Monday, March 31, 2008

Local or Express?

So Friday, I'm going to Philadelphia. My train is at 9:30, I leave my house at 8:47, cursing that I didn't leave at 8:45. My subway stop is a local, two stops down is the express. The whole trip from my apartment to Penn station at 34th street should take about a half hour. The last time I tried to go to Philadelphia, I changed to the express and got stuck in a tunnel for 20 minutes outside of the 50th Street local stop. That day, while watching local after local swoosh by our windows, I promised myself that from then on, I'd stay on the local. A moving train is better than no train, even if it's a slower train.

But the problem is that my nature as an American reveals itself in that I cannot resist that promise of a shorter journey. Cut two minutes off a train trip? Is that even a question? And here's the other thing: I love a long train trip! It's the best way to read The New Yorker. (When I graduated from college, I had an hour and a half commute from my apartment in Brooklyn to my job on the Upper West Side. I read Proust during those trips and didn't understand a word. About five years later I read How Proust Can Change Your Life. In it, Alain de Botton quotes Proust or his maid saying that Swann's Way was not written to be read between train stations. All I can say is it's a good thing Proust didn't write for The New Yorker.)

Whatever I'm reading, though, if an express train pulls in alongside my local, and I'm headed to an express stop, something bigger and stronger than my own free will picks me up by the scruff of the neck and shoves me off the local and onto the express. That's just what happened Friday. I found myself crossing the platform repeating to myself, "Lightning won't strike twice, lightning won't strike twice." Do I need to mention that I'm a nervous traveler and would always like to be at the train station a half an hour before boarding? Do I need to tell you that lightning did indeed strike again and that express train was stuck outside of 72nd street for what felt like forever but was in fact only five minutes? I stood there, in the packed, still subway car, shaking my head, disbelieving that lightning could indeed strike twice. And yet, did I switch back to the local at 72nd? No. Because once you're on the express, you don't go back.

In the end, I made it to Penn station in just the right amount of time to pick up my ticket and board the train (no time for coffee, though). I would go so far as to say my arrival was nearly perfectly timed, but if I did, I might anger the travel gods and I really don't want to do that. No. But I will say this: in the future, I will more fully embrace my local nature. I go local. That's just how it is.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Very Pink Cake in a Very Hot World

I made a very pink cake with lots of sprinkles for my kids today. They wanted to have a "pretend birthday party" and we really did it up on the cake front. We even had to run out for sugar, since we ran out of sugar. I tried to take a picture, but had technical difficulties. Now, though, we have a big old cake and just four or five bellies in which it might land, depending on the day. My solution? I sliced it up and popped pieces, two by two, in the freezer. Hopefully it'll work. Everyone freezes cupcakes, why not cake?

This is much easier to blog about than the anxiety about global warming that seized me while watching Top Chef. The whole time I was watching, I was imaging habitats (of gorillas, penguins, etc) evaporating (they were catering an event at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago) and glaciers melting. It made it hard to get to sleep.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why I Won't Be Voting for McCain

On Monday, David Brooks had a devastating column about Hillary Clinton and her quixotic campaign that's undermining the hopes of a democratic victory in the presidential race for a five percent chance of winning the nomination. Or maybe it's not quixotic. Does quixotic imply selfishness in its idealism? I don't know. My point here is that Brooks said that the primary campaign is only helping McCain (surprise!) and now five percent of Obama supporters said they wouldn't vote for Clinton and vice versa. I'm not one of those Obama supporters. If Clinton somehow wins the nomination I'll be voting for her and against John McCain, and not just because McCain is a republican. No, I'll be voting against McCain because for all of his truly remarkable achievements and laudatory service to this country, I think he's got an ethics problem.

First there was the whole Keating Five thing. McCain was one of five Senators found to be a little too close to donors who had legislative work before Congress. McCain recovered from his dark night, and then went on to be a bi-partisan champion, along with Russ Feingold, of campaign finance reform. That's all well and good. But then there was that infamous article in the New York Times that stirred up innuendo about McCain's relationship with a certain young-ish, pretty blond lobbyist. But the real story in that article, to me, was McCain's relationship with the corporate moguls the lobbyist represented.

