Author: Luisa Perkins
•6:03 AM
I was going to have this post be text-free, but I want to experiment, and I didn't want the experiment to be the fabled 100th post. This happens to be post #99.

I'm dragging my feet over all the things I need to have done by noon on Friday. Why the deadline? Because. So I need to get on the stick. On the dreadmill this morning, I had the bright idea of posting my To Do List here so that, even if I accomplish all of this through the sordid motivations of shame and fear, at least it will be done.

I'll highlight items in red as they are completed.

Finish skirt.
Finish shirtwaist. Took WAY longer than I had anticipated.
Finish sunbonnet. NOT a cakewalk; no wonder milliners were in high demand.
Make apron.
Sew snaps on petticoat.
Sew buttons on P's shirt.
Buy groceries.
Buy diapers.

Check kids' church clothes.
Re-pack church bag.
Wipe out spice cupboard.
Wipe down fridge shelves.

Make whey.
Grind wheat.
Make bread.
Make lentil soup.
Make pasta sauce.
Make cobblers.
Make scones.
Make cookies.
Make muffins.
Get out kids' insurance cards and write down emergency phone numbers.
Do laundry.
Send A's package.
Buy J's gift.
Buy C's gift.
Give P her stuff.
Clean up desk.
Get 72-hour kits out from under bed and put on hall closet shelf.
Fix Miss Spider book.
Teach ARP class.
Teach Temple Prep class.
Water seedlings.
Plant cherry tree and sea buckthorn trees. Christian dug the holes.
Spray roses with organic fungicide.
Pick up Tess's ice cream cake. The awesome Julia, owner of Blue Pig Ice Cream, will deliver it Sunday morning.
Wrap Tess's presents. Difficult, since they haven't arrived yet.
Refuse to panic.
Change sheets.
Plant lily and snowdrop bulbs I forgot about until I started cleaning my desk just now.
Make sure car is clean.
Transplant geraniums. (Actually, they are pelargoniums.)
Purge Daniel's drawers of tiny stuff to make room for box of hand-me-downs.
Go to bank. Patrick did this for me.
Go to grocery store AGAIN. Patrick did this. Thanks, hon!
Tidy linen closet.
Tidy bedroom closets.

Have you noticed that I keep adding stuff to the list? No matter; I'll get it done.

Updated 6/1 at 12:04 p.m.: Well, I got close! The bulbs and pelargoniums will keep until I get home. Cross your fingers that Tess's presents get here this afternoon or tomorrow; her birthday is Sunday, and we're having her party right when we get home Sunday afternoon.

Thanks to you all for your encouragement! It means so much to me. I'll be back online Monday morning.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:39 AM
When I stall out on one of the novels I’m writing and start wondering why I even try, I sometimes cheer myself up and get myself going again by indulging in the following daydream:

My first mainstream fantasy novel is published. It’s gotten some nice reviews, and people other than my family members are actually buying it and reading it. One day I get a call from Locus magazine; the fine editors thereof would like to interview me and put a flattering photograph of me on the cover of their publication.

I’m thrilled, since I’ve been reading Locus on and off for something like 25 years. The assigned interviewer emails me some preliminary questions, and they go something like this….

Actually, the following questions were posed by the fantabulous RaJ. Maybe if Locus ever actually does want to interview me, I can request that he do the job free-lance, because he’s really good at making up stuff to ask people.

1) You decide to write the story of your life as a series of novels, one book per decade. What are the titles?

Doh! RaJ, stop stealing ideas out of my head!

Decade 0-9: Michelle, Ma Belle (I went by my middle name until my junior year of high school; I used to think Paul McCartney wrote that song just for me.)
Decade 10-19: Message in a Bottle
Decade 20-29: Under the Blossom
Decade 30-39: The Smallest Seed

2) If you could make one trip through time – a minimum of one hundred years in the past – and visit with one person for an hour, whom would you want to meet and what would you ask or say?

Just one person? Just one hour? Okay, okay; I’ll quit whining.

I'd have a universal translator, right? If so, I would visit my ancestor Alice de Montmorency; she must have been terribly lonely while her husband, Simon de Montfort, was away at the Albigensian Crusade. I’d want to meet her children; I’d ask her for a tour of her house and grounds, all the while peppering her with questions about life at the court of Philip II.

3) In an odd coincidence, you too find yourself at the terminus of a trans-galactic wormhole, face to face with a genuine space alien. This alien comes from a world of Deep Thought, full of engineering and scientific marvels but no “society”; members of its race have lived in solitude and isolation for eons. The alien wants you to explain your best friend in fifty words or less (work with me here okay?). Given a few minutes to compose your answer, what would be your response?

My best friend is not essential, as your antennae are not, Gentle Alien; but would you want to live without them? Think psychic mirror; think completion of a two-part puzzle. Though Day and Night are pleasant in isolation, experienced together they complement one another in a joyous, eternal dance.

4) What is Luisa's kryptonite i.e. your "one" weakness, your point of vulnerability where your super powers seem to fail?

Pride. All my troubles stem from it; all my bad choices are born of it.

5) Multiple choice (you get to pick which one you want to answer):
a) How can you mend a broken heart?
b) Skip ahead a few years to a time when a human brain – thoughts, memories, the whole works – can be fully and verifiably "saved" and restored to and from digital media. For all practical purposes this would enable a person to persist for hundreds, even thousands of years using replacement "bodies," or even to exist without organic bodies as we know them. Do you think we would lose something essentially human in this process? Why or why not?

Though I enjoy those Bee Gees (and their late lamented foxy little brother), my inner/outer SF geek chooses b).

Digital storage of the contents of the brain would be cool, but I think this too, too solid flesh is crucial to the human experience. Creators of virtual reality are always seeking to make it more ‘real,’ i.e. truer to our normal perceptions. We can’t seem to do without the myriad sensate inputs that generally go unnoticed until they are gone.

More information than you probably want: I occasionally use a facial hair removal product on my upper lip; one time when Daniel was tiny, I got a little nuts and put it on my jawline as well.
I experienced almost instant regret. Rubbing my cheek on the top of my baby’s downy little head—an indulgence I savored at every possible opportunity—was much less pleasurable for at least a week. Those tiny hairs had been transmitters I had taken for granted, part of a sensual experience I wouldn’t ever trade for a slightly less hirsute visage.

Therefore I think the generation of replacement bodies—or the availability of forms incorruptible—would be key for life as we know and enjoy it to continue indefinitely.

Thanks, RaJ! That was good fun.

Author: Luisa Perkins
•1:58 PM
I’m a bit nervous about this post. There are many bloggers who are open about their faith. While I admire these people and am often inspired by what they write, my own spiritual life is an intensely personal experience that I find difficult to articulate and share.

Last week I heard something in church that lit up my brain like a neon sign. The speaker said simply this: “Prayer should be the highlight of our day.” Really? I thought. Well, yes, of course. Prayer is a conversation with God, after all. It should be the highlight of my day. I must confess that this statement rattled me so much that I couldn’t focus on the rest of what was said. I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

I do hear God whisper to me often. There is certain music that always opens up a heavenly conduit for me. The beauty of our natural surroundings, the light that emanates from the faces of my children, many passages of scripture—all these things and more have been sources of revelation and inspiration for me. I pray regularly: morning, evening, over meals, little missives sent up into the ether during the day expressing thanks or need. But I am sorry to say that these moments have often occurred out of habit and have not been the highlight of my day.

