Stuff and Nonsense: musings

Showing posts with label musings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label musings. Show all posts


Memories of Baking With Mom

I'm baking a pumpkin bundt using a mix of my baking things and Mom's and it's kind-of ... nice? As if, even though she's not here and will never be here again, she is still with me? When I was a small child, Mom and I baked together all the time. I had a little wooden footstool I would stand on to reach the counter properly and she would give me bowls to mix together or eggs to crack or nuts to chop in the hand chopper. I loved that hand chopper. It was a very simply device -- just a glass jar with a screw on plastic lid and a metal X-shaped blade on a rod. It looked very much like this Gemco-Ware one:

I'd lean forward on my little stool, push up my sleeves, and chop with all my might until those nuts were chopped. I'll admit there was more than one batch of nuts that ended up chopped a bit more than my mother needed. She usually asked me to chop the nuts coarsely or medium coarsely, but I would get a little hepped up and Hulk smash the chopper until the nuts were rather finely chopped. With a little instruction, I eventually mastered all the sizes and learned which were appropriate for what recipe. Really, Mom taught me a lot about cooking without me realizing it -- just having me in the kitchen withe her, observing and experiencing, helped me absorb her teachings in what I thought, as a wee kidlet, was just another form of play.

Unfortunately, as I grew older, I was much more resistant to helping my Mom in the kitchen. Part of that was the usual teenage contrariness, but I think some of it was a withholding of self. My mother had been in a terrible car accident when I was eight and spent many months in the hospital before she could come home and even when she came home it was a very long time before she was anything like the mother I'd known. Having been without her for so long and so suddenly cognizant of her mortality, I fear I withheld some of myself from her and we lost a lot of our old intimacy.

Later as I, an adult, slowly opened my self up to the prospect of romantic love, it was also easier to open up to my mother and return to something like our earlier relationship. We sewed together, swapped recipes, and had a few deeply intimate conversations about things I never thought I'd discuss with my mother. We were good. And then she died so abruptly and I find myself wanting to shout that we weren't done yet, we were really only beginning, and it's not fair.

So I am baking a pumpkin bundt cake using a mix of my baking things and Mom's, because even though she can't be here I can still remember all the baking we did do together and I can still bake the things we would have baked together.

My pumpkin bundt uses a modified version of Betty Crocker's "Pumpkin Bread" recipe. I used finely chopped toasted pecans, a medley of raisins (because they're pretty and more interesting), and mace instead of nutmeg. I also threw in a ½ teaspoon of ground ginger and used whole white wheat flour, because that's all I have on hand these days.


Thoughts of Mom: More Things

Saturday, I went down to Dad's and we spent some more time going through Mom's things. While we've dispersed a tremendous amount of Mom's things to various local charities and institutions, much of her crafting stuff remains. Mom quilted and cross-stitched, tole painted and stenciled, and occasionally crocheted. In addition to her sewing room being full of quilting stuff, there was a second floor bookcase full of binders of quilting newsletters and patterns and a storage bench full of, well, everything that is crafty. Yarn. Embroidery floss. Embroidery hoops. Felt. Canvas. Beads. Crochet Hooks. Knitting needles. Christmas-y fabric prints. Snaps. Buttons. Knit elastic. Bias tape. Theorem stencils. And dozens of dress patterns.

We didn't know what lay in the chest until we opened it and, while was an unruly mess of crafty stuff, everything we pulled out triggered a memory. That chest alone took most of the afternoon and we didn't even succeed in emptying it out. We removed anything Dad didn't want or I didn't think I could find a new home for (at the senior center's knitting group, etc), but left everything that seemed too significant to deal with. We'll go back in a month or two, with fresh eyes and fortified hearts, to find that much we left can also go on and, hopefully, will have some idea of what to do with what we want to keep.

If I could, I would keep so much more of my mother's things, but I know she wouldn't have wanted me to create a shrine to her out of her things so I've tried to keep only the things that spark deeply felt, warm memories. Her jewelry, a few of her quilted table runners, her best (gas station) china, Christmas ornaments she crafted when I was small. I see these things, experience the weight and texture of them, and I remember so many things I thought I had forgotten. In some very real ways, my mother feels more present in my life, not less.

