Monday, December 27, 2010

Greed is Bad

Here's more from my friend Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein on the market for mortgage-backed securities and the questionable practices of bankers at Merril Lynch. As the market in mortgage-backed securities started to slow down, Merrily Lynch did something to keep it going. Bernstein & Eisinger write:

Bank executives came up with a fix that had short-term benefits and long-term consequences. They formed a new group within Merrill, which took on the bank's money-losing securities. But how to get the group to accept deals that were otherwise unprofitable? They paid them. The division creating the securities passed portions of their bonuses to the new group, according to two former Merrill executives with detailed knowledge of the arrangement.


That's just great. When I finished reading the article, I was so angry I wanted to throw my computer across the room. Of course that'd be a whole nose/face situation, so I didn't. If you're ready for a little banker rage, read the whole sordid and well sourced tale on Pro Publica.

If you missed Eisinger & Bernstein's story about Magnetar, and how one hedge fund helped propel the housing bubble read it here. I believe the SEC is now investigating.

Obesity Goes Political

This fall, Sarah Palin turned Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign into a red-state-blue-state-don't-nanny-state-me issue. It's ridiculous. In a column in the Washing Post, Fred Hiatt writes that the politicization of the problem of obesity was inevitable. He writes:

"...when you look a little deeper, it's not surprising that a crusade seemingly beyond questioning would become a political battle. Interests that might feel threatened by Let's Move include the fast-food industry, agribusiness, soft-drink manufacturers, real estate developers (because suburban sprawl is implicated), broadcasters and their advertisers (of sugary cereals and the like), and the oil-and-gas and automotive sectors (because people ought to walk more and drive less)."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sugar Cookies

'Tis the season to decorate cookies. This is one Christmas activity that's pretty much open to everyone and so we got ourselves a snowman cookie cutter, tuned into an excellent instructional video from the New York Times, and decorated some cookies! For icing transportation, I made a half batch of Martha Stewart Sugar Cookies from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook instead of gingerbread because my gingerbread cookies are always gross. These were actually very, very good--even without the icing. But, we know, sugar cookies are really and truly all about the icing.




Happy holidays everyone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Jew in Christmas City

Yesterday I was at our local ice skating rink with my kids. It's in Central Park, and over the sound system there were Christmas songs playing. One after the other. Christmas this, Christmas that. While the Zamboni was going around the ice, I was clapping my hands to a particularly jazzy Christmas tune, wondering if the handsome Harry Connick was singing, when all of the sudden my daughter stamped her foot and shouted, "Doesn't ANYBODY celebrate Hannukah!?!"

My answer? "Not that many people, honey."

As a Jewish mom, I'm bad at explaining why we don't celebrate Christmas. Actually, since Helen told me we had to get some matzah when I told her it was the first night of Hannukah, as a Jewish mom I'm clearly bad at explaining all kinds of things. But that's not the point. The point is it's hard to manage all the Christmas stuff when you don't celebrate Christmas. I was halfway seduced by the pronouncement of the stepdad in Kathleen Schine's The Three Wiessmanns of Westport which runs along the lines of: "This is a holiday celebrating the birth of a man in whose name our people have been persecuted for centuries. Why let them have all the fun?"

But I know this isn't the answer for me. And Christmas doesn't look like all that much fun, anyway. This isn't just sour grapes talking. This is anxiety about wrapping paper, garbage and climate change fueled by plastic toys talking. (By the way, I'm sure there's a connection between climate change and plastic toys.)

For all this reasons and more, I was very glad to read Marjorie Ingall's column about the ambivalent position we Jewish mamas stake at Christmas. Turns out the mushy middle is a reasonable place to be, and when our kids grow up, God willing, they can be ambivalent, too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Michelle Rhee: Who's on first?

Michelle Rhee, who told Oprah she's going to start a "movement" to reform education by forming an organization called "Student's First." She wants to raise a billion dollars to do it. A billion. Because it's the students who come first for Michelle. Right. Students. A billion dollars. Think of what students could do with a billion dollars! If you like, you might read more complete thoughts on the matter here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rachel Zucker, Poet.

Rachel Zucker is an amazing poet. I don't read much poetry but Museum of Accidents, her most recent book of poetry, is extraordinary. I turn to it with some regularity and you should, too. She wrote the Modern Love column that's now posted on the Times web site. Her subject: The liberation of divorce and looking for it in a marriage. Here's a bit:

"In a perfect world, divorce offers mothers an opportunity to reclaim their independence and sense of self. And it offers fathers the opportunity to parent without someone looking over their shoulders and micromanaging them, without someone who is always doing domestic chores or child care “better” and a little faster. In this fantasy world, both men and women have the opportunity to feel like autonomous people who can and must take responsibility for their own lives and choices. Shouldn’t married people live like this as well?"

Monday, November 29, 2010

In Which I Discuss Overparenting

And my great exhaustion with the whole topic. Right here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Bad Pie

This year, my contribution to my family's Thanksgiving celebration was a really bad pie. Really bad. It should have been a really good pie. A really good carmelized butternut squash pie with ginger in a twice baked crust. Had I followed the directions and NOT mixed all the spices for the filling with the alcohol that also flavored the squash, it would have been terrific. Terrific! I'm sure of it. I mean, I'm sure it would have been terrific had I not only not tried to infuse alcohol with pie spices but also baked the pie for the required period of time to achieve a firm custard. But, instead, I underbaked the overspiked pie. There was one bright spot. I pushed the squash through a strainer and the consistency of the stuff was gorgeous. Truly silky smooth. The rest, I'd rather forget. Fortunately, I saved a little face by also making shortbread. Cornmeal rosemary shortbread, to be specific, and that was a big hit, even if I thought the shortbread should have had more salt. Now, I've got brownies in the over, because, you know, when you fall off that horse, you've got to get right back on.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Chart Situation

I once sat in on a talk by a fairly well known child psychologist who told the room, "If any one knows of a chart that works, tell me." At the time, my daughter and I were in the middle of a great chart experiment. Or, more precisely, Helen was hoodwinking me through a chart.

The purpose of the chart was simple: To help Helen get to sleep without me in the room. The incentive was straightforward: A princess costume.
The time frame was reasonable: Four weeks.

Plus, Helen had the idea for the chart, she made the chart, she kept the checks and ex-es on the chart. (A very bad bedtime meant she'd lose a check.) It was all terrific, until Helen got her costume. Then, suddenly, she couldn't go to sleep without me in the room. "I only did it to get the dress, mommy," she confessed.

As if I didn't know.

And yet. And yet! Here we are in the grips of another chart. This one was also proposed by Helen, drawn by Helen and is kept by Helen. What's it for? New food. Dinner has gotten to be awful around here. Helen eats nothing because she's bored with everything (and by "everything" I mean pasta, hard boiled eggs, carrots, cauliflower, hot dogs and the occasional fish stick). But her new friends at her new school are eating new foods, so she has a little bit of a peer incentive, even if the new food idea slightly terrifies her.

Anyway, here's how it works. She tries a food we've agreed on, she gets a check. After about 25 checks, she gets a (medium) toy. So far, she's tried raspberries (yuk), blackberries (double yuck), sweet potato (Yum!), and romanesco cauliflower (Yum!). I wasn't sure if the romanesco cauliflower should count because truth be told, it tastes an awful lot like regular cauliflower, which she likes, but it looks a lot different, so I'm sticking with it's status as new.

We'll see if after her (medium) toy she will still eat sweet potatoes. I think she might. I think we might have found a chart that works, but, then again, I've thought that before.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Investors Learn from Bubbles

Over on Pro Publica and in The New York Times, my friend Jesse Eisinger writes about new bubbles in the world of investing. With changes in Fed policy to bring down interest rates by buying long term assets. I'm not going to pretend I can comment on this. I will instead just share the kicker, which is actually a kicker:

"...It’s commonplace to lament Wall Street’s lack of a historical memory. But there is something different at work. Professional investors have learned the lessons of the financial markets’ serial bubbles and learned them well.

The lesson is: When the next one comes, I’m going to get mine. I’ll just get out early this time."

Which means that a very few people will still make most of the money and the rest of us will have to hope against hope that their mistakes don't make the market collapse when our kids are going to college, or when we retire, or when we need money for long term care for our parents or (good god) ourselves. Of course, it's a foolish hope because if Jesse is right, sooner or later most of the people will have to pay so a few of the people can keep all the money.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Wives & The Power

The Daily Beast ran a story by Joe Matthews and its first two paragraphs are this:

"The conventional wisdom has hardened quickly: Californians, in rejecting Silicon Valley CEOs Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, supposedly declared in last week's elections that they don't want corporate executives running their government.

