Thursday, March 31, 2005

Three Births in Two Weeks Equals Tired Doula

I'm a little better today, but yesterday I was shredded. Down for the count. You know that expression, "so tired you can't see straight"? That was me, literally. When I tried to focus, my eyes just didn't know what to do.

I've never experienced this before. Do most people know this feeling, and I'm just being introduced? I mean, I've done international travel where you don't get much sleep and you are jetlagged, but you do kinda sleep on the plane usually. I woke up at 7:00 AM on Tuesday and didn't go back to sleep until 10:00 PM on Wednesday night. So that's 39 hours awake. Wow.

Unsurprisingly, I'm really stupid on so little sleep. Decisions are really difficult. I remember taking a long time figuring out if I wanted to turn on a light switch or open the windowshades. What to do, what to do? I stood there for several minutes, trying to decide. Operating heavy machinery (like a car) or doing any sort of detailed task (like the lab work I have to do after the birth) becomes really complicated. Interacting with other people becomes a bit precarious. I take a long time to formulate a sentence and often it comes out wrong. I tell odd, pointless stories that seemed relevant when I started. People make a remark to me, and I simply have no idea what to say in return so I stay silent and hope they will help. I forget what I was thinking about that seemed strongly compelling thirty seconds previously. Well, OK, maybe I'm not all that different when I lack sleep. Ha ha. Very funny.

You know, it was worth it. I definitely learned lots and experienced some intense stuff. First time I've heard a mom literally scream in pain. First time I've gotten to see the doctor say to mom, "Reach down and bring up your baby!" just as he emerged from the womb and there he is, in Mom's hands. Such amazing families and so much love between these moms and dads. Whew.

I'm still tired. I am still missing six hours of sleep -- where do they go? How do I get them back? But I'm glad I could be the doula. Just maybe a few weeks off to catch up on my sleep (and my life) would be nice.

Guess what: tomorrow I'm first on the call list. Whimper.

Monday, March 28, 2005

What People Did Before Television

Ukranian Easter Egg Attempts Posted by Hello

I saw an ad the other day for a television station, which said simply, "Hobbies Shnobbies," followed by the television station. The implication being, why do a hobby when you can watch tv? I know it is a joke, but it made me kinda mad/sad. I wonder sometimes what humanity has lost since people have television rather than empty time with which to fill with hobbies or art or neighbors or sleep or whatever. Okay, that's as much of a soapbox I'm going to get on there. You've heard it all before.

Speaking of such, I was invited to go to a friend's place and make Ukranian style Easter Eggs, which means instead of using the Paas Easter egg kit, you draw on the egg with a stylus and wax and dip it a million different times in different colors. It was tricky because you have to think backwards, but it was very fun. My eggs aren't anything close to art, but they are festive. It's time consuming, mostly useless but very pretty!

And I finally managed to encourage this little paperwhite bulb to start growing. I check on it like a thousand times a day to see if it has changed.

Happy Easter!

Spring Tentatively Arriving in Boston Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Found Art

Encrusted Barometer c2005 Posted by Hello

I'm entering an art show using "found objects" at the Somerville Museum. Above is one of my entries -- a barometer I found on the streets of Somerville, which I then encrusted with lots of flotsam and jetsam such as buttons and seashells and toys. I've always been fascinated by the way time changes an object, the scars and various accumulations that are picked up over the years, not unlike our very own inner selves. I also really like the symbolism of a barometer or a compass. A friend once counseled me to make sure I stay in touch with my inner compass and barometer and that way of thinking about life has really resonated with me.

Oooh. We get deep here on the blog when we talk about art, don't we?

I think this may be the first time I have beene willing to post a photo of my art (other than photos of course), so, well, there it is. I think I'm most shy about my paintings, so none of those yet. I'm fond of this particular piece, and the compass/barometer theme has shown up in some of my drawings and paintings as well.

The show requested that along with artwork, we include a photo of some "found art" that we haven't turned into something else. I'm not sure if a lamp like this counts as art, but wow, what a find. Lamps with dangly things are the best. Especially as it goes so well with the wallpaper! Can you believe someone was throwing this away? I know, I know, it's hard to believe.

From My Friend Debris Posted by Hello

Friday, March 18, 2005

Boiled Supper is Good

Home Corned Beef Posted by Hello

Success! The corned beef was a big hit. It was tender and salty and spicy and everyone was happy to eat four kinds of root vegetables (the yellow ones in the photo are the rutabega). The Irish Soda Bread was soft and salty and sweet and fragrant, and the conversation (while not in anything resembling a brogue) was fun and as warming as the food. I think I like this whole having people over for dinner thing!

