Monthly Archives: March 2007

Random Friday–My Night at Betty's Diner

It’s Friday.  You know the drill.

1. Anarchy, Ani DiFranco (The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere)
2. Get Out of This House, Shawn Colvin (A Few Small Repairs)
3. Nightblindness, David Gray (White Ladder)
4. Don’t Let Me Down, The Beatles (Past Masters, Vol. 2)
5. My Night on the Floor, Box Set (Live Duo 2)
6. Toward the Horizon, Carrie Newcomer (Betty’s Diner)
7. Diamond Dogs, Beck (Moulin Rouge Soundtrack)
8. Corners of my Mind, Nikka Costa (Everybody Got Their Something)
9. I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono, Dar Williams (Out There Live)
10. Till You Were Gone, Shelby Lynne (Epic Recordings)

The favorites: Don’t Let Me Down and I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono.

Seen live: Ani, one half of Box Set and Dar Williams.

Unfortunately, nothing on this set list is helping spark a good story today.  However, tangentally related, in the world of music, the Appel Farms Arts and Music Festival announced their lineup a couple of days ago, and it’s pretty darn good this year.  The fest is all day on Saturday, June 2nd and so if you’re in the Philly area, I’d recommend getting a ticket and attending.

The rest of the Random Friday family:


A dispatch from Raina on the road

Just a few minutes ago I was standing in my kitchen, putting away a few clean dishes, when I heard my cellphone ringing from my bedroom at the other end of the apartment.  I dashed for it, but didn’t get to it before the caller was sent to the land of voicemail.  Checking the missed calls log, I saw that it was my sister who had called (last summer she programmed her name in phone to read ‘Raina Loves You’).

I called her back and she picked up on the first ring.

“Hey Meece.  We’re outside of Washington, D.C.  The clutch went on the bus.”

“Rain, I think that bus is cursed, first the alternator, now the clutch.”

“It’s not cursed, it’s just that they bought it a week before the tour and didn’t have it checked out real well before we left.”

“Uh-huh.  So here’s what I think you should do.  I think you should get on a train and come to Philly.  You could be here in two hours.”

She laughed.  “Don’t think I haven’t considered it.  Although I was thinking of something more along the lines of ‘Meecie, come get me.’  But we’re supposed to be in Boston tomorrow night, so I don’t think that will work.”

“Oh well, it was a nice thought.”

“Yeah, it was.”

We chatted a little more about how she could spend a couple of unanticipated hours in D.C., before hanging up.  The backstory to this conversation is that right now Raina is on tour with a bluegrass band called Green Mountain Grass.  And they bought a big old 1977 MCI Crusader to travel in.  Only it keeps breaking down and they keep missing gigs.

A note for the Philly folks–If you happen to look at the calendar of performance dates on my sister’s website, you will notice that she has her Philly gig listed as starting at 1 pm.  That is incorrect.  It will be starting at 5 pm.  I recommend arriving a little early for that show, but four hours might be a little excessive.

The set for the play of my life

CVS at Night

When I first moved to Philadelphia I didn’t have a car. I didn’t know many people. I worked 13 blocks down the street from where I lived. My world was small in those days, both in the physical distance I traveled regularly and in the mental space I devoted to it.

Part of my small world was the intersection and CVS you see above. That first summer I lived in Philly, I would spend many nights sitting in Rittenhouse Square. On my way home I’d stop in to CVS to pick up a snack or a bottle of shampoo or a magazine. There was one Saturday night when I stopped in there, wandered around for fifteen or twenty minutes and came out with a pint of ice cream. As I walked down the block back towards my building, a man came jogging after me, saying “excuse me!”

He told me that he had watched me as I walked around the store and thought it was sad that such a pretty girl was all alone on a Saturday night. He told me that he was alone as well and would I be interested in meeting him at a bar down the street in half an hour for a drink. Because we were both alone.

He must have been twenty years older than me and despite the creepiness of the approach, there was something sort of pitiable about him. You could tell that it had taken a lot of risk on his part to approach me. I smiled at him, thanked him, told him no and went home to eat my ice cream.

I’ve often thought that if I wrote a play about my life in Philadelphia, that this corner would be the stage set. I used to take my grandmother into that CVS so that she could look at lipsticks and bottles of nail polish. For a while, it was my primary grocery store. I ran into my friend Sophie outside of it last Sunday. And back in the days when it was still a movie theater, I saw E.T. there.

Can you think of any one place that you would declare to be the set for the play version of your life?

Friends and Novellas

This morning I got up fairly promptly (if 9 am can be considered prompt), hopped through the shower and got out of the apartment. I’ve discovered that if I’m going to have any hope of getting some writing done by noon that I have to leave my apartment, or a constellation of small tasks will pull me into their orbit.

