Month: November 2008

11.30.08 menu

For those who have a prurient interest, here is the menu for the overwhelmingly organic, free range, locally sourced, ambidextrous (carnivore, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free – you all have an oft-replenished seat at my table) feast. Made by my own hands, no shortcuts. Scaled to serve at least sixty:

Bread, cheese, olives, pickles

25 pound turkey
10 pounds mashed potato
Candied sweet potato
Spicy green beans
Brussels sprouts
Beet & cabbage slaw
Green salad
Pasta salad

Apple crumble
Pumpkin pie
Ice cream
Whipped cream

No, I’m not a masochist.


11.26.2008 emotions

Yesterday morning was brilliantly bright and achingly cold – the worst sort of weather for me, since I am both clinically photosensitive and have that pesky “fingers feel like they are about to snap off” disorder.

Trudging from store to store, stall to stall, unable to find not only pumpkins but also new pie tins, cheesecloth, half a dozen other required items, I just lost it, indulging in a moment of quivering dismay.

Much to the irritation of Byron, who instantly took my state as a direct attack, and chastised me.

I burst into tears and said I’m only in trouble because I learned to have emotions!

Charming companion looked startled, then agreed True…. I liked you better when you were a robot.


11.25.2008 pie

Seasonal trauma alert!

I have not been able to find the necessary requirements to make pie.

The farm kids can’t get “eating pumpkin” until the end of the week, and the market square farmers I normally bribe have gone walkabout.

This morning I trekked to Waitrose, savior last year with cans of the good stuff, to no avail.

I’ve now checked every logical local store, every faraway illogical store, all online vendors, and enough of the rest of the country to state that there is no canned pumpkin to be had in jolly ye olde world.

Oh, woe is me!

In desperation I finally tracked down a bulbous green object claiming to be a pumpkin, and will now proceed with the experimental baking required to ascertain if it will work in a pie.

Cause nobody can tell me what it actually is, or what it is for.

Wish me luck.


11.24.2008 debt

Recently I was on a train traveling from France to Germany and had one of those strange moments of floating displacement, looking out the window with amazement and unease and thinking However did this happen?

I certainly was not born to have this life; I was never meant to move more than six miles from the homestead on the northern end of the Kitsap Peninsula.

It occurred to me then that the reason might be simple: my home county had a truly great children’s librarian.

When we were small she read to us with a large dragon puppet on her shoulder. When we were older she made sure that we had access to high quality, challenging books – pushing us to participate in summer reading programs with incentives, yes, but at the same time making sure we knew which books had been banned in other areas, and talking about the underlying issues.

I finished all of the kid and juvenile books (reading alphabetically through the stacks) by age eleven, when she pointed me onward to the classics most suitable to encourage a lifelong reading habit.

Literature was a revelation, the only possible escape from a life mired in the muck of cancer and poverty, before video games and cable television offered quick fixes.

What else did I have going on? Nothing whatsoever: for years I was either in the hospital or sitting on a stack of tires in the back room of a gas station.

Cue maudlin violin music here.

The librarian changed my life, but also other lives through me – even when they were little, my kids read comics, but also the New Yorker. They were denied television and video games in preference for literature, and they are both (while admittedly eccentric) excessively bright and verbal, with vocabularies far beyond many people who have finished a PhD.

My daughter is grown-up now, with a bruising and urgent need to discuss philosophy that often leaves me clutching my hair and moaning.

My son has been a massive P.G. Wodehouse fan since age three, and has recently been on a Louisa May Alcott binge. He is also reading the Anne of Green Gables series – and enjoying it far more than anything published in his lifetime.

Who knows where any of us will end up; the point is, reading books gave us the freedom to go.

I feel a great debt to that modest, determined, rural librarian.

When I went home for the funeral of my namesake the librarian spoke to the assembled crowd, and I would have liked to tell her how much her work meant to me. It just didn’t seem like the right moment, and besides, I suspect we are both too shy for that conversation.


