Friday, December 4, 2009

Thoroughly Modern? Me? We'll see.

I have just subscribed to a variety of podcasts. Now I can listen to the news on my walk to work. Hopefully, the information will go in both ears and stick. Brainwashing, they call it. There are probably podcasts that are pure fun, too.

Who knows where this will lead? Next thing you know, I'll go for a run and "read the newspaper" at the same time. Isn't that a little weird? Snobby? Too efficient? I'll be one of those headphoned people ignoring their surroundings and acting like their time is so valuable that they have to do two things at once. I'll exercise and study for the GRE and answer telephone calls while staying slim on a treadmill, or something...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

To be continued...

After a trip to the emergency room and a night in the hospital, Crenshaw learned that her symptoms were not emergent...nor were they immediately explicable.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Crenshaw Passes Gift Resolution

Inspired by advent calendars left for the taking in the break room at work, Katie Crenshaw plans to replace personal purchases with Christmas gifts. She hasn't elaborated on what those gifts might be, just that she has agreed with herself to a strategic plan for holiday shopping.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rejected: Thrown Out, Then, Thrown Back

Not deterred but determined, Katie Crenshaw resubmitted her news story and wowed the editor who had rejected it the previous week.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Moods and their Manipulation

I'm starting to join the camp of people who think that you create your own happiness.

I've been thinking about how so many of the things that make me happy transcend the day-to-day: music, parents, friends, traditions. Music will always be there to cheer me up. I can think of a happy tune no matter what's happening to me or the world. Remembering a long-lost song always puts me in a good mood. When I need some pep, I try to think of a nice song. It works best when the song comes spontaneously, but trying to think of a song helps, too. Even when there are momentary, or even long-term trials and tribulations, there are always these dependable, portable joys in life that you can access just by thinking about them.

I can't believe the power of that song. It's overwhelming.

Sleep is another dependable joy. I think sleeping is like restarting the computer. Everything works better after sleep. Things just go more smoothly. This morning, I wasn't feeling very inspired. I was indecisive and uninspired. Since I hadn't slept very long last night, I took a morning nap. Afterward, I felt so much better.

In addition to thoughts, what I put in my body really does affect my mood. Coffee really can put me in a good mood. Carbs put me to sleep. Rice and beans, no cheese, leave the mind and body feeling content. I can't think of a food that puts me in a bad mood, exactly, but some foods definitely put me in a good one.

Don't forget exercise and the runner's high. The high comes at the peak of exercise. Afterward, I feel content and meditative. After a run the other day, I lay down to do sit-ups and just stared happily at the ceiling for a minute or two. That's what I mean by content.

Practicing violin also leaves me feeling great.

I've started to separate my emotions from my identity. If I drink coffee and feel great, I know it's a caffeine boost. If I eat lunch and feel sluggish, it's a post-prandial slump. When I sleep well, I feel better than when I sleep badly. If I feel lazy, it's not because I'm lazy by nature; it's probably because I need a pick-me-up of some kind. I blame myself less for bad moods. I think they are really due mostly to environmental circumstances.

Also, I now try harder to reverse bad moods. I used to think they were just sent by fate and that nothing could be done about them. If I felt miserable, it was because everything was awful and I wouldn't feel better again until I'd solved all my problems. Now I realize that sometimes, bad moods are nothing more than a need for a nap or a cup of coffee. They aren't due to my fatal character flaws and my fate. On that note, I've realized how Tylenol and Midol really can make me feel better, both physically and mentally, at times when I feel crummy. I used to think that feeling sick was also one of those things that you just had to ride out and that nothing could change. I had the "I feel too sick to get up and take Tylenol" attitude. Now I realize that taking something really can help. It's worth the effort to try to feel better, and there's no shame in using food and drink to that end.

Now that I realize that bad moods can be reversed, I have changed my approach to difficulties. If I am in a bad mood trying to do something, it will be hard and frustrating and not go very well. If I'm in a good mood, it will go much more smoothly. Rather than plow through a task in a bad mood, I now try to take the time to reverse my mood, then continue with my day. Works much better.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Sometimes, often, I forget about things that make me happy and that I love.  The phrase "put things in perspective," to me, means "think about things remembering what's really important to you and what true happiness feels like and whether or not the daily tribulations have any effect on what really matters."  They don't! 

Music is wonderful in part because it is immortal and mostly unaffected by human tragedies large and small.  As long as there are some people alive to play music, it will persist.  The same goes with other forms of art.  It'll always be there, for me, anyway.

True happiness = this song. Part of the fun is me doing a dramatic impersonation of the singer.  It's hard to exaggerate her and this song, though.  It iz hard-eh to ex- aaa - ger-ate this-eh singer-rrrrrr. 

These too!  Maurice Chevalier - "La Symphonie des Semelles En Bois"
And so many others.  In future posts, I hope to write about the wonderful Yves Duteil! 
And "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg," that movie in song that I know nearly by heart!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ignorance Righted

1.  Portuguese is the official language of Brazil.
2.  Columbus originally landed in what is now Haiti.  I knew that at one point but forgot. 
3.  Coco Chanel's true first name is Gabrielle. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grit(s) Go To Preschool

A range, featuring two wholesome breakfast cereals, at the Field House, a roadside diner near Princeton, Kentucky
The subject of grit returns, this time in an article from the New York Times Magazine,"Can The Right Kinds of Play Teach Self Control?" written by the aptly named Paul Tough.  The article is about the Tools of the Mind program, in which pre-K and kindergarten students at select schools across the country learn self-control through structured play.  Grit, the ability and, indeed, inclination to focus and avoid distraction, was the subject of an article in the Boston Globe published not too long ago, and that article inspired several of my earlier blog posts.

Grit, or the lack thereof, has become something of a pet peeve of mine.  I find that I am happiest when I'm grittiest.  My moments of inspiration always come when I am focused on finishing something.   Inspiration comes after the point when I want to stop working or focusing.  If I stop at that point, I don't get inspired.  But if I keep going, my urges to go the bathroom every fifteen minutes, to have a snack, to check e-mail all give way to my urge to work on what I'm doing.

Case in point:  Spring, 2007, finishing my biology honors thesis. I stayed up late.  I really got in the groove.  Suddenly, making that last figure with those sequence alignments was exciting, a finishing touch, rather than just something to put off.  I was not thrilled by the thesis I turned in minutes past the deadline that day.  It wasn't great.  It had mistakes.  I was really disappointed with it, in fact.  But having to meet that deadline made me realize what I really wanted my thesis to be.

Between the time I turned in the thesis to the committee and the day I had to turn in the thesis for printing, I was truly inspired.  I got lots of exciting scientific ideas and added them to the document.  I made some new figures.  I wanted to work on my thesis all the time.  The act of preparing the thesis for the committee and focusing on the thesis allowed me to achieve that next level of inspiration. 

I remember that after I'd turned in the thesis, I believe for printing, I had quite a high.  Before sleeping that night, I did a statistics assignment and got really "into it."  The next day, I cleaned my lab, organized my tubes, and did the lab dishes.  Then my advisor came and helped me rinse dishes, and we had a nice conversation.  Things had been awkward with my advisor during the period before my thesis got going.  I worried that she was unhappy with my progress.  But this the opposite.  I'd done a fabulous job on my thesis and was now icing the cake by doing a chore without being asked. I was so happy!  I was on a roll. 

