A dozen books I've read recently:

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely
Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks (as Ian Fleming)
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, David Sedaris
The Important Book, Margaret Wise Brown
Talk to the Hand, Lynne Truss
The Edge of the World, Kevin Anderson
The Hippopotamus Song: A Love Story, Michael Flanders
The Big Bang Symphony: A novel of Antarctica, Lucy Jane Bledsoe
Sword of God, Chris Kuzneski
Wild Ducks Flying Backwards, Tom Robbins
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins



When you have to whip up a quick'n'easy dessert to please the masses, here's what to do:

Six-Minute Chocolate Cake, aka Chocolate Depression Cake (the era, not the feeling, b/c no butter or eggs) and Dump Cake (b/c you just dump it all in). There are many versions; this recipe is from a friend of a friend I stayed with on a road trip many years ago.

  • 1 2/3 C sugar
  • 3 C flour
  • 6 T cocoa powder
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 2/3 C oil
  • 2 T white vinegar
  • 2 C water

Preheat oven to 350. Combine dry ingredients and get rid of lumps. Add the rest. (you can theoretically do all this in the pan you bake in, but it usually doesn't work as well for me) Pour into a 9x13 pan and bake 30 - 40 minutes. Frost if desired, but you're on your own for that. Enjoy!



I spent all day thinking it was the 22nd. Now I feel like I missed a day. I also kept switching to rooms with clocks set differently, so I kept gaining or losing a few minutes. Like I'm in a time machine that skips, or needs a good kick in the tires.

Gotta play around with the paradoxes a bit. The whole killing-your-grandpa thing. Back to the Future. Einstein's Dreams. Chrononauts. Alternate and parallel histories.

* * * *

Not connected at all: I hear that some girls in college don't eat so they can drink at parties without worrying about the calories. WTF?! I disapprove. Gonna start showing up and shoving Twinkies down their throats before they do their keg stands, something to absorb the alcohol at least a tiny bit.

* * * *

Also unconnected: now that I need people to watch my boy sometimes, I realize how genius the Babysitters Club was. Kristy, you did have a great idea! We had a near-emergency (not life-threatening, just afternoon-plan-threatening) situation yesterday with a sick sitter. Luckily the kids these days all have their cellular devices on hand, and we got a replacement at the last minute. I wonder if I have any of those books floating around. Such happy memories.

* * * *

But wait! What if we could send a babysitter back in time?! We could have the Sisterhood of the Time-Traveling Sitters! I sense a miniseries in the making. And get to work, quantum physicists!



What does society owe junkies? What responsibility does it have for creating them? What does humanity demand of us in response? Where does compassion fit in? Personal responsibility? Politics and the media? Friends and family? Ethics and justice and the law? How can a socialist libertarian balance out all the opposing voices?

(yes, we watched The Wire; yes, I'm tired; yes, I have to finish my homework before bed; yes, this kind of stuff keeps me up at night; no, I don't have the answers)



It's proving to be rather difficult to do this every day. I haven't been able to stick to my photo-a-day thing either. But when I do, I like that moment to think about what's going on that day, and I like looking back on them. When I first tried it a few years ago, I actually kept it up for several months. Of course, I ended up with a lot of pictures of my dog: it was my default, if the end of the day rolled around and I hadn't snapped a pic yet. I'm not sure what my default is for this - poems, recipes, babble. Which brings us to....

Happy President's Day! Wherein we celebrate the Gregorian-shifted birthday of our first president, about whom we believe many incorrect things. It seems like these holidays that are intended to be meaningful, an opportunity for us to remember something important (MLK Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.), they shouldn't be days off; instead, there should be some kind of mandatory ceremony. I don't really think we should do that, I just know that the meaning behind these days has become: Yay! No school! Huzzah! There will be much rejoicing, and very little recognition of why we're all sleeping in or out skiing or whatever.

Wooden teeth for all!



1985. That's not a very long time ago. I was in elementary school, at least vaguely aware of the world around me, although this particular need would not arise for another decade or so. Today in history - February 20, 1985: Ireland legalized the sale of contraceptives.

