Monthly Archives: February 2010

Fashion Bridges Cultures, Staves off Hypothermia

My latest bright idea:

The Down Burqa!

You take the full, Afghan chadri (you know, the kind of burqa that just has a little, net opening to see out of – basically, a tent that your feet stick out the bottom of), and you make it out of the same puffy, down-filled, water-repellent nylon they use for parkas & sleeping bags. Then you line it with thinsulate.

Mmm… toasty! I think it could really catch on. Warmth & concealment (either for devotional or bad-hair purposes) in one tidy package.

The Midwest meets the Middle East.

Hockey mom meets… Imam?

We could make them in all kinds of colors & get L.L. Bean to offer monogramming.

 Start corralling investors. I’ll fire up the sewing machine.

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Temptation in the Garden (Catalog)

It’s that time again. Time to trip merrily out to the mailbox each morning, knowing that what awaits you there is sure to herald hours of happy plant-coveting. Yes, the seed catalogs are coming thick and fast, to tempt us with hypothetically bountiful harvests & flower gardens so full of color and light as to make Martha Stewart herself run cowering to the garden center.

It is possible that receiving the catalogs in the mail is the best part of gardening. None of the plants shown in the glossy photos suffer from wilt or aphids or the dreaded suburban affliction of not-really-enough-sun-but-I-thought-I’d-try-it-anyway.They gleam up at you full of hope and beauty and fail utterly to remind you of the hours of digging and weeding to which you commit yourself. Anticipation is a reliable delight.

But if you actually want to know what you’re getting into, I recommend Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer . It will pretty much tell you everything you need to know about everything. (Though I, personally, feel that double-digging is overkill.)

The Garden Primer has been the go-to book for both home gardeners and garden professionals since it came out in 1988. In ’08 Damrosch updated & expanded the book to advise and explain completely organic gardening. And if that wasn’t enough: I know a former garden designer who still refers to TGP as “The Bible.” What’s really telling? She’s married to the rector of our Episcopal church.

Now, if what you want is to escape the grey and barren scene outside your window and thoroughly delude yourself with visions of garden grandeur, you need The Power of Gardens, by Nancy Goslee Power . Power is a renowned landscape architect and suits her designs to their site in ways that are profoundly calming and inspirational. Most of us are not ever going to attempt anything approaching this sort of thing, but I defy you to put the book down without a few ideas for your own little corner of the natural world.

Now comes the fun part: A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed, by James Fenton . This tiny little book is the key to garden liberation. You think you might have a black thumb? You just cannot be bothered to slog around your plot of land, wasting the precious summer days messing with twine and hoes? (Oh, look – a sort of gardening double entendre…  I didn’t know it could be done). For the completely carefree garden, follow my advice – read this book. Buy packets of the seeds you like (and that suit your site), and fling the seed about. You’ll get flowers, and for the price of however many packets of $1.50 seed you choose to buy, you’ll learn what grows easily in which parts of your garden & really never have to do a damn thing. You can experiment, or keep going next year with your successes. You can’t have too many expectations with this method, but it’s fun and interesting and undeniably easy.

 The really fun part? You can also practice this form of “gardening” in public spaces – parks, roadsides, cracks in the sidewalk… Think of it as your very own stealth urban beautification project. Or, possibly: Subversive Gardening

I will never tell.

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You Take the Flotsam, or: Books to Shiver With

Perversely, when it’s very cold, I tend to want to read about places that are even colder. I think this has to do with my extreme unfitness for cold-climate living. I love the way snow looks. I love throwing snowballs for the dog. But I’m a candidate for hypothermia after about 10 minutes of shoveling the driveway. It’s pathetic, really – remember the movie, Titanic? Remember that scene where Leonardo DiCaprio lets Kate Winslet have sole possession of the floating piece of ship’s timber? Right then, I turned to my date in the darkened theatre to whisper fondly, “Honey, if we’re ever in a cold water shipwreck, I’ll be dead the minute I land in the drink. You take the flotsam.”

So, as a result of my morbid fascination with cold-weather adventure: a list of books to chill the blood, in no particular order.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. I have to admit, I read this for the first time as an adult. I loved George’s My Side of the Mountain so much when I was a child that I would have happily run away to go live in a tree in the Catskills. I am glad to have finally read Julie. I think adults ought to read it – even if it is for a second time. The issue of aerial wolf hunts certainly has not gone away, nor have the clash and combination of native and western culture. 

Julie of the Wolves is an enriching read for so many reasons – its detailed descriptions of animal behavior, its treatment of human difficulties in bridging traditions, and for the harrowing adventure of a girl – and her wolves – on the tundra.

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge is a touching, raw take on Scott’s final Antarctic expedition. Bainbridge’s vividly imagined view of the inner lives of each of the expedition members makes the reader feel right there with them. It is a shatteringly creepy and deeply human story.

