Saturday, October 30, 2004

A romantic Friday night

It all began so well. Last night, we were planning to meet friends for a 7:10 showing of "I [heart] Huckabees." We decided not to run out for a fast dinner, but instead to make a sort of skillet saute with sausage, rutabaga - which I think is my new favorite food - and apples. I actually got home from work with enough time to put this together. Darren defrosted sausage while I diced rutabaga and apple. After the sausage defrosted, he said, "Does this smell off to you?" I sniffed it, didn't get a hint of anything and said, "No, it's fine."

I'm sure you know where this is going.

Darren cooked the sausage for a while, then we spooned out most of the grease and added the rutabaga and apples. We cooked it at relatively high heat until the apples were soft and scrumptious, and the rutabagas were tender. We sat at our kitchen island, pleased with ourselves that we had 20 minutes before we had to leave for the movie. And then we took the first bite. Blech. Bad sausage is very bad.

So, what to do about dinner in 15 minutes? Nothing in the house would work - I'd been too efficient about eating leftovers for lunch all week - and the hippie burrito place by the movies is somewhat unpredictable when it comes to service. So we did the unthinkable: McDonald's. We haven't been there in a year or so; it's definitely the fast food of last resort. (If only we had a Taco Bell nearby for dinner emergencies like these...)

We ate our processed burgers and processed fries in the McDonald's parking lot, joking about the romance of the street lights and the glow from the Ford dealership across the street. Then, with our meals scarfed down, Darren turned the car back on and we headed over the bridge. Except the car - Darren's Subaru - was behaving really oddly. It wouldn't go when he pressed on the accelerator, but then it would surge ahead. It almost died in one big intersection, but Darren coaxed it through into a somewhat legal parking lot behind the main office for his company. It died in the parking lot, and together we pushed it into a parking spot. (Note: Subaru station wagons are very heavy.)

Darren's gas gauge is broken, so he relies on the gas light to notify him when the tank is getting low. It had never come on. Then we checked the oil. Pretty much nonexistent. Then we squabbled a bit, and panicked that the engine had seized due to lack of oil.

Eventually, we met our friends at the movie theater. We abandoned the movie plans, they drove us home to get our gas can, we eventually got some gas in the car (but not without it spraying all over all four of us) and, bingo, that did the trick. We made a quick stop at my office to wash off the gas, then went to a local brewpub for a few beers.

It all turned out just fine, but it certainly wasn't the evening we'd expected. And I have definitely filled my McDonald's quota for the next 12 months, too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


I don't know what's going on these days, but I am tired and uninspired. Work is totally annoying - especially because annoying people are annoying me about annoying things, about which I can't really go into further detail - and I feel like I have lead in my veins. Still having the baseball/insomnia problem, which is actually making me fervently root for the Red Sox to win tonight so I can finally see what frozen-over hell looks like and get back to some kind of normal schedule.

I've got the usual bunch of stuff to do at work this week, plus a meeting about 45 minutes away tomorrow night, plus another meeting at 7:30 Friday morning, plus not one but two freelance assignments due in the next two weeks. No, I did not have to take the assignments... particularly the second one... but they pay well, and are about interesting topics. And one of them provides me with the opportunity to go to one of our favorite restaurants on the magazine's dime. AND with Christmas and Darren's birthday and a potential trip to DC and the car insurance bill and a number of other very scintillating financial issues on the horizon, the extra cash won't hurt.

So there's all of that to do, and all I really feel up to is laying on the couch. Good thing Darren is making dinner tonight. I am slug. Watch me lounge.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Better or badder?

My dad has a game he likes to play with his goofy poodle, Sam. Dad holds out his fists and asks Sam if he's been better (indicating one fist) or badder (using the other). Whichever fist Sam pokes his long poodle nose into determines the answer... which typically has little to do with Sam's actual behavior.

I had a bout of insomnia last night -- nothing compared to those of you who suffer it regularly, but frustrating nonetheless -- and lay awake on the couch at about 2 a.m., thinking about writing a post based on the better-badder philosophy. And, astoundingly, I think I'm coming down on the "better" side, especially when it comes to relationships.

