Sunday, May 25, 2014

Elbowing Past Do-Re-Mi

How clever, describing a birth from the point of view of the person birthed.  That's how Edward St. Aubyn launches Mother's Milk.

Little Robert remembers the heartache of separation from his mother.  The world outside is bright and garish.   He had thought it would be like a big ocean, as comfy and warm as the nest from which he just came. He might rather go back to that nest, except that getting out of it was such a violent experience.

St. Aubyn hooked me right away, but now our birthed boy has got himself a little brother who just lays there absorbing all of Mummy and Daddy's attention.  So Robert works hard at being funny, doing things like mimicking the self-important nursemaid, just to regain all that parental attention.

It's charming, but I don't know what to make of it all.  Will we find out that the witty father is a ne'r-do-well, something like Emma Thompson's Daddy in Saving Mr. Banks?  And there's no heft to this thing, since I'm reading it on Kindle.  I can't tell how much longer the journey is, in spite of the little fine-print hints that show at the bottom of the page.

Actually, it's a four-book package, The Patrick Melrose Novels.  Mother's Milk is the last of the bunch. 

Other Amazon buyers tell me that they lost much-needed sleep because they couldn't pull away from Melrose.  Now that they have finished all four books, saying good-bye to the characters rips out the hearts of these readers.  The stories aren't for the faint-hearted, they say, but so, so worth it.

I guess I need to go back to the beginning link in this chain of stories.  After all, do we hop on airplanes while they cruise a mile above the air?  Do we elbow past Do-Re-Mi, the better to get on with Fa-So-La?  Do we start raising kids from age 14?

And yes, I gave up on Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables.  The charcoal illustration on the front cover was, I presume, Hawthorne's face.  His eyes taunted me every time I walked by.  Are you not woman enough to find meaning in my classic tale?    

Guess not. 

And did I give the book a little extra shove when I dropped it in the library's return bin?  Kinda.  I can't have a blog about books and tell readers, week after week, "I choked down four more pages this week.  Please stick with me while I bore you as much as Mr. Wordy-Books bores me."

I swallowed my Hawthorne guilt with a serving of:

Italian Bow Tie Bake

Even our preschool picky eater ate this.  The little guy was thrilled that we finally let him have a table knife, and he set about cutting up the bow ties and chowing them down. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

George Will Made Me Do It

My sister called my attention to this blog post:

It's as if she can see me struggling with Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables.  Kellie, the blogger, says "reading books that make you yawn is a painful delay on the way to that something beautiful being held in your hands."

Ha!  I'm not even yawning over Hawthorne.  I'm just not picking it up very often.  I have things to do, be it pulling lint out of my shirt pockets, or tightening the screw on the piano's music stand, or counting the vowels in the newspaper headlines.

Why do I stick with it?  Well, I read people like George Will who, while making their point about some ill-considered law working its way through Congress, quote from books like 1984, or bring up a character from Lolita.  And I think, Why does everybody but me know what he's talking about?

Thus, we struggle along with Seven Gables, hoping we'll catch up with these Ivy League-educated writers.  Maybe I'll acquire a taste for the kinds of books Yalies sit around and discuss.

Speaking of acquired tastes, I never cared for cornbread.  Or at least I didn't until I tasted this stuff:

I pretty sure they snuck a respectable amount of sugar into their mix.  But who always has a box of Jiffy in their pantry?  Not me.

So I felt pretty lucky to open a newspaper one day and find:


1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 TB baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup melted butter
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
1 TB milk

Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch round cake pan. Preheat oven to 350'.

In a large bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and sugar.

In another bowl, beat together eggs, oil, melted and cooled butter, evaporated milk and milk until thoroughly blended. Pour mixture into cornmeal mixture and stir until all is smooth. Do not overbeat.

Spoon into prepared pan. Bake in preheated over 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden and a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before removing from the pan and slicing into wedges. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. Rewarm in a 350-degree oven. Makes 8 wedges, 330 calories each.

Comes pretty close to Jiffy's.

