Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Accomplishments

Over at decor8 (one of my favorite design blogs), there was a suggestion recently that rather than taking this time to wistfully plan what we'll do better and sigh over another year gone, we take this time to celebrate our accomplishments. I like this idea a lot, because it reminds me that small things are worth noting and applauding. I may not have finished my dissertation, written a novel, or gotten a dream job in the last year, but it wasn't barren of accomplishment either.

So without further ado, here's what I did in 2011:

Paid off my car
Was a bridesmaid at Amelia's beautiful wedding
Got rid of nearly all my junk
Found work in the midst of an economic crisis
Started my blog
Began painting again
Made my own Christmas cards
Planted bulbs for sping

When I put it like that, 2011 wasn't a bad year at all. What did you do last year?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Displays, or a Study in the Dynamic

It's time for a return to the horrors of Sophie's photography, for which I'm sure you're all exactly as grateful as you should be! Behold:

This picture represents our main holiday decorating endeavor this year. You will notice, no tree is involved. Now I'm as big a fan of the Christmas tree as anyone, but you have to admit, it can often feel very stagnant as you dutifully place the same silver balls, glass pickle, and so forth, year after year, trying to make it feel fresh.

That's where the holiday display comes in. This picture was inspired by a Martha Stewart spread of a Scandanavian-themed mantle. Hence we used light woods, antlers and fresh greenery--all very organic. The silver accents then stood out and brightened everything up. And the presents in the background make it clear that this is more than a winter themed table, it's our holiday focal point.

Lights, greenery, silver...why this has a lot of elements of our old friend the Christmas tree, but it feels a lot fresher and more dynamic. Best of all, we didn't have to buy a thing for it--everything in this photo was stashed here and there around the house.

How are you making holiday decorating fresh this year?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mother's Turkey Soup

Every year, for the holiday season, my mother makes this wonderful soup of leftovers, and every year, I like it far better than the meal that preceded it. It is the most forgiving soup imaginable. Everything in the ingredients list below, saving the turkey, is a suggestion rather than an imperative. Whatever vegetables or sides you have cooked for your meal will go wonderfully into the pot, although I will admit that the cranberries are perhaps my favorite part as they add a lovely tart sweetness. Please note that the ingredients below such as yams are pre-cooked.

Mother's Turkey Soup

2 cups turkey drippings
4-5 cups water
Turkey carcass split in half and its meat (assuming you have not cleanly picked the bones), turkey wings and meat, etc
2 cups stuffing
1/2-3/4 cup cranberry sauce
1-2 cups yams
1 cup green bean casserole
1 cup mashed potatoes

Boil drippings, water, and carcass 2-3 hours. Remove carcass and strip of its meat. Return meat to the stock. Add remaining ingredients for 30-45 minutes. Allow to sit perhaps a quarter of an hour to blend flavors. You may wish to skim fat from the top of the soup.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On the Pleasures of Bathing

This morning, I took a bath. I consider this notable not because I am habitually dirty, but because most Americans don't bathe for cleanliness, they shower instead. I once had a friend refer to bathing as "stewing in your own juices."

This concept is completely foreign to me. While, yes, a good shower is refreshing, a bath feels like a deep clean--like soaking a pot before you scrub it. My main retort to those who consider bathing "dirty" would be to point out that that dirt was on your body five minutes ago. If you can't stand to bathe, how can you stand to be in your own skin?

I suspect this weird fear of bathing is uniquely American and has something to do with being entirely habituated to flush toilets. We get this idea that everything "dirty," whether it's shit or dead skin cells, has to go down the drain directly or else it will contaminate us. Now, I'm as fond of a flush toilet as anyone else, but I do make distinctions here.

Besides, while showers are lovely, a bath is simply perfect. For most of us, it's as close as we will ever get to returning to the womb, huddling there in a confined space surrounded by warm liquid. Why shouldn't we have that comfort on a daily basis instead of reserving it for that once a year when we feel like breaking out the scented candles and bath salts? Bathing is a cheap luxury that nearly anyone can enjoy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Travel Chic

I had a marvelous visit to Houston this last weekend--full of brunches and really good cocktails and dear, dear friends.

But in the airport, I found myself thinking less about my destinations and more about the appearance of the travelers around me. I believe there are two pitfalls to be avoided when traveling: the schlubby look and the "business trip" look. Both are equally awful, though if I had to pick one, I'd probably pick the former.

