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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

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A WOLly Jolly Xmas


So, over the Christmas holiday, my owl collection has multiplied like, well, bunnies. Santa and his helpers brought me shiny owls, tiny owls, even some angry owls. Drop by the WOLery to see the latest additions.

And I hope you don't mind the lighter fare around here recently. There's certainly been none on my table. It might take a while for my brain to unclog itself of the chocolate and cheese.

In the meantime, Happiest of New Years to you.


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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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How much do I love this wall clock my husband picked out for me this Christmas?

A lot.

Though I have no idea what time it is by looking at it, do you?


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Monday, December 29, 2008

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Adventures in Social Media*, Part I:
Where Everybody Knows Your Name


When Twitter was launched a couple of years ago, I was not an early adopter. Announcing on the internet what you were doing at any given moment? In 140 characters or less, devoid of narrative context? I was and remain a passionate defender of blogging against that linty old charge of narcissism (as if no one before the twenty first century ever thought to write out of their own experience), but twitter had even me feeling crotchety. I thought it was the very definition of banal. That baby could stay in the basket on the doorstep.

Then I went to my first Blogher conference in Chicago, and everyone was Twittering. My roommate Alana, whose Twitter haikus, Momku, had just been featured on Twitter's home page, teased me when she caught me peeking over her shoulder at her update stream. There were tweets from people I knew. It was like watching a note being passed around the classroom that never comes to you.

I couldn't stand it. When I got back from the conference, I signed on, but with a private account. That meant only people I approved could view my updates. It was a revelation. It's hard to describe Twitter to people who don't tweet. Like religion, you can't make sense of it from the outside. It was my virtual office water-cooler, where I could talk shop with fellow bloggers. It was my favorite stool at the end of a neighborhood bar. Snappy witticisms, opinions and idle small talk all filled my stream, and sometimes, amid the banter and racousness, there would be an exchange that was real and profound. Just as in an offline social network, I ratified connections, made new friends and even got some work out of it. I got news from Twitter before it made CNN. Tweeps in Southern California tweeted earthquakes as they hit. I read updates from Houston tweeps as they deliberated evacuation ahead of a hurricane. When I was hunkered down in a closet last April, with no lights, radio or tv to tell me where the next tornado was headed, I relied on Twitter updates on my Blackberry from people with access to live radar.

The privacy afforded me the freedom to tweet pretty much anything on my mind. I could rant there, swear there, open up there in a way that I don't to a broader audience. My stream felt very close-knit, intimate and immediate.

I tried to keep my follow list limited to people I had some kind of real relationship with. Sometimes I added someone who was good friends with a friend, or just someone I'd heard of, and wanted to know better. The queue of requests to follow my updates grew longer, and I began to feel angstier about it. The exercise of approving some and denying others didn't feel great. At one point, I just deleted my account and started over under a new one, but the follow requests found me anyway.

Then I read this article and became curious about what it would be like to Twitter openly. I decided to give it a test run.

With the cat several months out of the bag, I can tell you it's a wholly different animal. I've had to alter my twitter content to take into consideration, as I must here, that total strangers are tuned in. But I've also been able to call ally-ally-in to the request queue (spammers and obvious weirdos aside), which feels good.

It's not that cozy corner of the bar for me anymore, and I miss that. But it's still a place for me to be a little more off-the-cuff than I am on Notes. Call it a release valve, tangential to the main distillery. If you like, you can follow my updates here.** If you don't care to, you aren't missing anything but fizz.

Coming up: Facebook, my personal Night of the Living Dead.

*Fuzzy on what this means? Check out this excellent public radio program on the social media revolution.
**Disclaimer: my attention span doesn't have the capacity to follow a lot of people back on Twitter. It's not that I don't want to reciprocate, or that I don't care what's going on with everyone else, it's simply that I can't keep up past a very low threshold.


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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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The bottom of this ornament is inscribed, "Patrick, 2001." It's how I want us to be for our children and each other this Christmas.

So, I'll see you all sometime after Boxing Day.

