Tuesday, March 31, 2009

apple + tree = falls not far from

My daughter is five, but I can already see many traits that we share. Some are definitely nurture, but many seem to be the result of nature or simply genetic. I've started compiling a list of highlights:
  • Love Shack is simply one of the most fun songs ever
  • Flowers might sometimes make us sneeze, but we can just get lost in their beauty
  • Pizza should be one of the major food groups
  • Ditto meatballs
  • Hypersensitivity is definitely a trait
  • We love cats and dogs, but don't seem to be able to live with them without repercussions
  • Music makes us happy
  • You can never have too many books
  • Or Barbies, apparently
  • Vacations are the best
  • Cold and loud noises are least faves

Monday, March 30, 2009

one hot Mma

Last night HBO aired the pilot of the new (to the U.S.) series The The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and for fans of author Alexander McCall Smith's series, of which I am a proud member, it was well worth the wait. The movie captured so much of what is wonderful about the books, including the language, colors and gentle pace of Botswana. What I may have missed just a little, was heroine Precious Ramotswe's (and Smith's) wise and wonderful observations about life, although I missed a bit of the beginning dialogue, as my daughter was so excited by the location and the animals (giraffes! elephants!) Luckily, this is on HBO, so I will get many opportunities to see it again and catch what I might have missed.

Although this show is being reviewed as a detective show, and Mma Ramotswe does indeed unravel some puzzles, that is not what the books or this movie are about. All of Smith's series are concerned with people and life and how we all muddle through it together. In the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series we are given a slice of what life must be like to lead in Botswana. The values of the "old Botswana" are frequently upheld, with more than a nudge that maybe we could all benefit by re-adopting some of what we seem to have lost in our fast and furious modern world - kindness, courtesy, patience - over a generous slice of raisin cake.

Smith taught law in Botswana, but is now an author full time, and I frankly don't know how he does it. Apart from the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, he also has other wonderful series of books, two of which I have read, both set in Edinburgh: The Sunday Philosophy Club series and the 44 Scotland Street series. Both have their charms. Isabel Dalhousie is the heroine of the Sunday Philosophy Club and she ponders questions both philosophical and romantic as she explores the finer things that Edinburgh has to offer. 44 Scotland Street is compiled from a series of stories that Smith published in The Scotsman newspaper. The tales follow an assortment of characters who live on the titular street, and in serial fashion we get to follow their exploits. Especially interesting is young Bertie, who has to deal with a smothering mother and the desire to fit in, somewhere.

I saw Smith at a reading here in D.C. a year ago and was delighted to find that he also writes books for children!

A one-man dynamo, surely, his books are not only creating small waves of happiness in the world, but must also be inspiring tourism to Botswana and Edinburgh, as I have added both of those places to my traveler's wishlist - and they were never even on my radar before.

I also just discovered that he has taken the serial novel idea online with his latest, Corduroy Mansions. So excuse me, I've got to get reading!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

ahhh city life

I'm sure most girls and a lot of boys of my generation would be able to sing along with Eva Gabor if they heard the Green Acres theme song. I know that watching that and other city-themed shows when I was a kid convinced me that when I would inevitably leave N. J. for the big city I would live in a fabulous apartment with a sunken living room with a terrific view. The real N.Y. (and Brooklyn) was quite a bit different. It was great, but not like T.V.

I caught the Sex and the City movie on cable and like its heroine frequently does, I felt compelled to pose a question: Do people, especially young people, watching this movie think that this is what life in N.Y. is really like?

I understand that Sex and the City is a fantasy. In the HBO series the unbelievable number of sex partners each of these women had was all in good fun and fulfilled the HBO series sex quotient logarithm. The sense that in real life none of these women would speak to each other, much less be bosom buddies, could be overlooked, as the premise was to follow four tight women friends and compare their differing adventures with sex you-know-where. The obsession with designer labels, especially shoes, could be viewed as an exaggeration of a woman's quest to look good and stay current in our youth-obsessed culture while simultaneously indulging in a love of shopping. In episodic television the annoying factors of the show could be overlooked, because at its core it got something very right: women will tell each other very intimate details about their lives, in fact thrive on the telling. They are also, for the most part, willing listeners. And love to dress up.

