Blah Blah Blog by Jessica Harper by Jessica
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Archive for July, 2008

My Dog Won’t Multi-task

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Every day, Oliver (my golden retriever) brings me his tattered, deflated soccer ball precisely at 5:35 p.m., minutes after he’s eaten dinner, sensibly suggesting that I help him burn off a few kibble calories with a brisk game of soccer. I always oblige, otherwise he will follow me around the house for the rest of he evening, sadly dropping the ball at my feet and looking at me like I’m a bad mother.

“Awright, awright,” I say to him, and I’ll play, but that’s not all I’ll do.

Yesterday at kickoff time, I needed to have a few words with the man who was trimmig our trees, and to put a load of delicates in the washing machine and flip the brisket that was simmering in the oven. As the dog and I headed outside, I plugged the headset into the phone and grabbed my laptop, which I placed on the patio table so I could monitor emails while we played. So I was not just exercising the dog, I was simultaneously doing landscape management and laundry, cooking dinner, communicating with my book editor and making phone calls. Even for me this was high level multi-tasking.

I got my sister Lindsay on the phone to discuss a book project we’re doing together, and kicked the ball across the yard. Oliver rocketed after it.

“What are you doing?” Lindsay asked, her suspicion that my attention was divided triggered by the thunk sound of foot connecting with ball, the brzzzzz of a tree limb being sawed, and the ka-ching of an email being received.

“I’m talking to you. Whattya think I’m doing?” I replied, innocently. I ran inside to re-flip the brisket, then back out to re-engage with Oliver. The truth is, I know Lindsay is most likely multi-tasking, too, although she does not have a hyperactive dog to contend with, only a discreet cat.

Oliver has set unusual rules for his soccer game. What happens is, I kick the ball and Oliver retrieves but refuses to relinquish it until I hurl a tennis ball in his direction. He feigns an interest in the tennis ball, thereby releasing the soccer ball, which I kick back across the yard and the game begins again.

It’s an idiotic game, but it keeps Oliver happy for a while and, as it only involves my feet, leaves me a couple of free appendages with which to perform other chores.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Oliver as I headed indoors to check on the laundry.

“What?” Lindsay was getting crabby.

“No, not you, Oliver.”

“You’re talking to the dog?”

Then she heard the sound of laundry moving from washing machine to dryer. “Call me when you’re not doing six other things, okay?” she said, and hung up. Oliver entered the laundry room and dropped the ball at my feet.

The thing is, the dog does not understand multi-tasking. Aside from the fact that he has no hands or acquaintance with technology, he is a single-minded kind of guy. There are only a pawfull of tasks Oliver performs: eating, deficating, exercising and sleeping. He accomplishes all of these things, one at a time, to his satisfaction, each and every day, and he’s the happiest guy I know.

As he looked up at me and moved his eyebrows in that way he has, it occurred to me that Oliver communicates better than many people I know who speak perfect English.

“Awright, awright,” I said.

The dryer was doing it’s job, the brisket would cook for another hour or so, the tree man had beheaded a juniper and was descending his ladder to leave. I snapped shut my laptup, took off my headset, and shut the door on all but one task.

Twenty minutes later, when the dog seemed willing to rest, the game ended. I can’t say that I felt as satisfied by the exercise as Oliver did, but I did feel sort of calm. Life is ordinarily so hectic that focusing on a single activity for a third of an hour has almost the same effect as meditation.

I think I will try it again today: at 5:35 I will do nothing but play soccer with Oliver for twenty minutes. I don’t know if this will become a trend, but at the very least it will make my single-minded friend very happy.


Getting Dirty

Monday, July 21st, 2008

I saw this movie recently called “The Real Dirt On Farmer John.” It’s the story of a maybe eccentric (maybe just a regular, slightly wacky boomer, i.e. kindred spirit) who took his legacy, the family farm in Illinois, on a journey from traditional farm, to a hippie haven in the sixties, to a big, fat money-loser in the eighties, to a what is now a fantastic, thriving model for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
This movie is worth seeing. Whether or not you respond to his personal story, it’s tough to argue with John’s mission: he’s the Al Gore of farming.