I can think of many conversations that have been highlights: moments of shared experience with close friends; quirky turns of phrase my children come up with; good news rejoiced over, bad news commiserated with. The best interchanges are those I have with people with whom I have a long, shared history built on the foundation of love and mutual respect.

It would be a highlight of my year to talk to certain people: various ancestors, any of a number of Dead British People, one or two intelligent-seeming celebrities. I imagine myself gearing up for some one-on-one time with, say, Toni Morrison. What would I want to ask this wise, talented woman? What would I be willing to reveal about myself? How would I prepare so as to make best use of her time?

Toni Morrison is amazing, but let’s face it: she’s not God. The King of the Universe, who happens to be the Eternal Father of my spirit, is willing to be in communication with me at my convenience. Shouldn’t I put a little more effort into enhancing the quality of the time I spend with Him? Why is it so easy to forget how important God is to me, and how important I, one of his daughters, am to Him?

The growth and maintenance of a successful relationship is work, an aggregation of small daily choices that can become more than the sum of its parts if allowed to reach critical mass. I’m quite vigilant about remembering to make those choices with the people who live in my house—I believe with good results. It’s clear to me that I should expand those choices into my relationship with God. I now believe that I need prayer to become the highlight of every day.

This morning I walked down to the graveyard to pick up James from the Memorial Day Parade. The cemetery gates are about a quarter mile from our house; the whole way there, I could hear the local pipe and drum corps skirling out a patriotic hymn. I’m not a real flag-waver, preferring to consider myself a citizen of the world, but a good bagpiper does get my blood stirring. The air was fresh after last night’s thunderstorm, and I could smell wild roses and mountain ash blossoms. God gently reminded me of His grandeur and mercy; I answered Him with a resolve to keep His glory closer to the forefront of my mind, days, and prayers.

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

—Rudyard Kipling, “Recessional”
Author: Luisa Perkins
•2:11 PM
La Fabulous Carmen asked me weeks and weeks ago to take photos of the results of last year's house renovation. I've been putting this off, since little things still aren't done, like finishing painting the backsplash. But since she's in the process of saving my knitting bacon with an express package from London and an emergency trip to Paris's La Droguerie, and since right now my house is as clean as it ever gets, I figured today was the day.

Taking these photos reminds me of that scene in Blade Runner in which Harrison Ford's character is using his computer to mine clues from a snapshot. But I'll try to get over it, since we aren't harboring any replicants at the moment.

Grrrr--Blogger is not letting me space the photos and captions the way I'd like to. So in case it's not clear, each caption goes with the photo directly above it.

Looking west from the threshold between the den and the living/dining room (between what used to be the living room and the dining room/kitchen)

Looking northeast from the corner shown in the first picture

The new cooking area is where the old kitchen table used to be.

The island with cookbook bookshelf

I spend quite a bit of time in this corner.The new fireplace--this is in what used to be the dining room. The hallway to our bedroom is on the right. We store wood in those little boxes under the seats.

I'm leaning against the new corner sink to take this photo. We still have the Frank Lloyd Wright windows; now they flank two groups of plain windows instead of being all in a row.
Here are the pocket doors between the living room and the den.

Here's the new den/old living room. I guess we should take out the newspapers.
This is taken from the left corner of the photo just before.

And from the right corner
The window seat and door to Christian's new room/old den-guest room are on the left.

The window seat hasn't changed, but since it's one of my favorite spots in the house, I had to include it.

The outside; please remember that the garden is still in the 'Before' stage of Extreme Makeover: Yard Edition.

The new deck is made out of ipe wood.

I feel very, very lucky to live in the house of my dreams (not the childhood dream where I fantasized about living in a Fotomat booth; the dream I had after I discovered the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts & Crafts Movement). It is modest-sized by today's McMansion standards, about 2,000 square feet. But it's the perfect size for us and suits our needs exactly.

Anyone contemplating building a new house or renovating an old one should read Sarah Susanka's The Not-So-Big House; it influenced our design tremendously. Patrick gets all the credit for figuring out the new 'flow' of the downstairs. He also gets all the credit for financing the project; thanks, honey!

*I'm not quite sure what Ted Geisel was up to when he wrote There's a Wocket in my Pocket! It's my least favorite of all the Dr. Seuss books--nowhere near the caliber of The Sneetches or The Sleep Book, for example. But I do like the last line.

Author: Luisa Perkins
•6:35 AM
Something bad happens to my brain when I don't get enough sleep. Oh, yes, there's the crankiness, but my baseline a.m. grump level is sufficiently high so as to render any temporary spike imperceptible.

No, the bad thing to which I refer is the complete lack of mental cohesion I experience. This is why I didn't write at all for the twelve years I was either pregnant or nursing. I can't string two thoughts together for the life of me when I'm this tired. Today, don't call me Ishmael; instead call me 'Randomina.' Or 'Randomella.' 'Randi,' for short--but make sure to dot that 'i' with a little heart, or I'll subtract points for misspelling.

Someone who has been a close friend of mine for 19 years, yet shall remain nameless so that I can pay finger service to preserving his illusion of privacy, sends me links to unusual websites once in a while. It used to be that when he did this, I would think, "Where does he find this stuff? And, more importantly, why?"

I don't wonder anymore, because now I know the answers to both questions. It's the wonder of that random place we call The Internet. Can you fathom the magic, the wizardry, the genius of something that rewards you for typing the words 'watermelon sculpture' into a little box with something like this?

No, it cannot be understood; it can only be shared. My friend didn't send me this latest link, by the way; I found it in a comment over at RaJ's place.

I'm going to brunch this morning at groovy gal Kara's house. Kara is great at co-piloting flights of random thoughts when it's just the two of us, but today there will also be in attendance a bunch of really smart moms whom I have not met before. I'm very concerned I won't make a good first impression. And apparently they are all dieting, which means I can't win them over by bringing Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins, or something similarly brunchy and delicious.

Do you think that if I quickly Bedazzle a T-shirt with the message "Please Like Me" and wear it, they'll obey without noticing? Of course, I'd have to get my hands on a Bedazzler first...perhaps I need another plan.

Speaking of Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins--Ann Hodgman, the funniest food writer ever, once dedicated a cookbook to Keanu Reeves. I'm reasonably sure that a) she doesn't know Keanu personally; and b) Keanu has some sort of eating disorder that would drastically limit his appreciation of Ann's culinary brilliance. Whether or not my suspicions are true, her quixotic gesture endears Ann to me all the more.

And now, I offer you a recipe. Not for the muffins; that belongs to Ann. But following in Ann's footsteps, I dedicate this recipe to someone whom I admire from afar. Ed Robertson, this one's for you.

Birchmount Potato Salad
8 medium potatoes (not the waxy kind, for the love of Mike)
3/4 pound Jarlsberg cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 pound pre-cooked sausage (I used this.)
5 stalks celery, peeled and chopped
1 big handful fresh parsley, chopped
5 green onions, chopped
8 cornichons, chopped (optional, but good)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves, pressed
salt & pepper

Peel and cut up the potatoes; put them in cold salted water and boil them until they are cooked through. Drain and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes. Add the cheese, sausage, celery, parsley, onions, and pickles. Mix up the remaining ingredients in a measuring cup, then pour over the potato mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour. (Or eat it warm, if you don't live with Another Person who has Definite Ideas about the Correct Temperature of Potato Salad.)

