What to read, what to listen to

Well, my friends, not even a full week into the new term and I am tired. One, it always takes a little while to find my rhythm. Two, I'm teaching more classes than I usually teach. Three, I've redesigned one my classes so there is a lot of new work involved. And the rest is all blah, blah, blah.

So, I have for you this:
This is the latest adorable picture of my sweet dog, Scout. Just knew you'd love it.

Also, go read The Hotel on the Place Vendome by Tillar Mazzeo right now! It's the amazing story of the Ritz Hotel during the occupation of Paris during World War II. Villains, collaborators, spies, heroes, rich people, and Ernest Hemingway! Reads like a novel. 

Also, if you are tired like me go and listen to this song immediately! It's good enough for three hundred million people. It's good enough for you. 


Maple Water + Cookie Butter. Welcome to America!

It has occurred to me in my recent travels, that if America has an obesity epidemic, it might have something to do with this:

And this:

And these!

By the way, these beauties are soaps. When even our soaps must resemble sugary treats, I think we have a problem.

Not that I'm judging! As I write this I am literally shoving a spoonful of Nutella in my mouth, which is probably why--of late--I am feeling like this:


My new position on kale

Today, I announce a change in my position regarding kale. In these very pages I have said that chewing raw kale is like chewing hay. I have said that any vegetable that must be "massaged" prior to consumption is basically telling you to fuck off. I have said that kale that is not cooked or used to decorate a fruit platter has no place in civilized society.

Yet, having had the opportunity to know kale better, having seen kale salads shining up at me at restaurants and grocery stores for several years now, having people smile at me while sucking back strawberry/kale smoothies, having simply had to live among the kale, I have come to realize that, whatever, it's not so bad.

So yes, I have switched to team kale. I have more than switched to team kale. I have embraced kale. Some of my best friends are kale.

Given an abundance of choices, I brought home this salad yesterday:
Lest you think I'm willing to "bring home" kale salad once in a while but not actually see kale as a green that is worth getting to know on an intimate basis, I give you this:
Boom! I fucking made this. I took kale, chopped it, and physically massaged the hell out of it for, like, five minutes. Then I added tomatoes, onions and steamed potatoes (room temperature) and dressed the whole thing with lemon, olive oil, garlic, and a wee bit of salt. (It was better than the store bought one. Like all relationships what you give in massage time comes back to you in mellow graciousness.)

Maybe you think it's too late for you. Maybe you see this and think: "Oh, Margaret! She can change teams because, you know, she's all, "Oh, thank you Buddha," every time she buys a new kind of dish soap. But I'm telling you: Kale. It's always been here. It's not going away. Open your heart. Give kale a chance. 


I Got a Rock

It turns out that the first thing you may make in a five-week ceramic class is a rock, maybe two.

Exactly how your rock turns out will depend on your clay and on your ability to not make everything look like a potato. Alas. Everything I makes looks like a potato. It takes weeks to make a potato rock. Week one: Make the potato rock. Week two: scrap the potato rock. Week Three: fire the potato rock. Week four: glaze and once again fire the potato rock. Week five: take your potato rock home to your slightly baffled family.

 We made other things. I made these mugs, for example. Let's just say, for argument sake, that they they are different sizes on purpose. Alas, the cups are still being fired. I also made a bowl, which I forgot to take a picture of you. Trust me, you are not missing a thing. 

You do not go from potato rocks to The Wheel in five weeks. Ask anyone: the wheel is hard. These things are all hand built, which is a generous use of the world built. 

Wanna make a rock? All the cool kids in the San Gabriel Valley are doing it here. It's super cheap too. Seriously, the best part of class is seeing the amazing work that OTHER people make.

Not ready to make a rock? Then read this piece I have up at POPMATTERS. It's about how The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is profoundly broken. 

Unfamiliar with the wonderful Netflix comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Where have you been? Hiding under a ceramic rock? 