11.22.2008 sleep

The first night of fitful sleep after a ruptured ovarian cyst featured a reunion with Dwayne – hardly surprising, not just because I miss him, but also because his mom was the receptionist for my surgeon at the height of my cancer treatments. She was the first person to see me enter the clinic for each appointment, and the last person we talked to when my mother settled the bill.

Of course I didn’t recognize Dwayne when we met as adults. It took a few years of singing together before we were lounging around at a lingerie-and-glasses breakfast for me to figure out that he was the cute boy who worked at the record store next to my high school. My best friend would drag me over there so she could stare at him while I sighed and looked through the albums. Or wander off to visit the guinea pigs at the pet store.

Oh, memories….

What did we do in the dream? We sat around talking about nothing in particular. My dreams are never very interesting.

Last night I was feeling better physically but that is when I always freak out (the fact that the pain was located directly under the six inch scar on my lower right abdomen did not help matters).

For the most part, I did not sleep, though when I managed to drift off near dawn I experienced a paranoid mixed up return to the Seattle house, which as you may recall was located at the top of the Beacon Hill crack staircase. This was fine with me when it was my daily reality – but my neighbors were always spying on strangers and each other. Those antics caused me way more anxiety than dealing with the whores and junkies.

I did not know Mark Mitchell when we lived in the same city, but happily he turned up in the dream with some houseplants and caustic comments. We sat on the porch mocking the neighbors until my alarm cut off the festivities at 6:30am.

The interesting thing to me is that nobody I’ve ever dated shows up in my dreams, or in any aspect of real life. Whenever I broke up with someone (and I was always the breaker upper) they’re gone – forever – scrubbed from every aspect of my life, including my subconscious.

I can’t even remember their names. But why?

Byron knew me at age twenty-one, when I was still married to someone else, and about to dismantle the first version of my identity. Back then he kind of drifted around in my orbit, yearning but not speaking, watching the mayhem. Our courtship did not happen until a couple of years later.

But he is the only available witness so I asked him why the people who fall in love with me lurk around for years after I break their hearts, hoping for a reconciliation or at least sex, lavishing me with attention and hilarious adventures. And also: why the people who claim to fall in love with me vanish when something goes seriously awry.

The answer: Because you would never be attracted to anyone who would take care of you the way you should be looked after. Oh no. You think chaos is hot. Just look at [long list of thugs, thieves, liars, and killers, though only one rapist]. In fact, you married the two craziest people you could find. Why did you ever bother dating? You would have been better off moving to Kansas and kissing a tornado!

Two hours of sleep over three consecutive nights does not translate to a positive, optimistic view of the world. If only I could take naps!


11.19.2008 sick

I woke up today with an awful belly ache, and it never went away.

Even during one of the best treats available each month, the British Film Institute archival films (this time, ‘Austerity Britain’ – propaganda about coal mines and comprehensive education), I was nearly doubled over with wrenching pain.

This is not the flu, or some kind of easy virus – oh no. Symptoms tally to exactly one option: the rupture of an ovarian cyst.

It happens every few years, but has been sufficiently destructive various physicians have offered to snatch away the ovaries in a prophylactic fashion. You can even see the damage on ultrasound scan, if you ever wish to accompany me to the various appointments intended to identify ovarian cancer before it (some would say inevitably) kills me.

The pain is somewhat unique in that I want to stretch against it – push it away – instead of curling up around the burning center.

Since I am such a practiced patient, I know that there are no relevant treatment options, aside from pain medication, and I’m allergic.

Unless I start to hemorrhage, there is no reason to seek expert advice or go to the hospital.

Knowing that does not in any way translate to comfort or solace.

I hate this. Not because of the pain, but because of what it reminds me of, what it represents, what I can never escape, the way I have to prioritize taking care of the people around me instead of just feeling.

Dissolve in tears? That might be a relief, but I have a kid who needs supper.

I’m sad and sick and very tired.


11.19.2008 mayhem

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre.

One of my pals back in the Seattle remembers the event as the first that truly scared him as a child. The mass suicide is certainly the first international news I can clearly recall from my childhood, though I always had a sense that the world was a dangerous place.