So here is my list of must-haves to give your fellow travelers something nice to look at:

Colorful and well-made luggage (NOT dripping with logos, please)
Neat and comfortable clothes--a slightly conservative chic is best here
Shoes that are easy to get off and on!
No more than ONE electronic device glued to your face
A big smile--whether you're enjoying your trip or not, you WILL stand out in the misery.

For example, for my trip from Houston back home, I wore a white, lace-trimmed tank top; a black pencil skirt; a brown ruched short-sleeve shrug; and a string of pearls. Neat, chic, comfortable.

The best male attire I saw in the airport was a gentleman distinguished by his unrestrained curly hair, a well-cut jacket, jeans, a button-down shirt, and a pair of very stylish ankle boots.

So why not? It's not hard to stand out with a unique style amid a bunch of people in jeans, sweatshirts, and chinos. And you just might cheer up a fellow traveler.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Almond Butter Parfait

For this recipe, I took inspiration from the Peanut Butter Parfait recipe here, then kicked it up a notch. Yes, the baba cakes are required. No, there is no substitute.

Almond Butter Parfait

1/2 c. light brown sugar
3 tbsp cream
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp dark chocolate almond butter (mine was ground and bought in bulk at the health food store)
vanilla bean ice cream to taste
amaretto-soaked baba cakes (available at Italian groceries in nice little glass jars)

Combine sugar, cream, corn syrup, and butter and cook over low heat for approximately five minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, stir in almond butter. Cool to room temperature.

Layer almond butter mixture and ice cream in a parfait glass. Top with two baba cakes.

WARNING: You cannot eat as much of this as you think you can. I promise.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bringing in the Color

I've thought, recently, that I want to be more visually creative. Not because I think I'm wonderful at it or that I can make anything anyone else would like (oh, listen to the fun negative self-talk!), but because I enjoy sitting and thinking about colors and shapes instead of words sometimes.

With that in mind, I've decided to start keeping a watercolor illustrated journal. I bought a set of Winsor and Newton watercolors, a water brush (so handy!) and a Moleskin watercolor notebook. My goal is going to be to make one illustrated journal entry every day in October.

In the meantime, to practice, I painted a kind of weird-looking pumpkin. But you know, I sort of liked it.

I'm a firm believer that being creative is for you, not for anyone else. If you like to sing, draw, write, whatever, then you should. It's about what makes you happy, not what other people enjoy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good Surprises

Teaching is full of surprises, and, frankly, a lot of them are bad. But this morning, I wanted to talk about the good surprises: the quiet student who knocks a recitation out of the park, the lazy-looking kid who turns out to have a brain, or just the moment when one student actually thinks with you rather than having you cram ideas into a vacant space.

It's so easy to be frustrated by the bad surprises, and so easy to forget the good ones. But I've had a couple of good ones already this semester. The first one happened when I assigned a peer editing session. Sure, half the class just basically went through the motions and did their thing as quickly as possible. But the other half took their time and really worked to help each other, to the point where one group actually stayed after class to finish up.

Another small, simple surprise came when two of my students emailed me to ask where the homework that I had (embarrassingly) forgotten to post was. It would have been easy for them to keep their heads down and hope to avoid homework--but they didn't.

So this is my thank you to those students who surprise me in the best way possible. You make teaching bearable.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Childhood for Sale

In his eloquent The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard wrote, "I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace."

I have known, in my life, two places that fulfilled this ideal. One was my grandparents' home, where I lived for most of my teenaged years. It was a historic home, built in the thirties, with lovely art deco touches, surrounded by palms and fruit trees. They sold it nearly ten years ago.

The other was the cabin. We spent summers there from my infancy up. It's a little, rustic place in the heart of Arizona Rim Country, which, for those of you not in the know, means it is surrounded by pine trees in a basically alpine climate. There's a creek that runs along the border of the property (it is, technically, the East Verde, I THINK), with two waterfalls.

In late summer, you can pick blackberries there and, with the proper guide, wild butter mushrooms. There's a wild, inedible pear tree on the property. I learned to roast marshmallows over an open fire there. The ruins of my childhood fort can still be discerned.

Many of my nocturnal dreams are set there because it is the kind of place upon which the mind fixes. I know every rock and bush on its slopes.

Yesterday, my grandfather took a prospective buyer out to look at the place.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Silly Rabbit...

In 1959, Joe Harris created the Trix of the most enduring and poignant emblems of humanity's struggle for the sublime. For those who have never seen a television, the plight of the Trix Rabbit is something like this: He wants the cereal. He dresses in various disguises to try and get the cereal from the mean spirited children. They catch him, taunt him, and deny him cereal.