Nonsense. California voters may have turned down the applications of Whitman and Fiorina for the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat, respectively. But in the very same election, they voted to put a female corporate executive from the Bay Area in charge of their state's government.

The name of Anne Gust Brown, a former top lawyer and executive for The Gap, wasn't on the ballot, but it might as well as have been. She served as de facto campaign manager for the campaign of her husband of five years, the once and now future Gov. Jerry Brown."


No, Mr. Matthews. If Ms. Gust Brown's name wasn't on the balloot, then, in fact, voters in California didn't elect her, they elected her husband. She might have done an awful lot to help her husband get elected, but she didn't run herself.

Does she have access to power? Yes. Can she influence how the power of the governor's office is used in California? Of course. Is the power of that office actually in her hands? No, and if she herself had run for governor, the narrative of the California race would have been a whole lot different.

Matthews tells us that Jerry Brown might not appoint a chief of staff because he has his wife there filling that role on an unpaid basis. If that's the case, then give her the title and pay her a dollar, because why not? Then she has an actual, acknowledged public role. Too messy? It's cleaner than this.

This whole thing reminds of the recent Forbes list of the "100 Most Powerful Women in the World." Michelle Obama was at the top of that list -- the number one, ONE - most powerful woman in the world. Sure they put her there to be provocative. And I was provoked. Because while Michelle Obama is, in my opinion, totally awesome, she's in the position she's in and has the particular power she has through her marriage. If she weren't married to the president, she'd still be powerful and do important things, I'm sure, but if you didn't live in Chicago, you might not know about her.

I've been reading the excellent Big Girls Don't Cry right now by Rebecca Traister. It's about women and the 2008 election. At the beginning, Traister quotes Living History, Hillary Clinton's memoir, in which Clinton describes the power of the first lady as "derivative." That's the point.

Women who are powerful in their own right and are married to men who hold powerful positions do not hold the same power as their spouses. It does a disservice to everyone, but especially women, to conflate the power of office with the power of influence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anyone Can Be Chancellor!

So Joel Klein is leaving his job as Chancellor of the New York City public schools and Cathie Black, publisher of Hearst Magazines is taking over his job. Why, I wonder, can't we have an actual educator as Chancellor? A school system isn't exactly a business. I know I'm not supposed to think that, but I do.

Comic Fiction-or Funny Moments in Fiction?

Howard Jacobson has an essay in the Guardian asking why comic novels aren't taken more seriously. He gives examples of funny moments from Anna Karenina and Little Dorrit.....which seems to me to sort of conflate what might be funny in a book that's about so much life it can't help but include the funny parts and what's meant to be a comic book.

I got to the essay via Maud Newton who thinks maybe Muriel Spark is too funny to get the respect she deserves. (I'm a Spark fan, but I don't think that's why Spark isn't taken more seriously.) Anyway, it's all interesting because it's all about how people don't think that comic and complex can go together.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Too Much Information?

I don't want to overshare, but this is exactly how I feel about OB tampons.

It's a Video Game, Mom!

Yesterday, both my kids were home from school. At around two in the afternoon, we prepared for our second big outing of the day, a trip to the bank and possibly Radio Shack for batteries, which we needed for my son's bumper cars. But even the mention of Radio Shack brought on an onslaught of tears and renewed pleas for a video game. Any video game would do. Elliot just wanted a video game.

I did not buy a video game. But, my daughter whispered to me that she wanted a piece of cardboard so she could make a video game for Elliot and cheer him up -- but it had to be a secret. This I gave her. When Helen's "video game" was done, it had a place for thumbs, four buttons (two on each side), a boy and a girl and a building in between them.

"Is that you and Elliot?" I asked.
"No. It's just a boy and a girl."
"Are they trying to climb the building?"
"Mooooom, it's a VIDEO game!"
"So..."
"So they're fighting!"


On Tuesday over on Strollerderby I'd blogged about the California case argued before the Supreme Court requesting that sales and rentals of violent video games to those under eighteen be banned. My not-surprising take was that parents and kids should figure out reasonable limits together.

I don't think my daughter's assertion that video games mean de facto fighting changes it, but it is kind of upsetting that that's what she thinks. It wouldn't be a video game, even one drawn on cardboard, if the people in it weren't fighting. One more strike against video games.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Still Here!

OK. So I regularly blog in my head, and then something happens in my day - like a birthday or a kid home from school - and by the time I sit down to write the blog in my head it's gone! Which is to say, once the anti-biotics kick in, I'll be back to blogging here again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Thing About Baseball

For the past few weeks, my husband has been watching the baseball playoffs, so I have been, too, and I've decided that I should become a baseball fan. Everything that they say about the game is true: It's elegant, it's subtle, it has this strange mix of skill and luck, players don't injure their brains playing it. Here's what they don't tell you about baseball: It makes you miserable. Watching my husbands face last night while the Phillies were marching toward their one run loss of the game and so the series, it was full of pain. David is usually ebullient. I rely on his positive energy but baseball robbed me of that. Even in profile. I could see the parade of horribles marching across his forehead. And it wasn't just him. Everyone in the stands looked awful. Even when there was hope, when the Phillies had men on base and an out or two to spare, you could practically reach into the TV screen to cut the tension in the crowd. Seriously, it felt like watching the first (and best) season of "24". When I mentioned this state of perpetuated pain to a baseball fan (not my husband) he said, "But that's the beauty of it!" Apparently if you love baseball, you relish the sweet tension of it all. But if you, like me, can't look at a traffic jam without seeing the melting glaciers of the Himalayas, then maybe tension inspired by not knowing what combination of skill and luck is going to work out and for whom isn't what you, or I, need. I don't know if I'll fall in love with baseball next season, but I do know that the one happy accident of the Phillies' failure to make it to the World Series is I won't have to endure the terrible pressure of watching the games. And now, I have the whole winter to get ready for next season. In the meantime, I'll stock up on worry beads.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Other Blogging

Here's some news. I've just started blogging for Babble's Strollerderby. Here's an example of me catastrophizing about the future and here's one about football and here's my take on soda for everyone. I won't be listing my posts again but since there are so few, I thought I'd start out with a bang (or a fizz, as the case may be). I will keep blogging here. This week is very hectic, but I'll find a groove because there's stuff I'm going to want to talk about here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite-Take Three

OK, you might think I'm biased when I go on and on about how great In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite is, but you'd be wrong. I may be friends with the book's author, but that doesn't mean I don't know what makes a good recipe. And I'm not the only one. Check this out. And, I just showed the book to our fantastic sitter, and her response was this: "I just read some recipes and you think they're going to be really hard, but they're not!"

Exactly.

Ponchos!


I made my daughter a poncho for the first day of school. That day, my son asked, shyly, if he might try it on. When he did, he asked if he could have one, too. So we went to our yarn shop (the fantastic Yarntopia) and he picked out his yarn. And today, I give you the ponchos.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bono & Ali & Africa & Louis Vuitton

Every since that Louis Vuitton ad with Bono and his wife Ali Hewson started showing up in my New Yorker, it's bothered me. I read the small print and noted that they're wearing their own line of clothing (49 percent of which is owned by Louis Vuitton). I know the clothing they make is sustainable, and it costs a small fortune, and I'm sure they're giving away a lot of the money they're making from the campaign and the clothing line to support a variety of projects in Africa. But still, that ad drives me up the wall. The photograph of the two of them: The golden sun, the tall African grasses, the small plane, it's all so Out of Africa, evoking an intensely romanticized image of the white adventurer/colonial (even well-meaning colonial). I don't know much about the history of the African continent as a whole or any individual country in it, but I do know that, generally speaking, the colonial experience was not a happy one for Africans themselves. Invoking the most gorgeous aspect of its most popular representations, even in service of raising money whilst selling very expensive handbags, seems ill-advised at best. The photo might be beautiful, but what it calls to mind isn't so pretty.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Parenting Advice

Generally speaking, I don't like to give parenting advice. I don't feel it's my place. But today I have a tip about which I feel great confidence. If your child loses a tooth, don't forget to invite the tooth fairy to visit that very night, even if you lose the tooth before it goes under the pillow. No matter what, the tooth comes out, and the tooth fairy should come.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What's Love Got to Do With It?

