Archive for December, 2007

The perfect snow

December 27, 2007

The perfect snowfall is something like this:

You tuck yourself into bed and pull the down comforter up around your ears. You fall asleep.

At some point in the night, you awaken briefly. The world is silent, totally silent, that peculiar silence that only comes with a heavy snowfall. You smile to yourself and go back to sleep.

Somewhat later, you awaken. The skies have cleared while you were sleeping, and a full moon is in the sky. The unusual brightness in the windows tells you that everything is white outside. You go back to sleep.

In the morning, you awaken to find the sun shining and the landscape covered in white. It’s pristine–no footprints, no cars moving. The fir branches are drooping with the weight of this heavy magical snow.

You perk and pour a cup of hot coffee, put on parka and boots, and step outside into the magic.

You don’t have to go to work. All day you play in the snow, admiring its the alien landscape. Then you go to bed.

The next morning you wake to find that all the snow is melted and the world is back to normal–no slush, no dirt, no nasties. The snow has come, and it has gone just as quickly.

This is the perfect snowfall. We didn’t get one.

Instead we’ve had 15-20 serious hailstorms in the last couple of days. The ground is white, but it’s white with ice. The road is slippery. The paths are slippery and crunch under your feet.

But the lentil soup (made with leftover prime rib, no less) is simmering on the stove and bread is warming in the oven. Christmas has once again come and gone. We all survived it. It’s a pretty good evening, snow or no snow.

Hope yours is as nice.

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Thoughts on Christmas Eve, and a poem for you

December 24, 2007

Dear Santa,

It’s difficult to ask for something when you already have so much. So I guess the truth of it is, there’s nothing on my Christmas list this year for me.

But for the last four or five weeks, I’ve recycled about 50 pounds of advertisements a week. Despite the fact that I read them thoroughly, I was unable to find the things I’d like to give my friends. So let me instead make a list of things I hope you bring the people I care about. (If you want to broaden the task and give them to other people, too, that’s OK by me.)

I’d like my friends to have the following:

  • A measure of the peace and joy I find in this wonderful place I live. Today is calm and bright, a welcome break from the wind and 15 inches or so of rain we’ve had this month.
  • The luxurious pleasure of living in the moment. There’s something about having the time to listen to birdsong and the rush of water in the river and assorted culverts that’s priceless. Maybe that’s why I can’t find it for sale anywhere.
  • The warmth of a woodstove with lots of dry wood. If it’s a cookstove, so much the better for baking and roasting.
  • Freedom from war. I hope some day someone solves this issue. I seriously doubt it will be in my lifetime, but I can always hope.

I know you’ll come through for me Santa, but in the meantime, I’ll just leave my friends with a gentle reminder that there’s a lot more to Christmas than decorations and presents.

There Are Many Ways to Have a Happy Christmas

For thirty-three winters, the end of December
I’ve placed and trimmed a corner Christmas tree,
A noble fir.  These ornaments remember
Other people, other times, great glee,
Glad tidings of grandchild to come, the warmth
Of laughter, music in the fragrant air,
A yule log blazing brightly at the hearth,
Cedar scented boughs, the candles’ flare.

This December, my corner has only debris
From building a house, not finished, not by far.
The ornaments remain in boxes, and the tree
Has not been cut, stands with others regular
Along the road.  The skies clear, and I see
Above each treetop, God has placed a star.

Merry Christmas to all of you reading this, whether you celebrate it or not.

Hugs, Marianne

(Updated 12/25 with format corrections)

Listen up, magazine publishers

December 22, 2007

OK, this is a rant. I admit it. I’m getting older, crankier, and less tolerant of 1) stupidity, 2) consumerism, and 3) other things that annoy me greatly.

But I have no intention of going gently into the night, so I will rage as it pleases me, and it does occasionally please me very much.

The topic on my mind today is publishing and reading. I’m disturbed by the continuing news that fewer and fewer people actually sit down and read things like books. This has nothing to do with the fact that I write and everything to do with the fact that I think. I want other people to think, too, not just swallow whatever sound bite is being handed out at the moment. And I believe I owe a great deal of my ability to think to the fact that I have been a voracious reader all of my life.

