Monday, June 29, 2009

Running, a Love Story

I've become very committed to my runs. Three times a week I get on my shoes and go. When I don't go, I start to feel, I don't know, funny. I like how I feel after I run, and before I head out I'm excited, but during the run, it's just OK. Fine. Better than I thought it'd be, but nothing like a perfect swim or a yoga class (which, for the record, I can't take because it would take so long and I have a two-year-old wrist situation). All of this to say, I admire people who feel this way about running, but me, I don't think I'll ever get there.

You Might Like

When I was packing for a weekend trip this past Friday, I found the shuffle that I'd lost a while back. I was glad, even though I've fallen in love with the audiobook for running and use my iPod classic for that. I think it'll be nice to have the shuffle sometimes. It's nice to change things up. As a present to myself for my discovery, I bought a few things to add to the shuffle mix. I bought Elvis Costello's new album because I have a few songs from The River In Reverse on the iPod with the books and I like to run to it and because I love Elvis Costello and want to marry him. I also bought Madonna's Immaculate Collection because if you're a Madonna fan of my vintage, the collection is, in fact, immaculate, perfect, sublime. (Plus, Holiday alone was $1.29, which just seemed silly.) But then, when I was done with my Madonna purchase, iTunes made some suggestions. Like, if I like the Immaculate Collection I might like Olivia Newton John, Let's Get Physical. Or The Best of the Cars. Or Tiffany, I Think We're Alone Now. Now, I'm not a huge music snob. I like what I like and I like a lot of different kinds of music and I'm not defined by the music I listen to, but I have to say, I was offended, for Madonna's sake and mine. Let's Get Physical? Really? I know her music isn't so great anymore, but still. I had to go back to the Elvis Costello album I bought (Secret, Profane and Sugarcane) and see what would be recommended from that just to regain some diginity. At least if iTunes had recommended Debbie Gibson's Only In My Dreams I could hold my head up high. But, I guess, as real as it seems, the whole music pride thing, it was only in my dreams.

Now, if only I could figure out how to load up just my playlist for running I'll be all set.

Skyping Home

In the Sunday Times Magazine Peggy Orenstein has a piece about Skype and its various uses. Actually, it's yet another piece about communication technologies and their proliferation into every corner of our lives. With so many ways to communicate is there anyway to keep our boundaries? This is what Orenstein wonders when her parents ask her to set up Skype so they can "talk" to their granddaughter via the computer screen. My parents wanted to set up a video-camera-connection to read stories and what not to my kids from their home in Providence to ours in New York. I didn't hem and haw like Orenstein did about Skype. I just said no because for me the less time my kids spend in front of a screen -- computer, TV, whatever-- the better. In the end Orenstein's real question is not about how to maintain boundaries so much as how do we actually communicate with all the methods we have. It's a good question. When I figured out texting, my first thought was "Now here's ANOTHER way for me to feel badly about not getting calls." Every communication option isn't for everyone. Me, I'm old school. Blog not tweet, phone not skype. For someone else, it may be exactly the opposite. I hope if and when I meet that person who loves to Skype and Tween when we're online at the Farmers' Market or picking up stamps at the post office we'll strike up a really good conversation about it all. That would be really great.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

I have not much to say about Michael Jackson's death, but I can recommend this from Kate Hardin'gs Shapely Prose.

The Weekend and Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm going to Providence to celebrate my parents' birthdays this weekend, but before I go I wanted to post a little something about chocolate chip cookies (not Michael Jackson). As you may remember, I have rather strong feelings about chocolate chip cookies. I have my ideas for making them but I'm willing to try new things and tinker happily. Well, for almost a year now I've been putting the batter in the fridge for a day before I bake it up. This has the desired result of making a soft center and crips outside -- most of the time. But the problem is when the batter has gotten very cold, you ahve to get the timing just right. And I mean perfectly, exactly, no questions asked right. A minute too long and they're overdone, a minute under and they're too gooey. It's a little crazy making. My go-to recipe calls for refrigerating for just a half hour, and when I've followed that instruction (or left them in for an hour or so), it's much easier to guage doneness. Sometimes it's easier to make the batter one day and bake it the next, so I'll still do it from time to time, but it's no longer my method. Officially. In case you were wondering.

(By the way, yesterday I had a Melissa-inspired lunch of garlic ramps and snap peas sauteed in a llittle oil and salt with a poached egg on top. Actually it was my second lunch but hugely satisfying.)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Obama: Too good to be true?

I found this article about Obama's "Politics of Personal Perfection" on Politico interesting but full of really weird points.

