Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cry If You Want To

Back in my twenties, if I were having a hard moment, I'd turn on Holly Cole singing a song called "Cry If You Want To" on a CD called "Don't Smoke in Bed."

It starts like this:
Cry if you want to
I won't tell you not to
I won't try to cheer you up
I'll just be here if you want me
You can cry if you want to

Being given the imaginary space to feel everything I was feeling, even by a singer I'd never met singing a song she didn't write on a CD I'd listened to a thousand times, helped me feel better. It's rare, after all, to have the space to feel awful, to have a terrible day, to not be cheerful.

It must be this lack of space for the hard feelings that Barbara Ehrenreich finally got tired of when she wrote her new (best selling) book: Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. I've read a little bit about the book -- and today I read the story in the New York Times about the whole anti-positive thinking trend going on in America right now.

So, I haven't read Ehrenreich's book and I don't think I will. I just don't want to get all negative about positive thinking. OK I don't know anything about it other than what I read in The New Yorker a few years back. Yes, the whole idea of positive thinking can get treacly and tiresome. Of course a critical eye is important to maintain. Of course it's ridiculous that people don't feel they can deliver bad news or be critical at all, but I know some people who consider their opinions about everything "critical" in that way of being evaluative when, really, they're just bad news birds. If there's a grey lining in a bright white cloud, they'll be sure to find it -- because they're so critical!

It's easy to be a naysayer and it might be foolish to always look on the bright side, but there must be a sweet spot somewhere in between where you can cry if you want to and laugh a little to feel better, too. I had a whole political thing to say here, too, but since it's new year's eve, I'm going to lay off of it and wish everyone a highly nuanced, emotionally rich 2010. May it be a year of inner and world-wide peace.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: The cautionary tale

My kids love this 1978 book about the town of Chewandswallow where it rains and snow food, drinks and condiments. Eventually, the weather turns bad in Chewandswallow:

"The food was getting larger and larger, and so were the portions. The people were getting frightened. Violent storms blew up frequently. Awful things were happening....."

Soon, tornadoes of tomatoes uproot houses; it rains enormous slices of bread and rolls; a pancake crushes the school. Finally, the town must be abandoned. I can't help but read the whole thing as a cautionary tale of climate change, which seriously diminishes the joy of bedtime stories, for me that is. The good news is my kids have no idea, although they do know from watching Wall-E that we have to be careful about trash. There's only so much restraint of my climate anxiety I can manage.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Going Away

We're off to visit with my parents for a few days. I don't know how much blogging time I'll have, not that I've had that much lately, but still. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to All!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Attacks from the Left

Long before we met, my husband worked for Senator Harris Wofford. Wofford had been appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, Sr. in 1991 after Sen. John Heinz was killed in a helicopter crash. Wofford won a special run-off election that year, besting the much better known Dick Thornburgh (a former Governor of Pennsylvania and Attorney General under Reagan) by campaigning on health care reform, of all things.

In 1994, however, Wofford lost his re-election campaign, partly because of attacks by NAARAL that claimed Wofford wasn't pro-choice enough. His Senate seat was then turned over to none other than Rick Santorum. In other words, that approach got us a dozen years of a staunchly pro-life senator.

The story in the New York Times about an ad attacking Obama for lack backing down on the public option and his promise not to mandate the purchase of insurance that's set to air in Wisconsin where Russ Feingold is up for re-election reminds me of the attacks on Wofford. Pace the tea baggers, politics and policy making is no place for ideological rigidity. With the Senate split, just barely, along party lines and little work being done across the aisle, there's too much hanging in the balance (climate change legislation anyone?) to moan about less than perfect legislation or to demand a Senator vote a particular way. Remember that old chestnut about the nose and the face and cutting it off and what not?

Which is to say we elect senators and house representatives to represent our voices and we elect them to make choices of their own. We ask them to serve and to lead. Demanding they do exactly what one interest groups asks under threat of retribution perverts the more nuanced work of representation. And if Feingold were to lose and a Wisconsin version of a Santorum were to take his place, we'd all have that burden to bear.

Wake Up Call

During the last two weeks, I got up at five AM to work. It was fantastic. At that hour, I wasn't tempted by email or the latest on whatever blog. I had dragged myself out of bed and I wasn't going to mess around, I was going to work. I developed a highly elaborate fantasy of continuing my five AM wake ups. I would read! I would write! When the weather got better I would run at six thirty, having already been up for a good long while reading! But, having finished up the work thing I was working on, the last two days it's been hard to get myself up. I naturally wake up at five, but I look at the clock and say to myself, "Oh, I'll just lie here until six." Then, if the kids sleep until seven, I do, too. I haven't given up all hope for my five AM wake ups, but I see now I'll have to dig a little deeper if there's no looming deadline.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Side by Side