That kind of shocks me. Maybe it should shock me that it happened at all, what with the Pope in charge. It continues to amaze me how strong a hold religion has on people. Here, too - playing no small part in the current attempts to strip us of rights we take for granted in the civilized, modern, developed, freedom-loving, democratic superpower we live in.

Maybe I'm out of touch with "real America," whatever the hell that is. But I know that if you ever talk to a woman who has been raped or sexually assaulted or abused or needed an abortion or can't afford to send her kids to preschool or stay home with them or is old (and I guarantee you know one, even if you don't think you do), you'll realize how absolutely fucked-up all this is. This list is from MoveOn. It makes me crazy. I'm pretty sure if Jesus was around, he'd be walking a different walk. Right to life? Please.

Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP War on Women

1) Republicans not only want to reduce women's access to abortion care, they're actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven't.

2) A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to "accuser." But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain "victims."

3) In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)

4) Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids.

5) In Congress, Republicans have proposed a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

6) Maryland Republicans ended all county money for a low-income kids' preschool program. Why? No need, they said. Women should really be home with the kids, not out working.

7) And at the federal level, Republicans want to cut that same program, Head Start, by $1 billion. That means over 200,000 kids could lose their spots in preschool.

8) Two-thirds of the elderly poor are women, and Republicans are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.

9) Congress voted yesterday on a Republican amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic health care and family planning in our country.

10) And if that wasn't enough, Republicans are pushing to eliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But Republican Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses. You can't make this stuff up).



Experimenting in the kitchen again. Glance at one recipe, compare with another, change everything anyway, and hope for the best. Tonight, it's with carrot-apple-raisin bread, in the oven as we speak, so I'll update with results. At least it's not dinner for 25 people, which is often the case. I almost never try out a recipe first if it's something new, I just go with it and figure we can always order pizza if it's really terrible. Hasn't happened yet (though the pseudo-Greek watermelon pie was not a hit with everyone - it was compared to stale jello and also fresh tuna steak sushi...not what you go for in a dessert; good thing there was a backup honey-walnut cake!) I'm not very good at following recipes exactly or carefully, and usually it comes out pretty good. But I wish I understood all the chemistry of it better, without having to understand the chemistry of it. Like if a recipe calls for 2 eggs but I only have one, what will that do to the final product? Does it really matter if I weigh my flour or sift it? Oops - I forgot to add the [fill-in-blank] but we didn't even notice. What would have been different if I'd thrown it it?

Anyway, there are also vegetables roasting that need a stir, so I'll sign out for now and hopefully we'll eat well.



Here's another Wire-inspired ramble (we just can't stop watching it!). It's really depressing to think of all the neighborhoods where kids can't play safely, families don't feel comfortable in their own homes, the elderly aren't respected, and gunshots are a regular part of the soundscape. I know that human life has been cheap for most of history, and in many places today, but it's so far from my reality that it's hard to accept. There's always a cost to someone, a mother, a brother, a child, a friend. And it's so senseless. Not only are the kids not playing safely, they're playing at being gangsters, or they actually are in the gangs. Depressing isn't even the right way to say it, it's worse than that, but it's also such a huge problem that I don't know where to begin. I hate that our society glorifies violence. I know it's not new (hello, gladiators; hello, public lynchings) but I'd like to think we're evolving towards something more positive.



88 years ago yesterday, Howard Carter opened Tutankhamen's tomb, setting off a spike in Egyptology, legends, and debates about the appropriateness of scavenging the dead. Also: fodder for one of my (in)famous history raps at school. It's better with the beat, but not much.

Tut was a boy king, a 4th grader in charge

He was only nine but he was livin’ large

His tomb was found in the 20’s by an Englishman

It came with a curse that killed Lord Carnarvon

The first royal tomb that was left un-robbed

Full of clues about his life and even his job

As a kid he played and hunted though he walked with a cane

He married his sister and he changed his name

He strapped on a beard and partied with the gods

His advisor did the work, according to the odds

Ten years later: a murder mystery

Tutankhamen died young without a chance to live free

3000 years ago but the gold still shines

On his burial mask: what lies behind those eyes?

King Tut!



