Sunday, August 31, 2008

Politics, Palin & Me

I'm not a political blogger. I sometimes write about politics, sure, but it's not like I'm a total news junkie, media hog, 24-7 politico-maniac. I know people like that, and I know I'm not one of them. But right now, I can't bring myself to blog about anything other than Sarah Palin's nomination because Palin's nomination feels like nothing short of a national crisis. I know that sounds melodramatic, but that's how I feel.

Over at Politico yesterday, they had a story about what the nomination says about McCain. The short answer: He's desperate and terrified of a landslide. But what does the fact that a desperate politician (who's 72 and has had FOUR bouts of cancer) can nominate someone clearly unqualified for a job that could be one of the most powerful in the world (should he die) whom he doesn't know and reasonably think that this decision will get votes -- what does all that say about us as an electorate? It blows my mind to think about how crass and how absurd our political landscape has become. I'm a little devastated by it. And terrified by it. And it's keeping me from blogging about anything else. Like this bicycle, which I think is really cool, but if Sarah Palin becomes Vice President, I might have to ride it to Canada.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


If you haven't yet made your way over to Andrew Sullivan's blog, now's the time. He says almost everything there is to be said about the unbelievably and unremittingly cynical nomination of Sarah Palin. He links to many worthwhile postings, too.

At, Jonathan Martin has a jaw-dropping story on the "history" of McCain's relationship with Palin (there is none). What the Republican consultants say is important, too.

I haven't been through the blogs yet today, but here's what I want to know: How is it that Palin is holding up Hillary Clinton as an icon (which she is), when her party has spent the last two decades tearing her down?

And I ask you this: Can anyone imagine a Democrat, who's a woman and a mother of five including a 4-month-old with Downs syndrome and who works full-time already who's then nominated to VP of the whole country who would be lionized as the next best thing since sliced bread by "pro-family" conservatives? Me either.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Morning After Obama

So he did it, Barack Obama did. And here's what I keep thinking. I keep thinking that if we're lucky and Barack Obama wins now, and if he wins again, then my kids will be 12 when he leaves office. If we're lucky, we'll see Obama's hair go gray and we'll watch the lines of the office etch themselves deep into his forehead. So it's been for every young president who's survived.

But while my kids may see him with gray hair, they won't necessarily see him as exceptional because of his race. They may see other candidates and compare those candidates to Obama and notice his words are more beautiful or make more sense, but they're not going to think, "Can you believe what you're seeing?" They're not going to think an African-American president is a triumph, they're going to think it's normal. They'll get to think that if we're very, very lucky.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's Not Just the Airport, Mr. Friedman

So I would blog about the convention and how impressed I was by Hillary Clinton's speech while it was happening and how it reminded me of the first time I saw her speak in Chicago in 1992, but I won't. All the backstory about how upset the Clintons are and how Hillary is stoking the coals for 2012 has really taken the bloom off the rose of that speech. Enough other people are writing about that this morning.

Instead, this morning I want to write about Tom Friedman's NY Times column about China. Because the China Friedman saw in Beijing for the Olympics was so clean! The broadband was so sophisticated! The airport so swanky! Those Chinese, man, they've really got us lapped, and according to Friedman, they did all that by dint of their hard work.

So here's what I want to know. I want to know if Mr. Friedman has already forgotten the horrible images of this spring. Picture filled with heaps of rubble which crushed thousands of school children in poorly built schools in an earthquake prone region of China. Has he forgotten the images of devastated parents holding up pictures of their children whose bodies were lost in the debris? Did he consider that the Chinese could have taken a few hundred million out of their Olympic budget and directed it toward safer schools, even if those schools serve poor, rural villagers and not airport travelers?

And to write this column, maybe Mr. Friedman simply pushed out of his mind the stories of hundreds Chinese dissidents jailed before the games for fear of some kind of disruption through -- what's that called? -- Free Speech. Maybe he didn't notice the cloak of grey smog that choked athletes and made every day look like rain, at least on TV. No, Mr. Friedman didn't notice any of that because the Bird's Nest was so pretty! The closing ceremonies so fantastic! The train to the airport so clean!

