Friday, January 28, 2005

See Ya

This makes me sick, this makes me laugh, and I'm heading out of town for a few days. I'll be back next week.

A Dumb Thing to Say to a Four Year Old

“Television is a privilege, not a right!”

Like that’s going to work.

Seriously, the whole TV/computer thing is bumming me out. I don’t know if it’s winter, or what, but all M and E seem to want is “screen time” which is the half hour of computer OR television that each girl supposedly gets a day (though they can passively participate in the other one’s as well). First we slack and let half an hour edge toward an hour, then they whine and cajole and attempt to negotiate, then…well, sometimes we cave, but lately we’ve been trying not to.

It’s hardest when I really just want to work or read the paper or do my own thing, rather than engage in a more effectively parental manner. And it certainly doesn’t help that S and I are constantly on the computer, though one could make the argument that we are already well-rounded, imaginative, socialized, physically fit beings, and even with our constant computering, we do a lot of other things too.

Sometimes I question why I even care. Then I try to remind myself of the whole well-rounded, imaginative, socialized, physically fit thing. But lots of lovely, well-rounded, etc. adults I know spent their entire childhoods in front of the TV…

Still, when we do lay down the law, there are a few moments of objection, and then they’re off reading books or playing school or dressing tiny bears or rocking out to the Donnas. And sometimes I’m amazed at how little effort it can take to satisfy them. Yesterday afternoon I suggested that E do an art project. She got down the plastic straws, I asked if she wanted me to cut out some paper shapes for her, she asked me to get a paper plate (“like last time I made a sculpture”), she got the markers and the tape, and away she went. All I had to do was cut out said paper shapes and then occasionally assist with the tape.

I guess it’s not that hard to be parentally effective. Certainly cutting out pink and purple circles, triangles, and squares takes barely any more time and effort than lecturing about rights and responsibilities. It works better too.

But sometimes I just don’t want to.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Too Many

Front page headlines are announcing that yesterday was the worst day of the war so far for U.S. casualties: 37 troops killed, making a total of 1,413 since the beginning of the war. It's terrible to contemplate, as one who has not been personally affected, and it must be inconceivably worse to live, if you loved one of those 1,413.

But I can't forget the numbers we never seem to see: between 15,500 and 17, 700 dead Iraqis. Headlines, anyone?

People in Glass Houses

One thing I’m quite sure about is modernist architecture. Love it. A lot. Not sure I’d want to live in it, but then I’ve never had the opportunity. Still, as aesthetic objects go, nothing beats a good Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe. In fact, if you asked me for my list of the most beautiful things in the world, Fallingwater and Mies’s pavilion in Barcelona would be right up there (you can’t quite tell how fabulous the pavilion is from the pictures, and while Fallingwater does look good in pictures, it’s unimaginably better in person).

So I am genuinely sad about the death of Philip Johnson. When I was a kid, I loved house plans, and I would spend hours leafing through books of them (my dad was trained as an architect, hence the ready availability of books of house plans). One of my favorites was a book of modernist classics, if that oxymoron can be permitted, and the Glass House is still imprinted on my brain. It’s just a perfect building. Indeed, it’s so perfect I can even forgive him the AT&T building.

And yet, though I’m sad to hear the news of his death, there’s something right about dying at the age of 98, in your masterpiece, after such a life, such a career, with your partner of 45 years by your side. I feel like the news and my life are too full of senseless, violent, early, unwarranted deaths--from bombs, guns, tsunamis, car crashes, cancer. It’s kind of comforting to think, for once, “oh, that’s sad, but it’s ok.”

A Bloggable Moment

Tonight at the Starbucks in the middle of the parking lot at Shopping Megalopolis, halfway between Red State Capital City and Red State Capital City Suburb, the barista behind the counter suddenly burst into song. Something classical, in Italian, I think, soaring and full of trills and absolutely beautiful. Everyone stopped chatting and typing and reading to listen in complete silence. When she stopped, we all clapped. Then chatting, typing, reading, and latte-making resumed.

This really happened.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Opposite Eaters

M is a great eater. Let me quote an email I sent from Paris last year:

As for the eatings, M is the only one who accomplished seven today. Here is what she ate:
1) Breakfast at the hotel (baguette, croissant, cheese, butter, scrambled eggs, bacon, hot chocolate)
2) Lunch at the Musee D’Orsay (mediocre packaged food)
3) Chocolate éclair (shared with me)
4) Coffee ice cream (shared with me)
5) Cheese plate (shared with me)
6) Onion soup
7) Dinner at Seraphin, a hip restaurant where she had Orangina, sweet potato terrine with ham and goat cheese (shared with S), chicken marinated in thyme and white wine with potato gratinee, tarte tatin and yet another cheese plate (both desserts shared with S).

M will try anything, and while she has a few reasonable dislikes (spicy food, shrimp, broccoli), she is pretty omnivorous. Which can be annoying.

A few years ago we were driving down the California coast from Jenner back to San Francisco and we stopped at Hog Island Oyster Company for--obviously--some oysters. At Hog Island you tell the oyster guys how many oysters you want, you pay, and they give you a tray with your oysters, a glove, a shucking knife, and a lemon. You take your tray out to the picnic tables by the water and you shuck (or rather, S shucks) and eat and borrow mango hot sauce from the oyster lovers at the next picnic table and watch the sea gulls dip over Tomales Bay. It doesn’t get much more idyllic--except when six-year-old M devours all the oysters before you even get back from the car with goldfish crackers for one-year-old E. Luckily, at Hog Island there are always more oysters.

E, on the other hand, as the previous anecdote hints, is not such a great eater (we don’t use the word picky only because we don’t believe in it). Here, from the same email, is what she ate the next day in Paris:

For parity’s sake, and for the record, here is what E ate today: breakfast at the hotel (some bites of scrambled egg, some bites of cornflakes and milk, half a croissant), an apple, a small croissant, another small croissant, a cinnamon-sugar crepe, a banana and an apple juice for lunch, a big croissant, another big croissant, rice and bread and milk for dinner, a bite of an apple.

E eats breakfast food, white food, dessert, and, luckily for our sense of parental responsibility, several kinds of raw fruit and vegetables. Also, E often chooses not to eat.

So it is with no small degree of embarassment that I, as a baker of Nigella chocolate cakes and the wife of a chef, must admit that we have now resorted to preparing plates of vegetables and noodles in shapes like flowers and faces for E’s dinner every night.

Appalling. But oh does she get excited, and then she just eats away!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Challenge of Technology

M: If you want to play Side 1 of a record, do you put Side 1 facing up or down?

We're just glad our kids know what records are.

Solving the Glove Problem

We have a lot of gloves, many, many gloves, not as many gloves as books, but still, a plethora of gloves--and mittens, not to mention hats. The gloves--and the mittens, and the hats, but we’ll drop the hats now, because this is not about hats--live in a wicker box by the front door, next to the shoe pile, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Every time someone needs gloves--or mittens--the contents of the entire box get dumped onto the shoes while the glove-needer, or the parent of the glove-needer, seeks a matching pair. (Unless the glove-needer is me, because I, sensibly, keep my gloves in the pockets of my jackets: the purple fuzzy ones in my parka, the black ones in my leather jacket, the blue-striped ones in my fleece.)

But the other day I realized that if you put one glove--or mitten--inside the other, or velcro them together, if there is velcro, or clip them together, if there are clips, and THEN put them in the box, it will be easy to find a matching pair, and maybe, just maybe, the box won’t have to be dumped out onto the shoes.