Double the pleasure, two in one day, oh whatever will I say?


That's my new favorite word, although I haven't had many opportunities to use it. It sounds like something a pirate would say, doesn't it? Avast and scuppernong, me hearties! Off to the scuppernong with you, mate! Arrgh, it be the foul scuppernongs rolling in! I could do this for a while. It makes me giggle. Alas, the actual meaning of the word is not so delightsome. It's a kind of grape, probably well known in the wine world and much snacked-on by Scout and Jem in To Kill A Mockingbird.

I almost wish I hadn't looked it up.


Teething baby. Sick papa. Tired mama. And so, a lovely poem from John O'Donohue:

A Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.



Why is it so much harder to start things and stick to them than it is to quit? What do they say, you have to do something 21 times (in a row, more or less) for it to become routine - but you only miss once and suddenly you're on that slippery slope downhill. I'm talking about my posting this month, but could just as easily be referring to exercise and eating better and cleaning the house and, and, and. (never seem to have this problem with cookies or computer games, though!) So. I will resist the temptation to make more excuses and just get back on the ol' horse and buggy. Call it a vegetable and move on.

Happy Valentine's Day!

I've had my ups and downs with this holiday. The usual "overly-commercial-who-needs-a-reason-to-express-love" bitching and moaning, balanced by the occasional affair with lace doilies and pink construction paper. And glitter, don't forget the glitter. These days it's mostly an opportunity to eat sweets and carefully manage the onset of the sugar high in preteens.

They totally dig the stories about Lupercalia, which the Christians supposedly horned in on, as they do: bring on the bloody goat hide slappings, and rejoice! Be fertile! But let's keep the candy and chocolates. Buffet-style traditions are the best; take what you like and leave the rest.





I'm not quite sure how to start this, or what exactly I'm trying to say. (the teacher in me is always paying attention to the meta-entry, thinking about hooks and sentence fluency and what I ask the kids to do - read like a writer, write like a reader - but the writer in me can't always get there, and I've decided it's more important right now to just write, giving myself permission to write badly - as evidenced by the last few entries - and not hold myself to the standards of articulateness I'd like to achieve, especially in this non-revised form of publishing) (ok, that was really an aside that matters only to me, but hey, that's what you get) (I'm too much in the habit of thinking aloud to model the process at school, now I can't keep it in) (and now I really don't know what I was going to say - it's like at the movies, when there are so many previews that I forget what I came to see. Not that I've been to the movies recently.)

Right. So. Anyway. Egypt! That's where I was going. Not actually, though I'd like to someday. Everything that's happening there (and Tunisia and other places) reinforces the notion that I live in a bubble. I see friends posting about it on Facebook, but my updates are about food or the baby. I read columns about it, but write about tv shows and fermenting things. Things like honey wine, not revolutions. Which get fomented, not fermented. Dinner table topics are about family vacations and yoga classes, not world politics. Of course that's not always true, but on the whole, it's far too easy to ignore what's happening, even when it's shaking the world.

I make a point of humanizing current events whenever possible at school, showing the kids that these are real people with real lives. Yet it doesn't seem to stick in my own life - and I'm an educated, upper-middle class white girl who spent half her childhood in Africa and Asia. It's no wonder the average American doesn't have a clue.

I've struggled with this for a while. -- oh crap -- I got interrupted and thought I'd get back to this today, but now it's too late, so I'll just leave the notes I left myself and try to revisit this later --

(generally know the headlines, but not the details. have opinions that come from reactions and the daily show, not carefully formed. helping those less fortunate. accident of birth. place and time. altruism/selfishness/guilt. difficulty of true empathy, really being able to imagine living that life. not always a bad thing - tribes in amazon as well as garbage pickers in philippines. desire to experience it, sometimes. travel changes perspective. to what end? meaning of life? waxing overly philosophical?)



... [tick tock] ...