Be merry and bright.



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Monday, December 22, 2008

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It's Come to This


In recent weeks, we have pretty much exhausted our go-to list of budget-friendly, kid-friendly take-out meals. There hasn't been time to do any real grocery shopping, but I just couldn't face another meal of pizza tonight, so I ran into the supermarket to see if I could simulate home-cooked and still qualify for the express checkout lane.

I got pre-formed, pre-cooked meatballs, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and a plastic pan of "oven-ready" brownies. I was heading toward the checkout when I passed the display of cheese-flavored spread in a can (a.k.a. caulk for your innards).

What the hell, I thought, tossing it and a box of crackers in the basket.

The only part of the meal that didn't quite fit was the cork in my bottle of wine. A screwtop would have made a much more appropriate pairing.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

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Fah-hoo Foraze.


I'm working on an article for a magazine with a spring theme, and since some photos of my house will accompany it, we've had to keep a lid on Christmas decorations until the shoot was over. No holiday lights, no snowglobes, not so much as a strand of tinsel.

I am the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Just as Whoville was about to openly revolt, the photographers came and went, bearing so much gear, our new neighbors were surely convinced we were making home movies in the style of Zac and Miri.

They hadn't gotten to the end of the driveway before I threw the door open, shoved our tree into the house, flung Patrick up into the attic to find the ornaments, and started running around stringing lights up.

It's on, baby. Welcome, Christmas. Bring your cheer.


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Saturday, December 20, 2008

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A Christmas Story


"Are you working, or are you goofing?"

"Goofing. Why?"

"Because when I come to you later today, and say we need to have some family time, and you're all 'I have to work,' I'll be all 'well, why didn't you work this morning instead of goofing off on Facebook the whole time, and then you'll be all defensive, and I'll be all resentful, and then there will be no Christmas and baby Jesus will be sad."

The look I get at the close of these speeches is really not translatable into words, but someday I will be ready with a camera.


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Friday, December 12, 2008

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Introducing the LBDLGNO


Patrick is standing as best man in a wedding this month, which means I had to go to the mall last night to find something to wear. After several hours and numerous text messages to various people, an outfit was chosen. It takes a village.

It also takes money, time and energy, even online. As it happened, I found the perfect Little Black Dress marked way, way down. It's classic and versatile enough that I will likely wear it several times over the course of the year.

But I have other party dresses in my closet that maybe see the light of day (or candlelight of night) once or twice a year. Most women do. So I had this idea: the LBD Loaner Girl's Night Out (fellas, LBD stands for Little Black Dress, but don't tell that I broke rank and told you). You invite a bunch of friends to bring (not wear) their formal and semi-formal outfits (including matching accessories if they are willing) to a casual gathering, maybe a Sunday afternoon or weeknight just before holiday season ramps up. Cast the net wide to get a variety of styles and sizes. Refreshments, of course.

Someone will need to bring a clothes rack or string up a clothes line to display the outfits. Tie a card onto each hanger that describes every item in the ensemble and provides the owners name and contact info. Assign each outfit a number on the same note. The hostess should put out a clipboard with a numbered sheet where guests can reserve to borrow an outfit for a particular date. Everyone should agree to return the items, dry-cleaned, within two days or whatever. The hostess should hang onto the sheet in case anyone needs it for clarification or contact information later.

This way, several people could borrow one outfit in the course of the season, but if you wanted to keep it real simple, you could just let everybody go home with their loaner that day, and declare a general returns deadline.

Naturally, everybody has to be comfortable with loaning out their pretty things. And an unavoidable element of risk has to be understood. Wine spills, things snag. I would lend an evening bag, but probably not my pearls. Tell guests in the invitation that they shouldn't bring it if they can't stand to lose it. But I'm sure most women have a gorgeous dress or two that will languish unworn in the back of their closets this season, and we could all use one less trip to the mall.

I don't have time to pull this off myself this holiday season, but maybe somebody else will (or has) and will let me know how it works.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

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None the Wiser


I have a thing for owls, did I mention? I started bringing them home last year, and well, they've multiplied. You can see a few of them here in my WOL flickr set.