The burning question: was home corned beef better than store cured? Well ... I guess I would say yeah. I wouldn't say "heck yeah!", because frankly, the difference was pretty subtle. It was more beefy than regular corned beef, and certainly less chemically oriented, I am sure. It isn't necessarily cheaper; it probably was about the same price. It was fun to try a new approach, but I wouldn't be ashamed to buy store cured in the future. Who knows. It isn't like I'm planning on consuming corned beef on a regular basis anyway. As for rutabega, now that was a big hit! Everyone took seconds! If you can buy stock in rutabega, now is your big chance, as it is sure to become the hippest new vegetable around any day now. I jest, of course, but it really is better than its obscurity would lead you to believe.

Another St. Patrick's Day come and gone. Now I have to start thinking about Easter. Oooh hot cross buns. Ooooh chocolate eggs.

Irish Soda Bread Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Insert Appropriately Corny Title Here

Raw Meat in Plastic Bag (Corning) Posted by Hello

Because I enjoy trying out recipes for things you wouldn't expect you could make at home (cheese, graham crackers, tortillas, etc.), of course I also had to try corning my own beef for St. Patrick's Day. Friends may call this making life more complicated (why make graham crackers when you can buy them? they say, throwing up their hands in exasperation), but I call it fun. Research. A kind of science, if you will.

My blogdaughter Susan was enthusiastic about this idea, bless her heart. And she brought up the question that has left us all stumped for so long: what is the difference between corned beef and pastrami? I promised to do a little research and post the answer here. Very basically, the answer is that the two start the same (corning means to preserve with salt, which used to be shaped like little corns), but pastrami is also smoked and then steamed. So there you are! More knowledgeable than you were, just moments ago.

The above photo is what it looks like while corning, which is not the most thrilling photo ever but it gives you an idea of how easy this is. Rub it in the salt stuff, put in plastic bag, stow in fridge. Ta dah!

So the home cured beef is now simmering away in the crockpot. Two friends who agreed to be guinea pigs for this experiment are coming over to help me eat it. The Irish Soda Bread is cooling on the kitchen counter. And the enormous variety of root vegetables are waiting to be boiled with the beef this evening. I couldn't stop myself at the store; I bought carrots, cabbage, parsnips, boiling onions, turnips and best of all, rutabega!!! When the cashier at the grocery store picked it up, she asked me what it was. I said "Rutabega." She said, "What?" And stared at me like I had just spoken in Mandarin. Ah, kids these days. They just don't know their root vegetables. No wonder things are going downhill.

The Elusive Rutabega Posted by Hello

Anyhow, I'll post the photos tomorrow from the dinner tonight. I'll be curious to see how the flavor of home corned beef is different from the store corned, which Cooks Illustrated dismisses as inedible. Time will tell ...

Monday, March 14, 2005

Signs of Humanity/Signs of Spring

When Irish Ducks are Smiling Posted by Hello

You know, humans are a funny species. When you live in a city, this becomes more apparent than elsewhere. You're wandering around, doing your thing, and in the middle of a sidewalk, someone has built a snowman. Or drawn a picture in chalk. Or built a little shrine out of toothpicks to their favorite frog. People just make stuff like that and set it out. I suppose it makes them happy. It isn't useful, it is often a bit odd, but you know, it's pretty cool. I believe it makes the world a better place.

Every day I pass the famous Make Way for Ducklings Duck statue in the Boston Public Garden. It's a fun statue. It isn't particularly challenging or revolutionary, but it is a beloved landmark in town of a beloved book. And kids are always clambering all over it since it is kid-sized, which is fun to watch. Occasionally, one of the ducks disappears to who knows where. Lately, someone has taken it upon themselves to clothe the ducks in festive hats, as seen in this photo that I took this morning on my way to work. Well. There you are. Just in time for St. Patrick's Day.

Another sign that spring really truly is only a week away (oh please oh please), is that the ducks that hang out at the pond have an increasingly larger hole in the ice, as seen in this photo. I'm sure they are pleased.

Public Garden Thaw Posted by Hello

The next sign of spring? The reappearance of the lovely swanboats and then the Ducktours along with the tourists on the streets of Boston. It won't be long now.

A Winter Breather

New England Skiing Posted by Hello

I love living in the city and rarely do I feel the need to drop everything and escape. But when a group of friends decided to do a weekend in the "boyfriend's family's NH cabin", I was happy to go. I've noticed when I do leave Boston for one of these excursions, there is this feeling of lightening, of ahhhh, new perspective, etc., even though I hadn't been feeling particularly rundown. So it was good to get away. We did a little skiing, both cross country and downhill. The picture is from the top of one of Attitash Mountain's little baby hills. I love to ski, but no one would ever accuse me of being a daredevil. I thought I was tough because I could handle all of the, um, green circle trails at, um, Wachusett Mountain in MA. Well, I wasn't fully prepared for the New Hampshire definition of green, which of course would make any seasoned skiier snort, but made me a little weak in the knees. But I conquered that mountain! I showed her my stuff! I skiied all the way down without falling at all! So here's a photo of me in my ski gear and eighteen layers of clothing along with Bess, new snowboarder extraordinaire.