Evidence in my favor:
~Relations with Darren's parents are much improved. We've seen them several times in the last month or so; they live about 25 minutes away, but we tend to go through long periods of time without getting together. I know they - especially Darren's mom - would like to see us more often. But, historically, I've had a tough time warming up to them. Darren's mom and I have very little in common, and I think we're both sort of disappointed by that. But lately, without saying anything about it, I think we've both been making more of an effort to reach past our differences.
And the beautiful thing is that it's working. Seeing them more often - brunch at our place a few weeks ago, then dinner out last weekend for their birthdays, then Game One of the World Series last night at their place - is creating the habit of being together. It's ok that I read while Darren and his parents watch the Sox, and it's also ok that I interrupt them occasionally with sputtering outrage over a (several weeks old) article in the New Yorker about the Justice Department's shift away from removing barriers to voting, in favor of an effort to root out voter fraud... coincidentally, in minority communities that tend to vote Democratic.
In any case, I'm having fun hanging out with them - and that's not something I've often said in five years of marriage.

~I've reconnected with D., my friend who has ALS. We saw her again this morning, at a (very freakin' cold) 2.5-mile fun run fundraiser for her. She is a beautiful person; she's doing an amazing job of graciously accepting all the support she's offered, which I can't imagine is easy. And she has just welcomed Darren and me back into her life without a word about our absence. Amazing.

~I took a step toward resolving a lingering problematic relationship at work. Interestingly, the form this took was an exasperated, exhausted outburst from me when this person uttered the 900th snarky, veiled insult of the week. There was silence in the office for a bit afterwards, then an almost imperceptible - but very important - shift in attitude.

~Ginga is back in my life! This is a fabulous and unexpected gift of this here blog; she started hers about the same time I started mine. We happened to talk on the phone shortly thereafter, and have been commenting voraciously ever since then.
We met on the very first day of college, and after a number of trials and tribulations - including some very lousy behavior by yours truly - we ended the college experiment with the amazing experience of writing our honors theses side-by-side. Our lives tend to take parallel tracks, and it's wonderful to be back in such frequent conversation.
Speaking of which, Ginga, are you and DP up for visitors anytime soon? Darren and I are pondering a potential Baltimore/DC trip the first weekend in December - things are very tentative at this point, but we were thinking about maybe spending a couple nights with y'all and a couple more with D. and C. in Washington. E-mail me if you get a chance.

~Finally, tonight we are planning to have some friends over for dinner. They've been part of a very sticky social situation that unfolded this time last year, and again I was not perhaps the best human being about it all. So it's sort of a big deal that we invited them and that they're coming. I am hoping to be brave enough to explicitly apologize for my actions earlier. On top of which I am planning to make what sounds like a very fabulous winter squash galette - squash, roasted garlic and sage in a rustic crust - with some garlicky collard greens on the side. So how can they resist me??

In any case, it's feeling like I've got some good friend karma going; I'm definitely not badder, at least in this respect. It's been a long time since I felt that way, so now I think I'm going to just shut up and enjoy it.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The moldy eggplant blues

Yesterday, I actually got out of work early. An hour-and-a-half after I'd planned to leave, of course, but still a few minutes before 5. Darren and I took Rocky for a walk on the beach, where we ran into P. and Lucy, who was overjoyed to see us. (She expressed her great affection for Rocky by whacking her in the head with her giant paws.)

The dinner plan was to make some ratatouille, making use of a bunch of things from our farm share - eggplant, obviously, along with several peppers, an onion and a grocery-store zucchini. As you may have guessed from the title, things didn't go exactly as planned. Both eggplant were fuzzy with mold - odd, since we just got them last Friday, and farm veggies typically last so much longer than the grocery store variety, since they're much fresher.

Neither one of us was fond of the idea of a grocery store trip, so I started paging through cookbooks, looking for a way to use some of the odd assortment of veggies we had on hand - those peppers, some brussels sprouts, some rutabagas, a couple leeks and several winter squash. We didn't have any meat to use as a main dish, or I might have cooked up those brussels sprouts, which typically I hate - but these are very cute, still attached to their stalk, and I think I'm going to give them a try at some point. Anyway, nothing seemed to go together.