As a child, I was always deeply disturbed by these commercials, as, I suspect, were many others. Some burgeoning sense of...well, decency...made me feel that if a rabbit was capable of walking around and expressing his cereal preferences, you should damned well give him a bowl of Trix.

Certainly, in the few contests wherein children were permitted to vote on whether the rabbit should get cereal, the answer was always an overwhelming "Yes." We may have been mean-spirited little bastards, but I think we saw, in that plucky rabbit, ourselves, denied just one more bite of that sugary breakfast confection.

Friday, August 5, 2011

To Tweet or Shut the Hell Up?

So I've been vaguely considering making a Twitter account. What's stopping me from doing it yet is mainly that my life is, at present, very boring. I don't think the world needs to hear "Cat threw up again" or "Time for another nap."

BUT at the same time, I believe that it is possible to be creative and interesting even in the midst of the dullest life. The question is, is it possible to do so in so few characters? How does a person create interesting content in such short space? I mean, I value constrictions of form and think they can provoke inspiration and innovation. I'm just not sure if this one DOES.

So let's think together. How interesting could a twitter post be? What could I post on any given day that might be...well, not boring?

Perhaps this: "Lots of green apples on the tree outside." No? Maybe, "Filled with dread about syllabi." Hmm, still not what I'd call catchy.

Really, what I need is Joss Whedon to write my twitter feed for me. He's the master who came up with the following response to the challenge to write a short story in six words: "Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so." Now there's pith for you!

I'll bet many of you out there have awesome and inspiring Twitter thoughts and experiences, so fill me in! What am I missing?

Monday, June 13, 2011

In Defense of St. John Rivers

I've been rereading the latter parts of Jane Eyre as I work on my current chapter, and one of the things that struck me was that yes, I (and, as far as I can tell, I alone) adore St. John Rivers.

Two disclaimers before I get down to business. First, this is not going to be a piece of literary criticism with lots of German words and some Franco Moretti citations. For that, read my dissertation. Second, I'm not going to argue that Jane should have married St. John. If Jane had married him, Jane Eyre would not be the masterpiece that it is, because it would have been pretty much exactly like all Charlotte Bronte's other novels. Stern, righteous, more or less pedagogical figures abound in the Bronte oeuvre, and usually, they get the girl.

So, then. Why my unusual passion for St. John Rivers? We'll lay aside my idiosyncratic tendency to like unpleasant literary characters as a rule, because St. John, I argue, is not in fact particularly unpleasant. He is cold and demanding, yes. But St. John is, as his name implies, the bright reverse of the disturbing John Reed early in the novel--a figure who, along with his sisters, can redeem the concept of family for Jane.

It occurred to me as I was conceptualizing all this that I might just as well write a defense of Romney Leigh as St. John Rivers. I chose not to because Romney is not as widely known and therefore not as widely vilified. But Rivers shares key features with Barrett Browning's hero, most particularly impassioned idealism. I think that's a feature that's too easy to overlook because too obvious. St. John Rivers goes to be a missionary in a dangerous and far-off India because of his zealous Christianity--the same quality that led to him saving Jane from death by exposure and starvation.

I believe that what makes St. John unattractive to modern readers lies in two key facets of his characterization. One, rampant early Victorianism. There's no getting around that. Two, he represents the icy Puritan control that Jane has imposed on herself as a kind of defense throughout the novel. In resisting St. John's claims on her, Jane is actually resisting her own tendency to self-denial.

So, with all that said, why do I still find such charm in his character? I could wiggle through by saying something about the higher value of the Apollonian over the Dionysian for me. And it would probably be true (if horribly, horribly dated!). But I also believe that idealism and self-denial are underrated qualities in modern society. We could do with a few more St. John Riverses in our world--not too many, that wouldn't be any fun--but certainly a few more.

As a final tidbit, in Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the heroine's evangelical mother reads her Jane Eyre--but somehow makes up an ending wherein Jane marries St. John and goes off to become a missionary. Frankly? I find that way more disturbing than the novel as it stands, bigamists or no bigamists!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Crafting a Memorable Meal

Last night my mother made tacos and began waxing nostalgic about the "taco nights" of her youth. I couldn't blame her: my own thoughts had been drawn in a similar direction. There's something about taco dinners that sets them apart from ordinary meals--what is it, though?

When I began considering the question, I asked myself what other kinds of meals had a similar kind of valence within my memory. My answer was artichokes and crepes (on different occasions, not as an ensemble!). Artichokes always stood out for the way we lingered over the table, peeling them slowly until we finally came to devour the heart, while crepe suppers were a relay race from stove to table as long as the batter held out, with a host of different toppings making their way onto the gauzy pancakes.