Somehow with all the clumsy plotting that core message was severely garbled in the movie version. The four women seemed more ill-suited as friends than ever. Great supporting characters were ditched for no apparent reason. Gratuitous and mostly unpleasant simulated sex was interspersed, not to great effect. Sorry, I REALLY don't want to watch Miranda and her hubby have make-up or any kind of sex. And what happened to the gay male friends? Completely relegated to the sidelines and inexplicably only seen a deux, as if the only two gay men in N.Y. must spend all their time together living vicariously through these chicks and MUST kiss each other on New Year's Eve. Most annoying was the fact that the best supporting character of the whole series, Charlotte's husband Harry, was completely underused.

Probably the saddest thing for me was how at the end of the movie when the forty-something gals take their pal Samantha out to celebrate her big 5-0, all I could think of was the Golden Girls. Somehow the whole woman-power message went missing for me. What do these women have to bestow upon each other? Yes, they are willing to fly one of their group to Mexico and drink margaritas until she cheers up after being jilted. They are willing to be that New Year's or Valentine's date when no man is around. And drink. A lot. They are willing to say stupid things to the male lead and act completely unrealistically to advance the plot.

Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against good drinking buddies. I just wish that the "greatest thing" that the heroine Carrie ever did was not buy her assistant a real Louis Vuitton bag. The Jennifer Hudson character of the assistant was the most realistic person in the movie, most like me and all my friends who moved to the big city all those years ago. Too bad her character was only a plot device and not allowed to interact with all the ladies. Maybe she could have made them, and New York, seem a little more real.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

kites and cherry blossoms

Today was the Smithsonian kite festival and drizzle aside, lots of folks were out enjoying themselves. Our Spongebob kite was actually one of the high fliers, much to the surprise of everyone, myself included.
It was also the first day of the cherry blossom festival and the blooms were full and gorgeous.
Many photographers tried to capture nature's beauty.

Friday, March 27, 2009


If there is any constant in my hectic life, it is laundry. I am trying to cut down from having to do it two times to only once a week. Not sure this will save me money in the laundry room, but at least it will save me time. Theoretically.

Last night I had six loads: sheets, towels, kid's, mine, cold water stuff. I did the laundry night shuffle. Kid and I go downstairs to the laundry room. She brings a toy and plays while I sort and load. Back upstairs, I get her in the bath, and then apres bath I go down to load the dryers while she watches cartoons in her jammies (What a life! Enjoy it, kid!) Back upstairs to fix dinner, more cartoons, eat, watch Stevie Wonder (Stevie!) on American Idol, and then back downstairs to collect everything. Except - even though I had everything perfectly timed, I must have arrived a few minutes after the dryer stopped. At least long enough for some twerp to dump my sheets and pillowcases on the folding table. I must have just missed him (judging from the clothes spinning around in my former dryer it was a him). Isn't there some kind of laundry room etiquette that a person should wait at least five minutes or so before manhandling someone else's things? At least it wasn't our clothes all over the place. I loaded up the rest of my clean laundry to take back upstairs for folding and just stared at my messed up sheets. I suddenly was angry and skeeved out at the same time. I brought the rest of the laundry back upstairs, grabbed the detergent, went back downstairs and threw the sheets, etc. back in a washer. Craptastic.

Over reaction? Maybe. This isn't the first time this has ever happened to me, but somehow I couldn't imagine us lying on pillowcases that our unknown neighbor had tossed around willy nilly. Maybe if they had been more nicely arranged, rather than so unceremoniously dumped, looking as if they had beeen picked up from the floor. Maybe if everyone and their brother wasn't coughing up a lung these days. I don't know. So - more work for me, and the kid had to deal with a severely cranky mom for the rest of the evening (luckily for her, it was almost bedtime.)

Sigh. When I lived in Brooklyn, I used to drag a huge bag every two weeks to the local laundromat a few blocks away. Then I discovered they actually had a laundry service, so for a few bucks more, I let them do the fluffing and folding. When I moved into this building and saw the huge laundry room I was pleased. It seemed so convenient, I could just hop on the elevator and wheel in my cart full of dirty duds. After I had my daughter the frequency and size of loads increased. And it's expensive.

I'm not ready to look into a laundry service again, and it seems crazy to take my business elsewhere when there's all these machines right here, but...hmmm. Of course D.C. isn't Brooklyn or New York, where there were laundromats everywhere, because most apartment buildings didn't have laundry rooms.

