gifts for jigsaw puzzlers

A ha-ha funny one: Piecework Puzzles Meta 1,000 piece puzzle.
Akihiro Woodworks Jin cup for sustaining sips of something warm close at hand.
Keen Hsu's LED lantern speaker, to shine a little extra light and gently amplify the soothing voices of podcasters.
Akron St. Ko low table—paired with meditation cushions or floor pillows, the tray top makes it perfect for puzzle work.
One for collectors: Liberty Puzzles "Flutter By," 290 pieces with assorted whimsies (pieces cut out in the shapes of recognizable things, like caterpillars and dancers).
A puzzle disguised as a novel/a novel disguised as a puzzle: a first edition of Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch.
Shearling moccasin clogs (fuzzy slippers are always useful).
An enamelware bake set that doubles as sorting strays for puzzle pieces (or some less-costly butcher tray palettes).
Bode quilt jacket (each one is a wearable, covetable work of art).
Perfectly pieced earrings by Grainne Morton.
A snack that keeps your hands clean: old-fashioned bourbon cocktail lollipops by A Secret Forest.
The gift of infinite options: a puzzle without end—"no fixed shape, no starting point, and no edges."

gifts for practical and fanciful four-year-olds


A cheery Duckhead umbrella to brighten rainy days.
Bluebird hankies from Poketo to dry tears and wipe noses.
Hammer time! Haba tap-and-tack.
For practicing wobbly letters: a Musgrave Choo-choo Jumbo pencil and an all-weather reporter's notebook.
Grimms blocks magnets paired with a magnetic tray/pizza pan/cookie sheet to pass the time on long drives.
For the child entranced by technology: an old-school cassette recorder with enticing buttons to push and fascinating tape mechanics (or the more kiddo-friendly Lil Mib voice recorder).
Harlekin spinning tops: a perfect, pocketable amusement.
For newly independent brushers: a toothbrushing timer, to help keep those pearly whites nice and clean.
Squishable, sparkly rainbows: Land of Dough swirly glitter dough (with semi-guilt-free biodegradable glitter) or a kit to mix up a batch of your own. (In stock at Fox & Kit.)
Manitobah mukluks for keeping small toes toasty and dry on wintery days. (I have a pair in grown-up size; they are marvelous.) Mittens on a string are a good idea, too.
A maybe-magical balm for "poetic badgers and other restless wanderers." (My kiddo loves this stuff.)

'we are saying thank you'

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin, from "Thanks."


Originally posted 11/20/2018.


Other thankful thoughts: radical dowdiness, doing as the crucial thing, awful appetites, and grace.

'of such half thoughts is history made'

No centuries-long continuity emerged from that 1621 meet-up. New Englanders certainly celebrated Thanksgivings—often in both fall and spring—but they were of the fasting-and-prayer variety. Notable examples took place in 1637 and 1676, following bloody victories over Native people. To mark the second occasion, the Plymouth men mounted the head of Ousamequin’s son Pumetacom above their town on a pike, where it remained for two decades, while his dismembered and unburied body decomposed. The less brutal holiday that we celebrate today took shape two centuries later, as an effort to entrench an imagined American community. In 1841, the Reverend Alexander Young explicitly linked three things: the 1621 “rejoicing,” the tradition of autumnal harvest festivals, and the name Thanksgiving. He did so in a four-line throwaway gesture and a one-line footnote. Of such half thoughts is history made.

Philip Deloria, "The Invention of Thanksgiving." The New Yorker, 11/18/2019.

imaginary outfit: monday

Check email; ask about proofreading gigs, update spreadsheets. Pick up kid from preschool. Stop at the big box store; look for a drying rack to corral muddy snowpants and wet mittens. Lunch; something in the freezer? Rake leaves; call grandparents. Text check-ins: pals, sister, parents. Library? Dinner: ground turkey in the fridge; sweet potatoes are still good, hopefully. Kiddo bath, book, bed. Scrabble until bedtime.