Killing time at the Natural History Museum

I've been spending a lot of time at LA's Natural History Museum this summer. Girl number one is volunteering and I am her transportation. I spend most of my time in the outdoor cafe writing, writing, writing, but occasionally I will feel the pull of the exhibits and walk around. 

Of course, there are dinosaurs, many, many dinosaurs. These two greet you at the entrance. If girl number one is working the welcome table she will ask this: Do you think they are fighting or playing?

I actually prefer the gardens. If you haven't been there lately they are all new. There is a pollinator garden, a sort of area for birds, and--my favorite--the edible garden. It has little signs giving helpful advice. 

I liked this sign because I am always eager to keep my tomatoes happy, and to keep my tomatoes happy I must first keep my dirt happy.

Until September you can see an amazing exhibit of Ibero American folk art. You do have to pay extra, but it's fantastic. I love all the colors. Are we tired of black yet? Remember when black was for mourning? 

This tree of life is all embroidered. I say enough with all the memoirs: from now on we all make trees of life. Discuss.


It's not Comic Con. At Anime Expo, Women Rule

The girl took and her best friend since first grade made their fourth trip to Anime Expo last week. Anime Expo is the annual LA convention celebrating the world of the Japanese Anime, which is a kind of Japanese Animation. Over 100,000 people turned out for the four day event.

The girl would like you to know that Anime Expo is like Comic Con, which is now happening in San Diego. Fans dress up like their favorite characters There is lots of merchandising. There are panels with Anime voice actors, Japanese bands, lots of artists and illustrators and seminars on things like "How to Write Amazing Fan Fiction."

But while Comic Con is often criticized for it gropers and misogyny, the girl says that Anime is a much more female-centric space. It is her believe that a majority of convention goers are women, and a quick glance around supports that conclusion. This is true even though Anime itself is full of scantily-clad, large-bosomed, tiny-voiced female characters. But there are also lots of bad-ass warrior women and women engineers and scientists in Anime, and I think that appeals to a lot young American women who are trying to figure out who they want to be.

There are definitely men at the convention, however.

Although the men without costumes seem creepily intent on taking pictures of the scantily-clad women. (Their poor mothers. I meant that for both sides of that equation.)

Still, for the most part, it is a nice crowd, and it seems like a safe space to parade your inner spirt/dragon slayer/mermaid.


Donald Trump: I Am Your New Heart Surgeon

My fellow Americans:

There comes a time in every great man's life when he must dedicate his true exceptionalness to the people he has worked so hard to pay minimum wage. Which is why I am now ready to announce my candidacy to be your new heart surgeon.

I am not some professional medical doctor. I am a businessman. I have made and lost and made and lost and made and lost and made and borrowed millions of dollars. I have named buildings after myself, and I have yelled loudly "You're fired!" on my own reality TV show. This is why I am qualified to cut open your chest and do stuff related to valves and arteries, and in which I am fairly certain there is blood involved. And I promise you: As my hair shines like the mane on a regal, radiated, dying lion--none of my nurses will be from the Philippines. They will all wear the pasty hue of a man who has spent most of his adult life having El Salvadoran grandmothers apply sunscreen on his hairy back.

Also, I declare to you--the people of this great nation--that I will now also become the star forward for the Utah Jazz, a position that clearly calls for the ability to raid pensions and smolder at cameras while shaking bassets-hound like jowls.

You are tired of Washington playing the State of the Union during Dancing with the Stars. You are tired of Washington saying, "Hey! You have the right to afford a hernia operation. You have the right to complain about that weird black goo coming out of your water faucet." I tell you now: when I am your unlicensed plumber, I will put that goo where it belongs: In your drinking glass. It came from your faucet. It is yours! And I will crawl backwards on the fat ass of my personal sweater folder before I let Washington deny you the black goo that you earned.