I love living in the city, but sometimes the inhumanity of apartment living can get me down. For such a big building, we actually do know a good deal of our neighbors, at least well enough to say hello to. But like D.C., the residents are pretty transient. I guess in future I will have to make more of an effort to get downstairs before the drying cycle is done, so I don't develop severe laundrophobia.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


LivingSocial is a facebook app that has taken me (and many of my friends) by storm. The LivingSocial website describes itself as a place where a person can catalog his or her "collections" and share these likes and dislikes with others. On facebook it's seems like an image database, run not very differently than many other facebook quizzes. A question is posed: name five films that twisted your mind? What are your five favorite kid shows? What five albums shaped you? You rack your brain, type the answer, and hopefully up pops the appropriate album, movie or cartoon thumbnail. This game is of course frustrating, as we are all fascinating creatures who certainly have more faves than the magic number of five (five thumbnails fits ever-so-conveniently on a computer screen, however.) It's so frustrating that we want to play it again. And again. And again.

The power of facebook is that you're not just waxing nostalgic in a vacuum. Once I proclaim that my five greatest television shows were Angel, Buffy, I Love Lucy, The Odd Couple and The Tudors all my friends can see it and my fellow Buffy fans are revealed. Who knew? And they post their faves in the same and other categories until there is a pop culture back-and-forth frenzy of posting.

Movies that warped my mind

A Clockwork Orange Blue Velvet Brazil After Hours Orphee [1950]

A Clockwork Orange, Blue Velvet, Brazil, After Hours, Orphee [1950].

What makes this particular app more appealing than the countless other memes and quizzes that populate facebook is the power of the visual. Most of the movies, books, etc. have an appropriate icon. You get to see a visual capsule of a person's tastes. It is also quite enjoyable to dredge up one's personal mythos, albeit via pop culture as diverse as Clockwork Orange and The Flintstones.

Most importantly, this app understands the basic premise of facebook - put yourself out there and see who will respond. Use your past and present to define who you are. We live in a random, high-speed society and social randomness is where it's at. The only thing I can't figure out is why they haven't made all the books, shows and movies we're citing clickable to Amazon...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

elegantly dressed Wednesday

In my internet ramblings I stumbled upon Elegantly Dressed Wednesday and would like to join the fray:

When I was in junior year of my painting major at Parsons I staged this artwork for my drawing class. Most of my junior and senior year I was interested in the concept and execution of portraiture. My friend Steven was a willing subject and held the pose for the duration of the performance, which was about twenty minutes - long enough for the class to view, for the teacher to critique, and for me to document.

What is interesting to me about this photo is not only how cool I still think the piece and its subject were, but also the realization that I also took this photo on my dad's old Pentax camera with B&W film, probably purchased at nearby Ben Ness, then developed it in my home darkroom, i.e. bathroom, in my Park Slope, Brooklyn apartment. Once the film was dry (hung on clothes pins on hangars next to the shower curtain) I then used an enlarger, also one of my dad's cast-offs, perilously balanced on the top of the toilet seat, to make prints, while trays of chemicals floated in my claw-foot bathtub.

A world away from digital cameras...but Steven looks quite elegant, doesn't he?

Elegantly Dressed Wednesday button

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

blog, blog, blog

I am really trying hard to keep up with the daily posting. A friend told me the other day that I am a professional blogger since I have ads on my site. Yet to see any $$$ from those, but that's not why I'm doing it.

At work I have taken over the helm of the blog as well. We folks of a certain age are not just getting into facebook and twitter, we're taking over the internet. Or at least finally understanding some of the internet's potential beyond porn and Wikipedia.

I have a lot of thoughts about what all this means and will be posting more as they develop. For now, I am just happy to be participating and sharing what I'm up to and checking out what everyone else is up to, too.

Happy blogging, everyone!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday, Monday...

I actually don't really have a case of the Mondays - at least not in the Office Space sense of the phrase, but I have so many things twirling around in my mind at the moment that I just can't get too excited about the stuff at hand.

A walk across the Mall helped a bit, but I'm back inside now and trying to recapture the sunshine, vitamin D and ignore the anywhere but here vibe...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

a dinosaur and its egg

I think this little drawing has amazing composition, original subject matter, and an inspired use of bling. I'm not sure there's anything happening out in the art world at the moment to rival this. But I'm biased...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

new york pizza

I was just thinking of a little hole-in-the-wall on East Houston Street, New York and wondering if it was still in business. You know the kind of place where two big beefy guys serve up a slice for a few bucks that you grab on the way home, with the oil dripping through the bottom of your pizza box? You know, New York pizza. What is New York pizza, you might ask, and why exactly is it considered to be so superior to all other kinds of pizza?