In a nutshell, what he’s got is a farm supported by shareholders (regular people in the community) who pay a yearly fee to receive the bounty of John’s all-organic harvest. Each week, at pickup points around the Chicago area, shareholder families get boxes of whatever’s growing that season. And if they really want to get involved, they can go to the farm themselves and pitch in, show the kids where their food comes from and dig in the dirt a little.

Since I have a poor attitude about entering a grocery store, I find the idea of somebody delivering a box of lovely organic vegetables on a weekly basis very appealing. Luckily, just as I was thinking I’d move to Chicago to avail myself of this new approach to food supply, I heard about a similar farm in the Los Angeles area called Tierra Miguel Foundation Farm. I am signing right up. Although it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get my teenagers to go with me to visit the farm (they have issues with vegetables), I might go myself, just to see what it’s all about.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Or to see for yourself, start by visiting
And click here to see a trailer for “The Real Dirt.”


It’s Raining Babies!

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

Here’s a quick follow-up to my previous post about the Albany baby who fell from a window into the arms of a postal worker:

Another child, a one-year-old girl named Cindy, fell from a window in Queens last Wednesday.

She plummeted four stories, but landed on two balls in a backyard stairwell, which saved her life. She’s in stable condition in the hospital.

What’s up in New York? It’s raining babies, but luckily, miracles are in abundance. I mean, two balls? Not one ball, which would have been insufficient to prevent disaster, but two. Who leaves two balls in a stairwell? Not a human, an angel. Maybe the same angel, or a close personal friend of the one who placed the postal worker in position to catch the Albany baby in his arms.

Although it seems like the angels are on the job, if I were in New York and the parent of a little one, living above the ground floor, I’d put some bars on the windows. This baby-falling thing seems to be a trend, and the angels might be exceptionally busy just when I need them. They’d be rushing to and fro to catch other falling babies, all of whom, including the girls in Albany and Queens, should some day have a party to celebrate the miracles that saved them.


White Paint

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

I wanted to paint my walls white. How hard could that be? You go to the paint store, buy a few gallons, and slap it on.

So I did that first part: I went to a paint store. I gravitated towards a salesman who resembled the coach of the Boston Celtics.”Um, I’m looking for white paint,” I said helpfully.

The Coach pulled out a, what’s that called, a color wheel? A rainbow spread? There’s a name for that thing that opens up like a fan to reveal 657 different shades of white and throws you into a full on panic attack. (I’ve never responded well to a multitude of choices.)

“Can you narrow it down to the creamy ones?” I asked. The coach licked his fingers and snapped shut a third of the Panic Wheel, leaving me with only about 400 decisions to make. I grew a whiter shade of pale; moisture sprang from my armpits. “Uh, what do most people pick?” I asked, lamely.

“Lady, it’s a personal thing.” The coach checked his watch.

It was too much for me. I started to get that feeling I get at the shoe store when I’ve tried on four pairs and none are good but I feel like I have to buy a pair anyway because I’ve made the man walk to the stock room four times. I needed to abort the paint mission before I felt obliged to buy a gallon of “Winter Dust,” or some other irrelevant color.

I went home and launched a large-scale obsession. I asked for opinions from friends and relatives. I visited my neighbor on the pretext of borrowing a can opener and secured the name of her paint color. I called a hotel where I’d stayed and whose walls I’d admired. I asked the bookseller, the neurologist, the florist, anywhere I saw a good white, I asked someone what it was. I went online, did some social networking, picked the brains of people I do not know.

When I’d finally assembled a group of color candidates, a portion of my dining room wall became a patchwork of samples, which I checked on at different times of day to note changes as the light shifted. I concealed my madness behind a portrait of my great-grandfather, who must have been twirling in his grave.