America, I say enough! Enough hand holding and whining and simpering over "climate change." Our forefathers didn't complain about the lack of central heating at Valley Forge. Our forefathers never went on and on about being "sensitive" to the needs of people who made the lifestyle choice not to be rich white men. Which is why I will give up the last dying breath of the last hired Mexican gardener in my Florida mansion before I let anyone tell me I cannot be your most beloved and amazing computer scientist. Two words America: Hardware. Software. Circuit Board. The Internet. iPhone. Apps.

Leaders are not born. Leaders are forged in great big vats of oil and money and things that cost a lot of money and that you can't find in your hippie, dippy Science. Evolution bad. God! The flag! No taxes!

America: You deserve hope. You deserve tomorrow. Say yes: Say Trump! Welcome. I will be piloting your 757 to Detroit.


More amazing adventures with Raphael

Sorry to keep you hanging about my great, great, great, great, great, great uncle Raphael Pumpelly. It's been a crazy busy year. But let's recap from my last post: Raphael was a geologist and he had barely survived his work as a mining engineer in Arizona in the time right around the American Civil War started. After a Clint Eastwood-worthy Western adventure, he finally made it to California.

While in California, the US government hires him to teach modern mining techniques to the Japanese, who had only very recently opened their country to foreigners. So Raphael takes this ship to Japan, and when he gets there he can't even really go on the land because of the still-present restrictions on foreigners. He has to hang out on this great big deck-like dock that is built out from one of the islands so that foreigners can conduct business with the Japanese without actually being on Japanese land. But eventually everything gets straightened out and he goes with these Japanese miners and teaches them how to use dynamite to blow up stuff as part of the mining process. He sees all of the natural beauty of Japan, and he becomes very close with these miners, who are amazed and excited to start blowing stuff up too. But then the emperor changes his mind again and decides that all the foreigners have to leave, and so Raphael is sort of like, "Well...since I'm in the neighborhood..." and he heads for China.

Now, China allowed foreigners in their country at this time, but Raphael says that the Chinese really did not like westerners. He totally understood why: the foreigners--mostly Europeans--acted really entitled. One time, Raphael was on this big old steam boat on a pleasure cruise captained and populated entirely by westerners. They see this small row boat loaded down with bricks, and so it was moving really slow. This sailor on the steamboat says to the captain, "Should we slow down or move?" And the captain was all, "No way. Keep going." So the guys in the row boat are paddling as fast as they can and they are making little headway, and the steamboat just plows into them, ruining the boat, likely drowning the men in it. Raphael was like, "Wow. Why would you be such a horrible person?"

So, yeah, he totally understood why, wherever he went, mobs of Chinese tried to kill him. It was especially bad when he was traveling down the Yangtze River. Whenever his houseboat would try to come to shore these mobs would gather with knives and clubs and try and get on the boat and stab him. And then one time, he was on this other boat, and it started to sink. This other guy was like, "Dude, we have to got to leave because this boat is sinking," but Raphael was all, "I'm not living without my cigars." So he went back to his room and got his cigars. He lost everything, but he not only managed to save his cigars, he kept them dry.

Finally, he decided that he had done China, so he was like, "I should totally trek from China to Russia."

I'll tell you about that leg of the journey next time.

PS: Once again I am luring you in with totally inconsequential graphics. I saw this at a nearby park and found it adorable. Take a smile! Literally.


I'm back!

Well, hello there. Aren't you kind to not give up on me even though I've been gone so long. The truth is: I am just like you, crazy busy. In particular, I have been super busy with work and also learning how to be a better college instructor. I would tell you all the wonky good stuff I've learned, but I have a feeling that it would bore you. Instead, I am going to tell you a story. I swear to you, I am not making this up.

A long time ago, around the time of the American Civil War, I had this great-great-great-great-great uncle (I might be off a great; don't shoot me). His name was Raphael Pumpelly. His father was named William and his mother was named Mary, and all his relatives and even siblings were of the George, James and Harriet variety, but he was named Raphael, and I have to think that the name itself emboldened him to set his own path.