Antarctica 2041 Adventurer/environmentalist Robert Swann sets out to tell us about his quest to save Antarctica from the pillaging he imagines will erupt when the International Antarctic Treaty (which, among other things, says that Antarctica doesn’t belong to anyone in particular and therefore nobody better go mining it or dumping lots of stuff there or committing various other atrocities) comes up for review. What he mostly does, though, is show us why he fell in love with the continent, and what a cruelly beautiful and undeniably important place it is.

Lots of hair-raising adventure is in the mix, as Swann makes it to various polar regions (north and south) before he really knows what he’s doing – boy, does he learn some things along the way… And so will the reader, while gasping at the perils that anybody there at the ends of the world encounters every day.

So there you are – three excellent excuses to get out the hot cocoa, spike it with a good splash of rum, and settle down to be grateful for the wonders of central heat.

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Books Make the Man

I have observed a trend.

[Please Note: these observations do not reflect the opinion of anyone else at the book shop. We’re not all big meanies; it’s just me.]

Maybe it’s more of a correlation. It’s weird. It does not happen one-hundred percent of the time, but enough to make me wonder what the heck is going on.

The pattern goes like this: 

Somebody comes in to pick up a special order. They have ordered The Anarchist’s Cookbook, maybe – or The Monkey Wrench Gang. This person will chat with us at the counter if we are not busy, about things like the weather, how local sports teams are doing, the school play, or what sort of year we think it will be for tomatoes. Then they pay for their book and leave.

Somebody else comes in. They are picking up Global Warming and Why It Is a Big Lie or How the Left Is Keeping Everyone from Having Any Fun at All. This person wants to tell you all about how global warming doesn’t exist. In detail. These are not tinfoil-hat-wearing fanatics. These are nice people who I know (sort of) and whose families I really like. They are good customers. But under these circumstances they somehow morph into the Jehovah’s Witnesses of pseudo-science.

Again, the guy buying Growing Hemp for Fun & Profit asks how your mom is doing and then goes on his way. But A Bold Fresh Piece of What-have-you wants to instruct me on the fine points of how we’d be better off turning the entire state of Alaska into one big oil well.

I don’t get this at all. I’m not trying to say that there aren’t good people and annoying ones on both sides of just about every question –environmental and otherwise-  this is just my observation. And all I can say is it’s weird.

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In These Shoes?

We’ve had a lot of snow this year.

As a result, my already backward fashion sense has sunk to new lows. I have discovered that I can wear four layers of clothing to work and be perfectly comfortable. “Aren’t you cold?” ask my shivering colleagues. “No, and I’m not this fat, either.”

My wardrobe consists of tall, fleece-lined boots that come up over my knees, leggings, high-tech thermal undie tops, wool skirts, turtlenecks and cardigans. I wear all of this simultaneously and am probably impervious to bullets.

Happily, because I live and work in old, slightly damp buildings, I am static-free. If I went somewhere chic (or at least, more water-tight), I could electrocute people with a simple dance move. Even the most cursory ear-scritch would enable me to affix house pets to the ceiling. Please, someone, take me somewhere with deep-pile carpeting so we can try this out! In the name of science, I beg you.

In the spring, it will look as though I am successfully dieting, as I gradually shed layers.

But for now, my look is on the cutting edge – of the ice planet Hoth.

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Mercifully Glueless

Yesterday we had a very successful children’s event with Olivia the Pig (from Ian Falconer’s popular storybooks as a costumed character. If you think you may encounter Olivia yourself some time in the future, know this: Her ears are huge. Seriously, she has an ear-span of at least three-and-a-half feet and inadvertently swept pictures from the walls, got stuck in doorways, and had a near miss with a fluorescent light fixture, prompting one of our vegetarian employees to predict: “mmm… bacon.”

The kids really liked her. There were one or two who felt overwhelmed by her looming presence, but she was pretty popular. The young’uns made a book mark craft & ate pizza & heard stories and went home happy. All 50 or 60 of them.

I am still recovering. Literally – stomach flu has been going around the lower grades this week and you guessed it, I got it. I’d planned all sorts of projects for today, but this is probably the only one I’ll get to.

On the up side – the craft portion of yesterday’s festivities left our basement-level event space blessedly free of glue. Self-adhesive stickers are a wonderful thing. I often ask Suzanne (who does all of the hands-on stuff involved with our events for children, because she is a saint), how she manages not to wind up in a veritable pool of glue and paint and uncooked macaroni by the time a craft-event is over. Why don’t we just cover the kids in glue as soon as they walk  in the door & then roll them in glitter? You get the same effect. It’d be a real time saver.

This time there was no glue or glitter, and though today I am drained and wan, there are no sparkly bits stuck in my hair. That’s so nice.

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‘I Don’t Care About Your Band’ & Other Valentine’s Day Diversions

Anybody want to know what to read this weekend? As V-day is shortly to be upon us, I have some matters-of-the-heart-themed suggestions.

 I Don’t Care About Your Band by Julie Klausner  is now available in paperback. Her story of the misadventures that pave the road to love are funny and raunchy and horrifying – and ultimately encouraging, no matter what your goals in the area of romance.

What I said to myself as I read, between snorts of laughter:

“I am so glad I am not the only one!”

“No way! Really???”

“BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” (That’s a prolonged snort, in case you were wondering).


“BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!” (more snorting).


“BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!” (You get the idea).

It’s not for the faint of heart, but then neither is dating.

For more profound kind of stuff, try: The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson (a perennial favorite that I never seem to shut up about).

You’d like a wry take on the love story? Leaven of Malice, by Robertson Davies is delightful. A review from its first publication: This title is sometimes easier to find bound with its companions as The Salterton Trilogy.

For beach-book fun: The Wilde Women, by Paula Wall. It looks like it should be a panting, heaving sort of thing, but isn’t. It is, however, funny and smart. Her first book, The Rock Orchard, is good fun too.

Genuine Romance with petticoats and everything: You want steamy? Julia Quinn is your go-to girl.  Her historical romances are steam, couched in manners, with some laughs. They follow the traditional formula for these things, but my homemade brownies follow a traditional formula too. I really can’t call that a flaw.

So, there you are – reading material for the weekend. Stock up on the chocolate and you’re good to go.

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Angels Are the New Vampires… and Illuminati… and Possibly Zombies

I’ve just finished Angelology by Danielle Trussoni and I am very pleasantly surprised. I’m not usually a thriller kind of girl. This intricately imagined novel is plain good fun. Part fantasy, part spy-intrigue and part treasure hunt, it includes a taxonomy of angels (the fallen ones, who are fearsome and generally up to no good), and a life-and-death scavenger hunt through – Oh, I so want to tell you! But it would spoil it.

In case you are dreading one of those hackneyed Epic-Battle-Between-Good-and-Evil books, it’s not one. Sure, there are forces of darkness at work, but Trussoni’s characters are well crafted enough to be people, not just heroes.

The settings are lush with detail, the plot is faster than a speeding locomotive, and though I was thoroughly prepared to dismiss this book as a sort of low-rent Da Vinci Code, I was enthralled.

It’s not Great Art, it’s not Profound Literature – it is the best way to beguile an evening, or a plane ride — so much so, that you feel indignant when you look up and discover that it is 4 a.m. or that the airplane has landed and you must now stop reading and get off.

It comes out March 9th. Run out and buy a case or two for all your friends.

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Squirrel on a Wire

I work in a very old building, at least by American standards. It’s pre-civil war. There was a catastrophic fire in our little town long, long ago, and a local philanthropist offered to (if I have this right) Roof People’s Houses For Free. I guess a big risk-factor for burning down at the time was roofing shingles. I know beans about the history of roofs, so I’m thinking maybe they were wood or tar paper. There’s a lot of slate around here though… Anyway, Philanthropist Guy offered clay tile roofs – the fireproof wave of the future – for next to nothing.

Which is why the building I work in has a tile roof.  Otherwise known as: Squirrel Condos.

I really like the squirrels, and don’t mind them (or the birds) living up there at all. I’m inside, they’re outside; all is just ducky.

Because this is a suburban environment, there are various electrical, phone & cable wires strung from the tops of structures to a number of telephone poles. In a marvelous example of adaptive behavior, the squirrels have made the one outside my window their super-highway.

Even this one squirrel who’s missing part of his tail gets around up there. If you’re a city dweller, you might wonder what animals have tails for. I’ll tell you: balance. So Stubby is like the weaving drunk who you think you should help cross the street, but maybe he’s ok on his own… nope: going over… no, he’s got it… maybe… whew, he’s across.

Squirrel has his day all planned out. He has regular errands, and lurches madly across the wire outside my window about once an hour. If he chimed, you could call him a grandfather squirrel. And though I have entertained notions of going outside with a catcher’s mitt on occasion Just in Case, so far he has performed his high-wire antics admirably.

 I love nature.

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Capitol of the Underworld Relocates to Middle School Cafeteria

Sometimes we sell books at schools in conjunction with an author’s visit. I like middle schoolers, and it’s always heartening to see young people excited about a book.

But this time, we were in the cafeteria.

During lunch.

People are supposed to eat here?

I’m not saying the kids should have white glove table service, but could it maybe not be so loud that you want to put your head through a wall? I could barely hear myself speak. I couldn’t hear other people at all. I thought I might be having some kind of PTSD flashback. It’s not that the kids need to keep it down, either – they have to shout just to let the lunch lady know what to slop on their tray.

Note to schools: If you build a room entirely out of linoleum and cinderblocks, it is going to be miserably loud and echo-y, no matter how much stained acoustic tile is on the ceiling. Pack 200 twelve-year-olds in there – you can close your eyes and pretend you’re visiting Milton’s Pandemonium.

Besides that, lunch for the 6th graders happens at 10:06. Their school day starts at 7:15. Dairy farmers and coal miners have a more civilized schedule. I have a great idea: let’s start the school day the night before! We’ll solve the problems of tardiness & juvenile homelessness in one go. And let’s face it, a lot of kids sleep through classes anyway, so what’s the difference?

Next time: Earplugs. I still won’t be able to hear, but I’ll get to skip this nasty, ringing sensation I’ve got right now.


Bonus Nerdy Lit. break for today:

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