Sure, there's no nice clean high speed train from La Guardia to New York City. But if, as Friedman suggests, the future means a few over-priced buildings constructed by a repressive regime that won't build safe schools out of camera range of the Western media, that jails people for speaking their minds, and that can't figure out that long-term growth means attention to the environmental impact development has on things like air and water, then Mr. Friedman can have his future and move to Beijing. It sounds really great there. As long as you can afford to get to the airport.

Monday, August 25, 2008


OK. So I was completely inspired by the Ted Kennedy tribute and wept through the whole thing. (To be honest, I even cried when I read about his cancer in the New York Times.) It's good, I believe, to be reminded that politics is not just about jockeying for power or controlling the news cycle. It's good to remember that, in fact, legislation can change our lives for the better and government can help and individual people really will make a difference.

And now you'll have to excuse me for I must go get my hammer, my hammer of justice, my bell of freedom and sing my song about love between......oh, you know.....Seriously. You know.

Convention Fatigue

The convention hasn't even started and already I'm completely exhausted by it. As if the Olympics weren't enough? All that planning and training, all those great hopes and dreams dashed in a split second. Friends convinced me that Joe Biden could be the best thing since sliced bread when I was all grumpy because he talks so much. But that's not the point. That Obama peaked early isn't the point either. The point is now that the primary is ancient history, I'm terrified that the Democrat will lose. For me at this point it kind of doesn't even matter who that democratic is. Had it been Hillary Clinton the general campaign would have felt different because she's so polarizing. But people being "unsure" of Obama just doesn't mean that much, because, let's face it, we should be "unsure" of how anyone will behave in the Oval Office. McCain was one person 18 months ago and now he's someone else so whom would he be should he win the office? I'm pretty unsure of the answer to that. And, like I said, I'm just terrified that we'll find out. So I can hardly stand the thought of watching the convention, but I also know I won't be able not to watch. At least I'll have my knitting.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pancakes: River Cottage vs Joy

I really want to love The River Cottage Family Cookbook. Really, I do. So far, I've made two recipes from it -- chocolate chip cookies and drop scones, which are identified as "American pancakes." What I like about both recipes is their size; both make smaller batches than my regular go-to recipes, making me think I could really "whip up a batch" and not have to wonder what I'd do with the leftovers.

But, as it turns out, the batch size is about the only thing these recipes have to recommend them. I've already given a tepid review to the cookies. I still may adjust the ingredients and try again. Then again, I may not.

As for the pancakes, the first time I made them they came out gummy. I thought the problem was too much mixing. The recipe calls for a lot of it, and if you make pancakes from scratch (which we do all the time), you learn that mixing too much activates the gluten in the flour (writing that makes me feel like I'm playing some kind of cooking expert on TV). So, I made a note to myself to try again and mix less, which I did Thursday. Maybe if I thought of them as "drop scones" and served them with a glop of clotted cream (or Greek yogurt) and jam, I'd think they were just right. But thinking of them as pancakes made me think they were gummy.

This morning, I went back to my old stand-by recipe, the buttermilk pancakes in the latest edition of the Joy of Cooking. And these pancakes? My husband said they were the best pancakes without syrup that he's had. I have no idea why they turned out so well today -- my kids activated plenty of gluten when we all mixed the batter. But still, they were delicious and we have batter leftover for tomorrow's breakfast.

I still love reading the River Cottage Family Cookbook. I love thinking that "planting a lettuce garden" is an activity that my kids and I will one day join forces to do, and I think I'll still give the raisin bread a shot. But when it comes to pancakes, I'm sticking with Joy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Because Boys will be Boys and Girls, Girls, Too

Over at Jezebel, those girls have their panties all up in a bunch about an article in Parenting magazine (which I haven't read) in which the author apparently argues that gender preferences in toys are hard-wired. The young women at Jezebel think playing with trucks is a learned behavior. Here's what one writes:

"Well, gosh, you'd think a shrink would give just a smidge more credit to the idea that, by 18 months, a child's seen enough television and the behaviors of the other children and adults around them to have picked up on the practically-universal subliminal messages about which toys they are supposed to like?"

