Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is it All in a Day's Work for a Doula?

On Slate there's an article about doulas working with women having abortions. I found it compelling. There are so many situations we face, particularly in health care settings, when we feel alone and isolated making a miserable situation even more awful. Why not have someone nearby who can help you out? Marisa Meltzer, who wrote the article, writes:

Doulas can do one thing that a friend or boyfriend cannot: They're allowed to be present during surgery. The abortion doulas are trained volunteers with the clinic—they wear scrubs, undergo training, and are covered by the clinic's insurance. Even if they're not imperative, ultimately, they don't do any harm—and in many cases they're welcome, comforting additions to an abortion process that can be pretty terrifying. As Lauren Mitchell, the other Doula Project co-founder, points out, "Surgeries are scary even in the best of circumstances, and if you add to that the huge social and cultural taboos that surround reproductive healthcare, it would seem a logical extension to expand the doula model of care to work with people who have chosen abortion."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More On Court Appointed Mom

Kate Harding has a long response to Peter Beinart's call for a mom on the Court. Hers is a considerably more in-depth response than mine, she points out many of the flaws of Beinart's piece (which I too found really annoying), and it's a very good read. Here's Harding's kicker:

"Look, I'm all for seeing more mothers in positions of power, and I think Diane Wood would be a fine choice for the Supreme Court. But the problem here is not a lack of role models. It's an overwhelming lack of support for working mothers and respect for female ambition. And the idea that the success of childless women is somehow sending the wrong message to little girls -- who are still, after all, growing up in a society where 80 percent of women eventually have children (and among the other 20 percent are women who were infertile, who were prevented from adopting for one reason or another, who never found the right partner and weren't up to the challenge of single motherhood, etc., not just women who chose to be childfree, as Beinart claims) -- is absurd. In fact, it's sending a very honest message: That the expectations placed on mothers and on highly ambitious professionals are both so demanding that it is actually incredibly difficult for women to "have it all." A job and a kid, sure, that's possible. But kids and a Supreme Court appointment? Well, two women have already pulled it off against all odds, but the odds still suck. Seeing Wood on the court would not change that."

Scary Yoga

I used to love yoga. I was never very good at it, but I really, really loved it. I loved how classes were paced, I loved how poses opened up my body, I loved how I felt after a class. I mostly took vinyasa, or "flow" yoga classes, as most people did, and I tried to ignore it when, in the late 90s early aughts, yoga classes got competitive. I just tried to opt out, I took basic classes, then I moved to Philadelphia and started taking classes with Joan White, one of the most experienced and respected Iyengar yoga teachers in the country and her attention to form and discipline just blew open my yoga world and really changed how I approached the practice. Then, I had kids. Then, I hurt my wrist (Four years later I can't put any weight on it). Then, I realized that when all was said and done, a yoga class takes at least two and a half hours, which mostly I don't have. Now, it's been years since I've been in a yoga class, and while I miss it, I don't miss it as much as I once thought I would. The whole yoga thing, as this Jezebel post explains, it can just be too much, which is too bad, but there it is.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Mom on the Court

Peter Beinart, who has a column on The Daily Beast, a "working wife" and a two-year-old daughter, wants Obama to nominate a woman who has kids to the Supreme Court. As Jezebel notes, Beinart is being provocative here. He writes:

"It’s important (to have women with kids in positions of power) because otherwise, the message you’re sending young women is that they can achieve professionally, or they can have a family, but they can’t do both. And without quite realizing it, that is the message our government has been sending. According to the Census Bureau, 80 percent of American women over the age of 40 have children. But look at the women who have held Cabinet posts in the last three presidential administrations. Only two of the Clinton administration’s five female Cabinet secretaries had kids."