I felt really smart when I realized this. But then I thought maybe everyone else already knew it, and I felt kind of dumb.

Monday, January 24, 2005


E is segueing from picture books to chapter books at bedtime. S still reads her picture books when it’s his turn, and she occasionally wants me to read her one too, but for the most part, she and I, after a brief flirtation with Little House in the Big Woods, have settled in with All-of-a-Kind Family. [I prefer to link to Powell’s on principle, but Amazon has a much better description in this case.]

I don’t know why the All-of-a-Kind Family books don’t get more attention. Maybe they, whoever they may be, don’t think that five Jewish immigrant sisters growing up in the Lower East Side at the beginning of the last century have universal appeal. But now that the Betsy-Tacy books are back in vogue, maybe Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie will be the next big thing.

There’s a lot I could say about the books: how well I remember them, as I reread them to my daughters; how we actually found chocolate babies in a general store in Vermont and bit off their heads, just like Charlotte and Gertie do; how M reads them over and over; how E carries the book around with her and “reads” it, coming up with her own elaborate plots (usually involving Mama giving birth to some assortment of the girls).

But what I keep thinking about is the chapter where the girls visit Papa at his basement junk shop. It’s a rainy day, and all the peddlers are hanging out in the shop, including Charlie, the young, blond, mysterious one whom Ella adores. When the girls arrive, Papa tells them that he has just received a shipment of books and they can have any they want before he sells the rest for scrap. With Charlie’s help, they find a book of fairy tales, a book about dolls, and a complete set of Dickens. They’re ecstatic. The very first chapter of the book is about the girls’ Friday afternoon visit to the library, the most important event of their week. To own their own books thrills them beyond our comprehension.

We finish the chapter and I look around E’s room. The books are spilling out of a small wooden crate and a basket. Our next household purchase needs to be a bigger bookcase for M to adequately house her piles of books (and I mean piles, three of them, towering and teetering and falling over every time she pulls one out, which is frequently, as she returns to her favorites daily). There’s a pile on my dresser (Books To Be Read), one on my bedside table (Books Being Read), and another on S’s. Downstairs, the piles are on the bookshelves themselves, in front of the old books that already have respectable, alphabetized homes. When we put all the picture books away, we can barely wedge them in, and the cookbooks are on strike for additional shelf space.

There isn’t really a moral to this story. Just, I suppose, that we’re lucky to have so many books. And that I should stop complaining about the catastrophic clutter and enjoy them.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

An 80s Moment

S put on Dire Straits this morning. I came downstairs as "Romeo and Juliet" was playing, and I remembered how I used to think it was the most romantic song ever. Not just the words, but his voice as he sings the words, the music, the whole thing. I used to play it over and over again, and think about love and the end of love and the possibility of love.

Juliet when we made love you used to cry
You said I love you like the stars above and I'll love you till I die

There's a place for us

I still kind of think it's the most romantic song ever.

Friday Night Movies

Netflix isn’t really working for us. We signed up for the three-movies-at-a-time standard membership. But the thing is, every time we get movies, we need three: an E movie, an M movie, and a grown-up movie. Say, Blue Talks, Princess Diaries 2, and Sex and the City, Season 6, Part 2. Or Clifford’s Puppy Days, The Music Man, and Monster’s Ball. Which means we can’t do the thing where you get three movies, watch one, send it back, watch another, send it back, and by the time you’ve watched the third, the replacement for the first has arrived and you can just keep watching movies. Instead, we watch three movies, or watch them again and again, as in the case of Clifford’s Puppy Days, or don’t get around to watching them, as was the case for six weeks with Monster’s Ball. Then we realize on Thursday night that we haven’t sent our movies back, so we put them in the mail and update our queue, but that means we don’t have any movies for the weekend, so we end up at Blockbuster anyways (it’s the heartland: Blockbuster is all we’ve got) (actually, that’s not true, but the movies at the other place are really bad and they only have one copy of the halfway-decent ones and it’s always out, and the library has no good kid DVDs, which is why Blockbuster continues to thrive, even off those of us who consciously attempt to evade the hegemony of the national chain, especially the national chain that censors its movies).

S says we should keep Netflix because we can get cool documentaries and the Almodovar movies we’ve missed (like, when did we last watch a cool documentary or Almodovar movie?). I say what about those Friday nights when we don’t have a movie, or when I don’t want to watch the high-quality Netflix movie we do have? He says go to Blockbuster. I say fine. Netflix is only $20 a month, and so long as I know I can have a Friday night movie I want to watch one way or another, I’m ok.

But this Friday night I finally watched Monster’s Ball. And--no surprises here--it was excellent. And I felt bad about all the time I spend watching stupid movies when I could be watching good movies. And I thought about endings and the fact that the open ending seems to be becoming the de facto smart movie solution to the conflict between the inevitable banality of the happy ending and the hopelessness of the sad ending (though in Sideways the open ending suggests happiness, while in Monster’s Ball it gestures toward unhappiness). And I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Another Blog I Like

The reason I like Bitch Ph.D. is that she's a smart fashion-loving feminist who understands that things are complicated and isn't afraid to explore their nuances--and stir up controversy. Check out today's post where she explains why prostitution can at once be empowering for some women and oppressive to most. Makes sense to me.

M, Jon, and JibJab

M's teacher--who really is quite great--kept the kids in at lunchtime to watch the Inauguration. (They also watched Kerry's concession speech--her rationale is not that Republican victories should be marked, but that the kids should watch history as it happens, rather than just learning about it from books, and I'm all for that).

Needless to say, I did not watch the Inauguration, so I relied on M for a full account of the speech: he talked about freedom a lot, and helping other countries, and he's funny-looking.

Jon Stewart says basically the same thing, but, I have to admit, he's funnier than M. [Link from Lisa Rein via Boing-Boing.]

And then there's the new JibJab video, "Second Term," which, as usual, sums it up (when "This Land is Your Land" came out last fall, E made us play it again and again for her).

Friday, January 21, 2005

Reading Material

If you like books, you should read Maud Newton. If you like to laugh, you should read this catalog of Maud Newton's sins. [Link from Maud herself.]


Let me begin by establishing my trash TV cred. Thinking about the summer Dylan and Kelly got together on 90210 still makes my heart skip a beat. No matter how far Desperate Housewives takes her, to me Marcia Cross will always be Kimberly, the psychopath of Melrose Place (remember those scars on her scalp when the wig came off?). OK, maybe I’m just getting old.

But I watched the premiere of The O.C. (OK, I watched it because Tate Donovan--the dad--is my friend’s husband’s cousin--another reason for the Jennifer Aniston sympathy, if you can remember that far back--but I liked it, I really liked it, and the only reason I haven’t kept watching is because I have this thing about watching every episode and I knew I wouldn’t be able to, but the DVD of the first season is next on my Netflix queue, right after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). OK, maybe I just like my trash TV fictional.

But I was glued to the first season of Temptation Island (much to S’s scorn), and I’ve seen the Paris Hilton video (that one S was OK with).

So why did my jaw drop so far, and stay dropped, when last night, as I lay in bed with the remote control under my control for once in my life, I happened upon High School Reunion?

I don’t live under a rock. I know people are idiots. I know people go on TV and are even greater idiots. I know the producers are determined to show them as even greater idiots than that. Why, just yesterday afternoon, I was reading about Germaine Greer’s blistering critique of Big Brother.

