Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, October 27th, 2018


Yesterday got crazily busy and Grace has been quite tired, so things didn’t quite go as I hoped yesterday. We spent much of the day driving around. Almost all the rest was spent cooking and cleaning up.

The kids got up and had leftovers from our barbecue dinner out, but not all of us had leftovers, so I made a small batch of blueberry pancakes. There was a lot of kitchen cleanup to get through. I also wanted to get Sam in the tub and give him a thorough hair-washing. It was pretty dirty. Grace asked me to do it because, well, to put it bluntly, his hair smelled bad.

I had him soak in the tub for a while, then washed his hair twice using only conditioner, and trimmed it with our Wahl electric clipper. I used only conditioner because Grace had suggested that regimen for some of the kids with very curly hair. The conditioner-only regimen seems to work well with Benjamin and Joshua, but their hair is much more tightly curled. Sam’s is more wavy, although it still has a somewhat rough texture. All the kids have some combination of Jewish, African, and Northern European genes, but each has a slightly different combination. So each kid’s hair texture is noticeably different than all the others.

After trimming it, it looked better, but it was clear that his scalp was still dirty. He doesn’t like to get his head wet, so he doesn’t often get in there with his fingertips and vigorously scrub it. So we put him back in the tub and I washed it twice more with Grace’s homemade shampoo, made of African black soap. I also worked his scalp over thoroughly with a scalp massager brush. That got a lot of dead skin and loose hair out, and afterwards his hair was much cleaner and smelled much better, although I should go over it again in a few days. It also left a huge ring in the tub. Joshua looked at it and said that it looked like we had given the planet Saturn a bath. (Joshua’s sense of humor is unique). The tub had been draining slowly for a day or two, but this was more than the drain could handle; it was now almost completely plugged.

Grace put on a tray of small, extremely hot red peppers from our friends’ farm. The plan was to roast them, then blend them up into a hot sauce.

About three o’clock Joshua asked Grace if she was going to take him and Pippin to the pumpkin farm. We had completely forgotten that they were signed up to spend a few hours at the farm with the chorus, where they had a corn maze and other Halloween things. So I asked Sam to let the tub finish draining (very, very slowly), and when it was done, to wipe it out with paper towels rather than trying to wash the soap scum and hair down the drain.

We got them there quite late. The farm is just past the Eastern edge of Washtenaw County, in Wayne County. I always think of Wayne County, the county where Detroit and most of its suburbs are, as all paved. But in fact the Western edge is pretty rural in parts.

Anyway, we got them there only about 30 minutes late, which is unfortunately pretty typical for us. While they were having fun, Grace and I ran a couple of errands. She dropped me off at Lowe’s and she went to Gordon Food Service. I was looking for some LED bulbs that would fit into the ceiling fan fixture in our bedroom. It was designed for old “A” type incandescent bulbs, and a lot of LED replacement bulbs are too long or too wide, including the last box I bought at Costco, 100 watt-equivalent Feit brand 3000K “bright white” bulbs that are 100W replacements. I also wasn’t really happy with the “bright white.” They aren’t as bluish as the 5000K “daylight” version, but still too blue to want in our bedroom.

I think evidence is starting to accumulate that the high-energy blue wavelengths from some LED bulbs can cause eye injury. I think the bulbs I used in our the upstairs bathroom in our old house in Saginaw may have damaged my eyes, over and above what I might have reasonably expected from aging. Of course, I don’t have a control set of eyeballs to compare them to. But in any case I wound up buying GE Relax 60 watt-equivalent bulbs in “warm white,” and they look a lot better in our ceiling fan fixture and also in the bathroom light fixture. I had thought that the “middle” color, of the three Feit options, would look “normal” to me — that is, like the color of an incandescent bulb. But no, it appears that if I want the light to look like an incandescent bulb, I need to go with the “warm” version.

Years ago I used to get Chromalux full spectrum light bulbs to use in reading lamps. They are incandescent bulbs that look purple when not turned on. They are made of glass that contains neodymium, which supposedly makes the bulb emits a more balanced spectrum than that emitted by standard incandescent bulbs. The old Chromalux bulbs apparently had a color temperature of 3200K, which is much closer to the “warm white” LED bulbs than to the “bright white” or “daylight” versions. Apparently you can still get Chromalux incandescent bulbs, although I’m unclear on how they can be sold under the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.” Maybe they are exempt as “specialty bulbs?” Apparently GE also sells similar “reader light” bulbs including 150-watt and 200-watt bulb. That seems almost criminally decadent when a 60-watt equivalent LED draws about 9 watts. I don’t actually want to go back to heating my house with light bulbs, but I do want to figure out how to live with less eyestrain and, possibly, eye damage, especially as I get older.

When I opened up the bathroom fixture I found that the Feit bulb I had put in there was extremely hot. I would have expected an incandescent bulb in there to be quite hot, but I was a little surprised that an LED bulb was putting out so much heat. I had thought that the reduced electricity consumption in these bulbs meant that they turned a much higher portion of that electric current into light, and much less into heat, than an incandescent bulb. So I’m puzzled, and that heat can’t really be good for prolonging the life of the bulb. Maybe the 60-watt equivalent, which is also a bit smaller, will operate at a lower temperature.

I also bought drain cleaner. I’ve been using gallon jugs of Zep brand 10-Minute Hair Clog Remover for the bathtub drain that I can’t snake at all, because of the stupid non-removable stopper. That sometimes requires two or even three treatments before the drain gets moving again. They didn’t have it, so I got three smaller bottles of Liquid-Plumr Hair Clog Eliminator. My wife and my kids, especially my daughter who has grown her curly hair out long, put an awful lot of hair down the drain.

I also got some more of the green pads to scrub pots and pans, and some of the silvery steel scrubbers as well, which take off some baked-on grease that is hard to get off with the green pads. Things seem cheaper at Lowe’s than at Home Depot, although I did not do an item-to-item comparison.

Grace picked up some smoked ham hocks to use for cooking black-eyed peas, and some apple juice as requested by her friend.

We had just enough time to go get coffee and bagels at Tim Horton’s, before we had to go pick up Joshua and Pippin. Well, actually we had almost enough time. We got there a few minutes after the planned pick-up time. But our kids’ chaperone and the group of kids she was going around with had not actually come out yet, so we didn’t wind up making anyone wait for us.

On the way home Grace stopped at a place on Ellsworth called Think Outside the Books, which we had driven past on our way to Lowe’s. I had never heard of this place and when we passed it the first time, it wasn’t even clear to me that it was actually a bookstore. On the way back we stopped and found that in fact it was a huge used bookstore, but it was in the process of shutting down, because the owner had been unable to pay his rent. So the store was nearing the end of several rounds of price reductions; it was a dollar a book, or a box for ten dollars. Grace wanted to check on how things were going at home, so she left me there for a while with Joshua and Pippin. I skimmed through the shelves. The inventory was very picked-over, and the books were a huge mess, very disorganized and stuffed messily on the shelves. I found very little that I was interested in at all. Meanwhile Grace was gone a long time. It turned out that she had called Veronica, who asked her if she would take her to a St. Francis youth group event. So Grace drove her to St. Francis, then came back to get us. Then she took us back home, and went to pick up Veronica.

She thought Veronica was done at 7:15, but it turns out she had read something about a different event, so she wasn’t done for another hour. So she had to wait quite a while. She didn’t get back until well after 8:00.

This, readers, is how we can manage to use something like $40 worth of gas in a single weekend without even trying. I’m glad that the kids are getting out and doing things — for the first year or so after we moved, they weren’t doing all that much outside the house. But we are using more than twice as much gas as we used to. I haven’t tried to figure it all out but I think between choir, choir-related activites, youth group, regular doctor appointments for Grace, speech therapy for Sam, trips to Grass Lake to visit our friends, and assorted other trips, we are probably spending over $200 a week on gas now.

While Grace was out with Elanor to go get Veronica, I tried a bottle of the new drain cleaner. That worked the first try, although it took a whole lot of water to rinse it all down. Foam kept coming out of the overflow drain. I wanted to make sure I got all that stuff rinsed down since I didn’t want anyone with an accidental chemical burn.

When Grace got back, she remembered the peppers. They were… very well-roasted. I think the best word is “carbonized.” I tasted one, and it was like eating burnt paper. They unfortunately were a total loss; even blended with something moist, like tomato paste, they would have made it black and bitter-tasting. But even burnt to a crisp, the seeds inside the pepper were not burned up, and still extremely hot. I guess we could have tried to separate out the seeds, but I wasn’t up for dissecting the burned peppers with gloves on to keep the capsaicin off my hands. We’ll have to see if our friends have any peppers left. It’s a shame. We were looking forward to a nice scalding home-made hot sauce to warm us up in January.

Speaking of warming us up in January, we still haven’t gotten a call back from the company we’ve been calling to arrange to have our gas boiler serviced. So the heat is still off. This must be their busy season. But we still need to get our heat on! It isn’t that cold yet, but we want to have it available in November.

So what we thought was going to be a mostly-free day, with time to write and finish a podcast, turned out not be free, at all, but very busy. When Grace got back she was quite tired. We had to recruit several kids to help get dinner ready. We made a giant box of Jiffy Mix corn muffin mix, in our biggest cast-iron pan. Veronica threw a ham hock and black-eyed peas in the instant pot. Then we made a dish out of the smaller “salad” turnips and their greens. That involved rinsing the greens several times — they are very gritty. I had to take over from Veronica and rinse them a couple more times. Then, she chopped them up. But when we threw them in the pan on high heat, I realized she had made them very irregular, because the recipe just said “cut them in half,” but the recipe imagined that the turnips would be pretty much all the same size. These were not, so we had her cut up the larger chunks with kitchen shears while they were cooking. The recipe called for searing them on high heat, to get some nice browning going, then cooking them longer with liquid to soften. We threw in some of the leftover white Bordeaux wine and a little honey, then adding the chopped greens and softening them up on a lower temperature. (The recipe called for apple cider vinegar, but Grace wanted to use the wine instead; I’m not sure why. Maybe Grace thought her somewhat touchy stomach wouldn’t handle the vinegar well).

The black-eyed peas were delicious, and the kids always love the sweet cornbread from the Jiffy mix. The turnip dish — well, the turnips were from very late in the season, and they were pretty bitter. The white wine and honey was, I think, too subtle. The cooked turnips and greens were much better with more salt and some white wine vinegar to cut the bitterness. The leaves of the greens were fine but the stems were too hard. Probably we needed to separate them and start sautéeing the stems first, so that they would cook longer. But whatever — we got the kids to eat some very healthy greens. Most of them, at least; I think Pippin refused, but he did eat some black-eyed peas with smoked ham hock.

We didn’t finish eating until almost 11:00. Our housemate smelled the cornbread and came down to eat some of that with us, although I don’t think she ate anything else. We had a reasonably good conversation. I forgot to mention the gum. Someone’s been giving either her kids or our kids gum, and so I’ve been having to scrape dirty stuck-on chewing gum off our hardwood floors.

There was a lot of kitchen cleanup. Grace’s energy level was fading. So I fortified myself by finishing off about half a bottle of the white Bordeaux. It didn’t really improve, in my estimation. I still don’t think it was very good. But it was good enough to finish drinking. Grace got the kids to brush their teeth and clean up the dining table and floor. Our housemate helped sweep. I was done in the kitchen by about 1:00 a.m. and Grace and I finally got Elanor settled down and our lights out by about 1:45.

As a last-ditch effort to get a podcast done, I brought up my little Olympus LS-10 digital recorder. I was going to use that to record a conversation before we went to sleep, with a plan to actually produce and upload it Monday night. I thought maybe we could spend a little time talking about how it was our seventeenth wedding anniversary, and what we remembered and looked back on from those dizzying seventeen years. But baby Elanor wasn’t quiet yet — in fact, she was very much the opposite of quiet. So I had to give up on that plan. And not only did we not get a podcast up, I didn’t even manage to get a blog post up explaining that we weren’t going to get a podcast up. Maybe if things go very smoothly tomorrow…


During the night there was a nasty smell in the room. It smelled like someone had either vomited in bed or had an attack of diarrhea. That was pretty awful. I went around and felt everyone’s bed and bottom. I couldn’t find the source. Maybe someone just had really, really foul-smelling gas? I thought it might have been a mess in the bathroom, but it also smelled like it was coming from our bedroom.

Later during the night Joshua was up with diarrhea, although he made it to the toilet. About 2:00 a.m., our housemate’s boyfriend was leaving for his work shift. He insists on wearing his shoes in the house, so his tromping around in the bathroom over our heads tends to wake me up. This morning a couple of the kids seem to be sick with sore throats. I’m not feeling my best either, although I’m not feeling terrible. I didn’t have any noticeable fever. It did seem like I was having trouble digesting dinner, although that may be partly because the turnips and greens were older, maybe not cooked enough to completely soften the stems, and so hard to digest.

So maybe another virus is working its way through the household. Grace and the kids will probably take it easy for most of the day, although I know she has two more appointments in the afternoon.

I had a toasted bagel with peanut butter for breakfast, at Joe and Rosie’s on Jackson, along with a latte made with almond milk. I don’t have any lunch food left in my office, so I’ll have to go find something that sounds appealing for lunch.

I’m really, really hoping I don’t have to miss work due to illness, my illness or anyone else’s. I want to have my few precious vacation days available for the birth of the new baby. But kids are unfortunately little virus bombs, and I don’t always get to veto the viruses.

I was wrong — it looks like I did have some spicy ramen noodles left at work! So I’m microwaving that for lunch. Sometimes past me is not actually a total asshole to present me.

I had a strange voice mail on my work phone from an unknown number in Austin. I didn’t answer it, thinking it was probably a recruiter call. But I got a two-minute voice mail message e-mailed to me by the phone system. The message consisted entirely of crackling noises, like a bad phone line. Strange. But maybe it’s appropriate for Halloween season — is there a ghost in the machine?


