Monthly Archives: April 2007

Making it quick

I am deep in the thrall of my finals week right now, which means that posting is going to be light this week. Of course, when you’re getting an MA in Writing finals week does not mean exams, it means lots and lots of writing and revisions. Which I must return to now.

Bound by bread

My confessional post about my white bread purchase yesterday stirred some emotions about white verses whole wheat bread, and so I thought I’d continue the conversation by posting a poem my mom wrote about my grandfather (her step-father) and the bread he served with dinner every night.

The Bread and Butter Gap
by Leana McClellan

“It’s good food,”
my stepfather says earnestly.
I have refused his third offer of bread and butter with dinner.
He holds his meaty hand up like a stop sign
indicating his final retreat,
for now.

Every visit for 25 years he has tried to ply me with bread and butter.
His bread is cottony white,
two loaves for a dollar.
His butter is on-sale, neon yellow margarine.
To me this combination signals instant heart failure.

86 years back, he was trained to fill up the empty space
left from sparse meals shared among 6 siblings,
with slabs of home sliced bread and butter,
touted to make you grow big and strong,
a pillowy cushion against hard times.

Now in his plentiful old age,
bread and butter is a comfort,
soft and smooth, a sensual memory booster,
still practical as a food pusher and plate polisher,
the substance of his blood and cells,
an impotent buffer against the passing of his time.

White Bread Shame

I volunteered to make some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids at an after-church lunch on Sunday*. I went to Trader Joe’s this afternoon to buy the makings and ended up buying some white bread for those kids who are exceptionally picky eaters. As I stood in line, I felt the need rise up inside me to explain to the checker and anyone else standing around me that the white bread wasn’t for me.

Because I don’t actually eat that stuff on a regular basis.

No, really.

I’m making sandwiches for other people.

As I walked out to the parking lot, the loaf of organic white bread rising gently out of the top of my bag, I felt sort of dirty, as if I was leaving some illicit sexual encounter instead of a local grocery store.

So I’ve come to the blog, in the hopes that the admission of my food-snobbery will wash me clean of this white bread shame. At least until the next time.

*As an aside, if you’ve ever been curious about the First Unitarian Church in Philly, this weekend would be an awesome time to check us out. Our ministerial candidate, who will hopefully be the new minister at the church starting next fall (pending the congregational vote), will be leading the service and he is just awesome. His name is Nate Walker and he is young, gay and radiates a sense of caring and love unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Random Friday–In the attics of my life

1. Hills and Hollers – Adrienne Young (The Art of Virtue)

2. Attics of my Life – Grateful Dead (American Beauty)

3. The Trouble with Love – Maria Muldaur (Meet Me at Midnight)

4. Wrecking Ball – Gillian Welch (World Cafe Old Crow Medicine Show)

5. Sweet Baby James – James Taylor (Sweet Baby James)

6. Fire and Rain – Jonatha Brooke (Back in the Circus)

7. Downtown – Chris Thile & Bryan Sutton (Chris Thile & Bryan Sutton Telluride)

8. Girl – Beck (Guero)

9. In the Waiting Line – Zero 7 (Garden State)

10. Hold On – Sarah McLachlan (Mirrorball)

Song that I knew every word to from the age of 11: Sweet Baby James by James Taylor. I started my love affair with JT at a young age, when I began borrowing the cassette tapes my mom made from LPs in the early 1970’s. I would pop those tapes into the tape player that came in my clock radio (it was pastel pink, blue and gray) and rock out in my little bedroom. They migrated to my car when I was in my late teens and I still have them even now, in a plastic container under the bookshelf in my living room. Her handwriting on the labels is deeply familiar although still just a little foreign, as she stopped writing the letter ‘e’ like that sometime before I was born.

Artist that I discovered through my dad: Maria Muldaur. Towards the end of my freshman year in college, I sent a plantive email to my dad, asking him to introduce me to some new music (I realize that most 18 year olds would ask their friends, but I’ve always trusted my dad’s taste in music). He sent me a cluster of old tapes (of the same vintage as the James Taylor ones I mentioned above) and Maria Muldaur’s “Waitress in a Donut Shop” was one of them. There’s something about her
voice that I still find appealing, even now.

Favorite moment in the set: The fact that Jonatha Brooke’s cover of Fire and Rain appeared directly after a James Taylor song, as it was his originally.