Teleport to unfamiliar walkable city with large, airy library. Request stack of books on a random theme: rock collections, the Holy Roman Empire, women in silent films, etc. Take notes. Stroll; find a strange little house museum celebrating an obscure personage. Wander through, admiring Latin mottos on floral china plates, hand-painted wallpaper, and cracked-leather Chesterfields. Wind up at dim publike bar. Summon Sean and Hugh via teleportation for warming meal of French onion soup and cheeseburgers. Arrive home. Kiddo bath, book, bed. Scrabble until bedtime.


'spooky action is real'

Photograph by Ann Parker from Ephemeral Folk Figures: Scarecrows, Harvest Figures, and Snowmen by Avon Neal and Ann Parker, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. NY, 1969. Image found at Family Business.


I reached out my hand; thought and memory flew out of my enemies' heads like a flock of starlings;
My enemies crumpled like empty sacks.
I came to them out of mists and rain;
I came to them in dreams at midnight;
I came to them in a flock of ravens that filled a northern sky at dawn;
When they thought themselves safe I came to them in a cry that broke the silence of a winter wood ...

Susana Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell.

Detail from the left panel of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1510.


June Crisfield Chapman: Mrs. Ogmore Pritchard and Her Two Ghostly Husbands, ca. 1960s.


Excerpt from Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood." (Listen here.)


A grandmother's prediction machine, ca. 1929-1932.


Ginseng root.


Eadweard Muybridge: Animal locomotion, plate 535, 1887.

‘It makes me creep to think of it even now,’ she said. ‘I woke up, all at once, with that dreadful feeling as if something were going to happen, you know! I was wide awake, and hearing every little strange sound for miles around, it seemed to me. There are so many strange little noises in the country for all it is so still.’

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Giant Wistaria." Quoted at Cunning Folk in an interview with Melissa Edmundson, editor of Women's Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890-1940. 

The Times reported in 2005 that a property developer in Perthshire, Scotland, had been prevented from breaking the ground for some houses on land he had acquired because there was a fairy stone standing on it. Local people were seriously protesting against its removal: the rock was ancient, it covered the entrance to a fairy fort or hill, and it was extremely unlucky to move any such ancient monuments because the fairies would be upset… and take their revenge. The Times reporters joked, dubbing the locals’ beliefs “MacFeng shui”. They quoted the chairman of the local council with responsibility for granting planning permission: “‘I believe in fairies,’ she said, ‘but I can’t be sure they live under that rock.’ For her, the rock had historical and sacred importance because it was connected to the Picts and their kings had been crowned there.” 
The builder’s bulldozers were stopped; since then, there has been no more news from St Fillan’s Perthshire.

Marina Warner, "The Man Who Taught Us to Believe in Fairies." The New Statesman, 7/3/2019.

It’s a recurring motif in folk horror that the countryside beckons to the characters as a place of hope. That events often culminate in graphic violence is a given: this is horror, after all. What is more interesting is the way in which these stories show how we’re seduced by the idea that the natural world is where we’ll find some kind of restoration, enlightenment and, ultimately, peace.

Andrew Michael Hurley, "Devils and debauchery: why we love to be scared by folk horror." The Guardian, 10/28/2019. 

(Skip Midsommar, unless you really like flower crowns and hate grad students—it was too long and not scary; watch the deeply creepy 1973 Wicker Man instead.)



Marianne Moore's fairy tales: "A wily cat, a strange romance, detestable daughters ..."

Hokusai directs his attention away from the Japanese landscapes he was most famous for depicting, inwards towards a realm of vengeful ghosts and demonic cannibals ... The series is fruit of the tradition Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai [A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales], where Japanese friends would meet to share fantastically frightening tales from folklore and their own experience. Having lit a hundred candles, they would give their blood-curdling accounts, one by one, blowing out a candle after each, plunging themselves deeper into darkness. Upon the last candle going out, a spirit was said to appear.

