sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

January 31, 2011

winter visitors, incandescent gas, & sing out strong
posted by soe 2:54 am

No, it’s not Thursday. But I’m just not feeling up to a post that requires paragraphs. Instead you get three beautiful things from my trip to Annapolis today where I went seeking a large body of water:

1. The Chesapeake Bay is one of the winter homes to tundra swans. At the waterfront playground where I eventually ended up, a bevy (yes, that’s really the right word) of them were swimming nearby, mingling with mallards and gulls. Their trumpeting was impressive, but not as much as the crackling sound their wings made as they took off from the water.

2. It was clear today for the first time in ages, giving me a perfect view of the sun, a glowing neon red orb in the ice blue sky, setting over the horizon.

3. My car is now 17 years old and is feeling its age a bit, but its original, factory-installed stereo still works well enough that when I turned the volume up to sing along at the top of my lungs with John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” I could drown myself out. The radio didn’t conk out the entire trip, letting me get through both of my favorite sing-along playlists and partway through the cd Dad made me last year.

What was beautiful in your weekend?

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January 27, 2011

sunday ballad, laser snow, and unhealthy eating
posted by soe 10:05 pm

Three beautiful things from my week past:

1. Sunday morning’s performers at the farmers’ market were two young women. One sang a cappella the ballad of Lord Bateman/Beichan while the other operated a device I don’t know the name of (although my friend Michael is guessing it could be an old-fashioned diorama). It was a wooden box with an illustrated parchment scroll inside caught between two rollers. Each roller had a handle that stuck through the box and the girl turned them to create a panorama visual accompaniment to the story. Both the artwork and the girl’s (Elizabeth’s) voice each would have been stunning on their own, but in concert they created an extraordinary vacuum of art that sucked their audience right out of their everyday world. (ETA: The women’s names are Anna & Elizabeth, they call their device a “crankie,” and apparently they had a show that night that I totally missed, which is a serious shame.)

2. D.C. was hit with a snowstorm yesterday that arrived fast and furious, dumping snow so fast that plows couldn’t keep up with it. Although my office let us go early, I ended up staying late to catch up on some things, emerging at the height of the storm. Walking to the Metro, anytime I passed under lights, the snow pouring down looked like lasers flickering in an ’80s movie.

3. Those of you who know me will be horrified to know that when Rudi isn’t around, I eat even worse than he does when he’s here to cook. Although I am getting some nutrition from the lentil stew he made for me before he left for Colorado, I have also indulged in Eskimo cookies, a Fluffernutter panini, and sweet potato chips. Luckily, he’ll only be gone for a week and then I’ll be back to eating regular meals.

What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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January 26, 2011

over and over and over again
posted by soe 12:45 am

Blatantly stolen from Amanda and then modified to present fewer titles, my top 15 movies I can watch over and over again:

  1. The Thin Man (always on my iPod for emergency airplane viewing)
  2. The Princess Bride (my default sick day movie)
  3. White Christmas (probably my favorite Christmas movie)
  4. Benny and Joon
  5. The Breakfast Club
  6. The Muppet Movie
  7. The Wizard of Oz
  8. The Sound of Music
  9. Anne of Green Gables
  10. The Philadelphia Story
  11. Mary Poppins
  12. Pride and Prejudice
  13. Beauty and the Beast
  14. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  15. The Harry Potter series (I know! I redid the rules and then totally cheated on them with these last two entries!)

What would be on your list?

Category: arts. There is/are 5 Comments.

January 25, 2011

what’s in a name 4
posted by soe 1:48 am

I’m going to join another reading challenge. The eclectic ones tend to appeal to me most:

Between January 1 and December 31, 2011, read one book in each of the following categories:

1. A book with a number in the title
2. A book with jewelry or a gem in the title
3. A book with a size in the title
4. A book with travel or movement in the title
5. A book with evil in the title
6. A book with a life stage in the title

I’m currently reading The Magnificent 12: The Call, so I’ll be counting that toward the first challenge. I’m thinking Diamond Ruby for #2 and I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President for #5.

I wonder if The Odyssey would count for #4…

Suggestions for titles you like that fit into these categories are always welcome.

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January 24, 2011

cooking for two
posted by soe 2:07 am

NOTE: Karen, Amani, and anyone else who’s a little squeamish about food practices might not want to read this post.

SECOND NOTE: This would not be my methodology if there was company coming over, so please don’t be scared, Sarah.

I’ve been meaning to make lasagna for a while. It’s one of the few dishes I’m any good at cooking.

Step 1: Assemble ingredients.

    Ingredient 1: Lasagna noodles. Is there an open box? Yes! In the cabinet. Let’s see. Three and a third noodles will not get us very far. I know I bought two boxes before the tree-trimming party that we ended up not using. Where would those be? Okay, here’s one of them. [The second will not be noticed for several more hours, despite its equally obvious location.]