What do all these meals have in common? They extend the pleasure of dining. You can't simply poke them in your gullet and race off. In the case of the tacos, someone has to be at the stove frying the corn tortillas in shifts, and then everyone participates by adding their favorite tacos. These dinners are both leisurely and interactive. They bring people together in the way that a good meal should, but without being enormously labor-intensive or at all fancy. Sometimes it's easy to get hung up on what we eat, but in the end, it's really all about how we eat.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Book Review: Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws

As some of you may know, I've hit some bumpy patches in the road recently, and I have to admit, some of them have been very difficult. A lot of my identity is bound up with my profession, and feeling like I don't have one right now has made just existing a little difficult. Hence my picking up this book. I'm not ready to check out just yet, and most people who don't want you to commit suicide make the big mistake of not telling you what you should do instead. Step one, don't kill yourself, step two, what? Well, according to Kate Bornstein, author of this book, there are a lot of possible step twos.

She starts out her book with the simple, obvious stuff--call a suicide hotline, get on medication if it will help, talk to a friend, whatever. Check and check. Then she gets into the more interesting options for what to do instead of killing yourself. Some of them didn't appeal, some of them appealed a lot. "Finish Your Homework" resonated a lot with me. I have at least a year to go before I have that PhD after my name, so that one should keep me ticking for twelve more months minimum. "Treat Yourself Like an Honored Guest" sounded very good as well. "Run Away and Hide" sounded almost too good. "Make a Deal with the Devil" and "Tell a Lie" didn't appeal, but maybe someday I'll "Make Art out of It" and write an amazing novel about all this. "Serve Somebody" reminds me that the community is out there waiting for me to be a part of it. And these are just a few of her amazing suggestions. Each option is rated on how easy, self-loving, and effective it is, so that you get an idea of how desperate you should be before you give it a crack.

The whole book is written from a strongly queer-friendly, transgressive perspective, in case that wasn't already clear, so that really appealed to me, though it might not to some people, and while it's aimed to some extent at young people (they being the most likely to try and shuffle off the mortal coil), it's not oppressively youth-oriented. Most of it is just good, sound advice for anyone who needs some good ideas about how to keep on living for a little longer.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gem Tree

There were a lot of dead oaks on our property that were cut down recently, and the shapes of some of the small branches were so pretty that I couldn't resist doing something with them. So I found a particularly interesting shape and trimmed it down, then attached semi-precious beads to each twig. It was very easy, and, as you can see, turned out very nicely (though I think the one my mother is making will turn out to be even nicer!). What I found most important while working on it was balance, and respecting the inherent structure of the piece. As you can see, Miss Betsy liked it too!

Friday, May 20, 2011

'Til Death Do They Part

My grandfather has always been one for whom past and present almost coexist. He'll go from complaining about his dividends one moment to telling you about a flight mission in Guam during the war in a heartbeat. Yesterday morning, however, he told me something that made an impact.

During breakfast, he began reminiscing about his wedding to my grandmother. They were married at a Justice of the Peace's office in Nogales, he said, and then he added, "Boy, I don't know if I could have gone through with a church wedding or some big fancy thing."

"Why not?" I asked. "Were you nervous."

"I was shaking like a leaf. Not because I thought maybe I'd made a mistake, but because I knew this was it. Forever. These kids get married today and they're half-drunk or something, but I knew what I was doing."

I was so moved by this that I got up and gave him a kiss because I knew, as well as anyone, how beautifully my grandfather had kept the commitment that he made that day. He and my grandmother have almost never been separated, except for stays in the hospital, and even now, when she's in the nursing home recovering from surgery, he travels thirty miles every day to go and see her and be with her. I watched them kiss and hold hands like lovers, even as my grandfather laughed at how loose their skin was now. He has loved and nursed my grandmother through years of invalidism and mental problems, without ever once questioning his own desire or need to do so.

I am the child of divorce. My mother married twice, my father four times. Each found their perfect partner in time, but on the way, there were these casual marriages that didn't last long or mean very much, in the grand scale of things. My father's father married three times. But my mother's father, my Papa, he met a young war widow in the 1940s, and he knew that he would never want anyone else.

