Saturday, August 29, 2009


Happitudes: things you're happy about and feel gratitude about at the same time.

1. Went to the plastic surgeon yesterday for my follow-up and he says I'm healing just great. I'm over most of that awful exhaustion, too.

2. My cousin Janine gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Isaac on Wednesday.

3. My niece Natalie had a stellar first week of first grade.

4. My gorgeous 6-year-old niece Evelyn became a gorgeous 7-year-old this week. (And your slacker Aunt Janelle is going to call you this weekend, promise!)

5. My husband went to the grocery store with me (number 13,000,000 on his "favorite things to do" list) and loaded the bags into the car and then carried them into the house for me.

6. It's supposed to cool off next week. (Hallelujah!)

7. I've read two good books in the past week...after months of duds.

8. My brother's dreadfully infected toe is all healed up.

Got any happitudes to share?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Goods and bads.

Todd and I briefly discussed Senator Ted Kennedy's death at dinner this evening. Todd has absolutely no use for the man because of Chappaquiddick. I have more ambivalent feelings--knowing that he committed negligent homicide and got away with it, and yet knowing all that he did for this country and the groundbreaking laws that he worked to pass, it's pretty hard for me to say how I feel about the guy.

It's been interesting to read and hear from people who actually knew him as a friend and who testify to Kennedy being someone who wanted desperately to help other people and to give his friends and family anything they needed that he could give.

I said to Todd that I certainly wouldn't want to be remembered only for the worst things I'd done in my life. Of course, I haven't committed anything quite as egregious as some of Kennedy's sins. (Not yet, anyway, but hey, I'm still young.)

I've wondered before, and thought of it again today, whether the biggest sinners out there might not also (if they've experienced grace and taken it to heart) be the most compassionate people out there, too. It's easier to have compassion for other people's failings when you're all too aware of your own tremendous failings. It's easier to see people's pain and regrets when you carry around a huge pile of your own. Maybe it's easier to see people as human beings who deserve rights and respect when you've been in situations where you had to take an uncomfortable look at your own humanity.

I certainly don't know if any of this is true of Senator Kennedy, but some of what I've heard and read today makes me think it might be. The Kennedy men have always interested me--such inspirational public lives, such degraded private lives. It fascinates me to read a biography and look at a life and try to balance the good and the bad in it, and Senator Kennedy's life has much larger goods and bads than most people's, that's for sure. If it's not fair to laud him without remembering Mary Jo Kopechne, I also don't think it's fair to condemn him without remembering civil rights, voting rights, rights for the disabled, OSHA, COBRA, FMLA, Title IX, AIDS research and care, Head Start, WIC, Meals on Wheels, and a host of other things that have made the U.S. a better country.

Just some stuff I was thinking about today while cleaning out the closet and listening to NPR.

I've always found this eulogy he gave for his brother Robert to be extremely moving.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Random thoughts.

Why is organizing such a satisfying thing to do? My garden looks terrible, like a freaking jungle, so I sublimated by cleaning and organizing my fridge instead, which was much easier (and cooler.) My wheat germ and oat bran and flaxseed and dried fruit sacks are now resting neatly in plastic shoeboxes instead of piling up at the back of the fridge. What a feeling of accomplishment from two plastic shoeboxes! The jungle still awaits, though. Unfortunately, I am not up to yanking weeds just yet, I don't think my still-healing incisions would like it one bit.

I have had to retire two beloved pieces of clothing this week--a big comfy t-shirt that I bought at a yard sale 7 years ago which finally developed too many holes for decency, and today my wonderful cool cotton pajama capris completely fell apart, ripped right across the leg where the fabric had gotten thin. And of course I can't find any appealing petite pajama pants at all online now, let alone petite pajama capris, which don't seem to exist any more. So sad!

We went to see "District 9" last night and while it was an okay movie, it has replaced "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" as the most gooey, oozy movie I've ever seen. Body fluids (both human and alien) of every color oozing from every orifice (both human and alien.) I was sorry we'd eaten dinner beforehand...although one wouldn't really be in the mood to eat afterward, either.

