Friday, December 30, 2011

Mitt Romney:Liar.

Of course we know he's willing to unsay what he just said and disavow policies that actually helped hundreds of thousands of people in Massachusetts, and now we know he'll just lie, lie, lie like a rug. (I'm a little law with this post, but better late than never.....)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pork Cake on Fire

Many years ago I spent an evening with Melissa and her ex-husband (I think) and our friends Josh and Ana, who have long since also split up. We were in Josh and Ana's Brooklyn Heights apartment, which was just about the perfect Brooklyn Heights apartment. Charming and slightly off-kilter, it was three flights up in a brownstone, the kitchen was in a pass-through between the living and bed rooms and you had to go through the bedroom to get to the bathroom. It had two cats, this lovely study off the living room, and, I think, a mantle. In any case, being in that apartment at that time with those cats and those friends was very reassuring, even cosseting, and the evening I'm thinking of may even have been some kind of holiday like Christmas or New Year's. Whatever it was we (or I) ate just an enormous amount, and I purposefully didn't save any room for dessert because I knew Melissa had made something from one of the Laurie Colwin books (Home Cooking or More Home Cooking) that involved whole lemons and suet, or what I understood to be the fat that's wrapped around the pancreas of a cow. I wasn't expecting much, but, you won't be surprised to read, my expectations were all wrong. I was completely devastated when I bit into my bit of suetty, lemony, toffee-liquor-drenched stuff to discover nothing short of perfection on a fork. I don't remember anything more about the dessert (like it's name) but I do remember being so sad that I'd already eaten so much because I knew I was about to eat a whole lot more of that dessert, personal comfort and health be damned. It was something, that dessert, and this post on Melissa's web site, with its recipe for pork cake that one sets on fire before drinking too much reminded me of that very, extremely, lovely, and filling, night. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

E-Books, Revisited

Lately, the thought of curling up with my Nook to read a good Book just makes my toes curl. I know I'm not the only woman giving up on screen reading. K.J. Dellantonia, our new Motherlode blogger, has done the same. I wish my reasons for not wanting e-books were as clear as hers. She wants her kids to see her reading. This means Ms. Dellantonia has "quiet time" in her house during which they all read together. We don't have that. Then again, my kids are early readers so I shouldn't feel bad yet for not having quiet reading time. I can wait for two years from now when, I hope, my kids will be reading away but not during the quiet time when we all read together. No, I'm not that into e-books just BECAUSE. Because I'm tired of screens being everywhere and doing everything. It's not that I don't appreciate the screens I use. I've come to quite like this new computer, and I'm not ready to give up my TV, even though I watch it less and less. But, I can't help it. I still like reading books that are only books and don't glow, except, you know, on the inside. So will I read Villette, my next big not-chilrden's novel, on the Nook? Or, will I get it from the library? I guess we'll just have to see how long this jag of grump lasts.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Secret Garden

For a while now I've wanted to write something about The Secret Garden. I read it for the first time a few weeks ago, and when I started it, I thought, "Oh this is magic!" But the more I read of it, what with what happens to Miss Mary Quite Contrary in dank, infected India and then how she blossoms once returned to the moors and sent outside; and then how the lovely and pan-like Dickon comes along and opens the secrets in the garden Mary's found; and then how Dickon's mother, and mother to 13 others, Susan Southeby, is full of motherly wit and wisdom, not to mention the kindheartedness to buy a poor little rich girl a jump rope; and how Colin is discovered and saved....well, it all got to be a little too much. I was going to suggest it was, possibly, the weirdest children's books ever, but then Marjorie Ingall blogged about what I'd forgotten was actually the weirdest children's book ever. Now I'll just say it's an extremely odd and discomfiting book for all it doesn't recognize about itself. It's all that unconscious reinforcement of the healing power of rosy cheeks and fresh milk that makes me nervous. I know that sounds kind of awful, because really, what could be wrong with rosy cheeks and fresh milk? But there are things deeply wrong with said cheeks and milk The Secret Garden because the author seems to think they're So Right. For odd and off, I suppose I'd rather read a book like Coraline which knows that it's being very odd and plays with the whole idea of the big English house, along with some other pretty wonky ideas about mothers and power and buttons for eyes. All this to say, I may never hand Helen or Elliot The Secret Garden and say, "You've got to read this!" Then again, maybe I'll do exactly that, because if I do, Helen, at least, won't ever read it, at least not for a good long while, and I think that may be AOK.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Celebrity Sighting: Carla Hall!

There we were, waiting on the line to board the train from Washington, DC to New York City, and there she was, red glasses and all. My husband said, "Did you see the chef?" It was all I could do not to run up to her and gush, politely, discretely, briefly, about the love.

Love that Carla Hall.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bridesmaids, Revisited

Back in June, I saw Bridesmaids and really enjoyed it. I thought it was funny and smart and portrayed at least some of what really matters in women's friendships. Sure Kristen Whig's character Annie was going through a very hard time, but nothing about it seemed overly bad for the world of the movies, even though she was going through a seriously rough patch.

Last night, David and I decided to watch a movie. We were all set for a pure escape, total fun, no problem. We were ready for the Anything Goes of movie night. We decided on Bridesmaids. Turned out that since I myself am in a bit of a rough patch and coming off a week of a stomach bug that hit every family member, it hit me a little bit harder. The movie still had some almost perfect comic moments, but it seemed sadder, more strained, even more restrained. Maybe I just have to give up knitting during movie night (because I was knitting the lights were on), or maybe Bridesmaids isn't Wedding Crashers. It's about actual relationships and not exactly escapist when that's all you really want. Then again, our plan B for movie night was Blue Valentine, maybe we made the right choice.

Friday, November 25, 2011

New, New, New Computer!

Well, I did it. After five years, countless crashes, and months of living with the swirly-whirl of death as my constant computer companion, this week I finally broke down and bought a new computer. It's nice. Sleek and fast and the keyboard experience is very satisfying. But, I have to say, it's also a little off-putting, the new computer. The keyboard, with it's nice typing action, is lit up from behind and when I look at it it reminds me of nothing so much as an office building at night. I loathe office buildings and I especially hate the way they're lit up at night. I'm one hundred percent certain I'm not alone in this. Here's the other thing about the computer. It runs the very latest version of Word, which has all kinds of icons and layout options everywhere on the screen. Gone are the days of "normal view" in which a plain document and simple toolbar might fill my whole screen. I was thinking about how someone needed to tell the engineers and designers at Microsoft that sometimes less is more, and then it hit me. I may not like the new Word, I may feel overwhelmed by options when I work in it, not only because I'm so used to the old Word, but because I'm, you know, old. Or at least middle aged, and while I've never been one to be wowed by technology or especially interested in all the nifty things it can do, I'd better start keeping up a little bit more. Like exercise, getting a wee-bit more knowledgeable about technology will, I think, help me be a little bit more flexible as I age. A little more mobile. It'll give me options even when part of me really really wants to opt out. This is my theory, anyway. The problem as I see it is at least with exercise I always feel good after I do it. If I were to sit down to some reading about technology, I know I'd just want to unplug and knit. Actually, that sounds pretty good right about now.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sweet Potato Pie

Because I am an extremely lucky fish, I had some of this pie -- Sweet Potato Ginger Custard -- last night, and I can tell you, it is Deeeeee-licious.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is There an App for That?

When I first saw the headline in the Wall Street Journal this morning, I thought I could just avoid it. Then, my husband placed it in the middle of my breakfast spot. "I thought you'd want to read that," he told me. I most emphatically did NOT want to read an article titled, "My Teacher is an App," but I decided I should be a grown-up and see what it had to say.

Reading it offered no real surprises but it was depressing. Education, I've learned, is full of the fad, and technology, from the radio to the movie reel to the tablet, makes for great fads. It wows people into thinking teachers might just be obsolete. Of course, as Lev Vygotsky might tell you, people really need other people to learn and deepen their thinking, but who cares about all that when you're talking about what matters in schools? And apps?

Becoming a teacher makes me feel nothing so much as cognitive dissonance. I can hardly think of an endeavor that's at once so pressured to be seen as professionalized and so infantilized. For every reformer who says the key to great school is amazing teachers, there's another scripting lessons. For every tool meant to foster a culture of critical thinking, there's a sheet of bubbles waiting to be filled in.

Fortunately, though, for all the abstract contradictions, and concrete absurdities, becoming a teacher means I spend one day a week student teaching (next semester it will be four). And there, the kids are funny and confounding and engaging and earnest; the cooperating teacher is marvelous and gives me something to think about every time I'm in the classroom. Granted, some weeks I think about how overwhelming the task of teaching is, but I also remain deeply curious about it. Which is lucky, because if I just read the paper, I'd think there's an app out there ready to teach for me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Who Wears Short Hair?

I have a complicated relationship with hair - long and short. I would really like to go into it, but it's complicated, and it's late, but still, I want to comment on this essay in Jezebel about short hair. Because even though it's late, and maybe I'm not reading so closely, I think the article basically says, "More than one straight man in the world likes short hair! I know, because I used to have straight hair and men told me I was gorgeous!" And in response, I have to say this: Really? REALLY? Seriously, REALLY?????

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Election Day, 2011

I have to say, I was even more excited by the election results and headlines announcing defeat to "Many G.O.P.-Sponsored Measures" and "G.O.P. Overreach," than I was by the moms-don't-sleep article in the Times on Sunday. Way more excited. Maybe I'll even sleep a little easier tonight.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

To Sleep, Perchance Just to Sleep.

It's hard to express the level of identification I felt with the article in today's New York Times Sunday Styles section on women and sleep. Or, more accurately, women in their 40s who don't sleep.

It's not as though I didn't know that I wasn't alone in my sleeplessness. A few years ago I made a new friend when we started emailing each other about books and sleep aids. And, truth be told, the sleeplessness of motherhood didn't surprise me. I've never been a great sleeper. Even in my twenties I'd fall asleep quickly and wake around 3 or 4. And can I just say, if you're awake at 3 or 4 AM and not inebriated or engaged in some kind of salacious activity, you're quite certain the world will end because you forgot to take out the garbage. But, at 3:37 AM, when I think about taking out the garbage I also think about everyone else who takes out their garbage, and how all that garbage will pile up into mountains, just like in Wall-E, and not just because the City won't collect it all. Because that's what life is like lying awake at 3 AM. In fact, last night I was awake worrying about an assignment for school and whether or not David Leonhardt was right about climate change being worse than we could imagine, just like the financial crisis of 2008 was. (This was in the Times Sunday Magazine years ago, but I can't find it now, and if I try any harder, I'll add to my sleeplessness tonight, when I'll be wondering why I was blogging and not working.)

So my question is why did I have such a strong response to that article in today'a Styles? Why didn't I just turn to my husband, who told me about the article, and say, "Tell me something I don't know." After all, I was up pretty much all last night, even though I was exhausted from not sleeping for several nights this past week and working all day. Plus, when I read the article itself, it didn't really give me any new insights. For example, the article suggests that technology creeps into our night-time wind-down. Yep. It says that women are perfectionists and want to put out a five course meal every night. Nope, that's ridiculous. Most people I know are amazed I spatchcock a chicken once a week. Still and all, even if the reasons for sleeplessness are run-of-the-mill, even if the fact of it is an accepted part of modern maternity even outside of New York City, it's so awful and cruel, it's somehow better to feel companionship in insomnia. Maybe knowing I'm not alone will help me sleep better tonight.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's On Your Face?

My (totally awesome) niece Melissa made this video with a friend (who I'm sure is awesome, too, only she's not my niece). It's about beauty products and all we don't know about them. Check it out here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cook This Now!

OK, so, I haven't gone on and on too much about Melissa's new book, Cook This Now!, but I should. Because why? Because it's got so many recipes you're going to want to cook right now! Like yesterday! It's arranged by month, which, frankly, to me is like a breath of fresh paper-scented air. I see the recipes for desserts and soups differently when they're arranged by month. I don't know why, it's just how it is. Anyway, moving on from organization, I can tell you that this weekend I'm going to make curried coconut tomato soup and I may get started on mallomars (which I've made before and will make your knees weak). Those aren't from October, but who cares? For next week I've tapped spiced braised lentils and tomatoes with toasted coconut (September), and cumin seed roasted cauliflower with salted yogurt, mint and pomegranate seeds. (October! You can read about it here, too.) Oh yes, also raw kale salad with anchovy-date dressing. (Also October, and I know the anchovy-date thing sounds a little weird, but I know it's going to be great.) Now, I must shop. You must, too! For this book! Now!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What Not to Buy

I don't mean to be all judgmental or anything, but I'm not sure why someone would buy pre-printed notes to put in his or her child's lunchbox. Isn't the whole handwritten connection kind of the whole point of the lunchbox letter?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Time is Short: Spatchcocking!

This week will be completely bananas. There's lots and lots to do on the family and work front The list of what has to happen includes exciting things like cupcakes for birthdays and writing a long term plan for a student I'm tutoring and not-so-exciting things like a midterm about which I'm trying really, really hard not to be nervous. Still, I must share something. It's called Spatchcocking. Say it out loud and you will blush. Try it in the kitchen and you will be delighted. Melissa Clark tells us all about it here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The End Game

One of the things I’ve learned in training to be a teacher is when planning lessons, I should start where I want to finish. So, if I'm building a unit on, say, butterflies, I should know what I want my students to know about butterflies by the end of the unit and then work my way backwards from there, breaking down information, skills and strategies that I'd work into the unit. That way I can organize the information; scope out where the big leaps might happen; figure out where the major pitfalls could be and identify where the big opportunities for deeper thinking may lie. Of course in real life the kids will trip me up and I’ll have to rejigger a lot along the way, but at least I’d not only have a road map, I'd have a destination.

I thought of this today when I was washing dishes and recalling a conversation I had at lunch this past week. I was eating with a couple of very old friends – one a sociologist, the other a journalist. The conversation got around to education and education reform and my friend the sociologist mentioned an email conversation she'd had with her brother, a retired hedge fund person still in his 40s. In the exchange, she’d asked her brother, who’s a big proponent of the Michelle Rhee-Joel Klein-Waiting-For-Superman-Make-It-Like-the-Market school of education reform, which he’d rather have, a system in which a few have great success or one in which most people have more success than they have now but not great success. Without a doubt, he told her, he’d choose a system that promised great success for a few. And I realized, if that’s the end result you’re looking for – the greater success of a few, the many be damned – you can apply market place principles to get there.

In a market, you try to replace people who don’t produce according to the accepted measure of success. You reward people who do produce with more money. You flatten what it means to succeed into the bluntest of terms for easy comparison. When the close of a fiscal term rolls around, a few people like my friend’s brother will make a lot of money while a lot of other people, most other people, won’t. Likewise, when the end of the school year comes around, some kids will do really well on their standardized tests, and lots of kids will have vomited all over the sheet with bubbles on test day and then breathed with relief for the remaining weeks of the year. (For details, check out Linda Perlstein’s Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade.

The thing about all this, though, is that the Michelle Rhee-Joel Klein-Waiting-For-Superman-Make-It-Like-the-Market school of education reform doesn’t bill itself as a movement looking to raise up a few. Of course it doesn’t. It’s, as Michelle Rhee says about her new organization (and I paraphrase), a movement for the children, for the students. It’s the movement that inspired No Child Left Behind, the one that propels that Race to the Top. And while “race to the top” implies some people will get there first, I think the people who are for it would still say they want everyone to get there. Only they don’t. Because the end game of marketplace reforms necessarily brings market-like results. Some succeed, many don’t, and the many who don’t better hope for an invisible hand pushing a robust service economy. Pretty grim.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Promises, Promises

It's almost my kids' birthday. Their seventh. This morning, Helen pointed out that it's just one more year until she turns eight. "Oh," I said, "Does something special happen when you turn eight?"

"Yes," she said, "I get a puppy."

Right. Because when my kids were four, which was yesterday, I told them they could get a puppy when they were eight. Which is tomorrow. Essentially.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October! And Cook This Now!

September was madness. It was chaos. It was a mad dash crazy blitz run for it please let this be the finish line. And the finish line? Just a schedule. A regular, predictable, reasonable schedule. Of course things are still a little chaotic and I've had a lot of ideas for posts that I haven't had the chance to write. And I'm out of practice writing because I don't write every day anymore, and I wish I did, but, as with exercise and cutting down on butter, wishing doesn't make anything so. Which is to say I'd like to hunker down for a long post right now about something, but this is just a quick one for I'm soon off to a party to celebrate Melissa's new book -- Cook This Now! Everyone should go buy it now. You won't regret it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Constructing Creativity

One of my least favorite directions is "be creative." Nothing makes me shut down faster than being told to open up. (Ditto with "Relax," but that is a different post entirely.) I don't know if it's the cynic or the part of me that really, deeply, and profoundly hates being told what to do, which is the yang to the yin in me that loves a recipe and a knitting pattern, but I just don't like it. So, when I read about a class at Penn where students are told NOT to be creative but to plagiarize how could I think anything other than "Genius!" Not to mention "Honest!" Just thinking about it makes me want to plagiarize. In a good way! (And apparently with a lot of exclamation points.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bogin the Great

In this past week's Sunday Times magazine there was the article about character education which everyone is talking about, because it's great, and then there's an article by Clifford Levy about living in Russia and sending his children to a Russian school instead of a school for Americans in Russia. Even while I was reading the article, I was romanticizing the Russian schools' director, Vasilly Bogin. Levy describes his kids' first interview with Bogin like this:

At the school in Moscow, Bogin spent 45 minutes with each of the three, speaking to them in English. He gave Danya an algebra problem that was clearly too hard for her. He constructed the outline of a fish with toothpicks and asked Arden to make the fish face in the opposite direction by moving only a few pieces. He had Emmett take apart and rebuild a house made of blocks. He seemed to care about the way they thought, not what they knew.

It makes your knees weak, right?

Throughout the article, which is terrific, there are bits about how Bogin thinks about education, how Levy's kids responded, how they developed relationships. I won't retell what's in the article, although I'm tempted, I'll just say that Bogin as he's portrayed here is the kind of dynamic educator about whom people build up terrific teacher fantasies, and they should! Because the way Levy paints him, Bogin is someone who thinks forcefully and systematically about what kids do, how they think, and how they might engage with the world in many different ways. I know only very recently I complained about what happens when we only talk about great teachers, but at a moment when I'm feeling a little "meh" about where I am and what I'm doing, reading about this school was electrifying. That hard and engaging were not mutually exclusive? That no one was too worried about the fun kids might have in school and they liked going anyway? Sweet, sweet relief.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Have Test Will Cheat

OK. Pro Publica put together a list of great school cheating scandals. It shows that as long as there have been tests, there have been cheaters. Standards indeed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Cozy Lining

My son likes to play violent video games. On the iPad, his games of choice usually have an avenging superhero who smashes up bad guys. Often, but not always, they are bad guy aliens; sometimes, they look human. But it doesn't really matter if they're made from flesh or bolts, they get destroyed by my boy's nimble fingers and you know I worry about these games, both because I'm supposed to and because I really do, but I also feel somewhat resigned to them. By the time I had a son I had read enough stories of moms who banned guns only to have her kids (some of them even girls) make weapons out sticks and fingers that I knew a gun ban wouldn't matter. Besides, I'm not good at bans. The day I decide to ban something -- say, alcohol -- is the day I can't get through the pre-dinner hour with a big Campari and soda. (Don't judge.)

Still, the fighting games are the iPad are problematic for all kinds of reasons. A Terminator game my boy has (and yes, I know I'm the person who bought it for him, judge if you like, that's not my business) is very realistic. Sure the good guys are human and the bad guys are robot aliens, but the dystopian city they're fighting in is distressingly vivid, as are the guns, which have the added bonus of being large.

And yet, and yet. A few weeks ago when Elliot was busy playing the Terminator game with me sitting next to him, he showeed me how all the humans, except for the one doing the shooting, had been locked in prison. He pointed to a man in a cell and the bunk bed behind him. The top bunk was made up neatly with what looked like a standard issue army blanket. "See," he said, "he's got a really comfy blanket for his bed. That's lucky, right?" Sure just beyond the prison walls there's a city crumbling after an invasion of violent, evil, robot aliens, but inside, the men have their comfy blankets, their cozy cells, and that's pretty lucky. That's the detail that matters.

(Note: We are iPad-free in this house for the month of September. So far, so good. The only down side, really, is I can't read anything on the Nook in front of the kids, because Doodle Jump is on there, too.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Happens in Queens Stays in Queens

I just keep reminding myself that Weiner's district is up for elimination anyway.

And there's this:

But Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said the district’s large concentration of Orthodox Jews made it unusual and meant the race had few national ramifications.

“In this district, there is a large number of people who went to the polls tonight who didn’t support the president to begin with and don’t support Democrats — and it’s nothing more than that,” she said in a telephone interview.

And while I'm sad about our disappearing president, I really, really, really can't contemplate 1012-16 without him in that office.

On Reading

A few days ago I followed a link from The Daily Dish to a very strange article by the famous English professor Helen Vendler in Harvard Magazine. In it she bemoans the intellectual preparation of her students at Harvard. She writes:

"As it is, our students now read effortfully and slowly, and with only imperfect comprehension of what they have seen. They limp into the texts of the humanities (as well as the texts of other realms of learning)."

Her solution? Devote the first four years of elementary school to reading in all its forms (and mathematics) (parentheses hers). These forms include singing, clapping to the rhythm of poems, and learning to conjoin "prefixes, suffixes, and roots as they learn new words."

She admits:

"I have never taught elementary school and grant that I wouldn’t know how to do it. I only see the results downstream, and wish that reading at the earliest levels provided better preparation for the higher-level intensity of the humanities."

It's not that I don't think reading, in all its forms, should be a backbone of elementary education. It's not that I don't think a lot of what Vendler proposes for elementary reading immersion is reasonable and good. It's just that this is cranky version of the same old great complaint about "kids today" with a twist in the direction of our bugaboo du jour, the failure of American education. It's not new it's just snotty (no surprise) and besides the point (except for the point about mathematics). This one probably started at a dinner party table and should've been better off left there.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cups and Coffee

This story may be better for tweeting, but I don't tweet, so here I go on the old school blog: Yesterday, I bring a travel coffee cup to school. I'm very proud of this. I go to the Starbucks-on-Campus counter in the lobby and ask for a small, handing the nice lady my cup. She takes it, goes over to the coffee pot, and.....OK, you know what's going to happen. She takes a paper cup, fills it with coffee, pours said coffee into my travel mug, and throws away the coffee cup. Just what I wanted!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lemonade for the Library

Helen had a lemonade stand yesterday, I helped! We sold lemonade, of course, and chocolate chip cookies and we raised $85.00 for the library, which was terrific. There's more to say because it was September 11th, but now's not the time. (Since I'm watching Dead House,a Goosebumps movie, with Elliot, and it's creepy even with very low production values.)

Oh! And the best small world New York thing? Someone who works for the library happened by and now we're on the New York Public Library's blog, too!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Orangina on the Map

OK, so I usually don't go in for posts about cute things my kids say, but I haven't been writing enough and my sense of humor has disappeared down the rabbit hole dug by Rick Perry, Eric Cantor and the five classes I'm taking, so here goes:

Helen: "Is there such a place as Orangina?"
Me: "No, why? Where you reading My Father's Dragon?" (In which there is a place called, I think, Tangerina.)
Helen: "No." Here Helen looks at her shoes and furrows her brows. "Didn't Caroline (my niece, her very glamorous cousin) go to Orangina?"
Me: "Ahhhh....that would be Argentina."

See, kind of cute, but on reflection, not that funny. Still, I'm going to hit "publish post" on this one just maybe because I can.

Monday, September 5, 2011

On 9/11

There's a lot to read on the subject 9/11. Here's something from Andrew Sullivan, it's very compelling.

Near the start he writes:

We need to understand that 9/11 worked. It worked as a tactic to induce American self-destruction, even if it failed spectacularly as a strategy to advance Al Qaeda—and its heretical message of suicidal warfare—across the globe. It worked because this was not just another terror attack. The emblems were clear: the looming towers of Western capitalism in New York, the cradle of Western democracy in Washington. When the third plane crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth (United 93) was brought down by its passengers, the drama didn’t cease. We saw the symbol of America’s military preeminence lying with its side opened like a tin can.

The Romance of the Great Teacher

Yesterday, my husband handed me a folded up section of the paper and said, "Here, you'll like it." I looked down and there was Charles Blow's current column, one titled "In Honor of Teachers." In it there's yet one more telling of the same old story: A teacher changed my life! Teachers are great! Teachers should be respected, like they are in countries where children do well in school!

In this version, after falling between the cracks and being labeled slow Blow had an amazing fourth grade teacher who inspired him to work and by high school by golly this New York Times columnist was in a G&T program of two!

Now, of course it's great that Mr. Blow's life was transformed by a great teacher. But, honestly, I'm pretty tired of hearing that teachers should be respected because of the one transformational teacher a highly successful person met along the way.

I'm not saying that I'm not interested in transformational teachers or that I don't hope, fervently, that I might be one some day, at least for a child or two. What I'm saying is all the nostalgic talk about that one teacher out of many perturbs the discussion of teaching and sets up unreasonable expectations what an individual teacher should do for his students. It obscures the role of the school in supporting teaching. It elides the function of a community in which a school operates and a teacher teaches. In talking about schools and what they do the great teacher is starting to be a great big problem.

Because what about the everyday teacher who's doing a pretty good job and is working steadily at doing better? What about the school that's cultivating an atmosphere in which the professional insights of teachers matter and where a culture of learning informs all decisions? And the community that's engaged by and with that school and those teachers? These stories don't necessarily make great copy but I bet they make pretty darn good schools.

Fundamentally, great teaching is what matters for students and great teaching isn't isolated in one person. It's supported by institutions and communities, year after year. The romance of the great teacher is only that, a romance. Sure there are methods that all teachers might adopt, but the classroom experience that in retrospect changed everything, that experience relied on a certain chemistry between adult and child, an alignment of need and personality. When you had a great teacher, you had a relationship with that person for just one year. Remember what your life-long partnership was like after its first year?

If we want to talk about what will help students year after year then it's probably time to tear ourselves away from the rosy vision of the teacher as savior and turn to the question of how teacher and student and school and community might sustain a satisfying and evolving relationship. Maybe a student who went through a school where the focus is on fine teaching and not The Great Teacher won't one day mistily recall that one Ms. Smith who showed him all he can be. But he and many others will have had one heck of a time learning every day they were there. That's my theory anyway.

(Here's a footnote! "Attribution Error and the Quest for Teacher Quality," by Mary Kennedy. Educational Researcher. Vol. 39, No. 8, (pp. 591-598) November, 2010.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Huge Protests in Israel

Four hundred thirty thousand people demonstrated across Israel on Saturday night. Israel's population is 7.7 million. If 770,000 people are about ten percent of the total population, that means about 380,000 people would be five percent, that makes 430,000 people, what?, close to six percent of the population. Is that right? Even if I'm wrong, the numbers are HUGE. And what are they protesting about? The cost of living; the salaries of teachers and policemen; the concentration of wealth among an elite few families. Good golly it's heartening.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Can't See the Forest for the Smog

Yesterday I just read a one-liner that went something along the lines of, "Obama rolls back smog regulations, capitulates to Republicans," and I thought: "Enough!"This morning I read this piece by Michael Tomasky which asks, basically, where did Obama go and will he come back in time to be taen seriously as a leader?


Monday, August 29, 2011

More Perils of Group Think

Michael Winerip on Steven Brill's new book Class Warfare writes:

The villains of Mr. Brill’s story are bad teachers coddled by unions.

With his legal training and business background, Mr. Brill is expert at chronicling the union’s failings. He documents the growth of the New York City teachers’ contract from 39 pages in 1962 to 200 today, along with work rules that can be used at every turn to obstruct principals from improving schools. He details the case of a Stuyvesant High School teacher who was so drunk that she passed out at her desk, only to have the union claim on its Web site that she was disciplined as part of a scheme to harm senior teachers.

He goes a lot easier on the reformers who have spent recent years pushing the expansion of charter schools and standardized tests. Mr. Brill identifies the millionaires and billionaires who attack the unions and steered the Democratic Party to their cause. There is Whitney Tilson, who parlayed $1 million of his parents’, relatives’ and own money to build a hedge fund that he told Mr. Brill was worth $50 million; Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, who works for the family’s money fund and has homes in Manhattan, East Hampton and the Dominican Republic; and David Einhorn, who at age 38 “was already one of Wall Street’s successful short sellers.”

The book is called “Class Warfare.” I expected Mr. Brill to explore why these men single out the union for blame when children fail. If a substantial part of the problem was poverty and not bad teachers, the question would be why people like them are allowed to make so much when others have so little. I hear this all the time from teachers, but when I asked Mr. Brill, he said, “I didn’t see it as the rich versus the union guys, although now that you say it, I can see how you could draw that line.”

Brill could see, huh?

While I'm on the topic of Brill's book I think Sara Mosle's review of it in last Sunday's Times Book Review is well worth reading. (If you haven't yet, it took me a long time to work up the nerve to read it.)

A little later: I realize I gave this post a title that made very good sense in my head but not so much outside. In his article, Winerip talks about how people who lead and pay for the school reform movement (like Brill) mostly talk to each other and not "the other side." The entrenched quality of the debate about education reform reflects this. Similarly, in Jeffery Toobin's profile of Clarence Thomas, referenced in my anxious post about Irene, Toobin points out that Thomas and his wife only socialize with people who agree with him. This might be one reason why Virginia Thomas thought it was reasonable to call Anita Hill to ask her to apologize. That is, everyone Ginnie talks to thinks she should. In any case, this is why I called this post More Perils of Group Think; after all, it's not making a huge claim about intellectual honesty that it requires talking to people with whom you disagree.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene, Clarence and Rick

I sat down this morning to write a post about Irene and how big storms like it make me nervous about climate change, not to mention how thinking about lower Manhattan flooding makes me think about lower Manhattan disappearing, and how I can't believe the moment when Irene is coming is a moment when Rick Perry, who apparently thinks the whole idea of climate change is a little bit of elitist hooey, could be the Republican nominee which means he'd be in the running to be President, and it's also a moment when Clarence Thomas, who thinks he can think like an eighteenth century white slave owner and other writers of the Constitution, is seeing his legal and political agenda flourish, but writing a post like that made my wrists freeze and eyes water so badly I had to get up from the computer and make some granola instead.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Melissa Clark Eats Breakfast

And a whole lot more. Read all about it here.

Full Metal Branding

While we were on vacation we stayed in a house with a TV but without 24/7 PBS kids. We stayed in the house during a long rainy day, too. As a result, my kids watched Disney shows they'd never before, and now when my son asks to watch TV, he says, and I quote, "Can I watch Disney Sizzlin' Summer?"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Poser: My life in twenty-three yoga poses

I first learned of Poser, Claire Dederer's memoir about yoga and family, when I walked past a book store and saw the book in the window. I remember taking in the cover and having a familiar, small, bitter encounter with sour grapes. I wished I'd written a book like that! Could I have written a book like that? Could I bring myself to read a book like that? What if it was really annoying, everything that bothered me about yoga when I used to take yoga? Or, even worse, what if it was everything I'd loved about yoga and more?

Then, conveniently, I forgot all about it until a friend who'd just read it said something exceedingly generous and kind. She said, "You could write something like that." Having read the book all I can say now is: "I WISH!"

Dederer is a terrific writer. She's spot on about so much. Her book is about yoga in America. It's becoming a mother and coming to terms with her own mother, family, and the 1970s. Dederer also and of course writes about the culture of mothering in which she (we) finds herself. (For a nice discussion of the book, read Sue Dickman's review.

Before I had children, I did yoga. I would even go so far as to say I practiced yoga. For years. In my mid and late twenties, yoga pretty much anchored my life and while I never threw off coffee and thirty pounds in pursuit of the perfect down dog, in my mind I came close by going to classes more than three times a week four weeks a year and contemplating yoga retreats as vacations. When I was depressed, I had yoga. When I couldn't get pregnant, I had yoga. When I thought I would never get pregnant, yoga turned into a way to make peace because through yoga I thought I'd explore things my body could do by banging on the doors of a host of things I thought it couldn't. (Hello split!) And now, I don't practice yoga anymore for a couple of specific reasons, so reading about Dederer's yoga classes felt like a little bit of time travel through which I got to be smarter and funnier than I really am and do an arm balance to boot.

All this to say, if you've taken yoga or haven't, had kids or haven't, or loved From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler or didn't (although I don't know anyone who didn't love that book and really don't want to think about the person who wouldn't), you can appreciate Dederer's book. She builds a world and fills it in and flips back to another world and it's not all perfect and the whole time it's great to be there with her.

On Writing, ctd. (or, Writers Just Want to be Liked)

Maud Newton argues the big problem with David Foster Wallace's writing is his desire to please and to be liked. Matt Kiebus responds.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Writing

This weekend in the Sunday Times Magazine, Maud Newton had a really interesting piece on David Foster Wallace's influence on how we've been writing over the last fifteen, twenty years. Back when I subscribed to Harper's Foster Wallace wrote for it and it was there that I read his brilliant essay about going on a cruise, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and, my favorite, Tense Present, an essay I ripped out and have taken to every apartment or house I've lived in since. I didn't read much more of his writing, but when I started A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I had to put it down within the first one hundred pages because it was too much like what I knew about Foster Wallace. But what I didn't know, until I read Maud Newton's essay, is David Foster Wallace is the reason I want to throw in a "you know" all the time. Not to mention all those exclamation points! Who knew? I should have. I guess.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Michelle Rhee Won't Talk

Little miss I love the media doesn't love USA Today so much. All that investigative reporting into cheating on tests in DC. So inconvenient. Here's the story.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Schedule and The Child

Coming up on a new school year, wondering, again, if I'm not doing the right thing by my kids with their after school activities (neither plays a sport and our music lessons have not involved any practice), I was greatly relieved by reading this article. It seems that kids will find their way and learn to love things they do when they grow up, even if they didn't do those things as children! Phew!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Out in the Woods

The other day, I was in the woods. Not woody woods, mind you, but a slightly wooded trail in a small town in Pennsylvania (settled since the mid-nineteenth century). The path I was on is a quiet, nicely shaded lane between a private road and a sort of steep slope leading up to the backyards of a few nice houses. It's the kind of path on which someone like me might take pleasure in a not taxing but not city-ish morning walk. It offered the smell of forest, the illusion of seclusion, the memory of bigger, harder, longer hikes. That particular morning, it also offered a bear. And that's not a typo for deer. That's a B-E-A-R.

There I was, walking along the path, thinking my thoughts and enjoying the quiet, for not a soul was around, and then, coming along the path toward me, was a pretty good sized four-footed creature in a brown coat whom I'd much rather encounter in, say, Blueberries for Sal. Lucky for me, and unlike in Blueberries for Sal, there was no bear cub around. Only the one bear. And me. Here are some of the thoughts that ran through my head as I decided to get off the path and find a place to hide among the skinny, measly, paltry excuses for trees that grew between the backyards and the path:

"A 42-year-old New Yorker, mother of twins, was found in the...."
"I saw Grizzly Man. It's not winter. That bear isn't hungry. Can bears see?"
"I don't want to be a 42-year-old woman from New York, mother of two...."
"It's garbage day. The bear is way more interested in garbage than me....."

As the bear came up to a point relatively parallel to where I was, it stopped and looked over my way. By then I was crouching trying my best to look like a rock or a tree or something, in spite of my blue and white striped waffle-rib top from the Gap. It occurs to me now that I should've stayed calm by humming to myself that song from A Chorus Line -- "Every day, for a week I'd try to be a baseball, be a sports car, ice cream cone...." -- but I didn't. As the bear looked in my direction, waggling its nose in the air for a moment, I, for some reason, stood up and then I stayed very still, and then the bear turned off the path and into the growth on the other side of the path, and then it kept going.

Before I finish this little yarn, I should say that I no longer run for exercise. A little over a year ago I started seeing an applied kinesiologist who pretty well convinced me that if I wanted to keep walking for the rest of my life, running would not help me. But that day, waiting for the bear to put some distance between himself and myself, I thought, "F$%*&! not running," and took off down the path running as fast as I could for as long as I could, this time singing to myself, "He says to me, why don't you run, I see you ain't, got any gun."

Later that day, after hearing that I'd seen a bear on a path quite near the lake where we were at the time (with our children), someone said to me about the bears in the neighborhood, "They're really harmless." And, really, they may be. But they're still bears.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Twist on Friday Night Lights

Here's a story about a high school team that practices at night to accommodate players fasting for Ramadan. I keep wanting to say it's "fascinating," but it's not. It's just a story about a reasonable decision by a coach to meet the needs of his players as whole people. I wonder when decisions like these that don't adhere to the normative (Christian) calendar and standards will no longer be seen as exceptional or newsworthy but just part of that whole e pluribus unum thing.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Frindle is an absolutely charming book about a boy, his teacher, a big idea and the power of language to bind them altogether. I often cry when I read children's books (oh to see me at the end of Knuffle Bunny Free), and my kids kind of love it kind of hate it. To them it's like seeing a rare and somewhat bizarre insect. They want to huddle up and peer as if farsighted at the strange event unfolding in their immediate universe. Anyway, they got to do just that at the end of Frindle, because I'm a sucker for a life-enhancing student-teacher moment. It's short, it's brisk, the characters play their parts pitch perfectly, it's a great read, even if you're not going into fifth grade.

One Other Thing About the Nook

On the one hand, reading both Treasure Island and now The Moonstone have brought me only joy without the schlep; on the other, reading on The Nook outside means seeing what's happened to my post-40 chin and neck reflected, mercilessly, on its screen. Really, it's a little too much information.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Time Away

So, I know my blogging has been pretty intermittent of late, but, you know, it's August and even though I was just beginning to get in the swing of things, I won't be blogging for the next few weeks. I hope everyone enjoys the tomatoes!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My E-Reader, My Friends, and Me

So, I now have an e-reader, a nook color, and I like it, mostly. Here's some of what I like: I can check out library books with it. I was very interested in reading a book from Canada called The Myth of Ability and waited months for a paper copy which never came. With the book backordered until who knows when, I bought the e-version and am very glad for it. I'm also glad to be reading Treasure Island and to have Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone queued up in there. (Thank you, New Yorker, for the recent Wilkie Collins essay.) And I like that I can read my nook in a dark room while my kids are falling asleep. (Please don't ask why I'm in my kids' room when it's dark and they're falling asleep. Someday I won't do it and I won't be a short order cook and hopefully my kids won't be ruined for all my mistakes.)

Here's what I don't like. I don't like that I've read a few books on the nook that I've wanted to pass along to friends and can't. And I don't like that if I'm reading on the nook on the train or in a restaurant there's absolutely no chance that anyone will ask me about what I'm reading. I've had someone ask me about the nook itself, but that's it. If you're reading a book with a cover on it, it's like there's an opening into asking about it. The other day I saw someone reading The Thing About Life is One Day You'll Be Dead, a book I've been wondering about for a while now. I asked him about it and we had a pleasant, brief exchange and I still want to read it, but if he'd been reading it on the nook, I wouldn't have been reminded that that's a book I want to read.

During my course on teaching literacy this past Spring, my literacy teacher made the point that reading is a social act. I'd never seen it that way before. In fact, I approached reading as a deeply private act. But it's not. And one of the ways it's not is that when you're reading out of doors, used to be everyone could see what you were reading. Reading on the nook, while convenient, feels five steps more isolated because everything I read is on my machine. These feelings don't exactly make sense, I know, and I'll continue to read on the nook, but let's just say that when I gave my kids the option of either buying the books of Harry Potter three and four and getting them on the nook, it was no contest. They wanted the books. They wanted the things, and even though I'm going to have to schlepp those things along with me on vacation, I was glad for it.

For the Record

For some reason, July felt unusually busy. Maybe because I had to be at school by 8:30 most mornings, maybe because I'm not yet really used to having to be somewhere day after day, I don't know, but I've had a hard time keeping on top of any number of things, blogging included. Still, I'd like to say, for the record, that what's happened with the debt ceiling negotiations terrifies me. (Here's something on it from Sullivan that gets at the terror.) I Know this is a little bit like saying "I like sunsets" but I just can hardly believe it and I kind of can't take it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

W to R

Helen, my daughter, who today turns six and three quarters, has a very particular way of speaking. She always has. Take the word "comfortable." She says it like this: "cuhm-ftibul," and when you hear her say it, because she sounds like an 83-year-old nice Jewish lady who lives in a rambling pre-war on West End and 87th and has since before everything got all shiny, thank you very much, "comfortable" takes on a kind of gravity. Instead of state of being you don't think about too much if you're lucky, in Helen's mouth, it takes on an essential if ineffable quality. "Are you cuhmftibul?" she'll ask when I lie down next to her in her bed. And if she knew how many ways one could occupy a state of comfort or discomfort, she'd mean them all.

But comfortable isn't the only word Helen pronounces idiosyncratically; that's because she, like many young children, doesn't have a full grasp of the letter sound for r. When Helen says a word with an /r/ it either sounds like a /w/ or a long vowel with an h attached. At least that was true until the day, maybe a month ago, when she very distinctly made the /r/ sound in the middle of a word. I wish I could remember what word it was, but I can't. Instead, I remember commenting on it. "That was a very nice 'rrrrr,'" I said. She repeated the word in the next sentence and ever since, she's been saying more and more rrrrs. She says them, oh, maybe 50 percent of the time, and when she does, she slows down her speech and emphasizes the sound. It's like watching someone learn to ride a bike very, very slowly. When she's mastered her /r/, my girl will have learned a new skill, one she'll need. Still, I know I'll miss those extra /w/s and long vowels, they make every word an adventahhh.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Obama Asks Corporate Heads for for Education

Really?. How about they just pay actual taxes, corporate and personal, every year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Media Empires and the Media

The hacking scandal that is at least reshaping Rupert Murdoch's empire is a major topic of interest by us. In yesterday's Guardian, Gordon Monbiot writes:

"So the rightwing papers run endless exposures of benefit cheats, yet say scarcely a word about the corporate tax cheats. They savage the trade unions and excoriate the BBC. They lambast the regulations that restrain corporate power. They school us in the extrinsic values – the worship of power, money, image and fame – which advertisers love but which make this a shallower, more selfish country. Most of them deceive their readers about the causes of climate change. These are not the obsessions of working people. They are the obsessions thrust upon them by the multimillionaires who own these papers."

The whole column, with many quotable lines, is here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Come and Have a Look at a Worm

This weekend, we took the kids to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. At the end of our day, after a visit to a reconstructed Amistad and taking in a casual set of seafaring tunes played by a pony-tailed man, after boarding a cod ship and watching my daughter happily wash two bandannas on a scrubbing board and hang them out on a line to dry, we went over to the last wooden whaling ship in America, the Charles W. Morgan. Looking like an enormous ark all propped up and land locked like in the movies, we climbed up 32 steps and wandered around the enormous ship that saw over 1000 sailors work its deck over the course of several decades of service killing sperm whales. On our way out, we took in the exhibit explaining the renovation, and there, under a microscope, was a worm of the kind that ate all the wooden whaling ships.

"Come and have a look at a worm," an Englishwoman told her daughters, who were maybe ten and seven. Her voice was tired, her cheeks sunburned, her kids' legs had a sheen of sweat on them. They came over and had a look at a worm under a microscope. And that, I thought, is the condition of parenting kids long done with strollers but not yet in bras or braces. You schlepp them somewhere, down 95 or across an ocean, and you visit a place that's genuinely interesting and also quite tiring, and you urge them to look at an insect up close. All the while twenty dollar bills are burning holes in your pockets, waiting to be swapped out for deeply fried fish or fudge. Such is the summer family trip. The food is hit or miss, and there are rarely aperitifs, but these trips are, all in all, quite fantastic.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

David Brooks Doesn't Like Diane Ravitch

David Brooks thinks Dian Ravitch has it all wrong in thinking poverty is a big problem in schools, testing doesn't help much and teachers who aren't twenty-three and part of Teach for American aren't necessarily part of the problem. I guess he doesn't read his colleague Joe Nocera much.

John Merrow, education reporter for PBS and author of The Influence of Teachers (which I have and should read) unpacks it for us here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sour Cherry Pie

Truth be told, on my last trip to the farm market, I managed not to blow my budget on greens, but not with the sour cherries. I'd decided to make a sour cherry pie, and you need a lot of sour cherries to do that, two quarts worth, in fact. It's not a small investment. But, for me? Totally worth it. Generally speaking, I'm not a huge fruit pie person. I don't really know why, that's just how it's been, until I had the sour cherry pie. It's not that my pie was perfect, it wasn't. But, the sour cherries? Oh my god, in a pie, they're just so sweet-tart-terrific. And, you know, my crust wasn't bad, either. Truthfully, I want to make another one this week, but I won't. Maybe you should? Here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Michelle Bachman

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

At the Farm Market

Today at the farm market I was at the fanciest of the farm stands trying desperately not to blow my whole farm market budget on tiny eggplants and exotic greens when a woman with two kids, maybe they were eight and seven or thereabouts, dropped buckets of stuff on the counter. Looking at her pile of verdure I wondered what her kitchen looked like and if I walked into it would I instantly forget that I'm incredibly privileged because even with the many blessings I do have, I don't have a wide expanse of counter space punctuated by high-end appliances.

But the real psychic injury wasn't inflicted by what she was buying. No. The real injury came from what her kids were doing while she was shopping. One, a girl, was eating a zucchini and the other, a boy, a cucumber. Just like that. Raw. Like they were lollipops. Then, the boy grabbed one of those darling little peppers that you can get in tapas restaurants char-grilled and salted and started chomping on it. "Mom!" he exclaimed, "This is really good!"

"Good," the mom answered, hardly paying attention for fear of dropping her seventy-five dollars worth of braising greens, "good."

"Yeah," he went on, "It's really spicy, but I'm eating it with the cucumber and it's really good!"

For the record, last weekend I made zucchini and corn fritters on the off chance that Elliot would take one bite of a vegetable if it also offered a deep fried experience. He did take one bite, of the oil-soaked edge. "I like the crunchy part," Elliot told me. He left the rest on the plate. Maybe the next time I should just lay a shiny raw pepper next to the fritter. Maybe the salty-spicy combo will be just the ticket. And that pepper? It won't take up any counter space at all.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What I Learned Today: Or, When Baking from Your Freezer

If you have a hunk of dough that's been in your freezer for a while, and if you decide that you'd better defrost it before it's too late and it goes all freezer-burned, and if, once defrosted, you decide that that dough will roll into the perfect crust for a nice quiche you could tuck into for at least two dinners and possibly a lunch, do just one thing before you bake off that dough: Taste it. Because if you taste it before you bake it, you might realize, before it's too late, that that dough isn't meant for a pie or quiche. No. That dough that's been tossing around the back of the freezer for going on three months? That dough there is butter-cookie dough that might have been made for chocolate hamentaschen. And while it's great filled with chocolate, topping it with eggs, cream and cheese is slightly less successful. I leave it to you to decide just how slight that success might have been.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Taxes, the Debt and Republicans

Andrew Sullivan on what's so wrong with the Congressional Republicans' position on raising taxes (and stripping tax breaks from large corporations) and the debt.

Bridesmaids & Beauty & Funny

Last night, with my husband out of town and my babysitter available, I went on a date with a fabulous friend and (finally) saw Bridesmaids. I may be the last lady on earth to see it, but that doesn't matter, I enjoyed it and I'm going to give a few reasons why.

First, of course, it's very, very funny. Second, it's funny. Third, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, they look like women I know. Sure, Kristin Wiig is tall and skinny, but she's tall and skinny in that noodle-icious way that says, to me, at least, that she was born that way and will die that way and sure she probably works out, but she's no Jennifer Aniston-I-lost-20-pounds-when-I-was-on-Friends-so-I-could-be-in-movies. But I don't want to talk about her tallness or skinniness, I want to talk about her skin. It has wrinkles! When she smiles or frowns, you can see them, all around her mouth, by her eyes, they're All Over Her Face! That means her face looks like the faces of women I actually know. Like me! It was such a relief. As for Maya Rudolph, she's no Jennifer Aniston-I-lost-20-pounds-so-I-could-be-in-movies either. No. She, too, looks like women I know. Her breasts are full and so is her body and there was not even one muscle in her arms. Not one! Mine either!

Then there's a scene at the very beginning of the movie when Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph have breakfast and watching it for me was so familiar. Granted, I'm not as funny as Wiig or Rudolph, but over a short stack and eggs, the two woman showed us that precious safe harbor women can make for each other; the fear of its loss upon marriage is real and, in my experience, not without foundation. It's not that the connection goes away (although sometimes it does, quite brutally), it's that in married life, there's so little time to hang around that harbor of old friendship. Meals end, kids must be picked up, events must be attended, things have to happen.

Back in May, I read an essay about Bridesmaids by Michelle Dean in The Awl. In it she argues that Bridesmaids is really, really not a feminist movie for all kinds of reasons. Part of me wants to rebut her point by point, but a bigger part of me wants to say, "Meh, and?" There are a few other scenes between Wiig and Rudolph besides the breakfast scene which felt very true to me, and scenes -- did I say this already? -- that are very funny, in both broad and specific ways. So the movie isn't a big feminist breakthrough -- it's a big Hollywood movie that follows the act structure a Hollywood movie demands. But it also shows at least pieces of a deep relationship between two women that doesn't end with one or both of them dead. (Thelma and Louise, Entre Nous, Still Life with Angels - does it matter that two out of three of those movies are French?) Sure, it's not exactly a full-on feminist breakthrough, but it's not Pretty Woman, either.

Lemon Tart

Generally speaking, lemon tart is not my thing. I made one once, homemade curd and all, for a friend's birthday (because lemon tart really, really is her thing), and I liked it fine, but I didn't get all woozy. That said, I'm definitely going to make this lemon tart. I have to work on my crusts and it sounds -- what's the word? -- dreamy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What's the Matter with Lunch?

What is it about lunch? When I ask a parent -- check that, when I ask a mother of school-aged children who are out of school how things are going, she almost always says, "What a relief it is not to make lunch!" And when I talked to a friend whose child is a toddler going to his first drop-off camp, which requires a packed lunch, she said, "I think about lunch all the time." As for me, my kids are now in a camp where they're given lunch. Not only are their food horizons expanding ("Today I had meatballs for lunch! And apple and peas and carrots!"), each morning I pace the kitchen in a state of easy contentment murmuring, "I don't have to make lunch...I don't have to make lunch...."

What's going on with lunch?

Like every other meal, lunch has to happen, each and every day. Unlike those other meals, you can't wing it with your kids. You can't run out and pick up a salad for them, or a turkey wrap (which, after reading The Ask, I can no longer eat anyway). No, none of that applies to lunch for your kids. Instead, it goes to school with them, and many days, it comes right back home. Its return, in full or partial format, is hard evidence of culinary failure. Sometimes I think I'm in some kind of pitched battle with my kids: Would it kill my son to eat a yogurt squeezer? Why won't my daughter try sunflower butter? Why won't my son eat bread? But, if the sandwich containers come home empty, I repeat the successful sandwich, over and over, until I run out of bread, throw away the bag, and can't remember which type of bread got eaten. Once, my daughter, who typically ate three bites of her grilled cheese, told me I wasn't sending enough food in her lunch box. "I want five things," she told me, "and a break from grilled cheese."

So for me, at least, not only does lunch mean the constant assembly and cleaning of plastic containers (which we use instead of snack bags and tin foil), it means exposure of my worst food habits, my ruts, my lack of creativity, ingenuity, verve. I'm beaten down my lunch, except, it turns out, during the summer, when, made by someone else five days each week, it's the perfect meal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Red Cooked Pork, or, What I'm Not Writing

I had a variety of topics in mind for posting today. For instance, I was thinking of posting something about my changing relationship to writing and, by extension, to blogging. I also considered writing about body image and girls and how I wish we'd called "The Skinny" "If You Want the Cookie Have the Cookie." I thought about writing about seeing a very old friend (30 years we've been friends!) and what that felt like and I thought about writing about how I feel conflicted about writing about my kids, the post on body image notwithstanding (although maybe exactly standing). In any case, instead of any of that, I'm writing about this post from my friend and former boss Kian Lam Kho over at his blog Red Cook. Kian is a wonderful person and an astonishing cook and just once in my life I've eaten his Red Cooked Pork and it was transcendent. Here he talks about how to make it. I doubt I will ever make it, but what difference does that make? A girl can dream......

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My First Real Book Review

Months ago, a review I wrote for Moment Magazine of a book called Kosher Nation was published. I didn't even know! If you're curious, here's the link. It's my first book review not on this blog.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Judy Moody and the Total Bummer Summer Movie

The New York Times said Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer was great. Well, I saw the moving on Saturday with my kids, and the New York Times was wrong.

Here's one thing: Judy's annoying. Watching her face you could practically see her thinking, "Now I have to make my eyes really wide!" Another thing: Everyone in this movie wears a lot of lipstick (except Judy's brother Stink, who was pretty terrific, in fact, but doesn't have much in the way of lips). A third thing: Everyone, save Judy's teacher who drives an ice cream truck for a summer job (no comment on the socio-economics of that) is white, white, white. Maybe in the opening last-day-of-school classroom scene there are some kids who aren't white, but otherwise,there's not an Asian kid, a South Asian kid in sight, never mind a Latino child or African American. Finally, nothing happens. I mean nothing emotional happens. Judy's parents leave, enter wacky, artsy aunt, Judy pursues "thrill points," has a little tiff with the one friend she's left with after her other friends leave, then there's a big car chase. The fight with the friend is unresolved and there's no heart-to-heart with the aunt about choices and opportunities or friendship and what makes something fun meaningful, too. There's no moment when Judy, or anyone else in the movie reflects on anything. I know such a scene would've been totally predictable, but still, I missed it, kind of like I missed Bruce Willis when I watched Keaneu Reeves in Speed.

Sure the movie had cute animation and was colorful and it might just be that I was feeling super cranky when I saw it, might be that Judy Moody is a total bummer of a summer movie. But, I have high hopes for Winnie the Pooh.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


New York City is going to spend millions developing a test to be given to students to measure teacher performance.

"Other states, including Kentucky, tried similar tests, Dr. Koretz said, but abandoned them, partly because they could not compare results from year to year. Teachers were also having their students practice the particular skills they knew would be tested, meaning the exam was measuring test preparation, not necessarily broader learning, which became an issue in New York’s state standardized tests."

Montgomery County has developed a peer-review system for teachers to evaluate and mentor each other. Everyone agrees it's great; it doesn't have a standardized component, though, so it won't qualify for Race to the Top money. Reporting on the program in the New York Times, Michael Winerip writes:

"So here is where things stand: Montgomery’s PAR program (Peer Assistance and Review), which has worked beautifully for 11 years, is not acceptable. But the Maryland plan — which does not exist yet — meets federal standards."

That all makes so much sense, right?

Then again, there's climate change to worry about. Which is to say, testing sucks but I really wish the environmental lobby were as effective as that of the educational test makers.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


When this past week's New Yorker arrived with its profile of Mitt Romney and his campaign by Ryan Lizza, I thought to myself, "Interesting, Lizza just had another article recently." Then I thought, "Oh, I should really read this." And then it hit me: The election is now. I mean, sure, it's still early, but, really, in six months, it's going to be all election all the time. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump stepping out for pizza will be just lunch compared to the truly trenchant analysis of, say, Michelle Obama's dresses and how often she's going sleeveless to flex her muscles on the campaign trail.

But really what the upcoming election brings home is how quickly time has slipped by since the last election. The 2008 primary - that primary! When it was over, there came the terrible, jaw clenching anxiety that would wash over me at the very flicker of a thought that Obama might lose the general election. And even though there's a lot I could gripe about when it comes to the administration, I won't, because fundamentally, it's not so bad and the thought of Obama losing in 2012 is completely, thoroughly, and deeply awful. (Full disclosure: I had to stop myself from writing "it could be much worse" because I want to be Positive! Because if Ralph Nader taught us anything other than seat belts matter, it's that election results really, really matter.)

Which is to say, "Time, she flies." And elections, they must be won, by our team.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Too Big to Fail

A very good (if enraging) review of HBO's Too Big to Fail and how the movie got the story right accidentally. The review is by an old friend, Jesse Eisinger, who, with Jake Bernstein, received a Pulitzer on Monday for their story on Magnetar, the hedge fund that kept the housing bubble going. If you missed it, or the This American Life episode on the story, titled The Inside Job, I highly recommend them. Plus, the This American Life version has an original song on the crisis.


Taking a break from education and testing, here's what I'm wondering right now, at 10:46: Am I the only one who always wants to eat lunch at 11 AM? And what about having a big snack at five and another at eight? I know, I know, this is not new, it's the whole five small meals a day thing, but, still, is it reasonable to expect someone to have a bowl of cereal with berries at seven in the morning and not eat for five whole hours? Inquiring minds want to know! (Hungry minds want to make this pork butt and cellophane noodle dish. I bought my first butt today at the farm market.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tina Fey's Praryer for Her Girl

I'm having mixed feelings on her awesomeness Tina Fey, but I'm, like, so with this:

"Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels. What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit."

(Here's her prayer for her daughter.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Do the Math: Levittown and Llod Blankfein

In today's New York Times, Michael Sokolove has a deeply sad piece on the budget cuts to education in his hometown of Levittown, PA. The school system, which has worked hard to improve (as measured by standardized tests) over the past ten years by offering a range of programs, will face teacher layoffs and cuts to programs in the arts. No one is fighting about it, no one can pretend this will be good for the children of Levittown, but they have no choice. Everyone is struggling.

Sokolove writes: "Bristol Township faces a nearly $10 million shortfall for next year in a total school budget of $123 million, figures that place the community in circumstances common to hundreds of school districts across the nation. They are facing steep cuts in state education financing and depressed local tax revenue, in part from home foreclosures."

A 10 million dollar shortfall.

In January of 2011, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, received a 12.6 million dollar stock bonus, up from nine million the year before. Between 2000 and 2010, Blankfein received around $125 million in cash bonuses.

I hate to just leave the facts there like that, but I can't figure out anything snappy to say about them.

What's With Punishing Parents?

I want parents involved with schools. But, call me crazy, I don't think state legislators should be writing laws mandating it.

As usual these days, Diane Ravitch is the voice of reason:

Yes, parenting can be “taught” Ms. Ravitch said, but not this way.

“If we could just find the right person to punish,” she said of the philosophy behind too many education reform plans. “Punish the teachers. Punish the parents. It’s Dickensian. What we should be doing instead is giving a helping hand.”