I found it weird that Tucker Carlson Republican pundit is quoted as saying: “My instinct is that people are like dogs,” he said. “They want a leader they think is better than them.” This is the opposite of why we were told W. was elected twice and why people loved Bill Clinton. The latter could feel our pain and the former, well, he could be a guy you have a beer with.

I found it weird that in an era of gleeful excoriation of any deviation from the marriage script people are amazed and maybe a little disappointed that it's almost unimaginable that Barack Obama would stray from Michelle.

And I found this bit strange:

"Being too perfect can be dangerous for politicians. Just ask Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential candidate is a spectacularly good-looking man, extremely wealthy, well-spoken and accomplished in his professional career. And a segment of the voting public hated him for it."

Well, um, there are many things I could say about Mitt Romney. Many, many things. But I'd like to point out one difference between candidate Romney and candidate Obama. Romney was a white candidate and Obama was an African American candidate and I think in the election we just lived through that mattered.

All this said, I agree with Eamon James who wrote the story that yes, in fact it's a good thing Obama smokes just a little. It reminds us all that there's no one out there who can't do a little better -- except maybe Michelle Obama.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

That's It!

I don't want to hear anything about family values or the sanctity of marriage from any of these people again. The (married) governor of a state flies to Argentina to see his lover and tells no one? What if there'd been a prison riot? A hurricane? A something? I wonder if Rush will be popping a Percoset to get himself through his next show. I wonder if Bill Bennett will bet on Sanford's or Ensign's post affair re-emergence from the political dessert. How about a little live and let live and marry and let marry from these folks? I guess it's no wonder they feel their sacred unions are so threatened by gay marriage, a sneeze could threaten their marriages!

Yogurt Containers, the Next Frontier

I've pretty much banished plastic bottles from my life. My kids have reusable water bottles, I have mine and when I don't and find myself in need of a cold sip, I go glass. What I haven't managed to do is get control over the plastic yogurt containers. I didn't always think about yogurt containers. They seemed an unfortunate fact of life, like the little sleeves around fancy tea bags, and at least they were recyclable. But then everyone started making their own yogurt. Everywhere I looked there were recipes for homemade yogurt, even in the Yoga Journal in a waiting room the other day. Clearly, if I just applied myself to the task of making my own yogurt I could solve the plastic yogurt container problem. Except then I read what Laurie Colwin had to say about making yogurt, which is, basically, you've got to just keep trying and sometimes it will work. This is not exactly encouraging, but I tried anyway, and the yogurt I made was thin and gross. The River Cottage Family Cookbook recommends adding evaporated milk to thicken up the stuff. Maybe I'll try that, or maybe I'll just live with the guilt and hope for the recycling.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I'm writing a little post about Pnin because for whatever reason, this book has stayed on my mind since I finished it. Really. I think about Professor Pnin a lot -- I imagine him in the book's final scene, I wonder how his health is, and there's this one object of his that I would describe in detail but won't because it's so central to the book. Suffice to say I hope it's still intact and Professor Pnin is still enjoying it. It's a very beautiful thing, the thing in the book, and he deserves to relish that beauty.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Learning to Write

This is a nice article by Rachel Toor on the value of clear writing, particularly in the academy. I would say "good" writing, but "good" is too subjective and when you're talking about writing, especially academic writing, clear is more important than good. In fact, clear might even be the definition of good. After all, if you're a graduate student or an academic physician or anyone trying to say anything in words on screen or paper, you should strive to make your points clearly and concisely. I was a graduate student in the humanities once, and when I was cleaning out my apartment before I moved in with my (now) husband, I found some of my papers. They were not so clear. Reading them I couldn't believe I knew anything about their subjects. Please note that I did not say "reading them I couldn't believe I once knew anything about their subjects," because nothing I read could convince me that I knew anything about any of it even when I was in grad school. To me the problem of writing has a lot to do with the problem of learning grammar. When you learn a language's grammar, really study it, you get a whole different sense of what's going on in a sentence than if you just sort of live a language. (At least that's what happened for me when I really learned biblical Hebrew grammar in grad school.) If you just sort of live a language, to write in it you have to practice and practice and then the clarity of any of it is still up for grabs because the writer, by necessity, must take a hit or miss approach. I could go on and on, but if I did, I wouldn't be at all concise, and I'm not exactly sure I'm being clear now either.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What's the Matter with Marriage?

On the front cover of today's New York Times Book Review Katie Roiphe reviews a book titled A Vindication of Love by Cristina Nehrig and for the life of me I can't understand why it was there. Roiphe writes:

"In her most provocative and interesting chapters, Nehring argues for the value of suffering, for the importance of failure. Our idea of a contented married ending is too cozy and tame for her. We yearn for what she calls “strenuously exhibitionistic happiness” — think of family photos on Facebook — but instead we should focus on the fullness and intensity of emotion."