I walked with purpose over to La Colombe and grabbed a table that had an electrical outlet underneath it so that I wouldn’t be limited by the fairly short battery life of my computer. I went up to the counter, got a cup of coffee and walked back to “my” table. Just as I was about to sit down, I noticed that sitting directly across from my spot was a friend. She had her back turned to the room and was reading a book, moving a mug from table to mouth and back without looking at it. I put my own coffee down and sat in the chair next to her, saying “Christy!” so that I wouldn’t scare her too badly by just appearing.

I met Christy through the Unitarian church back when I first moved to Philly and we’ve been friends now for going on five years. Often times a chunk of months will pass between the times we see each other, but I’ve found that just when I’ve started to miss her, she’ll pop back up in my life at a coffeeshop, outside of Trader Joe’s or in the middle of Rittenhouse Square.

We sat and chatted for about ten minutes before I started to feel the story tug at me. I said reluctantly, “I’ve really got to get going on my work, but it was fantastic to see you.” She returned my enthusiasm and we made tentative plans to meet up for lunch sometime soon.

I love how many times I’ve run into friends unexpectedly lately. It’s added a whole lot of joy to my life.

Oh, by the way, I finished the chunk of the story that I needed to write. Which means that in the last ten days, I’ve written exactly 40 pages of fiction. A year ago I would have been paralyzed at the mere though of it.  I am continually astounded by my capacity for change and growth.

Here-in sits a weekend round-up

(I apologize for the lack of insight or creative description in this post. Every original thought I have right now is going into the novella, which leaves very little for the blog. This has turned into a round-up of the weekend’s happenings. If that sort of thing bores you, feel free to skip this one).

I spent most of Friday working on my novella, but did manage to also make a big pot of butternut squash soup (this may be my best batch ever, which was good, since I was feeding it to people other than myself) and a loaf of banana bread (I poured in the last of a bag of mini dark chocolate chips, which made it more like cake). Saturday I pounded out a few more pages and participated in the final interview of my search committee term.

Saturday evening I found myself driving around Wilmington with two friends, trying to find someplace to have dinner before the Indigo Girls concert. Everything had a 45 minute wait (who knew there was such dining dirth in Wilmington?) and so we ended up at Joe’s Crack Shack. We each ordered up a big plate of fried (it was hard to discern a difference between our three orders) and while the atmosphere was kitchy enough to be entertaining, the food was pretty miserable. Our 17 year-old waiter, Derek, had an electronic belt buckle though, which was amusing.

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Random Friday–Forever After I Knew Love

We are just about an hour into Friday, which makes it an entirely respectable time to put up my weekly set of random music.

1. Family, Dar Williams (Mortal City)
2. Jelly Belly, Medeski, Martin & Wood (Shack Man)
3. The Fox, Nickel Creek (Nickel Creek)
4. Go, Indigo Girls (Come On Now Social)
5. I Knew Love, Nanci Griffin (From a Distance)
6. God Song, Beth Orton (Daybreaker)
7. Forever After, Deborah Smith (Deborah Smith)
8. Aquamarine, Santana (The Essential Santana)
9. Robin & Marian, Nickel Creek (Nickel Creek)
10. Blue Canadian Rockies, The Byrds (Sweetheart of the Rodeo)

Saturday night, as part of my overfilled, crazy weekend, I’m driving down to Wilmington to see the Indigo Girls play an acoustic show at the Grand Opera House. I’m looking forward to it because it means an evening hanging out with a couple of wonderful friends as well as the fact that the first concert I ever took myself to as a semi-grown up was one performed by the Girls, so seeing them is always special.

It was the summer of 1997, I had just graduated from high school and was finally back on my feet after ankle surgery and a summer on crutches. I drove down with Elaina, the younger sister of one of my close friends. Her mom bought the tickets and wouldn’t let me pay her back for mine, even though I offered. The show was at Champoeg (pronounced shampoo-y) State Park, about half an hour south of Portland.

Elaina brought a portable cassette player along so that we could listen to the Girls as we drove down. The 1989 Subaru sedan I had in those days didn’t have a tape deck, only a radio. Driving down I-5, the clouds darkened and the sky got increasingly ominous. When we were 15 minutes away, the rain began to fall. And it was an outdoor concert. As we headed through the storm, we wondered if we should just give up and head back to Portland, as it was an outdoor concert. We decided to take our chances and keep going. It was a good thing we did, as the rain stopped falling just as we pulled into the field (although that was a little nerve-wracking as I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get out of that muddy field when the show was over). It turned into a beautiful evening, without a touch of chill. The air smelled clean and halfway through the show, a rainbow appeared over the stage.