There are plenty of pizzerias in the D.C. area which claim to make "real New York" pizza. A favorite local haunt is Radius, which, besides its pizza, all named after Italian motor scooters, serves an excellent grape and gorgonzola salad, as well as great pasta. Some other eateries also make very good pizza. But sorry folks, it isn't New York pizza. It's traditional brick-oven pizza, which is very tasty. But brick-oven pizza is not what people mean when they yearn for a New York slice.

Growing up in South Jersey, I was spoiled, thinking that all pizza is made with an extremely thin crust, and a minimum of sauce and cheese, which results in that foldable, delicious slice. When I moved to New York to go to art school, the pizza was generally the same as what I grew up with. I never really liked Famous Ray's in the Village, because they messed with the formula and dumped on way too much cheese. The rude awakening came when I moved away from the tri-state area and soon realized that most pizza was made elsewhere the Chicago way.

This is probably an endless debate, but where I think that most places go wrong is the dough. Obvious conclusion? Of course. But it's not just how thin the dough should be, which I think is where too many place the focus. Plenty of restaurants are making pizza with a very thin crust. It's how they cook the pizza. In New Jersey, the traditional pizza oven was used wherever we got our pies - not a brick-oven in sight. Thin-crust pizza, whether from Domino's or a more upscale joint, usually ends up very dry and crusty, even hard, on the bottom (I recently scraped the inside of my gum on a D.C. "New York" slice.) New York pizza should have a thin crust, which is crispy on the bottom, but where the crust comes in contact with the sauce and cheese it should not be dry at all - the opposite in fact. The dough underneath the sauce and cheese should be bubbly, moist and positively gooey. Sigh. There are definitely things I miss about New York and New Jersey.

Of course all this blather is just that, when you are lucky enough to be on vacation in Italy and have the "real" real thing. I'll never forget the pizza in Rome, which wasn't like American brick-oven pizzas, or New York style, but something entirely its own. And positively delicious. with some really unusual toppings. As I continue my quest for great pizza, I at least have some beacons in the night to light my way.

Friday, March 20, 2009

wrap it up, I'll take it

I've never been a big fan of public sculpture. It's usually too clunky and macho-metallic. There are a few exceptions.

But yesterday afternoon two prime examples of the least appealing (to me) kind of sculpture got a lot more interesting. They're probably getting a "treatment" of some sort, but somehow, these softened macho monoliths are much more satisfying.

Left and below: Anthony Caro, Monsoon Drift, 1975

Right: Ellsworth Kelly, Untitled, 1986

Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

life is a cabaret, old chum

I saw Natasha Richardson in Cabaret in New York quite a few years ago. It was a wonderful birthday present from a friend who was able to get us discounted tickets because of her current theater-related job. We saw it at Studio 54, which was tricked up to look like a real cabaret, with decadent-looking waitresses taking your drink orders throughout the performance. I was most excited walking into the theater at the prospect of seeing Alan Cumming as the Emcee and he exceeded all my expectations and then some, working the stage and the audience with impish glee. My most pleasant surprise of the evening was Richardson. I didn't know what to expect and she was wonderful - beautiful, singing well, and bringing a real edge to the character. After the show, while we were waiting outside the theater to catch a glimpse of Cumming, Richardson came out quite quickly, was gracious talking to the waiting folks, and then quietly grabbed a cab. A New York moment.

Right now I can only think of what her family is going through and especially her kids. And the irony of Liam Neeson playing a shattered widower and single parent in the silly ensemble piece Love Actually, who now has to take on the role in his real life. I was never an existentialist. I don't sit around and ponder why we must be born to die, etc., etc., or the absurdity of life when my time could be better spent living. I do from time to time regret that life seems to be so filled with the things we don't want to do, but seemingly have to do, in order to grab moments of the things we really want to do. When someone dies in this manner, before their time, it always underlines for the rest of us how precious and fleeting life is. An accomplished actress, Richardson would have been all too familiar with these lines from Macbeth:

The queen, my lord, is dead.


She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

All my best wishes to her family.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


When did I stop caring about being "cool?" Did I ever? I guess I have felt hip, cool or happening at brief, random moments in my life. But overall, not consistently. Not really. Or is that just the too-cool-for-school attitude of "I'm so cool I don't have to worry about it?"