Until, that is, I came across a recipe I'd been saving for a while, for butternut squash risotto. Ingredients were simple - squash, broth, onion, fresh thyme and dried porcini mushrooms. Astoundingly, we had both of those last two items in the house, which made me very happy, and also made me wonder if perhaps I really am a yuppie, as my sister purports. We didn't have quite enough butternut squash, so we used a delicata in addition.

I love making risotto - when I have the time - since, while I stir it and slowly add the broth, I can sip a glass of wine and read a magazine article or two. Last night, while the risotto cooked, I also sorted the giant pile of mail that had accumulated over the course of the week. Opening mail - something I used to do daily - appears to have fallen prey to my new, crazy schedule; I root through the pile for anything interesting (I usually come up empty-handed), then leave the rest for the weekend.

Then, the risotto was done, we sprinkled it with sharp parmiggiano and ate it as we sat on the couch, with No Baseball Playing on the TV. Amazing.

Although... that reminds me. I don't know who won the Astros/Cardinals game last night and, thus, who the Sox will face in the World Series. In preparation for another week of nothing but Fox Sports, I'll head off now and find out who won. As innumerable people have already commented, if the Astros won we are going to be subject to many, many days of tortured analogies between Astros/Sox (Texas/Massachusetts) and Bush/Kerry. I can't even imagine how the ham-handed Tim McCarver will beat that dead horse, to mix a few metaphors.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Just a thought

How the heck are we supposed to get going on this baby thing if all we do with our time is go to work and watch (very exciting, stressful and frickin' interminable) baseball games???

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A quick run

So I surprised myself this morning by not only thinking about running, but actually getting up and doing it. I think I was inspired by a strong case of nerves or anxiety or something last night. We watched much of the Sox-Yankees game (sorry, Sox fans), then I crashed on the couch for a while. When I finally got up and went to bed, I was (of course) wide awake. I lay there for a while, listening to Darren's breathing, and felt the strongest urge to get up and run. Like there was a bunch of energy stored up inside me that I needed to get out. (Perhaps that day of domesticity wasn't as satisfying as I thought?)

So, this morning, I had just enough time before we met F. and S. for brunch to take a 25-minute run through the neighborhood. It was just cool enough for a little lung-burning, but at least it was sunny. Felt like crap, but the first run after a long break always does. I'm hoping to start going to the gym and running on the evil treadmill a few mornings a week; it's just too cold to bear running outdoors before 7 a.m.

Other procrastinated things we got out of the way today: Bought primer and paint for the garage and actually applied the primer to all of the trim that had already been scraped. I'm a little nervous about getting the trim done in time for the onset of Maine winter - you can't paint, according to the label, when it's below 50, and these days it's barely been getting to the high 50s. But Darren gets out of work early in the afternoon a few days a week, so if he can get the rest of the scraping and sanding done, we might be able to get at least the primer on before it gets too cold.

Also had a nice visit with my friend and her new baby. At five weeks, he is just a sweetie - over 10 pounds and cute as can be. He gave his impression of a model baby while we were there - eating for a bit, then conking out without a peep.

On the books for this afternoon: Plowing through the local Sunday paper - and trying to keep my blood pressure down as I read a story about the same damn people we're writing about in our edition next week - people who pitched me a story about themselves and conveniently failed to mention they were talking to the daily, too. I should have asked... but they should have known better, too. And then there's the Times; there's nothing like a good nap while reading the International section.

Saturday, October 16, 2004


I haven't ventured outside the house today - other than to retrieve the dog from the backyard, which I don't think really counts - and I'm perfectly happy about it. I spent a few hours this morning finishing a story for work; it actually wasn't too painful, since I'd started it yesterday afternoon and had some momentum going. Darren and I came up with a grocery list for the week, or at least the first several days; he shopped while I put away my clothes from last week's laundry, plus the THREE suits I had to wear last week and apparently couldn't bring myself to hang up when I took them off. (This is Maine, for cryin' out loud; a large part of why I love it here is the casual nature of the place. It's rare that I wear a suit even once a month, so three in one week - three days in a row - was more than a bit much.)

