Friday, February 29, 2008

In Memoriam

The world lost two brave souls yesterday, men I knew only a little but who had a great impact on those I love--one my uncle by marriage, the other the father of a dear friend. Both were surrounded by family as they died; both were men of great faith. Their loss has left me a bit poorer, struggling for words of comfort or hope. As usual, I find that others have said it better. In Tennyson's great poem of mourning I find a reason to look for words, and in Hopkins's celebration of life I find a bit, I think, of the faith that sustained both.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In Memoriam A.H.H. Obit. MDCCCXXXIII
I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
"As kingfishers catch fire"

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Go in peace.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Smek-Day and the Cybils

(Cross-posted at Lessons from the Tortoise)

My new column is up over at Literary Mama. In it I talk about why I liked our fantasy/sf winner in the middle-grade category, The True Meaning of Smek-Day, and what intriguing commonalities I found in the books we read. Here's a taste:

the story [of Smek-Day] is as action-packed and adventurous as [several of ] the others . . . which feature plot twist after plot twist, fascinating superpowers (invisibility and flight are the best), and intriguing ways of engaging with technology -- hovercars, a super-reinforced Mercedes, cellphones, convenience stores. These are not, that is, "sword-and-sorcery" fantasy novels, but books fully engaged with modern life and imagining how magic or the supernatural might interact with our technologically-enhanced world.

Read the rest here...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Breaking Boards

Or, what we did on my birthday. (Sorry about the blurred faces; they're to protect privacy, of course.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Food: Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili

Some time ago someone served me a delicious chili with butternut squash in it, and when I wanted to recreate it, I went (of course!) to epicurious. And I found something like it, but I knew it wouldn't quite fly with my family. I can get Nick to eat squash or greens, but I didn't think he'd do both at once. So I modified it, and it was the best chili I've made in some time: flavorful, healthy, and very warming. This is a soupy chili rather than a thick pasty chili, but you could cut back the veggie stock if you wanted it thicker. I thought it was perfect. (Nick, alas, did not, but he can scramble his own eggs, so he didn't go hungry.)

Here's what I used:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 cups 1/2-inch pieces peeled butternut squash (I used one whole, small, squash)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained
2 cups vegetable broth (it was probably a little less; I just measured it into the tomato can)
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 small can chopped ortega (mild green) chilis

Here's what I did:

Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until soft--5 to 10 minutes, depending on your patience. Add the spices and the squash and continue to saute until the vegetables are all colored by the spices and the squash begins to soften a bit--you don't need to cook it through at this point. Now add the beans, broth, tomatoes, and chilis. Bring it all to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes (epicurious said 15, but my squash was not tender at that point). Serve with garnishes such as shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or chopped cilantro--or just ladle it into a bowl with some cornbread on the side.

(Epicurious thinks this serves 4, but I'd say more like 6. It's a nice, generous pot of chili, and just as good the second day.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


We have chili and cornbread almost once a week in the winter. The chili can easily be vegan, to satisfy Mariah, it's quick and easy, which satisfies me, and if it's not too spicy Nick will (usually) eat it. Everyone loves the cornbread. (No, it's not vegan, but until she moves out Mariah makes an exception for baked goods, to my immense relief.) I'll post a chili recipe soon, though most often it's just "dump a can of this and a can of that into a pot," but I thought I'd post the cornbread recipe we like the best now, so that I can remember it and you can share it, too. This is a slightly sweet, very moist cornbread: it keeps well (though we usually eat it up in a day or two) and is as good split and toasted with jam in the morning as it was under or next to the chili in the evening. It comes from a fabulous bread book, The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan or an 8x8 square cake pan. I have a pottery bread pan that's perfect for this.

Mix together in a large bowl:
1-1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (I use brown sugar)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend together in a large pitcher or bowl:
1-1/4 cups milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Pour the milk mixture into the cornmeal mixture, stirring just enough to incorporate and moisten all the ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Six-Word Winner!

I convened my panel of experts yesterday to judge the Six-Word Memoir contest. Each (of course) chose a different one, so we ended up with three finalists:

1. Fresh Hell's "Don't look at me like that!"
2. Elrena's "This is exactly what I wanted."
3. Becca's "Potential. Lived up to? Don't know."

We then went to the super-sophisticated random-number-chooser--that is, I asked Nick to pick a number from one to three. He picked two, so Elrena is our winner! Elrena, email me your mailing address and I'll get it to the publisher, who will be sending out a copy.

Thanks for playing, and congratulations to all the contestants!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bad Parenting Moments

It's been a tough couple of weeks. Nick came down with the flu last Monday, and despite an early intervention with tamiflu, he's been coughing and hacking ever since. I came down with it Tuesday, and Mariah followed on Wednesday. Thursday was the low point, though.

Nick actually went to school Thursday morning. He fussed a bit, but I insisted; he'd stayed home three days already, his fever was gone, and the cough seemed manageable. I was feeling human again, so I figured he must be as well.