First, let me apologize for my general absence. I've yet to find my groove with our new school routines, but I'll get there. Second, poking around the New York Times web site the other day I stumbled on a discussion of education between David Brooks and Gail Collins titled "Waiting for Super Principals." Usually, I'm not a big fan of the written dialogue format, but Brooks and Collins are so easy to read I didn't mind. But in his first comment, David Brooks wrote/said this:

"I confess I don’t think either charters or teacher unions are the primary issue here (in education reform). If I had to summarize the progress we’ve made in education over the last decade, it’s that we’ve move beyond the illusion that we could restructure our way to a good education system and we’ve finally begun to focus on the core issue: the nature of the relationship between the teacher and the student.

People learn from people they love. Anything that enriches the space between a student and a teacher is good. Anything that makes it more frigid is bad. This doesn’t mean we have to get all huggy and mushy. It means rigorous instruction has to flow on threads of trust and affection."(That's my parenthetical addition in first paragraph.)

Is it just me but does the phrase "trust and affection" sound pretty mushy? Now, in elementary school, it's the case that warmth is essential for younger students. As kids get older, though, I'm not sure it's true. Teachers should love what they do and believe in the potential of each student, but I don't think love is the answer here.

For me, personally, the most effective high school teacher I had was the most terrifying. Her nickname was "Dr. Demon." She pushed and demanded and pushed some more with not a hint of affection. I don't think she really liked any of us. Years later I saw her at synagogue, I was still terrified of her but forced myself to thank her for being such a good teacher. She had no idea who I was. Still, I learned from her. I learned a lot from her.

Then again, terror isn't the answer, either. But rigorous instruction that understands and meets the needs of the students in the room? That surely is. Love it or lump it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite-Take Two

Here's the trailer for Melissa Clark's fantastic new book!

(And here's the link to the book.)

Rethinking the 9 Months

Over on Babble, Ceridwen Morris reviews Annie Murphy Paul's new book Origins: How the nine months before birth shapes the rest of our lives. Full disclosure: I am the mother who cursed upon hearing the news of the book (see the lede). But, I have to say, after reading the review (and talking to Ceridwen about it), I'm intrigued. As Ceridwen points out, modern pregnancy with it's focus on risk pits fetus against mom "and you can guess who’s the innocent one." And yet, she writes of Paul's book:

...between the data on phthalates and thalidomide, and around the edges of tragic stories about Holocaust survivors and flu pandemics, a strangely positive story emerges, a story about mothers and fetuses engaged in a highly synchronized and extremely responsive physiological rapport. Gestation, it turns out, is not the mother "hosting the perfect parasite," as once was believed. Instead, it’s a time when vital information is passed from mother to fetus, what Paul calls "biological postcards from the world outside." These stories “make up a mix of influences as individual and idiosyncratic as the mother herself."

So good to see a new door on the mother load of mother guilt finally opening and letting in some fresh, non-toxic air.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mom Qua Media Watchdog

Last night, my son got it in his head that he wanted to watch Batman. He was completely dismayed that other kids in his class had seen Ironman and I wouldn't let him and he thought seeing some Batman would do the trick. Once, about a year ago, we mistakenly let him watch the Dark Knight trailer, so I thought this was what he wanted to see and I said no. Turns out, he didn't want to see that at all. No, he wanted to see this. It's inappropriate for an almost six-year-old for a whole host of reasons, and yet, really, there's nothing like a little Lego Batman to start your day off right.

Monday, September 27, 2010

How I (Still) Feel About Harem Pants

Right here.

Moving Forward with Obama

If you talk politics at all it's impossible to avoid the "Are you disappointed in Obama" question, which, for the record, I do not like. Of course I'd like for him to have moved ahead on Climate Change legislation. Of course I wish bankers had been called out on their colossal failure and real regulation had been put in place. Of course I'm overly forgiving of the political calculations that must drive some of the President's decision making on these fronts because I still believe he's not only the best we've got, he'd be pretty darn good in a field crowded with good picks. Given all that, I was glad to read this about Obama's presidency over on the Daily Dish. Here's a quote from the quote of the post by Andrew Sprung (so pomo, I know):

"He has laid foundations for universal healthcare and healthcare cost control (i.e., meaningful entitlement reform); educational improvement; and a reversal or at least slowing of the 30-year rise in income inequality (via healthcare reform, student loan reform, middle class tax cuts and tax hikes for the wealthy, the latter a work in progress). The stimulus also seeded a host of investments in infrastructure and alternative energy (as well as education) that will also take a long time to assess. With a little bit of economic luck, he will be the transformative president that he aims to be."

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Visit from the Goon Squad

I love this book. I just loved it. I've read other books composed of short stories that wind together. (I'm thinking particularly of Joan Silber's powerful Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories.) I tend to like how they mess around with structure and I'm a sucker for the serendipities they rely on. But I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad in a way that goes beyond appreciating it's structure, which is terrific, and the writing, which is brilliant. I loved it in the way you love a book you can't wait to read and so to finish and then you actually finish it and get that feeling of "Nooooooo! Please don't end!" Plus, the book had me speaking a line to my husband I never thought possible: "Just read the chapter in power point because I cried on the subway when I read it." Really.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Education, Crisis and a Voice of Reason

With the release of the documentary Waiting for Superman and the administration's "Race to the Top," we've lately been treated to a whole host of articles about education, what works, what doesn't, and who makes that work happen. It's all become too predictable, too familiar. In the new New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann has a Comment that takes it apart. Here's a quote:

It should raise questions when an enormous, complicated realm of life takes on the characteristics of a stock drama. In the current school-reform story, there is a reliable villain, in the form of the teachers’ unions, and a familiar set of heroes, including Geoffrey Canada, of Harlem Children’s Zone; Wendy Kopp, of Teach for America, the Knowledge Is Power Program; and Michele Rhee, the superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C. And there is a clear answer to the problem—charter schools. The details of this story are accurate, but they are fitted together too neatly and are made to imply too much. For example, although most of the specific charter schools one encounters in this narrative are very good, the data do not show that charter schools in general are better than district schools. There are also many school-reform efforts besides charter schools: the one with the best sustained record of producing better-educated children in difficult circumstances, in hundreds of schools over many years, is a rigorously field-tested curriculum called Success for All, but because it’s not part of the story line it goes almost completely unmentioned.

I could quote more, but, really it's worth reading the whole thing. Here's that link again.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cake!

Chocolate chip pecan loaf cake, to be exact. Check it out, you'll be glad you did. (I know because I've made it, twice.)

An Israel Problem

No, this one isn't about the West Bank or Gaza, it's about the perception of Israel and it's really depressing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Top Chef: Sort of Spoiler Alert

I wasn't glued to Top Chef this season, but I've watched it intermittently and I happened to tune in last night, which was lucky, because the finale happened to be on and I had a fair sense of the finalists. But watching their, what struck me was how much I didn't want to eat food by a guy I really, really didn't like. I would go to Angelo's restaurant in a heartbeat. Ed's? No way. I don't care how good his Morroccan food was, he showed himself to be someone who'd kick a guy when he's down and I don't like that. Which is to say, when it comes to fancy-pants cooking, it's probably better not to know too much about the chef.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Voting: A travesty, continued.

Turns out I wasn't the only one who had issues.

Voting: A travesty!

I'm just back from voting in the primary here in New York City. If I didn't know better, I'd say Boss Tweed was alive and kicking in lower Manhattan having sent his minions to Albany to deal with those pesky things called votes. How? Well, here in New York City, they've replaced the old fashioned, lever pulling machines with scanners. But, in my district, where there once were at least six or eight machines there are now only two and this morning, just before I got on one of the very long lines for a machine, one of the two broke so the two long lines had to merge into one. Standing on that line was like being in traffic after a major accident shuts down the road. You're not moving forward, but if you want to get where you're going, you can't go anywhere else. Finally, the voting coordinator gave voters the option of slipping their votes into an emergency voting slot, promising to scan them when the polls close. I don't know for sure if my vote will be counted, but I know that without two hours to spend on the scanner line, I tried my best.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Franzenfest/Manenfraude

I should say that I've been trying to write something about the whole Jodi Picault, Jennifer Weiner, Jonathan Franzen situation for a while now. I've gotten nowhere. But Liza Mundy over at Slate XX, she got somewhere. Check it out here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I Heart Kara Janx Kimonos

A little over four years ago, I bought a Kara Janx kimono dress for my niece's bat mitzvah. Every time I've worn it -- even when I've worn it on the streets of New York -- I get compliments. But, I haven't worn it for a while, and things, as in my body, has, let's say, changed recently. I was concerned because many of the clothes that I bought before the recent changes no longer fit, but I don't have such a big selection of clothing that would be appropriate for, say, Rosh Hashannah services anywhere that's not in Israel (where I could go in pretty much anything, I think). Still, this morning, I wrapped myself up in that kimono dress and guess what? Not bad! Not perfect, but what is? It's an extremely good dress that's extremely good to me. I think come spring I'll get a short sleeve one, just for good measure.