Darren took off for what turned out to be an aborted kayaking trip (too windy). While he was gone, I made a pan of stuffed shells for my friend with a new baby and ALS. We'll take that over, along with some gifts for the baby, tomorrow.

And I also got some carraway bread going in the breadmaker for dinner - a soup of beets and turnips that will also use up a leek or two, some dill and even a potato, I think, along with a green salad made a bit spicy with some late arugula. My sister, E., and her boyfriend, P., and Lucy are coming over in a few hours for dinner and to watch the Sox-Yankees game. I hate to disclose this knowing Carter may be reading, but my sister and I are fans of the team he refers to as the Hated Yankees. (I grew up in New Jersey; my dad, as a little kid, met Mickey Mantle; and I went to my first game a few days after Therman Munson died, when I was seven. So I'm a genuine Yankee fan, not some Jeter-lover-come-lately.)

In any case, living in New England as we do, E. and I have ended up with die-hard Sox fans for significant others. That makes this time of year a little tense in our respective households. The plan for tonight involves a lot of beer, and probably not much conversation once the game begins. (Darren is already wearing both his Pedro Martinez jersey and his Red Sox visor.) At some point I'll have to write about my fascination with the deeply held angst and foreboding of New England sports fans... in the meantime, check out The Soxaholix, which explains the situation pretty well. (Thanks, Carter!)

Anyway, after I finish here, I've got to change the sheets on our bed and finish washing the last few windows upstairs, so I can cross that item off the long-term to-do list. All of this work -- even from my paying job -- feels very satisfying today. I'm enjoying putting the house in order, smelling the aroma of stuffed shells and rye bread, and knowing that I'm finally making some progress on reconnecting with my friend. Simple stuff - and perhaps that's why it's so rewarding.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The art of abstraction

I had a distubing realization last night while Darren and I were watching Before Sunrise, in preparation for the release of Before Sunset on DVD within the next few weeks. If you're not familiar with the film - which is sweet and smart, especially as it avoids what could have been some easy movie cliches - it's about a one-night encounter between a young American guy (Ethan Hawke) and a lovely French girl (Julie Delpy). They meet on a train in Europe, start talking and have an immediate connection. He's taking an early flight back to the states from Vienna the next day, and he talks her into getting off the train in Vienna with him so they can continue their conversation.

As the night goes on, they talk about the nature of relationships, the varying flaws in men and women, what influence your childhood has on your life, the importance of truly communicating with another person and all other deep sorts of things. And this is the realization that struck me: In the last few years, I have gotten myself to a state where I am practically incapable of abstract, theoretical thoughts. I prefer to talk, and think, about what is real, what can be quantified.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not too much of one. Darren and I talked about this for a while last night - he said he's noticed that, in long conversations about politics or poverty or any number of "ism"s, I tend to tune out. And I do. It's a long way from my passionate youth, which was full of angry pronouncements on social problems and the forces behind them.

Some of my disengagement, I think, comes from simply growing up a bit and learning that things are rarely as black-and-white as they once appeared. But somewhere in there I also gave myself the impression that everything is so damn complicated, there's no way I could possibly understand all the forces in play, and therefore my opinion on any of these topics is not valid. Tell yourself that long enough, and eventually you stop bothering to form opinions in the first place.

Another factor here, I think, is my career as a journalist, which has led me to focus almost entirely on Facts in recent years. I've written and edited lots of stories about complicated issues, but what they require me to do is listen carefully to the experts' theories, then synthesize them in a clear and engaging way -- not necessarily add to them myself.

In short, I'm out of practice at articulating how my daily experience, or the news in the paper, fits into a larger philosophy or worldview. (This is a stark contrast to Darren, who is constantly thinking about the big picture. Amazing we get along so well - but then, since I'm Detail Girl, we're quite complimentary.) I'm continually envious of people like Leah and Laura, who have the intellectual energy, in both their cases, to think about women's roles and domesticity and work and motherhood in serious, meaningful ways. When I started this blog, I was hoping it would prod me to write about some of those topics - but what I've done instead is write a public diary of sorts.