To quote my friend Sean Hurley, “It’s Tired and I’m Late.”. Last night was kind of difficult. I didn’t have enough lunch; my bowl of spicy ramen didn’t quite sustain me until I got home, so I was a bit shaky when I got in a little before 8:00.

I ate a couple of squares of the Pascha 85% dark chocolate to try to give myself enough fortitude to face the evening at home. While Grace and Elanor and I munched a little chocolate, we looked more closely at the purple package it came in. It’s covered with little logos: “USDA Organic,” “Non-GMO,” “UTZ Certified Cocoa,” “Certified Vegan,” “Paleo Certified,” “Celiac Support Association,” “1% for the Planet,” and a kosher “U” logo. Do any of those mean that the cocoa wasn’t harvested or processed with child labor or slave labor? UTZ Says So, but are they an authority I should trust on this issue? Should I be looking for Fair Trade Certification instead? It has always seemed to me that the Fair Trade chocolate tasted worse, and I really like this Pascha chocolate; I like it better than the Green and Black brand, and the Endangered Species brand. But I just don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be buying chocolate at all. That’s a horrible thought.

Grace gave me an update. None of the kids had been very sick, but several were not feeling great. Joshua had napped. The foul smells the previous night had probably been children with a virus and bad gas, not actual vomit or diarrhea.

No news from our realtor yet. The furnace guy is ready to install the replacement furnace, if we tell him to go ahead.

Grace and the kids had dinner well underway, and so we were able to get dinner on the table quickly. And dinner was great — we had lamb steaks, Veronica had done all the chopping and prep work to make a dish with all the rest of the eggplant from our friends’ farm, and I made a pot of basmati rice with tomatoes. (I stir-fried 3 cups of rice in butter, then added about 4 cups of water and a can of diced tomatoes and set it to pressure-cook on manual for ten minutes, doing a manual release as soon as it was done — it came out great).

I’m not sure what we’d call the eggplant dish. It was kind of like a ratatouille, and kind of like a caponata. But whatever you call it, it was delicious.

After two disappointing bottles of white wine from Costco, I decided I’d better taste the red wine I have been buying for our holiday meals — are Costco’s buyers just asleep on the job this year?

At least, that was the excuse I needed to open one of the two bottles of 2015 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico. I’m happy to report that this wine is quite delicious, with nice oak, leather and tobacco aromas, and a lot of stewed fruit flavor. Grace had only a small taste but agreed that it was pretty decent Chianti. I could only manage one glass, so we’ve got almost 3/4ths of the bottle left. This is why I have been hesitant to open up bottles to pre-screen the wines; I can’t get through the bottles myself without drinking more than I would usually drink. But if I can manage to pick up a beef roast at Costco tonight, we will happily throw it in the Instant Pot with the rest of this Chianti, and I expect the result to taste good enough that no one will feel that we wasted good wine.

So, over the course of my next few Costco trips, in the weeks remaining before Thanksgiving, I’ll pick up two or three more bottles of this Chianti, and I’ll be pleased to serve it at our holiday meals. I should probably also taste the rosé that I’ve bought two bottles of, to see if I’m satisfied with it, and if so, buy another bottle or two of that. just leaves a white wine to sort out. I’ve got one more bottle to try. I’m not happy with it, I’ll try Trader Joe’s, to see if I can find something decent in a mid-priced white wine. Then I just need a few bottles of a decent dessert wine and I think we’ll be set.

Anyway, dinner was delicious, but while we were finishing up the meal, our housemate was making instant oatmeal, because it seemed that once again she could not eat what we were cooking, and once again would not collaborate — wouldn’t suggest something else to eat, or help prepare something we could all eat. Early on, Grace got fed up with trying; she’d take our housemate’s requests for a dinner, and cook it with her, only to have her completely refuse to eat it. So, again, she was cooking a different meal for herself, although I think her kids ate our food — maybe not the eggplant dish, as I wouldn’t necessarily expect kids to like that, but I think they ate some of the lamb and some of the rice.

Because Grace had been relentlessly cracking the whip for hours to have the kids help her get dinner ready, we were eating at a fairly reasonable hour — I think it was only about 8:30 or so. So it seemed reasonable to think we would get the meal cleaned up and have time to watch the third episode of the new season of Doctor Who.

After dinner our housemate and her boyfriend were in the kitchen doing something and they were loud. She was yelling at him and calling him the n-word. I really don’t love having that happen around my kids. I could not bring myself to go in there while they were having what I called a “fight” and Grace called a “conversation.” He was again wearing pants that left his entire underwear-clad rear end showing. That’s another one of the things I have some trouble with. I just don’t feel that I should be seeing rear end, even accidentally, when he’s just walking around the house, or I’m trying to clean up dinner. I’m also not really pleased that he dresses like this in front of my kids; I don’t think they are going to emulate him, but it is something I don’t really want to explain, and something I really don’t feel qualified to explain.

I’m aware that as a white person, trying to talk to a black person about sagging is not likely to go well, and I don’t actually want to lecture him about respectability politics. After all, I am currently growing my hair long again, not despite the fact that it signals certain things, but because it does. And I don’t believe that convincing black folks to signal respectability by emulating white fashion is really the answer to anything. There’s no amount of signaling black folks can do that will solve structural racism, and it’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

What would Miss Manners do with a guest whose pants were falling off? I think the answer to most etiquette questions is to avoid causing embarrassment or expressing needless criticism. What would Emily Post have to say to a guest who calls another guest the n-word? The mind goes blank at the thought. I’m left without a response, and yet, while at the same time, I don’t want my kids to overhear them speaking to each other like this. The sagging pants make me feel like he is actively and continually insulting us, the way that drunken college students might moon each other. And by extension, it feels like he’s insulting my family, and our values. But I also feel like this is a minefield I don’t want to step onto. I don’t think it would actually go well if, say, I offered him a belt.

This conflict is simply one more reason why I mostly just try to avoid being around him.


We were struggling to get the kids to clear the table. They kept disappearing into our bedroom to play on the computer. We’d send Joshua in to get Veronica and Sam to come out and help, and Joshua would stay in there. They kept disappearing. Nothing was getting done.

After thirty or forty minutes of frustrating, trying to keep the kids on track, I was starting to feel very stressed, so I went down into the basement to get the video downloaded and ready to show. iTunes gave me a lot of trouble. When I tried to download the file from the iTunes store, it would say that it was ready to play, but then it wouldn’t actually finish downloading. I started getting error messages telling me to try again later. The file in my library would show a little error icon, a circle with an exclamation point inside it, but clicking on this icon would not display an error; it would turn into a play button, but wouldn’t play. I quit the iTunes application and re-launched it and started the download again, and the file downloaded without any issues. There was not actually a network problem; iTunes was just in a screwed-up state. It really just seems like each version has become progressively more buggy.

More time went by. I practiced singing the vocal tracks from “The Sounds of Silence” with my loop pedal. I sounded terrible. I tried singing along with the isolated harmony track. That worked, but the original song is in too high a key, and so I couldn’t sing the melody part above it; it goes right up out of my range. I gave up. Even more time went by. Eventually Joshua came down and I asked him if everyone was ready to watch a video. He went back up to check. And yet more time went by.

Joshua came back down in tears because Grace had told him, accurately, that there was no more time left to watch the movie. I didn’t disagree with her. We had waited something like an hour and 45 minutes for the kids to get through the routine clearing of the table, wiping down the table, sweeping up the floor, and loading and starting the dishwasher. So I shut everything down and went back upstairs. Joshua was tearful.

We suggested that there would still be time for a story if everyone got ready for bed quickly. Guess how that went?

Grace had been burning candles earlier, on a high shelf, to try to kill some of the foul smell of sick-child farts. Somehow Benjamin had poured melted candle wax all over one of the kids’ beds. He had also jammed the bathroom sink stopper all the way down, so I had to get under the sink to force it back out. The kids had also left a lot of junk in our bedroom, and had apparently also been eating in there, which is forbidden. So instead of reading a bedtime story, we made the kids clean up our bedroom. So we had to stay up for that.

The stress is of everything going on is getting to me. When we finally got the kids on to bed, I tried to calm myself down. Talking with Grace about how we might pay for our furnace repairs and boiler repairs and any further car repairs was actually starting to trigger a panic attack. We really, really need to hear from our realtor about whether she is going to agree to rent our house — or not. I need some information, so we can make some hard decisions about money. And the ongoing situation with our housemate is just not something I want to try to wrestle with, on top of all this. I’m just trying to stay out of their way and avoid being in situations that are going to stress me out further.

This morning I had breakfast at Harvest Moon Café. I wanted to try something other than my usual breakfast BLT sandwich, so I got a breakfast burrito. It wasn’t great. I got a few more pages read in The Ice Schooner. Someone is trying to sabotage the ship on it’s journey across the ice to New York City. It’s honestly a pretty exciting story! I just wish I had a few quiet hours to finish reading it.

I heard from Grace that Elanor is not feeling well today. She’s apparently having a mild reaction to a vaccination she got yesterday. I’m not feeling too great myself. Physically there’s nothing really wrong with me, but my stress level is through the roof, and if this doesn’t change soon I very well might start to suffer some real health consequences. Even if nothing acute happens, the chronic, long-term stress certainly isn’t doing me any good. Something’s got to give, soon.

I’ll head to Costco tonight.


After work last night I went to Costco and got a few things including a pot pie, a small pot roast, and two more bottles of that Chianti. Grace had asked me to bring graham crackers and marshmallows, but Costco didn’t have them. When I got home, Grace was out, but there was a small bonfire in our brick fire pit in the front yard, and a few of the kids were sitting around the fire. She had wanted to make s’mores, but it wasn’t working out.

I had the kids help me unload the car and put things away. Grace arrived shortly after that. It was about 8:30 and dinner wasn’t underway. She’d been thinking of eating the pork medallions. I suggested we use up the rest of the Chianti and put the pot roast in the Instant Pot. Veronica assembled a salad from one of the Costco salad kits. Grace chopped up some celery and carrots and threw them in and we told the Instant Pot to pressure-cook the roast for 30 minutes. I got out that 100% rye bread from Mother Loaf to eat with dinner and we went back outside while the Instant Pot did its thing.

We had only a small amount of firewood, one of those bundles you can buy at gas stations. So the fire didn’t last very long, but it was beautiful while it lasted. The moon was nearly full, and there was that chill in the air, without too much humidity.

When we served up the roast and sliced it up, it was still very rare in the middle, and the vegetables weren’t very soft. 30 minutes had not really been enough time. So we put half the meat back in for another ten minutes. Pippin seemed completely willing to eat the rare pot roast, which we found a little bit startling. After another ten minutes it was more thoroughly cooked and the broth was better-tasting.

Because we ate late, Doctor Who wasn’t really on the table, but a bedtime story was. At least, until it wasn’t. Cleanup was slow and uncertain. So we didn’t have a bedtime story for the kids. Before going to sleep I read Grace and Joshua part of the introduction, and the first few chapters, of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. That book’s been on the shelf waiting for us, but it has been hidden behind a second row of books.

There was no real news to speak of yesterday about the lease agreement. We have arranged to have a new furnace put into the old house, at a cost of about three thousand dollars. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to pay for it. The worst-case scenario is that I’ll write a check that will overdraw our checking account and hit our overdraft protection line of credit for at least two thousand. If we go ahead with the lease, I will also have to pay for some tree removal work, which will cost another thousand dollars. Paying for both the furnace and the tree removal would probably eat up our entire overdraft protection line of credit. So I probably won’t do that unless our realtor agrees to the lease arrangement; if she does, I might be able to pay for most of the tree removal with her November rent payment. Then maybe I could use her December rent payment to start knocking down the overdraft. It’s all kind of a high-wire act. If we do this we will have racked up just about every bit of credit we have access to.

If she signs, I might also try to get a small bank loan to cover the furnace work, because I can probably get a much better interest rate that way, and keep the overdraft protection line of credit available for future emergencies.

I might also get an annual bonus in December, but I think it would arrive only just before Christmas, which will be too late to pay for the furnace, the tree removal, the gas boiler repair at our new house, etc. So at best it might only help me set aside some emergency money, or pay down some debt I’ve racked up.

We had a fairly large escrow shortfall on our new house — almost $2,000. So they are raising my monthly mortgage payment. I think the increase is bigger than my recent increase in take-home pay. At best, it’s pretty much a wash, which is just one more of the things that make me feel like I’m running in place. If I wanted to pay it in a lump sum, I could keep my mortgage payment closer to what it is now. But I just can’t write that check. I should look closely at their numbers. I don’t think they are allowed, legally, to charge a high rate of interest on the overage, the way that DTE offered to let me finance our energy expenses in excess of our budget plan payments, when we got the settle-up bill. But I should trust, but verify.

At work I’m struggling to debug some drawing code that affects the MX family graphical user interface. Patrick discovered a bug where, when switching between editing different settings, some buttons redraw on top of other buttons. This bug was apparently caused by me trying to follow suggestions from Amulet to fix another drawing order bug. The framework is really bad at properly managing drawing; there’s a static drawing order, but when you dynamically show and hide buttons, it doesn’t work right. So we have a bug introduced by a workaround to avoid another bug. That’s sadly common, unfortunately. Sometimes there are even more layers upon layers of workarounds.


We tried to make things easy on ourselves last night, by having a Costco pot pie for dinner; we thought we might finally get everyone fed, and the meal cleaned up, in time to watch “Rosa,” the third episode of the current season of Doctor Who.

I gave Grace my ETA yesterday afternoon, so she knew when to expect me. I told her to expect me about 7:30, and actually walked into the house about 7:45. When I got home last night there were sandwiches left out on the kitchen counter and dining table, and a fully-baked pot pie on top of the oven. Dinner was ready to eat, and since the pot pies take 90 minutes, the kids had been given plenty of time to get the table ready for a meal. But they hadn’t done it. So, there was that to contend with. I’ll elide the lectures and exhortations and threats to cancel the video. We did in fact manage to finish dinner at a reasonable time, although it could have been even more reasonable. And so we all tromped downstairs to watch “Rosa.”