If the salad seems dry when you take it out to serve it, mix up another 1/2 cup each of mayo and sour cream, pour in, and mix. Taste the salad and add salt and pepper at your discretion. Serve on plates lined with lettuce or curly endive, if you want to get fancy. Serves seven, with ample leftovers.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•12:09 PM

One of my favorite Sesame Street ditties goes:

Three of these things belong together,
Three of these things are kind of the same.
Can you guess which thing just doesn’t belong here?
Now it’s time to play our game!

When I was a kid, contrarian that I was, I liked to find a way in which that fourth thing did belong with the others; it was usually possible, if I got creative enough.

I have a really smart younger brother; he double-majored in Physics and Math in college, and now he’s an engineer. He’s a great dad and husband, an all-around cool guy. If I tell you that he is a Buddhist and a strict vegan, what would you expect his political orientation to be?

Well, he’s not a Democrat, as I found out to my shock in the heated months before the 2000 Presidential Election. I’m sure he was similarly surprised to find out what a huge Al Gore fan I was (and am), since most devout LDS homeschooling-type moms aren’t what you would call liberal. But we both probably should have expected it; incongruity seems to run in our family.

Those who know me are used to my eclectic proclivities. They appreciate that I know all the words to Wire: 154 and Schubert’s "Der Erlkoenig"; that I can watch The Parent Trap (the original) and Fanny & Alexander back to back; that I savor both Marcel Proust and Mary Balogh, both stale Red Vines and ripe Epoisses. But even those closest to me couldn’t figure out what I was doing when I made a certain career choice in February 2004.

It had been a bitter winter, and I was uncomfortably pregnant with young Master Daniel. I was tired, depressed, withdrawn, and heartily sick of being all three. Was it desperation or inspiration that made me call my darling friend Jenna and tell her I wanted to join her Mary Kay team? Definitely the latter: it was the right decision for me at the time.

Jenna and I had a marvelous time together; we both won cars and became Sales Directors pretty quickly. I came out of my shell and formed new friendships. It was satisfying (and lucrative) giving people makeovers and helping them feel attractive. Mary Kay was like a sorority, and I was ‘popular’ for the first time in my life.

In January 2005, I received my National Sales Director’s monthly newsletter, which listed the mid-year leaders for the coveted Queen of Sales position (the MK year runs July to June). There are two Queens of Sales each year in any given National Area: the Consultant Queen and the Director Queen. I was surprised to see that I was in first place--on the Consultant level, since I was debuting as a Director February 1st.

I was also surprised to see that my sales figures were higher than anyone’s on the Director level. Since I’m a tiny bit competitive (stop snickering, Patrick), I decided to see whether I could take the Director’s crown for the year.

Here’s where my inner geek kicked in. I made an Excel spreadsheet listing all of the top Directors and their numbers for the first six months. Every month after that, I painstakingly logged in updates as I got the newsletters, always on the lookout for potential dark horses like myself. For the last month of the year, our NSD (she's the stunning blonde in the photo with me) kept the stats to herself, but by June 30th, I was pretty sure I had it in the bag.

In August we all traveled to the mother ship in Dallas for Seminar, the annual awards ceremony. The minute I checked into my hotel room, I had my confirmation: I had been upgraded to a gorgeous suite containing chocolates, Perrier, and a note of congratulations from my NSD. The limo ride, the banquet, the ceremony, and the sumptuous royalty reception were all part of a great lark. Receiving the 5-carat amethyst ring was a hoot, but the most enjoyable part of that was letting other women try it on and seeing their eyes light up with hope and determination.

My first year as a Sales Director was great, but I gradually realized that it might be time for me to move on. I made sure that that I didn’t neglect my family and my church work despite the fact that I was working pretty much full-time (though from home and with very flexible hours). God, Family, Career: those are the famous MK priorities, and I worked hard to keep them in order.

But that Career thingie left almost no time for me to do anything else. All of the things I write about in this blog got almost none of my time and attention. I only read or knitted when I was on an airplane; the garden languished and I had little time for music or cooking. And after years of not feeling up to writing, I was finally getting that urge again.

It was a painful decision; I worked closely with a group of wonderful women who depended on me for leadership and guidance. But after a lot of pondering and prayer, I called my NSD and told her I was going to retire. I just walked away, Renee. Mary Kay filled a lot of needs for me; I look back on my two years with the Company fondly. But I don’t regret my decision. My life as it is feels just right.

Incongruity: here’s my big ring on my hand with my baking ‘tats,’ as my chef friend Mike calls them, and super short fingernails (necessary when you type as much as I do) a bit stained from gardening. Obviously, I never wear that ring anymore. I’m not really a jewelry girl, wearing only my wedding band and the diamond studs Patrick bought me in The Netherlands ninety-nine percent of the time. I’ve thought about selling the ring and giving the money to Heifer, but I’m afraid my daughters would freak out. Maybe they can figure out some way to timeshare it when they’re grown up, or maybe they'll agree that feeding the poor is more important than a owning a bauble; we’ll see.

So that’s the story behind yesterday’s photo. What incongruities do you have hidden in your closet?
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:56 AM
Here's Daniel with his birthday loot. All three of his presents--giant stuffed sea turtle from us, play camera and drill from Ma & Pa--were huge hits. Before I tell you more, let me acknowledge that I am on (in) a Pop Song Blog Title roll (rut).

Big fun was had at Daniel's shin-dig last night. As promised, I'll recount the making of the Chocolate Lace Cake.

As I have mentioned before, I take as my primary source for cake recipes Rose Levy Beranbaum's peerless Cake Bible. I have no use for flimsy genoises which must needs be infused with syrups simple or otherwise. No. Give me instead either the Downy Yellow Butter Cake or the Chocolate Butter Cake: rich, moist, and yes: buttery. Then frost with Rose's Neo-Classic Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. Ice the top with fluffy flourishes, but keep the sides smooth. This is your result:
Then sprinkle edible gold dust over the fresh frosting and blow gently to disperse the dust:

Melt a 3.5 oz. 70% cocoa chocolate bar; load the melted chocolate into a sandwich-size zipper lock bag and close. Cut the tiniest end off one of the bottom corners of the bag; drizzle the chocolate onto a prepared sheet of waxed paper. (Prepare the sheet by drawing a line equal to the circumference of the cake pan; a 9-inch cake pan's circumference is ~28.5 inches. Then draw a line 5 inches long perpendicular to each end of the long line. This is your guide.) Your drizzle should look something like this:
Now you must wait for the chocolate to harden; the time this takes depends on the temperature of your kitchen. You'll know it's ready when it loses its gloss. Don't wait too long; it needs to be able to hold its shape, but still be flexible enough to wrap around the cake. Once it's ready, fold the bottom edge of the waxed paper under so that the chocolate is right on the edge.

Banish all potentially distracting persons from the room. Carefully lift the paper up and set it on the cake plate right next to the cake. Press it very gently to the cake as you wrap it. Then, while reciting childhood prayers under your breath, peel the paper away from the chocolate, easing the chocolate towards its frosting home as you do so. You will then have this:
That photo is not blurry; it is your eyes, which have misted over with pride and wonder at your accomplishment. Put the cake in the fridge so that the chocolate and frosting can set. As little as a half hour later, serve the cake to a suitably impressed audience:

Other big news in celebrations:

1) This cool writer I know just won a medal--the Best in State Fiction Award! I'm so proud.

2) Four bloggers I (stalk) read daily have recently won The Rising Blogger's 'Post of the Day' awards; Judd clearly has excellent taste, as Radioactive Jam, Bub & Pie, Mental Tesserae, and a-muse-ing are among the best blogs I've found.
**UPDATED: Adriana at What I Made for Dinner is The Rising Blogger's winnner today! Congratulations! And good use of fiddlehead ferns! Yum...