I also painted the colors on white Bristol board and carried the samples from room to room. I made decisions, booked the painter, panicked and unbooked him. I threw away rejected samples, and then, in a frenzy of uncertainty, re-bought them for another look.

I kept all this activity covert, under my husband’s radar, so he wouldn’t have me committed.

I did eventually make a few selections, and it worked out all right, if not perfectly. (One room suffered through two repaints.) I offer here a list of my top choices of white wall paint (which are really almost-but-not-quite white) from a variety of manufacturers. This will save you weeks of trial and error, time better spent mastering the tango, buying a new garden hose, or writing your congresswoman. (If you do write her, please ask what color she painted her bathroom.)

Benjamin Moore: ($20-$50 per gallon)
I used both “Oatmeal” and “Linen White,” the latter being more yellowy, the former more, well, oaty, but both nice colors. “Swiss Coffee” is another one I have used, which is like white with a little splash of espresso. “Alabaster” as a good B.M. color for trim, also.

Donald Kaufman: ($90 per gallon)
“#28″ is a beautiful creamy white my sister-in-law has all over their house. I was too cheap to buy it, but D.K.’s paint is amazing, more like light than paint, so you might want to splurge in a room or two.

Farrow and Ball ($70 per gallon)
This manufacturer makes my favorite colors, all of which have inspiring names. It’s pricey, so I limited myself to using “Matchstick” in my office only, but if I were going to splurge I’d have also gone for “Satin Slipper” or “Clunch,” colors so interesting they inspire conversation.

4. YOLO ($40 per gallon)
If you are in green mode, these paints are non-toxic and low VOC, and “Air.01″ and “Air.02″ are lovely whites.

5. Restoration Hardware ($32-$36 per gallon)
“Mediterranean White” and “Buttermilk” are good choices here, and “The Right White” is great for trim.


Latter Day Dress

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

As everyone knows, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was recently rocked when the Child Protection Services of the State of Texas rounded up all their kids for (presumably) safe keeping.

On TV, we saw countless images of girls and boys in clothes reminiscent of another era: the nation was captivated almost as much by what the kids were wearing as by the sad strangeness of their plight.

Now that things have settled down a little back on that compound, FLDSers have set up a website where you can buy those demure garments. Click here to shop, but be forewarned: a teen vest dress will set you back close to seventy-three dollars. At those prices, I think I’ll be sticking to the sale rack at Gap Kids.


George Washington’s Back In The News

Friday, July 4th, 2008

So, as many of you pointed out, shortly after I wrote about George W. and the cherry tree chopping, archeologists discovered Ferry Farm, G. W.’s long lost plantation, and the cherry tree story reared it’s apocryphal head once again.

However, one journalist reported that no cherry trees were found on the property (not to mention a mutilated one) and no hatchet. They did find thousands of other artifacts in the dig, including wig curlers, wine bottles and a clay pipe (the dude could party), but ix-nay on the atchet-hay. So that myth went back to bed.

They also pointed out that, unlike the way it’s portrayed in certain portraits and literature of Washington’s time, his house was no rustic cabin. It had eight rooms, and what’s described as one and a half stories (whatever that means), as well as, excuse me, slave quarters in a separate building. Most people of normal means at that time lived in one or two-room houses, and that includes, by the way, big shots like T.J. So no more crying a river over poor George’s humble origins.

Also in question now is the story of W. skipping a stone across the Rappohannock River. (Frankly, even as a child I had my doubts about that one.) Archeologists have found no stone, although they have noticed the presence of a river.

So, where does it end? Next thing you know they’ll tell us he wasn’t really six feet two, but five feet seven, or maybe even that he wasn’t actually the president, but the president’s butler.

Of course, there’s plenty of evidence to support what we know about our current president’s character, about what he thinks and what he’s accomplished. I guess the lack of mystery surrounding this century’s G.W. is something we should find comforting; it’s good to know exactly who your president is.

Isn’t it?