Reading Beinart's piece, I felt like I was talking to a new, nice and very earnest dad at a birthday party. Why can't you ladies have it all!?! We'd nod over the general unfairness of workplace requirements and division of family labor. Maybe I'd mention the piece I read in the Wall Street Journal back before I had kids explaining how a lot of women who worked while their kids were young found they really needed to scale back on office time when their kids were in middle school. Wow, we'd agree, it's terrible. Right before I wandered away to get more seltzer, me and Pete would really break some new ground in that conversation.

Of course I'm all for women with kids succeeding in the workplace, but, of all the messages our President has to send with his next Supreme Court nominee, one that reassures women that they can work at the highest levels and have kids need not be one of them. Really. Because if I've learned anything from five years of motherhood, it's that no two women do it the same way and since everyone's pretty much doing the best she can given her own special circumstances and family needs, shining examples of extreme success are nice, but they sure aren't roadmaps.

Kids & Boring Food

OK, I was skimming along this fairly predictable essay about kids who like to eat the ten things they like to eat and a parent who despairs and then I hit this:

"Of course the only important question is whether by trying to turn my child into a foodie I found another way of turning him into a food neurotic. When Adam was 5, and eating hardly more than pasta, cheese, broccoli and Cheerios, we did talk to a child psychologist. She laughed: “Not eating is a problem. Boring tastebuds are not.” Perhaps my expectations were utterly unrealistic, and my complaints a cause of tension and, thus, the problem?"

Um, perhaps. The writer goes on to say that he's "lightened up a bit" and now he's gone to some sushi bars with his son. Well, there you go! (Thanks to Yummy Mummy, I think, for the link.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Concert Night

I got to this LA Times story about a dad taking his daughter to see Taylor Swift via Jezebel. I didn't even bother reading the Jezebel post; I was much more interested in the writer/dad's experience with his daughter. David Ulin writes in his lede paragraph "...Sophie, age 11, was singing every word along with her, waving a colored light stick back and forth above her head. Her grin was electric, her attention sharply focused; she wasn't missing anything."

The personal essay of the early-middle-age-parent-takes-child-to-concert could very well be some kind of sub-genre. Local newspapers must run a column like this at least every few years. I bet many a parent has blogged on the topic, too. Watching a child at a first concert of music of their choosing, it's like watching them take their first steps away from us, only this time there's no wobbling on chunky feet, no arms thrown out to the side like a young Frankenstein exploring the world of balance. We know what music will mean to our kids when they're 13, 15, 18, how personal and defining it could be, helping them find their way away from home.

Thinking about the LA Times story, I remembered a similar piece in The New Yorker, this one by David Remnick in The Talk of the Town. It was about taking his kids to see Hanson. I looked it up. It was from 1998, when Remnick's kids were "almost eight"; "practically five." Since the piece requires a subscription, I'll quote Remnick's conclusion.

"The most devastating thing about taking the boys to Hanson, of course, was to know how ephemeral the experience was. It's true that for once I'd made myself a hero in the household, and they thanked me about then thousand times. But soon Dad's presence will be neither required nor desired, and it will be on to, say, Marilyn Manson. Who is today's Alice Cooper, I think. I don't really want to go, but I'd give anything to be asked."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sometimes I Wonder....

Who are these kids and what do they wear when they eat?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Running with Elif (The Possessed)

This morning I was running through Central Park and as I was coming around the top of the hill that marks the final third of my route I saw this young man in front of me. He was running, too. Then he started to speed up, then he suddenly leapt over this small wooden fence, pushing his arms to the side and his legs forward. It should have looked awkward but it didn't. It looked graceful, and it looked fun. I plodded along behind him, and he did it again. And again. And again. My legs were tiring and he was circling his arms and throwing himself into the air. I thought to myself, "He's running like Elif Batuman writes. She moves along, moves along, moves along and then Zow! The Leap. It's elegant, it's unnerving, sometimes, it's fun." At least this is how I felt about Batuman's book The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, which I finished last night. Read, read, read...Jump! I recommend it.