It seemed like a pretty bold move for the producers of a British television series to take on the American Civil Rights movement. “Rosa” wasn’t as tasteless as I feared, but it was also pretty simplified, and the plot was one of the most simplistically contrived I’ve ever seen. The villain was tissue-thin, like Don John in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, who says:

…it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.

Later in the show our villain, who barely merits a name, is revealed as a white supremacist who has spent time in prison. A white supremacist… alien? Who is racist towards some types of humans over others? We’ve seen the reverse played for laughs when Bill Potts is accused of racism by a blue-skinned alien, because she’s never seen a blue person before. But no, it seems that perhaps our antagonist is a time-traveling human. Maybe. Ryan sends him into the past, presumably stranding him. This gets no reaction from The Doctor, which seems strange, given how emotional this same sort of stranding back in time was, in “The Angels Take Manhattan.” Is he really human? Is his stranding in time a sort of chronological death sentence, the way it was for Amy and Rory? I guess he’s not irretrievable, the way they were declared to be irretrievable with some hand-waving about time paradoxes. Will we see him again? I have no clue, but he sure seems like a one-off villain of convenience at this point.

Continuity is a bit poor in this show. The Doctor is tracing “artron energy,” but then later in the episode she refers to “artron molecules,” and I was yelling at the screenwriters for their complete indifference to decades of continuity. Yeah, OK, of course the show’s science-fictional elements are often pretty laughable, but which is it, matter, or energy? And there are some gags, like The Doctor’s reaction to being told she’s “not Banksy,” that are funny in the moment, but which mostly tend to distract and derail the story.

Some of the best moments in the show involve the companions, Ryan and Yaz. Yaz, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, is racially ambiguous in 1955 Alabama, and is not thrown out of the white section on the bus, while in her own contemporary Sheffield, she has experienced racial slurs and branding as a terrorist. This is an interesting moment that suggests that decades later racism has not really diminished, just changed. Meanwhile, Ryan is accustomed to low-grade racial profiling, but the in-your-face contempt is a shock, and he does not want to take it — well, sitting down. At least, not sitting down in the “colored” section on the bus. But there’s a fascinating, complex scene where Rosa (played really well by Vinette Robinson) takes Ryan to a meeting where Dr. King is present, and he agrees to do what she asks him to do in this context — to serve coffee, accepting a subservient role in Dr. King’s presence. There’s a lot going on, in those scenes, not just about race, but class, and voluntary, and involuntary, subservience.

I feel the need to mention Grace O’Brien, Ryan’s grandmother, who dies in the first episode, since she’s a continuing presence in the show, and brought up several times in “Rosa.” If we’re talking about racism, I think we should be willing to confront the fact that the producers of the show crafted this character — an older, strong black woman — and killed her in the first episode. Was that really necessary? And because of the way she’s remained in the characters’ thoughts, I’ve got uncomfortable feelings about what this season’s story arc might have in mind for her.

So anyway — “Rosa” is not the most powerful episode, despite the strong subject matter. But it could have been a lot worse. I think it’s telling that we were very excited by the preview for next week’s episode, which apparently is a Halloween-themed story involving spiders, called “Arachnids in the UK.” That one looks like it could be classic, old-school Doctor Who.

The Damned Oven

My kids baked the pot pie on a baking pan, which caught the drips. But cleaning up after dinner, I noticed that someone had, once again, let something boil over in the oven. So the bottom of the oven is once again crusted with burned-on goop, which means that it sets the smoke detector off every time it comes up to temperature. No one from my family would take credit. It might have been something one of the kids cooked, but I don’t think it is; our housemate and/or her boyfriend have done this in the past, again and again, despite numerous requests to use trays to catch boil-overs.

I don’t want to clean this up. I know that I should ask her to do it. But I also know that if she does it, she’ll do a very careless job. The last time she cleaned the oven, she left baked-on oven cleaner all over the inside of the oven, and I had to put in even more effort to clean it out, so all our food didn’t taste of oven cleaner.

Our oven has a seam in the bottom where parts fit together. Liquid that lands on the bottom of the oven will drip through the seam down into the compartment with the gas jets and flame spreader. I’m really fed up with having to disassemble the whole bottom of the oven to clean up these messes and stop the smoking. Oven cleaner won’t do that, but I also certainly don’t want her to attempt to take it apart and reassemble it. That’s not likely to go well.

I really don’t know what to do. Trying to get her to clean up the mess will punish me. Leaving it alone will also punish me, because our oven will smoke like crazy every time we use it, and the eventual cleanup will require much more work. I’m just beyond fed up, and praying for patience.

Money, Money, Money

I’ve cast our die across the Rubicon — the furnace guy is going to install a new furnace in the old house. I mailed him a check this morning. It’s for about $3,000. That’s going to overdraw our checking account by about $2,000, depending on when it clears. The overdraft protection loan should kick in. I don’t know how we’re going to pay for everything. We’re jumping off a little cliff, here, when we’ve already slid down a long, long hill. I don’t know how we’re going to climb back up. But we’ve made the judgment call that nothing will go any better if we leave the old house half-unheated through the winter, whether we turn the water off and “winterize” it or not. It’s still our asset, and our liability, for the time being.

Baby Girl

After “Rosa,” there was the usual interminable struggle to get the kids ready for bed. Things went off the rails for a while because Pippin snuck off and got on the computer. That led to a long lecture from Grace. Joshua read some more of George’s Marvelous Medicine and also started a Winnie-the-Pooh book; I’m not sure which one. I managed to read just a few pages of The Ice Schooner — I am trying so hard to finish that book!

We got to bed relatively early. It was only a bit after midnight, I think, when we turned out the lights. Elanor once again had a runny nose and was quite miserable during the night. She kept waking up, and didn’t wake up and just grouse and fuss a bit and go back to sleep — no, each time, it required a round of screaming protest. So our night’s sleep was broken up into pieces punctuated by a screaming toddler. I woke up pretty late. I had just enough time to shower and get out. I didn’t have time to read, or stop for a sit-down breakfast. I picked up a coffee and bagel on the way to work.

I’m continuing my struggle with some legacy GUI code. I was not making any progress tinkering around the edges, so I’m refactoring the drawing logic. This is quite painful and slow. But on the positive side, the refactored code executes fewer unnecessary page reloads and is easier to understand. It will be worth doing, when it’s done and I can look back at it. But the doing of it — ugh.

My boss brought in leftover cake, so I guess that’s lunch, or at least part of lunch. I should go get a sandwich, but I don’t want to take the time, or spend the money. The box of lunch meals I brought in yesterday, Loma Linda Chipotle Bowls from Costco, are not as good as I hoped. I heated one up yesterday, and regretted it. They smell like burning dog food, despite being entirely plant-based, and they give me terrible heartburn, in a way that the spicy ramen noodles don’t, at all. Don’t ask me to explain that. Maybe I’ll eat one anyway, and down a few Tums afterwards, just so I don’t wind up eating only leftover cake for lunch. The box says “Complete Meal Ready in 60 Seconds.” But what’s the hurry? Speed isn’t necessarily the most important thing; I mean, I could probably vomit it up even faster than that!

I had a conversation with Grace about our housemate’s boyfriend’s sagging. She tells me it doesn’t bother her. And she also doesn’t think the kids are going to emulate our housemate’s boyfriend. Apparently Benjamin, our five-year-old, keeps reminding him that his pants are falling down and he should pull them up. He has to try to explain to a five-year-old that he’s got his pants half-down intentionally.

If that discussion with a five-year-old has no influence, I don’t think he’s likely to be swayed by anything this fifty-one-year-old white man has to say to him.


For dinner last night we had pork medallions and another salad kit from Costco. The kids weren’t really on the ball when I got home, but with a lot of prompting they got the table ready. Veronica stepped up and actually cooked the pork medallions and even scrubbed up the pan afterwards. She was working on a project to dye her hair with henna. Before she went to bed, she rinsed out all the henna. It is unmistakably a different color now, a little more reddish — but, because her hair was fairly dark-colored to being with, the difference is not dramatic. I’m not sure if she’s disappointed or not, or exactly what she was expecting.

It was fairly cold in the house last night — tolerable with blankets, but I wondered whether the cold air might be causing some of Elanor’s night-time congestion and runny nose. I thought we might try a space heater, so I asked Veronica to bring the space heaters in from the garage. I learned that Grace had already given one to our houseguest to use upstairs, since she can’t tolerate the cold.

I set up the second one in our bedroom and ran it on high for a while, then set it to the lowest setting. It kept the ambient air in the room reasonably warm, since our house is pretty well-insulated. I don’t think it helped Elanor stay asleep at all, though. She woke us up several times. She has not yet learned to say “water” or “wa-wa” or even “wa,” or make the hand sign for water that we’ve tried to teach her, when she wants water. So the second or third time she woke us up and screamed at us for a while, I got her a bottle of water and that seemed to settle her down. I think I recall that it might have been about a quarter to five, but my mind was pretty fuzzy, having just been yanked out of sleep.

I’m happy to be able to report that I got some reading done, last night and this morning.

Hill House

As a bedtime story, I read Grace and a couple of the kids more of The Haunting of Hill House. I got into a groove with the prose, which has an amazing feeling of flow to it — Jackson is right in her protagonist Eleanor’s head. The first chapter, which I read Tuesday night, had a fair amount of telling and not much showing, but the narrative voice was so light and deft that I really didn’t mind this “infodump.” In the next couple of chapters, we get a wonderful sense for the contours of Eleanor’s mind, while learning almost nothing about her physical being. Externally, I assume that she is unassuming, mousy, and introverted. Eleanor has spent years caring for her invalid mother, and has come to feel that she has missed a portion of her life:

She had taken to wondering lately, during these swiftcounted years, what had been done with all those wasted summer days; how could she have spent them so wantonly?

But now, she is “going,” having an adventure:

I have not very much, farther to go, Eleanor thought; I am more than halfway there. Journey’s end, she thought, and far back in her mind, sparkling like the little stream, a tag end of a tune danced through her head, bringing distantly a word or so; “In delay there lies no plenty,” she thought, “in delay there lies no plenty.”

As she passes through small towns and villages on the road, she experiences lives passing before her inner eye, as if she were dying. But they are not dying visions of her life to date; they are imagined future lives. Eleanor’s imagination is startling, both beautiful and strange:

On the main street of one village she passed a vast house, pillared and walled, with shutters over the windows and a pair of stone lions guarding the steps, and she thought that perhaps she might live there, dusting the lions each morning and patting their heads good night. Time is beginning this morning in June, she assured herself, but it is a time that is strangely new and of itself, in these few seconds I have lived a lifetime in a house with two lions in front.

It’s a little like Ambrose Bierce’s story “Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge.” This vision gets wonderfully and surrealistically detailed:

Every morning I swept the porch and dusted the lions, and every evening I patted their heads good night, and once a week I washed their faces and manes and paws with warm water and soda and cleaned between their teeth with a swab.

But then the river of her thoughts sweeps on, and she’s back in the present. But a little later, looking at another house:

I will light a fire in the cool evenings and toast apples at my own hearth. I will raise white cats and sew white curtains for the windows and sometimes come out of my door to go to the store to buy cinnamon and tea and thread. People will come to me to have their fortunes told, and I will brew love potions for sad maidens; I will have a robin… But the cottage was far behind, and it was time to look for her new road, so carefully charted by Dr. Montague.

While Eleanor is still taking, essentially, a passive role, having selected an adventure that was offered to her, she delights in small acts of defiance. She is possessed of an “imp of the perverse” — she is, internally, rebellious, and encourages a rebellious spirit in others:

Don’t do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it; and the little girl glanced at her, and smiled a little subtle, dimpling, wholly comprehending smile[ and shook her head stubbornly at the glass. Brave girl, Eleanor thought; wise, brave girl.

There’s something else about Eleanor, carefully set up in these passages: she seems to have porous boundaries. She is quick to identify with others, and to position herself in solidarity with them. This was demonstrated earlier in the incident in which she took great pains to assist the “very little lady” that she accidentally knocks down.

That incident in the novel is quite strange — I think Jackson has cleverly suggested that Eleanor is actually encountering a “little person” — a faerie, who goes from damning her to blessing her — I feel that there is more to unpack in this brief scene; has Eleanor paid for her journey, and will she be repaid for her kindness, later, by some version of the faerie folk? It seems to me that Eleanor, freed from her old life, has allowed herself to drift, in this liminal moment where change is possible, into the land of faerie, and as she does so, she tries on a series of new lives for herself as easily, and reversibly, and also somewhat passively, as if she were trying on new clothes, handed to her one after another by a clothing store assistant.

Eleanor drives to Hill house. She’s been warned by Dr. Montague in a letter not to stop in Hillsdale and not to ask there about Hill House:

I am making these directions so detailed because it is inadvisable to stop in Hillsdale to ask your way. The people there are rude to strangers and openly hostile to anyone inquiring about Hill House.

And of course with this prompt, Eleanor’s sense of rebellion means that she can’t not stop. But her rebellion is a careful one, that keeps herself inside the “letter of the law,” at least as she interprets it:

In spite of what he said, though, she thought, I will stop in Hillsdale for a minute, just for a cup of coffee, because I cannot bear to have my long trip end so soon. It was not really disobeying, anyway; the letter said it was inadvisable to stop in Hillsdale to ask the way, not forbidden to stop for coffee, and perhaps if I don’t mention Hill House I will not be doing wrong. Anyway, she thought obscurely; it’s my last chance.

Sticking to the letter of Dr. Montague’s instructions, Eleanor doesn’t actually ask about Hill House. Instead, she asks about houses in the hills:

“I thought,” Eleanor said carefully, “that I might even look around. Old houses are usually cheap, you know, and it’s fun to make them over.” “Not around here,” the girl said. “Then,” Eleanor said, “there are no old houses around here? Back in the hills?” “Nope.”