You know what? I give NO credit to that idea. I have boy-girl twins. I know, I know that I treat them differently because one's a boy and one's a girl. But when it comes to trucks and dolls? No. It's hard wired. Sometimes my son plays with dolls and sometimes my daughter plays with trucks. But in general? They divide along gender lines.

A story. My children are 13 months old. We go to my brother's house for Thanksgiving. My brother has three girls and one boy. In his basement, there are tubs of toys divided by category: Trucks. Dolls. Blocks. Balls. Up until that day, we did have some trucks in the house, but my daughter had never seen a baby doll. This wasn't a political decision on our part. It was simply that no one had yet to give us a baby doll and that year, the only toys we had were those that had been given to us. (And because my parents have 7,000 friends, we had a lot of toys. But no dolls.)

So, my kids do the arms-out-I'm-1-year-old walk into the basement playroom. They take one look at the toy tubs, and my son goes straight for the trucks and my daughter makes a bee-line for the dolls. Elliot's going vroom-vroom and Helen's rocking a baby to sleep. She'd never seen anyone do that with a doll before. She just did it. As for TV? They hadn't seen any. Again, not quite a political decision. More like the TV wasn't in a room they went into and even if it had been, they didn't yet have the attention span to sit and watch anyway.

So, I hate to break it to those fierce childless women over at Jezebel and Shakesville, but on the one hand, sure there are a lot of cultural influence that affect parenting. On the other, though, there are things that are just hardwired. The Parenting article may be poorly argued, but every parent I know would say the same thing: Trucks, balls, dolls and fancy things? Hardwired. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, totally hardwired. Sorry to say, Jezebel women, but sometimes, biology is toy destiny.

Update: See, there are exceptions. I finished this post and went into the living room and my son had stopped saving the new Playmobil princess in his new rescue helicopter and was focued on arranging her bedroom furniture. So, it's all flow in the hardwiring.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I feel like I'm in a very serious frame of mind these days. Maybe it's because of my decision to abandon "style" news, or maybe because it feels like a serious time, both in my personal life and in the world, but still.....I think I'm missing a little levity, or at least sarcasm. Like, I've been thinking about writing something about those Brangelina twins, but I just haven't been able to. Like, I read the first few lines of the People magazine article in which Brad Pitt is quoted as saying twins run in his family (his grandmother and sister apparently had some), and of course whenever a parent of twins mentions a family history of multiples it's meant to counter suspicions of fertility treatment, which, in Brangelina's case has already been reported by that magazine of record, Us Weekly. In fact, according to a friend who read the Us Weekly article, Brand and Angelina used IVF simply because they were too busy making shoot--'em-up movies to get it on. Which is gross. I can't even begin to tell you how gross I think that is. But that's not my point. My point here is that when I read Brad Pitt's quote, I wanted to ask someone, "Does he know where babies come from?" Because when it comes to twins, multiples on the dad's side means bubkes. Bubkes! But even this doesn't feel like a real post to me. I think I lost my mojo on vacation. Luckily, my kids haven't been sleeping, so I'm betting I'll get that old mojo back as soon as my tan wears off and the sleepless nights really seep into my bones.

Hair in Central Park

Picking up where I left off with my last post, I saw Hair in Central Park last night. The two subjects - the play and the kidnapping story -- feel like bookends on an era, and I sat there watching all these extremely fit, extremely good singers and actors dancing away just a hop, skip and a jump from the Park's fabled Sheep's Meadow, and for all the toe-tapping, mood swaying tunes, I felt sad.

The New York Times review pointed out that the musical itself expresses the tenuous balance of youth -- self-discovery coming up against adult responsibility, freedom meeting consequence. That inevitable clash between sudden knew experience and its aftermath makes me, for one, happier to be close to 40 instead of 20, but still, that joy! Who doesn't miss that joy?

Yet while watching the show, I kept thinking about Slouching Toward Bethlehem, which I read last year, and the dislocation and confusion embedded in the bravado of the characters described in that essay (never mind Didion's brilliance in relating how she was writing on a combination of pain killers and gin), and how the exuberant characters in Hair could have turned into the pained characters of the essay.