I'm kind of fascinated by the side by side shots of "plus" sized model Crystal Renn and skinny model Jacquelyn Jablonski featured in the most recent issue of V magazine, which I hadn't heard of before I read about it on Marjorie Ingall's web site today. (For a full discussion, go here.) My unexamined and somewhat lame reaction, ran along these lines:
(in response to skinny model) "Oh look at that model's legs! I'm so tired of seeing legs that look like they're too skinny to walk on!"
(in response to "plus" size model) "Oh! Look at HER legs. She looks like she can walk AND run on those. She looks like someone pretending to be a model! She's so pretty. Is that really Crystal Renn because I keep being surprised that someone named "crystal" isn't blond. Is that bad?"
"Oh, that skinny model--what does her face look like?"
"Oh, Crystal sure is pretty. Too bad she's in that stupid skirt."

Which is to say that I am sick and tired of those spindly limbs on very young models that are the industry standard. And yet, I was surprised when I saw the pictures of Crystal Renn and didn't think she could be a "real" model. Because at a US size 12, Crystal Renn looks different from most models I'm used to seeing even if I don't like what I most often see. But she sure is pretty so why not let's see more!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snowbound and Wondering What to Eat

There's been a lot of talk lately about why we eat what we eat and whether or not we should rethink what we eat not just for reasons of health but with questions of morality in mind. It's amazing anyone has any time to consider what tastes good, never mind what he or she might crave what with all the talking about food we have to do.

For example, the most emailed article in The New York Times today is Natalie Angier's column titled "Sorry Vegans, Vegetables Like to Live, Too." It's a snarky title, and, really, being snarky (and defensive) about veganism is, I hate to say it, like shooting fish in a barrel. But it is an interesting article. Everything, even plants, it seems, works hard to live. That's what it means to live, to work hard to make sure you keep living. Sometimes the hard work means cooperation and sometimes it means playing full on in a zero sum game. The two seem at odds but both are without a doubt a familiar part of everyone's experience. We might be what we eat, and when it comes to eating, I suppose that makes many, many, many people, myself included, conflicted.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday with Nancy

I know I've been a little checked out this week. My apologies. With school closing, the year ending, and a two week vacation coming up, there's been a lot to get done, most of which I haven't gotten done. I did, however, manage to read Daphne Merkin's profile of writer/director Nancy Meyers titled Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women? Merkin and her editors must have agreed on this ambivalent title because it's not clear from the article that Merkin really likes the movies that Meyers makes. Oh she enjoys them. They're so soft! They're so pretty! Just like Meyers herself, at least how Merkin portrays her. She's tough, that Nancy, she's one of the only gals in Hollywood making movies on her own terms and getting a slice of the gross.

But, she's still nice. Merkin quotes Jack Nicholson as telling a story in which he insisted on wearing a shirt that Meyers didn't like. In the end, Nicholson wore the shirt even though Meyers, we're told again and again, is a stickler for aesthetic details. So what's the point of the story? Meyers is a stickler for detail but not so much of a stickler that she won't let Jack wear his shirt? She really sticks it to the guys, that Nancy! The whole article was like that, like I wasn't sure what the point of it was. I read it without my reading glasses and I kept rereading sentences, thinking I must have gotten them wrong. But I didn't. In Merkin's view Meyers makes movies that are like good candy and good candy is hard to make. Everybody, even Merkin, likes good candy. I think, though, ultimately Merkin must prefer salty to sweet. The whole thing made me wish I could read another article by a different women about other women making other movies. Maybe, though, that was the whole point.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Menu for Hope

I'm not a food blogger, but apparently this time of year they band together to raise money for the UN food relief program. Here are the details from Chocolate and Zucchini.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Over the past few weeks, I've made a number of variations on this shortbread recipe and I've gotten a LOT of compliments for, because I feel rushed and overwhelmed, today I'm going to offer up this recipe, which is Melissa Clark's and was originally published in the New York Times in 2005 along with an excellent article urging us to go a little nutty with the baking. Enjoy!

Rosemary Shortbread With Variations
Time: 45 minutes, plus cooling

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 to 2 teaspoons rosemary, chestnut or other dark, full-flavored honey (optional).

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, rosemary and salt. Add butter, and honey if desired, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don't overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.
2. Press dough into an ungreased 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan or 9-inch pie pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm.

N.B. If you like, replace 1/2 cup of the flour with 1/2 cup of cornmeal. I recommend it!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Tis the Season for Catalogs

This time of year, my mailbox gets stuffed full of catalogs selling unusual gifts, gifts to fill every stocking, gifts that matter. While gifts that matter can work my nerves, for me, the catalog that bugs me most are the special, precious, Sundance catalogs. (one for jewelry, one for stuff) If you visit the Sundance web site, you'll see that they're committed to caring for the environment, they really are. They try to buy paper from people who are responsible stewards of the environment, although the paper they print on isn't recycled or anything, it's just regular catalog stock. But guess what? When the catalog started they started with just four employees and Robert Redford and now, they have a lifestyle!