Um, I don't know, I read that and I didn't really pick up on an argument as much as a description of a defense of the dramatic breakup and a pretty reductive one at that. My happy family pictures on Facebook are but one side of my life. When the moment I'm living through is intense, dramatic, and emotional "Wait! Get the camera!" is the last thing I'm likely to say. If you really think the happiness of family life is tame, then I'm guessing you've been living separate from a family unit for a long time.

For comparison's sake, take Douglas Brown's moving essay about raising an autistic son in today's Modern Love column. Putting aside the demanding love Brown's son requires (which is a lot to put aside), the kind of love Brown and his wife must share while offering their son and daughter a home in which to grow must be just as heroic as that of any of the star-crossed lovers Roiphe tells us Nehring celebrates. I mean, come on. Who doesn't know that failure and suffering are important parts of personal development. They build character! Then you take that character and build a life -- with or without children -- but a rich, complicated life hopefully full of love with friends and lovers and without the need for early death and emotional destruction to make that love seem real. Apparently, though, Nehring doesn't have much to say about those well-built lives. Roiphe writes:

"If there is anything unsatisfying about this fierce and lively book, it is a slight evasiveness at its core. Nehring does not quite take on the vast continent of quietly married people who must be her target."

So, Nehring attacks those in long relationships for not falling on the swords of passion but doesn't say them why any of us should forfeit the love we share for dramatic flourishes that for her make life "real"? And where's her research anyway? Just from literature? I love literature, but I'm not looking to it for data points. Nehring's approach as described by Roiphe seems a little like Sandra Tsing Loh thinking her four friends in sexless marriages combined with her own decision to find sex and love outside of her own marriage are representative of How Marriage Is for everyone.

What's striking about both the Nehring review and the Loh essay is that Nehring and Loh are probably women who treasure their individuality and demand recognition for their independent thought. (If they didn't they wouldn't write.) So why is it that they think everyone they're talking to is exactly the same? And tell me again why that book was reviewed on the front page of the Book Review because, I don't know, I'm just not feeling the love.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Hope

I hope Andrew Sullivan is right in his prediction that: "Empowered by new information technology, chastened by the apocalyptic conflicts of the last few years, determined to shift course away from civilizational warfare, the people of many countries are grasping for a new order and a new peace. It will not be easy; and it will not be short. But it is the only path worth taking."


After reading this blog post by William Saletan, I think he should be taken off the abortion beat. He's too precise in his preferences, and his position on ultrasounds is entirely -- what's the word? -- f&^%#@%$ed up. I can't even get into how reductive and absurdly black and white his position is. It's the first time I've read something and thought "He's a man and that man situation is keeping him from understanding anything about this." For more nuance analysis, there's this from Salon and this on Kate Harding's Shapely Prose, my new go-to site.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Eat This Professional Fake Feminists and Nutritionists!

A huge thank you to Mamele for pointing this out to me. It was like reading the perfect cupcake. Yum!

Things to Do

I know there are many things I should be doing right now, articles about Iran I should be reading, household tasks to which I should be attending, but, honestly, I can't remember all the things on my To Do list and I have no energy to read much of anything. I was up late reading, my son woke up early, and all I want to do is stare at the sky and be grateful that it's not raining.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Just Say No To Crunches

A few years ago, I was rolfed by an amazing rolfer in Philadelphia. Linda had an extraordinary touch and an incredible intuition about the body. (She even did some craniosacral work on my new borns, which was extraordinary.) But when I asked about my back pain, she said, "Forget about that core bull%$#&. It won't help your back. Don't lie with your lower back flat on the ground and Don't Do Sit Ups!" This ran so hard against the common wisdom of back health that I thought it was just another example of Linda's extremism, but I was also happy to accept the advice. I mean, no one really needs to tell me not to do sit ups, but it was nice that someone told me they were bad for me. And now, Linda's advice has been confirmed by none other than the New York Times and after reading the article in the (grievously titled) Well blog, I'll do things like side angle plank and that thing where you're on all fours and lift opposite arms and legs simulaneously, but I won't do sit ups. Ever. And even though I've performed nary a one in the past four years, I still feel liberated. Sometimes it's so nice how little it takes to make me so glad.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Maureen Dowd Dines with Meme Roth

OK, I know Maureen Dowd might be unhappy that the Obamas are happily married and s she has less fodder for her weird version of cultural "critiques" but her column today is just plain silly. In it she tries to paint the Obamas as hypocritical for working out and eating well and eating the occasional burger. She wants to say Obama's trying to be a regular "Joe" when he has his burgers and nobody's buying it. But the American people had a regular Joe in George Bush and they (we) were pretty sick of him by the end of his term. I think, given Obama's positive polling numbers, that people are pretty happy to have someone leading this country who seems special. Different. Someone of whom you wouldn't say "he's just like me," but you would say, "This guy cares what happens to me."

