Archive for January, 2010


I’ve been working on this museum revision for so long that I am no longer able to even see my own words—what have I written and what am I writing now?

I want to write an elegy for Mrs J.E. Gray, who carried that open tray of rare shells out into a breeze and changed the progress of conchology for years to come. Too bad I’m not much of a poet.

I was struck yesterday with thoughts of wanderlust. It occurred to me that I could just keep driving past my exit rather than getting off the highway to return home. Where would I go? Probably Ikea.

I love Doctor Who. I’m not happy, though, about the departure of David Tennant. I’ve been watching Torchwood to fill the void.

I still miss the old color of my bedroom walls. Sometimes it (does not pay) to be impulsive.

I am an absolute failure at emptying the dishwasher. I know that many of you must do without and will not pity me on this point, but I loathe that task and will put it off til the very last, til my sink teems with towers of sticky dishes (mostly bowls and spoons from eating my fourth batch of Smitten Kitchen’s vanilla roasted pears).

Before I get into bed each night, I preheat it—like an oven—with an electric blanket set on high.

My writing process looks like this: three words, eight chocolate covered raisins. delete four words, write two. re-pot a plant that the cats tried to murder. delete everything I’ve written today. undo. redo. Revision is terrible.

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One of the last, and one of the greatest, was the shell collection amassed by the English conchologist Hugh Cuming (1791-1865)….No sooner had the collection been moved to the British Museum than Mrs J.E. Gray, wife of the Keeper of Zoology, carried the open drawers of shells across a courtyard in a howling gale and all the labels blew away. The Cuming collection has been a source of vexation and controversy to conchologists ever since.

(Lynn Barber)

(poor Mrs J.E. Gray)

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In the instance of Dr. Leach, certain peculiar eccentricities and crotchets were mixed up in close union with undoubted learning and skill. In not a few eminent naturalists a tendency to undervalue the achievements of past days, and to exaggerate those of the day that is passing, has often been noted. Leach evinced this tendency in more ways than one. But a favourite way of manifesting it led him many times into difficulties with his neighbours. He despised the taxidermy of Sir Hans Sloane’s age, and made periodical bonfires of the Sloanian specimens. These he was to wont to call his ‘cremations.’ In his time, the Gardens of the Museum were still a favourite resort of the Bloomsburians, but the attraction of the terraces and the fragrance of the shrubberies were sadly lessened when a pungent odour of burning snakes was their accompaniment.

(Edward Edwards)

(what a name)

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nothing much

Paperwhites—maybe this captures the color of my repainted bedroom? Almost white, but with a touch of lavender. I love having blooms like these indoors. I also have a small pot of yellow narcissus in my living room. Remarkably, the cats have let them be—most likely because they’ve been busy ripping a cat-sized hole in the covering of my box spring. I couldn’t go to bed the other night because Hop was inside the box spring, howling as though he couldn’t find his way out again and shaking the bed as he scuttled around beneath me. Just as I was considering drastic measures—cutting a larger hole in the covering and pulling him out myself—he decided that the fun was over and exited on his own. No more cats in my bedroom now, ever.

After several days of oddly warm and foggy weather, Madison has descended again into dull and lifeless gray. The snowbanks—which, even after several days of melting, are still two feet high—are now dirty, hard lumps of ice, the kind that worries me each time I pull out of my driveway and try to squeeze between them without ripping my Prius open like the side of the Titanic. I dented Ricky’s Prius this way several years ago.

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lettuce wraps

These are kind of like the lettuce wraps that I’ve had at various restaurants from P.F. Chang’s to Pho Grand, but better. Not so salty; not so sickly-sweet. The original recipe called for half beef and half tofu in the filling. I have no idea why—who needs the beef? I pared down the recipe quite a bit to match what I had on hand and forgot to add the 1 1/2 t. sesame oil from the original version (even though I had it). The recipe seems to be very forgiving. And delicious.

Adapted, barely, from Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger, to better suit the contents of my pantry (and to save some cows)

1 T. chili-garlic sauce

3 T. low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 c hoisin sauce

4  T. rice vinegar

2 t. canola oil

2 T. fresh minced ginger

15 oz extra-firm tofu

Heat the canola oil in a large pan and briefly cook the ginger. Drain the tofu, press with dry paper towels, and cut into a small dice. Add to ginger and oil and cook for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Once the tofu has turned slightly golden, add the sauce and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce has mostly been absorbed into the tofu.

Serve with lettuce leaves for wrapping–I used hydroponic Bibb lettuce from Costco. The original recipe suggests all kinds of add-on toppings for the wraps: scallions, red peppers, and peanuts. I fished some peanuts out of a bag of Trader Joe’s trail mix and sprinkled those on top of my wraps because they weren’t quite crunchy enough. Classy.

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How quickly it all recedes and starts to seem like a dream—nothing but white and gray and ice here. If not for the bags of shells in my still-unpacked suitcases, I might not even believe my own memories of where I’ve been.

I’ve been sleeping with earplugs in for the last few weeks to dampen the sounds of various crowded, happy houses. No need, now—quiet abounds.