So, consider yourself warned: In weeks to come, you are likely to be subject to all sorts of Deep Thoughts from me, as I try to get the brain cells responsible for abstract thought firing again. And if that doesn't work, I promise I'll go back to funny stories about Lucy the Giantess.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Lucy chronicles

I'd intended to blog yesterday, some deep-ish thoughts on how indecision is related to procrastination and, therefore, why it took me four days to figure out what to serve some friends for dinner last night -- and why, after poring through cookbooks and pondering various fabulous combinations, we ended up with an old standby, portobello mushroom and rosemary risotto with garlicky chicken breasts and a green salad.

Instead, I spent the day cleaning, shopping and taking care of Lucy, my sister's enormous dog. My sis and her boyfriend are in New York for the weekend, so we're responsible for Lucy until tomorrow evening. The dog is loveable and goofy, but she is wearing me out. As I think I've mentioned before, she's an Airedale/standard poodle mix, so she needs her exercise. We took her on a loooong walk yesterday morning -- complete with ball-throwing and swimming -- and she was still a terror for much of the afternoon. We've found that we need to follow her if she leaves the room we're in -- so far, we've discovered her: in the kitchen trash (which is in a cabinet under the sink); tearing the stuffing out of a couch pillow; standing with her front paws on the kitchen counter; sitting very proudly on the pillows on our bed, tail thumping against the window; pawing at the door of the pantry where the dog food is stored. And this is with a plethora of chewy toys, bones, squeaky toys, etc. available to her at a moment's notice.

So before J. and P. - who told us last night they are expecting a baby in March! - arrived, I took Lucy for another long walk/run/swim, in the hopes of wearing her out for the evening. Luckily, we met a very fast whippet/pit bull mix who ran her in circles for 15 minutes or so. But still Lucy tried to get into the chicken broth on the stove - even with new, lovely bones presented to her upon J. and P.'s arrival.

To make matters worse: My sister and her boyfriend are both teachers in a school district about 50 minutes away. This means that Lucy is used to getting walked at 5:30 in the morning. And despite being put out at MIDNIGHT last night, this morning at 5:30 she was up and about, jingling her collar tags and then (even more endearingly) puking in the hall outside our room. I cleaned it up, then went back to bed. And was awakened 45 minutes later by Lucy licking my hand.

I love this dog, but she is driving me insane.

One of the many wonderful things about weekends, I think, is the fact that you can sleep until whenever you want. I'm long past my sleeping-till-noon days; most weekends, I'm up about 8. So it's not liked I'm planning to loll in bed all day. But I have to say that getting up with Lucy is really getting on my nerves. This morning, at 6:30, I put her in the back yard for 10 minutes or so. She didn't go to the bathroom - just poked around for a while, then came and sat next to me on the back steps. We came inside; I closed all the doors between rooms - providing as little opportunity for destruction as possible - and took her into the living room with me, in the hopes that Darren might get some more sleep upstairs. She quieted down, and I eventually fell asleep on the couch for a few hours, but I've been groggy and dazed since we got up around 9.

And, yes, it has occurred to me that, if we have a baby, this interrupted sleep in response to inexplicable behavior will become a daily activity. That thought is a bit terrifying -- I've never done well without enough sleep. The only saving grace, I think, is that presumably I will love the baby a lot more than I love this dog.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Getting going

Just a quick word in support of Ginga's post on procrastination... and how good it feels to actually accomplish something you've put off doing for a long time.

I have a friend, with whom I used to be quite close, who was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) about a year ago... not long after she and I had begun to drift apart. I've been stuck in place about all of this; the disease is a terrible one, and the prognosis is not good - 80% of people diagnosed with it die within five years. My friend is young, and beautiful, and brilliant, and generous. And she is absolutely surrounded by people who agree with me in that assessment.

So since I found out about the diagnosis I have been agonizing about what to do - wanting to see her, to offer to help, but not wanting to offend her or be rebuffed. I've been afraid, I guess, that whatever happened between us earlier - which was nothing in particular, at least that I know of - would make seeing her now unfeasible. Maybe that I didn't deserve to be there for her now? I don't know. But I've worried and fretted over this, and pondered it out loud. And I've never done a damn thing.

I found myself talking about all this yesterday with the counselor I see every few months. My friend has gotten a small but significant amount of local media attention - a group of her friends have formed an organization to raise money both for ALS research and for her medical expenses - and so my counselor knew who I was talking about. On top of which, Maine being Maine, she has a professional connection with my friend's partner.