3) Have I mentioned that #1 son Christian got the highest grade in the whole eighth grade on the NY State science test? Or is it just that I am tempted to brag about it every five seconds?

4) Last but most miraculously, I won the Haiku Contest! The competition was fierce, but friendly and hilarious. Here I am, waving to the adoring crowd before walking down the staircase to accept my award:

(Not really. That's me two years ago winning something else. The photo is here mainly to make the fabulous pezmama happy.)

I'll go celebrate all these victories by eating some leftover cake!

Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:30 AM

If idle hands are the devil's workshop, I should be demon-free for the next several weeks. We've got all kinds of doings on the agenda here at the Perkins Homestead. Here's an update on activities recently past and in the immediate future.

Saturday I had huge success tracking down details about my cousin Albert Vanderveer (above) and his family. When I work on genealogy, I feel like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Lara Croft. Just can't get enough.

My favorite living writer, Mark Helprin, had an Op-Ed published in yesterday's New York Times. Read it here while it's still free. It's so great to read something non-fiction of his that I agree with; he and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Today a certain sweet toddler turns three. I'll be making my famous Chocolate Lace Cake in his honor this afternoon (I'll post photos tomorrow).

What with the cake, the Weed Dragon, the Trek, the book, not to mention Little League, dance, the piano recital, and several Memorial Day social engagements, I'd better get on the stick right away. I'll be back soon!

Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:14 AM

A couple of years ago, Patrick went to a workshop for men at our church which focused on sharing ways for fathers to create and enhance family unity. One featured speaker had brought his teenage son; together they disclosed the steps they had taken in this regard. They had made a poetic Family Creed, memorializing in verse their values. They had a Family Song that they sang together which expressed why their family is great. And they had made up a Family Motto: "H______s Make It Happen." Father and son agreed that these simple things had strengthened the loving bonds in their home.

Now, I think this is very sweet. Good for them. But earnestness sometimes brings out the smart alec* in my good husband, and this incident was no exception. During the workshop, he texted his awesomely brilliant smart alecky friend (not me, a guy friend), writing, "Our motto is 'Perkinses Eat a Lot.'" Whereupon his friend responded, "Ours is 'F_______s Blow Stuff Up.'" (His boys had had many an explosive adventure in the basement slop sink when they were teenagers.)

Our little circle of friends now has mottos like "There's No Problem Ice Cream Can't Cure," "The Fewer, the Merrier," and "S______s Never Ask for Directions." I'm sure these fall beyond the scope of the H_____ family's intent, but they have created bonds of their own.

All this is a very lengthy prelude to telling you that I was musing ecstatically upon our treasured Family Motto just last night. Patrick and I went to dinner in the City with two lovely friends from our congregation after visiting the temple, and our meal was exquisite.

We went to Picholine, where Terrance Brennan's cuisine reigns supreme. We've been there several times before; this sublime restaurant features a cheese cave tended by a full-time fromager, Max McCalman. At Picholine, our turophilia can be indulged to the fullest extent allowed by law. The other food has always been lovely as well. But I wouldn't have rated it as highly as that of, say, Chanterelle or Bouley--until last night. I don't know what Terry's been up to, but he has kicked it up a notch.

Patrick's aunt says that you can tell how nice a restaurant is by how much extra stuff they bring you; Picholine excels in this area. The waiter brought us a plate with a shot glass full of a chilled Cucumber Cumin Soup, a tiny 'tot' of Brandade, and a Mushroom Panna Cotta Tartlet with a Parmesan Cracker. The Brandade was like tasting God's recipe for fish sticks.

After these amuse-bouches, my appetizer came: Frog Leg Tempura with Foie Gras and a Curried Mayonnaise. I will confess that I'd never eaten frog's legs before, but I'll eat just about anything with foie gras in or on or near it. Guess what? Frog's legs don't taste like chicken. They have a sweet, smoky, tender flavor all their own, and I was wishing for about 24 more when I was done. Patrick had a Sea Urchin Panna Cotta topped with Caviar--sweet cream o' the sea.

Oh, have mercy. My main course was Lamb Saddle with Artichoke Hearts Barigoule and Garlic. Succulent, with perfectly balanced, complex flavors. I tell you, Terrance Brennan is a chef like Monet was a painter. Patrick had Veal Medallions with Morels, Peas, and this gorgeous cheese called Brescianella Stagionata. I can't tell you how his was, because at this point we weren't even offering tastes to each other the way we usually do. But it looked fantastic.

Ahhh, the cheeses. We told the fromager that we love all cheeses and asked him to make a tasting plate for the table. He did not disappoint. My favorite of the eight was the Fium' Orbu, a sheep's milk cheese made by a little old man on the island of Corsica. The fromager told us this cheese might die with its maker, which I fervently hope will not happen. All the cheeses were lovely.

Dessert. Folks, I make really good apple pie. My apple crisp rocks (the secrets are to use local apples and to double the topping). So when I tell you that the Warm Caramel Apple Brioche with Apple Salad and Salted Caramel Ice Cream was the best apple dessert I've ever consumed, know that I do not speak lightly. I'm serious; I almost broke down crying at the first bite. My lemon verbena tisane was the perfect complement to the brioche's light richness. Or rich lightness. As you can see, it defied my pathetic attempts at description.

More extras: little trays of truffles, nougats, and fruit gums followed the dessert. Call it 'second dessert.' The grapefruit fruit gum was like a rarified Sour Patch Kid. It tasted like real grapefruit, but it had a big, sweet-sour intensity that belied its baby size.

We left the restaurant pleasantly full, still mulling it all over as we drove home. Our two friends also enjoyed the meal very much, but I don't want to double the length of this post describing their great choices.

Perkinses Eat a Lot. And they love their food, be it a Sloppy Joe or an evening's bounty like last night's. I don't hold with demonizing food, or feeling guilty about it, or talking about how unhealthy or sinful it is to indulge in it. Food is a blessing, a gift from God.

I do not believe food makes us sick or fat. I believe that what is going on in our minds and spirits has far more to do with metabolism or the body's other functions than science can yet measure.

All I am saying is, give peace a chance. End your war with food. Don't worship it, but do savor it with thanks and praise to its Creator. Share it with as many people as you can; let's take the energy we used to spend on ambivalence over food and use it to find ways to feed the world. And if you ever get a chance, go to Picholine and raise a glass in memory of me.

*The fact that P is sometimes a smart alec makes him exponentially more attractive to me.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:14 AM
I've been having a grand time with Radioactive Jam's Titanium Haiku Contest. It brings back sweet memories of adolescence; I'll sketch a couple of scenes for you.
In eighth grade I had a friend named Monica. We were in the G&T program together; in California in the late 70s, "Gifted & Talented" meant "tons of field trips." It was excellent. Our most frequent destination was the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where we saw a boatload of Shakespeare and other great plays.

On the bus rides from and back to Rancho Cordova, Monica and I collaborated on a very specific subgenre of poetry. We had studied "The Raven" early in the year, finding Poe's meter of choice compelling to the point of addiction. Monica and I took turns writing stanzas about whatever occurred to us. Monica was obsessed with the TV show "Dallas." Many of her verses speculated on the marital strife between Pam and Bobby and what kind of evil conspiracy the Cartel really was.