Happy, healthy new year everyone! And, seriously, here's to a year that brings peace and climate change legislation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

Melissa Clark's new book, based on her New York Times column, comes out today! Since I have an advance proof I've already read most of it; since I'm an ardent fan I've made many of the recipes. Even if Melissa weren't one of my very closest friends I know I'd love this book. It's got exactly what you want -- beautifully rendered essays about the ways food comes into our lives and the people who bring it in, showing with good humor and grace how our lives are better for it all. And, unlike Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking with its terrific food writing and recipes that don't quite work all the time, these recipes will quickly become your stand-bys. If you buy one cookbook this year, buy this one. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Watching Movies

In a recent blog post Ceridwen Morris tells as that being a mom means she's a movie watching wuss. I'm right there with her. I couldn't even tolerate previews for The Changeling and when the dead brother plot point emerged in Rachel Getting Married my growing fury at the movie burst into a full blown case of weeping rage (rage at the manipulation, weeping for the lost child).

Little did I know that my husband, too, is now changed in his movie watching. He's always enjoyed the romantic comedies (we saw Notting Hill during its opening weekend), but before we had kids the only time he really cried in a movie was at the end of Whale Rider when, you know, the little girl rides the whale. But this summer? He got home from taking the kids to see Nanny McPhee Returns and confessed, "I totally sobbed." There's a war and a lost father, so one can understand that. Then he watched Nanny McPhee with the kids on the couch. (I'd already watched it the day before.) When it was over, he came staggering into the kitchen. "Sobbed," he chirped, "I totally sobbed." If you haven't seen the first Nanny McPhee movie, I can tell you, the end is like the end of any random fairy tale and while Colin Firth, the movie's lead, is especially good at providing the gleeful and humble emotions of those moments, it's not exactly a tear-jerker. No. It's children that's done this to my husband, nothing more, nothing less. Just children.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cringing for My Hometown

When I was growing up in Providence, RI, Raymond Patriarca ruled the town and Buddy Cianci was mayor. Then Buddy Cianci went to jail. Then he was mayor again. It's that kind of town. But the kind of town it's not is the kind of town that should have to live through a candidate proposing to his girlfriend during a mayor debate. No place should have to suffer that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wash Hands Don't Touch!

While we were away, my kids watched TV with commercials and one of the commercials we all saw was promoting a "no touch" soap dispenser. Why do you need a no touch soap dispenser at home? Because that pump on the soap dispenser, the one you touch just before you wash your hands? It's covered in germs. Germs are everywhere on that bit of plastic, all over it, and the last thing you want on your hands just before you wash them? You got it: Germs. It's comforting to know that you can wash your hands without getting excess germs all over them three seconds before they hid the water.

Our food chain is corrupt and unsafe, the Gulf of Mexico is full of oil, our weather is whacked by climate change, but don't you worry about those icky germs on your plastic soap dispenser that's going to end up in a landfill for the next million years (assuming we don't blow up this great blue marble well before then), because you can stop them! Hands free!

Sometimes, vacation is very stressful.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Mosque

I'm tired of hearing about how bad it is to build a mosque and community center at Ground Zero. Really tired. I was really glad to read this over on the Daily Dish for some smart history and perspective on some of the whole brouhaha.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Vacation

On Sunday, we're taking off for a two week jaunt that will include a few days at the beach (in RI), a trip to Old Sturbridge Village (which reminds me that I need to look up where it is exactly we're staying there), and a week in a town in the Catskills famous for poor Blackberry reception and very good pancakes (both of which matter to my husband in very different ways). While we're away, our apartment will be painted, which means the amount of putting away and throwing away that has to happen between now and Sunday is -- what's the word? -- staggering. It's not that I left everything to the last minute. I've been shedding for weeks now. It's just that, even in a small apartment, the stuff piles up. It's embarrassing, and vaguely ridiculous (I don't know why it's "vaguely" ridiculous except that I like how that sounds.) Plus, what do I do with the bottom of the very pretty basket I bought in Aswan, Egypt twenty one years ago? And more important, what do I bring to read on vacation? I can't decide how light or heavy to go, and meanwhile, I just noticed a whole new pile on the file cabinet.

Have a wonderful few weeks everyone!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Beauty of the Lobster

Over on Daily Dish I found a link to a list of the "Best Magazine Articles Ever!" The second best is Consider the Lobster, by David Foster Wallace which ran in Gourmet in 2003. The number on spot goes to Federer As Religious Experience, also by DFW. Reading the lobster essay, well, it is an amazing piece of work and while I'm not yet finished with it, it is making me sad all over again, both for Wallace and for our loss of his particular gift.

On a separate note, I'm sorry I've been unusually absent recently. Between the theft of my wallet, the end of camp, and a sore hip that's making me extremely grumpy, blogging has been hard.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kids Like Books They Can Hold

I'm thrilled that kids prefer to read on paper, and a little scared of it, because how much paper will there be?

Great Kindergarten!

Apparently, the quality of early childhood education matters and a really good kindergarten teacher should be paid $320,000. Here's the story in the New York Times.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wallet: Stolen!

My wallet was stolen on Saturday while I was getting off a bus with my son. Since then, I've waded much to deep into the waters where bureaucrats swim. Since the particular thought processes and language that make these systems go have been parodied so often and so well, I'll simply add that having come up for air, all I really want now is a cookie. Really.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We Schedule, The Divine Laughs!

I had plans for July. Oh did I have plans! So far, planning is not panning out. My time, it disappears in a swirl of I don't know what. But when I have a short second to work, I like to sneak a peak at Go Fug Yourself. This isn't a classic post, but the opening, it satisfies.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Milk

No big deal, but if I buy the gorgeous whole milk from Milk Thistle Dairy, my kids want to drink it, one of them without any chocolate in it. Ronnybrook Farms milk gets the big thumbs up, too, and their chocolate milk is preferred. Regular supermarket milk? Meh. I'm vaguely surprised that they can tell the difference, but I'm also thrilled.

A Jumble on Monogamy

Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish has intermittent posts on the limits of monogamy. Here he quotes Dan Savage who says (among other things; I didn't watch the video on the Dish post.):

"I do advocate, however, being realistic about the odds that one or the other or both partners in a truly long long-term relationship will cheat at some point. The stats on infidelity? Shocking, considering that monogamy is so favored, culturally. We fail at it, though, pretty predictably, and so I think we should be realistic—the monogamous wannabes should—because I think a good, strong relationship should be able to survive, and be expected to survive, a routine, non-nuclear-level infidelity."

The statistics Savage refers to might have been those quoted by Ira Glass on a recent This American Life on Infidelity. Glass opens the show by stating something along the lines of something like one member of half of all married couples will be unfaithful at some point in their relationship and stay married. Half.

So on the one hand, I get what Savage is saying. I even know some couples for whom it's true. On the other hand, I'm not sure how my husband and I would define "routine, non-nuclear level infidelity" even if it did involve Salma Hayek (who is on both of our lists --and I know you know what I mean by our "lists"). I assure you that should Salma Hayek enter our lives nothing about it would be routine or non-nuclear. And by "enter" I mean should we see Salma eating lunch at the same restaurant where we happen to find ourselves because it's near the movie theater downtown where we might go once a year when we sneak off during the week for a double feature.

Which is to say, for some of us, somethings might be routine, for others, not so much. As long as both people in a couple have the same routine -- well, as Savage says, there's no reason for a marriage to end over "trivial bullshit." A political career, well, that might be a different story.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Soccer Love

I've been trying to wrap my head around the extremely high emotions that came with the final game of the World Cup, and I can't. I mean, I like sports -- the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, really, I'm a sucker for it all. And yet, when I ran into my Dutch neighbor just after the game ended on Sunday I could tell he was really, really upset. Really upset. Likewise, I heard Spanish chef Jose Andres on the radio the other day and actually started to weep with joy just talking about Spain's victory. It's the depth of this passion that confuses me. I don't think I can come up with any comparison that appropriately contextualizes or translates the meaning of a World Cup victory for me (aside from assuming a kind of group think that can heighten any emotion but that seems kind of cheap and ungenerous). Anyway, today, on a friend's recommendation, I bought the current issue of Lapham's Quarterly, titled "Sports & Games." In it I found this excerpt from Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby:

"One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say they would rather do than watch are missing the point........The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune but a celebration of our own, and when there is a disastrous defeat, the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realize this above all things."