Earth Day

"The biggest danger we face now is not ecological hubris, it's apathy -- the notion that nature is out there, beyond the human realm, is very damaging. We have no choice now but to have an active relationship with nature. There's no other way. We're doing it already, and we have to become better at it and more conscious of it."

Jeff Goodell author of "How to Cool the Planet" in a Salon interview on geo-engineering.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Twitter, Twitter

I'm with Dave on Twitter. I know I shouldn't be, but I am.

9 by Design

I'm never, ever going to watch the Bravo show 9 by Design. I can say that with some certainty for two reasons: (1) life is too short for me to even find out when it's on; (2) Hanna Rosin watched it and wrote about it for Slate and if I thought for a second I might want to watch a family bigger, cooler and better dressed than mine, she reminded me that I really, really don't.

The Wage Gap

Men really do earn more money than women. This post on Jezebel breaks it down, because, of course, nothing about the wage gap is straightforward and the information needs breaking down. In the end, the discussion circles back to women and children and how families function. One commenter somewhere claimed that women make choices to work less when they have kids. As the Jezebel blogger Anna North writes:

"Claiming that women's unconscious choices are responsible for all gender inequalities is a pretty ingenious gambit, because it's hard to argue against. If these decisions are truly unconscious, and we don't even know we're making them, we'd better leave it up to dudes on the Internet to explain our lives to us. Problem solved! Except that by buying into such logic, men end a discussion about work-life balance that could benefit them too, and managers continue underusing and discriminating against half their workforce. The pay gap actually costs everyone — it's too bad not everyone sees it."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Is Kansas in Color?

I don't really love blogging about funny things my kids say, but I'm going to now. The other night, as she was going to sleep, and after she watched The Wizard of Oz for a second time (and we decided, again, not to watch it a third time until she's eight), Helen turned to me and said, "Is Kansas a real live place?" Her expression was almost pained.

"Yes," I told her, "It is."

She waited a minute to let this sink in. "But," she wondered, "If New York is in color, is Kansas all brown?"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Changing Names

Jezebel has a featured post with a provocative title on a strange little study out of "the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research gave Dutch university students descriptions of women that were identical, except for the women's decision to take their husband's names." The university students thought the women who changed names were more feminine and caring and less ambitious and intelligent, among other things. In another set of hypotheticals, the Dutch students paid name changers less than their non-name-changing counterparts.

Since these were university students doing the assessment, I can't think of how this study is relevant. I don't believe an interviewer would ever ask a job candidate if she changed her name or that it would really effect someone's salary.

What's more interesting to me is the general flexibility women have with names. I know a couple of women who changed their names to their mother's maiden names in their late teens/early twenties. I know a women who had a really long, difficult, unpleasing surname, changed it twice with each marriage, and finally settled on her grandmother's maiden name which seems like it's really her name. I know several women who changed their names back to their maiden names after a divorce. (One was a professor, Wendy Doniger who, just before I got to the University of Chicago, dropped the O'Flaherty that she'd taken upon marriage. When I asked her about the name change one day she said something like, "Feh, it's been such a pain in the ass I wish I hadn't done it." That was almost twenty years ago; I wonder how she feels about it now?)

People remake themselves through their names. When being interviewed by Elvis Costello on Spectacle with....Elton John said (I'm paraphrasing here) that he just couldn't do what he wanted to do with the name Reginald Dwight. My friends who changed their names to their moms' maiden names felt burdened by the connection to their fathers, so they did away with it. Which is to say, we may think a little or a lot about the last names we have or that we give to our children. (See Marjorie Ingall on last names here.) But things change, people change, and names change for all kinds of reasons. Judging someone by the name they choose, once chose, or now use, well, I hate to state the painfully obvious, but it's just that whole book/cover judging thing. Someone should tell those Dutch students that the shouldn't really do it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Oreo

This is a little bit out of left field for me, but I enjoyed this post by Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry's, over on The Huffington Post (via Shut Up Foodie) and you might, too. The one thing that really surprised me? That Ben Cohen didn't know that no way are Oreas ever, ever kosher. Who doesn't know that??? Growing up, it was all Hydrox all the time in our house.

