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Sunday Book Review, by Wacky Mommy, including… Obama: the Historic Journey; Paul Newman: A Life; The Mother-Daughter Book Club

May 31st, 2009

“Whenever I do something good, right away I’ve got to do something bad, so I know I’m not going to pieces.” — Paul Newman

You know what my husband is doing right now? Vacuuming, cleaning the house (nervous energy, I suppose) and otherwise getting prepared for the hockey game that starts at 5. Finally it’s the real Stanley Cup playoffs. Since it is two Eastern teams — Detroit and Pittsburgh — GO PENS! — silly me. I thought we were still in the pre-pre-playoffs, like we have been since last September.

I’ve heard that some are still watching NBA games but no sir, not over here. With all this free time on my hands, I have been liberally drinking pinot grigio, vodka lemonades and mojitos, admiring the petunias and watching the children jet around. Where do they get the energy? It’s been so hot here. Also… reading. Reading, reading and reading.

“Paul Newman: A Life” (Harmony Books, $29.99, 490 pages), is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read in my life, and I’m not just saying that because I used to work with the author, Shawn Levy. (Not the director, the writer.) He was always a decent guy to work with, plus a good reporter and movie critic, to boot. He did an outstanding job on this book, go buy two copies — no, three. Because you’ll need one for yourself, one for your mom or auntie, and one for your girlfriend. Men, you’ll need three copies, too. Because you know you secretly wish you were Hud, or Brick, or Chance, or Butch, or the hottie (literally) from “The Towering Inferno.” So, chop-chop, already.

And speaking of chop-chop? You know what he loved? Salad dressing (you already knew that. Red wine vinegar, olive oil, herbs, garlic, onion and ground mustard seed) over a bowl of chopped celery, or perhaps over a nice Caesar with romaine hearts, homemade croutons and sliced tomatoes. And popcorn. Dishpan after dishpan of hot, delicious, freshly-popped popcorn.

Even though he drank (like a fish), smoked (like a chimney) and raced cars (like a madman), I am convinced that he lived into his 80s because of all the salad and popcorn. I will continue to drink, but I will eat more popcorn and veggies. Chop-chop.

My only wish is that there would have been more pictures in the book. Even though Mr. Levy included two generous spreads of photos, c’mon. He was Paul Newman. We needed three or four sections of photos. Sigh.

“Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.” — Joanne Woodward

And now… a little review for MotherTalk. The New York Times is just coming out with a Young Reader’s Edition of “Obama: The Historic Journey.” Oh, good. Lots of pix. (Maybe we need a Young Reader’s Edition of the Paul Newman book? Mmmm…) Great book — also available in an adult version. (Viking Children’s Books, $24.95, 94 pages.) My favorite quote:

The weekend before the inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama and his family had stopped to visit the Lincoln Memorial, studying the words carved into the marble. Considering his inaugural speech, ten-year-old Malia turned to her father and advised, “First African-American president. Better be good.”

My daughter and I are considering starting a mother-daughter book club at her school, so I turned to “The Mother-Daughter Book Club: How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came Together to Talk, Laugh and Learn Through Their Love of Reading.” (HarperPerennial, $12.95, 296 pages.) (Tips include how to start your own club, reading lists and discussion guides.) We’re thinking “Twilight,” “Inkheart,” maybe an Edward Eager book, from the olden days? Any ideas?

Reviewed today:

And now, a funny YouTube clip of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward on “What’s My Line?”:

Sunday Evening Book Review: “Princess Pig,” “The Sleepy Little Alphabet” and “Ten Days and Nine Nights”

May 25th, 2009

Did you realize, Internets, that it’s my late father’s birthday today? HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD, PEACE OUT.

Now let’s read and review some brand-new picture books, with our guest reviewer, 7-year-old hunka hunka burnin’ love Wacky Boy. He has taken a break from trying to make his sister wipe out on her skateboard and will join us shortly.

Princess Pig, written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Tim Bowers, is a hilarious tale of a delusional little pig. Or is she…? (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, $16.99, unpaged.)

Wacky Boy sez, “Even though boys aren’t into princesses, they will like this book. Good illustrations, and the story is funny. It’s a good book.”

The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story from Alphabet Town, is written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, $16.99, unpaged.)

Wacky Boy says of this one, “The ABC book is…. funny and cute. I will not give it to my cousin.” That’s so sweet! What a kind boy. (And we’re not keeping any of today’s books, by the by. I’ll add them to my school library in the fall.) (But we do love our books over here, don’t you know. It’s just — their mother is a librarian. Books need to come and go.)