The whole excerpt is worth reading (it's not online but is on pg. 156 of LQ), and it certainly made me want to read more of Fever Pitch, but it also showed me how I won't ever really understand the joy or sorrow of sport in the way that Nick Hornby or my nephews do. So it goes. I probably get way more excited by new chocolate chip recipes than they do. We all have our passions.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance & John McCain

In Slate, Jacob Weisberg has a really weird piece about John McCain. I'm sure the political blogs are all over this, and who needs my two cents here, but why not? Plus, as Weisberg writes at the start of his piece, it's hard to watch John McCain these days. Honestly, even pictures of him make me wince. Weisberg suggests that McCain flipped the switch from Republican rebel the press could love to the guy pulling the party line hardest not only to win his primary campaign against a Tea Party candidate, but because he's so ashamed of his Presidential campaign. Weisberg offers a significant list of examples where McCain considered his behavior dishonorable (at times like the Keating Five scandal it was; in the torture situation, no one can judge him). But after the 2008 campaign and raising the profile of one Sarah Palin, McCain can't just say he's sorry. Weisberg theorizes:

"So instead of grappling with his damaged honor the way he has in the past, by examining his soul and apologizing, McCain has retreated into a kind of political second childhood. When he started out in politics, it was as an extremely conventional, Sun Belt Republican. It took the Keating scandal to get McCain to question the campaign-finance system and turn him into the independent spirit he became in the 1990s. Since losing in 2008, he has reverted to his earliest political incarnation."

That's a big reach if you ask me. My theory of Weisberg's theory? (Oh it's my own little echo chamber!!) Weisberg has known and admired McCain for years. McCain's embrace of the narrowest views in the Republican party has created a kind of cognitive dissonance with Weisberg. How can he reconcile this man with the one who stood up to Cheney? Sure a sense of honor lost might play a role, but McCain has shown himself to be an ambitious fellow grasping at maintaining a position he probably assumes he has a right to hold. Like Arlen Specter, I'd bet McCain has been in the Senate so long that for him, the most important thing is to stay in the Senate, the rest of the world, and his morals, be damned. Maybe the media who once loved him will forgive him and if they don't, who cares? at least if he's a Senator he'll still have a staff and get on TV. It's not pretty, how McCain has chosen to campaign, and there's no reason to try to dress it up into something thoughtful and tragic when it's pretty much small and petty.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Illustrating for the Gulf

A blog called ripple (Thanks, Marjorie!) is holding an on-line auction for drawings and cards by illustrators all to raise money for the gulf. The pieces are terrific and affordable and, of course, every little bit helps.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sarah Palin's FIrst Ad

This ad, it made my stomach clutch with fear. "Moms just kind of get it!" Palin declares. Woman=Mom. YUK! The pink elephant is in the room! For some discussion, see Slate's XX. (This link goes to Emily Yoffe's post, which include links to the other writers on the site.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sugar Policy

Policy wonks want to make sugary foods more expensive to turn people off from eating them. Andrew Sullivan has a run down of some ideas here. I found them interesting, mostly because they involved cutting subsidies to agribusiness, which I'm for, no matter how it effects any one person's caloric intake, which is not my business. (I should admit here in my own experience, price was a disincentive to a very bad behavior. In my early twenties I smoked -- not a lot, but consistently. I'd say I smoked four cigarettes/day. One big reason I stopped? The price went above $1.35/pack and as a grad student I couldn't afford that. There was no justification to keep doing something that would both kill me and my budget and smelled bad.)

The Bigger Story: The Bus

OK, I have to admit it: while I blogged yesterday about the parenting article in New York magazine, the story that had me really excited was the one about the bus! Just the other day a friend told me all about these amazing buses that had their own lanes, doors in the back, a payment system that was completed before entry--it sounded like bust heaven. And now it looks like some version of bus heaven is on its way to New York City. Only it'll take a long time to get here, which I guess is OK. For heaven, I can wait.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Parents Are People, People With Children

In the new New York magazine, Jennifer Senior has (yet another) piece about the unhappiness of parents. I think it's well done especially when, towards the end, she gets at what is, in one sense, the crux of the matter for me: What's more important? A larger sense of purpose and meaning vs. minute to minute happiness. Because if you're talking meaning, you're talking kids. If you're talking minute by minute, maybe not so much. (Except if, like me, you think maybe minute by minute isn't so bad, either.)

Still, on the day to day front, even if it's pretty good for you, as my friend Ceridwen pointed out, Senior skids pretty quickly over a study of parents in Scandinavia. Guess what? They're happy. They have health insurance, child care, family leave. More than that, they live in a place where, culturally, it must be OK to rely on other people because to get the great benefits, that's what they must do. There's no cultural imperative to go it alone. When parenting has been really hard on me, I've been alone. It's not the physical loneliness that was hard as much as a psychic isolation. I go out into the world with small children and hope for the best, not because I hope my kids will be agreeable for most of the trip (though there's always that) but because deep down I'm always strapping on my chin strap to deal with a world that really doesn't want to be bothered with kids.

It's not that I expect the whole world to stop because I might be pushing a wide, heavy stroller or walking with a kid's hand in each of mine. It's a sense that in the streets of this time and place there are those with kids and those without and ne'er the two shall meet. There's no texture to allow a happier kind of ebb and flow between the different stages of life. No sense that your own children are part of a big world where it's OK for them to run around and make some noise. Instead, children must only make noise or run in places that are explicitly "for children." All those other places, that would be everywhere, they're not for kids, or the grown ups who are with them.

So maybe it's not that kids are all joy and no fun (as someone quoted by Senior says), maybe there's lots of fun to be had with and around kids. Maybe it's just adults need to complain about kids today (and their parents) rather than have it.

NOTE: I realize now, a day later, that I conflated two kinds of parental isolation. The first demands we as parents, and people, go it alone with our bootstraps with little help from the state (with child care or health insurance or parental leave) or, because of how we tend to live, extended family. The second isolation is the cultural separation of family life which is driven by the noise and general childishness of children, and I'm not talking about childish wonder here. This is all extremely reductive but separating these two points is important. Thanks for your patience!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Tyranny of DIY


Two years ago, I knit a dress for my daughter Helen. Here she is in it. As you can see, it's cute but specific. Helen picked out the yarn, pink with pom poms knit up with a second hot pink yarn, and the style is decidedly homemade meets A-line. She wore it for a week the year I made it and a week the next year, and yesterday, when we were deciding what clothes she should keep and what she should give away, she said, "Mommy, I'm not going to wear this anymore." I can't blame her, but it's also a hard item to give away. Would you put your kid in a dress like this if you didn't make it for her?

This is the problem, generally speaking, of clothing that's more homemade than hand made. They often hold meaning that outweighs their use, so we hold onto them because they were (maybe beautifully) made by someone who was dear to us but is now dead, or by someone who is still alive and was nice enough to make something instead of buying it, even if what that person made is nothing you'd ever buy. So what do you do?

After running through my list of two to whom I might give this dress, I had what I consider to be a major brainstorm. "Helen," I said, "What if I made your dress into a pillow?" This Helen was very excited about. I'm even excited about it. I don't really sew, but I don't think it'll matter. No one will really be able to see the seam, and if it's a little specific to the object, that's OK, it's homemade.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

An Old Favorite (a cold soup)

It's been a while, I know. I'm sorry. I've been fairly tied up and so it goes. But, things seem to be clearing out and hopefully I'll find a little old-fashioned groove any day now. One thing that points in the direction of a happy groove well-remembered and actually reconstructed is a soup I made tonight: Cold curried corn, poblano and buttermilk soup. Only I made it with a jalapeno because that's what I had.

It's a great soup and for a while I made it all the time. Tonight, stepping back into that soup was like meeting an old friend. Ironically, when I used to make this soup often, I was going through a much sadder time. It's nice to bring it back when things are generally happier. It's a Martha Stewart Living recipe, one from at least seven years ago. In any case, it's really tasty. Here it is:

Cold Curried Corn, Poblano, and Buttermilk Soup
* 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
* 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
* 1/2 poblano chile, seeded and finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
* 1 large garlic clove, minced
* 1 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
* 2 1/4 cups corn kernels, (about 4 ears)
* 3 cups nonfat buttermilk
* 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Directions

1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, poblano chile, and garlic; sauté until onion is soft and translucent and chile and garlic are tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
2. Add coriander, cumin, and turmeric, and cook until they are toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add corn, and sauté until kernels are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly.
3. Transfer 1 1/2 cups corn mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, and add buttermilk and salt; puree until mixture is smooth. Transfer to a large bowl or plastic storage container; stir in remaining corn mixture. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator until soup is well chilled, at least 2 to 3 hours. Remove from refrigerator; ladle into bowls, and serve.