Every new owl that comes home to roost is my favorite. This custom printed scarf arrived today from Pretty Raccoon's etsy shop (I also bought her smokin' hot chandelier screen-printed LBD).

If I mention a product here on Notes, you can be assured it is for love, not money, by the way. I have turned down some great swag because it came with strings attached, including a $300 printer offer the very same week my own printer sputtered, choked and died. Stupid integrity.

So if any of you ever wanted to send me something—say, oh, I don't know, AN OWL, maybe— just know that I couldn't promise I would post about it. Though I might anyway. And that I would make out with you shamelessly in my mind.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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Special Delivery

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.

Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales

...and out comes my Nana Ferne's Christmas package. Few events caused more excitement in the house on Armstrong Avenue than the annual arrival of the big cardboard box from New Brunswick.

In my memory it is always the size of a wheelbarrow, and contains a hundred packages, all individually gift-wrapped. My grandmother worked at a variety store on the U.S. side of the bordertown where my mother grew up, the kind of place that got swallowed up by the Wal-marts and the Dollar Stores. There was a talking mynah bird in a cage that hung near the sales counter, and dusty shelves of synthetic clothing, cheap nylons, tacky bric-a-brac, and garish cosmetics. That Christmas package was a biopsy of the store inventory, rounded out by acrylic handknitted things that might have been hats, or cozies for toilet paper, jars of preserves mined from the walls of my grandmother's earth cellar, and most anticipated of all, a Ganong's chocolate box lined with wax paper and filled with her homemade peanut butter fudge. The damn thing weighed as much as two bricks. I gorged on it so much as a kid, I haven't been able to touch peanut butter fudge in twenty years. Maybe it's time to revive the recipe for my own children.

Like my mother, I married far away from home. Here, so many years and so many miles later, I wrap the Christmas package to go to her house in Newfoundland. If I could tuck myself in it, I would. But since I can't, I make it as beautiful and as special as possible, hoping to recreate some of the excitement of Nana Ferne's package for my sister (her namesake)and her son and daughter (who is mine). There aren't a hundred, or even, dozens of gifts inside. The contents change with whim and fortune. This year, there are just four special things, swaddled and nestled in different bags, wraps and tissue. Bejewelled and ornamented with ribbons and floral picks.

It's extravagant, maybe even sinful, to put so much into wrapping that is meant to be discarded. I saw somewhere a campaign for a wrapless Christmas, and I suppose it's a virtuous thing to do, given the state of the economy and environment. When you can be there to give it, maybe a hug can be plenty embellishment for a present.

My grandmother's package, filled to bursting with things that never cost more than a dollar, was extravagant, too. She loved us extravagantly, and we always knew it, even though we only saw her once or twice a year. That simple, faithful parcel was the emissary of her own full heart, a magi.

A few weeks ago, our Maine balsam Christmas wreath arrived on our doorstep as it has every year for several years now. "Nana's wreath" has become just one of the many ways in which my children are reminded that their grandmother's love for them is evergreen. As extravagant as her mother's was for me, and as mine is for her, my sister, niece and nephew. I hope they they get a little whiff of that when they open my box each year.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

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Slow Food


"Can I spread the icing?" my seven-year-old wanted to know, when his bath was drained and the cake was cooled.

"Sure," I said, peeling the foil off a plastic tub of frosting and slapping a few dollops down on the cracked and convex crust before handing him the spatula.

Slowly and deliberately, he spread it around.

"HURRY," his four-year-old brother said, "I'm STARVING."

Hurry, I thought, it's ten minutes to bedtime already, and I have a Monday morning deadline looming.

My son pushed and pulled the spatula across that cake in his own sweet time. He was missing the edges completely. My hand twitched to take it from him and do in seconds what was taking him long, slow minutes.