Gail Collins on Tax Day

The New York Times columnist tells it like it should be:

"There’s no reason not to show the top taxpayers a little love. Paying a lot of taxes should be a badge of honor. It proves you made it into the league of big money-makers, not to mention the fact that you’re supporting the upkeep of the Grand Canyon. If the I.R.S. had been doing its marketing properly, little kids would dream of growing up to become really big taxpayers."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good News/Bad News

The good news more women around the world are surviving childbirth. The bad news is some public health organizations didn't want The Lancet, the British journal, to publish this information because they feared good news would, according to Denise Grady writing in the the New York Times "detract from their cause."

I wish I could say I didn't understand the fear. On the one hand, I'm definitely in the camp of people who want to bring good news into the sunlight. On the other hand, I've definitely been in a camp when good news is met with this response: "Oh things are going well? Let's stop doing all the stuff that's making things go well because it's working so you don't need it anymore." It's a little traumatic when that happens.

In any case, today, there's reason to celebrate the good, hard work being done on behalf of women around the world.

Sleeping Beauty & Dr. Steven

Of all the Playmobil characters who live in our house, and there are many, the two most important are Dr. Steven, a surgeon, and Sleeping Beauty, a princess. There are others who warrant names -- Emergency Joe, Sarah, and Julie, for example -- but no one comes close to the two lead characters. Out of the blue Helen might say, "Dr. Steven! Dr. Steven!" and Elliot will, from another room, come running over and breathlessly answer, "Yes, Sleeping Beauty?"

Over the last few nights, Dr. Steven's importance has grown because Elliot started bringing Dr. Steven to bed. For two of the last three nights, I was asked to put on Dr. Steven's pajamas -- a bit of toilet paper wrapped around his body. So far, Elliot hasn't rejected the pajamas, but he has given them long hard looks before accepting them. After the pajamas go on, Dr. Steven joins us for story time. Last night, Dr. Steven told me, "Robin, (Dr. Steven only calls me Robin) I'm tired."

Honestly, I like Dr. Steven; Sleeping Beauty, too. They've got great personalities and even though sometimes they make a bit of a mess, they don't eat much and are always polite. I hope they stick around for a while.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Evil on The Street

Jesse Eisinger, an old friend, has a story up on Pro Publica, written with Jake Bernstein, about a hedge fund called Magnetar that built up a great big stash of collatorized debt obligations (CDOs) only to bet against them (by "shorting" the stock). I found the story riveting. I couldn't believe the cynicism and greed of the men at this fund. I know at this point I shouldn't be surprised by how low finance guys could sink even without breaking the law, but, still, I was. It's a story well worth reading.

Infertility and Bad Sex

Sometimes, I read about studies and I wonder about who decides why money is spent. For example, this article in Slate tells us of a study out of Stanford which found that "40 percent of infertile women suffered from sexual problems that caused them distress, compared with 25 percent of a control group of healthy women. They experienced low desire and had trouble becoming aroused. They engaged in sexual intercourse or masturbated less frequently. The research is important because it highlights a problem few women talk about. Also, the data make a clear case for fertility doctors to collect couples' sexual histories and refer them to counseling, especially given the growing awareness of how patients' emotional health affects their chances of treatment success, explains Janet Takefman, psychologist and chair of the mental health professional interest group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine." Emphases are mine.

Why was I so emphatic? As a veteran of a long spell of infertility, I can tell you, no one who's going through fertility thinks sex during this time will be what it once was. Your self-esteem and physical joy is severely challenged and your fertility doc, better described as a reproductive endocrinologist, is the last person you want to talk to about it.