And it's okay. This is the first week since Mom died that I felt like myself and not some kind of shadow self. The grief and pain of her loss has dulled from a knife sharp stab of shock and surprise into a constant dull ache. My father calls it the new normal and I guess that's right. Mom's being dead is a normal thing now -- we've gotten used to the idea, accepted it, made it a simple fact of life.


Thinking of Mom: Food Is Love

After my mother died in November, my father and I went through every pantry shelf and every kitchen cupboard, bagging items to donate to the soup kitchen. It was awful but necessary work as Dad, who is a very basic cook anyway, couldn't stand being surrounded by so many things that reminded him of Mom. It is still really hard not to walk into their kitchen and "see" Mom there, putting together a meatloaf or pulling a banana bread out of the oven. (Mom was allergic to bananas, but she still baked Dad banana bread because he loved it and she loved him and food is love).

My mother always kept her pantry and freezer fully stocked with ingredients so that, at any moment, she might whip up a blueberry coffee cake or hearty supper as need or whim moved her. She was a generous cook, who loved to feed other people, and was not going to get caught out because she'd run out of, say, baking powder or vanilla.

Also, Mom had spent a significant part of her youth poor and hungry and, I think once she had grown into a thrifty adult with a household of her own, she was determined to manage things so her family would never go hungry or lack basic necessities. This worked out well as Dad was in construction and, whenever the housing market took a downturn, money would get tight. While my parents might worry about the mortgage payments, there was always good food on our table and toothpaste in the bathroom.

In the end, after a day of rummaging and reminiscing, I took a trunk-load of unopened, unexpired spices, baking mixes, flours, sugars, and canned goods to the soup kitchen. The kitchen staff were happy to receive it -- I contacted them in advance to make sure they could use what I was bringing -- and I think Mom would be pleased with the donation, too.

I also brought a smaller load of unopened, expired baking mixes, flours, and sugars home with me. Too old to donate, I couldn't bear to throw them away as there was nothing wrong with them and, also, throwing them away felt like throwing little pieces of Mom away.

As time has gone on, I've slowly begun to integrate my mother's things into my own kitchen and the situation is becoming more normal. I don't look at my mother's recipe box -- hand painted with strawberries by her back in the 70s -- and feel grief like a stabbing knife in my chest. It's more a gentle, wistful ache. I wish my mother were still alive and well. I wish we could cook together, again. Short of miracles, I can at least hold those memories of her in my heart as I cook with her things in my kitchen.

TL;DR, I baked scones using Mom's very expired (best if used by 9/30/2017) King Arthur Flour cranberry-orange scone mix and her mini scone pan. This was only the second time I had baked scones and they came out fabulously. Crisp on the outside, soft but crumby in the middle (kind of like a buttermilk biscuit?), with lots of good orange flavor. Mom would approve.


Thinking of Mom: Advent Calendars

Some of my sweetest childhood memories are of the advent calendars my mother would give me every December 1st. I remember I would come home from school in a frenzy to pop open that day's little perforated cardboard door to see what lay behind it (a plum pudding! a squirrel!) and beg my mom to let me open the next day's, too. Of course, I wasn't allowed to open a day in advance (Mom knew where madness lay) and would distract me with a baking or decorating project.

Nowadays, you can get all sorts of fancy advent calendars -- calendars with chocolates or Lego, etc -- but way back in the early 80s an advent calendar was nothing more than layered cardboard printed with a Christmas scene. But, oh, my mother always picked out the best (imho) calendar the card shop had to offer. The calendars I remember best were glittering scenes of anthropomorphized animals readying themselves for Christmas. Rabbits in scarves decorating an evergreen tree in the middle of the snowy woods. Squirrels in Victorian dress getting their Christmas shopping done. Woodland animals having a snowball fight.

A few years ago, I began buying advent calendars for myself. Usually from the gift shop of an art museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but sometimes from Lindt as chocolate advent calendars are very much a part of The Husband's Christmas traditions. Chocolate or no, advent calendars aren't as exciting as they were when I was a child and I don't open each door as promptly as I once had, but they still bring back warm memories of my mother and the calendars she so carefully picked out for me. And that's what really matters.


The Not Christmas

I knew the first Christmas without Mom would be a hard one, so I decided the best thing to do would be to make it as low-key as possible. The plan was we would go down Christmas Eve and stay overnight, spending all of Christmas Day with Dad. We'd eat lasagna and garlic bread I'd purchase, drink a lot of whiskey, and play tabletop games until we were too brain-fried, carb-overloaded, or drunk to feel the ghosts of Mom's Christmases Past.

And that was Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, Dad and I visited the cemetery in the morning and it was so peaceful and calm and full of birdsong that I believe my mother would be happy to know that's where she ended up. It's an old family plot in a very old cemetery in the middle of nowhere and lacks the regimented uniformity I associate with cemeteries -- the marching rows of headstones, the tightly clipped grass, the utter lack of naturalness. If such a thing is possible, it feels like a kind sort of place.

Later, we had met up with one of Dad's old associates for Christmas dinner at the casino buffet. Between the unchristmasness of the casino and the necessity of social pleasantries, we did not have opportunity to dwell on our loss or what Christmas ought to have been like this year.

My mother loved Christmas. Loved all the holidays, really. If it was a day you could decorate for, she did. But Christmas was the best, most decorated, most Holiday of holidays. Electric candles and crochet snowflakes at the windows. Wreaths on the doors. Garland around a mailbox stuffed with cards. A tree dripping with ornaments and tinsel. Nonstop Christmas music in the background. Tupperware full of cookies on the workbench for Christmas parties and swaps. Little Hallmark Christmas tchotchkes on every conceivable surface. And my mother at the heart of all of it.

So much happiness, so much light, so much love.


Trying to Find Words. Failing.

We interred my mother's ashes this morning. It was a simple, low-key ceremony at the old family plot with just a handful of close family members. I think Mom would have approved -- no pomp or priest, but deeply heartfelt. I thought I would handle the interment all right, but then the pineapple cookie jar/urn was placed in the grave and it all became unbearable.

No, I thought, that's too deep. Don't leave my mom's ashes in a hole that deep. It will be cold and dark and lonely. She wouldn't like that. But then we were invited to toss some flowers in and it felt marginally less awful.

If I had been braver, I would have taken all the flowers from her graveside and put them in the grave with her urn, surrounding it with color and softness. But I worried I would upset my dad, so did not.

My father without my mother -- it's an impossible thought. My father loved my mother for nearly fifty years, in sickness and health, joy and sorrow, poverty and wealth. She was his best girl. His first and only love. How can I help him go on? Everyone keeps telling me I need to look after my dad now and take care of him and I want to. I am. But it is impossible to look at him and not see my mom.

And it hurts so much.

Always sassing each other.



Mom & I go for a ride in my little red wagon.

Maryjane Elsie Gardner, of Waterford CT, passed away Friday, November 23, 2018 at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London after a courageous struggle with congestive heart failure.

She was born April 26, 1951 in New London to Joseph Edward Francis and Elsie Alexandra (Shabunia) Francis.

Maryjane graduated East Lyme High in 1970 and went to work at Two Guys department store as a cashier and later in the jewelry department.

In 1972 she married her high school sweetheart George L. Gardner and they set off on a 46 year journey of life and love. She is also survived by her daughter, Lynn, of whom she was super proud of in every way and loved dearly.

She was a skilled craftsperson dabbling in ceramics, tole painting, and became a very good quilter. A modest and unassuming woman, she once casually entered quilted items at a fair and won multiple ribbons. Appalled at the idea she may have hurt the feelings of local contributors, she never again entered a judged contest.

A skilled cook, she enjoyed hosting noisy holiday family gatherings and produced trays of delectable cookies, endless jars of jams, and lovely pies.

In addition to her husband and daughter she is survived by James Antill, Lynn's husband, sister Marilyn Burleson of New London, sister Diana MacDonald and her husband William, two nephews George and Lee Burleson of New London, and niece Jennifer MacDonald of New London.

In lieu of flowers contributions to the American Heart Association or the National Diabetes Association.

My dad wrote this for his best girl. I cleaned the punctuation and capitalization up a little, but left that rest as it is. How could I do better?


A Pineapple For My Mother

The staff at the funeral home provided us with brochure full of urn options, but none of them felt like Mom and we both knew she'd strongly disapprove of the cost of an urn. In the end, I bought a white ceramic pineapple cookie jar with an airtight lid off Amazon. Mom loved pineapples as a symbol of hospitality and we thought she would have gotten a kick out of it if she'd been there to see it. Felt ever so slightly weird dropping it off at the funeral home, but decided they'd probably seen weirder and we were paying so much money already that who cared?