Sigh. Bear with me. I'm looking at my five-year-old and wondering what the teenage years might hold. Apparently my fourteen-year-old niece thinks that leg warmers, specifically neon ones, and other hideous items from the Eighties are cool. I'm not faulting her for wanting to wear things I wouldn't have worn the first time around. And I was there. Every generation has its retreading and redefining, I guess. How else can we explain Happy Days? I'm just wondering why there is so much pressure in our society to be cool. Can't we just all relax and enjoy what we like, no matter how geeky, without looking over our shoulder to see what the other guy thinks?

In a way, blogs are the ultimate discarding or celebration of cool. You can finally put your Star Wars action figure collection or other crazy enthusiasm up there for the world to see in all its glory. You might even find some other enthusiasts. Or you can write witheringly about everyone else's dreadful pursuits. I'd rather be the former than the latter, most of the time.

Boxed DVD sets seem to be another outlet for the expression of inner geekdom and devotion. No, you cannot borrow my Angel DVDs unless you sign a release, thank you.

The iPod let's us celebrate all the wacky music from our past, picking and choosing some songs that we would never in a million years have forked over the dough for a whole cd by that particular artist, but have no shame in paying 99 cents for a got-to-have song like Jive Talkin'. Or maybe that's just me...

Maybe what I'm really writing about here is the inner nerd that never leaves one, but as an adult, gets refined and honed until it becomes a "collector" or "specialist." All I know is that as I get older, I am more and more likely to buy what I like and not what's considered "cool." Coldplay? Radiohead? No, thanks very much. I may trip over the random cool thing from time to time, mostly by accident, I'm sure.

These are things we used to call guilty pleasures. But this is a guilt-free enterprise and what I want to do is enjoy the things that I like, cool or no.

p.s. my latest got-to-have song is probably cool to some, awful to others, but just won't quit...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

green day

Hirshhorn, Juan Munoz, Last Conversation Piece

Monday, March 16, 2009

buon giorno signore, come sta?

Good day, sir, how are you?

Excuse me, Would you please direct me to the library?

May I please have another cup of coffee?

Pardon me miss, how far is it from here to the station?

When a person is learning a foreign language, or a few helpful phrases before going on vacation to a foreign country, they generally learn sentences like the ones listed above. Polite phrases. If you are a stranger in a strange land and are not a master of the native tongue the least you can do is give it a try in the most polite way possible. But is it just traveler's Italian, French, Spanish, etc. that urges politesse? These conversational preambles also exist in English. Or should I say, "American." So why don't we use them anymore?

Buenos dias.

Donde esta Susana?

Esta en la cocina?

I can't tell you the number of times that folks have come up to me while I am on the phone, or in conversation with someone else, and just launched into whatever is on their mind or about something they want, blah, blah, whatever.

Que voulez-vous?

Laissez-moi tranquille.

Is everyone in such a hurry? I thought we were south of the Mason-Dixon line in D.C. Take a breath and wait your turn. I wonder if I would have noticed this conversational erosion as much if I didn't have a five-year-old who does the same thing. But I can say to her that she needs to slow down and wait until it's her turn and Mommy is done talking. What do I say to the grown-ups?

Mi scusi.

Mi potrebbe dare alcune informazione?

Con molto piacere.

I really want to know when the baby boomers decided that being polite, even civil, was for the birds. My generation has its conversational issues, but even a "Hey dude," while heavy on the Keanu, is an acceptable preamble. Especially when compared to busting in mid-conversation to inanely ask about those TPS reports.

So what's a dude who hungers for a little polite conversation to do? Try to be polite, I guess and hope some bounces back.

Hello there. How are you? Very well, thanks, and you?

How was your weekend? Do you know the way to the dog races?

I think Susanna is in the kitchen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

that 100 books meme

This meme has been floating around facebook and I'm sure beyond, but I've felt oddly dissatisfied after completing my list, as so many great titles were missing. Even after the list was "exposed" (thanks, for the link Markin), I still have been thinking about missing books. A bibliophile? You bet. So here is my stab at some if the most important books in my life to date.

1. D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire - has a no-nonsense approach in its prose but also doesn't back away from the intricacies and sheer craziness of Greek Gods' romances and antics. Pair that with the incredible lithograph illustrations and it's simply an amazing book. I have been scooping up all of this husband and wife team's titles for my daughter (and me) which are thankfully coming back into print.

2-4. A. A. Milne - The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, Now We are Six - Everyone knows Disney's Winnie the Pooh, but I first met Christopher Robin and Co. through the originals - my mom's childhood books, which I still treasure. The words and the Ernest Shepard illustrations are wonderful.

