This morning I was standing in the frozen-foods aisle of the Asia Market, puzzling over which brand of vegetable gyoza I bought last week because the packages all look the same to me and I can’t read Chinese, when the Monkey burst into song. I found this somewhat disconcerting, because she was singing in Chinese, and I don’t speak Chinese, and I had no idea what she was singing about.


Look! A puppy!


That’s Sadie, 7 weeks old when the picture was taken, 9 weeks old now.

She is allowed to sleep on the bed, a privilege neither of our other dogs gained until they were much older, but she snores and rootches and usually ends up in the crate anyway.

She does not like to pee in the rain and will, if dragged outside, squat for an instant then dart back up the steps and, five minutes later, pee on the floor.

She slept in my lap while I drove her home from the breeder listening to Back Porch Music on NPR.

She harrasses the ducks by tracking them around the back yard.

She’s a basset hound, and while I used to think that maybe someday I would have dogs of other breeds, in all likelihood, I will just have a lot of basset hounds. It is probably best just to know your type and stick to it.

Passings, and cheese toast

My grandmother died this morning. To liven the mood I shall tell a story.

When I was about five or six years old, my parents drove me down to the beach for the day where my grandparents were camping. We had lunch, and I (and everyone else) was asked whether I wanted ham and cheese, or peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter and jelly, I said.

Then lunch was served, and I received a piece of cheese toast. Bread, with cheese broiled onto it in the toaster oven so that it was melted and brown. You know what I mean.

But I asked for peanut butter and jelly, I said to my father.

He explained that the cheese toast was a first course, and then we would have our sandwiches.

A first course. My grandmother was fixing lunch for eight or ten people in a camper, and she was serving a first course.

In a camper.

Because, by god, we will be civilized human beings and we will do things are they are supposed to be done.

She was not a gourmet by any standard — her mashed potatoes could cement a house. Nor was she an adventurous eater. She once told a story about eating dinner at a Chinese buffet: normally, she said, she didn’t like Chinese buffets, but this one didn’t have so much Chinese food, and so it was pretty good.

But when she made dinner, good heavens, she made dinner. We had hors d’oeuvres and first courses and half a dozen side dishes and dessert, and a jello salad for every month of the year. There was a precision to her meals; she had a set of rules, and she followed them. No one else cared whether she followed them or even knew quite what they were, but she did it this way because, to her, that was how it was supposed to be done.

Given my propensity to gravitate toward the opposite of what I think I am supposed to do and my continual need to try new things — not to mention my deep love of Chinese food — one might assume that my grandmother and I didn’t have a lot in common.

But watch me get ready for a dinner party or a holiday meal or even the odd Wednesday supper, plan every detail of multiple courses, spend days prepping and cooking, and there she is. Working through me, her spirit inexorably in my genes. Running back and forth to the kitchen getting everything right while the guests are arriving, then stuffing them until they beg for mercy and wonder why in hell I don’t just sit down already.

Because, by god, we will be civilized people, and we will do things are they are supposed to be done.

I hope that wherever she is, they are doing things the right way.


Toby, 1997-2006


Toby, my younger basset hound, died this week. For two weeks his appetite was a little off; for two days he was lethargic and vomited; and his heart stopped an hour after we learned that he had advanced liver cancer. On his last afternoon he chased his tennis ball, sounding joyously. Every day he lived to the fullest, with every ounce of heart and spirit. No one could ask more.

So much has been said in honor of dogs, from Byron to a million weblogs, that there seems little point in adding words to the fray. The only epitaph or eulogy he would want is that he was a good boy. You were a good boy, Toby, and I love you. And I miss you, terribly.


black rat snake

Howdy, neighbor

This gal has taken up residence in my workshop:

black rat snake

Or guy. I asked, but she wasn’t talking.

When I cleaned out the shed Monday after leaving it fallow for a year and a half — with a job and a kid and a novel I’ve had no time for woodworking, can you imagine? — I found eight million mouse turds but no mice. Yeah, I counted. They were everywhere, along with grass seed from a chewed-up bag. Evidence of several mice, but they were gone.

Then Tuesday morning my daughter and I went outside and found a five-foot black rat snake hanging from the tool rack, looking at us. She dropped off and hid in the corner and I thought we had scared her off, but the next afternoon she was back, hanging around the rafters. So now I know what happened to the mice.

Black rat snakes aren’t dangerous — they’ll strike if cornered but they’re constrictors, so their bite isn’t serious, and I think we can leave each other alone. (She flicked her tongue at the flash, but I don’t blame her. I don’t like getting my picture taken, either.) Meanwhile, I no longer have to worry about mice in the workshop. And the kid thinks she’s the coolest thing ever.

Yep, it’s wild kingdom out here.

To my neighbors: A poem

How many times can a man mow his lawn
Before the grass turns brown?
Yes and how many times can he whack his weeds
Before he’s cut them all down?
Yes and how many hours can he spend blowing leaves
Without just moving them around?
The answer, my friend, is too goddamn many.
The answer is too goddamn many.

No s’mores for you

I fenced in the new garden area today, the once-wooded space I looked at two years ago and said, “You know, we could cut down some of those trees and put in some more garden beds!” It was supposed to take six months, but the cutting down of scrubby pines and the hacking away of undergrowth took more effort than I expected, and so here we are two years, an electric chain saw, and a shockingly large brush pile later. But now finally there are five raised beds with seedlings in them, a dozen dwarf cherry trees, and space for a plastic table and chairs and, soon, a fire pit. And the fence, which makes the whole thing look deliberate, instead of a clearing in the woods in which some logs happen to be laid out geometrically. The fence says that I’ve mixed my labor with the land and the land is therefore mine, in a way that John Locke and the whitetail deer are bound to respect.

Of course we don’t want to be ugly about it, so Sweet Babboo planted morning glories all along the fence for the neighbors. We’ll put up some bird feeders for the birds whose cover I tore down, though the several biggest trees are still there, too big for my puny chain saw and too expensive to pay someone else to fell. It is still a pretty rustic space, equal parts English garden and backwoods homestead. We just need to “funk it up,” as Sweet Babboo says, with some handcrafted lawn ornaments, and get something to ward off mosquitoes, and then we’ll be able to sit out there in the evenings and toast s’mores in the fire pit and watch the tomatoes grow. And our neighbors with nice lawns will wonder about the weird people with the ducks and the concrete gargoyles who insist on hanging out in this space with no grass, but it’s the South so they’ll be polite and tell us how nice the morning glories look. But if they don’t sound like they mean it they won’t get any s’mores.

Objets d’farm

On my drive into town each morning I pass a piece of land that was once a working farm. (Nearly all the land I pass was once working farmland, but this piece was quite recently a working farm.) For several years it was posted for sale, until not long ago someone bought it. This land is close enough to two towns that I knew it must be too expensive to farm, and I watched, every day on the way in to work, to see what would happen, whether it would become a hobby farm or be carved up into lots or left as “open space.”

Then a single house went up. There would be no major development here. Then the meadow was mowed again, which was not an improvement; I preferred the wildflowers to backyard-length grass. Last winter a set of paddocks appeared in the cleared area. Now I understood: this was to be a horsey farm.

Sermon for a spring afternoon

Friends, I am here today to tell you that you have sinned.

Now, I don’t pretend to know what is in each of your hearts. But you know what you have done. You have referred to rich desserts, anything called “Death by Chocolate”, as “sinful.” You have forgone the gifts of grape and grain, believing them to be the work of the Devil — as if evil had the power to create! You have believed those purveyors of misery who told you that the pleasures of the body are evil indulgences.