Also, my mom being dead is really making me no fucks given about everything else.



I was at work when the text came from my father saying he'd brought my mother to the hospital that morning. She'd been short of breath. Dizzy. Holding too much fluid. It looked bad.

By the time I called to ask if I should leave work and come, it was already too late. My mother had died. Her heart stopped.

Our hearts broke. I do not know how we have gotten through the week since her death except by grim determination. There are Things That Must Be Done. Steps That Must Be Taken.

But, oh, the aching sense of loss. The constant ordinary, everyday reminders that my mother is gone somewhere I cannot reach. Those poems and songs that talk about arms aching to hold someone? I always thought they were silly, but now my arms quite literally ache to hug her one more time.


Heterosexual Privilege; Or, Let's Stay Focused on the Cheese, Please

Usually, I just don't talk about my sexuality because, frankly, it's not all that interesting. The bears at my bird feeders are interesting. The Ann Cleeves novel I just finished was interesting. The chocolate orange bundt cake recipe I can't stop thinking about is interesting.

But, ohhhh, when I'm sitting in a classroom, ostensibly learning about cheese, and the instructor and several students start talking about how they can't stand a local openly gay television news anchor because he's "so gay, gay, GAY" about everything. They don't talk about how straight they are. Why does he keep bringing gay into everything.

That's when I want to say something about heterosexual privilege.

Unless I were to introduce myself to them as a bisexual, most people -- especially if I've referred to The Husband at any point in prior conversation -- would assume I was straight. Because, for most people, society is coded straight. The baseline for humanity is straight.

And you can either let straight people go along thinking that, or you can out yourself (over and over and over again ... and it can get damn tiring). Straight people don't have to make that choice. They are free to act straight all the time -- talking openly about their relationships and families -- and their straightness goes completely unnoticed. They never have to worry about being the only straight person in a cheese class, for example, because it never occurs to them that is even a possibility.

But the openly gay television news anchor? The most casual mention of his husband is going to draw attention. And if he talks about his spouse as often as I talk about mine then, BAM, he's waving his gayness all over the place and is Just. Too. Gay.

But I didn't want to start something. I just wanted to learn about cheese. So I kept my mouth shut. But the experience keeps nagging at me, so here I am, throwing words down and hoping to make sense out of a tangle of feelings.


I'm Finally A Real Grown-Up Woman?

I'm 40 today which, to me, means I am finally A Real Grown-Up Woman. I have accrued enough years that I've become, in my head, grown-up by default. This probably seems weird and nonsensical to you, because you don't suffer from weird age-related identity issues, but it's a surprising relief to me.

Since leaving college, I frequently felt as if I was floundering around being Not A Real Grown-Up Woman. Like many of my age-mates, I did an undergraduate program and then moved onto grad school before starting a career -- acquiring a spouse, a mortgage, and various retirement accounts along the way. All suitably Real Grown-Up Things, right? But, ring-a-ding-ding, no kids. (And, no, I have never been so far gone in cat-love as to call those four-legged beasties my "children").

Let me be clear. I never wanted a child. But. I felt as if my friends with children (or who were trying for kids) had stepped into The Accepted Template For (Heteronormative) Adulthood and I was some kind sham. (Is this a problem shared by childless married men? Do they look at their male fiends becoming dads and think "I'm not properly an adult?").

But now I'm forty. No-one seriously expects me to have kids now, right? I'm officially in the Geeky Cat Lady subset of Real Grown-Up Woman? So break out the Hobnobs and the merlot. Let's get this unending Real Grown-Up party started.


My Completely Random & Probably Overly-Optimistic Post-Surgery Reading List

I'm going into the hospital for surgery Monday and I'll probably be there for five days, then home recuperating for ten(ish) weeks. So I've been amassing reading materials. And padding out my library hold list. And stuffing my Amazon cart for when I run out of library things ... as if that is likely to happen.

Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, I hope to be pretty out of it (and totes comfy) for the first day or two, so I'm thinking of packing just a few "light" graphic novels like the first few volume's of Chi's Sweet Home as just-in-case reads. And then, when my brain is fully functioning and needs distracting from my body's new reality (who stole my asshole? fml), I have this lovely list of totally random, but appealing titles to keep me going:

  • Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam
  • The Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith
  • Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule
  • Ei8ht, Volume 1: Outcast by Rafael Albuquerque et al
  • Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld w/ illus. by Joe Sumner
  • The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-seven Visions of a Wildly Better Future edited by Alexandra Brodsky & Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
  • The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
  • Groot by Jeff Loveness w/ illus. by Brian Kesinger
  • Half World by Hiromi Goto w/ illus. by Jillian Tamaki
  • The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani w/ illus. by Leland Purvis
  • In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
  • Kaptara, Volume 1: Fear Not, Tiny Alien by Chip Zdarsky et al
  • Life list: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile
  • Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored by Mary Gabriel
  • Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan et al
  • A Silent Voice, Volume 1 by Yoshitoki Oima [translation & lettering by Steven LeCroy]
  • Small g: A Summer Idyll by Patricia Highsmith
  • Snuff by Terry Pratchett
  • You Deserve a Drink: Boozy Misadventures & Tales of Debauchery by Mamrie Hart


Everything Will Probably Be Okay

Saw one of my doctors yesterday and he was not thrilled by my abrupt spike in blood pressure -- numbers higher than we'd seen in two years -- so he had me do a self-assessment and it's obvious my stress levels need to come way the fuck down. That's not exactly what he said, but that's definitely the gist of it.

I'm having surgery in nine days. Nine. Days. Nine. A completion proctocolectomy which basically means that the rectal remnants I retained after my partial proctocolectomy for ulcerative colitis way back in 1998 are coming out. Do they absolutely need to come out rightnowthisminute? Probably not. But I am at an increased risk for several cancers, I already have a history of fistulas, and I'm simply tired of the day-to-day care (and worry) I'm spending on a part of me that doesn't have a useful function, anymore. My rectum is currently about as useful as an appendix ... which I don't have, because it came out during the partial proctocolectomy.

I've been slowly but steadily headed toward this surgery for months now ... so I ought to have had plenty of time to get over myself and not succumb to anxiety or stress myself out. I've done the research. I've had a bunch of tests. I've spoken with my surgeon repeatedly about what could happen during the surgery. I thought I was pretty chill about the whole thing.

And then I thought about all the lists I've been making for myself -- things to get done at work and home before I go under the knife. Things to read. Things to cook. Things to clean. Things to reorganize. Things to buy. So. Many. Things. It's clear I've simply channeled my surgery anxiety away into every other part of my life. Hooray.

So. I'm having surgery. Big, kinda scary surgery. Bad things could happen. However:
  1. My surgeon knows what she's about.
  2. I am currently in good health.
  3. My hospital has acceptable ratings for the things I care about.
Everything will probably be okay.

Everything will probably be okay.

And, for the love of god, stop writing lists.



I guess we should talk about the elephant in the room, which is ... what have I done to this blog? For a few years now, I’ve maintained two thematically separate blogs -- Stuff & Nonsense (books) and Savory Tart (food) -- because I thought that’s what I was "supposed to do." For years, I’d had one home-grown, home-hosted blog where I talked about everything and anything I fancied. But then I READ THINGS ABOUT BLOGGING. Which, I now know, was a silly thing for a dyed-in-the-wool hobbyist to do.

Well-meaning “better blogging” articles suggested my blog should have one unique focus or theme, that generalized lifestyle blogs were passé and no-one would ever read my (mediocre) blog if I kept going as I was going. Of course, my principle error was in believing I wanted to popularize my blog and get better stats by attracting more readers ... when I'd only ever written for my own highly personal lolz. But, still, I was very "OMG, I need two blogs" and hied myself off to BlogSpot.

I tried to do all the "right" things -- I participated in weekly memes, monthly challenges, and the like. I did product reviews, tried to maintain a regular blogging schedule, worked at making my blogs attractive. In late 2014, I took what felt like a big step and registered the domain, because "real bloggers" don't use BlogSpot. I also started a Facebook Page for Savory Tart around that time, because I thought I needed one of those.

