Pushing Appliances to Their Limits

Tonight while we were making dinner, our twenty-six-year-old stove went kaput.

Luckily, just yesterday we got a new toaster since the one we bought in 2003 stopped working the day we got back from vacation.

“What timing!” I thought. Surely we can use the toaster to do some of the tasks we normally delegate to the stove!

Alas! The warnings in the toaster manual make it clear that there’s not much one can do with a toaster besides toasting stuff.


Looks like we’ll be shopping for a new stove instead of heating pots of soup on top of the toaster, and I guess I’ll dry my nails the old-fashioned way.

But I have no idea how I’m going to heat my curtains.

How to build a house in an afternoon.

I share genetics with some very crafty people.

When we were kids, my mom would hand-sew our costumes each Halloween, often creating the patterns herself or dramatically modifying existing patterns to bring into reality the costumes of her imagination—a tree (with a nest and birds on top), a rabbit in a hat, a black widow spider, a butterfly with wings so giant I had to fold them and walk sideways through doorways. Now that she’s no longer winning storybook parades vicariously through her children, my mom newly decorates her dining room table each month to match the holiday or season. Read More

For Your Listening Pleasure

I’ve listened to some great shows in the past couple of weeks, and here are two I wanted to share with you:

Radiolab – Galapagos:

My daughter loves conservation and advocating for endangered animals. Yesterday’s homeschool nature class had a guest botanist named Henry, who took the kids on a 1.5-hour-long walk identifying trees and other plants, and discussing a program in Massachusetts called BioMap2. BioMap2 classifies land in the state to identify areas critical to wildlife species. The hope is that data collected from the BioMap efforts can help inform development decisions so that we can maintain biodiversity and rare species in Massachusetts.

The Radiolab show about the Galapagos asks a related question:

“Is it inevitable that even our most sacred natural landscapes will eventually get swallowed up by humans? And just how far are we willing to go to stop that from happening?”

The class inspired my nine-year-old to begin thinking seriously about what she can do to protect non-human species (which protects humans, too, by the way), and she listened with rapt attention to this Radiolab episode. I’m pleased to find that, so far, she seems energized rather than disheartened by learning about the troubles in our ecosystem.

Moth Radio Hour – Fog of Disbelief by Carl Pillitteri:

Pillitteri recounts his experience inside a nuclear power plant during the 2011 earthquake(s) and tsunami in Japan. I found this story amazing and incredibly moving. It’s interesting that I listened to this story the same day I picked up A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, in which the main character finds a diary washed up on the shore in British Columbia and wonders if it might be flotsam from the tsunami. I really enjoy those moments of serendipity.

If you listen(ed) to these, drop a note and let me know what you think! And if you listened to something awesome recently, leave a comment and let me know. I love listening to awesome stuff!

Nightfall: A Gingerbread Update

Oh, dear! The gingerbread house is under attack!


Darn you, short winter days! We are at the mercy of the gingerbread vampires!

Classic Imperfect Happiness: Mining Meaning

Lately I’ve been thinking even more than usual about what it is I’m passionate about. I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about this, but it turns out I already did, way back in December 2010.

I’ve changed a bit since then; for example, with the help of one particularly understanding friend, I’ve made great progress sloughing off judgmental thoughts about other people’s birth choices. She helped me discover that, although we made essentially opposite choices about birth, we made our choices from a very similar emotional place. I thank her for opening up that empathy in me.

I also think I’ve gotten a little better at crafting a non-wandering blog post, and I no longer obsess about blog stats. But aside from these changes, I think I could have written this post today and had it turn out pretty much the same. (Note: I couldn’t resist editing the original post slightly, just for style, though, not content.)

Just last night, I sat on the sofa wondering what it is I’m passionate about. I don’t have cable, so while this isn’t an uncommon pastime for me, I usually distract myself with a novel before I get too involved in an ultimately frustrating thought process. Then this morning I read Tucker’s post, “Who Am I?” which, aside from the references to sailing, I think I could have written. Read More

Summer Semantics: Pedal, Peddle, Petal

This summer, there’s one homophonous mix-up I’m really enjoying for the images it inspires: pedal boat, peddle boat, and petal boat.

Below I share my definition of each variation for your pleasure (and perhaps to help clear up some confusion):

1) Pedal Boat (also called a pedalo or a paddle boat): A boat one moves—mostly through a scum of the excrement of waterfowl—by powering a paddle wheel through of the pedaling action of one’s feet.

2) Peddle Boat: A boat from which one sells one’s wares, perhaps crustless sandwiches, fizzy drinks, or other refreshments to those who’ve overexerted themselves in their pedal/paddle boats.

3) Petal Boat: A boat made of water flowers and used only by ants or small mice to traverse the scummy pond and recover the remains of the peddle boat refreshments dropped by the pedal boat travelers.

Pedal boats are on the other side of the dock. It was a slow day, so neither peddle boats nor petal boats are visible here.

Pedal boats are on the other side of the dock. It was a slow day, so neither peddle boats nor petal boats are visible here.

What language mix-ups do you find delightful in spite of yourself? Do you, too, enjoy making up definitions? List them or link them in the comments.

Anticipating Super-Heroism

After two days inside our microwave display, this spider suddenly disappeared.


I can only assume that we’re in for a Peter Parker scenario.

That will dramatically change my five-year plan.