He flew on their planes. He let his nonprofit take money. He did all the things that Senators do when they get cozy with big business at dinner and then go on morning news shows and declare that "Business as usual" in Washington has to end. McCain, like so many other politicians, failed to see that his actions were exactly those he was legislating against. Here's a quote from the Times article:

"Mr. McCain helped found a nonprofit group to promote his personal battle for tighter campaign finance rules. But he later resigned as its chairman after news reports disclosed that the group was tapping the same kinds of unlimited corporate contributions he opposed, including those from companies seeking his favor. He has criticized the cozy ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, but is relying on corporate lobbyists to donate their time running his presidential race and recently hired a lobbyist to run his Senate office."

A friend of McCain's, the former Op-Ed editor of The Arizona Republic, said he's "essentially honorable" but he "can be imprudent."

Public service is a pursuit of great honor but it's just this imprudence that gives government officials the reputation for hypocrisy and cultivates the distrust of the people. I'm not saying that deals don't have to be made. I'm not saying that compromise is the work of the devil. I'm saying that speech and actions should coincide at least on the subjects on which public officials have built their reputations. McCain rebuilt his reputation as a politician of honor with regard to campaign finance reform after a lobbying scandal. But he just can't help going back to the well. So I just can't vote for him.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My Nice Jewish Kids

Sunday morning I say to my kids, who are three-and-a-half, "I don't know where we can go today because it's Easter." My daughter Helen says, "No, mommy, it's East-aah." "Oh right," I say, "I forgot. You want to make some East-aah decorations?" (They've been making East-aah decorations ever since our sitter explained what all the colored eggs in the store windows were for.) "Oh, Yes!" Helen says, "Elliot, Let's make some East-aah decorations and hang them on the Christmas tree!"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Butter Buds

So, I'm with my mom and dad at home (meaning the house I grew up in) Friday night, and we decide, around 10, to have a snack. I have some cold cereal while mom decides to live it up with some oatmeal.

After she makes the oatmeal, she pulls out her condiments: fat free half and half and a shaker of something called "Butter Buds." I sat there trying, not that hard, not to let my jaw drop. Fat free half and half? I ask you: What is the point of half and half without half that fat? Where's the flavor??? Then there's the butter buds. They're yellow, you shake them on stuff, apparently the taste will remind you of butter. I was like, "Ma! Have some butter!" She laughs and says, yeah, you're right, and pulls out a tub of something called "Earth Balance," which is some kind of butter product. Mind you, she has butter in the fridge, but she still goes for the substitutes. Why? Because, as she puts it, "that's what I call a diet."

Now, my mom loves food. She loves to think about it, shop for it, cook it, share it, eat it. She loves good food. She's a really good cook. Really good. But for her, a diet remains substituting real food -- like butter and half and half with all the glorious fat and none of the chemicals -- for food products with "20 calories per serving." Of course, it's not the pat of butter on her oatmeal that's getting in the way of the weight loss she'd like to happen. It's those $@%&*! butter buds!

If I were legislator for a day and had to go after some food conglomerate for contributing to the weight problems so many people struggle with, I wouldn't go after McDonalds, I'd go after the fake food people. Butter buds, Earth Balance, No fat Mayo, sour cream, half-and-half, unless you have to eat that stuff for a food allergy, it just tricks you into thinking you're eating "well" because you've cut back on calories somewhere. Meanwhile, you don't cut back on your portions, and you keep eating because the flavors are less than satisfying. And it's fake and full of chemicals and who knows how the heck it's made. OK. I'm done. Really done. So over the butter buds. Ma! Are you reading this? Throw! Them! Away!

Friday, March 21, 2008


On a serious note: When my kids started playing with their new Playmobil, I got to read half of the article in the NY Times about more parents not immunizing their kids. One mom is quoted as saying "I'm not going to sacrifice my child for the greater good." She acknowledges that her decision puts other children at risk.

She doesn't acknowledge that the risk her child creates by not being immunized is a greater risk with much more data behind it than the perceived risks she's avoiding for her children.