Back to the main topic of this post.  I do think that grit is something that has to be taught.  I think that these Tools of the Mind programs have the right idea.  Grit must be taught because it is counter-intuitive.  In my case, to be truly inspired, I had to do what I'd been putting off.  I had to work past the point when I wanted to give up.  In the end, persevering made me ecstatic.  What I really want in life is that ecstatic feeling, that inspiration.  In order to reach that point, I had to resist doing what I wanted (sleeping, or anything to procrastinate, really) in order to focus and persevere.  Because it requires momentarily resisting one's urges, grit and the resulting inspiration is unlikely to come accidentally.  It's unlikely to come without some external pressure, like a deadline or a teacher's instruction.  That's why I think grit is something that should be taught in school.

I worry that children in un-schooling "programs" will not learn grit.  Un-schooling is a kind of home-schooling in which children follow their own interests, rather than a curriculum.  I think that these programs lack the external pressure that makes people focus enough to really get somewhere.

On the other hand, children do seem to be able to focus remarkably well. Maybe they do have some innate grit.  My niece, who is being un-schooled, is the epitome of focus as she reads a book at the kitchen table, ignoring her food and the people around her.  She could read a book during a hurricane.  I remember when I had the reading bug, and my friends have similar memories of reading in the early grades.

But will she voluntarily focus on memorizing the amino acid structures (which are nice to know but not fun to learn)?  I don't think so. 

The Tools of the Mind program emphasizes focused play as a way to teach grit.  Throughout my life, I have been privileged enough to engage in a kind of focused play:  study of the arts.  Ballet classes are focused dancing.  In them, you don't just dance the way you feel like dancing, you focus on doing prescribed exercises.  By the end of class, you feel great, perhaps even inspired.  You might not have felt great, though, at the end of the barre exercises.  You might even have wanted to quit at that point. Luckily, the structure of the class forces you to persevere past that point of discomfort.   If you then go and dance freely, your warmed-up body can do wonderful, inspired things.

Practicing an instrument is also focused play.  At lessons, the teacher leads you through exercises that you later are expected to practice on your own.  You learn to go through the exercises by yourself.  You develop an internal pressure to focus.  When I practice violin, I don't fool around.  That's something I learned from taking music lessons as a kid.

It would be great if schools also taught children to focus.  It's something everyone, not just privileged children, should learn.  It's something particularly important to learn in this day and age, the age of the evil iPhone.

I think that the iPhone is grit's nemesis.  It's the evil distraction, the Devil on your left shoulder.  It inspires people to drop what they're doing to check e-mail or send a quick text message.  I've read that kids nowadays are often caught texting under the table at family dinners.  Not only does a phone's constant pestering distract people from what they're doing, it also prevents them from later having a reason to sit down and write a thoughtful letter synthesizing the information they have been texting and twittering all day long. 

On the subject of "this day and age," let's think about a former day and age.  I recently read a book about growing up in the 50's, Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.  In this memoir, he described how kids used to be at a loss for things to do.  Their parents would tell them to go out and play and they had to find something to do.   They would almost focus on something because they couldn't find anything else to do.  Bryson knew his town inside and out because he had nowhere else to go.  He would read a magazine cover to cover because it was the only thing he had to read at the moment.

In our time, in this part of the world, anyway, one is never at a loss for things to read.  There's an information overload.  Focusing may be more difficult than it was in the past, but it's just as rewarding. 

Now let me make one last point.  I do fear that being able to instantly publish one's writing in the form of blog posts can deprive one of that moment when a piece of writing, after extensive editing, really blossoms.  Blog posts can be flighty things.  Blog posts don't requre grit, ironically, and they often lack focus. However, I do focus when I am writing a post like this one.  I didn't check e-mail for the whole two hours I was writing this.  It's not focus on a grand scale.  This is not my magnum opus.  But it was a good exercise, and it did keep my attention.  So there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Comments Should Work Now

For some reason, it has not been easy for my mom to post comments to this blog.  I thought it was just a matter of me showing her how to do it.  No; when I tried to comment to my own blog, it didn't work. 

I have now changed the Comments settings a little bit, and my test comments are appearing.  So if you have not been commenting because you have had technical problems in the past, please try again now!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Travel dreams

Oh, wouldn't it be nice to travel the world? I originally chose a profession that would let me travel for free. As a biologist, I would go to meetings all over the world, expenses paid by my research institution, the way my dad had done. As a kid, many childhood vacations were tagging along with my dad, a geneticist, when he went to a scientific meeting in Paris or Edinburgh.

Now that I'm no longer working as a scientist, I have to find another way to travel. Ideally, I will earn my living by writing at my computer wherever I choose to take it. I can travel the world and write. At the moment, there are several barriers to travel. Ironically, none of them are geographic! Mountains, oceans? No problem.

Money is the first barrier. My parents gave me a credit for a trip anywhere in the world for my graduation present. I haven't used that trip, yet. So I could go on one vacation without worrying about money. Could I fund my own travels at this point? Honestly, I haven't tried. I do have some savings. I could certainly take the bus to New York for the weekend if I so chose. But travel FEELS like something I can't afford.

I could save more money than I do. I think that if I truly had a goal to take a trip somewhere and knew approximately how much it would cost, I could save up for it. I'm sure it would be easier to forgo short-term expenses if I knew I were saving for a trip in the future.

The second obvious barrier to travel is a full-time job. In my case, though, it's not really a barrier, because I have taken several unpaid vacations within the last year, and I now have accrued several days of paid time off.

The last barrier is inertia. It's easier to stay in one place than to plan a big trip, especially since it will be the first trip I plan and my first time traveling alone.

I do have one friend who might be up for traveling with me. Her family also has a place in Southern Spain. And she's one of the five people who read this blog...

What I don't have are kids to take care of or a job that ties me down. So I could and should travel.

Where to, gumshoe?

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I think I have given in. I no longer want to read the print newspaper.

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to support the news, so I became a National Public Radio member and bought a Thursday-Sunday home-delivery subscription to the Boston Globe. I have enjoyed my some extent. I consistently read the "Ideas" section of the Sunday paper, thoroughly read the paper one of the four days I get it, and glance at it other days. I occasionally clip things to send to my parents.

However, at least one day out of four, the paper goes straight to the recycling bag.

The paper waste is one of several reasons I am thinking about stopping my paper subscription and reading the newspaper on the computer.

Another strike against newspapers is that I find them cumbersome. Though the idea of drinking coffee or having breakfast over the paper is appealing, the reality is that it can be very messy and hard to coordinate. In order to see an article at the top of the page, I have to either fold the paper in half or put my plate on the bottom of the page, then move it when I want to turn the page. The computer screen, on the other hand, is right in front of my face and stands up vertically so that I don't have to hold it up or arrange to look down at it like I would a print paper. The print on the screen can be small, but it’s certainly larger than newspaper print and you can enlarge it with a click of the mouse. Overall, I find it more relaxing to drink coffee in front of a computer screen than with a newspaper. So away goes the romantic argument for reading the newspaper at the breakfast table.

If I ever have a son named Mortimer and make him ham and eggs for breakfast, I’ll go out and buy a paper so he can read the comic strips while my husband reads the news and I do the dishes. Okay?

Now for more important considerations. I find that I learn more when I read articles online because it's easy for me to look up things I don't know. I can use Times Topics, on the New York Times website to brush up on the topic of an article so that I better understand the details of the situation in question. I can pull up a Google map if I'm reading an article about an unfamiliar part of the world. I can easily search the archives online.

As an aside, on one hand, virtual news seems frightening, because there’s nothing tangible about it. But tangible and accessible are different things. Microfiche records of old papers are tangible. But I would argue that the online archives are more accessible.

