Sunday, March 27, 2011


In 1999 or maybe 2000, I stole a shirt from my sister Molly. “Steal” may be too strong a word for that process of slightly hostile sisterly exchange that must go on in all families. But “borrow” also doesn’t work so well, because at least in this case, I never intended to give it back. It was paper-thin, light blue linen. It was a kind of short tunic that I wore hundreds and hundreds of times for most of the last decade, until it was so threadbare that I might as well have been going out nude. In the end, I couldn’t even bring myself to give it away. It seemed an insult to Goodwill. So did the unthinkable: I trashed it.

But I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since. I cursed myself again and again that I didn’t unpick the seams and turn it into a pattern. So you can imagine my glee when a year or so ago I came upon a version of the shirt. It was from Jenny Gordy’s lovely line, Wiksten. It’s the tova top and dress. I’ve followed her blog for awhile now have long admired her simple and breezy style. I was particularly exuberant when she started publishing a couple of her patterns last year. Unfortunately, I missed out on the first round of the tova pattern, but managed to snatch one up the second time around this winter.

I bought the blue linen a few weeks ago and I spent four evenings this last week tracing the pattern (I didn't cut it out because I knew that I'd want to make loads of these), cutting out the fabric, pinning and more pinning, sewing, and hemming, and finally, admiring. I did a little bit each night, which actually made the process more fun than slogging through it on a single day.

And the pattern? Well, it's terrific, both because it recalls the earlier shirt and exceeds it (it’s a bit more fitted; it’s not threadbare; it’s longer; and it can also be a dress!). Jenny’s directions are wonderfully clear and precise. I still struggle a bit with gathers (on the yoke, the sleeves, etc.), but I didn’t have to unpick more than a couple seams the entire way through. My only annoyance is that I didn’t make the dress length and I didn’t make two versions at the same time. But I will. Soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

tongue and pen and hands

I've had no time -- I mean really very little time -- to get to my own work in the last two years. I know that I've said this before, but there's nothing like beating a dead horse with work-related sorrow. Instead of shaping my dissertation (finger down the throat) into a publishable monograph, I've been diligently serving the institution. When I first took this job, I had hoped that the time away from my dissertation would make me pine for it. It hasn't. But it has provided endless opportunities to hone my guilt about turning away from that project, one that just feels so massively messed up, so narrow, so timid, so hopeless problematic. So unsexy.

But occasionally, like yesterday afternoon when my archival skimming malaise had reached heights heretofore unseen, I come upon a little nugget, a gem, something, dare I say it, almost precious. The above is a scrap from a M. Carey Thomas commencement address at Bryn Mawr in 1912. She introduces Jane Addams as the "tongue and pen and hands" of a "great social movement" (social justice, I presume). I know it's a silly little bit, but I just love that formulation of Jane Addams, as the tongue and pen and hands.

If only we could be hear the story that she begs permission to tell....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

somnambulist cooking

I want to start a fan club for recipes with less than four ingredients that are, in their very simplicity, perfect. The first on my list is this one from smittenkitchen that is quickly becoming an old standby here.

Picture it: It’s Monday night and you’re exhausted. You’ve managed to get through the day, but you have absolutely no energy to cook. None. You don’t even, in fact, have enough energy to pick up the phone and order take-out from across the street. Right across the street. You can’t bear the thought of walking out your door.

So instead you convince yourself that you can: a) open a can of tomatoes, b) cut an onion in half, c) peel the wax paper off a stick of butter, d) transfer all of this into a pot and turn it on. Once the aroma of buttery tomatoes perks up your spirits, you further convince yourself that you can manage to: a) put a pot of water on the stove, and b) boil pasta. It’s tough, but you manage it.

Because you’ve discovered a shred of vestigial energy by opening and closing the refrigerator door and wielding your knife for one swift blow through the onion, you manage – for the first time now – to dump a bag of pre-washed spinach into the bowl where you’re going to dump the hot pasta and sauce. You feel momentarily self-righteous because you’ve managed to turn a fatty carbo load into a fatty carbo load with a hint of iron and some fancy minerals.

You’re inspired now and manage to open the fridge once more and pull out the off-brand-and-also-pretty-bland parmesan cheese. You think you can just manage to sprinkle it over the top of the steaming noodles.

You scoop it onto a plate. Open the book for tomorrow's class. Convince yourself that you're reading. But really, you're just letting the carbs take you away to some magic land where hundreds of calories fly off your body just as they enter your mouth.

Monday, March 21, 2011


It’s just been one of those weeks.

J was in town. I was teaching a long novel. All of the stress and exhaustion from Chicago was draining from my pores. And so very little got made or got started. Instead, J and I marveled at how little time we have left in our commuting marriage (53 days or so, but who could be counting?) before he comes back to Philadelphia to help me move to Kentucky. I started thinking about reserving a U-haul and pirating boxes from the library.

There are many things to look forward to in Kentucky --- I say, racking my brain right now --- but perhaps the best is J’s cooking. This week reminded me of the culinary delights to come. They’re usually healthy, bright, and tangy, just the way I like them.

Occasionally I express grave skepticism before I bite, like this last week, when he served up raw zucchini. You can't possibly imagine how good this is, because who really wants to eat raw zucchini? But it's pretty close to perfect: crisp zucchini (from the salting) and a hearty dose of lemon (J says that he boosted the lemon by adding a 4th). He also added the white beans and hard boiled eggs, both of which turn the whole thing from a side dish into a meal.

And who can really complain that he used no less than twelve bowls in its making? I'll happily do the dishes for a dinner like this.

