Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why On That Night Did We Eat Coq au Vin?

Whenever I have people over, I like to serve simple. A roast, stew, lamb shepherd's pie, along with a salad, one of those will make for a nice meal that won't demand too much attention. When it became clear that I'd be making our own little seder this year, I decided my one pot meal would be Coq au Vin. To be precise, it'd be this Mark Bitman Coq au Vin recipe that calls for prunes and bacon (without the bacon, it being Passover and all). My friend Natalie makes this dish quite a lot and she told me she now halves the prunes and adds mushrooms. When I told my friend Melissa what I was planning to make, she suggested adding something for salt -- olives maybe? So I did. Both. I cut down the prunes by not much, added mushrooms and a hand full of olives, and it made for a perfect one pot dinner party dish, served over mashed potatoes (since egg noodles were out). Luckily, it was a cold, wet night. Had it been a more Spring-like day, I would've felt badly about serving the big winter chicken pot. As it was, it was just right.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I'm just back from a long weekend in Florida and I can safely report that the capri pant is thriving. It's a little surprising this popularity, given that the odd length of the pant cuts off the leg line of just about every woman who wears them -- and I say this as someone who learned this from What Not To Wear and who wears a pair of capri running tights. Long live the capri! Long legs be damned.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In the Bag

I'm slightly obsessed with reusable shopping bags. First because they're reusable, second because with their long handles, I can carry more heavy groceries using them than I could with regular shopping bags. But the big bags, you know, they're big. Since I'm in the city, I don't have a car to throw them into. And so, if shopping is part of the day, it means schlepping around a handbag full of shopping bags. But I've solved that problem with this nice nifty set of five big bags that fold up into one (relatively) compact bag. Even better, I got this set of produce bags--which I can use for produce or bulk, banishing those truly useless little plastic produce bags 4-eva.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Without Vaccines, Measles Happen

Marjorie Ingall has an excellent post on a recent measles outbreak in San Diego. A child who wasn't vaccinated because his parents didn't want him to be went to Switzerland and caught the measles. His siblings and friends subsequently became ill and only a costly intervention on the part of the city of San Diego stopped a further outbreak.

Any link between vaccinations and autism has been disproven and discredited. Vaccinations protect children from diseases that endanger their lives and those of their peers. I'm about to launch into a serious rant which isn't going to help anyone, so I'll stop. But there it is: Vaccinate.

Holding Hands

Every day, as soon as we step out of the front door to our building, my son takes my hand. When my daughter wakes up, she holds my hand for the walk out of her bedroom and over to the living room couch. When we leave the building, she may take my hand, or she may skip ahead, depending on the weather, her mood, the slant of the sun. It's such a small gesture, securing your hand in another's, such a particular thing, to hold a child's hand, and it's so fleeting. Every so often, watching my kids stretch out and run ahead, I can't help but wonder when I'm going to stop needing that third hand to take the bags so I can keep hold of their hands. No doubt it'll be too soon.

And on Sunday They Voted

The bloggers react, the New York Times explains:

"The uninsured are clearly the biggest beneficiaries of the legislation, which would extend the health care safety net for the lowest-income Americans.

The legislation is meant to provide coverage for as many as 32 million people who have been shut out of the market — whether because insurers deem them too sick or because they cannot afford ever-rising insurance premiums."

The week begins.

Friday, March 19, 2010

When Bad Clothes Happen to Good Kids

When my kids were about one, my brother, who by then had four kids,three girls and a boy ranging in age from twelve to eighteen months, told me one of his parenting rules.

"I never fight about clothes. I remember you and mom fighting about what you'd wear (this started when I was two, my brother five) and I promised I'd never argue about it. If it's clean, and they're dressed appropriately enough for the weather, I'm good."

"What's clean?" I asked.

"Two times," he answered. "They can wear the same thing two days in a row, as long as it's not obviously dirty."

I took this advice to heart, and I don't fight with my kids about what they want to wear. When Helen chose a pink, maroon and gold outfit made in velour and cotton for her birthday present from her aunt, I said it was "Great!" When I had to get her a gymnastics leotard, I got one that looks like Wispride cheese spread on velvet. She loves it. When she wants to tuck a shirt in that would really look better out, I keep my mouth shut.