When you live your life dreading the monthly curse and hoping against hope that it won't show up, your relationship with your body and it's functions is not quite healthy. (I once flew home early from London because I knew I hadn't gotten pregnant and I couldn't stand the thought of being an ocean away from home when the proof arrived.) If you're going to a fertility clinic to try to get pregnant, the odds are good you'll be treated more like a number than a person. You might not see your doctor with any regularity and when you do, you might find him or her to be a bit of a, how can I say this?, a bit of a cold fish. A really good reproductive endocrinologist is a really good scientists and a stickler for detail and it's the exceptional doctor who manages to be both really good and at all warm. These are not the professionals who should be counseling couples on their emotional well-being and sex lives. A good fertility clinic will refer patients to a good clinical social worker or psychologist.

That said, the article and the study make one good point:

"Although one-third of childless women in this study reported that infertility had a negative impact on their marriages, Takefman notes that infertile couples have a lower divorce rate and can recover from sexual stress. "You're fighting a crisis together and learning how to cope quickly with something traumatic," she says. "If you survive that, you'll be in good standing for the rest of your marriage."

A good, solid relationship can be carved out through all those trips to the fertility clinic. It's the silver lining of a huge dark cloud.

The Reflections of Adoption Gone Bad

A 33-year-old nurse named Tory Hansen took her 7-year-old son to an airport, put him on a plane, alone, to Russia. She'd adopted him last September from a Russian orphanage and her note said: "This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues...I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues."

This is a terrible story and there's no making it better. But it's not exactly, or not only, about adoption. It reminds me of the story of parents, biological and adopted, driven to give up their children under safe haven laws because of a lack of quality pediatric mental health services.

When parents give up kids because they can't handle them, these acts are an indictment. They show the failure of our schools, social service agencies, and medical institutions to establish reasonable methods of assessing, treating and talking about children with mental health issues--whether they're adopted or not.

(For more on the Hansen story from the adoption angle, there's a piece from K.J. Dell'Antonia here and Jezebel here. For a story of hard international adoption that seems to be working out, I recommend taking a listen to Act I of the This American Life episode Unconditional Love. Grab a hanky when you do.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jim Carrey: There's no sunshine from his spotty mind

This just in from Jezebel (sorry, I'm catching up: Jim Carrey. Yuk.

Cake: A mystery

Yesterday, I made a birthday cake. The recipe called for a mix of cake flour and all purpose. Since there were grubs in my cake flour, I used all-purpose and added cornstarch (2 Tbsp/cup). I've noticed when I put two pans side by side on the same shelf in my oven, they don't bake evenly, so I put the cakes one on top of the other. Here's the cake that baked on the lower shelf:

It's a pretty cake--even in color if a little pale, nicely domed, perfectly satisfactory in the home-made-cake category.

Now, here's the cake that I placed on the upper shelf:

Weird, right? Can you see how it sunk in the middle and it looks a little pudding like? And the surface of the thing, there are little pin holes along the edges? Why would that happen?

Fortunately, chocolate frosting forgives all.

It wasn't my best cake, but it was my most mysterious.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wolf Hall

I just finished Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's revisiting of Thomas Cromwell and the maneuverings within Henry the Eighth's court. The reviews, and the Booker Prize, all suggest the book is great, and I found it so, but here's the thing: It's long. When I take on a book that's so big and ambitious and it turns out I really like it, I devote myself to it, coming up with a pale but vaguely vivid imitation of the time when I could spend a whole day with just a book. So, I let New Yorkers collect dust; I fall behind in my knitting; sometimes, I don't even want to cook for the lost time with the book. But, you know, a girl's got to eat, and so do her kids, so it's probably a good thing that I'm done with Wolf Hall. Unlike some other recent reads, I really liked it--even the bits that were a little over the top and the other bits that I didn't fully get because I don't know anything about Cromwell or the Tudors. I wonder what I'll do when the sequel comes out. I have a feeling I might not read it, but one never knows.