Need more Random Friday? Check out these folks…


Get home safe honey

I Dined Out for Life tonight with four friends I don’t see nearly enough at Mixto (11th and Pine).  I had the ropa vieja, which came very highly recommended by Jamie, and was not at all disappointed by it.  It is a mess of slow and long-cooked beef in a sauce that is tangy and savory and almost too salty, but somehow always manages to stays on the good side of the salt granule.  Between the five of us we decimated two very large pitchers of sangria (there will be a sangria episode of Fork You someday) and heard AnnElise’s tale of woe about finding out 48 hours before her house closing that she might not actually have a job in the town where the house was.

After dinner we found ourselves at Capogiro, where we were pleased to discover that the mini-cone only costs $2.50 and doesn’t seem so mini.  After we finished our ice cream, we stood around on the corner of 13th and Sansom, not ready to end the evening quite yet.  Shay and I stood tight together on top of a subway vent, taking advantage of the rising steam to keep ourselves warm.

Walking home along Pine Street, I passed a man who was straddling a bike and emptying out the last half of a can of beer onto the sidewalk.  As I walked by, he said, “How you doin’ this evening?”

Without even thinking about it (even after five years of Philadelphia living, my pre-programmed west coast manners sometimes assert themselves before I can stop them) I said, “I’m well, and you?”

He looked at me in surprise, as I don’t think he expected any response, and said, “Good, good.  Now you get home safe honey, you hear now.”

“Thanks, I will.”

And we both went on our way.

Coatracks, roommates and maturity

When I was 9 years old, my parents gave me their old coat rack to use in my bedroom. It was the first time we lived in a house that had a hall closet, and so we didn’t need the rack to serve as storage for winter-wear. I kept it in my room and having it made me feel so grown up, almost as if I was living in my own apartment. I’d wearing my coat all the way upstairs so that I could take it off and hang it on the rack. I remember thinking at that time that the only thing that could make me feel more grown up was if I had my own bathroom.

Ten years later, I became an RA in North Hall and for the first time in my life had my own bathroom. By that time I had mostly forgotten that it had been my marker of adulthood (although it gave me a bit of a thrill nonetheless). By that point, I was fixated on having a kitchen. When I had a kitchen, then I would really feel like a grown up.

Soon after, I got the kitchen, but I had to share it with roommates. At that point I decided that the pinnacle of grown-upness would be to live alone. That way the kitchen and the bathroom would be all mine. While I briefly achieved that self-described marker of adulthood for a brief time when I first lived in Philly, I haven’t lived alone now in more than four years.

Right now I’m at a fork in the roommate road. My current apartment-mate is moving out at the end of June. And given the fact that I am in grad school right now, without much of an income in sight, having someone share the expense of living here is a financial imperative. But I can’t seem to get myself to place the craigslist ad that would start the flow of potential renters.

I don’t actually think about it in terms of being a grown up or not anymore. I recognize that maturity comes from an ability to deal with the facts at hand and make responsible choices. It’s just that I am so tired of sharing space with people in whom I am not invested. However, I know that the mature decision in this situation is to suck it up and post an ad in order to find a roommate. Sadly, that doesn’t stop the nine-year-old inside of me from yelling about how she doesn’t want to. But I will.

Hey, anyone looking for a place to live?

*This is not a rant about my present or past roommates, I’ve actually been very fortunate in the arena and have lived with some really terrific people.

"I was lucky to have him and unlucky to lose him"

Waiting in line at my local hardware store yesterday afternoon, getting some keys made for a friend, I found myself standing behind an elderly woman. She was buying a mop, some light bulbs, a few bottles of cleaning products and a few other things I couldn’t see clearly. She wore a curly brown wig that was slightly mashed in the back and a dark plaid cloth coat. I watched as she counted cash out into the palm of the man waiting on her. As he reached into the drawer for her change, she specifically asked that she be given dimes instead of quarters and I heard her say under her breath, “yes, dimes are good.” I couldn’t help but wonder what she uses the dimes for.

After her change was tucked back into her snap-top pouch, she reached into her handbag and pulled out two fairly recently photographs.

She held them up, side by side and said to the man who was waiting on her, “You told me to bring pictures of my husband in. Now do you remember him?”

He raised his half-moon reading glasses to his eyes and studies the pictures that she held up. “Yes, yes. I remember him. He was a good customer and a kind man.”

Although I was standing behind her, I could tell that she broke into a smile by the way her shoulders relaxed and the brown wig shifted. “Oh, he was!”