The main reason I bought the newspaper subscription was to do my part to save the failing print media. I’m rethinking that argument, because it's too late to prevent the decline of print media. It's already declining in more ways than one. Papers are struggling to stay afloat. Within the last year, the Christian Science Monitor stopped its print edition. It now publishes exclusively online. The New York Times Company, which owns the Boston Globe, forced Globe employees (in the Boston Newspaper Guild) to accept cuts or face closing of the paper earlier this year. Luckily for everyone, they reached an agreement. There are probably many other examples of struggling newspapers.

Furthermore, the quality of the print newspaper is declining as well. The Globe's financial strife has led it to go overboard with advertising in the print paper. Section A of Friday's paper seemed to be mostly about Macy's bras for big-chested women and less about the news. There were multiple two-page spreads of Macy's ads. No article gets that much contiguous space in the paper. Online, though there are lots of ads, they bother me less than those Macy's ads. Online, I can look at an ad and click it away. But I had to look at those buxom bra models every time I turned the page in my newspaper.

In defense of those Macy's ads, though, I'd rather have papers sell ads to make extra money to fund thorough reporting than save money by investing less in their stories. If an ad allows for another edit and another fact-check and another interview, it's worth it. At least ads are explicit. You can see when the paper earns extra money through ads. It's not immediately obvious when the paper saves money by spending less on its stories. Fabrications and errors can go undetected, at least for a little while.

If it’s too late to prevent the decline of the print media, do I want to at least keep it from declining further, the way I want to make global warming less of a disaster? No. I have decided that it's okay if the big newspapers stop their print editions and go exclusively online. I think it would be better for newspapers to use all their resources to make a great website with great news, rather than siphoning off resources into their dying print editions. So I don't think "trying to save the print media" is a valid reason to subscribe the Globe home delivery.

What to do instead? I don't want to simply stop my paper subscription and read the paper online for free, because I know that good reporting costs money, and one of the reasons I got the print edition was in order to support the paper I read. I would really like to just make a donation to the paper. The big newspapers, unlike public radio, are for-profit businesses. Maybe that is why they don't take donations.

Instead, I think I will purchase the Globe's electronic edition. It's a copy of the paper as it appears in print that you can read on- or offline. My main goal is to pay for the news. However, it could be nice to see the final version of the paper as it appears in print rather than just viewing the dynamic website. Having a copy of the paper would give me a way to read it cover to cover (or not), rather than just cherry picking articles from the endless website.

To close, I want to remind everyone that I tend to write my blog posts over coffee in the morning and that you can read them the same way. I go well with tartines…

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Even though fall wasn't really here earlier this week, I could feel that it was coming. The air was cooler. My lips started to chap and my hands to crack. Apples appeared in tote bags at Whole Foods all of a sudden.

Fall really came in my imagination. Suddenly, my mind drifted not to summers in New York City but to autumns in Maine. I thought of American Girl catalogues showing pictures of girls and dolls huddled up together near a fireplace. I thought of L.L. Bean catalogues advertising turtlenecks and v-neck sweaters and the times when it was so cold outside that all I wanted to do was drink a warm beverage and look at a catalogue. I thought of the Sears "Wish Book" catalogue I used to peruse, circling everything I wanted so that Santa would know.

I thought of my own barn jacket and how I've worn it every fall since I was truly young. I thought of the picture of me and a childhood friend sitting on top of a pile of leaves we'd raked, eating apples off our apple tree in our twin barn jackets. I think I still look the same. I still have long hair, anyway.

I only imagine my warm, fall clothes because in reality, they are still in a box at the top of my closet, and I have to face the transitional mess of changing my closet over before I can wear them.

Middle-aged people have started wearing their fall rain jackets. Younger people have not faced up to fall yet. I don't know how many people my age are organized enough - or lonely enough or whatever motivates a person to do such a chore - to change over their closet, cardboard box and all. Perhaps there are some, and they haven't changed their closets over for winter, and that's why they aren't wearing winter clothes yet.

Of course fall means back to school. But it doesn't bring back school memories. It brings back memories of what I wore to school. Memories of the weather getting colder and needing my striped J. Crew sweater from the outlet in Freeport. It brings back memories of school shopping in those wonderful years when one grew so much that one needed an annual wardrobe change.

Fall is the time when I start thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've made my resolution in advance not to get carried away eating sweets even though it's cold and they are comforting. As I write this stream-of-consciousness memory, I think of Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas In Wales" and wish that I could capture my memory of Fall that same way.

At this time last year, I started a quilting project for the winter. Maybe I should start another one this September.

This is the time of year when my mom shifts from gardening to baking and sewing. My dad's activities stay about the same but he starts wearing warmer clothes outside and no longer has to mow the lawn. The problem shifts to lack of grass (ie., hay for his cattle).

When I see new babies at the grocery, I think how interesting it must be to experience fall and not know, yet, that it's something that happens every year.

Baby birds may not feel the same way. Maybe they instinctively know to migrate south for the winter. Or maybe its just a cultural tradition for birds, passed down through the generations. Imagine that. Maybe in a few years, birds will have heated nests, winter coats, farms for raising worms and bugs, places to store gathered seeds, and they will stop migrating for the winter. Maybe they'll start importing their food from the South when it gets cold. Courier pigeons will have jobs again.

Fall is so much more interesting in the imagination.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Folger's and Maxwell House coffee are actually quite good. If I was lucky, I smelled it as soon as I woke up, meaning that my friend was already awake and dressed and percolated a pot of it. That smell made me want to get up. I stopped to make my bed before going downstairs, knowing my friend usually made hers first thing AND got dressed before breakfast.

As I walked downstairs, the sound of the radio in the kitchen got louder: "Mr. Sandman, give me a dream. Make it the cutest that I've ever seen." There was my friend seated at the crowded kitchen table reading the newspaper, spread out over the radio and her mail collection. The kitchen table may be the one messy spot in that house.

Now that I was awake, it was time for breakfast. We both had some coffee; me, in a white, curved mug; she, in a straight-side pink mug with some cute picture or message on it. My friend always had canned milk (evaporated milk) in her coffee. It's the kind of can you open by poking a triangular hole in the top. You pour from the hole, store the milk in the can, and keep it fresh by covering the top with a plastic, snap-on lid. My friend didn't take sugar in her coffee, but I did.

In the summer, we had cereal or English muffins. My friend usually started with a bowl of cereal, then had some toast. In the winter, we had oatmeal.

We ate at the dining room table. I didn't grow up in a family where everyone ate breakfast at the same time, so I was used to breakfasting alone. It was nice to have company over breakfast. I'm sure my friend, who lives alone, felt the same way.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Priorities: Easier Set Than Done

I believe in disciplined practice of one's art: writing, in my case. My behavior does not always match my ideals. I think that a writer should spend time writing every day at the same time. The hard part about making priorities and keeping them straight is that things are always calling you away from them, tempting you. It's tempting to get up from writing and make another cup of coffee. It's tempting to deal with daily problems as they arise, even if they really don't need immediate attention, putting little problems over long-term goals. I think the long-term goals are more important than short-term wants and even needs.

I sometimes feel like I'm doing an okay job at many endeavors. I want to do a fabulous job at at least on thing: writing. Whatever it takes to excel, that's what I should do. Take the time to look up spelling and grammar questions in my Chicago Manual of Style. Know thy craft.

The hard part about excelling at one endeavor is that it means cosciously downplaying other things. The easiest way to keep priorities straight is to organize one's day in order of one's priorities. That way, one doesn't have to resist temptation, in theory; one simply runs out of time for the less-important things. In reality, though, resisting temptation is harder than that. It takes active work not to check e-mail or have a snack instead of following the plan.