Michael Symon's Zucchini Crudo

2 zucchini (about ¾ pound), thinly sliced
2 yellow summer squash (about 1½ pounds), thinly sliced
1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 shallot, finely sliced
Grated zest and juice of 3 lemons, or to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄3 cup slivered or sliced almonds, toasted
1⁄3 cup chopped fresh dill

*J's additions:
White beans
Hard boiled eggs

Combine the zucchini and yellow squash in a colander in the sink and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the salt over it. Toss to coat, and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes, no longer. In a large bowl, combine the garlic and shallot, sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and whisk in the lemon zest and juice. Whisk in the olive oil in a steady stream, then the almonds and dill. Taste for seasoning and acidity (it should be nicely acidic). Add the zucchini and squash to the dressing, toss, and serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Monday, March 14, 2011

every girl needs a goal

While my Dad was in surgery, we waited. And waited. And waited. It was Suessian waiting:

We waited in a hospital.
We waited in the hall.
We waited on the stairs.
We waited on a lumpy couch with our legs folded up like beach chairs.
We waited in the first room.
We waited in the second room.
We waited all day long.

Amidst all this waiting, another waiting lady asked me what I was knitting. Before I could answer, my stepmom said, “She’s knitting a baby sweater. She always knits baby sweaters.” I let out a nervous little giggle. The kindly lady asked after my baby who wears all of these sweaters and, of course, I had to admit that there isn’t any baby. I stammered something about liking the quick satisfaction of the tiny form, about knowing a lot of babies, but I could also feel my cheeks reddened. I was busted as mommy-knitter-wanna-be. How embarrassing to be uncovered—though fully clothed—in a hospital waiting room.

I wasn’t knitting this during the inquisition. It was already off the needles and on its way to Boston last week for Alexandra, the tiny baby who met the world fourteen weeks before she said she would. The micro-preemie pattern is here. And here’s my ravelry link. Somehow I managed figure out the itty-bitty hat in my head and so it’s without a real pattern, but instead the result of much looking. I’m calling it the every-girl-needs-a-goal cardigan because it should fit when she’s tipping the scales at about 4lbs, a long way to go right now, but a worthy goal for a little gal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

a quick check in

I had my doubts. I worried that he'd wake up on a ventilator. I worried that his lung would collapse. I worried that he'd be in so much pain that he wouldn't be able to sleep for weeks. But when we walked into his room the next day and he had already picked out his meals for the next twelve hours, scribbling them in his jagged hand on a brown paper towel, I was immediately at ease. We all were. I mean any man who can muster real enthusiasm over hospital green beans and tomato soup is well on his way to recovery. At least I hope so.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


The air is choppy today. The beverage service was cancelled. It’s the kind of flying that I loved in graduate school because I figured if we crashed, I wouldn’t have to write my dissertation, a prospect equally awesome and deeply perverse.

So much of the last twenty-two months has been up in air. I mean that—excuse the galling pun—quite literally. J and I fly back and forth, both less and more frequently than we’d like. When I think about moving to Kentucky, I most often day-dream about a life on the ground with my feet planted beneath me.

But today I’m up in the air not for J, but for my Dad. I’m heading to Chicago for his big surgery. I’ve found myself with surprisingly little to say on this front for the last several weeks, as anticipation has gradually turned to excitement and then morphed—against my will—into dread. It’s strange to be at once be so connected to a process and utterly removed from it in the way that anyone who is not the patient must be.

I’ve spent late afternoons and early morning commutes thinking about what it means to make oneself available to another’s pain, how compassion needs to blend with patience, how when each of us makes a decision to participate in another’s suffering we do it for that person, of course, but also—and perhaps always—for ourselves. I’m conscious each day of making a choice to hold on to my father’s disease, in my head and in my gut. It means inviting disruption and making a pleasant home for it; after all, accepting that disruption means affirming our connections and getting outside of our selves.

I’ve brought familiarity with me to this place of discomfort. A beloved novel for next week’s class and a cashmere scarf that’s been dormant for the better part of three years. These are old friends, the kind you need keep close in times such as these.

Friday, March 4, 2011

a quiet week

Papers came in. I got behind in the reading. I felt exhausted by the late winter rhythms. Really, it’s just not early spring in the mid-atlantic. I woke up still sad about my -- our -- career decision. I couldn’t get any projects completed. I stopped cooking. And each day my legs felt heavier and heavier on the morning walk to the train station.

But this morning, after I numbered my remaining days in Philadelphia (88) on my desk calendar and bought a ticket to tonight’s ballet (Swan Lake), I started to feel just a hair lighter. I’m ready for a shift, for a move, for a dislodging.

A letter from a friend last week reflected on all of the major changes of the last few years. She reminded me that for so many of the previous years, I complained about my stagnation, but that in each of the last three winters, I’ve had major decisions to make: 2009 — whether to go to Bryn Mawr and speed through the end of my dissertation; 2010 — whether to get married and how to figure out what that might look like; 2011 — how to decide on the direction J and I would take.

I think I might be ready for stagnation again.

All this week I’ve wanted to write about last weekend’s NYTimes article about mommy blogging, but each time I sit down to my keyboard, I end up writing nothing more than this:

What does it means to blog without?

But that’s as far as I get. I want to think about conspicuous absences on blogs, about new domesticity, about the representations of class and childhood. I want to meander through Catherine Beecher’s Treatise on Domestic Economy on this space. But for all this desire, I’ve been writing very little.

Here’s to hoping that an evening ballet, a museum visit tomorrow, and the prospect of just 88 more days might get me thinking and writing and creating again.