But what’s really bringing on this rant is what I see as a disturbing trend in periodical (magazine AND newspaper) publishing. It seems to me that this trend actually discourages readers at a time when most publications are wracking their brains to figure out how to keep/increase subscribers.

I first noted it with Vanity Fair.  When my subscription was running out, I almost didn’t renew it. The reason was their continuing burying of the table of contents in a rash of photo ads. In one notable issue, the first page of the TOC was on something like page 46!

The really stupid thing about this is that VF’s photo ads are so beautiful that I would probably look at them anyway if they were scattered appropriately throughout the magazine. But having to search for the TOC is so annoying that I almost gave the magazine up.

Then I realized that every issue had at least one article that I was really glad I read, an article that in all likelihood I wouldn’t have seen published elsewhere. So I renewed. But interestingly enough, now I skip those beautiful photo ads and flip through until I find the various TOC pages (they are never adjacent). I dog-ear them, and that’s the end of my attention to the ads.

But now the practice is spreading. Even my beloved New Yorker recently has run several pages of ads before the TOC. At least they keep the multi-page TOC all together. The corker for me was this week’s Sunday NY Times.  In section A (the news section, remember), more than half the pages were devoted to full page advertising. That’s not while I buy the NY Times.

I understand that advertising keeps my prices lower (although $5.00 for a Sunday paper hardly qualifies in my mind as a “bargain”). But I’m also one of those “real readers,” people who actually pay extra money to subscribe to publications that don’t wallow in advertising, publications like The American Scholar, The Hedgehog Review, and Poetry Magazine.

I’m also one of those people who is likely to continue reading and subscribing, at least to publications that don’t annoy me beyond my tolerance level. And it seems to me that publishers are running a real risk of alienating readers who are really the bread-and-butter of their subscription revenues.

Of course this is all driven by the god of Consumerism, the great American religion. But that topic annoys me so much I couldn’t possibly do justice to it here. If you’re still with me this far, I applaud you. I’ll rant separately about consumerism. . .

End of rant. I do feel better now.

Solstice countdown

December 20, 2007

The winter solstice is expecially troublesome in our house. We are far enough north (approx. 44th parallel) that there is a substantial difference in the amount of light we get at different times of the year. It’s wonderful in the summer, when days last til after 10 p.m., but this time of year it’s totally dark by about 4:30.

Ben deals with it better since he learned to start counting down early in December the number of days until the light starts to return. Only a couple of days left now, so we’re all looking forward to the days being much, much longer. I believe it’s about seven minutes a day that the light increases. But psychologically, it feels like much more.

Some people take drugs for sinuses and headaches. I’m not one of them. So far Wii is working equally well, although it may be raising my blood pressure. I’m afraid to check. It’s time to go read the manual and see what those little crowns on the map mean. I think they mean you’ve cleared a galaxy, but if that’s the case, I have to go revisit some places.

But I have 14 stars, and I killed both the stupid mushrooms (goombas, I seem to recall from earlier Mario games?) on Yoshi’s head and finished off the tarantula, so things are going well. Josh is right, the game just keeps getting better and better.

I really enjoy the good Mario games. I like Zelda, too, but there’s a complex puzzle-solving element to those games that my brain just isn’t up to at the moment. Ben is much better at those than I am, and I’ve managed to give him my sinus infection, so he’s not very much in a puzzle-solving mood.

But Mario, at its best, is full of action and concentration. You have to pay attention when the game is teaching you a new skill, because you’re certain to need it very soon. This is the best Mario so far, and I’ll probably wear out the generator playing it.

Dinner in the oven–blackened pork chops baked with stuffing, to which I’ll add mashed potatoes, gravy, and spinach. I know I’m on the mend, because yesterday my appetite came back. I think I lost about five pounds last week (yes! but not my favorite way to do it) because food just didn’t sound good. But yesterday, suddenly, I was hungry again. Makes it easier to cook, too, when you can imagine how luscious something will taste.