I don't necessarily believe in marriage. I think the state sanctioning a religious arrangement is problematic, and looking at the statistics, I can't see that what we view as a solemn vow is kept any more often than it is abandoned. But I do believe in love and partnership, and I honor my grandfather and grandmother for how perfectly they have kept the vows of love made more than fifty years ago.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dream Potpourri

I've been settling into my new abode rather comfortably and have started working with a few touches to make it seem more homey--cut lilac on the kitchen table, orchids in the bathroom, and, because the bedroom is sometimes a little close, homemade potpourri on my bedside table. Here's my mix for a lovely, fresh-smelling potpourri.

Dream Potpourri

Rose petals
Fennel seeds, lightly crushed

It's not a very visually engaging potpourri, but it smells heavenly and has all the right ingredients for a peaceful night's rest. As with any potpourri, give it a stir to release fragrance, and use a drop or two of essential oil (perhaps lavender?) to refresh it when it seems "exhausted."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Big Moving Post

So, to begin with, never drive twenty hours straight without stopping, folks. It is so unfun as to be ludicrous. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

First, I want to talk about last Friday! A day of extraordinary chaos, but also great joy as well. I spent most of the day waiting for the charity people to come and pick up my stuff, and being completely freaked out when they didn't. But you know who did show up? My friend Jill, with lunch from Feast!

This is Jill, looking lovely with our starters of black pudding and welsh rarebit, both of which were quite delicious. We then ate our way solidly through a main course and dessert, both vowing to eat more things with chocolate and cardamom. I think that's the kind of resolution I can keep.

Later in the day, I was also lucky enough to have Amelia and Andrew visit with a delicious Reuben sandwich to sustain me through the evening. And honestly, I needed it. I was absolutely worn out from the frequent trips to the dumpster.

But, Saturday morning, I set out with all three cats harnessed and leashed (please note that when I arrived Sunday morning, only one cat had not escaped her harness) and my Beetle seriously crammed full. I drove through the day and into the setting sun and into a starry West Texas night, and, eventually, north through a gilded Arizona dawn. Mind, by that time, I was awake only through the use of two five-hour energy drinks. Horrible but effective.

And finally, I was up in the mountains and breathing in the chilly air, and my mother was waiting for me on the front steps with a hamburger. Seriously.

I don't think I've processed everything yet--I'm still unpacking, trying to get my sleeping schedule back to normal, and suchlike, but so far, everything is okay.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

21 Films You Should See That Maybe You Haven't

I made up this list for a swap over at Swapbot, and I was inspired to share it here. It's a highly idiosyncratic list, populated with highly idiosyncratic commentary. Some of the films are old classics that deserve never to be forgotten, some are quirky little films, etc., and let's just get to the bloody list already!

Blame It on Fidel—This is a French period piece set in early 1970's Paris. It follows the changes in the life of a young girl as her parents become more politically active during this turbulent period. I love this film for its compassion—it is sensitive both to the world of a child, so dependent on structure and sameness, but also to the difficulties faced by the parents who are trying to do the right thing.

As It Is in Heaven—I just saw this Swedish film recently, and I think I'm in love. Starring Michael Nyqvuist from the Millenium trilogy, this film follows a world-renowned composer who returns to the hometown of his youth and takes up a small church choir, with transformational results. This film really feels like it approaches the sublime, particularly at its climax, which manages to be gut-wrenching and beautiful with no dialogue whatsoever.

Inside Daisy Clover—An older piece that, despite a handful of big names, barely crawled onto DVD. This is a “Star is Born” type story, following a young Natalie Wood as she goes through the Hollywood studio star-making machine. Superb performances from Christopher Plummer and Robert Redford round out the cast, but what I really love here is the darkness of the film and its tumultuous climax.

An Education—This British period piece, set in the 1950's has the charmed combination of a strong story and a gorgeous “look.” The costumes, the hair, the general cinematography are all unmissable, but so is the acting and the dialogue and the story's quiet feminism and uplifting righteousness.

Desk Set—This is an old Hepburn and Tracy classic, and I will confess that you may have seen it. But then again, you may not have, and that would be a terrible shame! Dry wit, Hepburn at her funniest and most ripely beautiful, and a fun story are just some of the charms of this film. I recommend it for an evening when you're feeling a bit blue.

Alice Through the Looking Glass—This is the Kate Beckinsale version, and I will say straight off that it's a little odd. But, really, what Alice adaptation isn't a little odd? Featuring an adult Alice, it nonetheless is otherwise a faithful Looking Glass adaptation, with some beautiful visual homages to Tenniel's illustrations. I like to watch this and dream.

To Sir with Love—Another old classic, this one starring Sidney Poitier. I have watched this film many times and have never lost my affection for it. It's about a teacher who turns a group of frankly horrible students in one of London's worst neighborhoods into somewhat less horrible students! Seriously, though, inspirational (though, warning, guaranteed to make you feel inadequate should you happen to be a teacher).