I, not being allowed to watch "Dallas," had no such bounteous muse, but I found plenty of fodder in hot topics such as:

Whether Mr. Scimemi Hates Me Specifically or All Students Generally;
The Comparative Merits of a Hostess Cherry Pie or a Lemon Pie for Lunch;
Would I Have Made Frodo Female, Had I Written The Lord of the Rings; and
Will Ian R. Ever Return My Affections?

Here's a sample of Monica's work:

While J.R. employs his cunning, poor Sue Ellen sits out sunning,
Hoping for her tan to bring her new love through the open door--
But at South Fork, many worries: This affair will bring more flurries!
Cliff should really try to hurry, take his Sue away before
J.R. finds out their betrayal, calls his Beauty Queen a whore!
Quoth Miss Ellie, "Nevermore!"

And mine:

While I sit here, hoping, dreaming, Ian doesn't know my scheming,
How I try to catch his fancy, make him mine forevermore.
Two-faced Heather looks so trashy. How can Ian find her flashy?
Can't he see I'm so much smarter? How in common we have more?
Both of us like books like Tolkien's. He must know I'm not a bore.
My love cuts me to the core.

Chief among our challenges were finding new, workable rhymes for 'nevermore.' Our poems were a sort of group therapy; the bonus was that I stayed in the loop on the hippest TV gig of the decade, a key to social success in junior high.

Three years later, my Debate and Reader's Theater partner, Jim Orlando, was one of my best (read: only) friends. Traveling to and from Speech and Debate Tournaments, Jim and I kept stage fright at bay by composing outrageous blues verses. These were in A-B-B-A (not the supergroup), call and response form:

Jim: Really late last Saturday night-nah nah na-na-na naaaah-nah.

Luisa: Joanie and me, we had a fight-nah nah na-na-na naaaah-nah.
She told me my speech was bad-nah nah na-na-na naaaah-nah.

Jim: I gave her a slap like she'd never had-nah nah na-na-na naaaah-nah. infinitum.

The key to this game was coming up with a perfectly scanning and rhyming line to the one first set out without any kind of pause. The scat breaks gave us a little extra time to think. Beats could be subdivided, if necessary. We never got tired of this, and it had the added advantage of keeping us mentally in sync; that year the two of us went to State Championships in the Model Congress event.

My takeaway on these images of versifications past? A) I'm a doggerel junkie; and B) road trips seem to be conducive to inspiration. Next time I feel any writer's block, I'm heading for the parkway.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•6:29 AM
I love it when my kids get out of school and are around all summer long. I love that they can play and read for hours on end. I also love what has become a family tradition: we have had a home-summer school every summer for the past nine years. We spend two to three hours together each weekday with structured schedules and high expectations.

Every May I take inventory of what we have, figure out what we need, then order it so that we'll have it by the end of June when 'regular' school gets out. That's what I'm doing today.

Here's what we use:

Overall Guiding Syllabus and Inspiration: The Well-Trained Mind (TWTM)
Grammar: Rod & Staff Building English series
Spelling: Spelling Workout series
Penmanship: Rod & Staff Penmanship series
Math: Saxon series
Art: Drawing with Children, Drawing with Older Children & Teens, museum websites
French: The Rosetta Stone program

A caveat on the Rod & Staff curriculum: These are scripture-based books published by devout Mennonites in Kentucky. I use them because they are the most rigorous, thorough texts available. Because we are Bible-readin' Christians, I don't mind assigning my children to write out or diagram sentences like "John, the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth, was the forerunner of Christ" or "Abraham, trusting in God's promise, obeyed His command"--but you might.

Usually we follow TWTM's comprehensive four-year rotating History/Science curriculum, but this year we're taking an interdisciplinary approach to that carrot of all carrots: The School of Rock. Yes, just like in the fabulous movie, we'll have courses in Rock History, Rock Theory, and Rock Appreciation. It may sound like a boondoggle, but we'll be working hard on analytical skills and expository writing, with daily, level-appropriate essay assignments.

Luckily, I've already prepared the School of Rock syllabus. My uber-friend Shauna has created 17 CDs to supplement our own collection for the listening/appreciation sections. We started the School of Rock last summer, but chose to abort the mission due the insanity of the house renovation. The kids are raring to go this year and are especially excited about our culminating Road/Field Trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland at the end of August.

We use a very effective reward system, with the kids earning stickers for every subject assignment accomplished every day. At the beginning of the summer, they each choose something they'd like to earn, a Harry Potter book on CD, for instance, then we figure out how many pages of stickers they'll need to fill up to earn it. Piano practice and a minimum of a half hour of independent reading are also mandatory, daily sticker-earning activities (independent reading is always a slam dunk).

There is occasional grumbling, but for the most part our program runs smoothly. I always have the kids start with math, grammar, and penmanship, since these are the least liked subjects. Science and history (and School of Rock this year), being the most fun, are saved for the end of the school 'day.' The baby naps, then plays with math manipulatives, pattern blocks, or puzzles while the rest of the kids study.

We all sit around the kitchen table; I travel from chair to chair as needed, spending the most one-on-one time with the youngest. The older kids can work independently on quite a few of their subjects at this point.

Special foci this year will be intensive work on essay construction for Christian and James; having Hope memorize the multiplication tables; and teaching Tess to read. I'll also get some Elton John, Billy Joel, and other piano-heavy sheet music for the boys to explore as part of both the School of Rock and their piano time.

I've got composition books full of the kids' work from summers past; it's satisfying for all of us to page through them and see their progress from end of June to end of August as well as from year to year.

Why do I do this? Because I believe knowing the difference between an appositive and a noun of direct address is important. Because as good as our school is, my kids won't learn how to parse sentences, who the Merovingians were, or how Earl King influenced Led Zeppelin during their time there. Because it gives some structure to our otherwise free-flowing summer days. Because I like being involved in my children's learning processes. Because I cherish the hope that they will become lifelong learners, and I want to give them the tools to be able to do so.
But mostly? Because I said so.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•7:18 AM

Eager cheerleaders: no, I didn't finish. But before that admission sends me into a spate of self-flagellation, I will say:

a) I'm very, very close to being done;
b) I'm much further along than I would have been had I not set the goal;
c) Being accountable to you all got me working at times when I just didn't feel like it; so
d) All in all, I think it's been a very successful 30 days.

Now I'm not sure what to do. My first impulse was to push the deadline back to June 1st, but I've got a ton of sewing to do before the trek. I also have two trays of seedlings to plant and a Weed Dragon to wield. Late May and most of June are extremely busy for anyone with kids in school: concerts, field days, exams, and tournaments abound. This is why May 15th was such an ideal deadline to begin with.

What do you think, O Friends of the Ethersphere? Should I go for June 15th? Try and pound it all out by May 31st? Go for the sure thing and say Fourth of July weekend? Throw up my hands, delete the whole manuscript from my laptop, stop once and for all pretending I'm a writer, and go eat some Cherry Garcia?

I'm betting you can guess which option I am favoring in this bitter moment. But your opinions and advice will be greatly appreciated nonetheless.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:41 AM
Patrick watched me climb into bed the other night with an enormous Stephen King library book under my arm and remarked, "I just don't understand why you like to be scared." I've been chewing over that comment ever since, because I like to feel completely understood by Patrick at all times. For me, feeling understood equals feeling loved.

The next morning, an award-winning bloggy pal wrote a post about having read Stephen King's memoir/writing manual, and I felt the coincidence was too good to pass up.

I don't know whether many readers of this blog have read much of King's work. Some, like Patrick, shy away from horror fiction for various reasons. Others may be too busy reading Litrahchah; still others may not want that much sheer poundage for their reading buck.