Mariah stayed home for a second day, but she was feeling a bit better, and when I asked her to put her dishes into the dishwasher after lunch she did it.

Then the phone rang. The school nurse was on the line, saying Nick was coughing too much and couldn't stay in school. Bad parenting moment #1: sending the kid back to school when he's still sick. Sigh.

As I left the house to pick him up, I asked Mariah to fill the dishwasher with soap and close it up.

When I got back with Nick I saw that Mariah had done as I asked, but not started the machine. So I turned the dial to start and went upstairs to do a little work.

Some time later Mark walked into the kitchen to find the floor flooded, covered in soapsuds. Bad parenting moment #2: apparently no one has ever taught Mariah the difference between hand dishwashing liquid and automatic dishwashing detergent. And, yes, Ivory soap in the dishwasher will indeed cover the floor with soapsuds.

Mark and I emptied the dishwasher, mopped the floor, and got everything sorted out. And then I went and took a nap.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Mariah turned 18 in December, which means that she gets to vote tomorrow for the first time. I saw Tom Brokaw say to Jon Stewart the other day that he thought this was perhaps the most significant election in his lifetime, certainly the most significant since 1968--which, if we believe Tom Brokaw, means it's the most significant one in my voting life as well. I'd argue that the 2000 election was perhaps more significant than we knew, but I take his point. We know this one's important.

What's so exciting to me is to see how excited Mariah is. She knows she has a chance to make a difference this year. I've been disillusioned by democracy (or what passes for it) over the years, but her excitement, and that of other young people, is infectious. I'm hopeful. And that's a nice way to be.

Friday, February 08, 2008


Nick has been home all week with the flu. He went to school yesterday, but ended up in the nurse's office after lunch and I went and picked him up. He started on tamiflu Monday, but either it was too late (he'd probably been sick since before the weekend) or his case is just particularly stubborn. (Mariah and I, with fewer symptoms, started on the meds the same day and are much better.) He has a little surge of energy every afternoon that makes us think the next morning will be better--but so far, it hasn't been. Sigh.

Anyway by today we're pretty bored with each other. So I decided it was time to try something new for lunch. We have a new panini press--a Christmas gift, only just unboxed earlier this week--and I figured we could try it out. I suggested tuna melts (cupboard pretty bare) and discovered Nick had never had one.

So we remedied that gap in his education, and it was pretty delicious. Then we were still hungry.

"How about dessert?" I asked. We'd been looking at the cookbook that came with the press, and there were several sweet ones, though none (of course) using ingredients we had in the house. Instead we came up with a potentally Elvis-esque concoction that, while I wouldn't eat it every day, definitely hit the spot: grilled peanut butter-banana-chocolate chip sandwiches. (Well, sandwich: we split one). Two minutes on the grill and it was gooey perfection.

I think the press can stay.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Six More Words

(Cross-posted at Lessons from the Tortoise)

Check out today's New York Times.

Six-Word Memoir Contest!

So I have this contest going on over at the other blog, but it's apparently too hard.* Or not interesting enough. Or something. So here's another, more fun one:

Write your own six-word memoir! That's right, write it right here in the comments, or write it on your own blog and send me a link, and the best one (chosen by my panel of experts here at home) will get a shiny new copy of Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. You can also send your memoirs to the fabulous Six-Word Memoir folks and they will consider them for a second volume--that's right, you, too, could have your six-word memoir published. Come on, you know you want to do it!

Take until next Friday, February 15, to get me your entries. The winner will get a copy of the book direct from the publisher.

*If you read the comments to that post, though, you'll find at least one or two clues to help you along...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Look, over there, shiny things!

I've got a little contest running over at the other blog, and I don't want to leave anyone out. So click over there and see what you think!

(If I can get another copy of the book I'll run another contest soon.)

in stores today...

Six-Word Memoir book preview from SMITHmag on Vimeo.

(I'm on page 60)

Monday, February 04, 2008


...Super Tuesday, I thought I'd share this video. I have been reluctant to choose a candidate in this primary season. All the Democrats are so much better than what we have, I thought maybe I should just wait it out. Virginia doesn't vote until after Super Tuesday anyway; who knows where things will stand next week?

The video may not actually outline policies or argue a case, but it's pretty energizing. And that's really what I need right now.


...the game, we put Nick to bed happy. One of his teachers promised no homework for a week if the Giants won, but I think his support of them went beyond the bribe. What an exciting game! Living in Virginia I don't really have a dog in a NY-NE fight. I have lived longer in New York than in any single New England state, but if I add up my time in the three New England states I've lived in, that probably trumps New I could go either way. I decided to root for the underdog and for goofy Eli over polished Tom.

This morning Nick woke up coughing harder than he had been yesterday--and we'd stayed home from a Superbowl party because of the cough already. So I took him to the doctor and came home with two prescriptions for tamiflu: one for him, and one for Mariah to take prophylactically. The doctor recommended that Mark and I see if we could get it, too, and I called in to my doctor as soon as we got home. I'm already feeling a little achey and I've got a cough going, too.