Picnic at Hanging Rock—a creepy little Australian film based on the novel of the same title. Beautiful, frightening, completely unsatisfying but massively thought-provoking, this is a modern masterpiece.

Angel and the Badman—John Wayne stumbles into...Quaker country? Yes. Gail Russell cuddles tiny lambs! And John Wayne must decide whether he's willing to shed his bad guy image for the girl he loves. Seriously, Wayne does a bit of actual acting here, and it's a charming film, a departure from his usual.

Still Crazy—Great film about a group of washed-up 70's rockers trying to get their shit together to do a reunion tour. Stellar performances from Stephen Rea and Bill Nighy here. Funny, heart-warming, and generally just a good, off-beat time.

Little Miss Sunshine—What can I say about this film? That Greg Kinnear has never been more brilliant in his career? That it understands multi-generational family dynamics sensitively? That it is a love story about middle class America? That it makes you weep with pleasure? Yeah, something like that.

Cold Comfort Farm—More Kate Beckinsale, but this time dry as a good martini in this wicked little film based on Stella Gibbons's delicious novel. Stand-out performance by Ian McKellan, but generally just hilarious and really faithful to its wonderful source.

Holiday—I spoke earlier of a ripely beautiful Katharine Hepburn, but this is the place to catch her delicate youthful beauty. This film drips with silver screen elegance as Carey Grant tries to negotiate his engagement to a rich beauty all the while dreaming of seeing life and discovering what it has to offer. A film devoted to learning about happiness? Yes, please!

Masked and Anonymous—This film starring Bob Dylan is an odd little piece that could easily have been a piece of pandering to an aging star's vanity but instead becomes a piece of important cultural commentary. Watch it for the acting, the music (well, if you like Dylan), and the oddly poetic story.

But I'm a Cheerleader—In this campy but sweet comedy, a girl discovers love at the “gay rehabilitation camp” she's sent to. It's hilarious, and it's a little bit heartbreaking at the same time. Watch it when you want a little non-traditional romance.

The Lion in Winter—I'm not obsessed with Katharine Hepburn! I swear! But how could I leave this film out? When I think of brilliant acting, I think of this heavy-hitting historical drama about Eleanor of Aquitane and Henry II. This is history as Edward Albee might have written it.

Enchanted April—And, to lighten things up a bit, a pretty villa in Italy where everyone finds happiness. And Alfred Molina! I love the setting for this film and the beautiful cinematography. Watch it and dream of your next trip abroad.

Bread and Tulips—Or perhaps Venice is more your thing? This Italian film about a housewife who hitchhikes to Venice has its own share of enchantment and a little more substance than the previous film. Could almost be watched without the subtitles, for while the dialogue matters, everything important is conveyed through gestures and the expressions on the actors' faces.

Stealing Beauty—Have you noticed this is the Italian section? Young Liv Tyler goes to Italy to lose her virginity. No, seriously. This film is smart and beautiful and nervy as it follows its heroine's emotional journey towards maturity.

A Patch of Blue—This early Sidney Poitier film from the 1960s traces the developing relationship between an African American man and an abused blind girl. It is by turns a sweet romance, a distressing melodrama, and a think piece about American racism.

The Closet—One for the road, because why not? This French romp starring Daniel Auteuil is simply hilarious. Aware that he's about to lose his job for being too dull, the hero takes on a new persona as a homosexual. Improbable? Mais oui, but who cares when it's so fun? The best part of this film is that Auteuil does not camp up his homosexual performance, but merely lets others and their perceptions do the work for him.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Moving Freely

I had the most astounding epiphany the other day, as I was sitting in the ruins of my apartment trying to figure out how I was going to get all my junk into storage: I don't have to keep this stuff.

There are so many laws and regulations in place in our lives, that it's liberating to realize that the one thing no one can make you do is keep stuff you don't want. I don't want to own most of what I possess. Like, ninety percent of it.

So I scheduled a pickup from Houston Charity Agencies, started selling my books at Half-Price Books (yes, those SAME books I was mooning over a little while ago), and began throwing things away! This is perhaps the single most liberating experience of my life, letting go of so many things. I've been glowing with happiness and peace ever since and spreading news of my decision like an evangelist.

I do understand that not everyone can realistically do this. I'm in a unique situation, moving home to be cradled (figuratively) in the maternal bosom and put up in a furnished place. But I still think that at many points in our lives it may be good to say, "I need a fresh start."