Need more random music? Check out these folks…



Apples and Pears

Apple-Pear Sauce

I have 25 pages of my novella due for my fiction by Monday night at 11:59 pm and I currently have about two and a half pages written. And did I mention the insanely busy weekend in store? So it makes perfect sense that I decided to start a cooking project and make a pot of apple-pear sauce. It actually does make a lot of sense that I started cooking, because that’s one of the ways I handle stress. But it doesn’t get the writing done.
Before my mother jumps in and starts yelling at me for procrastinating, let me say in my defense that making apple-pear sauce doesn’t take up much more than the twenty minutes of the active time you need to peel and chop the fruit. Beyond that, you just let it all simmer away on very low heat for a couple of hours, until the pieces of fruit are willing to yield to a little pressure from the back of a spoon.

I’ve written about my apple sauce making habit before, and after I did, people asked for a recipe. There is no recipe, this is instinctual cooking at its most basic. You just scour your fridge and fruit basket for apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums or apricots that are looking a little sad, chop them up and toss them in a pot. Those bags of clearance fruit that contain six apples for $1 work really well for things like this. I do tend to peel the apples and pears, because their skin doesn’t handle long cooking times real well. The softer fruit probably doesn’t need to be peeled.

Once all the fruit is in the pot, I pour in a little water, just enough to give it something to work with and toss in some spices. Today I used cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and allspice. If you don’t have all of those, don’t worry, just use what you’ve got. A little squirt of lemon juice is also nice.

I can’t recommend using pears highly enough. They elevated the sauce I made today into something close to dessert, even though I didn’t put any sugar in at all. It was so good that I ate two bowls in very rapid sucession. That translates to something close to six pieces of fruit. And despite my large dinner, I’m seriously considering going back for more.

Workshopped and worked over

I went out after class tonight with some of my classmates, drank 3/4 of a beer and now feel intensely, immensely exhausted. It’s in part because we workshopped a piece of mine in class tonight. No matter how relaxed I try to make myself, I always am unnervingly tense when people start talking about something I’ve written and cared about.

So I’m going to give you a little taste of the piece from tonight. It does still need work, but I really came to find moments of pleasure in how I described certain things, so I don’t feel uncomfortable about sharing it. And if you’re wondering how I know so much about what Philadelphia was like before I was born, I readily admit that I called my mom to interrogate her repeatedly while I was writing this.

Sara walked through the dim arching passageway of City Hall, squinting into the brightness of Broad Street. She crossed over four lanes, hopscotching as the traffic patterns demanded, winding up on the west side of the street.

At Broad and Chestnut, she stopped to look up at the Wachovia building a block down and across the way. Her grandfather Philip had his law practice in the north tower of the building, when it was still the Fidelity Building, and she often slowed when she was near to remember the stories and think about a man who had died 13 years before she was born.

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French braids and chemistry

Sitting on the trolley today, I watched a woman french braid her hair all by herself and was instantly taken back to my 11th grade chemistry class.  My lab partner in that class was a young woman with era-appropriate name of Tiffany.  We first met in the 5th grade and spent most of middle and high school at that level of friendship that is two steps up from acquaintance but several down from attending each others’ birthday slumber parties.

Tiffany was cute, blond, thin and always came off as a little bit of an airhead.  I’ve always believed that the ditziness she exuded was a complete act, as she had a brain for chemistry unlike I’ve experienced since.  She absorbed chemistry and made it sing.  It was completely incongruous and totally fascinating to watch these two sides of her play out each day.

It was also a gift from the heavens for me, because just as Tiff was naturally gifted with an aptitude for balancing equations, I was equally talented at bungling them.  I give her almost entire credit for getting me through that class, for helping me understand the subject matter and finding my mistakes before the teacher ever saw them.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with french braiding your own hair.  Well, in addition to her chemistry abilities, Tiffany was also a soccer player.  At our high school all the members of the girls’ soccer teams would carefully french braid their hair before practices and games.  Tiffany became an expert at doing her own braid and would often sit in class, unconsciously braiding and unbraiding her hair as Mr. Runion talked on about the properties of this chemical or that one.  So whenever I see someone able to french braid the hair growing out of their own head without the aid of mirrors or combs, I am impressed and I think if Tiff.


A few of you noticed the fact that in yesterday’s post, I dropped in the fact that I’m dating someone, without giving any other details or tidbits.  It’s all still new and forming, so I’m hesitant to put too much of it out here for display.  But I can tell you that it’s been really fun so far.  That I’m feeling excited and hopeful about it.  And that I like him, quite a lot.

Fork You: Booze in your tort

Check it out, the latest episode of Fork You had arrived. In this one we make the flourless chocolate tort that has made me famous among dozens of my friends. It doesn’t hurt that I also typically make a fruit sauce to serve along with it (this time I did up a nice blackberry batch) and whip up a bowl of whipped cream. It is decadent and caloric and absolutely worth making once (or 9 times) in your life.

Also, don’t forget that you can still get 15% off at Di Bruno Bros until March 22nd because they think we are cool and assume that our viewers are also.