I sometimes feel like I don't have time to do a better job at the things that are most important. That's why I'm looking to cut out the unnecessary time consumers in my day. Checking e-mail seems innocuous enough, but it adds up. How many minutes of your life do you want to spend checking e-mail so frequently that most of the time, there are no new messages? And do you have to fix yourself something in the kitchen before you do everything? No. You can save the ten minutes it takes to make your French-press coffee and just go! These things are low priorities.

Then there are things that are great to do, but only if time allows, such as logging my spending, cleaning my room, and cooking things that take a long time. The key is not to just latch onto any little thing on the to-do list to avoid doing the most important chore.

Speaking of that high priority, I have three goals as a writer. The first one is to practice writing and improve my ability to express my ideas in words along with the ideas themselves. My blogs are mostly where I practice my writing. The second goal is to find ways of publishing and making money from my writing. I do that by writing for a local newspaper and doing some scientific writing for an on-line journal. The third goal is to write things that are meant to last. Blog posts and newspaper stories get old quickly, and people only happen on them right after they are published. Once an article or post goes into the archives, few will read it. That's why I think it's important to work on a long-term writing project that could eventually become a book.

There's a lot to do. I think I'll take a wee nap. But I'm not abandoning the plan, just showing how it's natural to deviate a little bit! Priorities are easier set than done!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bible College Online

When I type into my browser, I go to Bible College megasite. I suspect that the Bible College website has some way to make itself appear instead of sites one commonly visits. I doubt that it actually came up with the name crenshawseeds for its URL. leads to the same page as
So, when navigating to my blog, remember, it's

It's ironic that the mega bible site comes up when I try to navigate to my blog because I am not religious and take offense at people and organizations that try to convert me and think I am a bad person, a pitiable person, without religion.

I particularly take offense at the concept of a megachurch or a mega bible site, because religion taken seriously and deeply felt seems like a nice thing, and mass-produced, quick-and-easy approaches to religion take something nice and make it ugly. It's like taking God's name in vain. That's what megachurches are doing. Giving God a bad name.

Unfortunately, megachurches are not the worst of the things that happen in the name of religion. There's war and cruelty and prejudice, all in the name of religion. I think that people would probably be just as brutish without religion. Just like people can do the right thing without religion, people can also be cruel without it. I think that the people who fight Holy Wars and punish others (like women, in Islamic cultures) for not following religious rules truly just seek power.

Would the Israelis and Palestinians still fight over land in a world without religion? They probably would. It might not be those two groups of people, but there might well be other groups of people who would want to claim the land and exclude others from it.

Religion is pervasive, though. It's hard to imagine a world without religion. In fact, religion comes from the imagination, in my opinion. People use religion to explain the unknown. Even scientists, who use science to explain the details of how things happen, still need religion to give meaning to the way things are. I don't personally know any deeply religious scientists, but I think, I "have faith," that they exist.

Nobody knows what happens to a person when they die. I think that nothing happens to them. As my then five-year-old great-great Uncle John Crenshaw said out-loud in church in response to a preacher's rhetorical question, "If a man does. shall he yet live again?":

"Nope, when you're dead, you're dead; that's all there is to it."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Garden Photos

A beautful tomato

Trellising take two

Polyculture, or the Bean Kills the Tomato. Which will it be?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Katie/Julie Project

I have been reading the actual blog "the Julie/Julia Project." It's wonderful! I like the blog as much as or more than the movie. And it's much more appealing than the first few pages of the book, "Julie and Julia," which used such cutting, vulgar language that it turned me off and I returned it before I had left the bookstore.

All Julie's cooking is pretty impressive. I appreciate hearing about her trials and tribulations. Cooking, for me, is often stressful. I worry about doing a good job, being efficient, doing justice to my professed interest in cooking. Julie's cooking sounds fun, in the end, but it also sounds like a lot of work.

It feels like work to me, too. For example, I spent most of my free time yesterday dealing with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Homemade pesto, browned kielbasa, taboule from a mix with garden parsley and a garden tomato. It's nice to read about someone else who also frets about food.

I like thinking about all the different groceries Julie visits to get her ingredients. She doesn't just go to Whole Foods and buy everything at once no matter the cost. She gets things here and there, and tries to get them cheaply. Like a Frenchwoman going to market.

By the way, the few recipes I've made from "Mastering the Art," include "Crème Plombières Pralinée," a génoise, and Boeuf Bourguignon. Julie writes about how wonderfully easy and delicious custards are. It's true. I learned that making floating islands my senior year of college. Custards ARE easy, and so good. Whip in the egg whites you have left from making the custard, fold them in, chill, and you have a mousse. Or make lady fingers with your egg whites. I have made Julia's custards a few times, and they are everything Julie says they are.

Now I am raving about Julie the way Julie raved about Julia. It really is "Julie and Katie." And I have started a blog about learning all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, one movement per week. So Julie has inspired me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Katie Crenshaw At It Again

This is my latest street find. Isn't it wonderful? A charming suitcase in fine condition with leather exterior and paisley cloth lining, with nice ribbons inside for fastening things down.

Here it is in my kitchen. It even has a strap, like a leash, to pull it with. Hartmann rolls as well as my thoroughly modern suitcase. I know, since I rolled it about a mile today!

I do have a suitcase already, or two, or three, if you count the striped canvas overnight bag I like to use when I'm at my parents' house. So unlike the desk, it's not something that I sorely needed. But I do love it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New York City, Summer, 2005

My life in Boston is very different than my life in New York, the summer of 2005, when I was a summer student at the Rockefeller University and lived at the 92nd St. Y. New York felt so much more like a city than Boston does to me. Lately, one thing or another has reminded me of that summer in New York...

My first night in New York City, I had a bagel sandwich for dinner at a bagel place. It was probably the perfect chewy New York bagel. Delicious. But not quite enough food. Later that night, after dark, I got hungry again, so I risked my life to venture out to D'Agostino's for some bread and peanut butter. I came home, thanked Providence that I hadn't been mugged on the street, passed through the security guards at the front of my building, took the elevator upstairs, locked my bedroom door, locked my cell phone and my money in my closet (so if someone broke into my room, they could kill me but my money would be safe, I suppose!) and tucked into my snack before tucking myself into bed.

This pencil cup is a gift my mom found for me in a museum shop after I told her about a New York Times article I'd read about the decline of the real thing. The article - this very article - made me seek out these Greek-themed cups at little delis that also served coffee.

For the rest of that summer, I ate out or bought my food at various groceries. I went to Zabar's, in the Upper West Side, on the recommendation of my favorite biology prof. I bought some delicious brioche and raisin bread there, which I ate for breakfast with cheese and marmalade. I didn't go to Zabar's often, since it was far away and expensive. More often, I shopped close to the Y. If I was in a hurry, I turned right exiting the 92nd St. Y and went to a tiny little place. If I had more time, I'd turn left and go to D'Agostino's. I also went to the Food Emporium, mentioned in Julie Powell's blog, on my way home from Rockefeller.

I remember buying Kefir and Greek yogurt for the first time and feeling so lucky to be in a place where one could buy such interesting things. Now when people bring those items to the register at Whole Foods, where I work, I often think, "Oh, remember when Kefir was new and wonderful and exotic. I miss that." Don't get me wrong: I think it's wonderful that we have everything from everywhere at Whole Foods. But I also think it's more fun to buy things in little corner stores and feel like what you're buying is a find. At Whole Foods, nothing is a find. At Whole Foods, one should expect to find everything.

Sometimes, I think of that summer in New York as the good old days, when I was young and energetic. It's not really true that I'm old and lazy now, but how reasonable are one's memories of "the good old days," anyway? That summer, I woke up EARLY, went for a 3ish-mile run in Central Park, came back, showered, dressed, ate my brioche for breakfast, then headed out for my morning coffee and New York Times at Juliano's across the street, then walked to work, dressed in style. Of course, I was sweaty upon arrival. Thank goodness labs are usually cold!