After all, think of your life as, not a single drama (or comedy), but rather a theater company. Every now and again, when a run gets stale, you start casting around for scripts that will express the core vision of your company along with your sensibilities right now. Do you really want to have a theater full of props from your long run of "The Master Builder" when you've totally decided that it's time for a Noel Coward piece? Of course not! Time for new props, new costumes, and a new set.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hot and Sour Comfort

The Move has been inducing in me every kind of nervous ailment you can imagine, and today, it added one more: a stress sinus infection of some kind. My first warning was a sore throat. Basically, it went like this:
5:00 P.M.: Hmm, I'm thirsty
5:30 P.M.: Odd, my throat hurts
6:00 P.M.: Crud, I'm sick

I've managed to stave off most of the repercussions with vitamin C and hot and sour soup, and if you asked me which of the two I thought was more potent, I'd be hard pressed to give you a definitive answer. I believe in hot and sour soup like some people believe in chicken soup, or aliens, or Justin Bieber. Assuming it's the proper spiciness, it opens up the sinuses and promotes healthy drainage all while providing delicious sustenance and nutrition. Truly, it is a magical food.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Herding Cats

I've been working on harness-training my cats in preparation for the move because I worked out that there was no way I could keep them all in the carrier for the duration of the seventeen-hour drive. Instead, they will wear their harnesses and be restrained with leashes anytime I open the car door.

So far, the training is...interesting. My two older cats are fairly relaxed about the harness itself, but the leash still wigs them out a little bit. But my little girl is not pleased by the harness. She walks around like she's crippled, even though the harness doesn't obstruct her movement in any way, meows pitifully, and is generally not happy with the situation.

My basic plan is to get them used to wearing the harnesses for longer and longer each day until they're completely relaxed in them, then do some leash work. All this is supplemented by lots of petting and treats, naturally.

Overall, the thing I'm dreading most about this move is listening to these guys cry for seventeen hours and trying to keep them contained. My mortal fear is that one will escape during a stop for gas, and I just couldn't handle that, but I think with the leashes, everything will be okay.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Hunger

I've been packing my books today, packing them to go into storage until goodness knows when, and it evokes a kind of panic in me. Old favorites suddenly demand to be reread, and books that I bought and shelved without taking the time to read them (yes, this is a horrible habit of mine) have suddenly taken on an urgency.

For this reason, I'm taking a break from my Kindle (it gets to come with me, after all) and rediscovering the treasures I possess already. Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels is high on the list, as her sister's Love in a Cold Climate. The latter is an old favorite, the former I haven't read.

I feel like I'm in a race against time, trying to get all the words crammed into my brain that I can before they're backed away, mute and helpless. I know there will be more books, that I will see these books again, but the pangs I feel are terrible.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Le goûter

This afternoon, I was assailed by the kind of sinking feeling that, legend has it, caused the Duchess of Bedford to create the institution of afternoon tea. I wasn't in the mood for tea, however, just a light and tasty bite, and so I decided to go across the channel for my afternoon repast and enjoy, instead, le goûter.

Le goûter is the traditional afternoon snack of French schoolchildren, served at about four o'clock in the afternoon. It might often consist, like my own snack pictured above, of a piece of bread, butter, and some chocolate. In the fabulous film La Faute à Fidel!, though, the young protagonist is extremely put out when a succession of nannies of different nationalities causes a bewildering variety to her afternoon snacks.

For those who speak French and would like some ideas for le goûter, there is an entire blog devoted to the pleasures of this ritual.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Strawberry Pie!

Today was a baking day, mainly because I finally saw some strawberries that looked like they had some juice in them at the store. I don't eat strawberries too far out of season because they just taste like water to me, but when they are in season, there's nothing I love better.

I usually make a fresh strawberry pie with a single shell, but I realized that I had thrown out my cornstarch in preparation for the move, which scotched that plan. Instead, I found and modified a baked strawberry pie recipe. I will admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I used pre-made pie crust. My theory about pie crust is that I want to eat pie much oftener than I want to prepare pie crust (can you call that a theory? or just simple greediness?).

I used maple sugar for part of the sugar in the pie because it offers a nice dark counter-note to the brightness of the strawberry flavor. It doesn't, as you might expect, taste excessively of maple but has a beautifully subtle flavor.

And, of course, the best thing is those colors--just look at that juice oozing out!