“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.”

— “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot, 1919

Do I own a copy of that poem? I do not. But I know it almost by heart. That, my friends, is the power of libraries. And the Internet. The Sleepy Little Alphabet really is a darling book. The text skips along, and the illustrations are lovely.

Ditto for Ten Days and Nine Nights, An Adoption Story by Yumi Heo. (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009, unpaged, $16.99.) The drawings remind me of the work of one of my favorite illustrators, Maira Kalman. Our heroine marks a circle on the calendar. She has ten days and nine nights to wait until her new sister arrives. What will she do with her time? Really charming story about welcoming a new baby into the family.

Reviewed today:

And now, one of my dad’s favorite kid songs:

Awww, he loved this one, too, hippie that he was:

beat-up dishes

May 22nd, 2009

Bye-bye to one of Grandma’s old Bundt pans and one of her cake pans, too. Steve said uh-uh, so off to Goodwill they go. Something about “aluminum,” “brain damage” “your entire family is crazeee enough already without more crazeee thrown in…” something.

What are you doing for the long weekend? Do you have a long weekend? We do. I wish I could say we’ll be out on the boat, at the lake…

But there is no boat.

In fact, there is no lake.

I’ll be… sorting. WACKY COUSIN 2.0 IS COMING OVER TOMORROW! And his mama, too. She has to drive him, he won’t have his license for another 14 years. The kids are thrilled. They will teach him New Tricks.

(Re: kids. I bought Harry Potter DVDs 1, 2 & 3 — we have 4 & 5 already. Getting ready for 6 this summer!)

And speaking of cult phenoms: reading “Eclipse,” whoa. Whoa. (Yes, I realize that we’re always months and years behind everyone else as far as cult phenoms go. Do not care.)

This weekend we might:

1) assemble an Adirondack chair
2) stain it
3) drink mojitos
4) see family
5) go to church? (like how that’s down the list? after drinking?)
6) hang out laundry on line
7) celebrate my late father’s birthday, which falls on Memorial Day this year. Figures.
9) ride bikes
10) play tennis
11) eat a lot of food
12) play Wii Fit and not even leave the house
13) Ha.
14) That’s it!
15) Oh. And try to stay off Facebook. Gorgeous weather, we have to stay away from the computers once in awhile.
16) Can’t wait for Steve and the kids to get here!

new dishes & a number of Santa candles

May 20th, 2009

I spent a large portion of the day packing up Dear Granny’s white dishes with the fluted edges (those are going to my auntie), the “Arkansas crystal,” the white dishes with the pretty blue flowers — Dresden! It’s this pattern. It doesn’t go with my apple pattern at all, but whatever. I think I need to pack the apple dishes away for awhile. Some of the pieces are antique, some are newer, all are getting chipped. (This is the pattern I crave, but my family in the South collects the apple pattern, so gooooooo, Jonesboro! I went with that. Besides — how girly is the Desert Rose? The girlier the better, that’s what I say, but it’s a little foofy for Steve.) (If I had it my way I would have five china cabinets.)

Tumblers, decanters, lace tablecloths, placemats and napkins, glass platters, painted china from her girlfriends, candle holders… and every time my mom and uncle put a box in the car, they added a box of Christmas stuff, too, unbeknownst to me. Which is why my living room, dining room and kitchen are now full of Christmas wrap, Santa candles, a Santa doll, a tiny baby Jesus (“The replacement!” my sister told me. “Because Josie ate the original Jesus.” That’s right. My grandparents fat, adorable, charming black Lab, Josephine, ate Baby Jesus. Along with two pounds of Hershey Kisses that my Dear Granny had tied to the Christmas in an enthusiastic show of decorating)…

As Planet Nomad would say, that sentence was too long I’ll start over.


Am I unpacking/repacking/sorting? No, I’m not. I’m eating homemade tortilla chips, smokey chipotle salsa and garlic cheese curds from the Interstate Farmers Market.

Poor Steve, dear Lord, my poor, poor husband. All he said about Entering Christmasland: Santa Threw Up Here was, “Oh good, we got it back!” when he spotted the enormous Harry & David tin. He was remembering when we sent it to her for Christmas, a few years back.

“Remember? She said, ‘You shoulda seen all the junk that was packed in here!'” Heehee.