We Think We're Tough But We Fool No One Posted by Hello

And we did a lot of cooking and eating in that not-very-rustic-at-all cabin. We decided to buy a ton of groceries and cook together. I made Cooks Illustrated Quick Recipe cinnamon rolls, which made me a very popular person on Saturday morning. I wouldn't say they were easy as pie, but everyone was so excited that it made it worthwhile. Our Saturday night dinner with flourless chocolate cake was particular spectacular, followed by a fierce game of trival pursuit.

Quick Cinnamon Rolls Posted by Hello

Yup, I recommend the winter getaway thing for sure. Except now I need some sun. Hm.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Literary Canada

I just finished The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I know, I know, that is so last year, etc. But I just had never gotten around to it. A book about an Indian kid surviving on the high seas with a tiger? It just didn't grab me at first. But, as promised, it was good! Much more fun and funny and quirky than I expected. It is a much bigger book than you would think. Lots of stuff around religion and er, lifeboats and um, zoos and stuff. Gosh, it is hard to make this book sound good when I try and describe it after just finishing it last night, which is possibly why you have never read it either. Well, just believe me. That's all I can say.

In the book, Pi ends up in Canada, which is where Yann Martel is from. This made me ponder the state of literary Canada, as it seems like I have been reading a lot of fiction from up there lately. Maybe it's the winter weather.

For example, I also recently finished The Diviners by Margaret Laurence, which was a wonderful, darkish story. I guess she was one of those authors kids were forced to read in high school, but I'd never bumped into her before. I think she's a bigger deal in Canada, considering that my local (albeit tiny) library has exactly zero of her books. I'm kinda impressed by all these Canadian women authors and their finesse with words and the darker side of the human heart: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Ann-Marie MacDonald, Carol Shields. It's probably stupid to lump them all together like being from or living in Canada makes you somehow a different writer than being from Florida, and these women would probably grumble upon seeing this here. But I have to say, every single one of these authors has consistently produced work that has moved me deeply, and I just don't have as big of a list like that from other countries, including my own. Odd. Coincidence? Something in the water up there? I just don't know. Any theories out there?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Custard on Everything: Or, A Night for the Anglophiles

Beef Stew (Not Steak and Kidney Pie) Posted by Hello

A friend helped me move this past fall, and I offered to repay him with a home cooked meal. He requested steak and kidney pie, as he is a Brit far away from home. Of course, I was excited at trying out making this new delicacy. Obligingly, I started digging up recipes and learned with growing dread that the kidney part of steak and kidney meant I had to use actual kidneys. At organs, I balked.

After some discussion, we compromised. I made beef stew. Well, it wasn't actually a compromise. I just said, "Forget it, I'm making beef stew." And he was OK with this ultimately. The Brits have learned after many years of working with us Americans that we will do whatever the heck we want anyhow, so they might as well go along for the ride. So I made the Cooks Illustrated Beef Stew with Cinnamon and Cloves, which I think came out pretty well. The non-Brit guests were fine with it, anyhow. I also made steak fries (almost as good as having steak, right?), green salad, and obliging Brit friend offered to bring pudding for dessert.

People in England like puddings, although here they would be called something more like soupey pudding cake. I have no objection to cake topped with pudding at all, and it was even more entertaining to be able to try several types of canned, I mean tinned, puddings that he bought at Cardullo's, a local gourmet shop. I also decided to throw together the "Sticky Toffee Pudding" from the Cooks Illustrated Quick Recipe so we could compare home-made to canned, I mean tinned.

Best of all, Obliging British Friend even brought along a can/tin of Bird's custard powder. You stir this magical elixir into hot milk and voila, you have a batch of warm, gooey pourable pudding/custard which you pour over anything vaguely resembling dessert. It not only disguises any cosmetic flaws in your pudding, it it delicious and soothing. I'm starting to think about the pleasures of custard for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Anyhow, all three puddings disappeared pretty quickly. The tinned ones were good but very sweet. The home-made was also good and of course less chemically tasting. To those of you into food trends, I'd keep an eye on this dessert -- it could be the next molten lava chocolate cake.

Custard Over Everything is Good Posted by Hello

There it is, with photos. Night of the Anglophiles. To top it off, we were going to watch some Monty Python, but we were all too full and sleepy from all that food. As theme dinners go, I think this was pretty successful.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Women's History Month -- Top Ten Favorite

A very cool friend of mine just sent around an email with her favorite women from history on it, and asked us to share our own. It was so much fun to stop and think about the women in my life that I thought I'd put it in the blog. Here is how I responded -- and feel free to add your own to the comments area if you like!