Now I wake up in my house and make coffee and make breakfast and do what my ever-changing schedule dictates. I still get my exercise, but not early in the morning. Thursday through Sunday, I get the Boston Globe delivered to my doorstep and may or may not read it over my morning coffee. I still walk to work, but through residential streets, not city blocks. I still get sweaty in the summer, and my workplace, now a grocery store, not a lab, is still cold.

The 92nd St. Y was in the middle of the city businesses in the wealthy Upper East Side. Now I live in a residential area of Somerville, in a house. The streets around me are lined with two-family, gambrel-rooved houses, yards planted with amazing rose gardens and tomatoes in pots.

In Somerville, on the buses, one sees everyone, but common riders are elderly people and non-white people pushing strollers and navigating the bus stairs. Less common to see are dressed-up business people. In New York, I saw more dressed-up business people. When I saw a Latino or black person pushing a stroller near the 92nd Street Y, the chances were that the rider in the stroller was a white child most likely left in the care of a nanny. That's life in the Upper East Side.

In New York, I played right into that Upper East Side lifestyle. I had consciously decided to spend my childhood savings in order to enjoy New York, and that's what I did. I didn't have a well-stocked fridge, by any means. Rather, I ate out most of the time and so was out and about quite often. It's in my search for food "out" that I discovered the interesting markets I remember so fondly.

Those exist in Somerville, too, but I'm not looking for them now. Here in Somerville, I do eat out every week or two, but not every day. Out of thrift, I try to do at home what, in New York, I would have done on the town.

That summer, I saw "Swan Lake" at the Metropolitan Opera House. This year, I watched the library's "Swan Lake" DVD in my living room at home. There I was trying to spend and enjoy my savings. Here, I'm trying to generate savings. All those things make make my life in Boston feel less citified than it did in New York.

One thing that makes me feel like I do live in a city now is taking ballet classes. I take the T to Central Square, walk past the homeless people, the business people, everyone, to the Dance Complex and climb the stairs to the second floor. I pay my 12 dollars, get dressed, then head upstairs ("up the winding staircase...") to Roseann Ridings' ballet class. The giant studio is packed with people of all ages. Roseann gives a hard class but doesn't expect perfection and teases us along the whole time. There's a piano accompanist, Bob, who plays for us with energy and passion. When we dance from the corner, it takes about 10 minutes for everyone to have their chance to do the combination, and Bob plays flashy music that just makes me feel like a cool ballerina in a city.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Grits Update

This is an update to my 08/03 post "Sheer Grit and Determination," in which I lamented how hard it was to find grits at Boston-area groceries and joked that maybe if people had more grits in their diets they would have more grit to their personalities. I'm not the only one of this opinion. Check out this bill to make grits the South Carolina state food.

I didn't think the "Bob's Red Mill" grits I'd bought at a local health-food store were quite right, but they were all I could find, so I made some and posted the photographs to illustrate my entry.

Today I found some Quaker grits, which are white and made from hominy. These are more what I was expecting to find, though I don't think there's anything wrong with Bob's grits. Hominy is corn that's soaked in lye until the hulls come off.

Wikipedia says that yellow grits, like Bob's, are from unhulled corn, while white grits are from hulled corn. I think soaking in lye is the only way to remove the hulls.

But you also have to consider the corn color. Grits can be made from white or yellow corn. I suspect that yellow corn is white once the hulls are removed, which is what Wikipedia is talking about. So white grits could be either from yellow corn, hulls removed, or from white corn. Yellow grits would be from yellow corn before the hulls have been removed. Here are some nice photos of white and yellow grits.

Bob's grits are probably from yellow corn with the hulls left on. The Quaker grits are probably from corn that has been soaked in lye to make hominy, then dried and milled. Could be either white or yellow corn, originally. I'm just not sure...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

les Tartines

Tu es en France. Tu viens de te réveiller, et tu t'en rapelles. Il n'y a pas beaucoup de soleil dans ta chambre, parce que les volets sont fermés, mais tu sais que tu peux te lever. C'est bien!

Tu mets tes chaussures et sors par la porte juste à côté de ta chambre. Il fait frais, et tout est un peu mouillé. Il a plu dans la nuit, peut-être. Tu replies les volets sur eux, et tu les stabilises avec deux grosses pierres. Puis tu rentres dans la maison.

Tout le monde dort encore. Tu rentres dans ta chambre, tu t'assieds sur ton lit, et tu prend ton journal et ton dictionnaire, qui sent fort comme un bon livre plein de paroles. "Je suis en France. Je me demande ce qui va arriver aujourd'hui..." tu écris. Puis, tu entends quelqu'un dans le couloir. C'est un des enfants.

"Coucou. T'as bien dormi?" elle te demande.
"Comment?" tu dis.
"Est-ce que tu as bien dormi?" elle répète.
"Ah, oui. Très bien, merci. Et toi?"
"Très bien," elle dit, sa voix se levant à la fin. "Mais ce matin, il y avait une mouche dans mon oreille qui m'a réveillée."
"Ah," tu dis, tout en souriant.
"Peut-être qu'elle a dormi là toute la nuit! Je doute ça. Tu veux des tartines?"

Tu la suis dans la chambre où il y a une grande table et des bancs pour les enfants. Elle regarde dans un placard et sort le pain de mie. C'est un pain très mou et leger, avec les tranches de 4 cm par 4 cm, à peu près. Puis, elle rentre dans la cuisine et revient avec quatre boîtes de confiture, la sorte en forme de polygone. Elle rentre encore dans la cuisine et rapporte avec lui du lait et du jus d'orange et la boîte de Nésquik.

Assises devant la table, vous commencez le petit déj. Les autres, encore trois enfants, arrivent un par un. Le grille-pain fait son travail. Le pain se grille très vite. "Quelle confiture voudrais-tu, Katie? Pomme-poire, pamplemousse, où bananes?"

En fait, tu prends toutes les trois confitures. C'est pourquoi les tranches sont si petites: pour que tu puisses en prendre plusieurs!

"Moi, j'ai pris quatre tartines," quelqu'un dit.
"J'en ai pris cinq," un autre se vante.
"Katie, peux-tu me donner le beurre, s'il te plait?"

C'est le début d'une aventure en France.

Des années plus tard, tu prends ton petit déj un matin comme aujourd'hui, où il fait frais, et tu te fais une tartine "J.J. Nissan." C'est un pain très mou qui se grille vite. Tu l'étale de fromage et de confiture fraises-rhubarbe. Tu prends aussi un café, un plaisir que tu as découvert depuis ton séjour en France. Tu étais vraiment jeune cet été de l'année 2003. Assise devant ton ordinateur et ton blog, tu reprends ton vieux dictionnaire. Tu commences à rêver et à écrire.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

le Parfum

Il y a du parfum, là. Mais vous ne le voyez pas.

Pour ma 25ième anniversaire, ma mère m'a donné du parfum. Je l'aime, et j'ai commencé à le porter.

Pourquoi est-ce que j'aime le parfum? On peut reconnaître les plantes par leurs parfums. Quand je sens des buis, je les reconnais toute suite, avant de les voir, par leur odeur. C'est pareil avec les gens qui portent toujours le même parfum. Sentir quelquechose est comme entendre quelquechose: on peut le reconnaître sans le voir. Mais mes oreilles écoutent mieux que mon nez sent.

Pourquoi est-ce que c'est comme ça? Pourquoi pas apercevoir le monde par le nez? C'est peut-être parce que les gens ne communiquent pas par les odeurs. On ne les dirige pas; on ne les choisit pas. On ne peut pas suer à volonté pour sentir plus fort, par exemple.