And she drives on. By the end of Part I, where I stopped last night, she has met Mr. Dudley, the angry husband of Mrs. Dudley; they are the caretakers. Sam joked that he thought he heard me refer to him as “Mr. Deadly.” I told him that I certainly didn’t think it was a coincidence that his name sounds like “deadly.” Authors like Jackson put considerable care into choosing the names of their characters. “Eleanor” sounds a bit like “oleander” — they are nearly anagrams. The letters of “oleander” can be rearranged into “Eleanor,” leaving a “d” left over. Perhaps the “d” is for “deadly?” Eleanor thinks about oleanders several times:

Oleanders are poisonous, she remembered; could they be here guarding something? Will I, she thought, will I get out of my car and go between the ruined gates and then, once I am in the magic oleander square, find that I have wandered into a fairyland, protected poisonously from the eyes of people passing?

I noticed another interesting name. Dr. Montague’s name suggests doom. Romeo Montague was certainly “star-crossed.” But is Dr. Montague suggestive of Montague fils, the better-known Montague, or Montague père? Lord Montague, Romeo’s father, doesn’t have a lot of lines in Romeo and Juliet, and most of them are about his son. But early in the play he says:

Who set this ancient quarrel new abroach?
Speak, nephew, were you by when it began?

Eleanor may be walking into an “ancient quarrel new abroach.” It will be interesting to watch this novel unfold. At the end of Part I, Eleanor has not yet entered Hill House; she has only seen it. But what she’s seen is already unnerving:

She turned her car onto the last stretch of straight drive leading her directly, face to face, to Hill House and, moving without thought, pressed her foot on the brake to stall the car and sat, staring. The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.

We haven’t even really begun to explore Eleanor’s back-story and character. In the first few pages we were told:

Her name had turned up on Dr. Montague’s list because one day, when she was twelve years old and her sister was eighteen, and their father had been dead for not quite a month, showers of stones had fallen on their house, without any warning or any indication of purpose or reason, dropping from the ceilings rolling loudly down the walls, breaking windows and pattering maddeningly on the roof.

I can’t even begin to guess, yet, just what that seed will grow into.

If you haven’t guessed, just as I was deeply impressed with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I’m also deeply impressed with this novel. It’s wonderful, strange, and also, impressively brief. If I ever get a chance to teach a literature class again, I’d love to teach The Haunting of Hill House.

The Ice Schooner

Despite the bad night’s sleep, I was up early enough to finish reading The Ice Schooner this morning. Finally! Now that I have finished it, I can say that, yes, it is an allegorical story about climate change, but because it was written in the sixties, Moorcock doesn’t seem to have been directly referencing our current global warming crisis. In any case, this Moorcock novel moves along quite well and ends decisively. It’s certainly easier to enjoy than Daughter of Dreams or The Revenge of the Rose. There’s a lot in it that is quite dated — it’s a very sexist story, for example. The only female story is mostly a status symbol and possession, although she shows a little agency at the end. But if you’re willing to overlook that, it’s found it worth my time.

Like many science fiction stories of the era, this one juxtaposes low tech with high tech. It’s a story about a society which has survived an environmental crisis by dividing in two. One side has reverted to barbarism. The other has retained a scientific understanding of what is actually going on. In such stories there’s generally a new crisis of some sort, another environmental change or catastrophe, which forces the barbaric side to rediscover the scientists. I’m aware of a number of stories that follow this general outline; it goes back at least to The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, with the Eloi and Morlocks, but there are probably earlier examples. It’s a common trope in stories that take place on generation starships, where the general population does not understands that they are aboard a ship. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of stories by Gene Wolfe (in The Book of the Long Sun series), Stephen Baxter (in the novella Mayflower II), and Harlan Ellison (Ellison disowned the disastrous TV show The Starlost because of changes made against his wishes in production, choosing to be credited as “Cordwainer Bird,” but the original story was his).

I don’t want to give Moorcock’s book more credit than it deserves. It’s not really a great book. But there’s some nice world-building going on, too, including a system of religious beliefs about an “Ice Mother” that seem to combine a personal deity who answers prayers with… the second law of thermodynamics, which doesn’t. This part seems especially relevant because some of the conflict in the novel centers around climate change denial! Again, I’m not saying this is world-building on the scale of Dune or The Lord of the Rings, but Moorcock did a little research, to write at least somewhat convincingly about the technology and culture of a society that has learned to survive in an ice age.

If you’re new to Moorcock, you might try this standalone before trying to dive in to his more interconnected stories.

This book is allegedly based on Conrad’s novel The Rescue. It would be interesting to compare the two. Maybe I’ll do that someday.

Money, Again

This morning I mailed a check for $200 to the City of Saginaw, to pay the 2018 rubbish bill at the old house. No one is currently living there and so no one is leaving out trash to pick up, but I’m afraid if I don’t pay it, the city will put a lien on the property, which could throw a monkey wrench into the situation if we have the opportunity to sell it.

To give some idea of how tight things are for us right now, my projected “low water mark” in the Team One checking account is about $21.00, after both mortgage payments go through in the first week of November. The actual numbers will probably be a little bit better than that; I don’t think my mortgage payment is actually going to increase to cover the escrow shortage until December, and things should be better in December. But it’s definitely going to be a nerve-wracking high wire act.

In our other account, my balance today is about $1,500. But I’ve written two checks, for the furnace replacement and for the 2018 City of Saginaw rubbish bill. These total about $3,200. If they cleared today, it would mean an overdraft of about $1,700. This would use up almost half of my available $3,600 line of credit. But of course we have more expenses coming up for the week; I will get groceries after work, and fill up my gas tank, and I have a number of medical bill co-pays that need my attention. So we’ll probably actually overdraw more than that.

A rent check would really help the situation, but we still haven’t heard a decision from our realtor. So the money situation continues to feel very, very uncertain. I don’t know how, or even if, we’re going to pay for tree removal. I don’t know how we’re going to pay for our gas boiler repair. But it does feel like a bit of a relief that we’ve gone ahead and made the decision as to whether or not to install a new furnace; that decisions made the money situation riskier, but it should make things easier on the old house, and thus improve our chances of selling or renting it. We’re not going to get money back, per se, but it might allow us to lose a little less.

I had to scrape chewing gum off the kitchen floor last night. I didn’t see our housemate at all. I think she’s hiding out upstairs even more than usual, because she hates the cold in the house.

Tonight I’l make my usual Friday evening run to Costco.


It’s about a quarter to eleven in the evening. I’m writing this on my little laptop in the family room. I got a box of Duraflame fire logs at Costco last night and we’ve got one going. We still haven’t had both fireplaces in the new house chimney inspected and cleaned. The guy we had inspect the chimneys back when we had the house inspected, before moving in, didn’t seem trustworthy. We got a more recent estimate, and it was pretty shockingly expensive — over seven hundred dollars to inspect and clean them, or half that just to inspect them. So we have not bought a load of firewood and haven’t wanted to use the fireplaces much. Or, at least, use them for big wood fires. I feel reasonably comfortable burning the Duraflame logs, on the theory that they don’t get hot enough to ignite any creosote in the chimney, and don’t generate a lot of creosote or smoke. But maybe they’re not actually good for fireplaces. In any case I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford to have this fireplace work done this fall. We have an appointment at the end of November, but if our financial situation hasn’t improved somehow, we will probably cancel the appointment.

We had a busy day, despite getting a late start. It was a cool and cloudy day in Pittsfield Township, with a little rain now and then. Grace and I had a pretty good night’s sleep last night — baby girl slept well, and so we slept well.

Last night I read a couple more chapters of The Haunting of Hill House as a bedtime story. If they concentrate, the older kids can enjoy this kind of a text, but sometimes the younger ones either fall asleep (which is fine; it was a bedtime story, after all, so we just put them to bed) or get restless and start side conversations. The latter happened last night, and after asking the kids twice to stay quiet while I read, Grace ended the story early.

Hill House continues to impress me. In the chapters we read last night, Eleanor meets Mrs. Dudley, a drone of a woman who wants everyone to know that she will put dinner on the sideboard in the dining room at 6:00 sharp, and then immediately leave the house, cleaning up dinner when she returns the next morning. She makes it very clear that she will not be in the house after dark. This is played for laughs, and also… not:

“I don’t stay after I set out dinner,” Mrs. Dudley went on. “Not after it begins to get dark. I leave before dark comes.” “I know,” Eleanor said. “We live over in the town, six miles away.” “Yes,” Eleanor said, remembering Hillsdale. “So there won’t be anyone around if you need help.” “I understand.” “We couldn’t even hear you, in the night.” “I don’t suppose —” “No one could. No one lives any nearer than the town. No one else will come any nearer than that.” “I know,” Eleanor said tiredly. “In the night,” Mrs. Dudley said, and smiled outright. “In the dark,” she said, and closed the door behind her. Eleanor almost giggled, thinking of herself calling, “Oh, Mrs. Dudley, I need your help in the dark,” and then she shivered.

Eleanor gets herself settled in the blue room, one of the bedrooms. As she explores it, we aren’t given a lot of detail on just what about Hill House is so unnerving, so as readers we are required to use our imagination quite a bit here. Jackson has started to make the house a character in the book; in fact, we have started to do it with her.

Eleanor then meets Theodora, another one of the invited guests. Eleanor and Theodora have an introductory conversation, talking to, and around, Mrs. Dudley, which is quite brutally hilarious. The descriptions of Theodora go a long way towards giving us a more detailed impression of Eleanor, because Eleanor lacks a lot of what Theodora has:

Theodora came through the bathroom door into Eleanor’s room; she is lovely, Eleanor thought, turning to look; I wish I were lovely. Theodora was wearing a vivid yellow shirt, and Eleanor laughed and said, “You bring more light into this room than the window.”

The two characters seem to develop a friendship almost instantly, doing the kind of bonding that happens in the face of adversity. The fact of their bonding immediately over Mrs. Dudley’s comments, and against the house itself, serves to suggest how nervous both of them actually feel in this new environment. It’s an interesting way to hint to the reader just how the reader should feel about Hill House, and a very clever storytelling trick. We’ll read a little more of Haunting tonight if we can.

This morning I got a bath and it was warm in the tub, but cold in the bathroom, so I stayed in the but for a long while, reading the news on my phone. A mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

I dragged myself out of the tub and started working in the kitchen, recruiting the kids to empty the dishwasher and put away dishes, and to clean the stovetop. They did a first pass of the stovetop and I dug in with some more aggressive cleaning, and cleaned the teapot, then put on a pot of tea. I put a baking pan of buttered bagels under the broiler to toast, and put cream cheese on the table.

When the bagels were toasted I sprayed oven cleaner strategically on the gunkiest parts of the oven, closed up the oven, and turned on both the fan in the oven’s ventilation hood and the big Vornado fan on the floor. While the oven cleaner was doing its work, I fried up a big pan of bacon, recruited Veronica to beat a dozen eggs, and scrambled them. Joshua got out packets of guacamole. So anyone who cared to eat brunch got toasted bagels with cream cheese and/or guacamole, bacon, and scrambled eggs.

After everything was out of the oven and off the stove, I took the racks out of the oven, I turned the floor fan to blow past the oven to help me breathe easier while working with hot oven cleaner, opened up the oven, and started scrubbing it out. This took a considerable amount of work with sponges and steel metal scrubbers. The oven cleaner had softened up some of the spills, but part of the burned-on goo was still as hard as glass and took forever to abrade away. Then there was the loading of the dishwasher, and hand-washing of some things that had sat for several days, like the cast-iron dutch oven, which had been waiting for me to deep-clean it for a week. All this took me until almost 3:00.

Our housemate categorically denies being responsible for any of the oven mess that took me so much effort to clean up. It might be her boyfriend. I don’t know what more we can say or do about that short of putting in security cameras to try to catch the miscreants.

The kids had blown a lot of time on Friday and were very, very late getting out the door to go get some materials for their Halloween costumes. Grace wasn’t willing to take them out again but told them they could ask me. So today they asked me to take them to a thrift store and a craft or fabric store. At about a quarter to 3:00, when I finally felt mostly done in the kitchen, I sat down and had Grace put my hair in a pony tail and add some hair clips to hold the loose parts that are still too short to go into the pony tail, and discussed the situation with her. We needed to be at Mass at St. Joseph’s at 5:00, with a trunk-or-treat to follow, so she wanted everyone back at the house by 4:00. Then I told the kids I was willing to help them run an errand for costume materials, but that I would only take them one place, and since I wanted to take my car, which had a full tank of gas, there were only two seats available.

So I got dressed and took Veronica and Joshua to JoAnn Fabrics by Meijer, which is only a few minutes away up Carpenter. It seemed plausible that we would be able to get in, pick up a few small pieces of felt and fabric and piping, only about five dollars worth of stuff, and get home by 4:00, or just a few minutes after 4:00. We had to stand in line for quite a while, though, to get Veronica’s fabric cut. It wound up being about ten minutes to 4:00 by the time we were ready to check out. Then we had to get in line. The store was extremely under-staffed for the number of customers shopping today for Halloween, so the checkout line stretched all the way to the back of the store. I had to keep deciding whether we were going to just give up and go home without our stuff, or stay in line. We stayed in line, for about 45 minutes, and so didn’t leave until about 4:35 and didn’t get home until about a quarter to five. There wasn’t time for the kids to actually finish their costumes. We had to pack everyone up and head to Mass.

We got to Mass about ten minutes late. I had not actually been to St. Joseph’s yet, but Grace liked it when she went there last week, so it seems to be our new church. It is much smaller than St. Francis, and smaller than St. John the Baptist in downtown Ypsilanti, so it has a friendlier feel. One downside is that there doesn’t seem to be a cry room to speak of. Eleanor was very rambunctious, so I spent most of the Mass with her in the small vestibule, trying to keep her entertained, and also trying to keep her from running back into the sanctuary. I tossed her in the air, a wrestled her, I tickled her, I showed her the stained-glass windows, I dangled her upside-down. In short, she exhausted me.

After Mass there followed immediately after the trunk-or-treat in the parking lot, with coffee, cider, and donutes. I led the kids around from car to car. Not only had they not really finished their costumes, but they hadn’t even brought bags to collect candy. So they filled up their pockets and the plastic bag from JoAnn Fabrics. It worked out reasonably well. None of my kids won the costume competition. Their costumes weren’t really finished, so this was not terribly surprising.