My counselor has never been into giving me direct advice; we often spend the hour chatting, checking in, which can be helpful. But yesterday she gave me a blunt, direct talking-to. "You need to think about how you want to feel about yourself after your friend dies," she said. "You can't sit around worrying about what happened between you in the past. Your friendship with her is ending. It is finite. And you need to figure out what you want to do now so that you will be ok with yourself when she dies."

It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Tonight, we went to a fundraiser for my friend. Something we'd planned to do for weeks - as a way of at least doing something. We didn't expect to see her there - in addition to the ALS, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy a few weeks ago, and we figured she and her partner would be at home. But they were there, with the baby, and my friend looked amazing. We talked for a bit - she was much in demand, and the restaurant was more crowded than I'd ever seen it on a Tuesday - we ogled the baby, we greeted her partner and finally met her mom, who hugged us upon being introduced, saying she felt as though she already knew us.

And I told my friend, and her sister, and her mom, that I am ready to get involved. That I want to join their organization - the next meeting is Monday - and that we want to be resources for all of them, even if it means just raking my friend's yard or watching the baby while her partner goes for a run. And, of course, there was no awkwardness or ambivalence - they welcomed us immediately.

I'm irked with myself for letting this go for so long, but really happy to have gotten off my butt and done something. Sometimes, just the littlest step toward doing something long-delayed is all it takes.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The last pill

So, as I mentioned the other day, we decided while we were on our mini-vacation that, as a friend of a friend put it, we're going to pull the goalie. So this morning I took the last pill in the last pack. I don't know what it is about hockey metaphors for pregnancy and conception, but Darren's best friend - who's currently serving in the National Guard in Iraq - has begun boasting that he's gotten one more puck past the goalie than D. has. (His son is eight months old.)

Curiously, today is also our fifth wedding anniversary. We certainly didn't plan for it all to work out this neatly - in fact, we didn't plan to do this at all. The final verdict came about in a long conversation on the back porch of our fancy New England resort hotel - we were sitting in rocking chairs, our feet up on the railing, sipping Bar Harbor Real Ale and looking over the croquet court to the dock and Somes Sound beyond. It was a chilly night; we were wearing jeans and sweaters. We'd just come back from an amazing meal at a real Mexican restaurant, with the best chiles I've eaten since we last went to New Mexico and margaritas with fresh lime juice. That little reminder of our past - we met in New Mexico, where we lived for two years just after college - must have played a part in our conversations -- that reminder that we've been together for 10 years, that we've made conscious decisions to be together, to be in Maine, to try to live a life in which work is not the center. And the next step in this life together is trying to have a baby.


In my typical neurotic, somewhat over-educated fashion, I've been asking friends with kids about how scientific they got about trying, whether they gave up caffeine before finding out they were pregnant, what they did about the drinking - I'm no lush, but I love my glass o' wine or beer with dinner - etc. The verdict seems to be, at least in the beginning, to take my folic acid and have fun. That was the word from my pal S., who has a beautiful 14-month-old girl. So, although I think I am going to switch to half-decaf, I'm going to try not to obsess, to enjoy the intimacy of this time with D., to keep spoiling the dog and eating my veggies.

Speaking of which: On tap for tonight is kale and potato soup - and if it doesn't turn out better than that miserable fennel-leek soup I made Tuesday, I'm giving up soup forever - along with either homemade bread or the alluring, and very tasty, bread from the bakery around the corner.

Friday, October 01, 2004

A quick update

The man on the bridge was finally talked down later last night - he was up there for hours, apparently. And the police had actually been looking for him - his family hadn't been able to find him for a few days and knew he was suicidal. So now he's at a local hospital, in a psych ward, I imagine.

Ginga commented in my last post that folks in DC are so mean as to have yelled "jump" to a person in a similar situation on the Beltway. Wish I could say that didn't happen here, too -- according to this morning's paper, a bunch of geniuses at a sketchy bar across from the bridge spent some time honking and yelling "jump." So rudeness, incivility and plain old insensitivity abound in Maine, too.