Plus, Dowd doesn't seem to understand that even the healthiest eaters like to eat foods you wouldn't ever find on a spa menu. Quoting Michelle Obama Dowd writes:

"When she was growing up, she recalled that desserts and fast food were rare: “It was a special treat. And we would beg to get it, and it was exciting if we drove into a fast-food place and got a hamburger. We were thrilled. It was like Christmas. ... If we got pizza on a Friday night, that was a treat.”"

Yes! That would be the point! Dinners at McDonald's should be a treat not a nightly thing! Is that so hard to get? Dowd sounds like she's been sitting down with Meme Roth and Anne Coulter and the result is just, what's the word, blechy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Food Fights

In yesterday's NY Times, Susan Domins devoted her column to a woman named MeMe Roth and her fight over cupcakes with PS 9 (one of the best and most coveted Upper West Side public school in a district with apartment prices to match). According to the story, Roth sends heated messages to the school every time her children have to endure a confrontation with a cupcake or ice pop. It seems she doesn't really know from moderation or self-control in eating or emailing. I'd read, or skimmed, some of a story about Ms. Roth in Elle a few months back. I couldn't read the whole thing because it gave me a headache. Roth's mother and grandmother are both severely overweight and her crusading for healthy habits, which, I don't know, may have something to do with her family history, takes the shape of browbeating anyone who wants a cookie, and you know how I feel about wanting a cookie. (This is how I feel: if you want a cookie, have a cookie! You'll feel better after one and won't eat a pile of other food to replace the cookie.) Granted, I have no memory of cupcakes at school for birthdays when I was a kid and it's probably a habit that can be eighty-sixed, but by the end of Dominus' column all I could think was, "Please, please, please when my kids go to school, please don't let there be a parent like her there. Please." At least they won't be at PS 9.

Monday, June 15, 2009


What's surprising, really and truly surprising to me, is how much time errands take. You know, you need shampoo, a pizza stone, two birthday party gifts and some tea towels, not to mention some books from the library, and before you know it, it's next week. How does that happen? It's very discouraging, especially since it means when you're running errands you don't have time to read anything, not blogs, not the newspaper, not even books from the library. And to make matters worse I have to clean out closets. And drawers. Which is like errands times four. Shocking.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tehran, Iran

I haven't had a lot of time to read up on the chaos in Tehran. Andrew Sullivan, as usual, has a compelling round-up of news reports and reactions around the web. I know so little about Iran, and most of what I know comes from reading Persepolis, which is not really what I'd call the basis or a nuanced understanding of world events. But at least it gives me one persons perspective on what seems like yet another example of a country roiled by colonial forces, cold war maneuvering, and cycles of terror, not to mention religious extremism. It's all sobering, very sobering.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sandra Tsing Loh is Getting Divorced!

Yesterday when my Atlantic Monthly arrived, in the mail, my eyes were immediately drawn to the cover line "Sandra Tsing Loh (in yellow) The Case Against Marriage (in white)." I'm a big fan of Loh's essays and her book Mother on Fire and soon my kids were busy enough that I could tuck right in to what I imagined would be a funny review essay full of the woes and weird pleasures of long married life. She'd tell us some very little something about her musician husband and the cute guy she flirted with and wrap it all up with a frantic spiel laced with smart alecky cultural references that I would immediately adore and wish I could meet. This would all end with a sigh of contentment and a return home, to her husband.

Imagine, imagine, my dismay when I opened the magazine and read this: "Sadly, and to my horror, I am divorcing."

You know what? I don't think you can imagine my dismay because I couldn't have imagine my dismay. Seriously, I took it like old friends from way back, friends who met in summer camp, told me via a Facebook email that it'd been great to reconnect but they wouldn't be able to have dinner next week because they weren't coming to town because, much to their horror, they were divorcing.