I don't read Stephen King because I like to be scared, though his books can often be terrifying. I'm not recommending his work; even his less grim stories are liberally peppered with earthy language and grisly images. They are not for the faint of heart, or for those under the age of seventeen (yes, Christian, that's when I'll let you start reading them). But I will tell you that I think Stephen King is one of the great writers of our time, right up there with Mark Helprin, Umberto Eco, and Don DeLillo. Here are some of the reasons why I love him:

10) He's an original. He has a distinctive writing style and voice which he has honed over years of consistent work. He has re-worked old tropes and invented new ones that have become iconic in our culture. Think of Jack Nicholson grinning through a splintered bathroom door, the epitome of a violent paranoiac. But there are plenty more. Troubled teenage wallflower? Call her Carrie. Aggressive dog? 'Cujo' is the shorthand term you're looking for.

9) He taught me to listen to people others dismiss as crazy, to see them with fresh and open eyes. In the world according to King, it is usually the crazy people who see things as they really are. I find this instructive, with biblical precedent.

There was a man who would walk the streets of Manhattan when we lived there, bellowing at the top of his lungs, "Alleluia, ah-lay-looooo-yuh, JEE-zuzzz." We would hear him at all hours and in a variety of neighborhoods. I've always wondered what motivated that guy, whether he saw himself as a latter-day Jeremiah or John, a voice crying in the wilderness of New York City. You can bet that he'll end up in a book of my own someday. I learn something new about myself when I pay attention to those who are a little (or a lot) marginal. And they make great characters.

8) SK is passionate about baseball. 'Nuff said.

7) He doesn't take himself too seriously. I have no patience for writers or actors who start talking in lofty tones about their 'craft,' reinforcing the mystique that they are somehow better than the plebes that make up their audiences. When asked about his work, my pal Stephen says that he simply loves telling a good story, and that he is grateful to have been able to support his family doing so. Down to earth. Confident in his gift, but with no pretensions to grandeur. Love it.

6) He tells a wing-ding of a story. His books are whoppers in the best speculative fiction sense of the term--tall tales like those told around campfires. The characters are complex; the conversations sound authentic. The stories feel true, even at their most unreal. An underlying theme of much of his work is the stark symmetry of the opposites found everywhere around us in the world: peace and hatred; beauty and atrocity; good and evil.

5) His book On Writing is one of two writing manuals worth anything at all, in my opinion (the other one is Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird). Tangent: here are the other books worth having on your shelf if you want to write fiction: a good dictionary; a good thesaurus; Strunk & White; a good grammar book; and The Chicago Manual of Style.

4) Stephen is unbelievably prolific, having written 45 novels in 33 years, plus a whole lot of short stories, quite a few screenplays, and a pack of non-fiction. He doesn't understand why this astonishes people. In On Writing, he comments, "If God gives you something you can do, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?" Amen. I've enjoyed at least a book per year of his for the past 25 years; I am confident that this bounty will continue as long as we are both alive.

3) He can make a long plane ride feel like five minutes. There are many great writers whose work I can enjoy in small packages: a chapter here, a chapter there a week later, if need be. Stevie is one of a handful of authors whose books I save for the binge times. If I can, I'll read them straight through in a day or two, absentmindedly shoving DVDs and boxes of crackers towards my family members when they make a bid for my attention. Among other writers in this category are George R.R. Martin, Tad Williams, Peter Straub, and Diana Gabaldon.

2) He's not perfect. He's written a few spectacularly bad books: The Tommyknockers and Rose Madder come to mind. But he's a fighter. He kicked drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol years ago; more recently, he fully recovered from severe injuries, including a shattered hip, after being hit by a car while walking near his house.

Anyone who can come back from scathing reviews, unrelenting snobbery, serious addiction, and several weeks in intensive care has big-time character. You want more evidence of his character? He's been happily married to his college sweetheart for close to forty years. His three grown children adore him. That's all I need.

1) He asks deep questions and wrestles with them all the way through his stories. Sometimes he comes up with answers, sometimes not. That's fine with me; I like questions better than answers anyway.

His books are almost always allegorical, but because King doesn't have a didactic bone in his body, the deeper story never shows through at the plot's expense--brilliant. Stevie has a great heart; he believes that good will prevail. This may sound wiggy to anyone who has ever seen The Shining, but I feel uplifted and energized after reading his work. He inspires me to be a better writer, but more importantly, he inspires me to be a better person.

If someone were undaunted by my caveats and wanted a good introduction to Mr. King's work, I would recommend:

1) The Green Mile
2) The Talisman (written with Peter Straub)
3) The Shining
4) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
5) Lisey's Story

If you get that far, write me; we'll chat. Until then, I can't wait for Duma Key!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:47 PM

Here are some flowers from my yard for you in honor of Mother's Day. The lilacs make the whole house smell heavenly. I hope your day was as great as mine was!

Mine started off with ambrosial French toast made by my personal chef. Church was lovely: the kids sang and I got appropriately misty. Bonus: all the moms scored charming little boxes of fabulous See's candy! It's hard to get in the Northeast, so it was doubly treasured even as I scarfed it down.

I received handmade items: sweet cards, a beautiful tissue paper corsage, and bright paper lilies that now grace my dresser. My very exciting gift from the family was my very own Weed Dragon! I cannot wait to flame all the dandelions and plantains in the entire yard. It might even be able to vanquish the dreaded ground ivy. I'm raring to go.

In the late afternoon, my personal chef fired up the grill and made his patent-pending Boursin Burgers. I drool at the memory. Really: Patrick makes the best burgers in the universe; even his regular cheeseburgers are better than any others I've ever tasted.

The weather was perfect--cool breezes, warm sun, brilliant azure sky--truly fit for a queen. I'll toddle off to bed now feeling pampered and special. Thanks, guys!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•2:08 PM
I know that panic and other strong emotions tend to bring out the California in me, but seriously. Dude. Where is it?

I last remember seeing it last Saturday--I think. Life is a blur when you are on deadline.

It's making me a little nutty. (Okay, nuttier.) Of course, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and while I always want to knit, anxiety is bringing on a downright craving.

I'm usually very organized and have great visuospatial memory. When Patrick can't find his glasses or his wallet or his keys, I almost always know exactly where they are. Essential things like my knitting bag have specific places where I put them; this is a fact upon which we all have relied in this household. Until now.

First that photo goes missing, then my all-important knitting bag. I'm worried that next to go will be my mind. Dude....

It's time for a hard-target search.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:18 AM
One of my favorite parenting stories involves my sister, her first husband, and their son, Sam. Going home from some social event, Bill turned to Angie and asked, "Do you think it makes other people sad that their kids aren't as cute as Sam?"

I've smiled about that anecdote for years. It seems that every parent secretly (or not) feels that his or her child is superlative--although speaking semi-objectively, Sam was the most adorable baby ever. Until Christian came along, that is.

After a somewhat colicky start in life, Christian came into his own as a sweet, funny, precociously verbal child. We spent all day, every day together, and I don't remember ever getting tired of his companionship. As if he knew that one of the ways to my heart was through books, he would remain entranced as I read aloud to him for literally hours on end. Sometimes I'd get hoarse because we'd been reading for so long. When I was busy with other things, he'd sit happily with a big stack of books at his side, making his way through them over and over again.