And I think I may have to either stop going to movies, or else start entering the theater late, if they don't stop showing horror previews before every darn movie. "District 9" was not a horror movie, it was just a sci-fi alien thing--and yet 6 of the 7 previews beforehand were for horror movies. I don't LIKE horror movies! I don't want to be scared even a little bit! And some of those previews are really disturbing! It doesn't make me look very cool to be the only person in the theater with my eyes squinched shut and my fingers in my ears, like a frightened toddler.

Don't you love it when you go to the post office, or the bank, or an eatery, and you walk right in at the head of the line, not a soul in the place, and then you turn around two seconds later and there are 10 people behind you in line? I just love it when that happens--it makes me feel so special, like I have some supernatural sense of timing.

The only good thing about August is delicious peaches. And the fact that my grandma, my dad and my niece Evelyn were born in August. Those are August's only redeeming qualities.
Let's have some fall now!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fairy tales.

I picked up two very old books of fairy tales at an estate sale a few weeks ago. They look like two from a larger set, because each book is slim, with just four or five tales in each one.

The pictures are just stunning. Here's "Little Red Riding Hood:"

And "Rumpelstiltskin":

"Jack and the Beanstalk"...I love the funky design on that beanseller's pants:

These are from a story called "The Goose Girl," which is not a story I remember, but which seems to be about a passive-aggressive princess with golden hair:

We also have "Tom Thumb":

And "The Frog Prince," soon to be Disneyfied in a theater near you, I believe:

"Puss in Boots"--look at the cool windmill in the background:

And "Bluebeard," with his fetching wife poking her nose in where it was best left unpoked:

And here are a few of the pictures from the story of "Beauty and the Beast," a favorite of my nieces Natalie and Marissa.

The last picture is the picture that made me scoop up those books! Love the fireworks!

What I love about this style of illustration is all the detail, the floral patterns and the textures on clothes and fabrics, the swooping sleeves and flowing hair--just so perfect for fairy tales, especially.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


This is not my favorite time of year to be in southern Virginia, but living near the water does have its compensations...






Yum! Now that's what I call fresh!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Boeuf et fleurs.

(Sounds fancier in French.)

I cooked up a whole bunch of things the week before my surgery, and we're still digging down to the bottom of the freezer and enjoying some of them. This is one of the things I cooked...I got the recipe from a Pea at Two Peas, and it is unbelievably good. While it's cooking, it smells like my great-aunt Helen's house when we used to go over there for Sunday dinner when I was very little. Pure essence of pot roast, only better.

Italian Beef Sandwiches

1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 large garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup water
3-lb. rump or chuck roast

You just plop the roast in a crockpot, pour the water and spices over it, and let it cook all day on high, or till the meat's tender. Then you shred it up with a fork and let it simmer for a few more minutes, then eat it on a nice soft steak roll.

I like horseradish sauce on mine, but Todd prefers steak sauce. Apparently some people like to put banana peppers on the sandwiches...personally, I think a pile of grilled onions and peppers would be delicious on top. You can add provolone cheese or not--we didn't.

Todd thinks the meat is too spicy, so next time I make it I'll probably just use a half-teaspoon of red pepper flakes, but I think the heat is just right. And if I can find a reduced-sodium onion soup mix, I'll use that in the future, again for the hubby's sake. But boy, is it good.

I'm feeling slightly more energetic today. My body has rebelled and refuses to sleep on its back any longer, so I've had to contrive a way of sleeping on my side with lots of pillows under and all around me. I don't think it's the greatest thing for my incisions, but I'm compelled to do it. I've never had my body wake up in the middle of the night before and force itself into a position--it's like being demon-possessed. Very weird feeling.

I have a few randomly-connected pictures to aunts put together the most beautiful bouquets for the church windows at my grandpa's funeral last week. They pulled together garden flowers and wildflowers and added cattails at the last minute, and it looked like something we could have picked on a random summer stroll around my grandparents' property 20 years ago.

Speaking of my grandparents' property, one of the items my aunt Molly salvaged from there was quite a bit larger than the odd chair or table. She took the summerhouse that stood right outside the front door and had it moved to her own yard a mile or two away.