Not a very radical or delusional concept, given the fact that we had three serial killers on the loose in the Northwest. Ted Bundy, Westley Allan Dodd, and The Green River Killer (I’ll never be able to think of him as Gary Ridgway) were active, real threats, not phantom fears.

Even the most innocent activities were fraught with anxiety – I was at Campfire Girls sleepaway camp the summer the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders hit the news.

Of course I also grew up in brutal yet aesthetically ravishing rural poverty. There is a reason Twin Peaks was filmed partly in my hometown. Where I’m from, victim and perpetrator were conflated. Violence was a standard expression of devotion.

I was conditioned to be wary, but also to accept the grim as normal. Why have I always consorted with criminals and killers? That is the life I know. The people who have fallen in love with me start on the pathological liar point in the spectrum, veering out across serial rapist to sociopathic killer.

I didn’t choose them, I just went along with whoever came my way. Though I have always been highly amused by the ensuing antics.

The other day I posted a short, throwaway anecdote about something that happened when I was nineteen. It was (in my opinion) just a funny little memory.

Ten minutes later I erased it.

When I moved to England I was relieved because the risk of custodial kidnap was reduced by the complexity of crossing international borders. When my daughter reached the age of majority the danger vanished entirely.

This does not mean I am safe, since I was informed – with a loaded gun at my temple – that a certain person would be much happier if I were dead. At the time I was exasperated, and the years have not tempered my response.

I was never afraid. I just accepted the facts of the case.

I am widely and correctly perceived to be a cold-hearted bitch, but the truth is: I am too tolerant of mayhem, too entranced by trouble. I moved far from my home to raise my children with a different set of values.

It is hardly surprising that I struggle to make polite conversation at Cambridge dinner parties.


11.18.2008 misery

Another misery memoir is front page news, challenged as lies! Fun!

I am amused; although my intention in writing Lessons in Taxidermy was to subvert the genre, I was extremely careful to use only those facts that could be verified by medical records, school reports, court documents, and newspaper accounts. I can prove my claims.

While it is true that I could have written several books from the same source materials, my family declined to participate and I took that as a big flashing danger sign to avoid intruding on any portion of the history that would distress them. Or they are dead and beyond either testifying or caring – but that is another matter entirely.

Without the contribution of witnesses I did not think it safe to rely on my own memories as fully accurate – since I was in horrendous pain, often drugged, and very young.

Wherever I am fanciful in the book, it is presented as exactly that – the whimsy of a childish imagination. Since I was, in fact, a child.

Yes, truth is subjective – but childhood is even more so.


11.16.2008 entertainment

Every year the lighting of the Cambridge Christmas tree at the Guildhall features a master of ceremonies from the entertainment industry.

The last time I attended Stella and Al were visiting and we stood around in the sparsely populated, freezing market square to watch  The Damned laughing as they hit the button to illuminate our wintry lives.

Controversial, that. Santa even wrote a letter of protest to the newspaper.

Tonight I stood in a massive crowd, elbowing shrieking girls as they crowded too close, to watch the ceremony. I had no clue who would come on stage, and was mildly interested given the size and excited nature of the crowd.

Over the last few weeks the city has been buzzing with all sorts of elaborate tributes to Syd Barrett since he died and can no longer object to such things.

I was assuming the evening would continue in that direction – or at least feature something worthwhile, given the giddy anticipation all around me.

And it was…. some random girl voted off the X Factor.

End times, people. End times.


11.14.2008 turkey

This will be the first year without overseas visitors for Thanksgiving. Translation: Bee Does Everything Her Own Self. From shopping to cooking to cleaning up after (including the inevitable expulsion of drunken guests near dawn).

For, on average, fifty people. Though the numbers may climb higher than that.

I decided to cancel.

Upon hearing this, various friends rushed to offer help – and I even believe the London contingent are sincere! Though I suspect people just want my pie.

Regardless, it seems I only needed a little stroking, because my enthusiasm revived, even knowing that I will in fact get about 1% more help than the previous 0 I had been counting on.