I guess this is what it means to be a big fan and invest some personal stake in the part of life that an artist chooses to share. And sometimes, as I learn over and over again, nothing is really as I imagine it to be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Last Martini

Last night I had my last martini. I used to love a martini -- gin please -- and when I was feeling really wacky I'd have two. Back in the day on two martini nights I'd stagger to the subway platform and call up my friend A. on the pay phone. That's right, the pay phone, that's how long ago the two martini nights were. But now, I can't do it anymore. It's not just my early wake up call, it's my delicate constitution and if I want to keep that constitution in checks and balances, I have to say goodbye to the martini. It's not such a sacrifice in practice -- I probably haven't had a martini for five years, having preferred my liquor brown -- but the idea of it, it's just a little sad. But maybe it's appropriate to give up on the glass of chilled pure alcohol on a morning where the big story over at Politico is how healthy the Obamas are and how they want you to be healthy, too. Of course Republicans are crying Nanny state, but it makes sense to urge a healthy lifestyle if you want to curb health care costs. I mean, I know if I give up martinis, I'll save a bucket on ibuprofen.

Monday, June 8, 2009

If It Makes You Happy

For whatever reason, this post by Pico Iyer in the Times Happy Days blog about how to be happy made me unhappy all day. Let me just say, I object to the whole Happy Days blog thing. I don't think you can get at the search for contentment in a blog post. The form isn't right. It's too short and whatever someone writes ends up sounding preachy and annoying. Even in book form the story of finding happiness and figuring out what's meaningful can be pretty annoying. But that's fine, whatever, I should accept that that's what I'd get from a blog called Happy Days that wasn't a Henry Winkler fan site. I just wish I could've remembered that before I read Iyer's post and cultivated my little nub of annoyance for the day. The worst of it is according to Iyer it's my ability to read just such a post with my high speed internet access that could be getting in the way of my ability to be happy and read long books and write long letters to friends I haven't seen in too long. Even writing about it now is getting in the way of things I'd like to be doing, things like sleeping. So it goes. I guess Iyer has a point, which means it's time to call it a day and get happy.

Pictures from Rome

I'm cleaning off my desk today and on it, I found two packets of very bad pictures that I took during a trip to Rome two years ago. Everyone in the pictures --my friends who were living there for the year, Melissa, with whom I was traveling --looks very happy. I don't remember the trip as happy, exactly, because I missed my kids so much, but I enjoyed the trip immensely and was very happy to be in Rome. If ever I took a trip that wasn't one thing, it was that trip. I think about it often, actually, those four days in Rome. About the food we ate (it was artichoke season), about the antipasto bars and a walk Melissa and I took one afternoon where we had that conversation that I think I always have when I travel when you talk about all the trips you're going to take, because I for one am never so sure that I'll be traveling a lot more very soon as when I'm actually away from home. I know it's a fantasy, all that travel planning, and I know it's absolutely true. all of which is to say the only real upside to cleaning your desk is finding pictures from a trip you took a while back and wondering if you'll go away, really away, again anytime soon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday Night

This weekend, my son asked to watch fire trucks on you tube. Just like that: "Can I watch fire trucks on you tube?" So I guess he knows, even better than I do, that you tube with the repository of all things bizarre and everything you could wish to see. I'm so tired this Sunday night that I find this new development simply amazing. I know it's not, really, but still. Fire trucks on you tube.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sweet Tooth

Some days, my sweet tooth takes over everything. Today was one of those days. I mean, who really cares about the Republican response to Obama's Cairo speech when there's cake in the freezer and homemade rugalach for dessert? Not me, I'll tell you that.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

His Life As a Woman

I have no idea what to make of this posting to the New York Times Well blog by Dana Jennings. In it, Jennings describes what life was like on Lupron, a drug which he took to suppress testosterone as a way to treat prostate cancer (and which I have taken as part of fertility treatments). He didn't like the drug's side effects -- hot flashes, random food cravings, teariness. He didn't like gaining weight and crying at the drop of a hat and for the first time he struggled with his weight and understood why the media spends so much time talking to women and girls about food and bodies. (Really?) It's understandable that he didn't like how he felt on the drug, but it's also vaguely reductive and somewhat insulting but I'm not sure why I feel insulted. Jennings seems nice but it's like I finished reading the post and I couldn't figure out why I felt kind of invaded, or betrayed, or something. I think it might be because we are all of us -- men and women -- ruled by forces in our bodies that we can't or won't identify and to which we adjust every day. Maybe if we had a better sense of our bodies as things which do more than push around our heads this wouldn't be a newsflash, or a Well blog posting, but we don't, very generally speaking. As it is, I think I just have to re-read the post and have a cookie. I'm really craving one right now.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What's the Matter with Kansas?

I think I was the last person to read about the terrible slaying of Dr. George Tiller yesterday Sullivan has links to some of the terrible decisions that parents have to make when they consider late term abortions. They have a suspect in custody.