The Public Domain Review, "Hokusai’s Ghost Stories (ca. 1830)."


odds and ends / 10.29.2019

Filed under images that make a strong case for pink walls and objets galore: Stephen Kent Johnson's photographs of Gertrude Whitney's art studio at The Cut.


A wearable garden: Henrik Vibskov pumpkin blouse layered over pollen turtleneck at No. 6.


Something to listen to: Jake Xerxes Fussell, Out of Sight.


For rock collectors/crystal enthusiasts: Marc Du Plantier's unique floor lamp, ca. 1950.


Painted table by Sophie von Hellermann, photographed by Ross See for Luncheon. (Do I need to find a table to paint? Maybe.)

This will be impossible to tweet. It always is. How do you siphon 2,500 words into 280 characters? More importantly, how do you turn a measured thesis into something interesting, and by interesting I mean shareable, and by shareable I mean divisive.

Soraya Roberts, "End of Discussion." Joker as a case study illustrating why social media is a platform for emotion, not discussion.

The publisher, the editor, the advertising manager, and the circulation man must conspire not only to get all their readers from one particular class to which the magazine is dedicated, but rigorously to exclude all others.

Condé Nast, the inventor of lifestyle magazines.

I have complained a lot about men in my time. In fact, I do it more and more. But I have never been part of what used to be called the women’s movement and those who have or who are, or who have never wanted to be, would probably consider me some sort of moron. I didn’t do consciousness-raising with my sisters in the late Sixties. I was married at the time and it seemed to me that if my consciousness were raised another millimeter I would go out of my mind.

Mary-Kay Wilmers, from Human Relations and Other Difficulties, quoted in the NYT 10/24/2019 by Wyatt Mason: "How Mary-Kay Wilmers Became Britain's Most Influential Editor."

She was one of those women, they believed, who had succumbed to a strange bout of middle-aged craziness. She wasn’t poor. She wasn’t an addict or an alcoholic. And from what people who knew her said, she was utterly harmless—“A sweet lady who once chatted with me about the best way to grow plants on the front porch,” one neighbor noted. 

Skip Hollandsworth, "The Last Ride of Cowboy Bob.Texas Monthly, November 2005.

Having always liked older faces on other people, and thinking the best faces were the ones that looked like life had been lived in them, I understand now why people fear wrinkles. Wrinkles are a visible end to choices, to a life of infinite possibilities. They tell us that we have to make peace with the decisions we have made, or that we didn’t even realise we were making. They are a door that is closing on our own face. Which is why anti-ageing products, those little teases, sneak up to whisper to us that we can carry on dithering forever. Dithering is wonderful.

Sophie Heawood on growing older, Evening Standard Magazine 10/24/2019.


Catherine Texier: "I'm 72. So what?"


Climate confessions: "I still use plastic bags." "I want to use mass transportation but it's so unreliable and crowded." "I know the meat industry is horrible for climate change, but I just can't find a satisfactory diet with no meat."


"I used to say 'It would take a lot to ruin a taco!' but now I know it only takes one thing—chickpeas."

A running question I recall from my time on “The Daily Show” came from columnists and pundits musing, Why is there no right-wing “Daily Show”? And we would glibly, pridefully answer that the right could not be funny because it was, by nature, authoritarian, prudish, untruthful and dull. This was a comforting lie. Now we know that Trump was the right-wing “Daily Show” all along, but in a highly sophisticated form we never expected. We never expected that the right-wing “Daily Show” was going to be Andy Kaufman. We didn’t expect it to be a single, intensely weird and ultimately unknowable performance artist who would never break character. And he would not have his own television show but hijack all the television shows as well, as well as all those apps, streams and formats old TV didn’t understand, to surround us all in a MAGA-themed immersive theater experience the size and shape of the whole country.

John Hodgman, NYT 10/14/2019.

Unfazed, he crouched down on the sidewalk and snorted a line of live ants.

Elisa Gabbert, "Nostalgia for a Less Innocent Time: On the glory and depravity of hair metal." The Paris Review, 10/19/2019.