5-8. Garth Williams - As wonderful as E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan are, what ties them together for me are the illustrations of Garth Williams. I even love his Golden Books like Baby Farm Animals.

9. Norton Juster The Phantom Tollbooth - Where else can a kid learn a word like dodecahedron and love it? One of the best books ever with wonderful illustrations by Jules Pfeiffer.

10. James Thurber Many Moons - the illustrations by Louis Slobodkin add to this wonderful alternate princess tale.

11. Richard Scarry is another of the best children's books illustrators around. Any of his books are a delight, but I grew up loving the collection Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever! which is still in print.

12-15. Dr. Seuss - The wonderful use of language, the fantastic drawings - Dr. Seuss is beyond compare. The Sneetches has always been a favorite, but of course The Cat on the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Lorax are tops, too.

16-19. Louisa May Alcott Little Women - I devoured all of these one summer, but the first book is the best one. I'll never really forgive her for Bess or how she sloughed off Laurie on the annoying Amy, but that shows how involved I was. (Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins)

20-21. The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Classics, and for a good reason.

22. T. S. Eliot Complete Poems & Plays - My mom used to read us poems from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (no, I've never seen the musical).

Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.

When I was in college I borrowed it when we were reading The Hollow Men.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Now after getting into the Plantagenets I look forward to reading his play about Beckett and Henry II, Murder in the Cathedral.

23-28. Agatha Christie - Originally my mom's books, I probably borrowed, kept, and then read all of them more than once, but am particularly fond of the Hercule Poirot mysteries. Escapist puzzle fun for sure, but what makes me reread them is the microcosm of British society and mores of the 30s, 40s and beyond as viewed through her upper-middle-class eyes. A society that no longer exists, but is fun to visit from time to time. Plus, a lot of her books feature artists as characters. Favorites include The Hollow, And Then There Were None, After the Funeral, Towards Zero, Five Little Pigs and The ABC Murders.

29-31. Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr series. I got the Agatha Christies from mom and the grittier mysteries from my dad. Scudder prowls the very familiar (to me) New York and Brooklyn streets, continually battling the bottle, crime and his own history. Block uses real locations, which is satusfying for any reader with a knowledge of the city. Burglar Bernie is in the same New York, but with light fingers and a lighter touch. Favorites include When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Burglars Can't Be Choosers.

32. Also inherited from dad was a love of sci-fi and short stories. Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man. "The Veldt." Nuff said.

33-34. Mary Renault's Theseus series is a perfect retelling of an ancient myth, making the characters believable and human. I would love to write book like The King Must Die and its successor, The Bull From the Sea.

35-39. I recently came across historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman and her The Sunne in Splendour and I haven't looked back. Her Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II trilogy When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, and Devil's Brood, is excellent. Happily there are more books for me to read, including a historical mystery series, starting with The Queen's Man.

40-44. Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur is a wonderful read and gave me a background I could bring to such diverse favorites as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Another couple of favorites along this line are The Lais of Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes's Perceval and Arthurian Romances.

45. I read Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams for an art theory class in college and had some of the most vivid dreams of my life. The book also reads like a mystery in parts, other parts just plain interesting.

46. Claude Levi-Strauss The Naked Man is an anthropology classic, but is also very interesting for a fan of mythology.

47. Arthur Rimbaud Illuminations has some gorgeous poems, in French and English.

48-49. I also read Voltaire's Candide for French class and then bought Tartarin de Tarascon while on vacation in southern France years later. The only two books I've read in a foreign language and really felt like I could get into the "head" of the language. They both happen to be very funny, which might have helped.

50-51. Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth. I've read most of the plays, either for school or for pleasure, but these two are the ones that have stayed with me. The language is just amazing.

52-53. Robert Graves I Claudius and Claudius the God. More great historical fiction, meticulously researched, which has changed how we view the early Roman emperors.

54-74. Alexander McCall Smith is just a delight and beyond prolific. His entire Ladies #1 Detective Agency series is wonderful, with heroine Precious Ramotswe gently guiding the reader and the books' characters through life's deeper questions. He continues the philosophical trend in his series set in Edinburgh, The Sunday Philosophy Club. And his installment-driven 44 Scotland Street series is just as engaging. We recently picked up one of his children's books, which also looks to be lots of fun.

75. Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is an amazing collection of short stories based on fairy tales, including the wonderful "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Company of Wolves."