But somehow, I just wasn’t prepared for the heights of idiocy reached by a bunch of twenty-eight year olds (class of 1994) apparently completely seriously reliving the idiocy of high school, including one adult female kissing another adult female’s boyfriend in the men’s bathroom at a prom, for god’s sake, and the first adult female weeping because she believed they had really had something going, and the boyfriend standing there mute, because, well, you know, he’s a guy, but--he’s willing to confide to the camera--something like that had to happen to help him acknowledge that they didn’t have a future...after two weeks together filming a reality tv show in Hawaii, for god’s sake.

You know, sometimes I don’t wonder at all why we’re in the fix we’re in.

[Note: If you’d like to read today’s post as a subtle commentary on other events that took place yesterday, you’re welcome to.]

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Identity Politics in the Heartland

E: Can Christmas people like the Red Sox?

Me: Sure.

E: I guess if you have a Christmas tree but your mommy or daddy is from Boston, you can like the Red Sox.

[E has decided it's ok for me to blog about her, except I can't blog about her shopping, except I can blog about her taking things off the shelf at the supermarket.]

Some More Good Music

Carla Bruni, Quelq’un m’a dit.

Yes, Carla Bruni, the supermodel heiress (or should it be heiress supermodel?) who used to date Mick and now lives with an up-and-coming philosopher (in France, philosophers actually can be up and coming) in an apartment in Paris that’s nicer than any place you’ll ever live (read all about it in last spring’s profile in The Guardian).

Pretty French guitar pop, but really good. In fact, I’d call it lovely.

M says she doesn’t like it because it’s not rock-y enough. S says that’s because it’s mellow. M says she doesn’t like mellow. But she’s eight, so why would you listen to her? Take the grownups’ word for it: lovely.

[It was released in France two years ago and in England last year and I thought it just came out in America, but poking around the internet, I’m only finding imports. Sorry about that.]

[OK, S just poked around more effectively than I did. The official release date is March 22, but it’s already in some stores--he got it at Barnes & Noble two weeks ago. You can hear it here.]

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


I don’t sleep. I never have. When I was a little girl, I remember lying in my bed until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and finally going downstairs to my parents in tears. Then I’d get to lie in bed with my dad and watch TV. Somehow I’d end up asleep, I assume in my bed, because I don’t remember ever waking up in my parents’ bed. Mainly, though, I remember not sleeping.

First I go to bed and don’t sleep. I lie awake, thoughts running through my head. Sometimes I just lie there with an empty head, but I still don’t sleep.

Then I wake in the middle of the night and don’t sleep. I’ve stopped looking at the clock because it’s too depressing, so now I don’t know when it is, I only know that I’m not sleeping. I used to get up and read in the guestroom for hours, till my eyes were closing and I could finally sleep, but only for a bit.

Too early in the morning, I don’t sleep either. I don’t quite wake up, but I don’t sleep. I lie in bed, too awake to be asleep, but too stuporous to get up. I wish I were asleep.

And now my children don’t sleep. After many years, M finally goes to sleep by herself at bedtime, but then she wakes up in the night (I don’t know when, I don’t look at the clock) and comes into our room. Not every night, but just about: five, six nights out of seven, ten out of eleven.

For a long time we just let her come in our bed. Then for a short time I would take her back to her bed and check on her every five minutes till she fell asleep. Which took a long time, I don’t know how long because I don’t look at the clock, but I’d check on her again and again and she’d just look up at me, sad and awake. Now I take her back to her room and lie down with her and she falls asleep more quickly, but I don’t sleep.

E was a good sleeper till she was two, but then six months of ear infections changed that. Now every night at bedtime I lie down with her--she only wants me--and she takes forever to fall asleep. Sometimes I sleep then--it’s nice in her bed--but it’s too early to sleep so I get up and then I don’t sleep.

These days she wakes up in the night too. I settle M back to sleep and then I go back to my bed and there’s E, so I take her in our bed or go back to her bed with her. If I go back to her bed, I often sleep--it’s nice in her bed--but then I wake up and come back to our bed and don’t sleep.

Sometimes, maybe every few days, I sleep and sleep and sleep, catching up.

Long ago I remember a friend saying that I loved sleep more than anyone she knew. Yes, I said, that’s because I never do.

I don’t recommend it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Right about now

my mom is getting on a plane for Puerto Rico. Right about now it's 1 in Red State Capital City Suburb. Windchill -8. That's one degree, if you like your numerals written out, and minus eight, if you like windchill. But at least the sun is shining.

My Ancestors Were Monkeys, How About Yours?

We spent part of last year in England, and once I got used to cars on the wrong side of the street, naked women in the newspaper, and vegetables that actually tasted like vegetables, I realized that two of the biggest differences between England and America are the absence of religion and the presence of class. Actually, I shouldn’t say religion is absent, given this recent debacle, but Christian fundamentalism just isn’t an issue (which in turn made me realize, as if I didn’t already know it, how absolutely dominant Christian fundamentalism is here).

What does this mean for public discourse? It means that reasonable discussions take place about things like abortion and gay rights--often the Tories are more liberal on gay rights than Labour. It also means that discussions like this don’t take place at all, because everyone accepts the basic premises of evolution. Imagine that!

Monday, January 17, 2005

I Have a Dream

M’s teacher clearly loves holidays. And I’m a lot happier with her loving Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday than I was with her loving Christmas.

For the last week, M has been muttering fragments from the “I have a dream” speech, which just warms the cockles of a liberal mother’s heart. And she can’t stop talking about the play. The play is called Sitting Down and it’s about the Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-ins. M’s class rehearsed it all last week, and this week they’ll perform it for the other third grade classes, two of the second grade classes, and their first grade reading buddies (but, alas, not their parents).

M is Protester #4. Her lines are:

“Why is that, ma’am? Why can’t people like us sit down at your lunch counter?”
“So you want some strawberry shortcake, do you? Well, so do we.”
"Listen, mister, I don’t want any trouble here.”

There are two casts but Protesters 1, 2, 3, and 4 get to be in both casts, which is why it’s good to be a Protester. Also, Protester #3 gets a bowl of sugar dumped on his head and Protester #4 (that would be M) gets pulled off his seat . (E really wishes she could see that.)

If just about now you’re feeling a little uneasy about 21st-century white kids in the heartland playing 1960s southern Black civil rights protesters, well, so am I. But they’re definitely learning about the sit-ins and the civil rights movement, and they’re totally into it. And that’s great.

What’s not so great is that they seem to be learning that racism, like Christopher Columbus and Ben Franklin, is a thing of the past: history for them to study in school and perform in plays. When I asked M if there is still racism, she said she’s not sure, and she comes from one of the more politically aware, liberal (even radical) families in town. I’m sure most of the other kids in her nearly all-white school have no doubt that racism is over, and we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday because he won. How I wish they were right.

[Check out Jackie for a quote that would make M’s teacher seriously reconsider her curriculum.]

Sunday, January 16, 2005


E had a playdate yesterday. K, her best friend from preschool, came over for the first time.

Every morning, when the kids arrive at preschool, they get to choose an activity. There’s painting in one room, playdoh in another, counting and weighing acorns in a third, blocks and dressups downstairs--you get the picture. K waits at the cubbies for E to arrive, follows E around until she picks an activity, and then settles in next to her. When I visited E’s class to read a Hanukkah story and light the menorah, E stayed glued to me and K stayed glued to E.