She doesn't acknowledge that her child's continued good health depends on other parents being willing to vaccinate their kids (for the good of their communities and themselves). Not immunizing is the privilege of the wealthy and the burden of the poor.

Any health decision we make -- in pregnancy, as parents, for ourselves -- involves risks and benefits, unforeseen consequences and unknowable protections. I'm not someone who blindly follows the advice of medical professionals. But when it comes to vaccinations I don't think the shaky science against it, the rumor and innuendo and the playground conversations about breast-milk providing enough protection against the diseases against which children are inoculated, should win out over 50 years of proven public health success and the hundreds of thousands of lives vaccinations have no doubt saved. Immunizing isn't just about the greater good, it's the better decision.

Playmobil Love

Last Spring, when my kids were 2-and-a-half, nearly everyone I talked to with an older child said, "Oh! They're almost eady for Playmobil!" Then their eyes would get all misty and they'd sigh a heavy, heartfelt sigh. Playmobil.
A year later, I see the appeal. Even though it's all made out of plastic, the pieces are smartly made, the sets have lots of moving parts, there are witty details and they require just enough assembly to make you feel committed to, but not burdened by, the toy. At least that's how I feel about the sets, I'm not sure how my kids feel.
Don't get me wrong, they were excited when the Noah's Ark I won on eBay showed up at our door. They were really into some of the pieces -- the "fire," the vegetables, the macaws -- and they played for a little bit. Then they sat at the table and played with play dough for, oh, a half an hour. They did eventually circle back to the ark, and I suspect it will get a lot of play, but it wasn't an instant love thing for them, the way it was for me.
In that way Playmobil reminds me of the zsi zsi toy conundrum. You can spend a lot of money on a beautiful rubber wood toy, a lovely organic cotton doll, a tasteful, streamlined whatever for your kid. And they'll still go for the cheap-o plastic alternative. I'm sure I'm not the first to notice this. Kids today!
I hear Playmobil sets get a lot of play over the years. And I guess, even though it still holds nothing on play dough, I'm optimistic. It might be kind of fancy, but it's still plastic, after all.

Update: 5 minutes later. Guess what they're playing with? The ark!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday morning

My first thought reading this article in the food section of the NY Times was - Ummm, why is this news? Apparently, people who love to eat to distraction are discovering you can be selective and moderate and eat really well and the foods you love and still lose weight. This might sound familiar to readers of my old blog or The Skinny itself. But then I remembered talking with Melissa (Melissa Clark), co-author of The Skinny very early in the project. She sent me a draft of something that said: "If you want the cookie, have the cookie." And it was a million light bulbs went off in my head. Which is I guess why the Times ran that story.

I also thought I should give some thought to this piece over at Jezebel on whether or not a female-only literary prize is sexist. And the answer is: Who cares? AS Byatt won't let her books be considered for the prize because she doesn't want them "ghettoized" (or however you spell that). As Jezebel points out, men tend to be the heavy weights in fiction. The ones taken seriously. The ones who win the Big prizes. But Byatt's point begs the reality that being a woman is part of a female writer's lived experience and will inform her world view and writing. To say a woman's prize is ghettoizing is a little besides the point. It's not that women's writing can't compare to men's, it's that it doesn't have to. Nor does men's writing have to compare to women (although if it's going to sell and be read, it probably should appeal to women since women buy the most fiction). To deny that gender matters is simply to be cranky. Or young.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I first read about Idolspizing on a blog I sometimes visit called not-quite-sure. That blogger, Becca, then idolspized Ayelet Waldman. (I will not go into Ms. Waldman here, I am too easily provoked by her. It's her schtick. Be provocative and then be surprised when people call you on it. She wrote about this surprise in Real Simple -- I don't have the heart to see if the article is online.) This aside kind of gets at why I don't idolspize Ayelet Waldman. To idolspize, you have to be happy for the idols even as "we endure their ever-accumulating triumphs." (The quote is from the Ann Hornaday article I linked to in the first sentence.)