Like many little boys, he had a deep love for trucks of all sorts. A highlight of his week was garbage pick-up day. He would perch on top of the radiator cover in front of his bedroom window and look down at the garbage truck picking up our apartment building's trash. Load, load, crash, grind: this was a show that never got old. Once, at a dinner party, he told a friend of ours, "I want to be a garbage man when I grow up. My parents think that's funny."

Christian was able to relate to people of all ages, initiating conversation with strangers and putting them at ease. He had so many interests that he had something in common with nearly everyone. He never got tired of trips to the "Dinosaur Museum" or the "Pyramid Museum." He had names for the various playgrounds we frequented in Central and Riverside Parks: "Volcano," "Pirate," "Turtle," "Hippo." His joy and enthusiasm for life were infectious.

Through his early life, I kept telling myself that this couldn't last. I braced myself for the pre-pubescent and teen years, when surely our friendship would be put on hold for at least a decade. I know it's still early (and I'm knocking on all kinds of wood), but at thirteen-and-a-half, Christian remains delightful.

He cheerfully does whatever I ask of him, from practicing the piano to changing Daniel's diaper. He is close to his siblings, who bask in his kindness and attention. He bears his infrequent punishments with good grace and apologizes sincerely and promptly when he has made a mistake. He is thrilled for the success of others and can laugh at himself, two signs of humility that I prize highly. Does he have flaws? Oh, yes. But you won't hear about them from me. He knows what they are, and we see him working to remove them.

Christian and I are excited about our birthday month. Patrick, foxy saint that he is, is sending us off to the World Fantasy Convention in November, which will be held in exotic Saratoga Springs this year. We're excited that some of our favorite writers will be there and that the theme is right up our geekified alley; I anticipate a great weekend with one of my very best friends.

My definition of a blessing is this: something that turns one to God. In this light, anything from a found five-dollar bill to a lifetime of hardship is potentially a blessing. If you use your money or AI-worthy voice or mad nunchuck skills to bring more light and peace into the world, and your character is refined thereby, then those things are a blessing to you. If not....well, consider turning to God.

Christian is a blessing to me. I am absolutely not fishing here: I take zero credit for his goodness. He came to us that way. If I had a doubt that Wordsworth's "Ode to Immortality" was inspired, Christian dispells it. He has taught this Olympic-class grudge holder to be slower to anger and quicker to forgive. He reminds me to be free with hugs and smiles. He appreciates my creative endeavors in any form. He follows the example of his amazing father by standing up for truth and his friends fearlessly. He helps me get closer to being the person I dream of being. And I thank God for him every single day.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•4:48 PM
Woo-hoo! We just found out that the Judge handed down his decision. He upheld the vote as legal and valid and ordered the Town Board to pay the Library all funds owed immediately!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:38 AM

I'm working away on the novel, but I thought I'd take a break for a few minutes and post a recipe, since I haven't done that in a long time. It's a little intimidating when one of your best bloggy pals is a food genius. I have to keep reminding myself that we two women lead very different lives. With that in mind, here's a homespun but infinitely versatile recipe:

Mother of Invention Muffins

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups Substance A*
3 eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup Substance B**
3 cups Substance C***
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (or 1/4 freshly grated nutmeg, much better)
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional; chopped into bits, if need be)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine sugar, Substance A, eggs, melted butter, and Substance B. Sift together Substance C and other dry ingredients; add to first bowl and mix well. Fold in dried fruit and/or nuts if you like. Scoop into buttered muffin tins. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen. OR pour batter into buttered loaf pan and bake 50-60 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean and dry.

*Substance A can be any of the following: fresh cooked or canned pumpkin or other winter squash; applesauce; grated fresh carrots, apples, and/or zucchini; one cup grated unsweetened coconut + one cup canned crushed pineapple, very well drained; one cup peanut butter + one cup frozen blueberries (sort of a PBJ option).

**Substance B can be: buttermilk (best); milk (yummy); water (just fine). UPDATED: the fabulous Annette Lyon reminds me that sour cream is also a winner here.

***Substance C can be: all white flour; 1/2 white, 1/2 wheat; or all whole wheat. All versions are delicious. The all whole wheat version takes a bit more liquid and needs a little longer to bake.

We make these muffins a lot. They keep well, but usually get eaten too quickly for you to really find out for sure.

I first started monkeying around with this recipe when I needed an appealing yet filling breakfast for Sunday mornings. I had a couple of pokey eaters, and I got tired of trying to hustle them through breakfast so that we could get to church on time. Our ride is 30-35 minutes one way, so one day I realized that if I had the kids eat in the car, we could have a nag-free morning. It worked beautifully.
It's a handy way to use up zucchini or winter squash. I grate the zucchini and cook the winter squash, then freeze them in two-cup portions. I came up with all the variations out of (laziness) a desire to use what I had on hand rather than make a trip to the store. Now I know this recipe so well I can practically make it in my sleep. Literally, since at 6:00 a.m., I am often dragging around the kitchen in a dazed stupor.

Let me know if you try any other exciting permutations of the Substances. We are always up for a new variation on the theme.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:41 PM
A favorite song from childhood goes, "Saturday, it's a special day/It's the day we get ready for Suuunnn-day!" Other people I know have two days to their weekend; since we are pretty narrow in our definition of appropriate Sunday activities, my Saturdays are always jam-packed.

I usually want to accomplish some major house/garden chore, always managing to forget that I still need to keep track of feeding people, changing diapers, and that 'getting ready for Sunday' thing. I've got to figure out how to dial back my expectations for Saturdays.

We've hired a college kid this summer for as many Saturdays as he can spare. He came for the first time today to help us with Extreme Makeover: Yard Edition, Phase One. It was fabulous; he deputized Christian and James and got right to the long list we'd made for him.
The girls were happy playing with the neighbor kids. Patrick was in Connecticut at a meeting. Daniel followed me around with his little green safety scissors and cut individual blades of grass while I girded my loins and battled the evil ground ivy.

Last summer, since we were renovating the house, I didn't spend a lot of time in the garden. As a result, ground ivy gained a lot of, well, ground. Those insidious runners! Those leaves that can camouflage themselves as monarda or nepeta! The sneaky way it insinuates itself around tender lovelies like newly sprouted peonies! I hate ground ivy even more than I hate vinca (even though it smells better). It is a Noxious Weed, and it has afflicted and tormented me plenty.

I did a little research on the blessed internets; I found a radical (for me, crazy tree-hugger that I am) remedy that I just may try on Monday. Apparently ground ivy is unusually sensitive to high levels of boron in the soil. It no likey, she said, smacking her lips sadistically.
The websites of several cooperative extension offices recommended a highly diluted solution of 20 Mule Team and water to combat the pest. While I wouldn't pour this into my precious perennial border, I am contemplating applying it to the lawn that runs alongside it. I welcome input on this matter from readers who have degrees in chemistry and/or who are experienced gardeners (you know who you are, people).

I was a little weary after a few hours of hard weeding, mainly because there is so much more to do. But walking my borders in the cool of the evening lifted my spirits immeasurably. I got a good sniff of those amazing lilacs and noted that my double tulips should be poppin' tomorrow or the next day. As I walked back to the house, I noticed that the sunset was particularly splendid. All in all, it was a special day.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:06 AM

Here I am with Mom, leaning against the bumper of Dad's antique car somewhere near our apartment in Hollywood. Mom is visibly pregnant with Stephanie, which means this photo dates from mid-1968. Check out the bumper sticker: that was for Bobby, not his big brother (though we are fans of his, too). Bobby was assassinated in June of 1968 in Los Angeles; I can't imagine what it must have been like for my parents, having their political hopes stolen away in such violent fashion.