(these are in no particular order)

1. Helen Keller -- I've been fascinated by her since I was a little girl
2. Annie Dillard -- her impact on my life is pretty obvious, um, by checking the name of this blog

2. My personal trinity of North American Expressionist Painters:
Frida Kahlo -- Mexican artist
Georgia O'Keeffe -- American artist
Emily Carr -- Canadian artist

3. Mrs. Erda Gordon, my second grade teacher, the first of so many passionate, imaginative, inspirational female teachers and professors
4. My Aunt Margaret Knorr, family historian, who would have loved the internet and blogging, a woman before her time
5. My Aunt Mary -- the stylish, cool aunt who smothers you with kisses and taught us about style, who then went on to show us how to get through the hard times with grace
6. My grandma, who still makes me laugh and cry, a straight talker and a cook beyond compare
7. My mom, who drove me to art classes all those years, a sweetheart in the truest sense of the word
8. My talented, generous, loving, beautiful female sisters and friends
9. How can I not list my adorable niece who is a light in my life, at 3 years old. She brings such joy to us all with her puppy dog happiness and goofy antics. I can't wait to see what kind of woman she turns out to be.

Gosh I've been blessed by these women.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Artistic Ponderings and Scary Paintings

I'm working on a new painting, no title as yet. I'm so glad to have a new piece with which to play, although it is hard to be patient sometimes and let the whole thing evolve. I want it to be brilliant and perfect and finished right now! Not later! But all I can do is paint what seems right at the time, and then wait for the next part to appear when it is ready.

I wonder sometimes if this is what writing a novel feels like. You have these characters and these worlds that appear in your head. These people that speak to you whom you have never met. And you just wait until they tell you what they need to tell you, and you write it down and hope that it works. As an insatiable reader, I have utmost respect and awe for these storytellers, as this is not my gift. But I think I know what they mean when they say these characters just appear on the page. My paintings feel like that. It is perplexing sometimes. Who put these images in my head? Why are they here? They are really not that much related to my everyday, go to work, go to yoga, come home and eat dinner kind of life.

There isn't a strong connection between what I paint and the kind of person I am. If you saw me on the street, you probably wouldn't think I painted wacky psychedelic paintings. Who is that person in me that does this? Ultimately, I don't think it helps to try and dissect it, to understand why. I think you just have to gratefully and graciously accept it and ride it to where it takes you. Humbling and exhilerating at the same time.

Sometimes after working on a painting for a few days you can't see it anymore. You get too close to it, it has become a part of your vision instead of something separate from you. It becomes necessary to see it fresh in order to see what else needs to be done. To remedy this, sometimes I will look at it upside down, or in a mirror, or take a photo of it, or I will hang it somewhere in my apartment where I don't usually see it. That way I come upon it unexpectedly and then I say, "Oh! Of course! I forgot to add the fireflies!" And I'm off and running again, and all is new. This happens over and over again with the painting until finally I really don't see anything new. It no longer has something demanding my attention. Then I know it is done.

However, there is one small danger to my little repositioning trick. I set out this latest painting on my living room floor so the first thing I would see coming home would be my painting, surprise! A good way to get a fresh perspective on it. Except when you get beeped to the hospital to be a doula, and you have to ask your landlord to come up to your apartment and turn off your crockpot. You've forgotten that you've left the aforementioned painting right there at the door, a kinda scary painting of a woman's naked woman's torso with sea creatures. So when I get home late that night and open the door, I have a fresh perspective of the painting all right, as I think of my landlord seeing this painting. Sigh. The hazards of the painterly life. I'll be a little sheepish next time I hand over my rent check.

Oh and by the way, the Somerville Open Studios website now has this year's artists on it, including, you guessed it, moi.

Winter is for Pudding

Indian Pudding Posted by Hello

Here in New England we're getting snow, snow and more snow. Excellent for winter sports but ultimately not so excellent if you are trying to park your car in a space where people have "claimed" it with garbage cans. So what do you do when you've just parked your car three miles away from home and slogged through the cold, gray slush and your socks are damp and your nose is chilled? You make pudding of course.

Indian pudding makes you feel all connected to the pilgrims so it is especially satisfying to make in the brutal winter. The "Indian" part, I guess, refers to the corn meal and molasses base (and if you do CORE you can make it with splenda and it's fully legit).

I decided to try making tapioca as well. The recent "bubble tea" phenomenon had me pondering recipes with tapioca, something I'd never liked as a kid. The little clear balls always just seemed kinda odd to me, like fish eyes or something. I was pleased with this recipe from Joy of Cooking, but I don't think I've yet gotten over the fish eye aspect of this dessert. Well, now I know. Guess I'll try again in twenty years and see how I like it then.

Tapioca Pudding Posted by Hello