I've been sitting here for at least ten minutes, wondering what to write, spacing out, not even thinking clearly enough to capture some random stream-of-consciousness crap to fill the space. But I'm tired of giving up on things I've set out to do, so I feel compelled to write at least this much. When my students start explaining why they haven't done their work I tell them I only want to hear the interesting excuses; I don't care about how you left your backpack in the car or how the printer isn't working. With that in mind: I can't do today's post (which btw was going to be very clever and/or profound, possibly even life-changing, certainly not just a list of things that come in tens or how to say ten in other languages or anything like that) because I'm still recovering from the tiger ambush we narrowly escaped earlier. (See? Even my "creative" excuses are lame right now. Bedtime. Sigh.) Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.



Gleanings from Wits and Wagers, a party game that lives up to its hype:

Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937
Magellan began his circumnavigation in 1519
There are around 60 unprovoked shark attacks every year
(No numbers for provoked shark attacks)
NBA players make an obscene amount of money
The oldest woman on record was 122
The tallest woman was 8 feet, 1.75 inches
Americans each eat 150 pounds of potatoes in a year
FDR was president for a very long time
But only about half as long as Mandela was in jail
The U.S. hosted 6 Olympic games in the 20th century
Extras in Jaws were paid $64 to run screaming across the beach
And something about dwarf-tossing, although that may not have actually been in the game.

It's almost like a poem, don't you think?



In the desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,

Who, squatting upon the ground,

Held his heart in his hands,

And ate of it.

I said: "Is it good, friend?"

"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;

"But I like it

Because it is bitter,

And because it is my heart."

--Stephen Crane (1895)



Dreaming of palm trees and warm water, spicy food, real food, tastes completely unlike what's on the menu here, served from a sizzling pan in a cart on the side of the road, the side of the beach, gritty sand scratching the bottom of my feet, drinking from a coconut lopped open with a big knife, surf beckoning, crashing, flip flop, flip flop, hot, wet, elephants and monkeys, mangoes, oh the mangoes, juicy, sweet, wash it all off in the ocean, laugh, dance, swim, sweat, breathe.



Apparently I've fallen into the habit of writing these at night, when I am not so articulate nor witty nor long-winded. That could be good or bad, I suppose. At least it is a habit, if you can call six days worth of something a habit. Hey, if they could have a war that long, I can darn well develop a habit in that amount of time.

So: another snippet that may or may not get pursued in more depth. Just pretend Kristof or Gladwell is writing this and has done the appropriate research and fill in the missing insights and connections they would make.

We've been watching The Wire, after starting it somewhat reluctantly. A friend of ours has all the discs and it's been passed around the neighborhood with such rave reviews that I overcame my resistance to another police drama and I'm glad I did. It's a really good show (we're just starting season 3, so don't give anything away!), different from the rest - nice slow pacing, realistic perspectives, great writing, strong characters. None of which is what I want to talk about tonight.

The thing it's brought up for me over and over is how completely messed up our prison system and the whole justice system is. It's not a new opinion, but it's been reawakened. It doesn't punish effectively, it's not enough of a deterrent, it doesn't rehabilitate, it doesn't make the streets any safer. (This would be a good place to insert some of that research a better writer would have done. About what percentage of our population is locked up, and the disproportionate numbers of young black men, and the extreme sentences for things that are barely a crime, and recidivism, and violence in jail, and so on.) It just fucks people up, and actually seems to make things worse in some ways.

And far too many people - including some of my middle-school students when I was in New Mexico - just expect and accept that they will end up there at some point. Like my friends and I expected to go to college. You do your time, then you move on, maybe even using new connections and new skills and new resentments to fire things up when you get out.

It really depresses me. Enough to take action on prison reform? I don't know. Enough to pile onto my guilt about not doing enough to change the world and help those less fortunate, all the while feeling like that's a sort of pretentious and superior claim anyway? Absolutely. And that's not even touching on the whole death penalty issue. Sure, in a perfect world, I can see how some criminals (say, Jeffrey Dahmer et al) deserve to die. But ours is far from a perfect world, and it's just not right. Let go of it, Texas.

Tomorrow: something cheerful! Maybe.



