Monday, November 24, 2008

Living Room Elephant

I wonder how the next two years will go in terms of world finance and world resources. I feel quite inadequate to the task of making any sort of educated guess. Around this time last year I thought that we were entering a time when resources would be strained but I didn't realize how kablooey the finance world could go. I thought there would be an adjustment but that those people who make the millions would just go on making them. Apparently not.

Have you read this amazing article by Michael Lewis, the author of Liars' Poker (a book about Wall Street in the 1980s which is moderately famous but which I have not read)? The article made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It's very educational; I now have a tiny bit more grasp on what imaginary things were being traded that went ffft. The slight ham-handedness of the writing clearly communicates the writer's sense of urgency. It seems that it was a good thing that the house of cards came down, simply for the sake of honesty. But it remains to be seen what'll go up in its place.

Now I try to have an open mind and a somewhat optimistic outlook. With young kids I can't afford not to be optimistic. I must believe that our lives will go on fairly unimpeded and that they will have a chance at abundance in their lives. But I wonder how the next two years will go. When I'm thinking apocalyptically I wonder if we should move my mother out here because at rock bottom, Kansas has water and grows things and NM doesn't so much.

Back to the vicinity of my navel, the 7 y.o. birthday party went well. My show of false confidence about not spending the morning before the party in frantic housework was shot down. But it wasn't as frantic as we have been before. The cake was delicious. So lemony good that I think I will post the recipe. The Totoro poster I drew (for pin-the-umbrella-on Totoro game) came out so cute! Katy wanted to color it in immediately but I fought her to a compromise: she colored the background before the party and colored Totoro in after the party. As a one and two year old, Katy used to ask Nod and I to draw things for her. Like a bird or a person. Then she would carefully scribble over every line of the parental drawing. She wasn't satisfied until it was completely obliterated. This seemed very satisfying to her and was very annoying to us.

The gang of girls played so well together that we even skipped the present-opening. Katy unwrapped them when there were just two guests left and that was much more okay with me. She got a lot of loot and will be cranking out the thank you cards this week.

Lexi's school took photos today. We'll see how this year's come out. It is always a surprise. Katy's retakes were better so we bought one of the smaller packages. I hope they come in the next week or so. We have to get out and take our family photo this week. I have been meaning to do it but it's the last week of November already. Ack! I have to insist upon the photo-ing. Nod is so appalled at his appearance that he would never do it on his own. But I really like having something to send to everybody. We hardly ever see our old friends. At least we can show them what we look like once a year. I got out the new camera to take pictures at Katy's party and discovered that it had no power left. So I whipped out the old one (held together with duct tape*) and that worked. I need to find the recharger for the new one today. I have a feeling that I put it somewhere "smart" and that it will take me a long time to find it. Curses!

*I dropped the old camera on the floor of Walgreens last August when I was trying to download its pictures and get prints ordered. I dropped the camera and cracked the battery door (this is why it needs the duct tape to hold it closed now) and said JESUS CHRIST! in front of a bunch of people. I was in a hurry and tightly wound because it was the last day I could get the pictures printed so I could overnight them to get to my Dad on his birthday last year. I got them there. And he died ten days later. I am glad I was able to get them in his hands. I couldn't do much for him or for my mother but at least he got my birthday card and got to see the latest pictures of some grandkids before he died.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bang Bang !!

I have been unable to find any decent or even amusing photos of actress Nancy Kulp playing bank secretary Miss Jane Hathaway in The Beverly Hillbillies. How sad. Here is the best bio I've found. As a kid watching reruns I found her character riveting and terrifying. Maybe I thought that her bluestocking peppiness was pretty close to what I could expect to grow into? And since she was merely a figure of fun (I had forgotten until reading the bio that Hathaway was permanently infatuated with Jethro) it was appalling to contemplate. I think I had a haircut earlier this year that brought my physical resemblance a little too close for comfort. Anyway, I miss her well-bred braying voice. Even if I don't want to look like her.

My hair's growing out now, not really by design. I just keep waiting to get it cut. And I keep finding ways to style it (my never before revealed secret is -- hairspray!) as it gets longer. So I can wait longer! I may try to get it cut after Thanksgiving but who knows if hair people are working then. I went to the discount cutters with my youngest daughter in September. And I've cut both of our bangs since then. But economizing can only go so far. I'll need these layers sorted out by a real stylist.

For the upcoming feasting I'm going to try Smitten Kitchen's pumpkin pie recipe. Well it started life as the Cook's Illustrated recipe, but she's my source. It uses some canned sweet yams in addition to the pumpkin. And I'm going to try CI's vodka crust since decent pie crust continues to elude me.