Who do I idolspize? I thought I might idolspize Cathleen Schine, no, I kind of idolspize Cathleen Schine's novels, which I think is different from idolspizing a person.

I was so jealous of Jennifer Garner when I saw her in Cyrano de Bergerac in December that I fell asleep during the balcony scene. Granted, I was tired, I am tired, but still. Sleeping through the baclony scene? That's just pathetic. I should add that I saw her a few weeks before that performance in a Williams Sonoma in Manhattan, and she's really pretty. She has all the components of idolspizing, but I don't know if I could work up an schaudenfraude against her. She's too, I don't know, pretty. And her kid's so cute. I really hope she and Ben stay together.

Speaking of Ben, I guess it's Sarah Silverman I idolspize. I used to be totally over her, having seen her Jesus is Magic movie and read her profile in The New Yorker and just being like, OK, I get it. But then I saw her video with Matt Damon (do I even have to link to it? Sure!) and I can't help it. Now she's the girl I idolspize jut a little. And maybe Rebecca Mead, who just might live in a brownstone in Brooklyn and be a New Yorker writer. I hear she's really nice, but I think I must idolspize her since I just saw that picture on her web site and I felt a ping of schaudenfraude over her hair. In my mind's eye it was always short and kicky. If she cuts it that way, then I'll idolspize her like crazy.

Lessons from the Weekend

I learned a few things this weekend. For example, I learned not to make muffins from a recipe that has no fat in it (no oil, no butter, not even Crisco) save buttermilk. Blech. I learned, again, that it's easier to roll out cookie dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. (I made peanut butter sandwich cookies. Definitely not blech.) I learned the while some wives think prostitution is demeaning, high priced hookers don't think so.

I've been trying to figure out if I have something to say about how women feel about prostitution other than, maybe, "duh." If you're married to a man who says he loves you and then wants not just to go get some more, but buy some more, then it make sense that you think the guy has an issue or two with respect. If you're the seller, though, you might just think you're each getting something out of the deal, and you each know the terms, so who's hurt by that? For one person the transaction is relational and for the other the relationship is transactional. It all depends on where you sit, or sleep, as it were. Make it legal, then the sellers (women and men) have more power. Sellers who don't get thousands of dollar a roll have more services available, too.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Here and Not There

For a little over a year, I've been blogging with Melissa Clark at We blogged because we wrote a book called The Skinny, and over the year and a quarter we spent blogging, a nice community formed. Blogging with them was great, and blogging on a specific range of topics -- habits of eating and cooking, ideas about beauty and the body -- was great, too. But each of us started to feel a little tapped out, a little like we'd come to the end of something. But it's hard to end something particularly when there are others who like to come by and see what you're up to on that something, in this case the "something" is the old blog. And it's hard to start something new, in this case a new blog, when you're not sure what you're doing or if anyone will stop by and see what it is you're trying to do. In this case, the "you" in all those sentences is me. So, I hope the women that I'd come to know on our old blog will stop by this one. Sometimes, starting something new is the best thing you can do. One hopes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Where I ask the burning question

If I'm someone who gets the Epicurious Recipe Flash, why would I want to read about Moby's vegan kitchen?

I bet Moby is a really, really nice guy. In fact, I used to share an office with the woman who booked his tours (and Elvis Costello's, too. Once I answered the phone and there was Mr. Costello, polite as can be, saying, "Hello, This is Elvis Costello. May I talk to Marcia?" I worshiped Marcia.) and she, his agent, said he is a really nice guy. But I don't want to hear about his kitchen. I know. He has a cookbook, a restaurant, he's a foodie and he wants us to know that foodies can be vegans.

But, come on now, if I'm a vegan, the recipe newsflash from Epicurious is pretty much besides the point. And if I'm an omnivore, as I mostly am, then seeing Moby's kitchen isn't going to do that much for me. Except maybe make me dream of a day when I might live in a clean, well-lit space with kitchen lined with nicely ordered containers that are filled with organic whole grains and a perfectly organized fridges stocked with beet juice and tempeh.

One thing, though. I'd much rather have Moby as the vegans' outreach person to foodies than those Skinny Bitches. You know who I mean. Here's one example of how I feel about them.