Like I said before, these homecomings are always hard for me. I know it, so I try to plan in advance, soaking in the moments that will threaten to slip away from me as soon as I walk in the door to turn the thermostat up in the frozen rooms I left behind. The olive oil in my poorly insulated pantry has turned white and clumpy. My Christmas tree, still standing, has a sad look about it now. We found the driveway three feet under clumps of dirty snow and ice.

It’s time for some cleaning, some re-feathering of my nest. Time to find jars for shells, and places for those jars—time to try to hold fast, in the gray and in the quiet, to memories of what has been and what it still to come. Time to try to love what is, right now, even though this house doesn’t yet feel like home again.

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I’m usually pretty well-traveled during breaks from school, but these last three weeks have been record-breaking.

I don’t know what happened to December—all I know is that not-so-long-ago, I was cozy in my little house with my little Christmas tree, resolving to luxuriate in the holidays to make up for the last three years of Christmases that—coming just days after the end of paper-writing and sometimes even before the end of paper-grading—have taken me by surprise and passed me by too quickly.

And I did enjoy Christmas. Ricky and I exchanged small mountains of strange and humorous things—I received a bear necklace that I’ve been coveting ever since I saw it on jewelry-icon Skaalastic and some plastic wildlife—and Ricky’s mom, who, after raising three boys, seems to take great pleasure in buying things for girls, spoiled all of the girlfriends, again, with novelty socks and kitchen things. Ricky’s grandmother totally surprised me with an amazing vegan cookbook—I’m vegetarian, not vegan, but I like to avoid animalish things whenever possible and the recipes look great. I already made the spicy tempeh sushi and it was so good.

Everything after Christmas has been kind of a blur. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to overcome my end-of-the-semester burnout quickly enough to get some work done, which led to many guilty shell-hunting days at the beach before I gave in, read some books for fun, ate sparkly donuts and sipped my favorite coffee, and then finally found the words that have been eluding me.

In Florida, I read The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, which is kind of like Big Love + historical fiction. My mom bought it in England, so the copy I read had the added bonus of intermittent Galaxy chocolate ads. It was ok; fun and kind of trashy but probably nothing that will stay with me.

Here in North Carolina, I finally read The Time Traveler’s Wife. Oh, I love this book. Everyone has been telling me that I would love it, and I’m so glad that I read it before seeing the movie—which I will see now, even though I know it won’t be the same. I cried in the tub at the end.

Ricky and I will start the drive back to Madison tomorrow afternoon. 3000 miles in three weeks and I just want to stay somewhere for a while. The only problem is that I don’t exactly know where I’d want to stay. Not here, because I miss my house and my other life; not really there, either, since I’ll miss everyone who I was able to see because of these mad travels.

Reentry is always so difficult. I try to ease it every year by planning various adjustments to my domestic life—new paint colors, different furniture arrangements, mixing in recently acquired souvenirs. I wandered into a new store in Chapel Hill yesterday–an Anthropologie kind of place, except with actual antiques and even more ridiculous prices. They had the most marvelous displays–all mercury glass and quail eggs, worn oriental rugs and heaps of quilts. It made me think of Hyperbolic and her own curatorial knack, and also of what I could do with my own space. I’m looking forward to some tinkering—and some new jars full of shells—and that will have to carry me through the next few days, those first lonely weeks before I settle into the routine of my quiet home.

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Oh, hello. I’m on a small island near Fort Meyers, Florida—Captiva. It’s beautiful—the best shelling beaches in the Western Hemisphere—but it’s also cold. Well, “cold.” In the fifties: how spoiled I’ve become in only two days. My cousin and my grandmother are sitting at the table across from me, playing card games. Ricky’s in the kitchen, trying to read for exams. My mother seems to be watching some kind of bad movie on tv. I’m feeling kind of bad about not writing my proposal—which is exactly why I haven’t turned my computer on in days, and have largely been avoiding it for the entire break. My computer is where stress lives, so it’s been living in my bag.

We’re here for a week, and then back to New Jersey (flying) and on to North Carolina (driving). Perhaps I’ll turn up again and post some pictures of shells. Perhaps I won’t; I might be out collecting them or I might be playing Scrabble Slam. I’m sort of starting to forget about my snowy other life—this happens to me every break. The parts of my life are so scattered that it sometimes feels hard to hold them together all at once.

Sleeping through a blizzard with three cats in a Holiday Inn somewhere off a highway in Illinois—

my favorite Japanese confections in the shadow of the NYC skyline—

cow carcasses in the sand, air plants in the palms and cabinets that snap shut for travel in shiny silver trailer by a swamp.

Now: apple murex, spiral whelk, kittens’ paw, and jingles—we fill our pockets with prize specimens, turn urchins over with bits of driftwood, and run up and down the sand to avoid the early-morning chill of the water, stinging at our toes. My grandfather sips coffee at the table before sunrise; he and Bob talk shop while my mother makes fresh orange juice (86 blemished but juicy oranges in a cardboard box) and fries small red potatoes. I wake up early to join them, something that the “kids” never did when we came here last, ten years ago—when one of my cousins ran full-speed into a sliding glass door. And then did it again (he’s fine). Alicia and I are the only delegates from the younger generation this time; ten years ago, all six of us were here. But it’s still a full house—and for now, I welcome that early morning-clatter, so different from the unbroken silence of my own home. Sometimes I relish that; sometimes I don’t.

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