O.K. There's 75 for a start! Obviously I've read more than 100 great books. I've tried to start cataloging my books in LibraryThing, but found it too daunting and time-consuming. As much fun as it's been to try to put together this list, it's a lot more fun to read the books. And I haven't even scratched the surface of my to-read pile yet...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

let's do the time warp again

Children's television is interesting. Cartoons still rule, but there is a ton of variety for today's media-savvy and -saturated child. When I was little, I remember my brother and I creeping downstairs and turning the T.V. volume on low to watch Saturday morning cartoons, with Speed Racer and other Japanese animation, Mighty Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Popeye, and Felix the Cat as top favorites.

Cartoons were something you waited for; a weekend treat. There was after-school kid programming too, like Batman and Underdog. When we got a bit older, we also watched shows in syndication that we might have missed first-run, like Lost in Space or the Brady Bunch.

I bought the Lost in Space DVDs soon after my daughter was born, as much (or more) for myself as for her, and got a kick out of her asking to see "Mish, Mish!" when she was a toddler. The appeal of the antics of Dr. Zachary Smith is apparently still strong. Now kids don't have to wait until the weekend, as these shows are available on 24-hour cable channels, run by commercial stations or even PBS. My daughter has discovered Tom and Jerry, a cartoon I never really watched or liked when I was a kid, but enjoy watching with her now. And of course there is my beloved Flintstones, along with the whole Hanna Barbera canon.

It has been interesting to me that she is discovering so many things from my childhood, as well as older cartoons like the Smurfs and Snorks and kid shows like Teletubbies and Barney that were first seen by kids who are now in college. I don't necessarily want to hang out and watch with her as much when she opts for Barney, but as much as that show has been slammed by adults, I find it less obnoxious than Dora. Barney may be beyond corny, but at least the show is gentle. I appreciate the snippets of Spanish that Dora may (or may not) be passing along to viewers, but what is with all the yelling? The whole show is at too high a pitch and quickly went from annoying to unwatchable for me. That goes for you too, Diego.

As much as children's programming is decried (and there is a lot of crap out there, without a doubt), I have been pleasantly surprised by quite a lot of the modern offerings. Shows like Angelina Ballerina, Max and Ruby, Little Bear, Babar, and Franklin are all beautifully animated and fun to watch. The fact that they all correspond to great children's books doesn't hurt, either. I have to admit a fondness for the 90s animated Batman, which we also watch.

I grew up with T.V. and would never be one of those folks who "just watch PBS," as I am just too fond of pop culture. I don't want T.V. to substitute for reading or playing outside for my child, but there is no real danger of that. I admit that it buys me some time in bed on a weekend morning, so that I can get a little extra relaxing time, much like my parents did all those years ago. I find it funny, and I guess, a little bit reassuring, that a lot of the same characters, like the Pink Panther or Yogi Bear or Top Cat might be amusing my little one as I put off getting up and starting my weekend day for just a little while.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

the Yiyo

When I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn I used to stop on the way home from the subway at a little grocery store, called the Yiyo. You could pick up just about anything you might need, from the basics of milk, bread, and toilet paper, to other essentials such as roach motels, birthday candles and shoe polish. Ahhh, city life.

It seems no matter where I've lived since there has been a little store like this. Overpriced, for sure, compared to the bigger grocery store four or five more blocks away. But you are paying a premium for the convenience and also helping support a small business, as most of these stores are family-owned.

I think that in my head subconsciously they've all been Yiyos. The little store downstairs on Ludlow Street, N.Y., the "Manhattan Market" on Connecticut Avenue in D.C. Even the Cumberland Farms on Route 9 in Waretown, N.J., which we walked to when we were kids to pick up snacks like Hostess fruit pies, Dannon yogurts, Bravos or Slim Jims. I think that store is in its latest incarnation as a Wawa.

As I look around and see so many storefronts shuttered or empty I can't help but hope that the Yiyos won't be affected. It's tough times all over for sure, and I could probably pick up that can of Progresso soup cheaper somewhere else. But I wouldn't get to exchange pleasantries with the store owner. And my daughter wouldn't get the occasional free Twizzler slipped in the bag. It wouldn't be the Yiyo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

spring cleaning

So many weird vibes flying around today. Need to call in some reinforcements. Nothing some chirping robins, Victorian posy pansies and witch globes can't fix...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

we love Lucy

My daughter has fallen in love with I Love Lucy and I am getting to enjoy all the old shows all over again. It's been a long time since I've seen any of these, and for the most part they still hold up well. Slapstick and people acting silly never really goes out of style. But what was Lucy's strength and what was constantly imitated afterward, was the domestic set-up, the best friends that are always around, and the deep, squabbling relationship that develops between the four main characters. Basically, family.