This morning, she wanted to wear her new leggings with a dress that was obviously dirty. When she couldn't wear the dress, she was upset, but soon enough she assembled a new outfit, this one with the leggings and a top. Only the thing is, the leggings really aren't leggings per se; they're footless tights and since I ordered them online, I'd forgotten this little detail until she put them on. When I saw them on her, I said, "Honey, don't youwant to put on a skirt?"
"But those are really footless tights."
"No they're not! They're leggings and L. wore leggings and a t-shirt the other day to school."
I contemplated insisting. I imagined what the Fug Girls would say, but in the end, perhaps because she was about to go and have a tooth pulled, or perhaps because I just didn't want to fight about clothes, I didn't say anything more. I let her prance and preen in her leggings and tried to ignore the telltale seams on her bottom. She's five and she's happy and when she's fifteen, she'll know the difference between leggings and tights. At least, one can only hope.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We've ALL Got Issues

For days now I've been trying to write about Judith Warner's new book We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication. I can't. I've got issues! Not with the book, at least not with the whole book. I have some issues with the first forty pages but after those are done I think Warner gives us sound reporting, a good discussion of cultural biases and fears, and reasonable conclusions. Does that sound vague? I mean for it to sound vague. Warner's pretty pro-medication but she's also pro-parents trying to figure things out for their kids with the best resources available to them, and since I'm one of those parents (my son has sensory issues), I was glad to read her book.

Still, it'd be much easier for me to blog about the divorce of Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes. I was sad to read about it, but from what the tabloids have to say, they had some issues....and some friends, if you know what I mean. (And if you don't, read here and here. Thanks to Jezebel for the links and naming why I care.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Weekends at the Met

Recently, Elliot, my five year old son, and I have been going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with some frequency. Maybe three times in the last five weeks. I wish I could say it was all about the art. Elliot loves the Samurai knights in the Arms & Armour rooms. Because he's obsessed with death, he loves the Egyptian "cases" and mummies, and he loves going through any of the fancy rooms either in the European wing or in the new American one. But, if I'm being honest, there's no trip to the Met that's complete without a trip to the cafeteria, and a trip to the cafeteria means two things: Taxi cab lunch of chicken nuggets, French fries and apple juice, and dessert. Often dessert is half of a frosting-filled chocolate cupcake (half because even I sometimes set limits), or it might be a sugar cookie. Saturday Elliot was disappointed that they didn't have any of the American flag sugar cookies that they had on our last visit (and which he couldn't have because he'd already had that cupcake), but the cookie with the weird black and blue design more than made up for it. I suppose it's not the end of the world, this ritualized interaction with artful objects and baked goods. We both enjoy it and the bus ride to and from the museum is awfully nice. In a better food world, Elliot would have a piece of fruit and a sandwich instead of the deep fried, sugarful extravaganza he now thinks of as synonymous with great works of art and fine craftsmanship. But, for now, all I can say is, what the heck! We have fun. And when he gets home, he usually has a banana.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Worn at the Edges

I've been a little worn out of late. I've been sleeping poorly, there's been a lot of cleaning up and catching up to do, basically, I've lost my writing and blogging rhythm. I'm thinking it will come back soon, but my apologies for the gap.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Love Her!

I know it's fashionable and all to love Gabby Sidibe, the start of Precious, but here she is on Jimmy Kimmel (via Jezebel) and, really, what is not to love?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Frank O'Connor on a Road

Last week I listened to Julian Barnes read the Frank O'Connor story "The Man of the World" for a New Yorker podcast. I was so moved by the story and I enjoyed the discussion between Barnes and Deborah Treisman, the New Yorker fiction editor, so much, that I went out and bought the new Everyman's Library collection of Frank O'Connor stories, edited by Barnes. Here's Barnes' first paragraph of the introduction:

Frank O'Connor was once stopped on the road west of Kinsale by a man who said to him: 'I hear you're a famous writer. I'd like to be a famous writer, too, but 'tis bloody hard. The comma and the apostrophe are easy enough, but the semicolon is the very divil.' The man was wrong, of course: the ability to punctuate, and even to spell, correctly are often missing from some of the best writers. What counts is the ability to be on that road, allow yourself to be stopped, listen to what the man says, remember the voice, and know when and how best to use it. O'Connor's art was that of a man who travels his native Ireland at the speed of a bicycle, happy to pause and listen, slow to come to a general conclusion, preferring the particular instance and the gradually revealed truth.

