Sunday, January 31, 2010


When you marry a tech-y person, you should have to sign some kind of waiver.

I, ______________, understand that for the rest of my life I will attend parties with my spouse and his/her tech-y friends. The conversation will invariably drift to the merits of one programming language over another, and no one will notice as my eyes glaze over. Neither my spouse nor any of his/her friends will feel that anything is wrong with having a conversation that is effectively in a foreign tongue. If I request another topic, they will sit in baffled silence until I apologize and tell them to resume. If possible, I will take up some kind of quiet hobby like knitting. I understand that if the gathering is at someone else's house I may leave, but that if the gathering is in my own home there is no escape.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Burns Night

This year I'm celebrating Jeff's birthday by dragging him to a Burns Night - our first ever. Burns Night being a festival in honor of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet. There are not many writers so fabulous that people are still partying 214 years after their death.

He ranges from maudlin:

Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, enjoyment, love, and pleasure!
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!

To political:

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

To pornographic:
Then gie the lass a fairin, lad,
O gie the lass her fairin,
An she’ll gie you a hairy thing,
An o it be na sparin;
But cowp her ower amang the creels,
An bar the door wi baith your heels,
The mair she bangs the less she squeels,
An hey for houghmagandie.

To tipsy:
O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro' wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink,
To sing thy name!

Okay, so 18th-century Scots is pretty incomprehensible to English speakers at times. But that just makes it better. I urge you to sample the joys of Burns.
Death And Dying Words Of Poor Mailie, The Author's Only Pet Yowe.
Apology For Declining An Invitation To Dine.
To A Louse, On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet, At Church
Address To The Toothache
To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

Friday, January 08, 2010


I keep hearing about various environmental stunts. No Impact Man, the 100-mile diet, and the Little Brown Dress are some of them. They all fall under what used to be called voluntary simplicity.

I'm not opposed to stunts - they make people think, they're noticeable. If labels and stunts help people feel cool about a simpler lifestyle, great.

I was thinking about the ways Jeff and I live simply. Some of these habits just come from having thrifty mothers, I think, but others we've come to on our own. And there's a often happy convergence between what is sustainable and what is cheap. There are exceptions, but mostly:

We do We don't
Live below our means and give away about half our incomeLike the level of inequality we see in the world
Bus, train, subway, bike, and hoof itOwn a car
Use rags, sponges, cloth napkinsUse paper towels and napkins
Line-dry our laundryUse the dryer
Travel by busTravel by plane
Make wineBuy alcohol
Use a little meat to flavor other dishesUse meat as a main dish
Use the libraryBuy books or movies
Have a big apartment by Hong Kong standardsHave a big apartment by American standards
Play music and board gamesOwn a TV
Cook at homeEat out
Buy bulk staples and cook from scratchBuy much pre-made food
Use reusable menstrual products
(well, only Julia)
Use disposable menstrual products
Shop from thrift stores, Craigslist, yard sales, and freecycleBuy new clothes, housewares, furniture
Use fans
Use air conditioning
Budget like hell Impulse buy
Count our blessings

Yes, even when it's cold.

Lentils with smoked gouda

This is a Pendle Hill recipe that's become one of my staples. Lentils cook faster than most beans even without soaking, so this dinner can be done about an hour after you get home.

Rinse 3 cups French lentils (also called lentils du puy. They are dark green in color and are much nicer than red or brown lentils.)
Cover with plenty of water and boil until tender.

Turn on the oven to 350. Drain the lentils and stir in:

1 teaspoon sage
Salt to taste
Broth or broth powder

Other possible additions:
a dash of vinegar
chopped apple
chopped walnuts
cooked sausage

Put in a greased casserole and top with grated cheddar or smoked gouda. Bake until the cheese is bubbly.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Just a thing

This weekend Jeff and I went to Kentucky for my grandmother's memorial service. She died at age 101 this fall. That thing happened that often happens when old people die - for years they have been a shell of themselves, unable to think or act like they used to. But this week, with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren gathered in her house to remember her, she was there in a way she hasn't been for years.

My other grandmother, from the rich side of the family, used to tell a story about her childhood. A diamond belonging to someone in the family had come out of its setting, and Granny secretly got it out of the drawer and was playing with it on the floor. The stone fell between the floorboards. She told someone what had happened and then hid behind the door, terrified of being punished. The frantic adults pried up the floorboards and found the diamond, and they were so relieved they forgot all about Granny and left her unpunished behind the door.

At the memorial my mom told a story about her mother which I had never heard before. When Mom went to college, Grandma gave her a diamond ring, a family heirloom. (I've seen both diamonds, and this one is smaller but much prettier.) At one point Mom thought she had lost the ring, and she felt just awful about it. She told her mother she couldn't find the ring. Grandma answered, "It's just a thing. If you were lost, I would be really upset. But this is just a thing."

I'm intrigued by the comparison. My father's side of the family is much more materially successful. They're the reason I could go to an expensive private college. But I don't love any of them like I loved Grandma, who struggled to raise four children on the earnings from her and her husbands' various jobs (factory worker, teacher, secretary, newspaper columnist, minister). This woman taught me that if you could get the protein for the family supper for under a dollar, you were doing all right. (Her solution was usually tuna. Mine is usually beans.) But despite having less, she valued possessions less. At the memorial we sang a hymn that especially suited her, with the line "Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise."

Grandma knew where it was at.