Did I mention the candles? OK. Back to unpacking. I am intimidated. And thrilled. Because how cool is this that I get to take care of my Dear Granny’s things for her? Also — and please I hope this doesn’t offend anyone — she and I have sometimes been described as “tacky” or “country.” That is the true reason why I inherited all this loot, not because she remembered me in her will or because I’m extra-special or something. The quilt with the cow, pig, corn fabric, the Laura Ingalls Wilder book set that is tattered and faded, the fake fur coat, the little wooden plaque decorated with buttons that reads “Friends are Sew Special”… it’s because no one else wanted this stuff. The costume jewelry in the plastic box, the 8,000 blank Christmas cards from Bi-Mart, the empty vials of nitroglycerin… excellent.

How could they not want it? This stuff is great. They are all, you know. Sophisticated. So they think. Well nyah-nyah, you just wait til I serve them a glass of ice tea in one of the clunky green goblets. Or some appetizers on the Arkansas Razorbacks platter. Classssssssssy.

Just sayin’.

(PS — Even though they don’t (usually) read my blog, I owe my kids the biggest thank you right this second. I can hear them brushing their teeth in the bathroom, chattering away. Happy and sweet, as always. The past few months have been so rough, and they have been just amazing. Always giving me the hugs, the love, not complaining even when I ask them to repeat themselves four times because I’m nine times distracted. They are such good kids. They’re keepers, as my Dear Granny would say. They are such keepers. Them, and the green goblets. And the glass candle holders shaped like stars.)

Tuesday Recipe Club: Lemon Bundt Cake with Orange Glaze & Heartbreak of the Day

May 19th, 2009

I always know what you’re thinking, Internets. Right now you’re thinking, where is that sad little Wacky Mommy with her heartbreak story of the day?

I was going to skip the Heartbreak of the Day. I’m trying to clean my house, study, drive kids hither and yon. Emptying out boxes, filling up boxes, finding space for Grandma’s things in my too-crowded home. (I inherited her cookbooks, a few knick-knacks, yarn, photos. Quilts that I’ll share with my cousin. Old Christmas cards.) Packing away the winter clothes and breaking out the summer clothes. Found a slip of paper tucked inside of her old tattered hymnal. A page-a-day calendar from April 16, 1998:

Bird Migration ETAs
Part 5
The third week in April marks the estimated time of arrival in New England of the green heron. In the fourth week, look for the barn swallow, brown thrasher, black-and-white warbler, myrtle warbler, towhee and white-throated sparrow.

I’m ready to toss it into the recycling bin when I think to flip it over. I am my grandmother’s granddaughter — the same handwriting, the same snarky temper, the same need to scribble compulsively. On the back is written, sideways, her name and my grandpa’s name, over and over:


April 16, 1998 — five and a half months after he died. They celebrated their fifty-seventh wedding anniversary on June 28, 1997. She was hoping they’d make it to sixty. He was exhausted from kidney failure, furious because he couldn’t ranch anymore, insane because my uncles took away his guns. (Because, you know. He kept threatening to shoot himself.)


I looked for a book to tuck the note into — found an old cookbook close by — “Favorite Recipes of Valiant Chapter,” circa 1959-1960. Readers? Any ideas on what a Valiant Chapter is, exactly? (This one is Chapter #168, O.E.S., Portland, Ore.) The “Worthy Matron” that year was Martha H. Taylor; the “Worthy Patron'” was G.C. “Jerry” Taylor. Recipes included: Spanish Bun Cake, Fruit Cocktail Cake and (my new favorite) Good Prune Cake. We also have Meaty Scalloped Potatoes, Salmon Loaf and Creamed Chicken.

I. Love. Old. Recipes. Even if I can’t get my family to eat them.

Took Steve out for lunch — Pad Thai, Pad Kee Mao, iced Thai coffee, such sophisticated tastes. No Holiday Wreath Tuna Shortcake in sight — and showed him the note.

“That’s what I’m writing down, if you’re the first to go — Nancy, Steve, Nancy, Steve, Steve, Nancy.”

He adds, “TLF.”

Yes, TLF. It’s one of the most romantic things I’ve ever seen, that love note. And it sums up, on one little tiny sheet of paper, the agonizing pain of going through someone’s personal belongings. I told my auntie, it’s junk, junk, junk, Grandma’s high school diploma, junk.

I cannot give a sigh that is huge enough to express the SIGH I’m feeling. HUGE SIGH.

Off to pick up kids — be right back.