I’m a firm believer in playdates as Mommy free time. However, E, like her sister at that age, is not at her best when her turf is invaded, even by friends she adores, even when she’s been looking forward to nothing but the playdate for days. So I decided to take the hands-on approach: I read them books, I played Candyland, I suggested they dance to the Pink CD E put on, I watched them dance (very cute and I only worried a little about what K’s policeman dad would think if he knew his four year old was dancing to Pink), and finally I tied longer strings onto the balloons still floating around from E’s birthday almost a month ago and they played happily, chasing their balloons and each other around the house. So yeah, it’s true: paying attention to your kids can definitely make things go more smoothly.

But what I really want to write about is Candyland. Has anyone noticed the changes in Candyland? Not the changes in how the game looks--there have been several of those--but the changes in how the game works? Namely:

1) When you land on a space with a black dot, you now just skip a turn--rather than waiting till you draw a card that’s the same color as your space.

2) The last space in the game, the one you need to land on to win, is now a rainbow, which means you can win with any card--rather than having to wait for a card of the right color (was it purple?) which of course meant you were likely to draw the lollipop card or the peanut brittle card and go right back into the game.

3) There are a lot more double cards (the ones that let you move forward two orange spaces, say, instead of just one) than there used to be.

Clearly these changes are meant to make the game go faster. There’s a piece of me that wants to complain about how I used to walk to school five miles barefoot in the snow, and if I had to wait on the red square with the black dot till I drew a red card, well kids today damn well should be waiting on that red square with that black dot till they draw red cards, and how are they going to learn perseverance, and this is why we’re going to hell in a handbasket.

And then there’s another piece of me that wants to thank the powers that be for doing anything they can to make those endless games of Candyland even just a tiny bit less endless.

[Moral dilemma: E doesn't want me to write about her. She okayed the ice skating, but vehemently protested this one. M (who never met a spotlight she didn’t like) and S say I should just write about her anyways. After all, she’s only four and can’t read. But my maternal ethics are feeling challenged. Who controls a kid’s representation? And how much autonomy should a four year old have, anyways?]

Saturday, January 15, 2005

One Nation Under a Groove

If things were different, tonight I could be seeing George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Of course, if things were different, tonight I could be enjoying peace and quiet, or sitting on a beach in Kauai, or eating dinner at Gordon Ramsay. On the other hand, if things were different, tonight I could be lying in a hospital bed or working the third shift. But not that much would have to be different for me to be seeing George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. However, things are what they are, and I’m staying home with M, E, a novel, and a DVD, so instead I’ll write about the night I did see George Clinton.

It was a long time ago. It was Berkeley. It was Halloween. It was George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. So you can imagine. (And if you can’t imagine, it’s probably better that way.)

I’ve never been too into costumes--I don’t like to look funny and I’m particularly self-conscious about my hair--so I’ve become an expert at non-costume costumes. That night S and I went as your parents. He wore a suit and tie--ok, it was a blue lamé tie--and I wore a vintage red brocade sheath dress with matching bolero, high heels, my hair piled on top of my head, and all the make-up I owned at the time. The costume was a minor hit. People smiled and nodded when they saw us, and when we told them who we were, they laughed.

We went with this girl--I know, I should say woman, but I can’t, and in fact girl is probably the most complimentary thing I can bring myself to call her--who was in love with S, though neither of them would admit it. She had long blond hair and a cliché of a body, and she went as a cat. She wore a black unitard, black high-heeled boots, a long black tail, and little black ears. I think there were also whiskers. And lipstick. She was a big hit. All evening, she kept wondering why guys she didn’t know were yelling at her from across the street and muttering suggestive comments as they walked by.

It was the story of my life: I’m your mom and the other girl is Pussy Galore.

So we thronged down to the Berkeley Community Theater with all the other costumed funksters and hipsters and stoners. And you know, I really don’t remember that much about the actual show, which is perhaps as it should be. I don’t remember Bootsy or Funkenstein or what songs they played. I do remember that we didn’t stop moving for over three hours and those high heels were killing me. I remember George Clinton really did come out of the Mothership, and he really did look like this. I remember the whole thing blew my mind.

I don’t remember whatever happened to the cat girl.

[And in case you’re wondering, everyone is talking about S’s star turn on the evening news. I’d barely been at work ten minutes before the phone rang with the first report. M’s pediatrician walked into the examining room and asked, “Did I see your dad on TV last night?” S walked into work and one of his cooks said “I come here to fish all the time, and I’ve never seen anything like this.” A genuine, bonafide, small-town star.]

Friday, January 14, 2005

My Husband the Star

Turns out S was on the news last night! Luckily our most technologically-enhanced friends were the ones who saw it, so they just [did something I don't understand that was really obvious to them] the TiVo, and they have it on tape for us. Apparently he said "I go fishing here all the time and I've never seen anything like it," and he looked cute. Definite star quality.

[A, these multiple posts are for you.]

False Alert...Probably

They let a few inches of water out of the dam and now it probably won't overflow. I pretty much expected that was what would happen. Which is why I posted yesterday in the heat of the drama. Because the drama was really as much about how news spreads in a small town--fast!! with great exaggeration!! from neighbor to neighbor, on the street, outside school, in the supermarket--as it was about water.

It sure has gotten cold, though.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


The water in the lake is the highest it's been since 1954. If it rises three more feet, they're opening up the dam. Usually we walk and climb and roll on the dam: it's like a big grass-covered hill with a lake on one side and in the middle a big cement contraption with metal grating on top that it's fun and scary all at once to walk over.

M and S just went to check it out. They said the hill is gone and the water was about ten feet below the top of the dam. They took pictures, but it was dark and I can't really see it. They were interviewed by the local NBC affiliate. S is on the phone right now, describing it to P, telling him it's "incredible."

He didn't believe me when I called him at work and told him everyone was talking about how it might flood. "Who's everyone?" he asked skeptically. "Well," I said, "I got an email at work, and when M (another M) picked up E (another E) at the middle school, E was talking about it, and M (M's husband) got a fax at work about it."

He agreed that I should go buy water. Because if they do open up the dam, we're going to be on a boil order. Doesn't that sound official? A boil order. And if they don't, well, we'll just have some extra water.

M, E, and I went to the supermarket, and they were stacking water on the shelves barely faster than people were loading it into their carts. I got two gallons and six half-liter bottles, to have upstairs for brushing teeth and drinking at night. I felt kind of ridiculous. I saw our neighbor and we agreed that our big houses on top of the hill (short hill, it's the heartland, but hill nevertheless) would be fine.

They're talking about a hundred-year flood. M and E can't decide if they're worried or excited. Our street flooded last summer and everyone went out in their bathing suits and played in the water. I had to explain to E that it won't be like that.

It's rained 12 out of 13 days in January. After two days in the 60s, tonight it's supposed to go down to the teens. I could do the global warming thing, or the lots of other people have it worse thing, but I think instead I'll go watch the news some more.

Howard Dean?

I’m not quite sure how to save the Democrats. In fact, I haven’t a clue. Luckily it’s not my responsibility.

However, as a liberal in a red state who actually knows people who voted for W, lots of them, nice, reasonable people (and some cretins too, but I promise you, there were cretins who voted for Kerry), I do have a few things to say.

1) For the Democrats to take back the White House, red states are going to have to turn blue. Maybe just one red state, maybe several, but people who voted for Bush are going to have to vote for a Democrat. Which means the Democrats need to think about red state voters. This doesn’t mean they should ignore their base--Kerry’s treatment of the Black community can basically be summed up as appalling. It does mean they need to expand their appeal.