New Digs

I’d only planned to change my header image. I found a font I liked, printed out a reference sheet, put on my sun hat, swept the driveway, then knelt in front of my garage and drew my blog title.

With my kids’ help, I took a few photos, and with my kids annoying me because I was burning dinner, I uploaded my images and prepared to enjoy the new header.

But alas! The header on the theme I’ve known and loved for the past three years was too narrow for my cool new image. So, I put some food in front of the children to try and quiet their demands and set to work finding a new theme. If you happened to look at Imperfect Happiness in the past two hours or so, you probably saw a couple of iterations of this as I tried and erred with some of the most promising-looking themes.

Long story short (or more accurately, short story excruciatingly drawn out), my blog’s got a new look for the first time since I first hit “publish.”

What do you think? Did anything disappear that you miss? Is anything still there that really detracts from your blog-reading experience?

Crocheted Cuteness and Friendship Symbiosis

I enjoy crocheting (and to a lesser extent knitting and sewing), but I have a difficult time maintaining enthusiasm for projects that drag on and on. So I make baby clothes. And hats. And dishcloths. And blender scarves. Those all give me something productive to do while I’m watching movies (because heaven forbid I just sit down and watch a movie) but don’t take so long to complete that I’ve got to watch all three Lord of the Rings films plus the entire Harry Potter series before I’m done.

Here’s my latest completed project. Like the sweater I finished in August, this one is from Easy to Crochet Cute Clothes for Kids by Sue Whiting:


This particular sweater took me through A Single Man (twice), Inglourious BasterdsThe Lightning Thief2,000 Miles to Maine (about Appalachian Trail thru-hikers), and the David Rakoff memorial shows on “Fresh Air” and “This American Life.“* I actually don’t crochet that slowly, but I screwed up one sleeve three times and had to keep unraveling it and crocheting it again. The subtitles on Inglourious Basterds also slowed me down a little. (I find it challenging to read and crochet at the same time.)


Detail of the stitch pattern.

This little sweater is for the in utero daughter of a friend in California. I am pleased to announce that she was thrilled to receive it. Unbeknownst to me (until yesterday), she loves getting hand-made sweaters for her kids. Turns out our friendship is symbiotic.

When it came time to wrap and mail this gift, I even went all-out and hemmed the edges of a piece of flannel to make a furoshiki fabric gift wrap that would double as a receiving blanket.

Yeah, it looks kind of like a diaper, but I folded it that way so I’d have a little pouch to put the card into. I got the idea from the book Wrapagami by Jennifer Playford, and it seemed fitting to use Japanese gift wrapping techniques because this is the friend who taught me how to make onigiri and to roll sushi.

Frankly, it all came together so swimmingly, I’m not entirely convinced it was me who did it all. I hope I haven’t spent all of my homemaker capital, though; I still have a kangaroo costume and a lion costume to sew for my kids for Halloween.

*I highly, highly recommend these memorial shows. I love David Rakoff’s writing and his work on “This American Life.” I’m a little surprised at how emotional I am at his passing. I blogged a review of his book Half Empty a while back, if you’re interested in checking that out. It appears that I’ve actually mentioned him in five blog posts, not including my 2010 “Year in Books.” You can find them here, I think, if the link works like I think it should.

Sweet Little Lies

Ice Cream Truck

Ice Cream Truck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My children are running in the yard of a summer day, giggling and digging in the dirt and showing me the worms and bugs they’ve found. The wind shifts and we turn our faces into it, enjoying the heat of the sun and the cool of the breeze against our skin. And then, amid the tweets and caws and chick-a-dee-dee-dees we hear another sound: a thin, mechanical “Turkey in the Straw” punctuated by a saccharin female voice beckoning, “Hello-o!”

It’s the Pied Piper of the summer suburbs: the Ice Cream Truck.

But that is not what my children think.

We—my husband and I—try not to lie to our children. If Santa or the tooth fairy come to visit, it’s clearly in a wink-wink, we’re-all-in-on-the-game kind of way. When the neighbor cats drop little animal “gifts” off, the mice and birds aren’t just sleeping.

But there is one misdirection we’ve perpetrated for our children’s entire lives. When my children hear the siren song of an upbeat “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” played against an electronic drum beat from a grungy vehicle driving down the street, they stop what they’re doing and yell, “The Music Truck!”

The story in our family is this: The Music Truck drives around playing music for people as a pleasant treat on sunny summer days. My children love when the Music Truck comes by. They dance around and hum the tunes. And they defend our neighborhood Music Truck vociferously if I ever compare it unfavorably to those elsewhere. We were visiting my dad in Washington, D.C., and I mentioned that the Music Truck music in his neighborhood was much better than that in our neighborhood and my daughter just about threw down the gauntlet in defense of the tinny little tunes played over the loudspeaker at home in Massachusetts.

Even so, my seven-year-old has started to catch on. “Mommy,” she said in awed tones one day, “did you know that some Music Trucks also sell ice cream?”

But my three-year-old is still happily nestled deep within the myth I’ve woven.

Yesterday, we sat together in the office as I typed up my blog post about savory smoothies. Through the open window came the thrumming, bottom-rumbling bass of a passing car, a very unusual occurrence in our usually staid suburban New England neighborhood. My son dropped the Legos he was playing with and ran to the window.

“Mommy!” he yelled. “It’s the Music Truck!”

And I suppose he’s right.