But here's my question: Why did Robert Redford start a mail order catalog? On the web site it says because they have this general store at the Utah spread and people kept calling up and asking for stuff from the store so they decided to start a mail order business. But from the catalog itself to the packaging of goods sold to the fuels used for shipping, there's no way you can say that mail order is great for the earth.

One could argue Sundance creates jobs. If an "artisan" is selling through the catalog, he/she has to have the capacity to produce a large number of goods. Nothing wrong with that for the artisans, but for Sundance it means they're selling mass produced items wrapped up in an expensive package of 'craftsmanship' and 'individuality.' This is an old trick, of course, and they manage it well for sure.

But my question is this: Why is Robert Redford in the consumer goods business in the first place? Why did he and his business partners feel they should "extend the Sundance brand" into lifestyle products? Just because they could? Surely Redford already had a pretty comfortable life when he started the catalog in 1989. Does he really need the money? There's something not only opportunistic but offhandedly cynical about this particular brand. Everything is done in the best of taste, but, like everything else, good taste makes waste. Do we really need one more catalog sent out in the mail? Even if a company is scrupulous about buying paper from responsible mills, it's pretty clear everyone who lives the Sundance life could probably live it just as well without yet another paper catalog to recycle.

(To get yourself off unwanted catalog lists, go to To get yourself off Sundance's list, you'll have to email them directly at

Friday, December 11, 2009

This is Where We Are

So last night the kids were playing Playmobil zoo and David and I were sitting at the table and I say, "Oh, did you hear the President's speech?" And David said, "What speech?" And I said, "The President got the Nobel Prize today."

The actual getting of the prize is usually a let down after the big hoopla of the announcements, but this year, considering all the hand-wringing over whether or not Mr. Obama should accept the prize and what it meant that he got it, it all seemed like an especially big yawn. Then again, I didn't watch any political shows to hear any of the chin music afterward, but who can take it anymore anyway?

What's not a yawn is I baked up some cookie batter last night and finally, after a year of fiddling with the timing of chilled dough, I got it just right. It's the little things sometimes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top Chef-The End

There was a lot I loved about Top Chef last night. I loved Kevin's mom and the way he dropped his head onto her arm at the end when he was so sad about not winning. I loved that Kevin said "Any of us could win, it's just who will win today." I loved that Michael showed some emotion, some insecurities, some humor and some brotherly love. I loved that all the judges got weepy at the end. If I had been pregnant at that judges table, I would have been balling my eyes out.

Here's what I didn't like: Padma's bangs. Padma's clothes (who's styling her?). And, as Skillet Doux notes, I didn't love that Jennifer had to carry the knives to the contestants. As a final note, I love my husband very much. I'm very very happy to be married to him. That said, I miss the British judge they had for Top Chef Masters and I want to marry him and I want Kevin to cater.

Later Note: But I was sad that Kevin didn't win.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Children's Book

I'm reading A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. It was a gift (Thanks, Nicole!) and so far, it's as terrific as all the reviewers say it is. A little (too) mannered, sure, but in for a dime, in for a dollar, you know? Every night I read a few pages and the images come back to me in the morning. It's a little like being inside a Masterpiece Theater miniseries before its been made. Early on in the book there's this passage:

"The children mingled with the adults, and spoke and were spoken to. Children in these families, at the end of the nineteenth century, were different from children before or after. They were neither dolls nor miniature adults. They were not hidden away in nurseries, but present at family meals, where their developing characters were taken seriously and rationally discussed, over supper or over long country walks. And yet, at the same time, the children in this world had their own separate, largely independent lives, as children. They roamed the woods and fields, built hiding-places and climbed trees, hunted, fished, rod ponies and bicycles, with no other company than that of other children."

Can I please go there where serial commas are masterfully employed and the lives of children and adults so beautifully balanced? Please?