2) Throwing a few Bible quotes around won’t help. The religious fundamentalists aren’t going to vote Democrat no matter what, so we should just ignore them, like the Republicans ignored union members and minorities for decades. But my neighbors, the ones who fly American flags and go to church on Sunday morning and sit on my deck on Sunday night drinking ginger daiquiris, they might vote for a Democrat. But they won’t do it because he or she spouts religious rhetoric. They’ll vote for a Democrat who makes sense on the economy and the war and, most importantly, who they like.

3) The Democrats need an appealing candidate. Unfortunately, I have no idea who that is. It sure wasn’t John Kerry. If Kerry had spent his whole career being the guy he seemed to be during the last six weeks of the campaign, he might have had a chance. But he didn’t. And even that last-six-weeks-of-the-campaign guy was someone we convinced ourselves to like. We need a candidate we can like straight off the bat, and not just like, but believe in.

Which brings me to Howard Dean. I’m not quite sure about Howard Dean, and I never was (I know: liberal heresy). I remember way back, before Iowa, before meet-ups, I went to Dean’s website and I thought “this guy is too good to be true.” Then I thought “he’ll never fly in Red State.”

I love Vermont as much as the next blue-state-born-and-bred liberal, and yes, Vermont has cows and so does Red State. But it’s just hard for me to see how a dorky New-York-born-and-bred former governor of a small 99.8% white state in New England is going to reach voters across the country. Not the ones who already believe, but the ones who need to be convinced.

I’d love to be wrong. I’d love to meet him in person and realize that he is indeed the greatest political people person since Bill Clinton. Then I could quit my job and take the girls out on the road to spread the gospel and help him bring the Democrats back into power. But I don’t know…I can’t quite see it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Ice Skating

There are things you do because someday it will be worth it to have done them. One such thing is ice skating with a four year old.

First there are snowpants, socks, more socks, helmet, mittens--oh, and ice skates. And woe is you if you get all that on without first asking said four year old if she has to pee.

Then there is clutching, standing still, refusing to move, only moving while clutching, chewing of mittens--oh, and falling.

Then there is resting. And having a snack. Then perhaps a little more clutching, standing still, and falling. Then more rest and snack.

Meanwhile, the eight year old, who proves that it was worth it, is practicing self-designed turns and stops in the middle of the rink. When S takes over the cajoling, being clutched, resting, and snacking, I break away to swoop giant ovals around the rink and then head to the middle to practice with her.

Did I mention how much I love skating? And while a glassy lake fringed with evergreens is all well and good, there’s nothing like the blare of pop music as you swoop around the logo-lined rink, graceful for once in your life.

Really I’m exaggerating for effect. She did skate, between the rests and snacks. She skated quite well, in fact, for a four year old. And at the end of the afternoon she declared, “I like ice skating. I love ice skating! Can we go ice skating a lot this winter?”

It was worth it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Consumer Satisfaction

I’ve read my Jacques Lacan and Juliet Schor. I know that shopping won’t alleviate the deep pit of existential yearning within me. But sometimes it helps.

On Friday it didn’t help at all. In fact, it only dug the pit deeper.

I needed some new clothes for work. I went to the mall (not many options out here in the heartland: it’s the mall, Wal-Mart, or a very few independent shops that specialize in Christmas sweaters) (and one boutique in Red State Capital City Hip Neighborhood that specializes in clothes that are too small for me).

The mall was grim. The clothes were ugly. I watched a mother be mean to her little girl who was just about E’s age, and I wondered if I was ever that mean to E. I got sad and went home.

But on Saturday it was a different story. I realized Friday night that I had forgotten to go to my favorite too-expensive department store which, alas, is closing, so I can no longer go look at too-expensive clothes and wish I could buy them, but meanwhile, hurrah, is having an unbelievable sale, so perhaps for once I could manage to buy some of those clothes before they disappeared altogether.

This time I remembered the essential key to shopping happiness: I brought M. Nothing like a trip alone with Mommy to make a girl happy, especially a shopping trip with the promise of a café at the end. And nothing like a happy girl to make a mother happy.

M loves to shop. And she’s good at it. And somehow she makes me better at it.

We powered through that department store. We took stacks of clothes into the dressing rooms. I tried them on and M provided incisive commentary. “You HAVE to buy that.” “No.” “Wide skirts make you look fat.” “YES!!”

We mostly agreed, though she was disappointed that I didn’t buy the black leather miniskirt (when would I wear a black leather miniskirt? besides, it barely fit). But I did get a big pile of clothes, including the first and second cashmere sweaters of my life. And the exact bag I’ve been looking for for a year. And M got an over-sized pink crocheted newsboy hat. And the savings, oy, the savings…

So yeah, the deep pit of existential yearning is still there, but the shopping definitely helped, for the moment.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The New Yorker Redux

I almost forgot one of the absolutely best things in that swell New Yorker:

“Now, When the Waters Are Pressing Mightily”

Now, when the waters are pressing mightily
on the walls of the dams,
now, when the white storks, returning,
are transformed in the middle of the firmament
into fleets of jet planes,
we will feel again how strong are the ribs
and how vigorous is the warm air in the lungs
and how much daring is needed to love on the exposed plain,
when the great dangers are arched above,
and how much love is required
to fill all the empty vessels
and the watches that stopped telling time,
and how much breath,
a whirlwind of breath,
to sing the small song of spring.

--Yehuda Amichai

A great reminder of the value of poetry from one of my favorite poets ever.

Actually Reading The New Yorker

[In which, following yesterday’s post, we scramble up the ladder of American culture to its supposed heights.]

Most of the time, the New Yorkers serve primarily as reminders of my worthlessness. Not The New Yorker--I’m not that narcissistic--but the New Yorkers that pile up on the living room table, on the backs of toilets, in the magazine rack I bought at a yard sale to keep them from piling up on the living room table.

The New Yorkers that I don’t read, yet somehow cannot throw away until I have read them. The New Yorkers that stare at me reproachfully when I choose a newspaper or my most recent library novel instead of them.

I always check the table of contents. And I almost always read “Tables for Two,” being the kind of dedicated chef’s wife that I am. Sometimes I read an article or two (like A.M. Homes’ birth parents essay a few weeks ago), but usually each issue just stays in the mail pile for a few days and then heads for some other pile.

But this week? The one with the jazz club in the apartment building on the cover? Now that is one swell New Yorker. I actually read it cover to cover.

In fact, stop reading this silly blog right now and hie thee to the nearest news shop, library, or coffee table and see for yourself. Or, if you are a lazy [expletive I don’t want to write in my blog but can’t think of a substitute for] like me, you can just settle for my summary.

First there is Ian Frazier’s lovely memoir, “Out of Ohio,” which captures the ease of suburban life in the 60s and 70s (it’s still like that in many ways out here in the heartland), as well as the lethargy that finally drives an ambitious young man out on the highway toward New York.

(Actually, first is an article on prescriptions and children which I didn’t read, but I’m sure it’s good too.) (And before that there is an oddly upbeat tsunami Talk of the Town by Akash Kapur who grew up in Auroville, an intentional community that has always interested me.)

Then there is James Stewart’s fascinating account of the Michaels Eisner and Ovitz battling it out at Disney. Riches beyond belief!! Outrageous backstabbing!! Stewart clearly believes that Eisner was the villain but can’t come out and say it, so he has to show how Ovitz was a bad boy too.

We move on to Geraldine Brooks’ profile of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s dad. As a long-time Alcott fan who has already read M Little Women and half of Little Men, and taken both girls to Orchard House, this was my cup of organic herb tea. A good reminder of how 19th-century America previewed more recent progressive fixations: vegans, communes, child-centered education, tax resistance…

A nice story by Edwige Danticat, an illuminating analysis of George Gershwin’s life and work, an astute and hilarious review of The Ballets Trockaderos de Monte Carlo, a brief introduction to mashups, and a thoughtful critique of Hollywood liberalism in the guise of a review of Spanglish round it off.

It’s a veritable panoply of Americana--that is, of white guy Americana (aside from the Haitian immigrant in Danticat’s story and the drag queens in the Trocks). But hey, white guys can be cool (and, as the pieces on Gershwin, the Trocks, and Spanglish show, race and gender matter to them too). Go read it!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Brad and Jen

I feel that I must blog about Brad and Jen’s split because, well, that’s the kind of pop culture gossip hound I really am.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Brad and Jen. Come on, Thelma and Louise? And I saw that one with the bear... [quick search on IMDB, best movie source ever]…Legends of the Fall three times the year it came out: once the normal way, once after seeing another movie when I popped into the theater next door and caught the last two hours, and once on an airplane where I even got the headphones. Let’s face it: Brad’s a babe.

As for Jen, I remember discovering Friends during its very first season. I was working in Pasadena for a month, renting a room from a rich old divorcee in Arcadia. On the weekends I would go home, or S would come down, or I would go see friends in L.A.. On weekdays I worked, ran (I was training for my first marathon), got something to eat from my one cupboard and one refrigerator shelf in the rich divorcee’s kitchen, and watched a lot of television. That first season, Friends made me laugh so hard I cried.

Years later, Jen agreed to be in Miguel’s movie, and then she was great in Miguel’s movie, and he went on and on, in interviews and in private, about how nice she was. (We actually know Miguel--he went to high school with my sister and is one of S’s sister’s best friends--so, unlike with Brad and Jen, I’m not being celebrity pretentious when I call him Miguel. Well…maybe just a little celebrity pretentious...)

So I like Brad and Jen, and I’ve always had a soft spot for their marriage. I mean, he loves modernist architecture! They seemed so happy! But the covers of the tabloids have been bad for a while, so I guess I’m not surprised.

Unfortunately, I gave up my People magazine subscription a few months ago because I was so disgusted with the constant stream of weight loss and cosmetic surgery covers and articles, and I did not want the impressionable young females in my family subjected to them. Fortunately, this frees me up to buy Star at the grocery store this week.

What strikes me about celebrity marriages--besides how brief and ridiculous they usually are--is how quickly they move, in our eyes, at least, from blissful to over. Divorce is big in my demographic these days, and when it’s not divorce, it’s often constant fighting or, even worse, barely speaking, and wondering how divorce can possibly be avoided. (I know, Brad and Jen are just separating, but when does celebrity separation not lead to celebrity divorce?)

I’m sure celebrities go through that stage too--well, not Nicky Hilton or Britney Spears, but celebrities in marriages that last more than a few minutes. But of course, because they’re celebrities, they have to do it with everyone watching, which means they have to pretend it isn’t happening, and then once everyone knows it is happening, they have to deny it and keep pretending it isn’t. Then they have to put out press releases about how they still love each other deeply and will always be friends, when maybe all they want is to kill each other.

It just seems hard. Even with all that money. Even though it’s not on the same planet, no, not even the same universe of hard as fighting in Iraq or surviving a tsunami, and really we shouldn’t even be talking about it.

Still, sometimes I’m just really glad I’m not a celebrity.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

New Fave at Our House

Like much of the indie rock world, we're all excited about smoosh, kind of the female Hanson, but better. M wishes she could go to Girl's Rock and Roll Camp too, but alas there's no branch in the heartland. Yet.


I’ve been trying to work up a good rant, but everything is just so relentlessly…relentless.

How can you rant about a tidal wave? American media coverage that focuses on American aid is irritating. But let’s face it, it’s also predictable and at least the media does continue to cover the actual people who live there, which is more than one might have expected almost two weeks later.

The war? Oh god, I just can’t bear the war, the Iraqi elections, the explosions, the articles about Americans killed that make no mention of Iraqi deaths (this is not to privilege any deaths: I am devastated by all of them--especially living here in the heartland where M’s friends’ parents are in the National Guard and every local soldier who dies gets a full profile in the newspaper, and there have been way too many profiles). But I just can’t rant about it. Ranting takes anger, and, like the tsunami, the war just makes me too too sad. I’m angry too, but these days mainly I’m sad.

I actually could rant about Social Security. Paul Krugman says there isn’t really a Social Security crisis, and I tend to like Paul Krugman (though I’m not the best when it comes to economics, so what do I know…K, what does D think of Paul Krugman?). Plus, has anyone noticed that privatizing social security will not allow people to keep their money? It will allow people to give their money to investment banks and giant corporations. Hello?!?! This plan comes from the guys who are determined to bring back Calvin Coolidge and prove that “The business of America is business,” and people are once again buying the idea that they have our interests at heart? And let’s not even talk about the fact that Social Security was designed during the Depression to give people SECURITY in the face of economic collapse, not to help people make money.

But the thing is, Social Security isn’t really so rantable. It’s more a topic for dense arguments with footnotes and bar graphs, preferably in PowerPoint. And when we get to dense arguments with footnotes and bar graphs, preferably in PowerPoint, we’re out of my league.

I’m not going to rant about work. First, there’s the professional privacy thing. Second, I am newly resolved to let all professional annoyances, petty or grand, roll right off my back like water off a duck (which makes me think of that Jayhawks lyric, “Every time I see your face, it’s like cool, cool water running down my back,” which I just think is the most romantic thing ever, even though I have no idea what it means) (in fact, I think Smile is just one of the most romantic albums ever, even though J thinks it’s really about God). Anyways, no work rants.

So that’s about it: it’s January, everything sucks, we’re going to hell in a handbasket, and I can’t even work up the energy to rant about it. I think tomorrow I’ll go back to blogging about pleasant things in an effort to keep everyone’s spirits up. Or at least mine.

[Note: The HONEY Chocolate Cake is growing on me. I ate an entire piece last night.]

Friday, January 07, 2005

Just Like A Normal Family

Thursday is by far the best night of the week around here. Monday and Wednesday M has swim practice from 7-8, which means the evening is basically taken up with rushing and schlepping. Also on Monday S usually works and I often have a meeting (and luckily we have a great sitter). Tuesday I have a meeting from 4-6, and sometimes another meeting at 6, which means general exhaustion and grumpiness on my part. Friday S usually works while M, E, and I have Chinese and DVDs night, which is a lot of fun for us, but not ideal in the big familial picture. But on Thursdays we’re all home, we have no commitments, and it’s lovely.

Last night, for instance, S got home early enough for me to go for a run (though my final sprints over cracked sidewalks in the dark left me a little worried about neck-breaking). We had stir-fry with scallops for dinner (E, as per usual, had rice), and then M and E played happily together, S read the new T.C. Boyle novel, and I cleaned the kitchen and delivered half a HONEY Chocolate Cake to S and F down the street who love HONEY cakes. I got to play with their twins for a few minutes, and still have time to hang out with my kids when I got back.

Everybody was home, nobody had to rush, we had no obligations. I always imagine it’s like that every night in the homes of normal families. I’m probably wrong.

[And by the way, S thinks you should go listen to Fatboy Slim and Bootsy Collins’s cover of Steve Miller’s The Joker, and so do I.]

Thursday, January 06, 2005

HONEY Chocolate Cake

E: It’s not as good as the cake we had for my birthday party. [Editorial note: that would be the Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake, currently in fourth place among the adults, but perhaps remembered fondly for sentimental reasons.]