I thought about two of RFK's many memorable quotes last night. Here is the first one:

Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes.

Patrick and I normally have our Date Night on Thursdays. But last night was the monthly Town Board Meeting in our little corner of the world, and a pressing concern of ours was on the agenda. We forewent the pleasures of romance in favor of civic duty.

Our library, which is private, has survived for a long time on a very small endowment supplemented by yearly gifts from the town. While in past years this Board has been generous in response to the library's growing needs as overhead and circulation have increased, the library hoped the community would support a guaranteed budget in order to meet its expenses with a little less stress. The voters agreed; last November, a referendum regarding funding for our town's library was passed.

To date, however, the Board has refused to give the library the budgeted money. This has been met with disbelief and outrage on the part of the library and its patrons and has elicited many letters to the editor of our tiny newspaper. Several citizens came to last night's meeting with prepared statements in support of the library; others were there with questions for the Board Members.

Patrick was one of the latter, and thank heaven he's such a gifted litigator. Emotions were generally running high last night, but under Patrick's genteel yet persistent questioning, along with that of a neighbor, the whole story began to come out.

It now seems clear to us that the Board never thought the referendum would pass, since it called for a 120% increase over gifts in previous years. When it did pass, the shocked and embarrassed Board realized it wouldn't have the money this year and began casting about for a way out.

An exit strategy was formulated by a lawyer hired by the Board, who, after digging around for a while, discovered that a technicality had been overlooked in the election. Public notice of the referendum must be published by the County Board of Elections in the local paper twice before Election Day; the B of E unfortunately only published notice once. As a result, according to the Town's lawyer, the election results were null and void. The Board has refused to fund the library based on this man's opinion.

The B of E certified the election despite its oversight regarding notice, and during the 30-day window allowed by law, neither the Town nor any private citizen contested the legality of the election or the results. Therefore, the library feels the referendum should stand and that the funds should be disbursed. The library has now had to hire a lawyer to bring a suit against the Town; its funding now lies in the hands of a judge.

Also clear to us last night was that a lot of this furor could have been avoided with a little humility on the part of the Town Board. A simple apology and a plea for time to work out the problems could have worked wonders with the library's staff. Instead, the Town Supervisor has been on the attack, citing the small percentage of voters who voted either way on the referendum as proof that the library was trying to put something over on the town's population.

The library, however, ran several full-page ads in the paper, much larger than the four-line legal notice the B of E was required to run. Signs were up in supporters' yards; the library had flyers available at its front desk detailing the particulars of the referendum. Of the approximately 10,000 residents of our town (I don't know how many are registered, voting adults), about 4,000 voted last November. More than half of those voted one way or the the other on the referendum, a statistic consistent with typical election results.

The Town Supervisor got more than a little self-righteous, saying that he represents all 10,000 residents, not just those 'few' who voted in favor of granting the library's request. He expressed concern that their voices weren't heard in the election. If they had wanted to be heard, though, they could have driven the half mile to the fire station or the VFW and cast their ballot, don't you think?

One councilman complained that despite repeated requests, the library had not shown the Board its budget, again implying secrecy on the part of the library. While I think it was not a smart PR move by the library not to disclose its budget, it was not in violation of any law or requirement. Local governments, which hold the purse strings, can often censor the libraries' decisions, actions, and contents through simple lack of funding. I can understand why our library would want to retain its independence even as it increased its dependence on public funds.

We townsfolk were heard, mostly graciously, for two hours on the subject; the meeting concluded at 11:00 p.m. Though we were tired and frustrated, Patrick and I felt confident that the Board got our message. The library is important to us, an almost sacred space dedicated to knowledge and freedom of information. But more important is our right to vote and to have our vote respected, and our right to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions and decisions.

We'll wait to hear what the judge says, hoping that he'll rule in favor of the library. But if the Board's opinion is upheld, we'll work hard to get a new referendum up for consideration this fall. We'll get through the disappointment by keeping in mind the second RFK quote I remembered last night:

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•6:50 PM
I've been cranky all day for no good reason. This morning the fence repairman called to say he was going to be a half hour late for our appointment, then queried whether that was okay. Instead of giving my typical passive-aggressive overly polite response, I answered, "No, it's not okay. But what can I do about it?"

He mumbled something about 'hearing me' and clicked off quickly. I managed to be civil when he actually arrived, much to Patrick's relief.

Daniel brought me a moment of cheer a little while later. Here is a transcript of our exchange:

Me (after sniffing): "Are you poopy?"

Daniel (total poker face): "No, I fink not."

--Seconds later, during hygienic maintenance session--

Daniel: "Dolphin, dolphin, doll-FINN!!" (Pauses.) "Mama, are you finking what I'm finking?"

Me: "Daniel, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Both, simultaneously: "Penguins!"

Absurd, I know. But it made me feel better, at least for a little while.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•2:30 PM
First, a gratuitous photo of darling Daniel in his Mumble the Penguin suit, to celebrate that I have finally figured out how to move images around in Blogger:

I paraphrase the Talking Heads in my title because Obsession, not Love, Has Come to Town.

I know that this is true because good grief; how can it already be Wednesday again? I need a Time Turner like the one that Prof. McGonagall gave to Hermione Granger.

Here's what happens when you start devoting as many of your waking hours as possible to writing a novel. The world you've created inside your brain--the one you are struggling to depict using a laptop and all the words you know how to spell--starts becoming as real as the world all around you. Annette knows what I mean.

The other day I had the impulse to turn to Patrick and say, "You should have heard what Eugene said to Sophie today," but caught myself before revealing to my dear spouse just how psychotic I have become. Eugene and Sophie aren't real people, you see. And they aren't even the protagonists; they are somewhat minor characters in this manuscript that I have pledged to have done by May 15th.

Another thing that happens when you are writing a novel is that your blog suffers and begins to waste away. Readers start drifting elsewhere in search of more faithful and entertaining updaters. Ah, well. Maybe they'll all come back when this book is published. Or not.

Yet another phenomenon is that your family starts getting served really monotonous meals. Pot Roast; Rice, Bean & Chili Soup; Beef Stew. Anything that can a) be assembled from as many food storage ingredients as possible so as to eliminate trips to the store; b) thrown into this and then put into this for hours on end; and c) then can be made to last for not one but two dinners, is a possibility. Thank heaven for Adriana, or we'd really be in trouble.

At least knitting can still occur, on car trips and late at night when my WEUs are all tapped out and can only be replenished by watching the Mets on TV with my best friend. Here's the swatch I made for a cool little cardigan named Arietta:

I love this mosaic stitch technique; I love the designer of this sweater, Barbara Gregory. She is so brilliant that I actually obeyed her and blocked the swatch, something I've never done before. I won't save the swatch, though; I'm pretty sure I'll need every inch of yarn I've got (plus some that Carmen is giving me) to finish this. Carmen and I indulged in quite a lot of this pretty sport-weight cotton at La Droguerie when we first went there six years ago. It just goes to show you: you can never buy too much yarn when you don't have a specific project in mind. Feed the stash properly, and it will someday reward you.

Speaking of the stash, which I have reduced by quite a bit so far this year, it's about to get the equivalent of liposuction. Carmen let me know about a very worthy cause for donations of yarn you don't love any more. Interim House is a 6-month drug rehab center for women that includes teaching knitting and crocheting as part of its program. Go visit them and cheer them on. I'm going to send them a box of yarn right around May 16th!