“Parenting education needs to begin when a woman is pregnant,” Dr. Ravitch said. “The window is open from prenatal days until age 5. And we need to acknowledge that the root problem is poverty.” (my emphasis)

But there is one thing I want to know: Why, when it comes to "failing schools" everyone can find someone to punish, but when it comes to failed banks that brought the economy to its knees no one's to blame?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Klein Not Cake

It turns out, that although I still like to make cake, I really want to say a few things to say about Joel Klein's Atlantic article. Instead of a long post about everything, here I'll restrict myself to one point about accountability and the application of market measures to the classroom.

In discussing the need for assessments and teacher accountability Klein writes:
"Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don't choose the goods or services you're offering, you go out of business. Second, high performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands."

Clearly, Klein gives these two instance of market accountability for specific reasons. In the first instance, he wants to remind us that people should be able to choose their schools just like they choose their shoes, which might be right in theory but might not. I'm not sure that school choice taken to the degree Klein would like to see it doesn't undermine the potential a local public school has to cultivate community and support its students through that community. And, I'm not really sure I can come up with an example in education where everyone gets to choose their school - even when talking about private schools. But I'll leave the bog of choice for a different day to turn to Klein's second example of accountability. That's the one where companies develop "internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands."

I'm not 100 percent sure I get what Klein is saying, but I think he's arguing that in a well-run company, when employees as well as the company itself hit quarterly (and annual) targets in sales or profits, they get rewarded by a bonus or higher market valuation. Translate this to teachers: When teachers prove they can teach thorough students' test scores those teachers should get rewarded with cash bonuses.

Putting aside how "value added" metrics are extrapolated from the state standardized tests and assigned to specific teachers, I want to ask if the internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands have been all that successful in the marketplace itself.

I believe even before the spectacular breakdown of the financial markets driven by the creation of financial instruments designed to bring short term profits regardless of long-term consequence, the focus on short term performance had been shown to be corrupting throughout corporate American, not just Wall Street. (Remember Enron?)

By focusing on short term performance, whether you're measuring corporate earnings or yearly test results, you're not emphasizing what can be achieved, and measured, over the long term through careful planning and finely-tuned execution of those plans that responds to consistent and meaningful assessments within a designated scope. No. You're looking for instant fireworks that resist any impulse toward collaboration and continuity that institutions might cultivate as a mechanism of achievement. Plus, you invite cheating. (Klein's article must've been put to bed too early to respond to reports of unusually high rates of eraser marks and corrections in Washington DC schools lauded for their improved test scores under Michelle Rhee.)

I'm not arguing against assessments and I'm not arguing against professional accountability. But, if you want to apply a model from the business world to education (and if you want to do that, you wouldn't be doing anything new, it's exactly what reformers did in the 19th century), why not choose a model that actually works toward long-term sustainable growth as opposed to one that corrupts?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cake or Klein?

I'm halfway through former New York City school chancellor Joel Klein's piece in The Atlantic. I keep thinking I'm going to finish it then write up a big old screed of a post about it but every time I think I'm going to pick up that magazine and finish the article it's clear there are about a hundred thousand million other things I'd not only rather do but MUST do, which means I'm not going to write a screed about Klein who, by the way, along with Michelle Rhee and maybe a handful of other reformers and the hedge fund managers who drink with them, is one of the few adults in education who actually cares about children. In any case, I guess it's OK, not to write that screed because, really, what do I know? I have ideas, of course, and feeeelings, but none of them are well-developed enough to do anything but add noise and I don't think more noise would be helpful.

Here's what I do know. This raspberry buttermilk cake? The one you'll see if you click on this link? It's delicious and so super easy everyone who eats gluten and dairy should go make it right now. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Peggy Orenstein and Lego, circa 1981

Via Marjorie Ingall's short post on Pro-Sex, Anti-Sexualization, I jumped to Peggy Orenstein's blog (not before remembering that I want to read her princess book), and there I saw this Lego Ad from 1981, and for me, it's not just the girl that makes me sigh, although there's definitely that, it's also those free form Legos! We were all still free to be you and me back then. And I was free to have feathered hair.


Since February, I've made my way to school on Mondays and Thursdays by crossing Central Park at 72nd street, which means that I walk right by "Strawberry Fields" and its Imagine mosaic. And every Monday or Thursday, rain, snow, sleet, or shine, there are at least three or four people there taking a picture. Sometimes there's a large group. Like yesterday, in the rain, there they were, a group of twenty or so French speaking middle aged tourists huddled around the mosaic, like it was Something That Matters, which, I guess it is?

Before I started walking by Strawberry Fields regularly I thought I understood what a big deal John Lennon was, but I guess I didn't. I mean, I bet for many, the stop at the Imagine plaque is just one more stop on a tour of Central Park that includes Bethesda Fountain and the Boathouse along with a drop by at the Delacorte Clock. They stop and take their pictures of the word there because they're supposed to and when they get home those pics will never make it out of their cameras. Maybe for just a handful, those in small groups of two or three, visiting the Imagine mosaic is like a trip to Lennon's grave. Like a very, very American, very very small Pere La Chaise or something.

Earlier this spring, I read Lois Lowry's The Giver. If you've read the book, you know where I'm going with this. The book is a dystopian young adult fantasy novel about a boy who lives in a world where there's no heaven, no possessions, no greed or hunger, no religion, too. People die there, sure, but in a very orderly fashion and never for a cause. You see what I mean? It's a fairly blank world with no pain, no love, no memory, and the boy's having none of it.

Does anyone really ever think about the lyrics of Imagine? They're so familiar they hardly mean anything at all, and maybe that's for the best. I don't know. All I know is if I didn't live in New York City, I sure wouldn't schlepp out in the rain to look at a twenty year old mosaic.

(Note: I didn't take that picture. It's from

And On Israel

Peter Beinart has a something to say on the hapless state of Israel in the age of the Arab Spring:

"Zionism, which at its best is the purposeful, ethical effort to make Jews safe in the land of Israel, has become—in this government—a mindless land grab, that threatens Jewish safety and Jewish ethics alike."

Climate Change

Will it really, finally, actually get on the political agenda?

Sunday, May 15, 2011


According to the LA Times, public school librarians in LA are being put on the witness stand in basement courtrooms and asked the last time they taught a physical education class. Why? If they can't teach in a classroom (or a gym), they're probably going to lose their jobs because of budget cuts. And guess what happens to the library if there's no certified librarian in the school to run it? That's right. The books and computers go under lock and key and stay there. Meanwhile, Wall Street is booming.

I don't even want to talk about teacher evaluations in New York.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Semester's End

I apologize for not posting more this week. The semester is winding up and time, she slips right through my fingers. There will be more time very soon. In fact, Monday, I hand in a stack of assignments, after which, I'll have what to say and the time to say at least some of it here and not just in my head. In the meantime, from the department of really creepy things kids do, there's this.

Monday, May 9, 2011


The other day I was meeting a friend for coffee at around 4:15. I was tired and hungry but not super hungry. I wanted something that would be easy to eat, something flavorful that didn't require too much thinking about, something just sweet enough. I wanted a slice of yogurt cake.

Can I just say? It feels very civilized and just slightly decadent to have a slice of cake at 4 o'clock. Eating a slice in restaurant at 4 with an espresso would make me feel like a woman of a certain age, a woman with her chin length possibly blond but maybe white hair swept up and back, a woman who can really wear red. Eating a slice of cake at 4 (for 10) in my kitchen just makes me feel like cake is a really great thing to bake. That day last week, the restaurant didn't have the cake I wanted and, unfortunately, no one had thought to leave one cooling on the kitchen counter for me. I will take care of that, as my kids would say, "toot sweet." In the meantime, there are apples.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Classroom Cameras

In today's New York Times, a biostatistician named R. Barker Bausell has a big idea for evaluating effective teaching: "Measuring the amount of time a teacher spend delivering relevant instruction -- in other words, how much teaching a teacher actually gets done in a school day." He'd figure out how much time is spent doing what by videotaping teachers.

Here's the thing, maybe when R. Barker Bausell was in elementary school (he is an emeritus professor) his days were spent doing a lot of listening, but in the classrooms I've been in learning doesn't happen only when the teacher is talking. Students learn by - get this - talking to each other and working together. Crazy right?

Bausell has more to say:
"A focus on relevant instructional time also implies several further reforms: Lengthening the school day, week and year; adopting a near-zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior, which classroom cameras would help police; increasing efforts to reduce tardiness and absenteeism; and providing as much supplementary and remedial tutoring (the most effective instructional model known) as possible."

As I read this, what the professor recommends is kids sit still and listen more during longer days and if they're disruptive at all, they're out. And just to make sure teacher and students are acting according to script, there will be a camera in the room. Great! Big idea. Not a good idea, but, for me, at least, it's always nice to have some idea of what I really don't want to do when I'm thinking about what I do want to do.