Frustration Station

I'd planned to write about this sign I see when in my local Ben & Jerry's indulging my children's love of a 99cent soft ice cream cone. It's a picture of a big frothy chocolate drink concoction, and it reads: Face your frustrations, and eat them. Or something like that. I have to admit, the first time I saw it, I thought: "That's a great idea!" I'd had a frustrating day, after all, and nothing sounded quite so good as a big frothy chocolate sensation, I mean milk shake.
Then I imagined the sickly-sweet stomach ache I'd have when I was done with eating my frustrations. Then I tried to get my panties all up in a bunch about how undermining that message was to people. Like, of course! Your frustrations will disappear instantaneously if you just indulge your fantasy drink for the day. This kind of thinking is nothing but a slippery slope to disaster, or meals of chocolate cake and macaroni and cheese (maybe in that order). Truth be told, comfort foods that are high in salt and fat have been shown to release stress soothing hormones, but so has exercise. What would you choose after a day spent not getting your to do list done?
Anyway, this is the kind of stuff I've written about, with Melissa Clark, over on, and it's the kind of thing I can get quite passionate about. Like, Let Up Already on the This Food Will Solve Your Problem Advertising. But truth be told it's advertising we have to live with. So I live with it. I stare at that ad each time I go in, and I think, the real problem is if I eat my frustrations, they're just going to be stuck in my belly. Who needs that?

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Prostitution Problem

This article on Slate by Emily Bazelon gives a pretty thoughtful review of the arguments for making prostitution legal. My only quibble is with the last clause: "and Eliot Spitzer is really, really unlucky." No. Eliot Spitzer is really, really stupid. Because while I don't really care what the man does in his private life -- that is between him, his wife, and his demons -- the fact is if you're a public figure your private life is up for grabs. It's part of the trade-off. You want power, you want fame, your life becomes an open book. Second, it's not like anyone in public life doesn't know this. If you're in an elected office, to behave like this shows such blatant disregard for the things that matter to the electorate and the press and therefore it shows poor judgment and great hubris. And, of course, the great difference between Clinton and Spitzer is the former didn't pay for it. He broke the laws of marriage, but not of the state. Even if you think prostitution should be legal, if you're a governor, or just an average citizen, you should abide by the laws of the state you govern.

Otherwise, I'm saying nothing else about Spitzer. It's too local and enough else is being said.

Retail Therapy

Most often on a Friday night, 9:15 rolls around and I’m ready to collapse on the couch with my knitting and some What Not Wear. Stacy and Clinton the stylists may have a definite “look,” Nick the hairdresser may have a more or less successful haircut, and Carmindy the make up maven may be too enthusiastic, but the bottom line is, I like the show. I like their pitter-patter, I like seeing a woman try something on and feel great in it, I like seeing what a good haircut can do.
But here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like all the “And now I feel transformed.” I mean, I know how fabulous I can feel when I put myself in an outfit that really works. I understand the power of a good haircut and the right lip gloss. I know that looking good can actually make me feel good and optimistic and confident.
I also know that sometimes you get red wine on your favorite top or a pigeon poops on your perfect jacket or you walk outside and a sudden squall ruins your hair. Do I still feel confident? Sure. Why not? If I’m having a confident day.
Anyway, on What Not to Wear these days, I feel like the editors are crossing the line and confusing external makeovers with internal ones. Stacy and Clinton like to ask questions like “Don’t you feel like your worth clothes that fit?” Often the participants answer “No,” and it’s heartbreaking. Will wearing better clothes for a while change that? Maybe. For the sake of the participants I hope so, but I can't help but be doubtful.
Take the show I saw this past Friday. Dottie, a single mom from Virginia, looked like a pretty tough, straightforward kind of gal. She has a 6-year-son and at the end of the show, she said to an unseen interviewer that before the show she was afraid her son would leave her just like every other man has. Then she repeated it and started crying. Then I had to turn off the show, even though I was in the middle of a row in my knitting. I couldn’t bear to see it! I couldn’t bear how much pain she was revealing and how meaningful her haircut had become to her. What’s going to happen when she tears her knew jacket? What’s going to happen when her hair grows out? What’s going to happen to her son?
Dottie’s internal life is not the subject What Not to Wear. Her too tight clothes are. Bottom line: Retail therapy is great, but it ain’t the real thing.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Case for Late Deciders