OK, now, let's gird up and get done with Hawthorne.  We have other books waiting in the wings.  They sound a lot like horses pawing the ground behind the gates at Churchill Downs.  They want to be let out.  They want to run.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Doing It Fine On Our Own, Thanks

I need to park myself on a couch and just read, because when I get up and actually do things, disaster ensues.

Last week, my household was assigned to work on the church cleaning crew.  I think the kitchen looked pretty good after I worked it over.  With a sigh of satisfaction, I carried a sloshing bucket of mop water to the janitor closet to rinse it out in the low sink there.

Why can't the water simply come out the spigot?  Why did they have to attach an elephant-trunk-sized hose to the thing?

Most especially, how did that hose slip out of my hands? 

Suffice it to say that, by the time by hands found the spigot handle (blind-lady style) and turned it the right way, the closet ceiling was raining and I was standing in enough water to do a batch of laundry.

On the bright side, maybe they won't ask me to clean again.

I went out for a sunny afternoon walk a few days later.  A few wood slats lay across a sidewalk and I gracefully stepped over them.  What I failed to see was the line strung across the sidewalk right behind the wood.  Before I knew it, I was scraping the sidewalk with my knees, my arms, my chin.

Oh, the bruises.  My star bruise is bigger than a burger bun.

Oh, the aches. I was shopping in Wal-Mart a day later, moaning softly as I clung to my walker  shopping cart.  Somewhere between grabbing a box of Brillo pads and hunting for the Life Cereal, I remembered:  I have big drugs at home.  I believe I'm entitled to them today. 

So God need not threaten me with any destroying angels.  He can just step out of the way and let me destroy myself.

That's why I should shut myself in a safe place and catch up on my reading.  My attention is divided these days.  Sometimes I reach for a real book; in this case, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables.    This is the last time I plan to afflict myself with Hawthorne.  If your reading education is as thin as mine, I'll just tell you it's about a once-prominent family now petered out.

And sometimes I reach for my Kindle, where I'm working through Robert Reilly's Making Gay OK, in which he reasons that normalizing homosexuality is quite possibly about excusing all sexual misbehaviors.   Everybody take a deep breath now and remember that there is a wide difference between throwing bricks through your gay neighbor's window (not OK) and calmly explaining why you think marriage licenses should say "Bride and Groom" instead of "Party A and Party B" (very OK).  Everybody take that deep breath because I've been feeling a lot of Down-with-Conservatives hate lately.  To quote Charles Krauthammer, a favorite columnist, "What’s at play is sheer ideological prejudice — and the enforcement of the new totalitarian norm that declares, unilaterally, certain issues to be closed."

Now, you'd think an accident-prone lady like me would be wise to stay out of the kitchen.  But I can't help myself.  And I did manage to cook Seasoned Potato Cubes without ruining the skillet, nicking off a finger, tripping over a cat or choking on the final product.   I'd pat myself on the back, but I'm too sore for that.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What Do We Do With This Doorstop?

Interlibrary loan is a tricky thing.  They fetch the book for you, in this case from the local Quaker college.  They hand it over to you, for free, but with a warning that "This title cannot be renewed."

I may have gotten too used to my library's 8-renewals policy to be able to live with that steel-toed phrase, "may not be renewed."  And the book itself is a doorstop-sized burden, not something you would want to drag along for your wait at the doctor's office.  Nor is it something you can finish in three weeks if you were struggling along with another book and got started late on this one. 

Nor am I likely to finish it when, as I turn its pages, my mind wanders to more interesting things like, say, eating unsalted crackers.

It's a biography.  The subject created a ripple in her day.  She traveled in the same circles as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau and Horace Greeley.  The author who wrote about her won awards for bringing to life the subject's "dramatic mixture of inward struggles, intimate social life, and deep engagements with the major movements of her time."   

I hate to miss out on the story of someone who might have been important.  Next time I found myself trapped in a dinner party with academics, I might have been able to run in their fast company.  I believe, though, that the Quaker library is going to get their book back with hardly any finger smudges of mine in its margins.  Come to think of it, the book's spine feels rather firm, as if it hasn't been opened much.

So if I have to account to you for how I spent my time while in possession of this book, I will tell you that I made:

Chocolate Mint Torte