Molly lives in an old brick schoolhouse, where my grandma and her siblings attended school, incidentally, and the summerhouse fits into her yard as though it had always been there.

She's having it painted and refurbished a little, and her neighbor gave her a wonderful old door with etched glass panels that will replace the original door. It's going to look great. But I think it looks nice, now, too. Here's how it was at my grandparents' house, painted blue to match their house:

Grandma had wildflowers and mint growing around it in the back, and rosebushes and other things in the front of it. I can't wait to see what Molly does with it!

Todd and I dropped in at an estate sale on Saturday that reminded me a lot of the sale we had at my grandparents' place last September. It was an old house with a barn where the parents had lived for 55 years, it was their large family of descendants holding the sale, it was piles and piles of very old junk that no one had thrown away for decades. And the family was Mennonite.

I had a very nice chat with the daughters, who are the same ages as my mom and her sisters, and picked up a few odds and ends. I got these three cream bottles from a whole huge box of saved bottles and decided to throw some garden flowers in them for my kitchen windowsill.

Can you see the price molded into the top of the bottle? Those were the days.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Various tired things.

Is everybody sick of my whining about how tired I am? Too darn bad.

Today is like a whole new level of tiredness. I have to exert effort to plop each finger down on the keyboard. This may just be the most exhausted I have ever felt in my life. The gnomes in my body must be very hard at work repairing my chest area today, that's all I can figure.

What's that you say? There are no gnomes in the human body? Well, maybe not in yours. But my body is maintained by a team of tiny gnomes. They like Ben and Jerry's ice cream for a special treat. I don't provide it for them very often, though, as their next task will be to address my tummy area and butterfat ice cream isn't the tool required for that.

Sooo tired. Blinking takes an effort today. I feel a disbelieving annoyance way down under the tiredness...I didn't expect to be this tired at this point. And I'm more bored than ever...what am I supposed to do between passing-out-on-the-couch periods? I type a sentence and then have to sit and rest for a minute or two!

Anyway, I found this game the other day. I can't even imagine having the energy and mental capacity to play it right this minute, but maybe someone else out there is more on the ball today than I am. It's addictive, I warn you. Kind of a cross between Scrabble and Tetris. Must Pop Words

Also my friend Beverly forced me to go to Bath and Body Works on Sunday and then she forced me to fill up a bag with stuff and then she forced me to buy it all. She had a gun stuck in my ribs and everything. I swear. She is mean.

So one of the things she forced me to buy is this scent called Vanilla Noir and it is seriously one of the best things I have ever smelled. I like vanilla scents, but often they are way too sweet. Vanilla Noir, on the other hand, smells like a warm pound cake that just found out about sex and is planning what to do with the knowledge. Yum.

I was also going to type in a recipe for something I ate for lunch and which is fresh in my memory as delicious, but I am too tired now. I'll do it later. Back to the couch for me. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


On Sunday night I made a big long list of things to get done this week, knocked about five items off yesterday and then collapsed in a sore and tired heap on the couch after supper, and was in bed by ten PM.

Today I am still sore and tired! I scheduled a massage this morning and almost fell asleep driving home from it. My original neck and shoulder pain is almost completely gone, but I have a knot next to my right shoulder blade now--I think it's from holding my torso differently and sleeping on my back, working muscles in different ways now.

I thought it might be good to have someone work on those new kinks before they solidify into real pain. And it was good! We had to work out a way for me to lie down that wouldn't completely crush my very sore boobies, though...I had to use a body pillow and sort of wrap myself around it sideways.

Now I'm feeling like that massage may be just about all I get done today--that and this blog post. It's driving me nuts to sit around when my mind is buzzing with things I need and want to do. So my pattern right now is to break into a mini whirlwind of activity for a few hours, and then pass out on the couch for an hour or two. But yesterday I overdid it--too much reaching over my head putting dishes away and hoisting wet towels into the dryer, among other things.

Susan, the massage therapist, told me I need to be patient, that my body is working overtime to recover from the surgery and that's using up most of my energy. Little does she know that we Clarks are each allotted about 3 milligrams of patience as our genetic inheritance, and we use it all up within the first two weeks of our lives.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bon appetit!