And I kept thinking that this was all a long time ago. Hair is set in 1968, the year I was born. I would say something like "the more things change...." but I don't really think that things are the same now. The late 60s and early 70s, for all their self-indulgence and the participants' self-promotion, really did change a lot in this country, and a lot has changed in the world. Still, when some people talk about Hair, they make what feels to me, at least, to be a facile comparison between the unwanted war the United States was fighting then and the one we're fighting now. But Viet Nam and Iraq may share some broad features, but they're not the same

Instead of getting bogged down in all the geo-political differences, I'll just take the big difference in how these wars affected individuals. In Hair, the moment of truth comes when Claude, a leader of "the tribe" is pushed to burn his draft card and doesn't. There is no comparative moment for young men with this war, because there is no draft. The question of who did and did not serve in Iraq will not dog this nation for the next 40 years.

The questions that should dog this nation and its leaders for the next 40 years are more along the lines of what does power mean and what does war mean and what means of information gathering are acceptable in a democratic nation (yes, I'm still reading The Dark Side). The current leaders of this country, most of whom did not serve in Viet Nam even though they were of an age to do so, who say they abhor totalitarian leaders but, at least one of whom (the bald one), wishes to be just such a leader, have answered those questions in criminal ways. Somehow, I don't think 40 years from now anyone will be tapping their feet to a tune about Dick Cheney, unless it's a rock opera scored by Lou Reed's spiritual son about Cheney's trial for war crimes. I would say something like, "now that will be a toe-tapping good show," but right now it all feels too serious for jokes. We can look back at Hair and see at least some of the consequences, both negative and positive, of that era. So forty years from now, what consequences will our children bear? See, I just can't joke about that question.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Patty & Caitlin

In the September issue of The Atlantic, there's an oddly moving review essay about Patty Hearst written by Caitlin Flanagan. Before reading it, I didn't know much about Hearst other than that she was kidnapped and subsequently fell in love with one of her kidnappers. As Flanagan tells it, though, Hearst's tale is the most extreme and violent version of a million such stories of young women on the verge of adulthood who, under the beguiling influence of a changing culture, left the safe embrace of their families for the unsettling world outside. Here's the lede:

"The thing you have to understand about Patty Hearst, the reason that her fantastically sui generis story resonated so deeply within so many millions of ordinary American households, is that back then a lot of girls like her were disappearing."

One of those girls who disappeared was Flanagan's own older sister. One day she "was helping my mother pin McCall’s patterns to paisley linen, and the next she had crammed a sleeping bag and a passport into a rucksack and made her way to San Francisco International Airport with just enough money for a Eurail Pass...."

Flanagan's essay feels to me like an elegy for a lost time, at least in her own life, when order prevailed and family connections were maintained. Who knows if the America where girls wore skirts and "light cardigans" instead of blue jeans was really that orderly, but surely many millions of people believed it was and the unmasking of the disorder that lurks in us all was a painful if overly documented development.

But that's not the point. The point is that through Patty Hearst's awful history, Flanagan seems to express her own yearning for order. It's almost as if she believes if a little bit of the world she grew up in could be recovered, our own world would not only feel safer but be better. It might be naive and absurd, but, really, who can blame her for that? As many times as Flanagan has confounded me in her writing, and she does so even in this essay, she always provokes a sense that order is better (even if order means mom stays home and if she leaves, the babysitter does her homework while her charge toddles about). At least order would mean security and security would mean less vulnerability and what parent doesn't want that?

Two months ago, a friend whose son is about the same age as my kids, 3 and then some, told me her marriage was ending. Her husband had been cheating, it wasn't the first time, and this was it. After something like 16 years, they were done. All her friends had rallied around her, she said, taking her to dinner, doing whatever they could. This wasn't a surprise. Friends always help out in a crisis. But her situation wasn't just a crisis. It was a live version of what, on some level, many coupled parents must fear: not simply the dissolution of their union but the unmasking of its inherently unstable core. There's something about having to once again sit around in circles singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that makes you want to believe that even in an unstable world, your family unit is a sure thing, and there's something awful about the niggling knowledge that it just isn't. There's no sure thing, and it's so sad. That's what Flanagan conveys. The sadness and the outrage that comes along with the rift between childhood and adulthood. Patty Hearst's life story is more particular than that, but it's also, at least in Flanagan's telling of it, just that common.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back To It