Tonight I ordered the bird – very exciting!

My fancy literary agent wrote to say I just had a vision of you cycling home with your trailer containing the world’s biggest turkey!

Locals will in fact have the option of watching me slog back and forth across the city with vast piles of food. Lucky my bike cart can handle the load, even if I routinely fall over!


11.11.2008 talk

Today I went to see Salt of the Earth and it was amazing to watch on the big screen – if you have the chance, definitely go to a theatre to view it.

Of course I alternated between tears and maniacal suppressed laughter while all the elderly posh people around me watched with sober attention. But hey – I’m allowed – I am legitimately working class.

When the movie ended I turned to my kid and said You won’t remember, but that is how people talk where we come from.

Not the accent, but the attitude.

Then I resisted delivering extensive lectures about the history of labor organizing, life in the company towns of the Pacific Northwest, and the Centralia Massacre.

Instead, I walked around humming songs I have not performed for nearly eight years.


Union Maid
Original source: Woody Guthrie
As interpreted by the Amalgamated Everlasting Union Chorus Local 824

There once was a union maid
Who never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks
And deputy sheriffs who made the raid
She went to the union hall
When a meeting it was called
And when the company boys came round
She always stood her ground

Oh you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ with the union
I’m stickin’ with the union, I’m stickin’ with the union
Oh you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ with the union
I’m stickin’ with the union til the day I die

This union maid was wise
To the tricks of the company spies
She’d never be fooled by the company stools
She’d always organize the guys
She’d always get her way
When she struck for higher pay
She’d show her card to the company guard
And this is what she’d say


When the union boys they seen
This badass union queen
Stand up and sing in the deputy’s face
They laughed and yelled all over the place
And you know what they done?
Those two gun company thugs?
When they heard this union song
They tucked their tails and run!


A woman’s life is hard
Even with a union card
She’s got to stand on her own two feet
And not be a servant to the male elite
We’ve got to take a stand
Keep working hand in hand
‘Cause there’s a job that’s gotta be done
And a fight that must be won!

Oh you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ with the union
I’m stickin’ with the union, I’m stickin’ with the union
Oh you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ with the union
I’m stickin’ with the union til the day I die!


11.10.2008 privileges

I do not have university library privileges, because acquiring them would involve extracting a letter from my publisher verifying that I am working on a relevant project. The trouble with that is, well, I’m not.

Completely aside from the fact that it is already hard enough getting royalties out of the people who have published my books, let alone affidavits.

This might be tolerable except our central public library closed years ago for “renovations.” In the meanwhile (and the amount of time is predicted to be much longer than anyone admitted before they knocked down the walls) we commoners are expected to make do with a bookmobile parked in the market square during odd hours.

Today I urgently needed a reference that could not be located online. I know exactly where the book sat in the stacks when the library was open, but of course it could not be extracted from the bookmobile, or a branch, unless I ordered it – and that wasn’t fast enough.

In the midst of my horrifying skirt shopping experience I dropped in the various bookstores without much hope, and my expectations proved correct: the title is out of print.

Bookstore staff informed me that it is easier and faster to order from Amazon resellers than use local resources to solve the problem.

There are many elements of life in Portland that I did not fully appreciate at the time – the wondrous downtown library, of course, but also the vast resource that is Powell’s. The obscure UK title I am seeking? It is, according to a quick search, sitting on a shelf in the Burnside store, priced at $8.50.


11.10.2008 skirt

After the surgery five years ago I was left with several asymmetrical scars dictating:

1. I could not wear clothes that came into contact with the incisions.


2. I did not own any clothes that did not come into contact with the incisions.

This meant I had to shuffle around in shapeless ratty yoga pants and tshirts, but also could not wear tights – oh no!

I did not own socks, nor would I ever consider wearing that category of garment unless a major illness dictated the choice.

That week I went and bought my first and last pair of the decade, and they have valiantly persevered, traveling with me across cities, states, and continents as early morning foot protection gear- until this week, when they rapidly became more hole than hosiery.