My friend Beverly and I went to see "Julie and Julia" yesterday, which is a film based on Julie Powell's book of the same name, in which Powell writes about the year she spent cooking her way through Julia Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about it.

I read the book several years ago and enjoyed it, although it's a little less about food and a little more about being almost 30 and struggling with the idea that your life isn't going the way you thought it would. Powell's blogging/cooking project gives her a new path to follow, and a sort of guardian angel in the person of Julia Child.

I was surprised to hear that a movie was coming out based on the book, because there didn't seem to be quite enough in the book to base a movie on. The moviemakers must have agreed with me, because they split the movie roughly in half, and showed two parallel stories at the same time--Julie Powell's (played by Amy Adams) cooking adventure and Julia Child's (played by Meryl Streep) cooking adventure.

The Julia Child segments are based on another book, one of the best memoirs I've ever read: Julia Child's My Life in France, the story of her marriage, moving to France and falling into what was to become the defining task of her life: learning French cooking and teaching it to Americans.

So in the movie we have the modern-day segments, with Amy Adams battling subway crowds to work and then coming home to cook in her lousy Long Island apartment kitchen, and then the Julia segments, which take place in Paris in the 1940s and 50s and which feature Meryl Streep doing a dead-on and completely delightful version of Julia Child. Two guesses as to which storyline is more interesting!

The stories do play off each other perfectly, as each woman is trying to find her niche in life, supported by a loving husband, but although Amy Adams is a perfectly good actress, every time Meryl Streep comes onto the screen, you forget all about whatever Adams was doing in the scene before. You can't take your eyes off Julia, who is as bright and vivid and full of life as she was in real life. Stanley Tucci plays her devoted husband Paul Child, and you just want their scenes to go on forever, it's such a pleasure to watch them together.

Plus the costumes, the cars, the sets from the Julia segments are pure eye candy. Bev and I loved this movie. It was funny and inspiring and beautifully filmed. Sort of a chick flick, but the men in the audience seemed to enjoy it as much as the women did. It was also a pretty clean movie (much cleaner than Powell's book, anyway) with just one or two obscenities and only implied sex between loving married couples. (It's mother-in-law-friendly, Viv!) We walked out of the theatre smiling.

I wonder if this is the first movie about blogging?!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Movie night.

Oh me oh my, I am feeling at loose ends tonight. Todd is out fishing with a co-worker when he should be home with me watching "Buffy" Season 4. Being in recovery mode for a few weeks means that I have watched almost every DVD in the house and done more crossword puzzles than any human should ever have to do. My "mousing" hand is sore from Internet usage. I've dipped into at least five different books in the past two weeks, and none have been able to hold my interest. I hate to say I'm bored, but I am.

Thus a ramble here.

It is odd that director John Hughes died yesterday, because Todd and I were talking about "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" just the night before that. Todd was sitting at my desk, and I have a painting by Georges Seurat as my desktop image, "A Sunday in the Park on the Island of La Grand Jatte."

Todd mentioned something about that being the painting that Cameron looks at. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. He said, "Yes, that's the one where Cameron looks at the little girl in the middle, and then it cuts to his face, and then back to her face, and then a close-up of his face, and then a close-up of her know, in 'Ferris Bueller.'"

Well, I've seen "Ferris Bueller" any number of times, but the main thing I always remember about it is the parade where he sings "Twist and Shout." I didn't remember that scene at all. So we found it on YouTube:

The girl's face dissolves, of course, because it's composed of tiny dots of paint in Seurat's style of "pointillism," which is an awesome word as well as a cool way to paint.

It's strange that I (the English-major) forgot all about that scene, because it's a key moment in the film, and one that still moves people to pondering, if my Google search on "painting cameron ferris" reveals anything. I loved what this blogger had to say:

"In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Cameron stands in an art museum in front of a pointillist painting by George Seurat, and as he stares at the image of a little girl, the camera cuts back and forth, jumping closer and closer to each shot. As we get closer to his eyes, it seems as if Cameron is having an existential crisis. As if he is facing the realization that we are all just little dots.