Enjoy!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tom, My Food Hero

Thanks to Marjorie Ingall for pointing me in the direction of this post about school lunches by Tom Colicchio on the Top Chef blog.

Here are two paragraphs from it that I liked:

"Currently, the government subsidizes schools to provide free lunches for some, reduced-price lunches for others, and lunches at “full price” for the rest (“full price” is in quotes because these lunches are also government-subsidized). A writer I greatly admire, Janet Poppendieck, argues in her book, Free for All, that lunches should be free for all children. Why? We make desks and textbooks free to all children in this country – not just the poor ones – because we recognize that without them, kids can’t learn. The current system stigmatizes the kids who can’t afford lunch, leading many who qualify to turn it down and go hungry (one kid I know explained that she’d rather be hungry than labeled and teased). We spend a fortune under the current system on the paperwork and labor to figure out who should get a free or reduced lunch – enough to cover the cost of a universally-available program. And just imagine the purchasing power schools would have if they were feeding all children, and the economies of scale they could employ in buying healthy ingredients; think of the systems for buying from local farms and producers that could be put into place, en masse, which would be a huge jolt to an agricultural sector that desperately needs it. Imagine the stimulus to the economy in training tens of thousands of workers to actually cook in schools, rather than simply heat up or reconstitute the processed food public schools currently serve. Some years ago, schools began treating lunchrooms like fast food restaurants by installing vending machines to sell branded products and soft drinks, as a way to raise more money for lunches. If universal school lunch was funded adequately, and nutritious and delicious food was actually being cooked and served to everyone, the schools could get rid of the junk food and the vending machines once and for all.

And by the way, not only do I feel free lunch should be universal; I think breakfasts should be, too, and served right in the classroom – not in a separate (stigmatized) cafeteria. Studies of a pilot program here in NYC that provides breakfasts during homeroom showed a statistically significant increase in academic performance and good behavior among the children who received it. The teachers were over the moon about it. Sure, in an ideal world all kids would get healthy, nutritious breakfast at home, but we are deep in a recession, and many families – even those with working adults – need help making sure their kids get what they need."

Oh the Mailers

Last week, I read a piece in The Observer called "Where Have All the Mailers Gone?" In it, Lee Siegel argues that The New Yorker Twenty under Forty fiction writer list was not only annoying, but revealed just how culturally irrelevant fiction writing has become. Why? It's too safe. Too professional. Siegel writes:

"The carefulness, the cautiousness, the professionalism that keeps contemporary fiction from being meaningful to the most intellectually engaged people is also what is stifling any kind of response to The New Yorker. After all, kick against The New Yorker's conventional taste and you might tread on some powerful person's overlapping interest."

This may be true, but it also may be overstated. Not bothering to put up any dukes to The New Yorker at a time when the Gulf of Mexico is filling up with oil every day, generals are dismissing presidents, refugees are fleeing from Kyrgyzstan with small children and elaborate tapestries in tow, and things in general seem hot and bad might be a sign of exhaustion, but irrelevance?

Siegel lays out a reasonable argument for the demise of fiction's place in the cultural theater. He pines for the good old days when commercial fiction was better and Mailer was there to mix things up. Yet I can't help but wonder a little bit at people saying it was so much better when Mary McCarthy and Phillip Rahv and Mr. Mailer were smoking their way through downtown bringing urgency to the literary endeavor. I mean, OK, it was different, and people as in the general public probably read more fiction than they do now. And?

Siegel goes on to argue that these days, non-fiction writing is so good, it's taken over the place of fiction among people who think and write big thoughts.

I don't know. Honestly, I don't even know what it means for fiction to be culturally irrelevant. People don't read like they used to; it's a truism of our time. The relevance of fiction, and non-fiction, for that matter, is so personal, so private. Even when great ideas of life and power are being discussed, the impact they might have happens one by one, one page, one reader at a time.

So, yes, maybe fiction writing programs tell people to drown too many of their kittenish sentences. (For a perfect description of this problem, read The Possessed by Elif Batuman.) Yes, people can and should argue about books and ideas in a public forum. OK, maybe there's not enough of that in the bigger writerly venues -- I wouldn't really know since I don't have time to read all of those venues and also read books.

But, for me, fiction or non-fiction, either way, a writer is telling a story. People like to read stories. They need to read them, and they can engage with big ideas about life and power and justice and love and all that through both fiction and non-fiction writing. (Plus, non-fiction writers may not fictionalize, but they must construct a narrative which must be much more streamlined than any situation fully lived.) As long as we keep reading, and as long as we don't only turn to The New Yorker for guidance on fiction writers, I think the question of the relevance of one form of writing versus another may just be irrelevant.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bogged Down

Sorry I've been checked out, the kids haven't had a regular schedule and nothing's gone smoothly. I've what to blog about, and I'll be back soon - Monday, maybe even sooner! Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Terrible Day

Today was one of those days when everyone woke up and was kind of tired of one another and while I had very grand plans (that great water park downtown!), they vanished, just like that, how, I don't even know. Then, some guy said to me about my sobbing son (yes, we were on the street), "What is he crying about like that? What kind of mother are you?" Now, why can't people just ask themselves questions like that very, very quietly? It's not like they don't already have an answer for themselves anyway, right?

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Summer

School's out, summer's on, the well's still gushing, the first sunburns are at hand, and tonight I remembered, twice, how great Campari and soda is. Really, I could drink it all night.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Book Binge

Maybe in anticipation of the spate of recent articles (here's one) on electonrica and what it does to your attention span, I've found myself in the grips of a book buying fever. Truthfully, it all started with this Op-Ed that concluded the greenest way to get a book is to go to the library. I read it and vowed to get all my books from the library, except for the ones I can get from the guys on Broadway selling them for a dollar or four a throw. From them, I've bought a book by Lee Child because I heard Child on the radio, or someone talking about Child, and I got curious. I got To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf because why haven't I read it? I bought The House of Fortune Street by Margot Livesy because I liked Eva Moves the Furniture so much. I could go on, but I won't.

Then there were the books that I didn't get on the street. There's Hungry, because it's just out in paperback and I've wanted to read it for a long while, and The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, because I liked the Babel essay in The Possessed so much and a Babel story comes up in The Ask. I also bought The Death and Life of The Great American School System, which I've just finished and mean to blog about. It's the serious relative to Mother on Fire. Way more serious. Then there's a book of poems: Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker. I've read two of them, the poems. They're amazing.

I am now reading a book I actually got out of the library: The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich. So far so good, five pages in. I'm also reading the galleys of Melissa's new cookbook In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, which is the cookbook you dream about when you dream about reading a cookbook in bed. I recommend putting it on your wish list. It comes out in September. God I love a wish list of books.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Body Issue

A few weeks ago, I saw an applied kinesiologist for the first time. I have this stuff in my hip and my low back and I've seen lots of body workers (rolfers, acupuncturists, cranio-scaral therapists) but never an applied kinesiologist. It seems like he's identified and is addressing so real honest-to-goodness stuff going on in my body. But the work, it wears me out. I have a lot less stamina now, and my kids are out of school, which is to say, I find myself blogging in my head, but by the time I get a chance to sit down and type, my back's too sore and all I want to do is lie down and rest. So tomorrow I'll blog earlier about how men who don't want to have any more babies should just get vasectomies. (Did anyone else read that story in Elle about the guy who didn't want more children, his girlfriend got pregnant once, "they" ended the pregnancy? She got pregnant again, she had the baby. He was all "I'm the victim" when she pursued financial support. I mean, has the guy heard of urology and what it can do?)