Baked Strawberry Pie Recipe

2 pie crusts
1 quart strawberries, hulled and halved
1 cup sugar (I used half organic sugar and half maple)
Three tbsp. flour

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss strawberries with sugar and flour. Place one pie crust into tin and add filling. Top with second crust and cut vents before crimping edges. Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Patched with Virtue

One of my old stand-by skirts has been developing some irritating holes. I should, probably, just get rid of it, but I don't know when I'll find another that will suit so well. I decided, therefore, to patch it. And not simply to patch it, but to patch it with crimson silk. The effect is a little irregular, but striking, I think. Please excuse the piss poor photography.

Silk is frustrating to work with, and I had to use about twice the pins I normally would, but I'm actually looking forward to showing off my rather gaily bohemian skirt.

The Pleasures of Fresh Muesli

Fresh muesli is one of my favorite breakfasts. I make it with a base of oats, honey, and milk, then build from there. The simple combination of raw foods tastes incredibly fresh and healthy, and is just the thing to coax the stomach awake in the morning. Here's how I make muesli.

I start with about half a cup of oats, then douse them in maybe three-quarters cup of milk. I top it with a tablespoon of honey and pop it in the refrigerator overnight. Then, in the morning, when it's very soft and sweet, the real fun begins.

I grate a half an apple and toss that into the bowl (some smushed banana can also be very nice), then head to the pantry to see what I have in the way of nuts and dried fruits. This morning it was chopped pecans and dried cherries. I mixed them into the bowl, then chose to top the whole with a big dollop of greek yoghurt.

This dish is both simple and forgiving, allowing many different combinations while always tasting delicious.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Officially in Transit

I discovered this morning that I was not selected for a job I had rather hoped to get. That job was my last hope of remaining in Houston in the near future. As it stands, I will be moving at the end of this month to Arizona to live near my mother, look for work, write on my dissertation and sponge off my relations.

I'm feeling nervous about this, of course--being stuck in a small town with no friends and no job isn't the easiest situation in the world. But I'm also grateful that I have a place to go and people who care about me. And, to some extent, I'm looking forward to a fresh start.

I have always been a fan of metamorphosis. Five years ago, when I moved to Houston, I stopped going by my Christian name and began being called by my confirmation name. It was, to me, more meaningful and frankly more attractive. And it was all part of the process of becoming who I needed to be. Sophie.

Now, I suspect there may be a new Sophie that I need to be. She may be a Sophie who builds chicken coops (wouldn't fresh eggs be divine?). She may be a Sophie who does things I can't even imagine yet. All I know is that I'm loading up my Beetle with one big box of books, two suitcases and three cats so that I have a chance to keep becoming.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Minimalism

I have been reading The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide. That sort of book is a dime a dozen, certainly--they basically tell you what you already know, which is that you need to throw out some or most of the things you are perpetually tripping over every day. Very good.

What I find myself questioning is how minimalism and luxury intersect, about which not enough is said. Because as I pare down my belongings, I find that what remains are usually the finest and most luxurious items. I have always thought that the minimalists would get further if they said, "All right, throw out those seventeen sets of stained sheets and go buy two sets of really high thread-count sheets." Or simply, "Half of what you own is ugly: get rid of it and buy two or three really nice things."

Surely the best thing about minimalism is that the nice things you do own or can lay your grubby paws on then don't get swallowed by all the crud that you own? Maybe the real tool to minimalism is buying one really beautiful piece for each room and seeing how cheap it makes everything else look--you'll be a minimalist in no time, doubtless!

I'm interested in the trope in minimalist texts that refers to having to "curate" items. That is, that you, as the owner of different items, then have to curate them in some way. Am I the curator of my Cuisinart? Perhaps. I know it's meant to give you an a-ha moment, but for me, it doesn't, precisely. It's clearer if you say I am the storer, washer, and mover of my Cuisinart. Then it all becomes perfectly clear.

This is all highly relevant for me as I face a large move without most of my belongings. The few I will bring are all highly utilitarian, though not, I must confess, in the main luxurious. Suddenly, my coffee press has become precious, as has my stalled knitting project. I'm sorting everything from books to cat toys to see what's worth packing away and what is, very simply, trash.

Torn Cashmere

I began this blog because I wanted to talk about my life. A life that included demanding the best--demanding it in the most plaintive tones imaginable, mind--and getting...well, something that resembled torn cashmere.

But this is not a morose blog! This is a blog about darning your sweaters, making a pile of millet into a tasty supper, trying to make yourself into a better person (because I have to believe that's still possible), reading your way into another world, and changing everything around you.

I am thirty-one years old. I am unemployed and halfway to a purposeless (for me) PhD. I decided to begin this blog because I believe that writing is transformative, and because I want to record this part of my journey and share it with others.