Also found a recipe written in my Dear Granny’s writing, tucked into the Valiant Chapter Cookbook. No-name cake, so let’s call it…


Here’s exactly how it’s written:

1 pkg yellow cake mix
1 pk lemon pudd (pudding) (Quote from my Dear Granny: “It is good because there is pudding in the mix.”)
4 eggs
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup water

Beat for 5 min

Tube pan greased

45 minutes

Turn on rock (rack, make that)

Prick with foot (fork!)

1 can thomed orgina pins (Steve: “That says ‘1 can thawed orange juice.'” How can he decipher her hand writing even when I can’t?)

2 3 paw sugar (cool toger) (Okey-doke. Let’s interpret that as 3 cups powdered sugar; cook together)

me: “3 cups powdered sugar and a whole can of orange juice concentrate? Sweeeeeeeeeeet.”

Steve, going all insane: “Cooked together! You have to cook it together, the glaze!” (He gets a little goofy when we’re on the subject of our Dear Granny. I mean, goofy. You have to get it exactly right, the quote, the recipe, the scanned-in photo, the story, or he flips out.)

me: “I’m cutting that in half. Half a can of oj, 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.”

Steve: “You won’t have enough glaze. You have to have enough glaze.” (realizes what he’s saying.) “Can you please stop baking all the time?”

me: “Turn on rock! 1 can thomed orgina pins! No.”

Sunday Recipe Club: Rice Noodles with Peanut Sauce

May 17th, 2009

You’ll find it right here.

QOTD: Mark Twain & going through the bits & pieces of my Dear Granny’s life

May 17th, 2009

“I believe I have no prejudices whatsoever. All I need to know is that a man is a member of the human race. That’s bad enough for me.” — Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

We’re getting my Dear Granny’s things sorted out — photos, letters, cookbooks, everything. Her life. Quilts, Estee Lauder perfume, surgical razors (the kind that scarred my leg when I used one shaving, age 12), nitroglycerin tabs left over from my Grandpa, in teeny-tiny bottles, safety pins, bobby pins, Chicken Soup for the Country Soul.

When the Bough Breaks, my favorite Lois Duncan book, Christmas earrings, journals, more safety pins. Emery boards, probably 50 of them or more. A girl just cannot have enough emery boards. Christmas, birthday, thank you cards; ones she received, blank ones she was going to send.

We used to build little houses out of the old Christmas cards — we’d punch holes in the sides and weave them together with yarn? Something, I can’t remember and neither could she. We used to do them every year. And we’d make little gift cards out of them, for the next year. She would have loved this site. “I was young during the Depression, honey, we didn’t throw anything away.”

She told my uncle, Make sure Nancy gets these, and left me a few boxes of old cards, letters and clippings. My mom is going through each item, painstakingly. She’s transcribing the old journals, they’re wonderful.

Such a temper in real life, my Dear Granny, but in the journals? So happy. Going up to Larch Mountain to gather firewood, building a corral for their mean-tempered pony, cooking strawberry-rhubarb pie, pork roast, scalloped corn and a million other things for us.

“Nancy’s birthday” she wrote on one page, “and our anniversary in four days. Would I marry the same man again? I WOULD!”

Someday I’ll write more about her, about this, about how painful it was yesterday to sort through her entire life in one fast afternoon, blurred and illustrated by photos. It won’t be today.

Steve is at a birthday party with the kids, I’m studying for my first exam this week. (Psychology 311, Human Development.) Other than Linguistics 390, this is the most difficult course I’ve ever taken. I’ve been out of school so long, married now, I have two little kids I’m chasing after (the hours between 9 and 3 go sweeping by), there has been work, caregiving, grieving, housework.

I need to finish my prerequisites and start on a master’s program. When? How?

Back to studying. And trying not to recall my Dear Granny’s voice, her smile, her telling me, Happy birthday, honey, and “our anniversary is in four days!” (their anniversary is sandwiched between my birthday and my mom and Granny’s birthdays; my Grandpa’s birthday, always overlooked, was just after Christmas), trying not to think of sunny weekend afternoons, lazing in her living room, reading Lois Duncan for the 50th time and listening to her banging pots and pans in the kitchen.

Yelling, One of you kids, come get this down for me! because she was so short she couldn’t reach her highest cupboards. My late cousin, Travis, ambling into the kitchen, reaching down whatever it was, saying, There you go, Little Grandma, and patting her on the head.

Oh, you! and she’d chase him out. But before he left, he’d raise up his arm parallel to the floor and tease her, See? You could walk right under.