I'm really looking forward to joining O'Connor on that bicycle ride.

Photo Joy

I have pretty much tuned out all news and politics these days, and still, I was completely thrilled by this photo of our president. It's on the front page of the edition of the New York Times that was delivered to my door, and I just love the way Obama, without jacket, is leaning into the lectern, pointing a finger, looking like He. Means. Business. It makes me feel all motivated. Not to read the article, mind you, but to do something, which is better than nothing these days.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shiloh's Hair

On the Life & Style cover about Shiloh Jolie-Pitt's hair and fashion choices, please see Marjorie Ingall. Thank you.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Building a Better Teacher

I read the Sunday Times Magazine article titled Building a Better Teacher with great interest. Written by Elizabeth Green the piece describes the work of Doug Lemov, a former teacher and charter school founder who's analyzed the techniques that great teachers use to get and maintain the attention and interest of students. It also discusses the research Deborah Ball, a professor in Michigan who researches math instruction. She's looked into the question of content: What material does a teacher need to have mastered to teach math well? It's compelling stuff all around, but my one point of dismay came with this:

"A Stanford professor named Pam Grossman is now trying to articulate a similar body of knowledge for English teachers, discerning what kinds of questions to ask about literature and how to lead a group discussion about a book."

I would suggest that if math requires teachers to possess and share a thorough knowledge of how numbers work, then English requires teachers to offer a thorough understanding of how sentences work. In other words, the basic information an English teacher needs isn't about what students will read but how they will write. English teachers need to know grammar. English grammar. Subject, predicate, object of the preposition, subordinate clause, the whole kit and kaboodle, because without knowing the nuts and bolts of how a language work, its use is all about guessing, habit and guessing. Habits don't make for control, guessing doesn't lead you to success in school or work. Really. What ever happened to grammar?

Friday, March 5, 2010

School Gardens!

Oh, I've been feeling badly about my school gardens posts. I take it all back: I'm FOR school gardens! Almost all the time! But I'm also so tired (sometimes one of my kids gets up at four in the morning and doesn't go back to sleep) that this is the most I can say about it or anything else and if you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry, you didn't miss a thing!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Johnny Weir: Level-headed Super Hero

Thanks to the Fug Girls for pointing me in the direction of this Johnny Weird story. I didn't even know his gender had been questioned on air by French Canadian broadcasters, but his response to the controversy was pitch perfect. He said, among other good things: “There’s a whole generation of people that aren’t defined by their sex or their race or by who they like to sleep with. I think as a person you know what your values are and what you believe in, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

I Am Not A Guest

Yesterday, I was in Michael's craft store. It's a new-ish Michael's fairly close to where I live. I'd only been there once before. To be honest, the place makes me kind of tense. The bright aisles, the piles of cheap, cheap, cheap stuff that looks like nothing so much as landfill fodder that I nonetheless find myself buying because who can resist sparkly mosaic tiles for $3.99/bag? Plus, if I got them from Oriental Trading, there'd be shipping! The experience of being in there is something like a cross between a sense of anticipated salvation for a rainy day (art projects!) and deep depression. It's not like being a guest. No one offers me cookies when I get there, there's no place to sit, I don't even know if there's a bathroom. Not only are all the regular hosting functions abandoned, but there's hardly anyone around to help, and there are problems with my stuff at check out, meaning my kids and I have to wait around for too long while the cashier tries to solve the problem of pricing moon sand. She seemed very committed to solving the moon sand scanning and pricing problem, much more committed to the scanning, in fact, than to my comfort. So why does she insist on calling me a guest when, really, I'm just in the way when it comes to scanning moon sand? What ever happened to being a customer? If I were a customer, would I always be right? Would my needs be better considered? A customer looks for and buys things, a guests eats things and offers nice conversation. When I go to a store, I don't like to chit chat, I like to buy my stuff. Who's the marketing wizard who decided the experience of a person buying something would be improved by telling that person she's a guest and not a customer? As double speak goes it's not as dangerous as, say, "the death tax," but doublespeak is never good. Anywhere. Really, it makes me miss shopping online, where I can be a guest in my own home.