"In an industry where anything that seems superfluous ends up on the cutting room floor, it is to Hughes' credit that his film allows for the moment, one that continues to move me to this day. That is the gift of John Hughes."

Maybe I should pop in "Ferris Bueller" to ward off my boredom tonight, eh? I hate to watch it without Todd, though. I don't know about Todd, but for me that is THE high school movie of my high school years. Seems a shame to watch it without my high school buddy along.

I haven't seen all of John Hughes' movies and people my age are always shocked when I reveal that I've never seen "Sixteen Candles," "Pretty in Pink," or "Some Kind of Wonderful." My favorite of his movies I have seen is "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles." The first 2 1/2 minutes of this scene literally make me cry with laughter every time:

Man, I wish John Candy was still around. What a funny, funny man.

As long as I'm talking Hughes films, I also have a soft spot for "Home Alone." I took my cousins Alan and Michael to see that movie over Thanksgiving break in 1990 when they were 11 years old and I was 20 years old and I was baby-sitting for them. I had such a great time that I called Todd (my then-boyfriend) right afterward and said, "We have to go see this kiddie movie tonight."

Here's a montage of my favorite moments from that's like watching a "Tom and Jerry" cartoon...awesome.

They left out my favorite line, though ("Why are you dressed like a chicken?") and my favorite bit where Marv screams like a little girl when Kevin puts the tarantula on his face. Good times.

Maybe a Christmas movie in August would be a fun way to kill the rest of the evening...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I bless the rains down in Africa.

And now for something light-hearted...being a true child of the 80's, I have always loved the band Toto's song "Africa." This is an amazing acapella version done by a Slovenian group. They start out by making the noises of a thunderstorm with their hands and feet--so cool. Such a great song, too!

Memories of Grandpa.

It has been an interesting time for me, processing all that has happened in the past week. It seems odd that a person can get to be almost 40 years old before losing a close relative, but Grandpa's death is indeed my first close-up experience with that kind of loss.

I loved and respected my grandpa very much, but I was not especially close with him. He was a complex person--as of course most of us humans are--and came from an Old Order Mennonite family that was quite non-demonstrative and more than slightly dysfunctional. He didn't like to talk about his childhood for the most part.

In the bit of dabbling I've done with genealogy, I often wish I had more information about the kind of people my ancestors were, any little bits that would give me a peek into their lives and help me see who they were and what qualities I may have gotten from them. So I thought I'd write down some things I remember and some things I know about Grandpa, in case some future descendant ever wants to know.

Grandpa only received an eighth-grade education before having to leave school, but he made up for that as an adult by finding books that would teach him whatever he wanted and needed to know. He was a creative person who loved to tinker and make things. When I brought my husband-to-be into the family, Grandpa recognized a kindred spirit, and hauled Todd down to the basement to show him all the stereo equipment he had rigged up so he could listen to and record his favorite classical music.

Grandpa raised eight kids on a very meager salary, but still did his best to provide them with treats and trips. He ran an auto body shop from his home for years. He loved birds and always had feeders close to the kitchen window so he could watch them. He built bluebird houses and put them up on all the roads around his home--whenever I see a bluebird, it always makes me think of him.

He painted a small antique chest of drawers a psychedelic shade of acid green, and was very proud of the effect. I can remember at the time thinking that it was just plain wrong, and I was only 7 or 8 years old! He made 8-track tapes of songs and stories for me and my siblings to listen to when we were little.

He was a father as well as a grandpa to my cousin Michael when my aunt Kathy was a struggling single mom trying to work and go to school and keep a roof over their heads. He fretted over the health and well-being of everyone in his family, and there were a lot of us to fret over. Mom remembers the words "Keep us safe from harm and evil" being a regular part of his mealtime prayers.

He had a big orchard with peach, apricot, and apple trees. Probably pears, too, but I can't remember for sure. He had a blueberry patch, and he rigged up a cannon-type of gun that would fire at intervals to scare the birds away in the summertime. I don't think it was especially effective, but I'm sure all the neighbors loved it.

He provided wagons and balls and various rusty outdoor toys for us grandkids, and wasn't terribly happy when we would swing on the low branches of the big weeping willow in the front yard instead.