The kids’ piano teacher showed up with her kids, and I had a chance to talk with her. She is a fan of all kinds of different genres of music and so had been impressed that our kids want to learn songs by Simon and Garfunkel, and other elderly-person music. I told her about how I have, basically, two CD collections: one upstairs, with all the CDs that I don’t mind terribly if the kids damage, and more downstairs, more CDs still in boxes. I also told her about my vintage Yamaha DX-7, wondering if she might be interested in trying it out, because it was featured in so many old hit records. She mentioned had heard something recently about the iconic synthesizer that was used for the fake harmonica solo in Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” but didn’t remember the name of it. I told her that the DX-7 was in fact that synthesizer; it was played with a breath controller to make that sound. We talked more, about teaching homeschool groups, participating in homeschool groups, what it’s like to record music rather than perform it live… anyway, she seems cool. I’m hoping she’ll come by sometime and I’ll set up the DX-7 for her to play.

And speaking of more CDs, downstairs…

Philip Glass: The Complete Sony Recordings

I received a package yesterday containing 3 CD sets. I ordered these a couple of weeks ago, because Nixon in China stirred up something in my mind, and ever since hearing it, I’ve been wanting to hear more Philip Glass. I’ve been curious about Satyagraha for years, since reading that Kim Stanley Robinson listened to it a lot while writing the Mars trilogy. And recently after watching some excerpts from a recent performance of Einstein on the Beach, I’ve been intensely curious about that opera as well. I have an old cassette of Glassworks, and once thought of it as one of my favorite albums. In short, I wanted to hear a lot of Philip Glass. Fortunately, there is a lot of Philip Glass. Having looked at a lot of his CDs on eBay, some of which are out of print and a bit scarce, including some rarities like a remixed version of Glassworks, I decided that the most cost-effective way to satisfy my Glass craving was probably just to order a copy of The Complete Sony Recordings.

This is a 24-disc set. That ought to keep me going for some time. Here’s a review.

So I’ve been playing Glassworks for the kids, both on our home stereo and in my car. The special remix for “compact cassette” is a bit of a dud — at least on my first listening, it sounds more like a badly equalized, somewhat muddy version of the original album. But the other stuff, stuff that I’ve really just barely started listening to, is remarkable. The original 4-CD recording of Einstein on the Beach is just stunning. I expected to experience this opera more as an interesting exercise, a kind of hypnotic ordeal to sit through. But this recording, as opposed to the recent video clips of the live performance, make it sound, in a way that I didn’t quite expect, gorgeous. It’s going to take me a while to fully unpack and appreciate the 4-disc Einstein on the Beach, the 3-disc Satyagraha, and the 2-disc Akhnaten, as well as the thirteen other discs in this collection. But I’m sure I’ll be writing about it at length over the next few weeks. It’s a really impressive collection, and fortunately comes with a cool little book to help me wrap my head around all these works; it includes the librettos.

I feel like I’ve been, in a sense, preparing my whole life to listen to the operas of Philip Glass. I first heard Glassworks when I was sixteen. It impressed me right off the bat, and I listned to it a lot back then. But now I don’t think I really heard everything that made Glassworks so beautiful. Forty-five or so years later, an amateur musician myself, I feel like I’m finally ready to really hear it, and the rest of his work.

And… The Cure!

While I was at it, I also picked up two reissued CDs by The Cure: Seventeen Seconds and Faith. I had these back in the day and played them a lot. I think I might have been in Junior High when I first listened to these two records. They are so similar that they feel kind of like one extended album. They were significant to me, and I still appreciate them a lot; Seventeen Seconds still seems like a groundbreaking work, even listening to it after the operas of Philip Glass. So, I’m listening to Philip Glass… and The Cure. I’ll probably have comments about these albums as well in a future post.


While I was finishing up today’s journal entry, and listening to Songs from the Trilogy, an album of excerpts from his three operas, Grace cooked some steaks in a cast-iron pan, deglazed the pan with a little bit of red wine, and sautéed arugula from our friends’ farm in the pan drippings. We ate that, along with a little salad, and tasted another one of the white wines from Costco that I wanted to audition for our upcoming holiday dinners. The arugula was absolutely fantastic. It was harvested very late in the season, which meant that it had quite a pungent flavor. Some of the food our friends grow seems to have a particular affinity for their farm’s soil, and it takes on a wonderful terroir. One of these was radishes. I never really liked eating radishes by theselves or in salad until I ate their radishes, which were delicious enough to polish off like candy. This arugula was another one. What a terrific way to finish out the week — it’s about 1:00 a.m. and we’ll be going to bed in just a few minutes.

The wine is a 2017 Château Reynon Sauvignon Blanc Bordeaux. I think this is the white wine for this year. It’s quite dry, and quite tart — more tart flavor than I usually like in a white wine. But it’s got a long finish, and some oakiness. It’s just altogether more interesting on the palate than the other white wines I’ve tried recently. The tart flavors are more complex than in the other white Bordeaux we tried, the 2014 Château Ferrande Graves. So I think I’m going to end my search and say this is the white we’ll serve this year at our holiday meals. Over the next few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I’ll buy a bottle of this a week. I need to find a few bottles of a good dessert wine, too, like the justifiably popular Traverse City Rieslings.

Elanor is having a meltdown. Benjamin smeared toothpaste all over our space heater. It’s time to get things cleaned up and get on to bed. It’s been a difficult week! But it ended very nicely. And I have hopes that week 44 will be better.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned This Week

  • The Complete Sony Recordings (2016 Boxed Set) by Philip Glass
  • “Rosa” (Doctor Who episode) (NOTE: look up formatting)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Penguin Deluxe – NOTE: look up how I refer to other books in this series bedtime reading in progress)
  • The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton (in progress)
  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (bedtime listening; Joshua’s been reading it out loud)
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (finished)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (in progress)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, October 27th, 2018

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, October 20th, 2018


We had an exceptional dinner last night. Grace made a delicious eggplant lasagna out of the eggplant our friends grew. We baked it in a giant stainless steel baking dish that our friend Joy brought here. We had salad from Costco and baked sweet potatoes and leftover wine. It was a terrific hippie repast. For dessert, Veronica had made two coconut custard pies — basically, an egg custard she made with unsweetened canned coconut cream. She flavored the custard with cinnamon and molasses. We found that we were out of sugar, so molasses was the only sweetener, and unfortunately that didn’t quite work — the custard needed just a little more sweetening. But we’re very happy she’s getting the chance to experiment in the kitchen, and learning how to come up with her own recipes. If we make coconut custard pies again, we’ll try making them a little bit differently.

“The Sound of Silence”

After cleaning up, I went down into the basement and did a little bit of singing. I’ve been working on learning the vocal parts to Simon and Garfunkel’s song “The Sound of Silence.” There are only two parts, so it isn’t that challenging to remember the parts, but my voice is quite rusty. I was singing through my Boss RC-30 Loop Station. I would sing Paul Simon’s part, which is the lower part. It’s pretty simple, as he used a lot of repeating notes, only changing pitch a few times. Then I’d try to sing Art Garfunkel’s part, the well-known melody, over the first part. The melody swoops way up and so it requires a pretty wide range to sing… and I don’t have that. I can almost get there if I warm up for a while first, but I’m still really straining at the top end, so I have to try tricks like dropping an octave halfway when I cross a certain threshold pitch. I can also try dropping the key, but I’m not sure there is any key I can sing that melody in.

Today I found a video on YouTube that includes four tracks. I was imagining that maybe this video contains four tracks from the original multi-track tape because the original was a four-track tape, but I’m not sure that is true. In the comments to the video, the poster linked to five WAVE files on Google drive. These match the four tracks in the video, but there is an extra bass track. Was that one of the tracks on the original multi-track tape? Again, I have more questions than answers. Floating around online are stories that say that the multi-tracks may be lost or unusable, and indeed even the earliest-generation monaural or stereophonic masters may be lost or unusable as well. So what is the pedigree of these four (or five) tracks? I have no idea, but they probably didn’t come from anywhere near as close to the original recording session tapes as I’d like.

Anyway, examining the four tracks in that video:

Track One: Drums and Bass

These may have been recorded together along with one of the electric guitar tracks played in the room at the same time, since there’s audible bleed. It’s a very unremarkable rhythm section, as rhythm sections go.

Track Two: Electric Guitar

There’s a track that contains, I believe, three electric guitar parts; the second and third were probably overdubbed onto the first arpeggio track, which is tricky because you can’t undo mistakes. The first few notes of this track has acoustic guitar arpeggio parts, and then it morphs into the electric guitar part.

The arpeggio part is a good part, as far as the composition goes, but I find the performance questionable. The guitar playing the arpeggio is out of tune, noticeably. Then there are two unremarkable parts layered on top of it, and those two parts seem to be even more badly out of tune. The parts blend especially badly at about the 8:10 mark, near the end. But the worst thing about these overdubbed guitar parts, in my opinion, is that in the final mix, they make it sound like the vocals are drifting out of tune. My ear assumes the tuning of the accompaniment is correct and stable, and so tends to assign blame to the singers. It’s only in isolation that I can hear how bad the electric guitar tracks are.

Rick Beato claims that the guitar tracks were meant to sound dissonant, but I’m not sure I buy that. I think the layers of “bluesy” guitar on the track are just gratuitous and doesn’t actually contribute to the song.

Track Three: Art

The third track is Art Garfunkel’s part. There’s a little bleed with acoustic guitar and Paul Simon’s voice, so they may have recorded these tracks in the same room together, or else maybe it was in his headphones and he was singing along with Paul Simon’s track. Garfunkel is right on pitch and his voice really soars here, with a little vibrato and tremolo. It’s beautiful. I’ve heard that he may have overdubbed another pass, but it’s not really clear to me that he did; it doesn’t sound double-tracked, the way double-tracked vocals sound “thickened.”

Track Four: Paul

The fourth track is Paul Simon singing the low part. It’s a decent performance, in that Simon conveys some emotion to match the emotions in Garfunkel’s tracks. There are definitely some technical flaws, though. Simon’s pitch drifts briefly off-key here and there. It’s very noticeable at about 11:52, on the word “sleeping,” and on the phrase “teach you” at about 13:31, and again at about 14:10 on the word “forming.” I’m not actually writing this to criticize Simon; it’s better than I could do without a little auto-tune. He also plays an acoustic guitar guitar on this track — in fact he recorded his vocal while accompanying himself on guitar, which would make it extra-challenging to get a perfect vocal take. I think there’s also a second acoustic guitar part overdubbed, with some higher chord voicings thrown in here and there.

I always find it pretty fascinating to come across these source tracks for songs I have only heard in their final form. Until reading about this song over the last couple of days, I had always thought that it was Paul Simon singing the melody part — after all, his name comes first in “Simon and Garfunkel,” and Art Garfunkel sang the backing track. It’s just the opposite. And in fact Simon used quite a simple and unassuming backing part that lets Garfunkel’s part stand out.

There’s another interesting video that analyzes the harmony, and demonstrates how hard it is to add a third part which doesn’t inadvertently double any of the notes in the existing two parts; it’s hard to avoid this, because Simon’s part is quite atypical as harmony parts go, with its runs of repeated pitches. It doesn’t follow Garfunkel’s part much as that part moves up and down the scale, but tends to land on just a few notes and stay on them for a while. In the video, Aimee Notle speculates on just why Simon used such a “droning” part. She comes up with the generous interpretation that Simon did it this way in order to fade into the background a bit and let Garfunkel shine.

For my part (ha ha), I think there’s a simpler answer. Those repeating “droning” notes would be relatively easy to hit while playing and standing next to someone who was singing a different series of notes. I know that in the church group I played with a number of years ago, I’d sometimes have to play a guitar part while singing harmony, when everyone around me was singing the melody. That can be tricky, and I found it difficult. Of course, I was no Paul Simon and still am not. But in his early twenties, I think the real Paul Simon probably also found it a little difficult. So it’s my theory that he wrote a deliberately simple part that would be relatively easy for him to sing alongside Art Garfunkel, a part that would let him “anchor” his pitch on a few easy-to-find notes, while splitting his concentration so that he could also play a steady accompaniment on guitar.

In my recent reading about the song, I discovered that the song was initially a flop, but the producer Tom Wilson added the drums, bass, and electric guitars without Simon and Garfunkel’s knowledge or consent. That’s pretty stunning. The original was called “The Sounds of Silence” (plural, which makes more sense given the lyric, where the narrator finds the sound of silence in different places). And to me, it simply sounds a lot better without the extra instruments. In that original version, I can hear the harmonies much more clearly, and nothing sounds badly off-key.

Grace was pretty wiped out today and it took her a long time to get moving. The kids made some oatmeal and I made bacon and scrambled eggs and a pot of tea. We ate some of the 100% rye bread from Mother Loaf and it was terrific. It is a very high-fiber bread, and extremely filling, so we didn’t really regret only buying one pound of it.

I have some news, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned here yet: we have a date scheduled for Grace’s C-section. It’s December 14th, a Friday. That means if Grace’s obstetrician doesn’t decide to intervene earlier, due to problems with Grace’s health, or any worrying signs from the baby, that will be the baby’s birthday. But we know from experience that surprises often happen late in pregnancy.

After breakfast, which was more like a very late lunch, there was kitchen cleanup, kids to shove outside to play on this beautiful Fall day, fights to break up, etc. I haven’t gotten much of anything done today.

Sam is Twelve

It’s Sam’s birthday and he’s twelve years old. We will have a birthday dinner tonight, at his request, and a cake designed to his specifications. That’s how we traditionally celebrate birthdays.

I’m not sure we’ll manage to get a podcast recorded and produced tonight. In fact I’m pretty sure we’re going to blow it again. It’s almost 8:30 and Grace just got back from a grocery run, and cooking is just getting underway now. The kitchen is crowded with kids and our housemate and her boyfriend, but I’d better shut this down and go see what I can do to help.


Well, things went pretty badly last night, to my regret.