When a friend gives you lemons. . .

December 18, 2007

Yup, that’s right, two posts in one evening after an extended absence. But there’s just so much to say, and frankly a lot of it doesn’t seem connected to anything else. Last time I lumped it all together, someone took me to task for being rambling and too wide-ranging. So I’ll split this up.

A long-time friend of ours (Ben’s known him since they were about 7 years old) came to visit for a week or so. We had a great time with Fritz. He lives in a slightly warmer climate, and he has a lemon tree in his yard that produces tons of lemons about nine months of the year. So he brought us a bunch.

Then Brenda took him home, and when she came back, she had a couple hundred more. Then she and Ralph left for several weeks.

As you might have gathered, I hate wasting stuff, so I started to try to figure out what I could do with all of these lemons. I now have 6 half pints of canned lemon juice and ten half pints of canned lemon curd that I’m praying didn’t get so hot in the canning process that the egg yolks got grainy. I’ll probably open one tomorrow just to see.

If canning it didn’t work, I’ll just get some more lemons from Fritz next time we see each other, and next time I’ll just can the juice. Then I can have lemon curd whenever I want.

If you’ve never had lemon curd, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. It’s tart and creamy like custard. It’s terrific for making tarts, or for spreading between the layers of a cake, or for spreading on hot scones or gingerbread or ginger cookies. It’s relatively easy to make. The only tricky part is the cooking temperature. Below 170 degrees it won’t set. Above 180 degrees (all temps Fahrenheit here) it gets grainy rather than smooth. The little fragments of egg yolk in it cook hard like the yolk of a hard-boiled egg.

The other issue was finding the right recipe. There are two kinds of lemons in this world, the really sour ones and the somewhat sweeter ones that we call “lemonade lemons.” Fritz’s lemons are lemonade lemons, and I had to do a couple of test batches adjusting various quantities of things to get the flavor I wanted. But I got it. Now if it just canned OK. It freezes wonderfully well, but it’s tough to have a freezer off the grid.

So, sinus headache and all, I’ve had a relatively busy couple of days. Plus I’m trying to plan and coordinate a “William Stafford birthday party” in January (if your’re not from Oregon, that may not mean much to you–it may not mean much even if you are, come to think of it). Suffice it to say that it’s a poetry celebration. If you really want to know more, go to www.williamstafford.org and click on “Events.”

I’m also trying to get ready to be gone for about 10 days in January. January’s going to be a very busy month. . .

Wii, Wii, Wii, all the way home

December 18, 2007

I’ve been fighting with a sinus infection and bronchitis for about a week now, and I’m tired of it. But interestingly enough, the only thing that seems to completely distract me from the sinus headache is “Super Mario Galaxy.” So the Wii’s been getting some heavy usage.

 I’m just about to tackle the first enemy base, but unfortunately I squandered all of Princess Peach’s second gift of five 1-ups trying to beat the Rocky Road. The scorching odor you can probably smell from wherever you are is the smell of flesh burning up in a black hole, repeatedly.

I love the wireless controllers. They resolve the only problem I’ve ever had with Nintendo games, which was leaping around and tripping over the controller wires. The movement took little getting used to, although I have to say the game threw me a curve in Surfing 101 and I kept trying to steer with the Nunchuk. I finally had to just put it down.

But I find two separate controllers much more user-friendly and ergonomic than the old “classic” style that always seemed to put your shoulders at a somewhat awkward angle, OK for a short time but not so good for extended play.

But I’m hooked. I understand why Wired magazine said, “If you only buy one video game this year, make it ‘Super Mario Galaxy.'” What Ben said was, “If only NASA could get an astronaut into space that easily. . .”

We bought the game quite a bit before Thanksgiving and are just now getting around to playing it. Watching people scramble to find one for their child or children, I guess I should feel a little guilty about depriving some poor kid of his dearest wish.

But I don’t. Kids come in all ages, shapes and sizes. . .