The clerk spent several minutes with her. He listened and reached out to pat her hand twice. She spoke in sentences that came out in spurts, as if she needed time between each one before moving on to the next.

“We were married 50 years.”

“I was lucky to have him and unlucky to lose him.”

“It was metastatic bone cancer, that grew from a small skin cancer.”

“He always did everything for me, but I’m learning. I don’t have a choice.”

You’d think I lived in a small town for the way the clerk took the time with her to remember her husband. But I don’t. This took place at a busy independent hardware store on Chestnut Street, in the middle of Center City. And I was happy to wait a little extra in order to give them the time. It is moments like these that remind me how much I love people and the many ways there are to express love and appreciation for another person.


Enlightenment is to see everything as it is

I had intended to put this picture up last night, as a place holder for some future, more substantive post, because it was my final night with my sister for some time. But then my internet connection went down and I wasn’t able to post a darn thing (the level to which I need constant internet access is pitiable, I started experiencing withdrawal symptoms after half an hour).

But I’m putting it up now anyway, with the intention of writing something later today about an experience I had in the hardware store yesterday.

A collection of things that mostly deal with longing, uncertainty and change

Raina Rose loves Dar Williams

A couple of days ago, Raina spent the night with some folksinger friends in Western Mass who are friends from way back with Dar Williams. They presented Raina with a picture of Dar wearing a “Raina Rose Loves Me” button. A very cool thing for those of us who adore Dar.


I feel like my days are passing at speeds faster than allowed on Montana highways in the mid-1990’s (somehow I don’t think that the words “reasonable and prudent” constitute an effective speed limit). I spent most of Thursday and Friday laying low and trying to accomplish some things, but the pace at which I do things never seems to keep up with the rate at which items add themselves to my to-do list.

I am hurtling towards the end of the semester. I am in a bit of shock that in a few weeks I will have completed more than half of this Masters degree and that by December I will be done with school entirely. I am completely uncertain about what happens when I am done, although I have hopes that I will magically turn some of my creative endeavors into activities that pay me enough to keep my roof firmly in place over my head. Right now I’m just trying to keep my focus long enough to finish the semester and get myself to the summer term, when I will only have one class to keep track of.


Raina and I had brunch today with some of the Philly family in our cousin Angie’s apartment (she lives downstairs from me). The food was delicious but the main attraction was Derek, who is rapidly approaching his 3-month birthday. He is a peaceful baby who is happy being held by any person in the room. Raina and I both spend some time holding him, feeling waves of baby-lust as he slept in our arms (confessed to each other in low voices as headed back upstairs).


Over the last four years I have eaten countless meals with my friend Cindy. Tonight marked the last time I’ll have an opportunity to eat dinner with her on a Sunday night in her backyard. She announced Tuesday that she is moving to Pittsburgh (her hometown) to go back to school and she is leaving in less than a month. It didn’t come as a suprise to me that Cindy is leaving Philadelphia, she’s been gearing up for it for some time, but now that the departure is real and rapidly approaching, I am still feeling the loss like a pang. I have a hard time conceiving of a summer’s worth of warm evenings and not being able to call her unexpectedly to meet up for a drink or ice cream.

Random Friday–The Best is Lookin' Up

1. Mystery – Indigo Girls (Swamp Ophelia)

2. Till Tomorrow – Don McLean (American Pie)

3. Live With Me – The Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed)

4. Blue Mind – Alexi Murdoch (Four Songs)

5. Scarlet Begonias – Grateful Dead (Dick’s Picks Volume 6 Disc 2)

6. Can’t Hide Love – Earth, Wind & Fire (The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire)

7. I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician – The Byrds (The Essential Byrds)

8. Plane – Jason Mraz (Mr. A-Z)

9. Come on Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (Millennium ’80s New Wave Party)

10. Wayfaring Stranger – Cross-Eyed Rosie (Lookin’ Up)

Song that best represents my 8th grade career aspirations: I Wanna Grow Up to be a Politician. That year we had to do projects in which we picked a possible career for ourselves and researched it. I decided, based upon my love of public speaking and telling people what to do, that I should be a politician. I took it so far that I even majored in politics during college. Somewhere around my junior year, I finally abandoned that ambition.

Song that makes me remember the early 1980’s and having babysitters who were addicted to MTV: Come on Eileen. There’s something about that song that makes me remember begging Halimah or Lucy (two of my favorite babysitters) to play games with me. All they wanted to do was talk on the phone and watch TV.

The Random Friday Club: