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


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


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.