Four days ago I ventured forth and bought a replacement set of knitted niceness, but it was a perilous process. Mark Mitchell can attest that I do not enjoy shopping; in fact, the experience takes on nightmare proportions, for me and everyone else who has to participate.

Heck, I don’t even like bookstores let alone the rest of the options on offer!

Yet I persevered, then retired in a state of exhaustion.

Then guess what – just guess? Yeah, I knew you saw this one coming…. my beloved and only skirt died.

What is actually worse than shopping for a skirt? I do not know. Maybe the jokes made by friends about chasing skirt. Regardless, my cupboards yielded only a poplin pinstripe option, and you know, that kind of thing is not exactly suitable for people who muck around with boat engines and bicycles on muddy riverbanks.

Today I trudged around the city in a desultory fashion and finally, after long and painful effort, found a reasonable plain option that fits – hurray!

Except it was raining, and I was wearing the hat bought in a moment of desperation in Seattle three years ago with Jeffrey, when we dashed into a haberdashery to escape a rainstorm.

The new skirt is quite nice – but it also has buttons up the front and pockets at each hip. Way too Sixteen Candles.

What next – pastels??


11.9.2008 legerdemain

There are some people I see or hear from only every few years, without disrupting our friendship in any way – that is just how the time is organized.

I moved to the other side of the world, I’m not an especially good correspondent, I never talk on the telephone, I prefer to be alone most of the time – I presume that most failings in communication are my own, and thank those friends who do not take the distance and silence personally.

Certainly it does not bother me when other people act in the same way; if our relationship was based on singing together in a defunct chorus, or sitting around on stoops in a neighborhood I left six years ago, or more cryptic excursions, it makes sense that we have drifted. The sheer delight I feel when I see them again is genuine, and true, even when they do not reciprocate.

Last year I ran into Patrice on a sidewalk in Seattle and we only talked for about five minutes but the whole thing was a vivid and important part of my summer.

When I finally caught up with Dwayne at a party at the 19th Street House in Portland I marched over and exclaimed I miss you!

He looked away and answered I know.

We have too much history and genuine affection to abandon the friendship, even if he has relegated me to some kind of emotional deep freeze. I miss him, and I wish that the complications of life could bring us together instead of pushing us apart. If he chooses otherwise  I would never impose myself. His choice is his own.

There are other stateside friends who, by virtue of the internet, remain connected on a daily and sometimes even hourly basis. As a direct result, I notice their absence more than I would the disappearance of the less technologically adept.

Sometimes there is a reason clearly defined or at least guessed at: I’ve been outrageous and offensive, I’ve cancelled a book contract, I’ve rejected a declaration of love. Other times, there is absolutely nothing – and that is when I get worried.

One of my devoted friends vanished a few months ago. No text messages, no social media, no nothing.

Given that I had not committed a discernible friendship crime, aside from being stuck here over the summer, I was actively distressed and wondering.

Recently the person in question finally sent a message: I’m in rehab.

Somewhere around my seventeenth birthday I decided that there was only room in my life for one junkie. That spot was claimed by my aunt until quite recently, and I have repelled all further offers with the defense of the quota system.

On the day of her funeral I allowed someone else to sneak up and grab the spot.

I’ve never paid much attention to addiction lore, literature, legerdemain. Yes, I grew up with junkies, and no, I won’t accept those transgressions and imputations as part of my life.

When this kind of thing is a normal part of your routine and history and you hear that someone with major chemical dependencies (and all the mental health problems that likely contributed to or expanded the condition) is in rehab, you think Oh, good, he/she is alive!

Or you think When will he/she die already? – depending on what you have invested in thoughts, dollars, and despair.

This friend has never hurt me in any way. In fact, he has adored and cajoled and enhanced my life. I am completely committed to supporting him and sticking around even when it isn’t easy.

Still, I did not and will not ask what precipitated this spell in rehab, and do not care if it was a minor slip-up, a major binge, or a transcontinental nightmare Bacchanal.

Instead I asked Will you still be able to vote?!