Just a few minutes after I wrote the last few words under Sunday’s entry, Grace asked me to come into the kitchen to help her get the cake ready. I found that our housemate was deep-frying chicken wings on the stove and making mashed potatoes for herself, her boyfriend, and her family, while Grace was trying to finish up preparing a three-course meal: greens cooked with a smoked ham hock, sausages, and… mashed potatoes. (Sam had asked for “bangers and mash.”) Everyone was in the kitchen.

She usually cooks before or after we do. But this time she was trying to cook a separate meal, with a dangerous pot of boiling oil on the stove, in the midst of a kitchen already fully occupied; the occupants included several young children who like to grab things on the stove.

Grace did not mind everyone in the kitchen trying to work on things at once, but I lost my cool.

There’s quite a bit of back-story.

I had told our housemate a couple of times that we were planning a birthday dinner for Sam, and that she and her boyfriend and her kids were invited to join us.

Very often, our housemate doesn’t care to eat what we cook, and so makes a separate meal. That’s been an ongoing source of conflict, for several reasons, including the fact that she rarely cleans up after herself. Given that we cook almost all our meals, if someone else messes up the kitchen and promises to clean it up “later,” there’s only really a short “later” before we need to use the kitchen again. So, “cleanup delayed is cleanup denied.” Out of simple necessity, I wind up doing most of the cleanup from those extra meals. That often includes deep-cleaning the oven and stovetop, due to the regular boil-overs and drips and spills that would have been a lot easier to clean up on the fly, before they were burned on.

Very often, she and her boyfriend won’t even clear the dishes from these separate meals, or clean up the food their children spill on the floor while eating these separate meals. So we very often have to do that cleanup too, when we want to eat our own meals.

The time I spend on cleaning up these separate meals is time I don’t have to read my kids a bedtime story, or talk with Grace, or work on a podcast, or do my own reading, or writing. I spend it cleaning up after people who won’t clean up after themselves.

It’s tempting to say or think that I should just leave it until they feel the need clean up — but we’re talking about people whose tolerance for mess seems to have no limit. So I generally give in first, and with her work schedule she was often not even around to ask to clean up after herself.


The details are tedious to recount, but it’s become absurd, and Grace and I can no longer make any sense of her food preferences; we have tried our best to accommodate them. The accommodation never goes the other way, if it requires them to inconvenience themselves or stretch themselves in even the slightest way.

One of my triggers yesterday was sugar cereals. Our housemate insists on bringing products like Cap’n Crunch’s Sprinkled Donut Crunch cereal into our home. The existence of this kind of thing in the house is too much of a temptation for a couple of my younger kids, who tend to steal these sugary foods when adults aren’t looking. It’s easy to say “well, that’s the parent’s fault!” But a three-year-old has simply not developed the parts of his brain necessary for exercising self-control. The machinery just isn’t there yet. It ought to be there in a seven-year-old, but it doesn’t always work.

Anyway, she becomes resentful when our three-year-old, or seven-year-old gets into the pantry or the freezer to get at the sugary foods.

Our response to this is to explain that this is why we don’t bring food like this into the house. I’ll bring a dessert for our Friday evening dinners; it is for consumption that evening, so the kids don’t have to restrain themselves for very long. We really don’t want this kind of food in storage, in the house.

Her response is to tell us that we should beat our kids so they will obey us.

So, we couldn’t convince her; the sugar cereals thus became contraband. She’s smuggle that stuff in, and hide items upstairs.

Well — surprise — bright kids are bright enough to find hiding places.


We have made it a point to celebrate her birthday, and her boyfriend’s birthday, and their children’s birthdays — Grace has made several special meals and special cakes for them, for each birthday as it comes up.

But they weren’t planning to share Sam’s birthday dinner with us, because of this degree of food pickiness that, to us, has become worse and worse over time, until at present it is completely incomprehensible. She told us she couldn’t eat sausages — that sausages made her gag. But she had sausages for breakfast. And speaking of breakfast — I made a lot of scrambled eggs and bacon. But she wouldn’t eat them. She wouldn’t eat the bacon, because she wanted to eat her own sausages. Which she then cooked… in the fat from the bacon. She didn’t want to eat the scrambled eggs I made, but I think she then made her own scrambled eggs… by scrambling some more of the same eggs.

The previous night, we had served pre-made mashed potatoes from Costco. They were very tasty. Her boyfriend wouldn’t eat them. He wanted to boil and mash his own serving potatoes, which he did while we were eating. But he doesn’t really know how to cook, so I had to help him cook his separate potatoes, while we were cleaning up, because if I hadn’t intervened, they would have boiled off all the liquid and burned up up on the stove.

So anyway, the night of Sam’s birthday, she was making a pot of mashed potatoes, from the same potatoes that Grace was cooking, to make a pot of mashed potatoes. I can’t understand why. Maybe she likes them without the skins? Maybe she likes them made slightly differently? But for whatever reason she wasn’t willing to work that out with Grace (and we bend over backwards to accommodate requests). She couldn’t work out sharing a pot of mashed potatoes. She had to make her own, at the same time that we were making mashed potatoes. It’s just gotten incomprehensible. We can’t make any sense of it.

She wasn’t planning to sit down and join us to help celebrate Sam’s birthday. She was planning to feed herself, her boyfriend, and her kids in the kitchen, since we wouldn’t let them take food upstairs, while we ate Sam’s birthday dinner and sang happy birthday for him, a few feet away in the family room.

We didn’t actually need her and her boyfriend and kids to eat the fucking sausages. They were welcome to cook something else. But we did expect them to sit down at the table with us and sing “Happy Birthday” for our child, the way we’ve done for both of them and each of their children.

I think that was another trigger for me — seriously? You can’t even sit with us to help celebrate a child’s birthday, as we did for your birthday, and your children’s birthdays?

So Many Reasons

My rant last night was mostly about food, but there was certainly a lot more pent-up resentment in it — resentment over seven months of annoyances and grievances and carelessness and requests ignored and promises broken. This includes the complete trashing of our upstairs bedroom with food — food stored up there, food eaten up there, our dishes and silverware and glasses vanishing upstairs and not reappearing for weeks — after we asked them from day one not to have food in the room, for sanitary reasons.

In this blog I’ve mentioned the smoking, and the trash left in the driveway and yard. There are a lot more things. There’s insisting on throwing trash in our recycling bin, which means it isn’t picked up, which means I have to dump it out in the driveway and sort out the rotting garbage, with clouds of flies buzzing around. We’ve explained how the trash, recycling, and returnables work in Michigan. But they won’t separate out returnables, either — they almost always wind up in the trash or recycling. Which means that people desperately in need of money are literally throwing money away. I guess that’s some kind of pride issue, because they think only the poorest of the poor return bottles? By comparison to them, I am wealthy, but I’m not too proud to return bottles and cans, at least the ones from my own household. I’m not even too proud to dig through the trash to pick out the returnables they won’t bother with. It all helps, and besides, I just hate the thought of putting glass or aluminum into a landfill.

There are more things still, that I just can’t make sense of.

I constantly remind myself that she had a very different background and upbringing than I did. But then I think about it — the years raised by a single mother, living in a trailer, eligible for social security, with my mom trying to get my father to pay child support, and I think that we ought to have quite a bit in common.

I remind myself that she is still pretty young, and I certainly was not always responsible when I was her age. I remind myself of this especially when I suspect she is just nodding along with what we are asking her to do, with no intention of doing it. It’s just ordinary adolescent behavior. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still maddening. I try not to get worked up about things that are “merely” cultural differences. I try not to see them through the racist lenses that my upbringing gave me. It’s a challenge. Where is the line between taking offense at cultural differences, and taking offense at careless indifference towards others? How can I continue to show compassion and solidarity when I’m “triggered?”

I’m constantly second-guessing my reactions, and swallowing my feelings of resentment reflexively as they arise. I’m constantly asking myself “What if I’m just being racist? Or demonstrating a lack of class consciousness?”

The whole point of our family Catholic worker house was not to be a cafeteria, or a kitchen, or an apartment. It was to live in community. Living in community is often uncomfortable. There’s inevitably some friction. But adults work these things out and figure out how to work together in mutual support.

There’s no “mutual” going on here.

We don’t seem to be able to establish what that even is. Their approaches to inter-personal behavior and work and responsibility, and their relationships to the place they are living, just seems so very, very different from ours that we are really having a hard time finding common ground; the common ground that we expected we would develop over the months of living together.

My months of resentment at the way we’ve been fundamentally unable to come to any stable agreements around how to manage food and meals or, well, anything boiled over, and I just lost it until I was screaming at them as loudly as I could, bellowing about how their garbage food is going to give their children diabetes and rotten teeth, raging about how much food they waste, and how they are spending their scarce cash on junk food in the midst of all the healthy food they could possibly eat.

I did not actually tell them they had to leave, but they left.


After that, I finished assembling the cake — a store-bought angel food cake cut in half and filled with a blueberry compote and topped with a grape-flavored frosting, per Sam’s request. (Store-bought cake was the best we could do, unfortunately, given Grace’s energy level, and how late we were doing everything).

We had a an awkward birthday dinner. The mashed potatoes in particular were delicious, but I could barely taste them. We didn’t light candles. We sang, but it seemed like our hearts weren’t in it.

It was never my intention to ruin my sweet, patient, diligent, twelve-year-old boy’s birthday dinner. I feel pretty terrible about that. I guess it wasn’t ruined, exactly, but the mood was pretty muted. And then we spent the next hour or so talking with the kids about what had happened, because there wasn’t anything else anyone could think about.

I’m not sure what happens next. I’m not even sure what they did next. They all left, and they might have driven to her boyfriend’s mother’s house to sleep, but I’m not sure about that. They may have slept in his car, in the driveway, since I think they were there, in the car, when I left yesterday. But I don’t know for sure. Maybe they came back early this morning and were waiting for me to leave for work before they came in the house.

Grace and I were too wired and upset to go to sleep. So after kitchen cleanup, which was finally finished around midnight, I read Benjamin a Clifford book, and read the older boys the second part of the introduction to The Anatomy of Fascism, and we again talked about what the many terms meant. Grace came to bed after a while, but we stayed up talking until — well, I don’t even know what time it was. It was probably after three. It might have been four.

So, not a great night’s sleep. Sam got up about eight and started humming to himself and putting away the dishes. I got into the bathtub about nine. I didn’t leave our driveway until about 10:00. I needed a coffee. I was quite late to work.

Ground Rules and Solidarity

I’m sure there are lessons to learn from this whole experience, but I don’t think Grace and I are quite ready to unpack them all yet. But there are a few things that it seems like we were in agreement on, when we spoke about all this last night:

  • Our ground rules were important to us.
  • Most of our actual ground rules seemed so inherently obvious to us that we left them unspoken.
  • When these were constantly broken, we tended to believe that our guests had broken them only accidentally.
  • Because of this framing, we’d bring them up apologetically.
  • We never set clearly defined consequences for repeatedly breaking the ground rules.

Grace and I are both so different from our guests, in terms of class and culture and education, that we have had a very hard time understanding pretty much anything about their behavior — we anticipated having some difficulty, but it was much greater than we anticipated. Very often, we just found ourselves literally dumbstruck by their behavior, unable to understand or even really process what we were seeing. And we’d just kind of go blank in such circumstances. “Going blank” generally turned into “ignoring it and hoping it would go away.”

As you can no doubt tell, we’re doing a lot of second-guessing our behavior. Well, at least I am. I think for various reasons Grace is better at maintaining a clear sense of limits and maintaining her equanimity when her limits are challenged. I think part of that is due to her experiences with her family of origin. Her family was in many ways more stable and less less marginalized than mine; she had more community, and more role models.

We’ve been trying to err on the side of constant compassion and forgiveness because it’s not lost on us that they are the more economically vulnerable ones here, and they have suffered a lot of traumas already. In fact my whole intent in agreeing to host our housemate and her children was to give her and her children a chance to decompress and enjoy a little stability in a supportive environment. I don’t think that ever actually happened, for reasons that didn’t have a lot to do with what we were offering. She didn’t ever seem to be able to what we were actually offering, which was mutual support.

Solidarity For Never

One idea I keep coming back to is the idea of solidarity, and how it works, and has to work for community to work. We may literally have just not had enough shared cultural background for this ever to work out. To us, it was obvious that since we weren’t charging rent, we were offering community centered around things other than that financial sort of transaction.

I’m really not sure she ever managed to understand that.

I keep coming back to the idea that eating communally must be the center of any kind of communal life, for both practical and spiritual reasons.

Practically, feeding thirteen people out of one refrigerator and one pantry, in a home with one kitchen, simply required planning, even if only to figure out where the food would be stored and how to stay out of each other’s way. Also practically, our meals together would be pretty much the only time we’d talk with our guest and her family; it was the time we had to raise concerns and work out agreements about all manner of things. It was the time to work on understanding each other. We expected to share meals with reasonable regularity, at least dinners.

And, mostly, that didn’t happen.

Spiritually, meals together are for us a sort of unofficial sacrament. Our housemate is a Christian, but raised in some evangelical Protestant communities with… well, let’s just say the everyday theology she was raised with was apparently different than the Episcopalian and Presbyterian theology Grace and I were raised on. And me, I can barely call myself a functioning Christian, but yet I still try to practice my Christian values.

Again, I’m not sure she or her boyfriend ever understood any of what we are trying to do with our family and community on a spiritual level, even as it manifests around something as basic and practical as a daily meal together; it’s not like we were inviting them to sing hymns or attend hours-long prayer vigils.

And… Stress

Another frustrating and sad aspect to all this is that I feel like I might not have let things get to this point, had we not been so constantly driven to distraction and worry by our own financial situation. But as that situation has dragged on and on, and eaten up most of my available credit, we have found ourselves dangerously tight on money. As the one who manages the money every day, most of that stress falls on me.

Under these circumstances, wasted food (which is wasted money), surprise expenses, emergency expenses, surprise messes, and all the other surprises became kind of “of a piece” to me, all potential triggers for the kind of meltdown I had last night.