She was buried next to Grandpa, not far from Travis, in her favorite red dress and her favorite necklace, the “crystal” beads that my Grandpa gave her, that she loaned me to wear on my wedding day. I found the matching earrings yesterday, going through her things. They’re mine now. None of it is worth any money, her stuff, but it’s priceless. We’re talking about a woman who labeled the slides of “truck in ditch” the “good slides” and stuck ’em in a box.

Internets, why does so much rotten stuff happen all the time?

(OK. I wrote that, then I read this post and I’m thinking, you got to take the sweet along with the bitter, don’t you?)


May 13th, 2009

Chez Wacky is happy to report that the Pittsburgh Penguins just KICKED HOCKEY ASS. They won Game 7 tonight in the eastern conference semi-final over the Washington Capitals and will ADVANCE to the conference finals gooooooo PENS! (They’ll play Boston or Carolina.) My late, hockey-lovin’ friend Regis is, no doubt about it, happy about this news, so happy. Somewhere in a peaceful locale, Heaven, Nirvana, what-have-ya, he’s wearing a tie and a dress shirt, just like he did here on Earth whenever the Pens won, to celebrate this happy occasion, clicking his heels together and grinning that great big grin. (Regis was originally from Pittsburgh, as are Hockey God and his dad. Hi, Poppy!)

Mia already knew the score, no DOUBT, as she most likely watched the game live, not tivo-ed. (Mia, the kids knew we wanted to watch the game and boycotted bedtime. It is almost 11 here, for cripe’s sake.)

Quote of the night, from one of the announcers: “The cheese does fall off the cracker now and then.”

NYT (hearts) Portland. (Ore-gone or Maine? Oregone!)

May 13th, 2009

I liked living in New York, for the short time I was there. Well, the several short times I was there (a few times for just about a week per visit, once for a few months). Esp. when my favorite bartender at Life Cafe asked me which Portland, “Ore-gone or Maine? Ore-gone! Oh, you got the killer green bud out there…” Glad we’re known for something besides the rain.

Funny story in today’s New York Times about golfing at Edgefield. I like McMenamins fine as long as I don’t have to eat their food. Also, I first ran into my sexy husband, Hockey God (thank god he finally updated his blog, woooooooot) when he worked at another McMenamins, the Barley Mill, when we used to live off Hawthorne. Also, when I finally got the nerve to break up with my gay boyfriend my new boyfriend and I used to hide out at Tavern & Pool in NW because if we’d gone to the Blue Moon he would have found us and honestly? I liked the new boyfriend a LOT more than the old boyfriend and didn’t feel like being found. I like men and bars is that so wrong? So you can see that McMenamins has played a big role in my love life.

Here’s my favorite Portland comment from the story:

it rains all the time. the people are mean. the streets are dirt. bears eat people in their back yards. Oregon is horrible. you would never, ever, ever, ever want to move there. don’t even visit. it is a scary place. rains all the time. rains all the time. no jobs. rains all the time. don’t even think about even stopping here, even for a day.
— cecil

cecil, u r soooooooooo rite! People here are the meanest. Esp. these girls. Can you believe they throw around phrases like “circle jerk” and no one even deletes the comment? Esp. since it’s in a post about a sweet little school where innocent little children are going to go? (In regards to my husband’s other blog: All Power to the People.)

Portland Girls: We Blog Dirty

Ayelet Waldman, the original Bad Mother

May 12th, 2009

I love “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace,” Ayelet Waldman’s new book. A copy of it showed up in my P.O. box — late Mother’s Day present, heh heh. So. Good. Review to follow; reading now. Hear her husband is a pretty good writer, too. HA! That’s a BOOK JOKE, people. She’s married to Michael Chabon. She’s the one the UrbanMamas and UrbanBaby mommies like to rip apart — in 2005 she wrote a column for the New York Times wherein she admitted to loving her husband more than her children.


Well, she figured that must be it, cuz she, unlike most of her mom friends, was still having sex with her husband. And enjoying it. WTF? Someone who likes to “F”? The nerve.

“In that essay I wondered about why so many of the women I knew were not having sex with their husbands, while I still was, and I concluded that it might be because they, unlike me, had re-focused their passion from their husbands or partners onto their children. I wrote, ‘Libido, as she once knew it, is gone, and in its place is all-consuming maternal desire.'”

Yep. That was the spark that started the fire.

Here’s her website if you want more. And if you’d like to hear her read the first chapter of the book, here ya go:

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