Monday, December 7, 2009

At the End of a Long Day

This is going to be a complicated week. There's Copenhagen, which I can't read anything about because of Zingo. For those who don't know, Zingo is a kind of Bingo game where you match up nine pictures on plastic chits onto a board with the same pictures. I don't know how it's supposed to be played, though, only how we play it. Anyway, almost every day my daughter and I play Zingo and there's a picture for "tree" on one of the boards, I look at the fir tree lying innocently there between "worm" and "duck" and I start thinking about clear cuts and climate change and it's not good. Plus, our much loved, long-term babysitter is moving on at the end of the week. Plus, this morning I woke up and couldn't get online for hours and hours and hours. And I can't remember the last time I knit. So, as you can see, the universe seems like it could be conspiring against me. But then, just when I think I can't take one more bit of any kind of news, the ladies at Go Fug Yourself offer up this. My only caveat: I love clogs.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Long Lost Yoga

I used to practice yoga, a lot of yoga. There was a time in my life when I went to four yoga classes a week. There was time after that when two times a week, I showed up in Joan White's attic for her intense Iyengar classes. Then I had kids and the collection of spare parts that comprise my body started getting very cranky, first about no yoga and then about any yoga. So Saturday, I took my daughter to a "family yoga" class -- a class for kids and grown-ups. She LOVED it, in spite of some not stellar parenting on my part. (As in: "Helen! Stop playing with your hair-thingy!" This was forty minutes into the class, even I was a little bored.) But can I just say? After the kids yoga class with its two sun salutations and three L-shaped handstands against the wall, I'm sore. That's just too sad.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Media Moguls Won't Pay Money

Marjorie Ingall makes a major big point about what's wrong with journalism/"content" budgets that don't include line items for the writer. Go read it. Her post reminds me of when last year at some point Andrew Sullivan crowed (as he's want to do) about how new media will mean writers will be able to establish themselves without book publishers. Like he's doing on his Atlantic Magazine hosted blog with two staff members, media establishment be damned. It's like some kind of weird colonialism and wink and nod smuggery going on with writers who are not their very own brand and readers paying all the taxes.

Pink Ribbon Blues

Barbara Ehrenreich gets mad because everyone loves pink ribbons and no one made any noise about Stupak.

Top Chef

I'm sorry, the contestant who was sent home last night was robbed. Robbed! The producers only kept on Michael V. because of the sibling rivalry (and because Tom liked his turnip situation). I'm not pleased.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pot, Kettle, You Name the Color

According to this story in Politico, Republicans don't like how "partisans on the left" are painting the party's position on a particular bill. You know what I say: Boo hoo. Cry me a river.

Hockey Mom: C'est moi?

When my son was just three, he saw hockey. It happened in Central Park. We were there for an innocent walk around the Harlem Meer when we came upon the ice rink, and on the ice were ten-year-old gladiators with masks and sticks zooming around the ice. Elliot was transfixed. That winter, we started ice skating and Elliot started watching a compilation video of Alexander Ovechkin set to Dream On. I myself had to take a private lesson to learn how to skate. Helen, my daughter, had better balance, but Elliot, he had a goal. He was determined to skate so he could play hockey. Last winter, we told him, again, that he had to learn to skate before he could play. Every time we went skating, he begged for a hockey stick. Now, the boy is five, and while I signed up three weeks late, Friday we'll get him outfitted in hockey gear and Saturday he'll have his first hockey class. I'm filled with hope and dread. I hope his heart isn't broken by hockey. I hope he can skate with the gear on, not to mention the new skates. I hope loves it. I really do. But if he loves it, are we doomed to years of seven AM games and even earlier practices? Hockey: A love story. Who knew?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Not in My Bundt Pan

OK. Go Fug Yourself. My not so secret source of a great deal of pleasure. Won't you share some?

Knocked Up? Not so much

I was astonished to find on visiting The New Yorker's web site to get a link to the Caster Semenya story that Knocked Up was included in a list of the top ten films of the decade. If you've somehow managed to forget, Knocked Up was the follow-up to Judd Apatow's great and sweet movie, The-40-Year-Old Virgin. In Knocked Up, a working girl goes out on the town with her married-with-kids sister, gets drunk and has sex with someone she met at the bar. Guess what happens next? The thing about Knocked Up is, sure, I laughed at it, but I was also, you know, put off by it. Because, I hate to be a spoilsport, and I hate to use the "m" word, but the movie doesn't like women. It presents a world where women tame men and they have kids and marry in some order or another and from the point of taming on, men and women live in an uneasy state called long-term marriage in which women are, you know, shrews and men scurry around. Funny at times? Why not. Top ten? No way.

Open Borders

Here's a little thing about the death of English writer Alan Bennett's longtime female lover (via Light Reading). To me the revelation that Bennett had a long-standing relationship with a woman along with men falls squarely in the category of "Gee that's good for him but not my business." Which is how kind of how I feel about the long New Yorker piece about the South African runner Caster Semenya, which is a story as much about exploitation as it is the confounding multiplicity of gender in the natural world. It's naive and disingenuous of me to whine about Semenya's gender and Bennett's sexual desire as private subjects in a world where people like their fences firmly in place when it comes to marriage or desire or bodies. It's also foolish for me to claim that crossed boundaries need not cause shame or expulsion, when obviously and painfully and heartbreakingly they still do. But, still, there are things about the body that the body politic would do well to leave all alone; these stories demonstrate why.