But first! We're in mid-birthday thrash right now. I made pumpkin muffins last night and iced the number 7 on them this morning for Katy's school treat. I will be baking her birthday cake tonight and icing it tomorrow. Lightning Cake from Joy of Cooking with lemon frosting. Tonight I'd better draw the big Totoro with umbrella image for her pin-the-tail-on game. And cleaning tomorrow. But Nod's been helping with the planning and at least the prep for the cleaning. So I feel supported and like we will not be spending 6 hours straight on housework before the party. We shall see if that's false optimism. Last night I found the mop! and a bucket! I shall be flinging bleach water around and doing a quick scrub on the important spots. Oh it is a suboptimal existence in terms of cleanliness in our house, yall. I went downtown and shopped for a silver necklace for Katy today. I found something with a nice pendant but realized that the chain is just steel. We'll see if I have time to worry about that before Sunday.

A friend reports that every movie he watches lately has diamond thieves in it. That's a pretty weird syndrome but I bet my husband wishes he were infected. Nod loves a heist movie. I'm not against them but I like more variety. Every movie I've been watching lately has been renewed from the library (Harold Lloyd shorts and Disney Princess Singalong which wasn't nearly as awful as I feared). I am pretty much in love with Harold Lloyd at the moment. Such a smile, and so boingy and usually playing a scrappy schmo. And he had only a hand and a half!

I must be feeling enthusiastic my exclamation point count is way up today. Have a good pre-turkey weekend.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bake and bake again

Here is my banana bread recipe. So you can make it and go to parties and people will rave about it. It's the old recipe my mother has always used with just a few changes. (In brief my changes are: a little less butter, a little more banana and sour cream, cook at 345.)

Banana Bread from the American Heritage Cookbook. [With adjustments by Nimble]

1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour [1 cup a.p. flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour]
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick)butter [6 T]
1 cup sugar [less]
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grated rind of half a lemon [why not zest the whole lemon esp. if it's small?]
3/4 cup mashed ripe banana [2 large bananas mashed]
2 Tablespoons sour cream [3 T]
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. [I whisk.] Work butter until soft (you can use half butter half margarine says my Mom but I don't) and cream in sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, add vanilla, lemon rind and bananas. Stir in flour mixture alternately with sour cream. Last of all mix in nuts if using. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 for one hour or until a toothpick tested in the center comes out dry. Remove from pan and cook on a rack. Cut in thin slices to serve.

[I bake this in a glass loaf pan and it tends to get too dark on the outside at 350 so I bake at 345 for an hour and that is perfect. Nod doesn't like nuts so I don't usually include them. But if you're a nutter, pecans are wonderful in this.]

Now when I was a child my mother would make this recipe and then spread butter on a slice before she ate it. Butter cake with some butter on top. She is eating less butter these days; I find I'm a little disappointed in her.

My eldest daugher's birthday is this weekend. I will be baking pumpkin muffins for her class on Friday (with frosting 7s!). Then it's time to bake her birthday cake for the party on Saturday. If only I could delegate the rest of the party tasks I would be perfectly happy doing the baking part.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Words and Change

Word intoxication. It's something I have from time to time. Somtimes I have phrases that go through my head over and over, like songs. And I try to notice really surprising or pleasing word combinations in whatever I'm reading. I read the blog of a mom of 4, an expat American who married a Swede and has lived in Sweden for at least ten years now. I feel shy about linking to her for some reason but what you should know is that her url contains "revelry" and "Beverly". It's always fun to type that. Stephen Fry is back on the blog horse and has a recent post about choosing to celebrate language instead of correcting or mocking misuses. Fry's post is frothy and wordy and long and too short for me all at once.

Coming down to earth with a bump, I spoke with my mother last night about getting our households in the same state. Her investments have plummeted in value and she's thinking about downsizing and wants to be closer to me and the grandkids without having to travel each time. We have talked about her moving here. I found it very depressing. In my imagination it seemed that she would be giving up her network and the cool place that she lives for my drab reality. But imagining us relocating to ABQ isn't a piece of cake for me either. We made a plan to make a plan in the spring. I've been talking with Nod about that too. If things are not looking up for us by the end of spring semester (the university workplace and the kids' school year have taken over my timekeeping) then we need to be finding a new way to be. And maybe a new place.

Part of me wants to feel the exhilaration of escape at these thoughts. Get on the roller coaster of change and just ride it. But this time around, I'm not a child moving with my family. Nor yet a young adult risking only my own well-being if I pull up stakes and start again elsewhere. This time I must take the time to draw up the pros and cons and make informed decisions. I have to be the conscious decision maker, not the tag along. Like most things lately, it makes me feel tired. I'll have to see how that goes.

I'm sad now, I'm sorry I got started with all that. Better to tweedle along on the brain amusements level. Oh I do have some cheerful news once I lift my chin up off my shoe. Collectively my family went to three parties last Saturday. I went to two of them and I spoke with other adults and felt sociable. Nod stayed home so I could go to the Obama party in the evening. He was a little sick as well as not the Democrat voter in the house. The kids came with me, it was at a friend's house so they all watched 101 Dalmations and stayed up late. We grownups noshed and chatted about campus doings and kids and banana bread. I had a glass of very nice champagne and did I mention that everyone loved my banana bread? I guess it really didn't get any more exciting than that but it seemed like a sophisticated whirl to me. I made an effort and spoke with people and accepted their conversational friendliness. And I did not feel like a lump on a bump. Thank goodness. It's been so long I wasn't sure I still had it in me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

In a theater near you!