I digress. I'll explore all that further soon, for now; Good night and good backs.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fried Cheese or The Vegetarian Option

Today after my son's last day of school we went with some friends to Shake Shack, a Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe)-owned New York hot spot serving up burgers, dogs, fries and custards. Today, I chose the menu's "vegetarian option." As you can guess from this post's title, there was fried cheese involved. Specifically, the option includes two portabello mushrooms stuffed with cheese and deep fried. Light vegetarian fare it's not. After you eat it, all you want to do is lie down and let the grease work its way through your body. I better let it get to work.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Few Good Rules

With an election coming and the exuberance of the Tea Party, we're about to hear a lot about how government needs to stop taking so much of our money and doing so much nothing. It will be annoying to hear all this noise in the wake of catastrophic government withdrawal from the financial sector and the work of environmental protection.
Matt Steinglass (a link I got to via Sullivan) makes this point about the current stream of really big problems:

If the lesson of the catastrophes of the noughties is to pay attention to tail-end risk, then we should all be running around building nuclear fallout shelters and working out deflection strategies for massive asteroid strikes. And that’s not going to happen. (Though in the case of climate change, one of Leonhardt’s examples, it is useful: we should be paying more attention to the risk that global temperature rise by 2100 will be near the catastrophic 6-degree-celsius high-end estimate, not the merely awful 2-degree median estimate.) But I don’t think that is the main lesson. The main lesson is simpler and more concrete: government regulations need to be more restrictive, regulators need to be more aggressive, better-paid, and more powerful, and they need to stop people and corporations more often from doing things that may be profitable but pose unacceptable risks to the public. We had this theory for a while that economic self-interest would prove sufficient disincentive to foolish risk-taking. But now the Gulf of Mexico is on fire, so I’m afraid we need to go back to the old-fashioned system with the rules and the monitors carrying sticks. Sorry.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cars: Not so fun

Apparently, kids today aren't getting licenses in droves. Here's the breakdown on Sullivan. By the way, my knee-jerk reaction to Sullivan's suggestion of a dollar gas tax and a cut in FICA is "Yes!" But I'm always for a gas tax, even if it's regressive, and it's easy for me to be for a tax like that because I've always lived in places where I don't have to drive.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Who's in the Labor Room?

A while back, I wrote a pregnancy book with Joel Evans, an Ob/Gyn with a holistic practice. (It's called The Whole Pregnancy Handbook) When we got to the birth section, Joel and I had a few conversations about what happens in a labor room. I myself was pregnant at the time and I remember Joel saying something along the lines of, "Couples should try to be honest with themselves about whether or not the dad needs to be at the birth because for a lot of men and a lot of women, it'd be better if he weren't there." Joel said this because of what he'd witnessed at births, including those of his own two sons, but it still felt like he was speaking a truth that dared not be named.

Well, over at Babble, my friend Ceridwen Morris speaks this truth and puts a few names on it. A childbirth educator and author (From the Hips), Morris asks whether or not it's time to acknowledge that when it comes to pregnancy, the experiences of men and women are not equal. After all, as Ceridwen notes, it's not "we" who's pregnant, but "she." This doesn't mean a dad-to-be should opt out of all pregnancy and birth information-gathering, but that the differences between a man becoming a dad and a woman becoming a mom need to be aired out. Ceridwen writes:

So, instead of keeping dad away, maybe the answer is as simple as acknowledging that the period of pregnancy and birth can be weird and awkward and alienating for him. We can talk more about the differences between men and women’s experiences. We can give mom permission to go though a distinctly female experience without feeling like she’s a sell-out to women’s rights. We should look harder at why dad is feeling so passive in the delivery room. And give him better tools to help his pregnant/birthing/lactating partner in a way that bolsters confidence. I spend much of my time in birth classes showing men precisely how not to be passive. I don’t talk about how he can go through labor, but how he can support it. And I do see an up-swing of confidence.

This makes perfect sense. Nothing is as empowering as talking about what freaks you out. When it comes to having a child, there's a lot to freak out about, so you might as well start talking sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Who Speaks Feminism?

Rebecca Traister has a very interesting piece on Sarah Palin and her co-opting of the language of feminism.

She writes:

"Harking back to (an imagined version of) first-wave feminism, Palin has been distorting second-wave ideology with a dastardly Opposite Day formulation in which those who support reproductive rights do not believe women capable of mothering and working simultaneously....."

Traister continues:
"If the people most interested in owning "feminism" are Republicans, women and men who don't believe in a woman's right to control her health, or to receive the healthcare and economic support she needs, or to benefit from labor policies and protections that would enable her to work and earn to her full capacity, then I fear -- as I feared back in 2008 -- that feminism will be theirs."

The problem for the Left is one of perception: Can we find language that can be used to demand feminism stand for creating opportunities, acknowledging difference, establishing standards for health, workplace security, day care, and general equality and escape the dreaded label of "Political Correctness"?

Traister asks:

"But more than those of us who are already declared feminists need to think about how we feel about women's social progress, its place in history and on the political spectrum; and those of us who have already thought about it a lot need to decide whether we're ready to express ourselves in aggressive ways, to act sure when we aren't sure, curt when we'd rather be considered, and mean when we'd prefer to be kind. Because though feminists rightly like to say that we don't draw prohibitive lines, that we don't have membership checklists, we are about to be called upon to draw a stark, crude line."

This is an important question. We've seen the Right hijak the language of the progressive movement, to claim the interests of the working man as their own. Traister rightly wonders if we'll just sit quietly and watch as Sarah Palin does the same with the language of feminism.

Traister hopes not:
"There has to be a move toward ownership from other Democrats, from those women and men who have perhaps not yet named themselves feminists -- and perhaps who don't want to for very good reasons -- but who also do not want to see "women's rights" come to mean the exaltation of fetal life over female life and religion over science, who don't want to see "women's liberation" divorced from notions of equal opportunity and instead reframed as Ayn Rand-ian survival of the richest or most privileged."


Is there a way to use public language in a way that doesn't banish all difference but demands attention and draws clear unequivocal lines? If Traister is right, Palin is throwing down the gauntlet to many of us who consider ourselves feminists. I hope those of us on the left find a way to answer her back and say, "You wanna have this fight? We'll have this fight. Oh, you betcha." And when someone someone says someone on the left is "just being PC," I hope the publis debaters have the balls to say, "Puh-lease" and move on.

BP: Safety violations are nothing new

Read a little bit about it here. This from the company that worked to rebrand itself as greener and "Beyond Petroleum."

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Cook and the Book

In the Sunday Times Magazine, Pete Wells told everyone that he's moved into a rental apartment, where he'll live until his new house, and new kitchen, is ready. And the kitchen might not have bookshelves. Why? Because he hasn't unpacked his cookbooks and has found himself thus liberated from the tyranny of the book and the recipe. (Apparently when the books are out, he can't stop himself from cross referencing cooking times and being slavish in his devotion to detail. Why this would change with recipes from various cooking Web sites, I don't know.) Plus, there's an iPad or some kind of computer coming to the kitchen so who needs those old books anyway?

Well, I do. I like reading cookbooks. I like it when they evoke a world. I like it when they're very bossy. I like it when they refer to themselves internally and create their own web of rules and regulations you wouldn't think of breaking, at least while you're reading them. These books aren't simply biblical, they're Levitical. (If Leviticus can be an adjective.)

Maybe someday I'll read my cookbooks from an iPad; maybe someone will come up with some kind of protective case for hands-on kitchen use; but as long as people still create discrete worlds of food with their own rules and stories, I'll be happy. I don't dream of long lunches with multiple courses and wine in jelly jars after I enter a search term, but I do when I don't know what to read and pick up an old favorite. There are somethings databases just can't do, and for all of that, there are cookbooks.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Gulf in Pictures

Via Sullivan, here are some images of oil reaching the Louisiana shore and wetlands.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Ask

I've just read The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte. (You can read the NY Times review here. Full disclosure: I know Sam Lipsyte.)

The novel is over the top, spot on, deeply funny. There were some scenes that felt like too much and others that felt so real it was like I was breathing the same air as Milo Burke, the book's protagonist. Burke is around forty and at the start of The Ask he's working as a development officer at a third-tier university in New York City. He has a son in the mid-threes and a wife with whom he "cuddled in the way of a couple about to not have sex." He's got a mom in New Jersey, a dead father, and a web of frayed connections to himself and the people who occupy different pockets of his life. All told, Milo Burke is a rich character and through him Lipsyte explores the way we in this place (New York, which happens to be in America) and time (now) conflate the moral obligation embedded in our relationships with something like (or actually) a quid pro quo. Whether the relationship is to our child, our friends, our soldiers, or our mentally ill neighbors, the book looks hard at what we could do, what we should do, what we want to do, what we can't help doing, and what we buy our way out of doing because we can.

Lipsyte does all this using language that's almost ecstatic. He's never met a ten dollar word he can't put to good use in a sentence about a two dollar bargain passing itself off as a fifty dollar steal; he'd really rather not use "and"; and he loves to end a sentence with a comma and a gerund. But the ten dollar words feel like they were originally assembled to be exactly where Lipsyte puts them, the text gallops along if you let it, and the way he ends a sentence, it can make you laugh out loud or break your heart. His language asks you to suspend disbelief and if you feel like it, I'd recommend doing it. It's worth spending some time with Milo Burke. He's not perfect, but he's got what to say.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mass Transit for One

This morning I sat down to write a perky little post about how much I loved to ride my bike when I lived in Philadelphia and how I dream of moving back, renovating our kitchen, and buying one of these bikes, about which I learned from a little catalogue that arrived in yesterday's mail. Then I read Elizabeth Kolbert's Comment in this week's New Yorker. It's about the oil spill now filling up the Gulf of Mexico and any given line of it would make you (or me) want to lay down your (or my) head and weep. How about these?