On Slate, David Greenberg argues that this primary is not a historical anomaly, that democratic candidates are typically chosen late in the game. He also claims that the failures of deomcratic candidates in 1972, 1980, and 1984 had nothing to do with the long selection process. He says they would've failed anyway because they (McGovern, Carter, Mondale) were weak candidates. Tsongas, too, in 1988, though Greenberg concedes that the good governor was indeed hurt some by the primary campaign.

My only point is this: No one really can know what would have happened had those nomination processes been shorter. But we know here and now that a drawn out primary fight will get nasty, it could divide the party, and it could certainly give Republicans a greater opportunity and more ammunition with which to hold on to the White House than they would otherwise have had. (I refer to the red phone ad and Clinton's statement that she and McCain are the candidates of experience.)

All this to say, history is not only cold comfort indeed but an argument for Clinton to withdraw.

Celeb Cycle

Every time I pass a newsstand and I glimpse Nicole Richie and her new baby girl on the cover of People, I wonder how long the baby obsession is going to last. I wonder if, say, in two years, the great majority of women who currently buy OK! and Star and Life & Style and Us (I have been known to be among them) will done with the non-stop baby stories.

Everything runs in cycles, right? (To every season, after all) and the last few years (or decades) have been: party girls (let's face it, Lizzie Grubman was Way ahead of Paris Hilton on that curve) and romantic smash-ups to rehab to hook ups to baby. How'd we get stuck on baby? Could it be a cultural backlash?

Whether or not it is (and let's face it, it is), with Kirsten Dunst finishing a stint in rehab, the party girl thing could be over. (I may be a year late on this, but, you know, I go local.) But the baby thing? We're stuck on the replay for a little while longer.

But the downward slope just may begin when Nicole Kidman has her wee one and Angelina has her twins (Twins! Just like me! And I had a dream once that Brad Pitt was my boyfriend! Coincidence?). There will be more babies, of course. And no doubt we'll have to endure lots of Jessica Alba getting her body back, but maybe in a year. two on the outside, and we may stop seeing softly airbushed lip-glossed post-celeb moms on the cover of magazines every single week and we won't be faced with photos of pregnant Oscar winners every day on celebrity blogs.

Then, women will smash through the domestic glass ceiling, domestic work will be shared, flex time will be de rigeur, and soft postpartum bellies will be in vogue, or in Vogue. Yes we can! (Even if we couldn't in Ohio and Texas. Two more days in Texas and we could have.)

You heard it here first. Express.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wednesday 3:09

I've decided to start this blog. And so, I must blog. I feel like on this first post I should say something about what might be on this blog, only I'm not sure what that is. I'll probably blog about what I'm reading, what I see when I'm walking, and, unfortunately but inevitably, about things my kids say to me.
If you don't know me, and I have to admit, if you're reading this first post I find it hard to believe that you don't know me, but I guess anything is possible, anyway, as I was saying, if you don't know me, I've written two books. The first is a holistic pregnancy book called The Whole Pregnancy Handbook, and I wrote it with Joel Evans, MD. The second is The Skinny: How to fit into your little black dress forever, which I wrote with the amazing Melissa Clark. I site these because (a) why not? and (b) I'll probably blog about things like pregnancy, women's health, birth, body image, and food madness. I can't help it. Sometimes I rant. Just a little.
Anyway, today I'm thinking about the primaries, but I'm no political blogger so I'll only say that I'm disappointed and leave the rest to bloggers who do things like research.
I will also say that it being Wednesday, I'm extremely excited about the finale of Project Runway which will air tonight. My only sadness about its airing is that once it's on, it will have been on, and it will be over. Just like Nelly Furtado and Chris Martin sing in a song that for a month obsessed my then 2-year-old son, "Why do all good things come to an end?" So it goes.