    Ingredient 2: Sauce. I bought a jar of baking sauce back in the fall. Yep, here it is on the floor. Maybe I’d better rinse the dust off it before I open it…

    Ingredient 3: Ricotta. Hmmm… I stopped Rudi from throwing it out last week. I hope it’s still good. Maybe I’d better check before I open the jar of sauce. Good, it hasn’t been opened before. Nothing growing on it. Bodes well. It doesn’t smell funky. Should I taste it before I look for the mozzarella? Nah, it’ll be fine…

    Ingredient 4: Mozzarella. Let’s see. Here’s the store-bought stuff we bought last winter. Best by … February 2010. It looks fine. Let’s open it up and get a closer look. Smells fine. A little rubbery, but it was supposed to be a dry one to begin with. I guess this I’d better taste. Bland, but that’s storebought cheese for you. Where’s the farmers’ market mozzarella? Okay, here it is. Hmmm… Did it dissolve into yogurt-like goo? Ah, no, that’s just the accumulated water and whey. Dump out the liquid. Oh! It’s little mozzarella balls! Rinse. Rinse. Rinse. Rinse. Is that enough? Rinse. I’d better taste these, too. Hmmm… A little … sharp … but I don’t think I’d call them bad.

Step 2: Arrange ingredients in layers until the pan is full.

    Noodles. Ricotta. Sauce. Storebought mozzarella. Noodles. Ricotta. Hmmm… It smells a little strong. Should I have tasted it before we started? Nah. Well … maybe. Okay, fine. I’ll taste it now. That’s … well, I can definitely see why Rudi had to burp the container. Good thing I didn’t wait any longer to make this. Is it still good? Well, I don’t think I’d call it bad. I wish Rudi were here to taste it and tell me. He’s so much better at this. Oh, for Christ’s sake. Either you’d eat it or you wouldn’t. Fine. It’s fine. Sauce. Storebought mozzarella. Noodles. Ricotta. Sauce. Farmers’ market mozzarella.

Step 3: Cook. Either set a timer or plan to make adjustments when a major event, such as Rudi’s arrival home, pulls you out of your book. Cheat on the cooking process by getting him to take the tin foil off the top.

Step 4: Warn your partner that the dinner you’re serving at 11:30 at night might be total crap. If it is, you reassure him, there’s more bread and you can just chuck the lasagna out.

Step 5: Serve with garlic toast. It tastes fine (although apparently as mozzarella ages it gets less melty), and Rudi goes back for a second piece. Score!

Step 6: Do not get sick. This is proof positive that there is nothing wrong with your methodology.

Epilogue: I wanted to fact-check for this post, so I checked the sell-by dates on the farmers’ market cheeses. The ricotta had a sell-by date of mid-November and the mozzarella was the end of October. So they were fine, really. Really.

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January 23, 2011

into the stacks: the imperfectionists
posted by soe 3:39 am

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

From the jacket Powells: “Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman’s wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep it — and themselves — afloat. Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff’s personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines.” [Dear publishers: I really hate it when you fill the backs of your book jackets with quotes instead of a synopsis of the book. If I hadn’t already been aware of this book, I absolutely never would have bought it.]

My take: I held off several days after reading this book to try to collect my thoughts, but five days out and I’m still at a loss. I started hearing buzz about this book last summer shortly after the hardcover came out. As so often happens, I filed it away to look for at the library and then promptly forgot about it until the holiday season, when I was tasked with buying presents for two old ladies who exchange gifts without actually really knowing one another or doing their own shopping. I contemplated it then, but ultimately went with a different book for each of them. However, when I saw that the author was coming to my local bookstore for a reading associated with the release of the paperback, I was intrigued.

Author Tom Rachman at Politics and ProseTom Rachman seems unassuming and bashful and charming (although whether he is any of those things I leave up to people who’ve spent more than a minute with him) and the part of the book he read underscored my excitement at reading the book. I jumped right in.

The book itself, although described by many, including its publisher, as a novel is, in fact, a series of interconnected short stories, each focusing on a different person involved with a failing English-language newspaper based in Rome. Although each person interacts with the newsroom in some way (some are reporters, others editors, and a few outside the production of the daily paper), the focus of each vignette is on the character’s personal life and how that can affect their work life (and vice versa). Each character is individual and multi-layered and both likable and unlikable at the same time, and I suspect it is this that has garnered Rachman’s debut novel such praise. It’s a difficult skill for any writer to achieve at any point, let alone in their first published book.

And, yet…

I don’t think I liked it.

Have you ever watched The Office? It’s filled with characters you can sometimes sympathize with, but in general you don’t necessarily like, with the exception of Jim and Pam. This book was a lot like that, but without Pam or Jim to give you a clear protagonist to root for. You could make the argument that the newspaper itself should be what you’re cheering for, but by the end, I didn’t even really care if it survived, even if it was the major force in the lives of the dozen characters I’d just spent time with.

I admit to ambivalence about the book because I’m not sure I would have had the same reaction if I hadn’t read the final two chapters. I felt like these two stories veered off into darker places than I wanted to commit to, and the final piece, in particular, left me feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach. Without these final pieces, I can maybe see having liked the book overall, and just finding pieces of it a bit stressful, rather than leaving me with a distressing taste in my mouth that pollutes my whole opinion of the novel. [I had a similar reaction to The Elegance of the Hedgehog when I read it last year.]

I guess, in the end, I still don’t know what to tell you.

Pages: 283

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