11.8.2008 wishes

This is the second year in a row I’m missing the Jeffrey birthday festivities – oh no!

Jeffrey has been a dear and true friend through all manner of disorder and hilarity, and I miss him. He is adorable, sweet, sarcastic, and sings opera in the shower (not to mention on the professional stage).

He is also one of the few people who would ever dare bite me. What more could you ask for in a friend?

Happy birthday wishes to him!


11.5.2008 symbolic

Tonight on my doorstep (or whatever they call it on a boat):

Fun fair, fireworks, twenty-five thousand people, and a massive bonfire. Too exciting for words!

This holiday is pretty gosh darn interesting given the historic and symbolic framework: religious recusants, confessions extracted under torture, a bloody and public execution, and centuries of yearly celebrations including the symbolic torching of people of faith.

Of course, schools no longer teach the whole poem. So here you go:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!


11.5.2008 optimistic

I went to the Cambridge Student Union, location of many historic debates (like Should women be granted the vote?) to watch the election returns with an unruly mob of drunken undergrads, Americans, and the occasional intellectual.

My little crew mainly consisted of mad scientists but Jean showed up after midnight with his friend, a German academic with tattoos – shocking! The boys dragged at our shirts and we both revealed too much decorated skin, a very unusual experience in that context.

I had an entertaining hours-long discussion with an economist ranging across matters political and fiscal and dietary (he has a gluten allergy).

Cambridge is in many ways an awful place to live, but the scene at the Union (including a drinks queue of at least a hundred people respectfully jostling for position in that special way that Brits do) sums up everything that is good about the city.

Several strangers, upon hearing my accent, thanked me for voting – a delightful addition to any evening, but especially nice given the harsh way my obvious American-ness has been regarded by many people over the years in this town.

Though I was not happy to be cornered by a television news crew.

Yes, I look theatrical, but really, I do not give good soundbite. When asked by a chipper blonde person why everyone was so excited I replied in typically testy fashion I have no idea, and find the phenomenon annoying.

She blinked and tried to extract a better quote but I was unyielding, admitting only to an interest in the gubernatorial race in my home state.

I doubt my comments made the edit for the evening news this time around, but plaintively ask once again, why me? Every freaking thing I’ve done since age ten ends with a camera in my face and I do not seek the attention.

Jean laughed hysterically and disputed my complaint so I thumped him in the chest, but we held hands and enjoyed the absolutely bizarre spectacle as the votes were tallied.

I didn’t think it could or would happen, right up to the moment I watched the acceptance speech.

I’m still cynical, and predict massive disappointments ahead, but – how amazing.

Today I’m celebrating the election results by eating a grilled cheese sandwich with ketchup and pickles (or as they call them here, ‘cocktail gherkins’) and pondering big questions like Does this mean I can move back home now?

The answer is, obviously, no. Or at least, not yet.

It will take more than one rousing speech to fix the systemic problems that forced the decision to move to a country with socialized medicine.

Though I feel a lot more optimistic about incremental and small reforms than I have since, oh, the Carter administration. When I was so young I used to play with an Amy Peanut doll.


11.4.2008 hard

A couple of weeks ago my son had to have two teeth extracted because they stubbornly refused to go, no matter how often wiggled.

He had resisted for months, but after the procedure conducted in the kind and cheerful environs of an NHS dentist, he walked away and marveled That wasn’t hard at all!

This was in reference to the last time, when he was assaulted, face bashed into a brick wall, at age six. During the course of a supposedly normal day at the happy hippie alternative school in Seattle.

That day, the handsomely compensated stateside dentist held him down with brutal and callous force as the boy screamed and writhed against the injustice. Three ruined teeth were yanked out.

This afternoon he poked at one of his other teeth and it came away cleanly without professional or thuggish intervention…. hurray!

We went over to the farm store to pick up supper and they asked who we hope will win. We replied in unison Obama!


11.3.2008 food

Ten years ago I didn’t even know how to chop garlic, nor did I care to try. My explicit domestic policies included the refrain I do not cook, or clean, or care. When challenged by a family member I would frown and reply I’m not your housekeeper – I already have a job!