I have general strategies to avoid the situations that might stress me beyond my ability to manage that result, but they failed me last night. I didn’t want to go in the kitchen to help with everything going on, but I didn’t want to refuse to help Grace, either, especially once she had asked me. I’m here to help her. But things went very wrong. I have to figure out what that is telling me, and what to do about it.

And I have to work with Grace to see if there’s anything more we can do for our guest and her family, to help ease the transition. We had already asked her to find a way to move out as soon as she was able. It was never in our plans to throw anyone out in this manner. Given our failures in communication and mounting frustrations, I don’t actually have much confidence that it really could have gone any other way. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise; maybe she never really believed that we were getting frustrated with them, at least not enough to do anything about it, until this moment.

To avoid this kind of thing we would have needed to build up that trust and solidarity and community starting on day one, and continue building it, and while we kept trying, we just were unable to get our guests to reciprocate. I’m leaving out the details of a lot of interactions that demonstrated, to me, chronic low-level dishonesty and manipulative behavior. So to me it seems, ultimately, like there really was no solidarity, no “mutual” in “mutual support.” Although early on, it seemed promising.

If we’re to figure out how to avoid disastrous failed attempts at community like this in the future, we’ve got to understand more about how successful Catholic Worker houses function. But I think we’ve also got to try to ensure that the people living with us are willing to work at being in solidarity and community with us, too.

I’m so tired today that I’m dizzy. I haven’t heard any news from home. I got in so late that I won’t get home until about 8:00 this evening.

Stinkbugs are flying around my office today, crawling on my computer screen and my coat and dropping onto my desk. Last fall and winter I was careful not to harm them. This year I’m just throwing them on the floor and stepping on them, stink be damned.


Last night when we got home our guests were there. They didn’t come down all evening, though. I really didn’t want to see them, and the feeling was likely mutual.

I guess we did succeed at achieving something “mutual,” but it sure isn’t support.

I’m still second-guessing myself and asking — did I bring all that poison, distrust, and hostility? But then I remember the constant lying, and tell myself “no.”

Grace has spoken to our guests. They are working on a plan to move out soon.

It’s funny how we actually asked them to leave about six weeks ago, but we haven’t heard about any progress at all towards an actual estimated date, until the day after I blew up at them.

If we have to tiptoe around each other like this until they are finally all moved out, it’s gonna be a real slog for me.

We had steak and salad and got to bed about midnight. I read Benjamin a Little Critter book before bed, but it was getting too late to read a story for the older kids afterwards. I had hoped that we might watch the second episode of Doctor Who, but that didn’t happen; it took us too long to get everything cleaned up. We had to send the kids back down the road with diapers and extra trash, rinse recyclable bottles that were piled up in the laundry room, fold laundry, get a dish load going, hand-wash pots and pans, etc.

The sirloin cap steaks from Costco weren’t as good as they were before. I’m not sure how to account for that. Maybe they weren’t as fresh, since they had been in the refrigerator since Friday. Maybe it just wasn’t as tasty a cut of meat this time. They weren’t as tender as the last ones. We found ourselves wishing for steak sauce.

I wound up leaving my lunch at home again. Maybe I can bring it tomorrow.

There was no news about the proposed rental agreement for our old house yesterday. I’ll ask Grace tonight if she’s heard anything.

I had breakfast at Harvest Moon and got to work at a better time. I didn’t do any reading, but I did work on editing a few more pages of this blog text, from the first quarter.

I’ll make a small Costco run this evening. Maybe we’ll have time to watch Doctor Who.


So, Tuesday night we got through dinner before it was too late, and we managed to watch Doctor Who, although Grace and I were both pretty tired, and so perhaps not at our TV-watching best. I tried to avoid any contact with our housemates. In fact I was feeling myself heading into full-on panic attack territory whenever I saw them — a deeply unpleasant feeling of being unable to catch my breath. Grace and I stayed up talking things out for a while before going to sleep, and that was comforting, and helped.

“The Ghost Monument”

The Doctor and her companions are rescued, extremely improbably, by a spaceship, in what simply must be a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But in a twist, they are rescued by two spaceships, piloted by two contestants in some kind of competition, and so split up. We never really get a good explanation for why the contestants pick them up. In Hitchhiker’s, it happens because the Infinite Improbability Drive, which passes through every point in the Universe, also tends to do things that are extremely improbable along the way. It’s mentioned that the competitors Angstrom and Epzo have picked up “bonuses,” but it’s never mentioned how or why kidnapping people will give them any kind of bonus in the game. At least, I don’t recall hearing any explanation.

The look and feel of these spaceships are heavily Millennium Falcon-ish. They are quite impressive. But the storytelling is a little less than impressive. None of the characters seem to have suffered any harm at all from their brief exposure to hard vacuum. People don’t literally “explode” when briefly exposed to vacuum, but it’s awfully hard on the body. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, in the context of the only vacuum-exposure scene I’ve ever found at all convincing — Bowman’s exposure to vacuum in 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s a very brief nod to some kind of medical procedures, but it isn’t very convincing. Even elsewhere in the Doctor Who continuity, brief exposure to vacuum is shown to have some hard consequences; it blinds the Twelfth Doctor.

There are some decent and funny and entertaining scenes in this show, but none really made me say “wow.” There’s a gag where a cigar saves everyone’s lives, which is pretty funny, but the elements that went into that scene were telegraphed hard in advance, so I wound up knowing exactly how it was going to play out before it happened. It was still pretty funny to have such a Freudian joke in a story about the first female Doctor. At one point the group went running through a corridor in some kind of industrial plant, and I yelled out “Running through corridors! Now it’s finally Doctor Who!”

I think part of the episode’s weakness is that a number of the many plot elements were introduced by “telling,” and never reinforced by “showing.” For example, we’re told that the planet’s water is dangerous because it is filled with flesh-eating micro-organisms. So I was expecting to see this demonstrated at some point, but it never was. When the group repairs the ship, they talk about how they have to align the solar panels, and then we cut to a scene where we hear that they have done it, but we don’t see them doing it. And over the whole course of the story, no one seems to actually become dehydrated, weakened, or even mildly inconvenienced by the supposedly brutal desert planet’s climate.

The episode ends with a touching lesson in coöperation. But later, Grace and I were discussing this scene, and Grace mentioned that it isn’t clear to her why Angstrom decided to help Epzo and share the prize money. I think she has a good point. He wouldn’t have done it for her, and she could really use the whole prize in order to rescue her family members; the original setup suggests that giving up some of her prize money might cost the lives of some of her family members. The ending was touching, but doesn’t really fit very well with the story elements that the script has set up.

The new TARDIS “desktop” (the redesigned interior) does look cool as hell. And I have to admit, we all laughed at the notion that the console now contains a cookie dispenser. Does the TARDIS bake them fresh, though? I mean, wouldn’t time travel play havoc with “best by” dates?

I think I should cosplay the Thirteenth Doctor for Halloween. I’m wondering if I can find the appropriate trench coat, t-shirt, and suspenders.


I was a little bit concerned about Grace, because she woke up in the middle of Tuesday night shivering, and seemed a clammy and slightly feverish. I am not concerned about some kind of minor viral infection. I’m concerned about either something like a full-blown influenza that could leave her dehydrated and in trouble, or even an enterovirus, since she’s around kids so often. In the back of my mind is also the strange aerococcus urinae bacterial infection she had at the end of her pregnancy with Benjamin. But she seemed to feel better during the day yesterday, and was not running a fever at all, and her blood pressure was good. So for now I’m going to assume it was probably just a mild viral infection she was fighting.

The Tahoe Breaks Down

Early Wednesday afternoon Grace sent me a text at work, to tell me that her car, the Tahoe, had abruptly broken down in traffic while she was driving Joshua to the library. So we had a complicated situation. I took half a discretionary day and left work early. But my car only has two seats in it, and she needed to get Joshua home in time for a piano lesson. So she had the towtruck driver meet her there, and arranged for his piano teacher to also meet her there to take Joshua back to the house, while she rode with the driver out to Monro Muffler Brake & Service on Washtenaw near Carpenter. I met her there. They were not able to immediately figure out what was wrong with the truck, so we left it.

I had not eaten lunch and neither had Grace, so we went to the Pho House on Washtenaw for noodles, and talked over some of the things we’re trying to get done.

While we were eating, Monro called. The Tahoe needs a fuel pump. With new spark plugs and wires and fuel injector service, that is going to run about $1,400. We were kind of hoping to spend that money on, among other things, getting our gas boiler serviced so we can turn on the heat. But we told them to go ahead. They said it might be done by the end of the day, or Thursday morning. So that seems promising.

We still have not scheduled duct-cleaning at the old house. It’s just one of the things that we’ve put off to the point of nearly forgetting about it, after the contractor we paid never actually completed the work.

The latest furnace contractor who looked over the old furnace told us that it actually seems to be working reasonably well, and he says the heat exchanger is not cracked. A previous contractor told us that it was unsafe to use and could produce carbon monoxide due to its cracked heat exchanger. It seems like perhaps he was just lying to us. This is the kind of thing we have constantly had to contend with, when dealing with contractors in the Saginaw area. We rarely came across any who seemed trustworthy. I’m not going to claim the contractors in Washtenaw County by comparison are all honest and forthright, because we’ve had some bad experiences working with people here, too, but in Saginaw it was pretty much the rule, and here it seems to be the exception.

But that’s good news in a way — we can get the furnaces up and running in the old house without replacing both of them. Replacing the main furnace will be only about $3,000.

I probably could put $2,000 of that on a credit card and pay a thousand of it in cash. Well, I mean I probably could have done that if the car hadn’t broken down this week. I might still be able to do it using my overdraft line of credit. But I think I’m only willing to do that if we have a signed lease agreement, so that I’m pretty sure we’ll start getting some money in, so that I can pay it off quickly.

We haven’t heard back from our realtor who, when last we heard, was looking over the lease agreement with her attorney.

The latest contractor also told us that no, he couldn’t easily remove the old furnaces from the crawlspace. It has to be done by either busting open a very heavy-duty masonry wall, or by cutting up the pieces of the old furnaces in situ in the crawlspace and pulling them out through the rather small door into the crawlspace. (I suppose tearing open the floor from the family room above might also be an option, but that seems even worse). In any case, he told us, he isn’t equipped to do those things.

So — lots of expenses, and lots of things up in the air.

The kids are asking me about Christmas presents. Well — indirectly. They’ve been asking what we’re going to do for Christmas. I’ve been telling them “we’re going to go to Mass.”

After lunch I took Grace to an ultrasound appointment. The baby looks good. They checked Grace’s temperature and blood pressure — both seemed good. In fact, her blood pressure seems lower than it has been in some time. She thinks that her daily celery-and-apple smoothie is helping to stabilize her blood pressure, since it seems more controlled now than it was when she was just taking her medication. She’s not going to make any changes to her medication regimen at this point, but she’s certainly going to stick with the smoothies, on the grounds that they seem to be helping, and almost certainly aren’t hurting.

Grace and I talked things out a little more last night, trying to unpack all that has been happening with our housemate and her boyfriend, and why I blew up. I still did not want to see them, but most of the sense of panic was gone. I listened to her have a conversation with our housemate, in which she talked out her ongoing concerns about how having junk food in the house encourages Pippin, who already has problems managing his food choices, to basically refuse to eat any healthy food at all, skipping meals and starving himself, in the hopes that he will be able to get his hands on sugary junk food. She also mentioned how, when he hasn’t eaten for too long, he gets low blood sugar, and tends to have a full-on screaming meltdown under stress.

I’ve long known that I am prone not to hyperglycemia, in the form of diabetes, but hypoglycemia. My father is prone to this, too. If either of us goes too long without eating, we get shaky — our hands tremble, we feel weak. And we’re also emotionally shaky — prone to overreactions. Basically, we feel like things happening around us are threatening. I think Pippin has inherited this. Grace’s explanation of Pippin’s behavior brought home to me that on Sunday, when I blew up at our housemate and her boyfriend, I had not eaten for about eight hours, and my late breakfast had been a relatively small meal. I realized that my lack of self-care had been a contributing factor: I had not managed my tendency towards hypoglycemia that day, instead spending my time working on cleaning up the kitchen.

I’m not sure exactly how that works, but I think the mechanism is something like this: I don’t eat, and my body gets shaky. The physical symptoms are a lot like the symptoms my body would be showing if I was having some kind of fear response. In terms of my primitive brain, my body is responding much as it would if a saber-toothed cat was trying to get into my cave to eat me.

This fear response primes my brain to start looking for a cause — something it can identify as the problem, to try to figure out how to make me safe again. The lower-level, more primitive parts of the brain are not really all that good at distinguishing causation from correlation. So they latched on to the situation that was bothering me, and has been bothering me for a long time, and somehow turned that into “this thing is an immediate and serious threat and you must take action.”

I get that this is all manner of fucked-up, but this is my best guess at just why I blew up so badly. It helps explain why sometimes minor chronic stressors like this will abruptly become intolerable to me, when failing to manage my blood sugar has made me more vulnerable.

If Grace indeed was fighting off a virus — and I’ve been feeling like I might be fighting off a virus, as well — that could have played a part in making my body feel like it was under threat. And I’m sure the low-level sleep deprivation didn’t help, nor did the loneliness and boredom I’ve been experiencing at work, nor did my usual seasonal affective disorder. Not that any of this really justifies my reaction, but perhaps it can help me understand what triggers this sort of thing and maybe manage these things better.


We had a Costco pot pie for dinner last night and managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Joshua continued reading George’s Marvelous Medicine out loud. I read a bit more of The Anatomy of Fascism, completing the first chapter and just a bit of the second chapter. The first chapter is terrific. In chapter 2 he starts getting into the real history, and my mind starts to wander a little bit. I need a glossary; he uses a lot of unfamiliar terms. Sometimes I have to read chapters like this several times before I feel like I’ve really understood them.