M: I can only eat about three bites of it because it’s so chocolaty and sweet.

M: I feel like I’m being interviewed here.

E: I feel like I’m going to eat your blog.

It’s definitely sweet. But then what do you expect from a HONEY Chocolate Cake? I actually had a bad feeling about it, I can now confess. The batter was way sweet (as might be expected with 1 1/3 cups brown sugar and half a cup of honey), and at that point I realized that it was a HONEY cake, and we’re not really crazy about HONEY cake. In fact, this Rosh Hashanah, I turned to S and said “skip the HONEY cake?” and he said “yup,” and like that we were rid of the tradition and happily too.

But it does taste good. And it’s definitely moist. Still, M’s right: you just can’t eat too much of it. In fact, you don’t even want to, it’s that sweet, only it’s not just sweet, it’s a kind of tangy that is appealing for one bite but not a whole piece. Of course if you were a HONEY cake lover, you might have a very different response.

So S and I agree that so far it’s third on the list, after Chocolate Gingerbread and Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake, which are battling for first, to the point where I think we may be heading for a bake-off. And now I must go find a neighbor who wants half a HONEY Chocolate Cake.

A Bad Day

It was not a good day. This is yesterday we’re talking about. First of all, it has been raining since I can’t even remember when. Let me try: I know it was not raining when we went ice skating on New Year’s Day, which would be last Saturday, but I’m quite certain it’s been raining since. The lake behind the house across the alley grew from half the yard at breakfast to the entire yard by the time we got home, and our own yard is well on its way to a good-sized pond.

So there’s the rain. Then there was grimness of work. Then there was my house which seems to have become a disastrous pit o’ debris. Then there was the failure of an errand designed to produce happiness. Then there was the kind of general plunge in self-esteem during which everything one does and is becomes a sinkhole of worthlessness. And did I mention the rain?

It was impossible to be professionally productive in such a funk, so I emailed back and forth with K, surfed the internet, called S at work to moan about my misery, and watched the rain. I really did: I watched the rain and wondered if it would ever stop raining and whether I would feel better if it wasn’t raining and how I would ever find out if I would feel better if it wasn’t raining if it wouldn’t stop raining. Then I realized there was only one solution: another Nigella chocolate cake, to be specific, Honey Chocolate Cake, with marzipan bees (I would have taken a pass on the bees, but E insisted).

It was a lot less stressful than the Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake--aside from the part where I couldn’t remember whether I’d added the flour. It’s quite attractive, though it would look a tiny bit better if I’d remembered to sift the confectioner’s sugar into the glaze instead of just dumping it in and thus leaving miniscule clumps and bumps all over the glazed cake. The bees are positively adorable, thanks to M and S (E decided that painting the stripes on with chocolate glaze was too hard for her, though she did a great job of shaping little bee bodies out of yellow marzipan).

How did it taste? I don’t know. First it had to bake for an hour, then it had to cool completely which took about two hours, then Nigella said we should wait at least an hour for the glaze to harden, so we never got around to eating it. I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

More on Blogs

(Don’t worry, this one is hardly meta.)

S has started reading blogs. This is big because he has spent a significant amount of time over the last few years mocking me for my blog addictions. Of course, a significant amount of that mockery occurs as he stands reading over my shoulder, but he would vehemently assert that that doesn’t count.

Anyways, he is into the traditional kind of blogs, the web logs, not the journals, the ones that tip you off to cool links and sites. He’s particularly partial to Waxy, and he was thrilled to discover Boing Boing (and the infamous mashup of 40 Beatles songs), though he was a bit deflated when I responded to news of his discovery with “Of course I know about Boing Boing. I do read a lot of blogs, you know.”

If you’re down with blog history, you know that blogs began as collections of links (like this), occasionally held together with narrative, and that online diaries and journals (like this) were a separate entity altogether. Then Blogger came along, followed by Movable Type, and it became a lot easier to keep your online journal using somebody else’s template and site, instead of writing tons of code yourself. Today blogs are generally thought of as journals that include links, though the link-centered model that S prefers still has a significant presence. (Obviously that’s a super-abridged history: here’s Rebecca Blood’s links-focused version that takes us up to 2000, while this recent article from ABC News demonstrates the current dominance of the journal model.)

But here’s my big question about those link-centered blogs: where do they find the time? S says they’re all geeks, which means they spend a lot of time online and stay up really late. OK, I’ll buy that, but I spend a lot of time online and stay up really late too. And I’m barely managing to write a few paragraphs a day with extremely pedestrian links; forget surfing the obscure corners of the internet for long lists of exciting links you’ve never seen before. Who pays their bills? Who reads six Arthur books in a row to their children? Who stares at the wall for hours at a time at their houses? And, speaking of time, who the hell has time to do this?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Of Moms, Politics, and Blogs

(Skip this one if meta navel gazing turns you off.)

What made me finally decide to blog was Bernard Kerik. I wanted to say to the world, not just to S, K, and my mom, “Finally a man gets nailed on a nanny!” (Of course really I think that immigration and childcare policies need radical reform and nobody should be getting nailed on a nanny--now there’s a sick image--but if they are going to be nailing people on nannies, they damn well should be nailing men as well as women.) (And, yes, I know the nanny thing was probably just a cover-up for all the other stuff, and, no, I’d rather not get into the gender implications of all that.)

So I wanted to blog about Kerik, but then Ayelet and Laura did it for me, and by the time I actually got the blog going, the Kerik thing was too over. So I started with Carly Simon instead.

Which raises the question of what sort of blog I should like mine to be (Virginia Woolf allusion there, but I can’t find a good link, so you’ll have to take my word for it).

It’s not going to be one of those blogs that records every event and feeling as the day goes by, not because I don’t like reading some of those blogs, but because I don’t have the time and I’m a little too jealous of my privacy.

It’s not going to be a professional blog. There are a lot of people in my profession who blog, but I’m not ready to reveal my profession, and while I could probably come up with some amusing professional anecdotes, and I’m sure I could perpetrate some not-very-amusing professional whines, the issues in my profession don’t really interest me, or at least, the issues that the bloggers tend to gravitate to don’t really interest me.

It is inevitably going to be something of a mom blog. I’ve spent a lot of time reading mom blogs over the last few years (I was going to link to a whole bunch of them, including Dooce, who for some reason I never heard of until about a week ago, but apparently is the mom blog ne plus ultra, or perhaps just the mom blog du jour, but I decided not to, as I didn’t want to offend anyone, either by including them or by leaving them out). The thing is, I like the mom blogs of my friends, and I like some of the moms I’ve been reading for a long time and feel like I know, at least in that blog kind of way (ok, I couldn’t resist a tiny bit of linking), and of course there’s Ayelet, but lately, I don’t know, other people’s children and other people’s feelings about their children just aren’t that compelling to me, which certainly leaves me wondering why my children and my feelings about them might be compelling to anyone else, but I’m assuming that they will at least be compelling to my mother and my mother-in-law (well, at least my mother-in-law), and I do like to write about them, so there you have it.

What I really want to write are thoughtful and compelling disquisitions on politics and culture. Pithy observations and astute commentary would be nice too. The thing about that is, I’m not quite sure what the value of my blog contributions would be. I love a good rant as much as the next political junkie, and certainly blogs were important players in the election on the right and the left, blah blah blah, you’ve heard all this, which is exactly my point.