Mr. Obama Goes to the Game

According to Politico, the President broke "years of protocol" yesterday by leaving the White House without a press pool so he could see one of his daughters play soccer. Attending a child's game is such a time-honored protocol of parenthood, it feels only right that it should trump the traditions of the White House Press Corps. The only thing that's really too bad is that we read about his trip to the soccer field at all. (Though, crassly, the story is still good for Obama's brand as a guy who does what he can to maintain some normalcy for his kids even as President.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

More on What My Kids Won't Eat

My chocolate chip cookies! Baked fresh this morning, for dessert tonight they chose Hershey's Kisses. For the record: There aren't many things I'm absolutely sure I do well, but I'm pretty sure that I can bake a dessert-worthy chocolate chip cookie.

On the Vaccine Side of the Jenny McCarthy & Jim Carrey Split

I don't know why I read this piece on how sad Anna at Jezebel was about the Jim-Jenny split. Two things about it interested me: (1) She's right that as a couple they were more interesting and appealing than each single; (2) Check out the comments. At least two people had what to say about McCarthy using her position (as the partner to a more famous person) to undermine vaccinations and spread false views about autism. Of course, McCarthy was spreading questionable ideas about autism and vaccines and getting plenty of press for it before she got together with Carrey. Her relationship surely helped her self-designated celebrity spokes-person-on-autism-and-vaccines role but it wasn't just Carrey's fame that mattered there. Carrey and McCarthy seemed genuinely connected. It looked like they took their blended-family life seriously which gave McCarthy an aura of seriousness she wouldn't have otherwise had. Still, no matter her partner, I'd bet that Jenny would've held tight to her autism story and promoted it as much as she could.


As you probably know, in the completely excellent Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes the lovely little mouse of the title goes off to school and is mocked by her name. When Chrysanthemum returns home crushed, her parents pooh-pooh the mean things the girls said to her, and reassure her with loving words of support and macaroni and cheese (with ketchup) and games of Parcheesi. And, when Parcheesi is done, Chrysanthemum's mother hugs her and her dad sneakily tucks into a book titled: The Inner Mouse, Vol 1, Childhood Anxiety. Later in the book he reads A Rose by Any Other Name....Understanding Identity. I just love that book, Chrysanthemum, I mean.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cheating with Your Thumbs

Over on Slate, William Saletan lets us know that texting a mistress is stupid. WEeryone should know messages sent over the wires won't stay private, Saletan argues, and if you're famous or married to a famous person and you want to stay private about your extramarital affairs, Saletan suggests, don't be dumb and text.

I don't know, I think that's one mighty big "if," if you know what I mean.

Running in Springtime

On the one hand: Pollen. On the other: Heaven.

Michelle Obama's Message Discipline

On Jezebel there's a synopsis of interviews with Michelle Obama in Good Housekeeping and Conde Nast Traveller. In both excerpts, she's awesome.

For example from Good Housekeeping:

RE: But that wasn't a struggle for the two of you. Has there been something that was tough for you as a couple?

MO: No, not really. All the things that gave us trouble are - I don't want to say are resolved, but when you have so much support around you, and you have the time together as a family, you can take care of your kids, and you see them whole and happy - then everything else is just minor stuff of the day.

(This confirms something Rahm Emmanuel said a while back about the "family friendly" Obama White House. It went something along the lines of 'Sure it's family friendly here, if you're part of the first family.')

And from Conde Nast Traveler on the segregation of DC:

"Kids in Anacostia should be taking up the spots in the page program on Capitol Hill. They should be the ones who get to intern at the White House. They should have equal access as well as the folks with power from all over the country. I think as more and more kids have those experiences they start to expand their sense of who they can be in the world. And if we can do that for kids here in D.C., we can do that for kids around the world who are coming to visit and walking up to that fence by the South Lawn and looking in that house and seeing a family, a president who connects to them in a fundamental way."

I mean, she's so terrific, and I hope she's right.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What's Family Time?