That was, taken altogether, just too much. Too many balls to juggle. Too many plates to spin. I've felt increasingly UGH about everything blog-related over the past year and I don't want to feel UGH about blogging. So I'm paring down -- no Savory Tart and no Facebook Page. Twitter only when it's amusing. No regular memes or challenges, except when they're genuinely interesting. And only this one blog, which will remain an entirely pleasant diversion. I do enough unfun real world things as it is. Why should my hobbies include anything that does not make me wholly happy?

tl;dr ... I started out blogging about whatever interested me and that's what I'm going back to. Book talk and cooking adventures will continue, but you can also expect more cat pictures and complaints about gardening.


Holding Up The Books

I've been rearranging our books. The graphics had occupied our living room shelves since we moved in, but while the collection had continued to expand, the amount of shelf space had (coincidentally) shrunk and now we have far more books than space.

Meanwhile, we've been buying less and less nonfiction with each passing year as The Husband only reads poker books and pretty much everything I want to read (excluding some queer and feminist history) is available though my library consortium or state-wide interlibrary loan system. So the nonfiction shelves had lots of empty space.

Nonfiction in their new home with enough room for expansion (& Swarovski)

The answer was obvious, no? Swap the collections -- graphics moved into the library/den and nonfiction moved into the living room. Everyone ended up with just the right amount of space. Huzzah. (And the swap only took something like six months of thinking about plus two days to actually move materials).

Graphics in their new home with plenty of width, but maybe not enough height?

And it works. Mostly. Except the graphics kept falling over because they needed bookends. Our fiction and nonfiction collections are held up by fairly sturdy low-profile black wire bookends, but I knew those weren't going to hold up the graphics. I needed something sturdy and heavy ... something like a brick.

Exactly like a brick.

Enter Lindsay and Michelle of The Gnaked Gnome, crafters of beautiful decorated brick bookends. I bought two ready-made bookends -- Wonder Woman and Iron Man -- plus custom bookends of Aquaman and She-Hulk. I cannot tell you how much I adore these bookends. Being brick, they're extremely sturdy and there's simply no way -- except, maybe, with help from a cat -- my books aren't going to stay upright. Each brick is fully decorated with no exposed bits, which means I can rotate them around as a please to show off, say, the spine or back cover when I tire of the front. Not that I'm ever going to tire of them, mind you.

(I do have to wonder what the postie thought as she schlepped the box of bookends up the driveway to my door ... "gosh! This thing is heavy as a box of bricks!")


Thoughts About Where I Get Books & Why

I had a conversation with a friend recently about how much, if at all, customer reviews on sites like Amazon influence the purchase of books and what we're looking for when we read a customer review. And that conversation quickly got my mind wandering off on a tangent, thinking about something I'd never really considered -- that I don't browse online bookstores the way I do physical bookstores and, thanks to the Internet and libraries, I don't really browse bookstores either. I'm generally there to buy a specific object. Huh. Has The Internet (and libraries) "ruined" book shopping for me?

My library consortium is large -- more than thirty libraries currently belong -- with fairly generous lending practices. While some pesky libraries are rather stingy (shame on you for not being team players!) about lending their materials, by and large, I can get whatever I want through the consortium. And if I can't get material through the consortium, the state-wide inter-library loan system is available to me. I place a special request and within two weeks (more or less) the item is in my hands!

When I was growing up, my town library was (and still, I am told, is) quite small and underwhelming so my mother would take me to the library in a neighboring town. It was certainly bigger, but nothing like what is available to me now. I used to have to buy books at shops because there was no other way of getting what I wanted and, because there was no Internet or book journals to tell me about books I might like, I spent a lot of time at the library and bookstores browsing for what I might want to read next. And, of course, I was limited to what was available to me locally.

Now, of course, information about new or forthcoming (or simply old and fascinating books) is constantly flowing over and around me. I can't help but be influenced by it. And, yes, I have a slightly unfair professional advantage -- as a librarian who does a lot of collection development I have developed a good eye for spotting interesting stuff -- but quite a lot of the bookish information I receive still comes from my own personal interests. I don't need to pay attention to Amazon(etc) reviews because I already know all about the book and I'm only at Amazon(etc) because I can't get the book through my library consortium or inter-library loan system and STILL want to read it. Or it's one of the few authors I love so much I feel I must buy their works, regardless of how easy it would be to get them from the library.

