebrate

If you are looking for those extra holidays to celebrate, like Buddy Ebsen's birthday (April 2) or National Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19) I want you to know that today is one of those days: Today is the 10th anniversary of my husband quitting smoking. He didn't quit with help from National Smokeout or the Cancer Society or (though those are fine places to start if you're looking to quit.) He did it with help from Nintendo and a game called Doom. He rented both items from King Video and locked himself in our basement in Blacksburg and shot stuff for the weekend.

Qutiting wasn't easy. Sometimes it's still not easy. But it's been 10 years and I am incredibly proud of him. Tradition says that he gets a reward around this time every year, namely a CD or LP box set he wouldn't otherwise buy for himself. We're still on financial lockdown, but I'm still getting him the box set. (His choice: Goodbye, Babylon from Dust-to-Digital.)

Consider the cost of cigarettes (there's a tax chart here if you're interested) and the savings we get on insurance just for starters.

If you know someone who's quit smoking, consider a reward from time to time -- just a little something that shows that you recognize how hard it is, and a little extra encouragement to keep going.


If you get nauseous easily, do not read the rest of this post. Because today I am writing about: The NetiPot. This is where you take a teapot, pour it in one nostril, and watch the fluid come out the other. As long as you get the angle right, it doesn't go down your throat.

You can watch a youtube video of someone trying this at fatguy radio.

You cannot watch a video of me doing it as my husband was totally grossed out. The doc-in-the-box recommended this to me yesterday. I waited three hours for this advice (plus antibiotics) and at the end of those three hours, I was ready to try ANYTHING. I am feeling a little better this morning, though I cannot say whether it is the sudafed, the tylenol, the antibiotics or the NetiPot. But at this point I am likely to give credit to the NetiPot. I believe it works on two levels:

1. The salt water irrigates your sinuses and helps take care of any wicked bacteria in there that regular nasal spray won't stop.
2. Your brain decides it has to be working because you would never try anything this disgusting unless you were guaranteed results.

Friday, January 25, 2008

poetry friday and saving money

For poetry Friday I'm posting a link to $1,000 Down, a poem that's up this month on the Literary Mama web site.

I'm also posting an offhand remark from my friend Naama, who said she figured she'd save up to $50 a week if she just didn't sharp at Target. As we're still in a state of Financial Lockdown, I decided to try out her theory. I managed to stay away until this morning, when I had to pick up a prescription. Now I'm back on the bandwagon. It's not saving $50 a week, but it's definitely saving something...