I have to admit it: I only just read Tara Parker-Pope's column this week. It talks about how parents spend more time with their kids than they used to and that's a good thing. Over on Slate, they have a different opinion about the same study. The XX spin is that the time parents and (older) kids spend together isn't so great because it's not time spent doing something meaningful or fun, like hiking or playing a game. Rather, it's time spent going to and from activities that are intended to help children get into Ivy League schools. I have two things to say about this: (1) I am so, so, so tired of reading about the push to get kids into Ivy League schools! I mean, is Swarthmore in the Ivy League? No! And Jonathan Franzen is doing Just Fine. (Kidding! Except for the part of having had it up to my ears with hearing about competitive colleges.) (2) Car time maybe schleppy and no fun, but, let's face it, it's time during which two people can share music, a story on the radio or even a conversation. It's not like playing Monopoly, but who wants to do that every day anyway? We've all got to get from here to there and so the in-between time I spend with my kids on a bus or subway or just walking down the street feels like something very basic, like eating bagels. It's not everything, but it's not nothing.

Feeding the Not Quite Knee High

It wasn't schaudenfraude that I felt this morning reading Melissa's piece about trying to make something her daughter would like. It was more a kind of rueful recognition mixed with relief that my fantastic friend whose kitchen always has something interesting in it has a daughter who likes what she likes and not much else. It makes me feel like even if I weren't the queen of food ruts, I'd still have kids who eat about ten foods and that's that. In the end, I'm just excited to make that carrot/tahini soup and not take a picture of it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Of Course, Mr. Brooks

No surprise. David Brooks telling us the next one hundred years in America are going to be great made me really tense. I hope he's right.

Celebrity Marriage

If I'm going to read about celebrity marriages and their woes, I'd like to read what Rebecca Traister has to say. Reading her article in Salon about Bruce Springsteen and his alleged dalliance was nice and easy and didn't make me feel like I had to go rince out my eyes with soap. For example:

"Apparently, at the height of their supposed liaison, local whispering about Springsteen and Kelly got so disruptive that Ann's father urged her to quit the gym. Hear that? Quit the gym. As opposed to quitting Ambien, random cocktail waitresses, call girls, the campaign for the American presidency, or couch sex at your office with a tattoo-covered woman who was not your wife and had a thing for the Third Reich."

It's not right, any kind of affair Springsteen may have had, and Traister doesn't say it is. But it is, like Traister says, kind of a relief

The Child and the Brand

The XX blog on Slate has a big article on recent research out of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan which shows:

"Preschoolers recognize brand names and symbols, and they are increasingly willing and able to make judgments about products and people based on associations with those brands..."

The article, by K.J. Dell'Antonia, explicitly avoids the "Oh No, Our Kids!" hand-wringing and instead describes how children use brands to help them categorize the world. Through categories children make sense the world and apply language to it. In using brands to help sort out the world, children are acting like grown-ups. As Dell'Antonia writes: "Adults use branding as a shorthand to narrow choices and locate particular items or qualities they're seeking. In order to keep from being overwhelmed by choice and information on a daily basis, kids need to learn to do the same."

Given that brands are a part of our world, the article suggests that what we need to do is teach our children about them. Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnick is quoted saying, "...Kids need to understand brands, and they will. What we owe them isn't protection. Rather, it's brands that promote decent, healthy products, and an education that promotes a healthy understanding of why and how those brands are working so hard to sell us on their stuff."

This strikes me as true but it's not quite everything we need to talk about when it comes to brands, because when we attach qualities to a brand they often include an assumption of betterness, in a moral sense. Brands are a tried and true a way for us to locate ourselves in the world.

This is not news. I think it's almost an old saw to point out that the choice to buy a certain brand (say Robert's Pirate Booty) becomes not only about it being good for you health-wise but better morally and politically than another more identifiably corporate brand (maybe Cheetohs). I mean, can you imagine Sarah Palin putting a resuable snack container of Veggie Booty in Piper's lunch box?