La bouteille à parfum contient cette liquide magique. La bouteille et son contenu sont jolis, mais ce n'est pas ça qui comte. Le parfum est invisible, comme la musique. On voit le violon, mais on ne voit pas la musique. On voit la bouteille de parfum, comme on verrait une bouteille de vin blanc, mais on sent le parfum. C'est l'odeur du parfum qui comte.

Et moi? Qu'est-ce qui compte quand on m'aperçoit? Qu'est-ce qui me distingue de quelqu'un d'autre? C'est les pensées. Même si j'avais un jumeau identique, nous serions différents, parce que nos pensées et nos expériences seraient différentes, comme si j'étais une bouteille de vin blanc et elle était une bouteille de parfum de la même couleur.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Julie and Katie?

I just watched the new movie, "Julie and Julia." It was fun, though predictable. I appreciated the way the character Julie rolled her eyes at corny moments. Rather than saying, "I'll write a blog and change the world; that's it," she would say something like, "...change the world," then add, "Yeah, right."

Here I go trying to compare myself to Julie Powell. I considered trying to do something and write a blog about it. I thought maybe I would blog about taking ballet lessons. Last year, I tried both to learn all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo violin by doing one movement a week, along with one scale and one Kreutzer Etude. Had I adhered to my schedule, I would be done with the Bach by now and nearly at the end of Kreutzer. Alas, I stopped in the middle of the second sonata. It could have been a blog.

I tried to work my way through a physics book. I never did seriously start cooking my way through Julia Child, though I did make some delicious custards and Boeuf Bourguignon, the début recipe for several cooks in the movie.

"Do something and write about it," is exactly what I want to do. Maybe that's why so many of my posts concern blogging. What I'm doing is blogging, so I write about it. But beyond the age-old tactic of overcoming writer's block by writing about writer's block... what should I write about?

I think it will come with time. Plus, I'm going to do more than one thing and write about it all.

Writing is what makes my hodgepodge of interests and activities into something. That is what writing does. It takes life and gives it meaning by telling about things that happen in a way that makes some sense to people. Not, "87 bus went by; ladybug landed on fence; carbon-14 decayed again; 88 bus went by" but "I took the 87 bus home."

Well, I think I'll go to sleep so I can tell you all about it tomorrow:)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Crenshaw, the melon

Here is a crenshaw melon I bought at Whole Foods. It's soft yellow and tear shaped. The furrows along its length, which meet at the top and bottom, make it look like a cloth drawstring bag with something at the bottom and drawn together at the top. It smells sweet when ripe.Here it is cut open, revealing the seeds and orange flesh.

Though it's orange, the crenshaw melon tastes more like a honeydew than a cantaloupe. The textures of all three melons are the same in my book.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In Which I Find A Desk

My Newfound Desk

Pictured above and also as the new heading of my blog is the desk I found free on the street this morning and managed to get home with the help of a kind taxi driver. On the right corner of the desk is a crenshaw melon. Inside that melon are crenshaw seeds.

I, Katie Crenshaw, sit at this desk and record my thoughts on this blog. Since I am a Crenshaw, my thoughts are Crenshaw seeds.
Someone in a large, probably multi-family house left the desk on the sidewalk today, trash day. They are probably renting an apartment in the house, moved August 1, and preferred to get a new desk rather than move the old one. This desk's top is a little beaten up and has multi-colored streaks of paint on it. Someone probably did art projects on it, as I plan to do. What are black c's inside the bottom drawer? What round things that got wet with black paint did someone put in that drawer? Maybe a well of black ink?

There was some writing in one of the drawers. Let me investigate before I fill them up too much. The top drawer is stamped, on the inside, "Educational material; printed music; fourth class mail." Maybe this desk was at a post office at one time. I doubt it. Someone who used the desk must have worked at a post office. Or maybe someone at a school used that stamp on their packages to make sure they got the discounted rate. That's more likely. This could have been an a teacher's desk in a classroom.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sheer Grit and Determination

Pictured above are some grits, dried, coursely ground corn that makes a traditional Southern porridge often served with cheese. Uncooked and dry, as pictured above, grits are tough, and you can see where the name comes from. Unfortunately, I discovered that grits are hard to come by in the grocery these days (at least on the East Coast)! Maybe that's why people lack grit in the singular: they don't eat enough of the plural.

Grit in the Globe
The Sunday Globe today features an article by Jonah Lehrer about the importance of grit, the ability to persevere in pursuit of long-term, obstacle-ridden goals. He cites a study by Dr. Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania, who came up with a survey to measure grit, on-line at, and used it to measure the grit of people who succeed (or don't) in difficult tasks, such as the first summer of military school at West Point and the National Spelling Bee. Duckworth found that grit was much more important than IQ for success in these tasks.

The article also describes a study by Dr. Carol Deweck, of Stanford University, who believes, in short, that grit can be taught by convincing kids that achievement comes through diligence, rather than talent and intelligence. In her study, she gave two groups of 5th graders an IQ test. After the test, she praised one group for their hard work and the other group for their intelligence. Later, she gave the children another, harder test, and the children praised for hard work persisted at answering the questions, while the children praised for smarts quickly gave up. Finally, she gave both groups another test of similar difficulty to the initial test. The group praised for hard work scored better, while the group praised for intelligence scored worse, than they had on the original test.

I had these grits with tomato, parsley, salt and pepper, and Parmesan. They came out much thicker than my mother's.

My Abstract View of Grit
I think it's true that grit is key to success. Though it may be possible to encourage long-term diligence in students and people, I think grit itself comes from within. For one, no one else, except maybe your parents, knows you long enough to provide external motivation to persist at something for years. Teachers can push students for a semester, but not for a lifetime.

More importantly, I doubt that such external pressure succeeds in motivating people to excel at something unless they truly want to already. "You can lead the horse to water, but you can't make it drink," or "The teacher opens the door; you have to step through it yourself."

I don't think grit can be forced at all. Though it is discipline and diligence, I think grit has to come naturally, conflicting as those statements may seem. It's easy to force onself to do something for a day, month, or year. But one can't just decide to commit to a lifetime of something. Saying, "I'm committing my life to X activity," doesn't mean anything the way saying, "I'm going to devote my day to something" does. Only time will tell what you devote your life to.

I think one will persevere in the thing that one loves to do so much that one would do it for a lifetime out of love. It's probably the thing that one has always loved, even before one started thinking about careers. It's probably the thing that one enjoyed doing as a child, since a lifetime of dedication begins with childhood.

There you can see the texture of the cooked grits. They're not tough anymore. I suppose having a soft and delicious personality wouldn't be so awful, either.

Grit and My Own Life
For me, the things I've always done and enjoyed are music, writing, and dance. Many other interests of mine have developed since childhood, but those three are the things that I've always loved. Of those three interests, I have this idea that writing is the thing I should seize on and really work at because it is versatile, I'm naturally good at it, and I like it. Because I like it, I've already been fairly diligent as a writer throughout my life. I have a good start at "devoting my life to X activity."

In other words, I do have grit as a writer. I've always thought best on paper and kept journals, off and on, and written for myself, in addition to writing for school.

While I get frustrated easily and at many tasks, writing is not one of them. With the exception of 9th-grade English, I have not shed many tears over writing the way I have over other tasks and pursuits. That says a lot.

As for the other interests: I've never abandoned my love of music, but I have given up any professional aspirations as a musician. I didn't seem to have the grit to persevere at the violin. I could do it for three weeks at music camp - I'd practice more than anyone else at camp - but I couldn't do it consistently for years, the way some other students could. And as a violinist, I didn't fare well in competition. But I've never stopped loving and listening to music. My brain has continued to develop musically throughout my life.