His parents (who were kind of big wigs in their little town of Owego, New York), wanted him to go to Yale, but he was all, "No. I want to see the world." So he went off to Europe, studied in Germany and became a mining engineer, which was sort of a good profession if you lived in a country where mineral resources were largely unexplored and the industrial revolution was just getting underway.

After traveling around Europe with his pet ram, he returns to the US and gets a job exploring the mineral resources in Arizona. So he takes a coach to Arizona and finds himself embroiled in basically a race war. According to Raphael, bands of Native Americans--whose plight he is very sympathetic to and who he says whites have driven to violence and extinction--are basically killing every white person they find. His colleagues turn up dead or running for their lives at every turn. Meanwhile, according to Raphael, Mexican "peons," who are horribly exploited miners, are waiting around for him and another guy to melt a bunch of silver ore down into silver coins so that they can kill Raphael and his work partner and steal the silver. And, of course, there are also a bunch of white outlaws that are also running amok trying to kill and rob everyone they see--including Raphael, who survives just barely and only by running off in the dark of night with another engineer.

They ride by horseback frantically to this one fort, only to find everyone dead, killed by Indians. Then they ride some boat down to Mexico and somehow they hire this white body guard who turns out to be this horrible and notorious outlaw who killed a priest, and then the outlaw meets up with one his outlaw friends, and the outlaws decide that they are going to steal the silver and kill Raphael and the other engineer guy. But somehow, I don't know, they escape the outlaws and end up in Colorado and finally realize there is a Civil War going on. But they still have their silver to deliver so they go on to Los Angeles, where, everyone hates him because he is from New York and they are former southerners, and finally they take a ship up to San Francisco and deliver the silver.

And this is where Raphael's story gets interesting. I'll tell you more next time.

PS: No good reason for the picture of my cute dog Scout, except that I wanted a picture and my computer is being weird so this is the best I can do for now.


Talk about good deeds: Look what I got!

Well, friends, I got the best birthday present EVER yesterday. It is the beautiful quilt square celebrating my fifty good deeds for fifty good years. Every single doodad on it symbolizes one of my good deeds. They are even in the order which I deed them. And, for when I have lost my marbles, on the back there is a little quilted envelope that holds a copy of my blog post noting each and every one. Don't you love it?
It was made by my dear friend Cathy Perlmutter, who has her own fabulous quilting blog. You can find it here. She is actually an amazing artist and craftswoman, and she is hysterical to boot, as her last few posts demonstrate. 

Her daughter is one of my Girl Scouts, and she is my younger girl's oldest and dearest friend. Cathy's daughter is a tremendous artist as well. She sings, plays the cello and guitar, acts, draws, and will one day win all the big writing awards. I will feel forever amazed that I knew her, and I will also no doubt feel somewhat ashamed that my own talents never quite matched hers. It will be a horrible sting for me, and I will try hard not to hate her, as I am inclined to hate everyone more successful than I (which is leaving me an increasingly small pool of people to like, I assure you). I will fight my petty feelings as best I can, but I worry the whole things will end somewhat poorly, with me feeling bitter and jealous and then, of course, ashamed of feeling bitter and jealous. I will try my best to hide my bitterness from Cathy, who will, I am sure, at least be modest about her daughter's National Book Awards and Nobel Prize. Oh my God. I just had a thought: What if Cathy's daughter wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and her son wins the Nobel Prize for physics or chemistry or something (he is an incredibly brilliant Harvard student). Will Cathy be able to maintain the modesty of being a two Nobel mother? Hmmm. I think I would become the most obnoxious person you'd ever met. I think you would all hate me, and then I would laugh at you all hating me, and I would say "Too bad for you, all you people whose children will never win Nobel prizes." But, see I am petty that way. Cathy: That is your burden. I wish you well with it.

I love my present. And I love my friends.