He took lots of photos and would let me sit and look at all the slides of them with his little slide viewer. He liked to travel and got to indulge in that later in life, when my uncle Lowell went to work for an airline and could get Grandpa and Grandma inexpensive tickets.

He liked cats and music and fishing and National Geographic magazines. He did not suffer fools gladly. He almost chopped off his thumb with a saw once, and had to have it pinned back on till it healed. When someone at church asked him teasingly if the protruding pin was his strawberry huller, he replied that no, it was his nose picker.

He struggled with depression and anxiety all his life, but he survived and thrived despite it. I find this helpful to remember, as I'm one of his descendants who unfortunately inherited those genes. But I also inherited his curiosity and love of knowledge, and the belief that all the answers are out there if I can just find the right book.

It seems like often when an elderly person has long and difficult final years, it can be easy to forget the person they were before that. What our family has been talking and thinking about for the past few days has been the person Grandpa was in all the long years of his life before the end when ill health took over. That is the person we wept for on Saturday and Sunday, even though we were glad to know that he is at peace and not struggling any more. He was at the root of our family, and it makes a difference in our lives to have him gone now.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Back home.

My gosh, what a whirlwind the past three days have been.

First, I want to say thank you to everyone who was praying for me and sending good thoughts--I know for a fact they helped because I got through the weekend with very little pain or discomfort. In fact, I was in much better shape than my poor sister, who has been sick and running a fever for days, OR my poor brother, who was and still is battling a badly infected foot. We were quite the trio this weekend.

I have felt so blessed the past few days, not just with healing, but with the privilege of being able to be there to say good-bye to Grandpa; with the love and support the church family showed to all of us; and most of all, with the amazing people in my family--my parents, aunts and uncles and all my terrific cousins--you know, none of us would be here were it not for Grandpa and his life, and I have never felt so grateful for my big funny family.

The funeral was especially meaningful, with hymns Grandpa had chosen, and memories of his humor and creativity. My aunt Kathy shared a letter he had written her years ago, and my uncle Larry spoke about the qualities that made Grandpa a blessing to his family. The service closed with a snippet from
The Messiah, which was one of Grandpa's favorite pieces of music: "And the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed..."

I was so glad to get to see some of my cousins who live far away...we never manage to make it home at the same times, and it was great to see them: my cousin Michael who's in the Coast Guard in Wisconsin right now, my cousin Krista from Atlanta, my cousin Dennis from Colorado, my cousin Pam from Illinois with her new husband, and all the others, too.

It was the quiet presence of my cousin Janine that I found oddly comforting--Janine is just a few weeks away from delivering her first child, and her cute big tummy was sort of a silent reminder that life is irrepressible and always coming back.

This is me and my brother (far right) and sister (third from left) with all our first cousins and our aunt Carol. Two cousins were unable to make it: Jarrod, who's overseas in the Air Force, and Darrel in Colorado.

And my mom with her brothers and sisters:

This is an arrangement of some of the little things that symbolized Grandpa's life.

Grandma with my cousin Pam:

It was a hard few days for Grandma, too, of course. She is suffering from dementia now, but she did know what had happened and she was sad. She and Grandpa were married for 66 years.

My flights home on Monday went fine, although I did have a small delay and sat in hot, crowded LaGuardia Airport much longer than I would have liked. It was very neat coming into LaGuardia, though--we came in right over Manhattan, and I could see the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Central Park, and even the Dakota apartments from my plane window. It was cool.

Today I'm just super tired, but thankfully I have plenty of time to rest up and get back into the swing of things. Todd is working crazy hours so far this week, which is fine except that I still need him to help me hoist laundry in and out of our stackable dryer, since I can't quite manage that yet! Who knows when the laundry will get done?

Thanks again for the good thoughts and prayers. I am going to try to be a better Blogger and Facebook friend than I've been lately! I'm definitely feeling ready for life to get back to where it was a couple months ago after all these events.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

I'm off to Ohio in the early *yawn* hours. Keep your fingers crossed for smooth flights, if you would, and none of those airline shenanigans that they like to pull. Back late Monday night, see ya.