Dance? I am not good at ballet. It's difficult for me and has not come naturally after years of training. But I do love it, and it makes me feel good, and it keeps my body in shape. It goes hand-in-hand with my love of music. I love to dance to music, and that DOES come naturally.

For the last few years, I've been diligently pursuing a scientific career as a biological researcher. I abandoned that career after I lost a job working as a technician in a lab. Lab work did not come naturally. Though it's difficult for everyone, I think it comes more naturally to other people than it does to me. Plus, and more importantly, it turns out, other people can deal better with the daily frustrations of lab work than I can. So it's not the best choice for me.

I liked science because I liked to think, and I did have a knack for asking good questions and thinking of experiments to address them. I even liked thinking about chemistry, though I wasn't great at it - with the exception of thermodynamics. In introductory chemistry in college, I easily got a 99 on the thermo exam, compared to 80's on other tests, while other people found it the most difficult topic in the course. I also excelled in physiology class and exhbited fairly good reasoning skills. When it came to designing experiments and writing about them, I really shone.

On the other hand, I could never handle the kinds of science that relied on spatial skills, such as developmental biology and stereochemistry. And I was awful at physics, organic chemistry, and advanced calculus. In orgo and calculus, part of what I lacked was diligent studying. In physics and developmental bio, I studied diligently and still struggled.

I didn't love science from childhood, but I claimed that it was because I didn't have a good science class until 10th grade biology, which I loved and excelled at. Now I am starting to think that maybe I was not naturally meant to be a scientist, and that is the reason it didn't interest me as a child.

My Optimism Always Comes Through; My Stories Have Happy Endings
It's frustrating to think that one wasn't meant to be something, especially when one doesn't have an alternative being to fall back on, or into. The idea that INSTEAD of a scientist or violinist, I was meant to be a writer is much more appealing than the idea that I simply failed at both music and science.

And Mrs. Reynolds' endoresment is key. Are you reading this? :)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Song

Yesterday at the grocery store where I work, a customer came up to the register wearing a t-shirt with "beau brummel" written over its left breast. Sparks went off in my head, and I immediately burst into song: "Your clothes may be Beau Brummelly, they'll stand out a mile but brother you're never fully dressed without a smile." Ah, what a charming cashier.

He didn't know what I was talking about.

I'd just made the connection myself, between "Bo bro-mely" and the name on the customer's shirt, which was obviously a clothing designer and fit the context of the song. So I asked him about his shirt and he told me it was a "store in New York," and I explained about the song in the musical, "Annie." We traded references. I was pretty psyched.

Every once in a while, I run into the real-life version of something in the lyrics of a musical, and it is thrilling. "Bustelo, Marlboro, bananas by the bunch..." in the musical, "Rent," came alive with the Café Bustelo I discovered when I started drinking cheap coffee. It is delicious, and goes well with bananas (and peanut butter), though I don't know about the Marlboro.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Les Mots d'Amour

Since my last post, I've learned most of the lyrics to this song by heart. It will keep me from going insane if I ever get stuck in a dungeon or prison (Mrs. Reynolds, are you reading this?).

This song, like so many of Piaf's, is a waltz. The downbeat comes at the end of the line, the way the way the lyrics are written.

The words at the end of one line are repeated at the beginning of the next, and the similar words come in the same group of three musical beats. In the way words are repeated in different parts of the phrases, the song reminds me of a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, "Casabianca."

There's some wonderful tongue-twisting: "jamais aimais," and "que j'en mourrais d'amour."

Did people really go to balls and waltz in Paris mid-century when Piaf came out with these songs? These waltzes are a fantasy to me. They are wonderful to think about. Thinking of a waltz can almost take the tiredness out of a walk home. It's amazing how, when one is too tired to walk, one may still have energy to dance. Walking in sets of three is no problem.

If this post gets anyone to listen to Edith Piaf, that's enough for me.

Les mots d'amour

Musique: Charles Dumont; Paroles: Michel Rivegauche

Copied from

C'est fou c' que j' peux t'aimer,
C' que j' peux t'aimer, des fois,
Des fois, j' voudrais crier
Car j' n'ai jamais aimé,
Jamais aimé comme ça.
Ça, je peux te l'jurer.
Si jamais tu partais,
Partais et me quittais,
Me quittais pour toujours,
C'est sûr que j'en mourrais,
Que j'en mourrais d'amour,
Mon amour, mon amour...

C'est fou c' qu'il me disait
Comme jolis mots d'amour
Et comme il les disait
Mais il ne s'est pas tué
Car, malgré mon amour,
C'est lui qui m'a quittée
Sans dire un mot.
Pourtant des mots,
'y en avait tant,
'y en avait trop...

C'est fou c' que j' peux t'aimer,
C' que j' peux t'aimer, des fois,
Des fois, je voudrais crier
Car j' n'ai jamais aimé,
Jamais aimé comme ça.
Ça, je peux te l'jurer.
Si jamais tu partais,
Partais et me quittais,
Me quittais pour toujours,
C'est sûr que j'en mourrais,
Que j'en mourrais d'amour,
Mon amour, mon amour...

Et voilà qu'aujourd'hui,
Ces mêmes mots d'amour,
C'est moi qui les redis,
C'est moi qui les redis
Avec autant d'amour
A un autre que lui.
Je dis des mots
Parce que des mots,
Il y en a tant
Qu'il y en a trop...

C'est fou c' que j' peux t'aimer,
C' que j' peux t'aimer des fois,
Des fois, j' voudrais crier
Car j' n'ai jamais aimé,
Jamais aimé comme ça.
Ça, je peux te l'jurer.
Si jamais tu partais,
Partais et me quittais,
Me quittais pour toujours,
C'est sûr que j'en mourrais,,
Que j'en mourrais d'amour
Mon amour, mon amour...

Au fond c' n'était pas toi.
Comme ce n'est même pas moi
Qui dit ces mots d'amour
Car chaque jour, ta voix,
Ma voix, ou d'autres voix,
C'est la voix de l'amour
Qui dit des mots,
Encore des mots,
Toujours des mots,
Des mots d'amour...

C'est fou c' que j' peux t'aimer,
C' que j' peux t'aimer, des fois...
Si jamais tu partais,
C'est sûr que j'en mourrais...
C'est fou c' que j' peux t'aimer,
C' que j' peux t'aimer... d'amour...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When one tires of writing...

think of another Piaf song, "Les Mots de l'Amour," in which she says:

" Je dis des mots
Parce que des mots,
Il y en a tant
Qu'il y en a trop...:

Too many words! I've been bantering/defending myself on a different blog recently, and I think I've reached the point of too many words. It's not useful to type back and forth all day. Some is fine. Moderation is necessary.

Ajouté le lendemain:
Mais...quels mots! Que j'adore Edith Piaf et ses chansons.

Si Vous Etes Triste...

Ecoutez cette chanson: La Valse De L'Amour, écrite par Marguerite Monnot (et Piaf aussi, je pense).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My First Homegrown Tomato

A "Fourth of July" tomato, about the size of a cherry tomato, next to some snap beans and wax beans, also from the garden, and also diminutive

The beautiful tomato by itself

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wake up and smell the coffee

I woke up this morning at 5 am. Rain was pattering outside the window. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I had slept enough to get up. After all, I had to be at work early the next day, I reasoned, so being on an early schedule made sense. On the other hand, I had that hint of a sore throat that sometimes comes with too little sleep. But I wanted to get up. I was looking forward to my morning coffee. I don’t remember what I had been dreaming about.

As I woke up, my thoughts moved from the rain to coffee to the spiteful medical bill on my table, the one that I had already called to correct one time and had paid and should not have received.

The dawning of reality as I woke up reminded me of how the main character in Anna Karenina (link to the text), woke up from a pleasant dream about beautiful “decanter women” only to remember that he’d had an affair and his wife had found out and he had to do something about it.

Thinking of Anna Karenina reminded me that I had left the book at work the day before and therefore couldn’t read it on my day off unless I got it out of the library. Then I remembered how I had scraped my knee and elbow in the parking lot there.

At least, I tried to console myself, I hadn’t had an affair or done anything irreversible. Oh, yeah, I did… No, nothing irreversible. At least not anything I could remember at 5:30 am.

Addendum: I did get up too early, but wanted to get up so that I could write about waking up. So I wrote, then went back to bed!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

“I Just Called To Say I—”: Music Box Updated: 07/18/13

A monkish little man with a perfectly round head and yellow body was banging a xylophone inside a wooden box, or so I imagined it as I lay there, eyes closed. The music box that was putting me to sleep played two phrases of “La Vie En Rose” in a fashion so regular and so clearly too fast that now it seems comical: "And then we kiss and then we fall in love or vice versa and I see the world through rose-colored glasses and we do it all again until the crank runs out--See you tomorrow." It was good luck if the music stopped exactly at the end of the song.

It was just a plain wooden box that played music. It sat on the corner of my dad's dresser, on the marbled surface near his collection of change, index cards from his front pocket, and a photo cube.  He had one music box, and I eventually had a collection of twenty or so ornate and highly breakable ones, yet his was particularly special. For one thing, it could rightfully lay claim to the term "music box," unlike so many snow globes that play music but are not boxes at all. 

I could expect to receive music boxes for Christmas and birthdays and anytime my mom’s friend Aunt Sue went somewhere exotic. We lived in Maine. My miniature musical universe included a Chinese pagoda, an Indian elephant, Pinocchio-like wooden villagers dancing in a circle, and a country farmhouse whose roof opened up to let the music out. Ice-skating ceramic penguins, propelled by the unwinding tune, raced around on a reflective, magnetic lake flanked by Christmas trees.

In the beginning, the music boxes just held air. And music. When my family moved to Kentucky, memories formed in them, seemed to come out of them. About that time, I, like Aunt Sue, began to travel: France, Ohio, Boston, New York. At some later point, home became a place to travel to.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is slowing down, but the Chinese pagoda is going full tilt, competing, in the musical building category, with the farmhouse, playing "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning." I replace the Emerald City and pick up "Swan Lake," smoothly wiping its globe with the Pledge-sprayed "softy," which then threatens to get caught in the ceramic roses around the globe's base. Then I put it back on the mantel with the others. I dust and listen to my music boxes at the end of every visit home, a ritual that is both a preparation to leave and an appreciation of where I am and have been. 

I keep one music box with me wherever I am living, a mark of my particular civilization, my familiar world. The one on my dresser now is a maroon wooden box decorated with a picture of Victorian children in love. It plays "I Just Called To Say I Love You." The children, painted in some kind of lacquer that changes in the light, hold bouquets of holly and share an umbrella in the glinting snow. "I just called (dee dee dee dee) to say (bom dee dee dee dee) I love you (do-de dee dee dee dee dee dee dum de-do)." The first phrase is like a series of mounting questions that the second phrase--"And I mean it from the bottom of my heart"--resolves, finishing with a nice arpeggio..

Music boxes are time capsules of childhood. By twisting the crank and opening a music box, I transport myself back to a time when nice things seemed to appear in my life by chance. A music box collection! The music boxes are still there on my mantel, waiting for me, ready to tinkle out love songs at my behest. At the same time as they evoke youth and innocence, they also contain--and always have contained--a certain foreboding and suggestion of the end. 

The music slows as the crank unwinds, and as it slows, it saddens. What is bouncy and cheerful, almost over-caffeinated, when the music box has just been cranked becomes wistful when it is about to stop. The call will be cut off, and you don’t know when. It may end on any of those question marks. It is creaking out one note at a time. The notes have lost their rhythm. You start to wonder, “Was that the last one?” You hold your breath. 

You never know when something real and dear will become a memory.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Concord Contradance

For me, contradances aren't magical from the beginning. I started out the night of dancing at the Concord (MA) Scout House feeling shaky and foggy in the head. Of course, I had to start dancing the minute I had buckled my new character shoes and jump in halfway through the teaching of the dance. Then I had to swallow my pride and smile as people told me what to do and then told me, "Good," when I was "on." And try not to let my annoyance at all this distract me from remembering the next step.

I had a host of volunteer teachers. There's the elderly man who sang the music right in my ear as he swung me, then left me feeling guilty
for pursing my lips and pulling away. There's the sweaty, overweight guy my age who swings with his mouth open in a lazy grin, ready to drool, it seems, who also told me what to do or said "Perfect," when he was satisfied.

For those of you unfamiliar with contradancing, here's a basic description. At a contradance, people form couples and dance in two long lines from one end of the dance hall to the other. There were as many as three sets of dancers at the Scout House last night. Contradances are short sets of do-si-do's, swings, promenades, turns, and figure eights that repeat many times. With every repetition, each couple moves either up or down the hall in the line, with half the couples moving each direction, so that by the end of the dance, everyone has danced with everyone else in the line. That's why you can't avoid dancing with certain characters. It strikes me as very Democratic and nice. You should be able to courteously dance with anybody, even someone you don't particularly like.

It's one thing to swing with someone who's not your partner throughout the course of the dance and another to spend a whole 15 minutes dancing with a person. The real test of one's social skills comes when someone you don't like asks you to dance. One option is to avoid looking at that person so that they can't ask you. Another option is to lie and say you're taken. Another option is to say, "No, thank you," without explanation. Then you know that you'll hurt the person's feelings if you go on to dance with someone else. In the end, the best option is to dance with anyone who asks you and smile and have a good time. The only thing worse than a dancer you find annoying is a dancer you find annoying whose heart you've just broken.

Perhaps I write so much about the more difficult interactions at the contradance because those are the ones that made me think and the ones that I could describe realistically. It's easy to fall into clichés when describing classic, happy moments.

But there were many classic, happy moments at the dance last night. Along with the "annoying," swingers, there are men who make you feel like you're flying when you swing! There are times when everyone in the hall decides to stomp their feet or shout, "Hey," and the whole room reverberates. There are times when, instead of foggy in the head, "I feel pretty," and glow and smile and remember the dance every repetition.

The highlight of last night's dance was at the half-time break when my friends and I headed outside for fresh air. One of the dancers started singing English pub songs, and other people joined in. Many of the songs had choruses that I could pick up and sing along. My date, a singer, knew most of the songs. It was so nice to sing out there in the nice weather about how "Summer is a-comin' and Winter's gone away-oh."

I long to be one of those people who can be the spark of energy that turns a gathering of people into something wonderful. I mostly just join in when other people start things, be they conversations, dances, or song. How nice it would be to know how to make merry out of thin air!

After the dance, many of us - about twenty adults! - headed out for a late night swim. I felt like I were a hippy from the sixties. 'Nough said. The swim lasted about half an hour, long enough for me to get cold and want to get out. Again, I wished I could spark fun instead of just standing there with my hands wrapped around my sides. Well, we did get out eventually, of our own accord, not someone else's, thank goodness. We then headed to a pizza place, ordered our meals at 11:55, before the kitchen closed, and replenished our energy stores after a busy, merry night of dancing.