While the point of “peak oil” may or may not have been reached, what Michael Klare, a professor at Hampshire College, has dubbed the Age of Tough Oil has clearly begun. This year, the United States’ largest single source of imported oil is expected to be the Canadian tar sands. Oil from the tar sands comes in what is essentially a solid form: it has to be either strip-mined, a process that leaves behind a devastated landscape, or melted out of the earth using vast quantities of natural gas.

Meanwhile, as everyone knows, no matter where oil comes from or how it has been extracted, burning it is destructive: oil combustion accounts for nearly a third of the greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States.


And none of that is even about the Gulf of Oil, ne Mexico. The whole thing made me so angry at the guy from Design Within Reach who sent me a catalogue to sell me a new bike that I don't need. The catalogue has to be printed and mailed and carried by truck to my house. Then the bike has to be made and shipped from God Knows Where to my house, no matter where I'm living.

Meanwhile, I have a perfectly good bike that works perfectly well that I'd have to get rid of in order to make room for my thousand dollar new bike that I don't need but would look super nifty with me riding around on it not consuming fossil fuels, except for the ones it took to get me the bike in the first place. Which is to say, I'm not getting the bike. The renovated kitchen in the house I don't live in? I'll get back to you about that one.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Smart Phones

Up until a few days ago, my cell phone was a regular phone with a flip top that made calls and carried text messages. Sometimes, I'd use it to take a picture. I didn't know from data plans. Then, my phone died. Kaput. That's it. Couldn't even retrieve my contacts, so I went to get a new phone, and I learned that for ten dollars each month I could get service to a phone that would let me onto Facebook. "Why would I want to look at Facebook with my phone?" I asked the nice sales lady. "I don't know," she said, "Sometimes I like to check out pictures of my friends."

I scoffed and got a regular phone, no data plan. But what the phone has is a keyboard, and the keyboard makes me feel like I think my daughter feels when she writes in one of my old date books. Which is to say it makes me feel grown up. And it makes me want to do things, like send emails, which I think are longer than text messages, and read newspaper articles. In other words, the keyboard has shown me how it is that people use their phones like computers and now, even though I've been terribly prideful about having such a low tech phone, I kind of want a smart one.

A while back I read a post about smart phones, the ipad and using technology in general over at Kate Harding's blog. I took it as a cautionary tale of pocket interactive devices. Harding, who was writing about interactivity exhaustion, used a trip to Canada, which forced her to turn off everything on her phone except the part that makes calls, to illustrate the depth of her relationship with the smart part of her phone. A quote:

Crossing the border meant the roaming charges were obscene, so we both turned off everything but the phone parts of our phones. Which meant that for 8 days, we couldn’t e-mail, update Twitter or Facebook, end an argument by looking something up on Wikipedia, or read random internet shit unless we were actually in our hotel room with our computers. Now, everyone who witnessed the Sandra Bullock shitstorm knows I was online plenty last week — but I was also offline a LOT more than usual. Because these days, I am used to being online whenever I’m on public transit, when I’m out for dinner (yes, I’m that rude asshole, at least when I’m with my rude asshole husband), when I’m waiting for a movie to start or a friend to show up, etc. So when I realized I’d been out for hours and had no idea what was going on in comments on the Bullock post, for instance, I’d have a moment of panicky frustration before I remembered oh yeah, IT WILL STILL BE THERE WHEN I GET HOME.

I read that and felt like this whole time that I've been without a smart phone or iTouch, I've dodged a huge bullet, a bullet that would tear my time to itsy bitsy little pieces, that would connect me too much with what I might be reading online and leave me too far from what I should be looking at from the bench where I'm sitting. And yet, that keyboard on the new phone, oh, it makes me want to take all that time I have on the bench at playground and sink it right into the screen of my phone. Only the phone I got, it's not so smart, so I won't. For now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Friends & Enemies

Yesterday, The New York Times ran a story in the Health section about the role enemies play in a child's social and emotional development. Honestly, putting aside extreme cases of bullying, the story's punch line should come as no surprise. We learn all about life in our relationships and working out what it means not to get along with someone is just as important as working out what it means to be friends. After all, not everybody can be friends and the story says it's just fine to be mean to the one who was mean to you.

And yet, the story bugged me. I read reactions to it on Slate's XX Blog and Jezebel, and it still bugged me. The thing is, these stories, they're all one sided. The good side. It's the "good" kid, the one who was heartbroken or the one who had meanness foisted on her who knows the person who knows the person writing the story or who writes about it herself. The kid (Who am I kidding? We're probably talking about girls here) who was mean, her side is not typically explored. For example, the Times story had this about a middle school encounter:

Ms. Shapiro’s fight with her former friend was partly for show. The stronger girl pretended to hit her — and told her to run away holding her face, for the benefit of the other tough kids watching. It was terrifying nonetheless. “I ran all the way home,” she said. “All through high school I was scared of her, and we didn’t talk. I just avoided her.”

That sounds like a pretty complicated moment for the mean girl. Of course it was scary for Ms. Shapiro, but did she really have to avoid her all through high school after that? Was there no opportunity for them to talk -- or for Ms. Shapiro to ask about what happened and, dare I say this, how she might have contributed to or changed the situation?

Sure there are times when people turn on you, and that's awful. But for the most part the stories we tell of these experiences are black and white. There's no room for any texture, any nuance, any dynamic other than telling a third party, "And then she did THIS!"

I'm not saying kids should be taught to take the blame when someone does something mean. I'm not saying a little agreeing to disagree isn't what's called for in a lot of life. One of the healthiest relationships I've ever had was with a roommate with whom I just didn't get along. She didn't like me, I didn't like her, we never pretended otherwise, and we just weren't nasty about it. I am suggesting that social situations don't erupt in isolation and sometimes, after the heat of the moment has cooled, it might be useful (or interesting) to look at all sides, even your very own.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Standardized Testing

Marjorie Ingall again on standardized testing. Please, please, please read. Thank you, Marjorie!

Tar Balls

OK. So the oil from the Gulf is not only reaching the Keys, but it could be entering the "loop current" bringing it right up the East Coast. Of course this will happen. The oil is filling up and destroying the Gulf but it's not like the Gulf has hard borders. And all this will make it harder to pass a climate change bill to reduce our need for oil and it's extraction. I just can't believe the plot of some kind of dystopian sci fi horror novel is actually happening right now, and now, and now and now.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A New Chocolate Chip Cookie.

So I tried that new chocolate chip cookie recipe. Most "new" chocolate chip cookie recipes simply tinker with measurements, reducing the white sugar here, adding an egg there. What made me want to try this recipe (titled "My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies" on a blog by Jennie Perillo), the thing that made the recipe seem "new" was the swapping of molasses (2T) for brown sugar.

The other new and strange thing about this recipe is all its flour. Four cups! That's a lot of flour.

Also, the recipe included this tip: Freeze the dough in balls so you can just pull 'em out and bake 'em up. I've probably read this before, but since up until now I've been freezing already baked cookies and my last batch got freezer burned, I wanted to give it a go.

I can tell you, once I've finished baking the thirty or so dough balls sitting in my freezer, I'll be making these cookies again.

Why? The molasses. It makes a big difference. Because of it, the cookies are a beautiful dark-nut shade and their consistency is just right, chewy on the inside yet crispy on the outside. (If you make them, follow the precise baking time directions--15 minutes at 350, even if they look underdone. Cookie dough that has been frozen or in the fridge doesn't look the same as fresh dough when it's done.)

My son loved them, telling my daughter that "Mommy made cookies like we get at the store." (Score!) I brought them to a picnic last night and my grown-up friends were, it must be said, impressed. My husband was the only one who wasn't completely delighted with the cookies. He liked them, he just wasn't convinced he liked them more than the other cookies. I believe this is because the salt stands out a little more in my other cookies. Or, it could be the memory of the salt the first time I made the other cookies stands out. It was a real game changer for us. But that was years ago and now I think it's time to change things up again. Plus, I have all those dough balls to bake in the freezer. They'll keep us happy for months, six warm cookies at a time.