In my mid-twenties Polly predicted I would have an epiphany and be a master chef by age forty, but I always scoffed. Stella later spent a good number of years trying to teach me, supplying tempting treats and training and cookbooks, but again – I never made much progress.

I loved our champagne breakfasts on the beach, but had no inherent capacity to learn how to recreate the experience.

This makes sense since I lacked a sense of smell; food made almost no impression… because I couldn’t taste it.

Right around the time my olfactory capacities were restored I moved to the International District of Seattle, had money for the first time in my adult life. I discovered sushi, the burrito bus, pho, Vietnamese delis, all the wonders of the culinary world that had formerly been beyond imagining.

One year later I moved to a very odd corner of England, where the food lives up to all the bad stereotypes you have ever encountered in the media.

It is true that I have had excellent meals in London, Oxford, Edinburgh, and Bristol. Heck, I’ve even had good food in Margate and Cromer. I recently visited an awesome outdoor market in Norwich – there are high quality options for food in all sorts of unexpected places.

Cambridge is just the city where I live and shop, and thus the place I feel the pleasures and perils of both most keenly. The fact that this particular city fails so spectacularly cannot easily be explained – even my bougie or decadent friends are uneasy when pressed to name a restaurant that is truly worth spending the money on.

This is good in the sense that we all save a lot of money, and inevitably throw more dinner parties.

However. It isn’t just hard to find good salsa; it is nearly impossible to find the constituent elements to make it. Ditto nearly all the staple ingredients I was accustomed to, even in the bland years of greens and tofu.

I’m lucky enough to have the money to scamper off to Rome or Paris or Barcelona (flying to another city is literally cheaper than dinner at the only good local restaurant) when I start to crave the simple delicious foods that Europe offers. Those adventures have been great fun.

But during the course of an average day, I have had to start from scratch, learning not just basic cooking techniques but also conquering major barriers like, you know, the metric system. Four years and four months into this experiment, I still can’t tell you the difference between a gram or kilogram, and I have no idea why some foods are weighed while others are measured, yet I have persevered.

Thanksgiving was of course the main challenge, and Stella came one year to help, Marisa another. Then I was on my own, and somehow managed to pull it off, right down to bribing farmers to scour the countryside for a bird and a pumpkin.

Then I extrapolated that to baking chickens, and making stock, and even soup – loathed all these decades – then tortillas, and onward!

Last night without any particular effort I made a four course dinner featuring a reasonably authentic chili con carne Byron swore was the best meal ever served in England!

I’m sure the compliment was excessive, but it is a dish otherwise not available in any legitimate form on this quadrant of the green island. I’m not bragging – I am, instead, surprised. My mother can assure you that I could barely make toast and certainly didn’t even knew how to cook an egg when I left home.

Of course I still stand by the premise that I am not a servant and will only cook for my own idiosyncratic pleasures, regardless of any other factors.

The fact that I learned how without paying all that much attention is baffling.


11.2.2008 adhesions

Five years ago I was in the hospital with acute cholecystitis and cholelithiasis exacerbated by existing abdominal adhesions.

In other words, my gallbladder was strangled and killed by scar tissue as the delayed result of a massive gangrenous infection (you know, the one that technically killed me). The ensuing secondary drama was fairly, um, serious. Though it seemed easy-peasy compared to previous invasive procedures. I had anesthesia, at least!

When I woke up the surgeon reported that what should have been a diseased or distressed organ had in fact been reduced to black sludge.

Hurray for five years without continuing complications! Hurray for five years without surgeries (if you ignore the biopsy regimen, shh)!

Though I haven’t been able to drink coffee since.

I definitely miss it.


11.1.2008 practical

One of the best features of Cambridge is the farm store, and today they celebrated their second anniversary.

I popped over to eat cake, buy yummy fruit and veg, and wish them well.

These kids are easily some of my favorite people in all of the UK, and contribute to my day in countless practical ways!