(Anyway, regarding the Facebook conversation, we decided customer reviews don't really influence us at all and a longer customer review is even less likely to influence us than a shorter one ... because we don't go to Amazon(etc) for "proper long" reviews. We want ratings and succinct reviews of 100-150 words. But mostly we're there to buy a book we already know we want, customer reviews be damned).


Boston Comic Con, We Loved You

We went to Boston Comic Con, because that's what nerds do when they're at a loss as to how to best celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary. An impersonal convention center packed to the rafters with artists and sweaty fans is clearly the most romantic option.

Well, maybe not romantic, but AWESOME.

Dementedly happy people are determined to have fun.

I'm calling Boston Comic Con our first proper con. We'd done the inaugural New England Webcomics Weekend in 2009, but that was a tiny thing, and ConnectiCon in 2011, but that wasn't nearly as big or as much fun as we hoped. So, yeah, based on bigness and levels of fun, Boston is our first con.

We drove up Friday, with plenty of stops along the way as we weren't hitting the Con until Saturday and wanted to be both well-rested and totally chillaxed before arriving. So we stopped for photo ops with a giant missile mock-up at Goddard Park in Auburn, continued on to Helen's Bakery Shop in Worcester for Bismark pastries (as close to cream cakes as a British person can get here), then ate those pastries at Bancroft Tower before walking amongst the wildflowers at Garden in the Woods.

So we were totally mellow when we drove into Boston ... and then WHY DID NO-ONE WARN US ABOUT THE TRAFFIC TUNNELS OF TERROR? But, hey, we eventually escaped the tunnels, found our hotel, and ambled along the Boston Harborwalk before dining on beautiful steaks and then heading on to the convention center to swap our tickets for wristbands.

Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. When we scooted, a little behind schedule, over to the convention center we saw alarmingly large masses of costumed people waiting to buy tickets. Happily, as we had our wristbands on, we were able to swan right in. And the Con was fabulous at 10:30 in the morning! I ran around like a crazed fangirl, getting signatures from all my favorite artists and writers, and generally gushed at them about how awesome they are.

Hopefully, I didn't freak anyone out. In my head, I'm always "Be cool, be cool. Say something smart about their work" and then I say something ridiculous or can't remember the name of the character I would like drawn in my book. Danielle Corsetto was really nice about it, saying a lot of people can't remember Clarice's name, but if I could have slunk away somewhere to die then I would have.

Unfortunately, the convention center was getting pretty packed and there were limited spaces to slink to. We tried standing in line for the Image Comics Panel, but after twenty minutes decided I needed fresh air more than panels and skived off outside with a bunch of sweaty cosplayers. Then we came back inside, joined the massive queue for Queer Comics Panel ... and was turned away just as we reached the door. There was no room left, unfortunately. As a general thing, that's awesome -- That many people interested in queer comics? Fab! -- but it sucked on a deeply personal level.

So I comforted myself by hunting down Gail Simone's table and getting her to sign my copy of Killer Princesses, because Gail Simone is the bomb and I have the BIGGEST bookish crush on her (I know we both have other people in our lives, but surely we could run away for a weekend and talk about her writing?)

Unsurprisingly, I returned from Boston Comic Con with quite pile of loot, but that's a post in its own right and will have to wait for another day.


Shirking, Guilt, & Not-Blogging

I've been away from here for a while and OH MY GODS THE GUILT I FEEL. Which is ridiculous, really, but there it is. I feel guilty when I neglect my hobbies and yet a hobby is supposed to be something I do in my leisure time for my own pleasure. If I have no leisure time or the leisure time I do have is taken up with other hobbies that should be fine. I should not find myself twitching when it's once again Tuesday and I haven't done a Top Ten post or it's Wednesday and I have no non-food pics to be Wordless with. And I certainly shouldn't be feeling depressed and guilty because it's been weeks since I posted about a book (or even read a book that wasn't work-related). But I do. Oh, THE FEELS.

It's not as if I don't have a perfectly adequate excuse. I've been super busy with work, darlings, with totally awesome projects like building a TARDIS-shaped Awesome Box, organizing a Whovian social, and doing tons of social media for my library system. Also, I had to lead the June book discussion and, you know, that is apparently the best way to get me to stop reading. Full stop. (Who thought it was a good idea for me to host a library book discussion? Do I look like someone capable of a leading fifteen elderly ladies in a measured and thoughtful discussion of literary work?)