Everyone remembers Lucy at the chocolate factory, or trying to sell VitaMeataVegamin, or the constant attempts to get into show business via Ricky's night club and beyond. What I had forgotten was how deeply ingrained that flat little world was in my consciousness. Watching the antics in the Ricardos' apartment I realize that really remember it - how it looks, where the bathroom must be, etc. It was a real place to me in childhood. Some of Lucy's classic moments - like when she is forced to tell the truth and all her girlfriends gang up on her and ask all the forbidden questions - how old are you? how much do you weigh? etc., etc., is still a delight to watch, especially as she answers each question and then proceeds to tell each gal what she can't stand about them. Freedom!

After viewing a few episodes that is a new perspective for me about Lucy. She is irrepressible, to the point of dementia and annoyance at times, admittedly, but she has a will that won't be stopped. She is a woman living in the 1950s wearing pants and going where she wants, when she wants, no matter what her Latino husband has to say about it. Of course most of the situations were created for maximum comic effect, but the message is still clear - if Lucy wants to get into the show, get a job, get a new apartment - she will find a way.

The New York location also fed into my childhood desire to get to that city as soon as I could, because that's where everything happens, right? Between Lucy, The Odd Couple and Barney Miller, I was convinced I had it all covered where the big city was concerned. I wonder now, however, if there could be a Mrs. Trumbull in my building, because there might be the occasional night I might want to hit a modern-day Tropicana...

Of course the show is peppered with loads of things that would never be on television today. Lucy and Ricky are constantly smoking. They fight and threaten physical violence. Somehow I don't find these factors too troubling. It's a time capsule. And the music Desi sings and plays is great. Times and mores change, not always for the better. There is something about how the Ricardos and the Mertzes spend their days that I would like to tap into in some way in our modern lives. I don't expect to be donning a Superman outfit for the kid's next birthday, or "soaking up local color" at an Italian winery, but upping the level of silliness is always a good thing. In the meantime, it is fun to watch Lucy and Ethel sing "Friendship" while they tear each other's matching ball gowns apart. It's even more fun watching my daughter giggle while she watches.

Monday, March 09, 2009

beat the clock

I'm sure this is a popular rant today, but I have to chime in. Why are we still doing daylight savings (DST) anyway? Although Benjamin Franklin has been blamed for the practice in this country, apparently that's not the case (sorry, Nick Cage). But by a popular survey of just about anyone I ask, the general consensus is that DST is not necessary.

DST aside, I always feel the clock ticking and it's starting to drive me crazy. When I get up in the morning, I have the usual tasks to complete for hygiene and nourishment for myself and my daughter, but there is always that clock ticking - we need to get out the door by X-time to get downtown to school and work and not be late, etc., etc. I don't want to be chronically late, but I also need to turn the damn clicking thing off, or I will become chronically insane.

The clock is still ticking, even louder, while I am at work, as my supervisor is the sort of person who never misses an opportunity to glance pointedly at the clock on everyone's entrance. I've turned down the volume, but can't seem to quite pull the plug on that tick, tick, tick.

When I get home, the clock seems to tick louder than ever, because even though the order in which we do things has less importance than the morning, the fact that I only have limited time to spend with my daughter is emphasized, as we get her in the bath, make dinner, watch some T.V., wind down, and get ready for bed.

I realize that I can't have my weekend schedule during the week, when I go a bit more at my own pace, but I do need to slow down and enjoy weekday life a bit more. I stopped wearing a watch last year and it has helped a bit. Any other techniques anyone is using out there to make time a friend and not an enemy?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

city Sunday

We're all finally happily thawed, and everyone is out enjoying some wonderful weather and trying not to think about how daylight savings messes with our internal clocks.

The local fire station is celebrating it's 100th anniversary.

The playground version.

And spring is finally looking like more of a reality than a remote possibility.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

soopair kewl

Thanks to KellyGo for this fantastic link...

...because sometimes you just need to tap into your inner super-hero (plus, after this week I could use one of those...)

Friday, March 06, 2009

this week

Monday snow

Tuesday ice

Wednesday she's just mad because a house fell on her sister

Thursday deflated

Friday proverbial light...