Grace did not seem feverish last night or this morning. We caught up on sleep and woke up on late. I was slow this morning, deliberately, since I was hoping we’d be able to go pick up the car before I went to work. The shop didn’t call, so we called them. The car wasn’t ready. I had to install one of the fold-up seats in the Element, so that she can use it to drive Joshua and Pippin to choir this afternoon. Her key to my car would not start it, for reasons I don’t quite understand, until we flipped it over and tried again; then it started on the first try. Grace drove me to work. We stopped to get bagels and coffee for me and tea for her, and since we both needed to eat, she just came up to eat with me in the office. I introduced her to three new co-workers who had not yet met her. So I started out the work day very late, which means I’m going to have to stay very late tonight. I don’t have any lunch or dinner food here, so she’s going to bring me something when she is running errands tonight.

Hopefully we’ll be able to pick the car up Friday morning. Friday morning I will have gotten paid, which will make it slightly easier to cover the repair bill — but not that much easier, since most of that paycheck is already committed to next week’s expenses. But it might keep me from taking our checking account below zero and hitting the overdraft line. That’s probably about the best outcome I can hope for next week.

Since moving in February of 2017, we’ve been paying two mortgages every month, along with all the other expenses that go with continuing to own and maintain the old house. This means we’ve been, on average, spending just a little more each month than I take home. We’ve been doing this in the hopes that we will soon be able to get out from under the old house, in a way that won’t destroy my credit rating. But it’s all coming down to the wire. Both of my credit cards are nearly maxed out, and a number of things we’ve been putting off are now becoming urgent. I don’t know exactly how all this is going to play out. We’re still hoping there is some outcome we can get to that winds up with someone living in our magnificent old home, and not just shutting off the water and leaving it to sit vacant through the winter. But there’s honestly not much more we can do.

I’m really hoping that the reason the car isn’t done yet is not because they found a lot more wrong with it. I’m afraid Grace is going to get stranded, unable to start my car. That weird starting problem is something else that needs attention, but I’ve been putting it off because I’ve never been unable to start it after a few tries.

Editing, Editing, Editing

I’m still editing the text of this blog. I’m still working on posts from the first quarter of 2018. In fact, I’ve only just finished a second pass at editing the post from the first week of 2018. At this rate, editing the 2018 posts is going to take a long, long time. I’ve scaled my ambition back a bit; I think I will try to make my first deliverable a book-length manuscript of posts from just the first quarter of 2018. But even that is going to be a lot of work.

I was talking with Grace about this a bit, wondering why I’m doing it. There are some practical reasons: for one thing, I’m figuring out a worfklow that will allow me to turn any of my Markdown content into a book, or at least a book-like manuscript, and that seems valuable. But as for who the audience is for this hypothetical book, or e-book, made from these blog posts — I still can’t answer that.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show, Zaphod Beeblebrox implanted a clue in his own brain to help him figure out the mystery of just who actually runs the galaxy. He reminded his future self that he should go find a man named Zarniwoop. Zaphod explains this to the receptionist in the Hitchhiker’s Guide headquarters:

“Sir, can I ask why you want to see Mr. Zarniwoop?”

“Yeah, I told myself I needed to.”

“Come again, sir?”

“I came to myself in a dream and said ‘Go see Zarniwoop.’ Never heard of the cat before, but I seemed very insistent.”

“Oh, Mr. Beeblebrox, sir, you’re so weird, you should be in pictures!”

“Yeah, baby, and you should be in real life.”

Beeblebrox meets up with Marvin, and then completely fails to convince the elevator to go up. He turns to Marvin:

“Marvin, just get this elevator to go up, will you? We’ve got to get to Zarniwoop!”


“I don’t know, but when I find him, he’d better have one hell of a good reason for me wanting to see him!”

So, dear reader, I hope you have at least one good reason to help explain to me why I have written all this.


Because I got into work very late yesterday, and I didn’t want to take any more discretionary time off than absolutely necessary, I stayed very late last night. Grace came to get me at about a quarter to ten.

I decided that I didn’t really need to eat a late dinner at home, since I wasn’t all that hungry. I ate some cashews, hazelnuts, toasted chick peas, and a few prunes, and drank a couple of glasses of water, and that was good enough.

The kids had done a good job of cleaning up after dinner, so I took them downstairs and let them watch an episode of Ben 10: Alien Force. Benjamin has been asking to see this show for a long time; that, and Castle in the Sky. We keep telling him there is not enough time on a typical week night to watch Castle in the Sky, but Grace told him we had time last night to watch one episode of Ben 10: Alien Force. Of course, the first episode (I think it is called “Ben 10 Returns, Part 1”) is a cliffhanger, so he really, really did not want to stop there.

This morning I was up earlier than usual, so I took a little time to read more of The Ice Schooner. It’s moving along nicely and I am continuing to enjoy it, although I have not quite even reached the halfway point.

Grace told me last night that the car was ready. I had hoped that Grace and I would get out early enough to have breakfast out before picking up the car, but that didn’t really work. So we went to get it, and I paid about $1,500 on my Team One credit card, which has pushed my balance almost to the limit again. I am trying to keep some cash free because I might also have to pay for the total replacement of the main furnace. I’m considering paying for that by writing a check which will overdraw my checking account, hitting our $3,600 overdraft protection by at least $2,000. But it seems like that might at least be possible.

Last night Grace told me about an interaction with our housemate. I’ve mentioned that we wanted to provide a supportive environment for her kids. But for some reason she and her boyfriend refuse almost categorically to allow her girls to play outside in our yard with our kids. We get confusing and contradictory reasons: she doesn’t want them to get their clothes dirty, although her bedroom is right next to a clothes washer and dryer. She’s afraid they’ll get a virus.

Apparently she explained to Grace that her point had been proven, because when one of the girls did go outside for a while, when she came back in, later that evening she was coughing. Grace asked her if she showed any signs of a virus: a runny nose, a fever? No. Grace told her that this is what happens to smokers who exercise — they start to cough. Our housemate thought that was ridiculous, because her daughter isn’t a smoker. Grace reminded her that her daughter is breathing secondhand smoke all the time, and that this isn’t just something people make up — the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke on children, and even adults, are quite real.

I’m not sure she can believe or process that. I’m reminded of the time we told her not to use the downstairs bathroom, because I had a bad enterovirus and had been doing horrible things in the bathroom, and we hadn’t yet had a chance to sanitize it, and enteroviruses are very, very contagious. She either didn’t understand us or didn’t believe us, and so of course she got it too and was then doing equally horrible things in the bathroom at her job. Talking that over with her later, it seemed like she didn’t actually understand what bacteria or viruses were.

So these educational differences that I mentioned are real, and they’re hard for us to even understand or believe.

If you add “home economics” or “meal planning” or “sharing a home, a pantry, a refrigerator, a kitchen, and a dining table” to “secondhand smoke” and “infectious diseases” to a list of “things Grace and I learned from our schooling and our upbringings,” then maybe our housemate’s behavior starts to make a little more sense. At least, that’s the interpretation I’m going to choose to try to believe in, today.

I’ll head to Costco and we’ll have dinner, and maybe we’ll watch “Ben 10 Returns, Part 2” tonight. I really need to start making notes for a podcast episode. I’d like to talk about The Anatomy of Fascism. We again have too much to talk about, but it is not well-organized. That’s not a recipe for a stellar show. We’ll see how the weekend goes. I need to get in touch with the Michigan Department of State, which manages car registrations. We still have not received the sticker and registration for the Tahoe, although I paid for it at the same time I paid for the Element. So it ought to be registered — if Grace is stopped and a police officer looks up the car, it should show up as registered. But we want the sticker and the piece of paper.

I’ve also got to write a bunch of checks, and that’s going to be painful. Most of them are small, but we still have to pay $200 for trash pickup at our old house in Saginaw, since no one else owns it; I’m not sure what will happen if we don’t pay it, but the city might put a lien on the house.

I also checked out the gas bills online. We’re paying a fixed amount, on a budget plan, but our actual bills for the last couple of months have been shockingly high. This means when it comes time to settle up, I’m going to owe them something like an extra thousand dollars. It’s all piling up on me and I’m feeling pretty hopeless about ever getting us to a more secure financial position!


I’m writing today’s entry at about 9:20 p.m. We just got back from Chelsea where we ate dinner at Smokehouse 52 BBQ. Today is my seventeenth wedding anniversary! We didn’t start out the day with a clear plan, but we wanted to get out and do something, even feeling broke and worried about money and stressed. We had a huge meal, including burnt ends and deep-fried pickles for appetizers. I had Nashville hot fried chicken, which lived up to its name, making my nose run and my face turn red. I’ve had it before at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. This was at least as good, if not better. In fact all the food was quite good. The kids had a number of different kid’s meals: chicken tenders, smoked ribs, and pulled pork sandwiches. Grace had a salad with roasted butternut squash, pears, cranberries, walnuts, romaine, and pulled pork with a balsamic vinaigrette and also munched on Elanor’s chicken and waffles, and we brought another takeout serving of chicken and waffles home for our housemate. I also had a pint of Defloured N.E.I.P.A. from Witch’s Hat Brewing Co. in South Lyon. N.E.I.P.A. apparently stands for New England India Pale Ale, which, until today, I didn’t know was a thing. It has orange and grapefruit juice in it, and I thought it was pretty good. Maybe the citrus will help keep me healthy as the weather gets cold.

Personally I’ve never really been able to understand chicken and waffles. It seems to be two meals on the same plate. The fried chicken is good, and the waffles are good, but they don’t seem to really complement each other or go together. So… it’s not that I don’t like the parts of the meal. I just don’t understand why they are combined.

Last night I brought home a load of groceries from Costco as usual, and as we usually do on Friday evenings, we had salmon and salad. I tried a cheap white Bordeaux, a 2014 Chateau Ferrande Graves. I think this is a white wine blend. I really didn’t care for this wine much. On the nose, it is quite musty and yeasty, smelling more of grape skins than grapes. The review notes I’ve seen mention “lemon zest” and it does have some strong citrus notes, but not much else. It is just sour and dry. After letting it breathe for a while, I still didn’t notice much in it that I liked. It’s a pretty color, though. I’ll taste it again in a day or two but I’m not expecting to change my mind. I won’t be buying any more bottles of this one to serve at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. I think it’s just another example of the general problem I always have with the Bordeaux wines that you can get imported into the United States — the good stuff can be incredibly good, but it’s also incredibly expensive. Meanwhile there’s quite a bit of affordable Bordeaux wine available, but the bottles I’ve tried have never been worth drinking.

It was too late to watch a movie and there was a big pile of clean laundry on the bed, so we folded laundry while I read excerpts from The Anatomy of Fascism, and then we got to bed. Grace was feeling exhausted.

Later in the evening our housemate’s youngest child, an eight-month-old, seemed to be having some difficulty with chest congestion and she was concerned about him, so they took him to the Pediatric Emergency Department at St. Joe’s. They noted some congestion but did not think it was very serious. Our housemate was complaining that she and her girls have some sort of a virus. We haven’t seen much of them.

This morning I toasted buttered bagels from Costco and, while Grace ran to Milan to pick up bread from Mother Loaf, made scrambled eggs. The kids had some kind of huge noisy fight before Grace and I were even fully up, so they got KP and had to deep-clean the kitchen and family room. They did that fairly well, so my cleanup work was considerably easier! Grace came back with pan au levain, another small 100% rye loaf, and a couple of bialys. This week’s bialy was made with salami and goat cheese and it was delicious!

It was raining and windy on and off today, and for a while we even had graupel coming down. The temperature kept changing. So we were had-pressed to find a fun outdoor activity for everyone. When it cleared up for a while, we thought we might go for a walk at Rolling Hills Park. But then the weather got bad again. We decided to drive out to our friends’ farm, hoping that the weather would improve. We had an invitation to do some gleaning — to bring home leftover produce. Today was their last CSA pickup. So we went, but we were slow and late at everything today. We didn’t get out there until about 5:00. We filled up the truck with gas and headed out. My musical selection for the drive was Moby’s album Play. Grace and I used to listen to this album a lot; it had come out shortly before we met. Today we were both struck by how much we still enjoy it. It has held up quite well. As we headed West on I-94, we got to see a weird and gorgeous mix of sun and very low clouds in swirling layers as the weather pattern slowly moved through.

They had some leftovers that weren’t picked up for the CSA, and some produce left in the garden. I put Elanor on my back in the backpack baby carrier, but she really hated it, and as soon as I headed out to the garden, the weather got bad again. She did not enjoy being in the carrier in the wind and cold rain, so I took her back inside the barn. We took a bag of hot peppers, a bag of arrugula, and other goodies including three kinds of turnips wqith their greens and some pea shoots. Just a week ago I was marveling at the beautiful rows of rainbow swiss chard, the peppers, and nasturtiums. But earlier this week it got very cold, down into the twenties overnight, and the pepper plants were all wilted, the chard was half-collapsed, and the lovely nasturtiums were compost. What a difference a week makes. The brussels sprouts are still coming along. If things go well there may yet be a nice crop of brussels sprouts. But this has been a strange growing season. I think a lot of our leaves are going to blow off without ever turning colors, although we’ve had a little fall color.

When we left about 6:30, we weren’t quite sure what to do. We were considering having burgers at Culver’s. We were considering just going home and cooking our lamb steaks and roasting some potatoes. But I asked Grace if she could think of anywhere in Chelsea we’d like to eat, and she suggested we try the barbecue place. And we’re glad we did. I have paperwork and bills and writing to work on and more bills and all kinds of things to think about and worry about, but it was great to stop and have a good meal. The kids enjoyed it. The boys are down in the basement watching a few more episodes of Ben 10: Alien Force. It’s now about 10:30 and I just want to read a little bit more of The Ice Schooner and get on to bed with the wonderful woman who has been my wife for seventeen years.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • Play by Moby (1999 album)
  • “Ben 10 Returns, Part 1” (Ben 10: Alien Force Season 1 Episode)
  • “The Ghost Monument” (Doctor Who Series 11 Episode)
  • The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton (in progress)
  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (bedtime listening; Joshua’s been reading it out loud)
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (in progress)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (in progress)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, October 20th, 2018