Every time I picked up a novel that wasn't The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I felt both guilty and increasingly agitated -- as if I was back in high school, having spent the weekend shirking my chemistry assignment for an essay on The Scarlet Letter (totes 'd this novel) -- and had a great deal of trouble getting into (and staying) in the novel. Frequently, it seemed the harder I tried to focus on the novel, the more slippery my focus became. One afternoon, quite without knowing how it happened, I went from reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice, to putting holds on eight books about gardening for bees and other pollinators!

And now I have to get those read, too. And design and plant a garden. Because I have time for that. Surely.

Of course, every time I picked up The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I was extremely aware I was not reading it for my own pleasure but out of obligation. I would be expected to discuss the novel Rationally. Like an Educated Person. With an understanding of Plot and Theme and Metaphor and crapcrapcrap ... the pressure I put on myself. Pointlessly.

Book Discussion went fine. Sympathetic minds met in great harmony and accord. Excellent questions were raised. Well argued opinions given. And everyone agreed the resolution to the Miss Donleavy affair was pure bollocks. So, yay! A success!

And now I can go back to reading books for my own pleasure! Although, since everyone seemed to have such a good time, it's not unlikely I will be asked to lead another one in the fall. Pah. Months away. Plenty of time to read those twenty-three library books quick-stepping toward their due dates.


Failing At Reading Challenges; Or, I Said I'd Do What Now?

It occurs to me I was registered for two reading challenges in 2013 and I see, as I foretold last January, I did indeed start out strong with regular posts and then petered out after a few months. At least, that was so with the 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge.

I didn't read anything for the E-book Challenge. Which isn't to say I haven't been reading things on my Kindle. I just never wrote them up to count them against the challenge and now it is too late. Also, I've added about 20 new titles to my Kindle since starting the Challenge so am in even worse straits. Surprise.

Books I actually read for the 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge:
  1. Dawn of the Arcana, Volume One
  2. Twin Spica, Volume One
  3. Twin Spica, Volume Two
  4. Lola: A Ghost Story
  5. Adventure Time with Fiona & Cake, Issue One
  6. The Drops of God, Volume One
  7. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume Eight
  8. Yotsuba&!, Volume One
  9. Polly & the Pirates, Volume Two
  10. Ignition City
  11. Three Shadows
That's eleven out of twenty-four. Fabulous. Simply fabulous.

No challenges in 2014!


Purging the Books (Say It Isn't So)

We're talking about (finally!) repainting our ground floor and that means moving furniture and other things, like books, out of the way. And that means it's a "great time" to cull our book collection to the point that it actually fits our shelves. The rest are going to the library's Friends sale.

Oh, it's necessary and I've been doing it in dribs and drabs pretty much since we moved in five years ago, but it's hard. I like books, you know. The Husband likes keeping things. Between the two of us, it's a wonder our house isn't filled to the rafters.

I keep putting books bags and then I find myself eyeballing the bags, thinking "hmm, I think I'd actually like to re-read The Once and Future King" or "maybe, I finally will read Gimpel the Fool." If I moved it, unread, from our old house in 2008 and I still haven't read it then it really should go. And if, for some mad reason, I really do finally want to read it then I will just borrow it from the library.

Culling our fiction isn't that hard, because I'd already removed a bunch of never-going-to-read-and-I-feel-so-guilty-about novels last spring in a sudden fit of housekeeping. No, the hard bit is purging the nonfiction. I'm probably never going to crack open Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology again and yet I can't part with it, because I have such fond memories of the course and the nun who taught it (also, Charlotte Mew is the bomb). Ditto all the feminist literary criticism and gender theory. Purging them feels too much like purging part of my self.

But, honestly, I'm never going to reread them. Plural Desires, you really should go. (Please note I've had no difficulty culling the texts I used in library school. There's no nostalgia there, just an awareness of cost and a certain annoyance over lack of relevancy).

Also, do I need three editions of Leaves of Grass? Probably not, but which one should I part with? The one I bought in high school and baptized with pool water one hot summer? The abridged pocket edition I bought in college, half drunk on Whitman? The exquisite 150th anniversary edition with its French flaps and foil-embossing that I just like to caress?