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!