This one's just a quick note, on a topic I've thought about before and may delve into more deeply someday. We listened to part of an interview with Peggy Orenstein on West Coast Live this afternoon, about her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I gather it's about the Disney princess phenom and how it's bad news for girls and for our society. I'd like to read it. It got me thinking about the whole idea of branding and commercialism, and my relationship to it, especially now that I've got a kid. I can be pretty rabidly anti-brand - unless it's a brand I like, of course. I'd happily dress my baby in a Cookie Monster outfit, or in a Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt (but maybe not the Ramones, in this overly-hipstered era). Just like it is for everyone, it's shorthand for who I am, or at least who I want the world to think I am.



Happy day after yet another way to celebrate and mark the New Year. It's sort of convenient, really, all these chances to reflect and renew. Birthday, birth day (not the same), school year, seasons, calendar year, other people's calendar years....so thanks, Chinese, for yesterday! Bring on the hoppity hop - you don't stop - Year of the Rabbit! And another chance to make resolutions, since that didn't really happen on the ol' January One this year.

I go back and forth on how I feel about the whole idea, how high to make my expectations, how to create resolutions that aren't destined for failure but are still meaningful enough to bother with...you know how it goes. This year I think I'll keep it simple.

Make stuff
Do things
Go places



I like it, but is it art? The age-old debate - one of them, anyway, along with the meaning of life and what's for dinner - of whether or not something is worthy of the title. Art. Full of pretentious weight and a whisper of tweedy elbow patches struggling with black berets, highbrow and lowbrow and a fridge full of kindergarten scrawls. To garfunkel or not to garfunkel, that is the question.

I remember traveling to Florence and seeing Michelangelo's David: on a pedestal in a cupola, alone, lit by a sunbeam from above, much larger than I expected, and oh-so-beautiful. The detail in the hands bringing marble to life and inspiring all sorts of cliched reactions. But - there was a copy out in the piazza, where the original used to live, was meant to live, sculpted as a replacement when David himself was getting too weathered (or something like that, my memory's fuzzy and I haven't bothered checking out the story). Nothing special, really. A little dirty, and just one of a whole row of statues. But put them side by side, cleaned up, and I probably couldn't tell the difference. Or swap them, and the copy in the cupola would seem superior to the original outside.

Context is everything. We see what we expect, and react in ways we're taught. It's really hard to trust ourselves to have a true opinion because of all the baggage. And most art is (or was) meant to be seen in a living setting, a home or a church or the side of a building. Sterilizing it and hanging it in a room full of art changes things. (and hey, all those pristine white Greek temples? were really painted in bright colors) Especially when you're fighting for elbow room with hordes trotting by, video cameras at the ready, recording something they'll never actually watch at home, missing what's right in front of them, and getting right in front of you.

Even so, the chance to see all that is well worth it, and just got better, thanks to Google's Art Project. A video we'll actually watch. It just appeared, but I'm already taking it for granted, planning on using it with students, assuming I can find anything I want online. I like to look at familiar places, and to explore new ones.

It's hard to remember when we didn't have the world at our fingertips. Let's be sure to get the rest of ourselves out there and transform a virtual experience into reality.



Almost messed up and missed day two - and now it's bedtime and I'm halfway to incoherent with all kinds of things running through the mind. Not sure if I can muster up the juice to be pissed at Palin (we're always a few days late on the news, whether it's from Jon Stewart or the Sunday Times, which usually takes most of the week to get through) or to be fascinated by the idea of brain transplants, which came up in a class discussion today after reading "Flowers for Algernon." And though I'm tired I can hear the sounds of the A-Team in the next room and I'm tempted to stay up and watch, because how can you miss out on that? None of which is leading to a fruitful entry, so here's to writing for the sake of writing, and dreaming sweet dreams, and resisting the lure of Hannibal and Mr. T. Good night.


1 - Start With A Whimper

Well, more like a sigh. I decided at some point that I wanted to see what would happen if I posted every day, and chose February as the time to start. Total coincidence that it's the shortest month! Of course, having decided that, I kept it quiet because if nobody else knows about something it's easier to quit. But I met in circle today with the girls, and stated it out loud as my intention, so here we are. Nothing to say, really, but I had to send something out there into the great unknown. Here's hoping I tap into my inner Hamlet-monkey, or else this will be a month of wasted words words words...