I have been remiss. I have neglected to check the progress of artist and animator Nina Paley’s film Sita Sings the Blues. And it’s playing at film festivals in the UK and North Carolina right now! And in San Fran next week! So here’s the skinny:

UK: Flip Animation Festival, Nov. 7 at 6:00pm

UK: Leeds International Film Festival, showing Nov. 8 at 19:15

NC: Asheville Film Festival, Asheville NC, showing Nov. 8 at 5:00pm

Opening night of the San Francisco International Film Festival

7:00 and 9:15pm at the Embarcadero Center

And of course there’s more information on her website and more festivals in Russia, Florida, Canada, the Netherlands, whew.

It sounds like she’s broke and in debt and can’t make any money with this thing. Which is really sad since it’s getting such great reviews and I want to watch it! Why can’t I pay $8.50 for a ticket right now?! She sounds like a really prickly person and I wonder if that’s why she’s been unable to find a film co. to back her. But I know zip about how that would work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Done with that

I am a happy person post-election. I am relieved that large numbers of voters managed to vote without major screw ups and without major conspiracy rumors. I am relieved that the result was so decisive. It was over so early I even got to hear McCain's concession before I went to bed. And he gave the most gracious speech I have ever heard. It was spare, sincere and encouraging. He moved me and I wish him very well.

Whew. Onward! I am proud to be a part of this country.

Here's another American blogger mom with a similar response.

God and Country

11/4/08 I have been reading about Thailand in one of my periodic attempts to widen the circle of my attention beyond my navel. A few months ago I read a Wall Street Journal article about Thai politics that surprised me by revealing the vastness of my ignorance. In particular I was shocked to hear that they had undergone a coup d’etat in 2006. Did you hear about it? It seems to have been a fairly nonviolent takeover by the military with the king’s tacit approval. The deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is summed up pretty much by the WSJ as a swindling millionaire (billionaire?). His anointed successor (Samak Sundaravej, also known for his feisty TV cooking show, now that’s some entertaining politics) was recently ousted as well. I am not actually able to give you a prĂ©cis of recent Thai political history but perhaps with more practice I can get the particulars under control. I encourage you to do your own reading. I am interested in Burma as well, I hope that that country’s government will change for the better in my lifetime. But history doesn’t make one hopeful.

I’m not looking at election results because it feels like watching the pot before it boils. I will occupy myself with useful tasks until it is time to check on that. God Bless America!

Oh and speaking of my uncharacteristically capitalized use of the deity, I am toying with the idea of episcopalianism. I was a strange child and enjoyed the nominally non-denominational chapel sessions (were they daily? maybe weekly?) led by Principal Father Cranston in my school in Rhode Island. (I loved him, he wore black with a priest’s collar and had a naturally occurring tonsure. He had beautiful hazel eyes and jowls and a growly voice with precise diction. I wish I could remember if his accent was high Boston or actually English. Maybe my mother would remember...) I learned then to say the Paternoster with ‘trespasses’ which results in lots of hissing among the congregation and is much more dangerous sounding than ‘debts’ (recent economic events aside). It was Episcopalian Lite probably with a few hymns, the pledge of allegiance and a brief address by our principal. I admire the Anglican church calendar, the cyclical and celebratory nature appeals to me.

A few months ago I had a moment of conviction that I could join a Christian church in the spirit of appreciating my cultural heritage without giving up my atheism. Sadly, that mental path of self-justification now eludes me. Should have taken notes! I’m still trying to figure out where my desire for spiritual ritual and community participation and choir contrasted with my lack of belief in the stated tenets of the church leave me. There is an Episcopalian church near us in town. The Unitarians are geographically inconvenient and they annoy Nod with their pacifism so we haven’t jumped in there. I went to a Unity Church service and a sing and found them too new agey for me. Advent is nearly upon us. If I perform further church experiments I will report my results.

Oh and another Christ-related note. Last Sunday, the day after staying up late and inhaling much sugar on Halloween, the children were (not surprisingly) extra squabbly. (I might also have been a little irritable myself, but who asked you?) I heard Lexi say “If you’re mean to me then I will be mean to you!” I got their attention and told them that Jesus said that if someone hits your face to turn the other cheek so they could hit that. The girls clearly couldn’t believe it. I told them that it’s very hard even for adults to respond to meanness with kindness but that’s what I wanted them to practice. Then I felt a little pompous. At least it distracted them.

And speaking of values… During my Thai reading today I came across a blog post in English. The writer mentions the Buddhist values that Thais can concentrate on during their uncertain political time. That was new for me, I liked it. I read another of her posts and learned that other ethnic and religious groups in Thailand are ignored in favor of the official national Buddhist identity. And that there is a stereotype that Thais in general look down on neighboring southeast Asian countries because they were colonized by European powers while Thailand wasn’t. Like I said, much to learn.