Of course, adding a moral or political valence to a brand is simply another way of categorizing it, of decoding our world. It's inevitable that our children will make assumptions about brands, just like we do. So if we're going to talk about those assumptions, we're going to need to talk about all of them, and not just the ones about good health and the corporate shill.

You Call that Cake?

This post speaks the truth: If I were to look for a sugarless cake for my kids' birthday (which, for the record, I would never do), I would not look to a wheel of truffle infused aged goat cheese topped with chicken and mashed potatoes made pink with beet juice. The kids would....I can't even begin to say what the kids would do. In fact, if anyone ever served me a "cake" like that, I'm not sure I could be held responsible for my action.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Bad Night: A Meta-Analysis

Every so often, my son has a bad night. By "bad" I mean he wakes up at some ungodly hour between one and three in the morning and doesn't go back to sleep until five thirty or so. Last night, both my kids woke up at two, my daughter fell back asleep fairly quickly (with me by the bed), but Elliot, he was up until five thirty or six. The worst thing about these nights, besides my heart breaking for my son who really can't get back to sleep, is, of course, what happens in my brain.

Let's face it, if an adult is up and not working in the hours between one and five she should be making use of the city that never sleeps or doing something consenting with another adult, otherwise, her mind will go bananas. For me, if there's a stick in my craw at two AM, by four it's a tree branch, a sore at one thirty is an open wound by three. I know this isn't unusual, but that doesn't make it any more bearable.

Still, if you think about it, and in the wee hours of the morning I had plenty of time to think about it, the parade of horribles that sleepless nights evoke is boring. Last night I didn't exactly embrace the boringness of the parade, but I did repeat to myself, over and over, "My thoughts are going to be terrible. I'm going to think my life is in the toilet. That I'm such a pathetic loser. I may actually be a pathetic loser but I lose much more at three AM." Over and over again I reminded myself that the thoughts I was about to have were going to be bad and by anticipating them, I managed to cut them off. It was a good technique. Maybe not as good as my matzah brei technique, but still something I'll keep in mind for the next time I'm up involuntarily at four in the morning.

Which is Greener: Paper or Metal?

The New York Times thoughtfully provided this run down of the environmental costs of the book and e-reader. It reminds me that for me breaking the online book buying habit is important and buying an e-reader, at this stage of the game, is not.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Free Speech

This is worth watching: Philip Pullman on what we can say and read and write. (Via The Elegant Variation.)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Pineberry

I can't begin to express how tense this makes me. (Via Shut Up Foodies. Thanks to Marjorie for the link.)

That's Pretty Good

I'm sorry to blog about food again, but it being Passover, it's on my mind. I want to be clear. I'm not keeping Passover -- unlike my husband, I'm eating the things, like bread, that Jews aren't supposed to eat during these eight days.

I could go on and on about my reasons for not doing this, but I don't think it would be that interesting. But I'm thinking about food, and not just about what I'm going to eat next, which, I think, is at least a little bit of the point of not eating certain foods. Still, even with my non-observance, we have matzah in the house. And because there's matzah in the house, there's been matzah brei. If you're unfamiliar with matzah brei, it's kind of like French Toast with matzah only unlike French Toast, it can be salty or sweet.

Now, I've always been a spectacularly bad matzah brei maker, but this year, my run of bad brei seems to have ended. This year, I wet the matzah with water before putting it in its egg bath and once it was smothered in beaten eggs and milk, I ignored it. When I cooked it, I let it set, really set, and I flipped it whole. And, can I tell you, the brei was beautiful. Not just beautiful, it was delicious. When my husband tasted it, his voice dropped an octave and he said, "Now that's pretty good," which, on the David Stone food compliment scale translates into a score of ten out of ten. The moral of the story, for the best matzah brei, ignore it as much as possible, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and dip in labne. Add a strawberry and I promise you'll be happy.