The vacation that just ended was the longest vacation I'd been on in years. That it was two weeks is a little sad, that it made us want to take longer trips is a happy result. Now, I'm getting kind of anxious to get back to work, which is making it hard to blog. But I'll say this, getting back to everything was surprisingly easy this morning. My daughter sang a song about how much she loved our babysitter, which made me really happy because I love her, too and that she and my son were excited to see her made me feel AOK about going to work. Plus, Elliot, who sometimes cries and clings when I leave, was simply glad to tell our sitter all about going in a canoe and riding a two-wheeler (with training wheels). Then, on my way to the library, I got, like, three out of my four errands done and everyone was really nice and the teller even knew me at the bank. This made me fall in love with my neighborhood in a way I think I've been resisting. And, it's not too hot. There's one final thing about getting back to it: While I was away, I started to feel like it was extra important for me to make a bigger commitment to exercise in this coming year. Right now, my gym membership is on hold, and it'll stay on hold in September because September will be crazy, but after reading about Estelle Parsons' workout routine, and feeling slightly less energetic with my kids, I feel like I can't coast anymore. I mean, I'm just not as young as I used to be. Besides, when I went to Providence to speak about The Skinny, I tried on all my nice clothes that I got around the time The Skinny came out, and you know what? I'm a little less skinny. I'm fine with that but it gives me even more reasons to get fitter. You know, bigger and firmer is beautiful. Bigger and jigglier? Not so much.

And now, the day!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Marathon: The Women

Last night, I watched as Constantina Tomescu-Dita won the Olympic Marathon. She's 38-years-old and the mother of a teenage son named Raphael. Seeing her run, arms held high and working hard, looking as if she was working through some serious discomfort and only smiling on her fourth victory lap, I was inspired (38!), I was moved (she almost passed out from heatstroke in the last Olympic marathon), I cheered (she made it!). But I couldn't help but wonder: Why was she, along with most of her competitors, running in a bikini?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Back from Vacation

So I'm back. There was very patchy service where we were, and I worried about that, but it turned out it was easy not to talk on my cell and not to use it as a time piece. It was also fairly easy not to have WiFi, even though I'm addicted to my email in my regular life. It was hard, however, to work. The house we rented was small; there was nowhere for me to work while the kids were there, too, so I'd go to the one restaurant in town at 7:30 and work for a while, then at 9 I'd line up for the New York Times (if you blinked and waited until 9:30, all the papers would be gone), and it was fine and I worked at night, too, but it was also, somehow, strange. Because even though I managed to steal an hour here or there to work, there was no urgency, and I really have to have this project done by the first week of September. But I was a little like, "Oh, I've got to work, OK, I'll do that," and I didn't get big knots in my shoulders. I hadn't planned to blog about this, but sometimes, the anxiety takes over. Besides, it's work anxiety or a discussion of the first 200 pages of The Dark Side, Jane Mayer's book about how the Bush/Cheney administration hijacked our justice system and made torture a matter of policy. It's not a new story, exactly, but reading it in Mayer's unblinking and extraordinarily well-organized account makes for many uncomfortable moments. It also made for some bad dreams. I feel as a citizen I have something of a responsibility to read it, but it really is the dark side, and I don't know how this country gets back into the light.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Vacation, or walking and not talking

We leave for vacation tomorrow, and I won't even have access to email, never mind blogspot for blogging. Honestly, I'm a little nervous about the no email, no cell phone situation. Lately I've been noticing that whenever I walk down the street by myself, I reach for my phone. Since it's the summer and everyone's away, I rarely have anyone to call. Frankly, even in the winter I often don't have a reason to call anyone and everyone's busy anyway. Either way, I feel a little lost walking without chatting down the street. I don't get it. Up until a year ago, I never even carried my cell phone with me. Now I need to be on it all the time? So what I'm hoping is this vacation will give me the chance to do a little work on my thing, play around in the water and sand with my kids, read at least one book, and wean me of my cell phone habit. Then, when I get home and I'm use to walking and not talking again, I'll get a watch, or get my nice watch that my parents got me for my birthday last year, or two years ago, fixed. And then I really won't need my cell phone. I hope everyone has a fabulous two weeks! Hope to see you when I'm back!