Chilly, and chili (no Chile, or maybe just a little)

December 2, 2007

The subject line I just typed in reminds me of my current recent episode of insanity. Ben and I between us are trying to shore up the U.S. economy with a spate of consumer buying. Here is my most recent excursion, but probably not the last tonight. Later on we’ll be logging into Cabela’s Web site, which is probably going to be very expensive.

A couple of days ago, I ordered the full 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary. I’ve coveted this for years. I have a real fetish for dictionaries, I think, that matches my fetish and focus on words. It’s not a minor purchase. Each time I’ve been on the verge of buying it, I thought, “Well, perhaps next week.”

But right now it’s on sale. I’ve never seen it on sale before. The price is 15% below what I’ve ever seen, and the sale price includes the CD version with full search capacity. I don’t want to be limited to that. I want the print version. But I’m curious to see if they have actually used hyperlinking and other modern innovations to provide more robust capabilities.

I’ll soon know, I guess.

It’s coming by UPS. We have an agreement with UPS to leave packages on the neighbor’s porch, since our gate is always locked. I can’t wait to hear Kenny’s call when he discovers boxes weighing 150 lbs. on his doorstep.

The post office has called nearly every day this week to let me know they have a box “too big for the mailbox.” I really appreciate the heads-up. It lets one of us be down to greet Betty when she arrives instead of having the package sit beside the county road until someone thinks to check the mail.

We awoke this morning to a skiff of snow on the ground. It was lovely. Most of it melted by noon, which is a perfect snow day. What I’d really like is to awake to six inches of snow, go out and play in it, and have it all gone by the end of the day. But that isn’t how things work.

The wind is picking up, as is the rain. So perhaps the promised hurricane is going to materialize too. I took down the doorbell tonight (a hanging clanger powered by a scultured maple leaf) so we wouldn’t have to listen to the wind knocking at the door all night. It will stay down until the storm passes.

So, it was chilly all day. Now I have a big pot of chili on the stove, with cornbread soon to follow in the oven. I’m slowly assembling the topping mix for a batch of olive crostini for tomorrow’s hors d’ouevre potluck at Donna’s house.

The only thing I can tell you about Chile at this moment is how much I love most of the works of Isabel Allende. What a fine writer.

But the chili is a bribe. Ralph’s hooking up the Wii tonight.

Storm watch

December 1, 2007

I can hardly believe I’m about to write about the weather again. The simple fact is, this time of year we get a lot of it.

Whether it’s global warming, 20-year cycles, or other strange phenomena, this forecast is just plain weird. Possibility of snow tonight. We generally get a little each winter, but this seems very early. But it’s Sunday’s forecast that really boggled my mind.

The weather scrutinizers are predicting that the first ever cyclone/hurricane warning is about to be issued for the forest where I live.

It seems the two recent typhoons in Asia have combined to send a monster storm headed right at Oregon–sustained winds in the 90-100 mph range with pelting rains and flooding. So we can anticipate power out, trees down, roads impassable, and other fine stuff. None of this affects us too much (except I’ll probably lose my DSL until they get the emergency generator up and running at the repeater). We’ve always got a couple of weeks worth of food around, plenty of gas for the generator (and chain saws), and today Ben refilled all the firewood racks in various places in and around the house.

Also, I got about nine new books today, a new New Yorker, and two newspapers. I also replenished the wine and Scotch supply, so I think we’re set. We could run a little short on meat and milk, but I’ve plenty of beans, rice, nuts, flour, and yeast, a fair amount of butter and evaporated milk, some fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, and almost all of last summers canned goods, onions, and winter squash.

Let it snow, rain, blast away, I say. With a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, a good book, and hours of indoor stuff that needs doing, it’s probably a good thing.

I’m supposed to go to Portland Monday morning for a series of medical appointments–nothing serious, just the annual routine. It took great effort to get them all booked on the same day, then they had to be changed once, and now this.

So, if the storm materializes, I may just declare myself healthy this year and put all this off a bit longer. I’m very good at that.

Besides, we’ve got three new Wii games that need playing.