Then I realized something. Spreading stuff is hard. Holding a tool and making it do what you want it to do takes practice. Today, frosting a cake is one just among the hundreds of routine things I do effortlessly, mindlessly. But I was seven once, and I labored everyday over shoelaces, and two-wheelers, and the word "library." Watching my son have to work at spreading that frosting made me appreciate how much there was to learn as a kid, how much I know how to do now. I should be celebrating every time I butter toast.

Yesterday, he and I hiked to the top of Pinnacle Mountain with his cub scout den. It isn't, strictly speaking, much of a mountain, but it's a pretty steep trail, about a two-hour round trip. Halfway up, the adults mandated a short rest. It was hard to get some of the boys to stop.

"Stop and take a look at how far you've come," I called out. That stopped a few of them in their tracks.

Handing my son the spatula tonight did the same thing for me.


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Thursday, December 04, 2008

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This is me with my father in December of 1969, in New Brunswick, Canada.


This is my husband in December of 1969, in Arkansas, The United States of America.


It's a good thing we can't see into the future. I'd probably still be locked up in a tower.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

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The hostess-y arts come easily and naturally to some, and not to others. If you have to wonder on which side of the comma I fall, here's a hint: I went through a whole deck of 3 X 5 index cards between the day I marked my calendar "bday party" and the hour the first guests walked through the door.

For those of you who are similarily impaired, here's the playsheet.

Two weeks before:

Sent out invitations. I actually put the party on the calendar and started working on a guest list about a month in advance. I had to really work at not going overboard with it. Our house is small and my affections are wide. To keep myself from going crazy, I wrote myself a lot of rainchecks for future dinner guests.

I also had to keep from overthinking it. My criteria was simple: to spend my birthday with people who delight me. The minute I veered over into worrying if so-and-so would have anything to say to so-and-so, I shut it down. I think weddings and certain kinds of funeral gatherings are so memorable and special precisely because they throw unlikely people together.

If you can arrange to be married to a graphic designer in time for your party, I recommend it. Patrick is too modest to let me post the illustration he did of us for the invitations, but it was a hoot.

One week before:

I started making and hanging these pom poms. They are just giant Mexican paper flowers, layers and layers of tissue paper folded up like a fan and then trimmed and fluffed. If you grew up in the 70s, like me, you probably remember fluffing the Kleenex version of these for some older cousin's wedding or graduation.

The day before:

Cooked. In the past when we've staged large gatherings, they've always been potluck, b.y.o.b. This time, I really wanted to let everyone off the hook. I looked for finger-friendly recipes, and came up with this menu:

Romas and Goats. New favorite appetizer recipe. I made these with miniature Romas, halved and stuffed with the chevre and panko mixtures.

Onion Frittata Bites from Cooking Light (which I didn't—I used whole eggs instead of egg substitute, and there may have been heavy cream involved, but there are no witnesses)

Bloody Marys from Martha Stewart (as a rough guide —toward the end, I was just tossing a shake of this and a dash of that in a pitcher)

I did everything in batches of four dozen. The brunch menu was filled out with a spiral ham, fruit salad and miniature biscuits baked from frozen. And, of course, the birthday tower of five dozen Shipley's Do-nuts, chocolate glaze with sprinkles.

The night before:

I hung the rest of the poms, boxed the favors, arranged the furniture and put out all the serving platters and barware on the table and sidebar with sticky notes reminding me what food went with what piece. It was kind of Rainman-meets-Martha Stewart.

The morning of:

Everyone pitched in with cleaning house. Patrick picked up the donuts (ordered a few days in advance), and I stacked them on a big foil-covered cake decorators' platter with ribbon hot-glued around the edge. I had already worked out at what times and in what order everything needed to be heated (yes, there was actually a chart —my non-linearly inclined brain was stretched to its outermost limit), so from 9 am to 11 am, the oven was in steady service.

In between, I got dressed and finished decorating. All hands were on deck, except the Littlest Who, who slept late. When he woke up, he wandered through the rearranged furniture, flowers and poms-poms to find me outside, wrapping crepe streamers around the porch pillars.

"Mom!" he said, eyes wide. "Is all this for me?"

Of course I told him it was.

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