I was definitely wrong about the tsunami being unbloggable. Of course blogs have played an important role in disseminating information about the catastrophe and the relief efforts. But all I could have blogged was liberal guilt: how terrible it is that all those Sri Lankan and Indonesian moms have lost their children and here I am in my nice warm American house with my dry warm children and all I can do is feel terrible about it (and give money to Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders).

But hey, maybe it’s worth pointing out the irrelevance of liberal guilt, and maybe some other time my response will be more original. Or maybe I’ll find a more original way to express it. Or maybe originality isn’t even the point and what matters is that lots of people care, or even just notice.

The only way to find out the value of my contributions is to make them. And if I don’t have anything thoughtful, compelling, pithy, or astute to say, I can always update you on the flaccid pumpkins (they got even more flaccid, and then M kicked one, which was really scary, but, thanks to the fearless S, they are finally gone).

Monday, January 03, 2005

Come On and Zoom Zoom Zooma Zoom

E has a new favorite, replacing Our Rainbow Circle (no URL, but you can email if you’re interested). At my dad’s we went through a box of old records and came home with The Pirates of Penzance, Oklahoma, The Carnival of the Animals (Leonard Bernstein conducting and narrating), The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays One Never Knows (this is the one you should be inspired to find and listen to, or, if you don’t have it, to acquire as soon as possible), Lumumba (whatever that is), and--drum roll, please--COME ON AND ZOOM: original album of songs and stuff from the award-winning children’s T.V. show.

We’re talking the original Zoom: 1974, boys with shaggy hair and girls with center parts cavorting in red and yellow striped polo shirts, handwritten lettering, a gatefold cover that opens up to reveal the lyrics. We’re talking “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat” and “Lollipop Tree” and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” and “I Believe in Music.” We’re talking E nirvana.

When E first falls in love with an album, she sits right next to the stereo, staring into space and listening intently, playing it over and over (significant problem with Come On and Zoom: she can’t work the turntable by herself). After perhaps half a dozen renditions, she stands up and starts to sway a little, smiling to herself at parts she particularly likes. Eventually, she begins her interpretive dances. She plants the lollipop tree and watches it grow; she rows the boat; she obeys instructions to “Jump back, baby, jump back” and “Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground.” As I write this, she’s reached the ultimate stage: singing along, interpretive dancing, and general rocking out in the middle of the living room floor.

I’m tempted to end this with a sarcastic comment (befitting my usual maternal attitude) about how tedious it is to endure the repetition. But, you know, I kind of like Come On and Zoom myself, and what curmudgeon could complain about a thoroughly blissful child?

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Domestic Notes

Who knew that if you left the pumpkins out (not the jack-o-lanterns, we’re not that stupid, but the big ones standing sentry on either side of the porch steps) long past Halloween, through a giant snowstorm and a week-long freeze, into a week-long melt of 50-degree days, that they would become orange sacs of pulp, sagging deeply into the steps, and you would be mortally afraid of moving them, but know that it had to be done? Luckily, S has no fears.


We are baking our way through Nigella’s Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame which raises three issues: 1) Nigella, 2) baking, 3) the cakes.

1) Now Nigella is one of those things I’m not quite sure about. On the one hand, she has endured unimaginable tragedy; on the other hand, she has been outrageously successful and is now married to one of the most influential men in Britain (check this out for most of the story, though it’s a bit dated). How any of this relates to cooking in the sexiest outfits I’ve ever seen anyone cook in, I’m not quite sure. And, though one might hope her food would be really bad, if one were that kind of snark, in fact it’s quite excellent: you want to make it and it tastes good--what more could one ask of a recipe?

2) My domestic bailiwicks are knitting and baking. I am a mediocre cleaner, a resentful cook, and, as I’ve made perfectly clear, not a project mama. But knitting is the perfect activity for an incessant multi-tasker--an entire hat can be produced in an afternoon of holiday visiting, and a poncho takes only a couple of DVDs and several swim practices. I’m also good at knitting, and I like to do things I’m good at. I’m good at baking too, and I like that I can choose to bake, unlike dinner which must be cooked, regardless of how I feel about the matter. Baking is also an excellent activity to do with children, which somewhat makes up for the project guilt. Finally, baking produces things I really like to eat--like chocolate cakes.

3) As for the cakes: The Chocolate Gingerbread was first and I loved it so much that I fear it will cast a shadow on all subsequent efforts, though the children did not like it at all, as Nigella predicted. I found the Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake boring and a little dry, though I will agree with the majority that the icing was delicious. The Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake caused a lot of stress: Nigella said it would take an hour to bake and it took an hour and 23 minutes; the chocolate syrup didn’t soak in for a very long time; the plastic wrap--well, we won’t talk about the plastic wrap. Plus we ate it after a long evening of eating and drinking and I was already pretty full. But I’d say it was very good, and if I made it again without all the stress, it would probably be delicious. (And don’t worry about our health with all these chocolate cakes: we have very patient neighbors who willingly accept half cakes whenever we proffer them.)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Morning After

Many years ago, I came up with a New Year’s Eve philosophy that, unlike most of my philosophies, has both worked and lasted. I decided that if I didn’t worry about New Year’s Eve, I would have a good time regardless.

This means that the New Year’s Eve watching TV with a newborn baby and a flu-ridden four year old was no big deal, but it also means that I’ve had a lot of pretty good New Year’s Eves, like the one when my sister and I arrived in Amsterdam on December 30, couldn’t find a place to stay, ended up in a squat with a master chess player we met on the street, and spent New Year’s Eve eating vegan food and oliebollen with his friends (he was out with his girlfriend), and hanging out on the street dodging fireworks (what can I say? we were young…).

S’s career has the potential to be a serious New Year’s Eve drawback, but for years (pre-children years), we had great new Year’s Eve parties where I would make an elegant dinner for a chosen few, and then he and the rest of the restaurant would show up around one and the tequila shots and dancing would begin. Now, however, we’ve reached the getting older/young children stage of life where the demographically appropriate New Year’s Eve activity is dinner at home with other getting older friends and their young children--that’s what my sister and Dawn did last night (not together). But it doesn’t work so well when Daddy has to cook dinner for the people without small children who are heading out to a nice restaurant for their New Year’s Eve dinner.

So I must admit I was a tiny bit worried about this New Year’s Eve, though I still had faith in my philosophy. Then I realized that New Year’s Eve with me, a four year old, and an eight year old had enormous potential for fun (unlike, say, New Year’s Eve with me, a one year old, and a five year old, which had enormous potential for pathetic sitting alone in front of the television, or, even worse, the computer). So we put things into full gear for a New Year’s Feast.

My long-term readers, aware of my project-impaired status, will be shocked to learn that we made sushi. E had apple juice (she was very particular that it be juice, not cider); M had orange soda; I had white wine. We bought three kinds of pink flowers for the table. M chose the tablecloth (a purple sarong left over from my traveling days); E, distraught that M had gotten to choose the tablecloth, chose the plates; E chose the candlesticks; M chose the candles (one blue and one white). We had homemade chocolate pudding and whipped cream for dessert (that is, M and I had homemade chocolate pudding and whipped cream; E had a nice bowl of whipped cream). We took lots of silly pictures of our beautiful table and each other.

Then we dressed up (I wore the Vivienne Westwood kilt S got me for my 40th birthday, M wore her first-day-of-school kilt, E wore a red dress over a flowered skirt, and we were matching and styling--don’t ask how E was matching, just accept it) and went to a party where E was asleep on the couch by 10:15, S arrived at 11, M got to stay up till midnight for the first time ever, partying wildly with her best friend L (at 12:30 they were still out on the street screaming “Happy New Year!” at passing cars), and a happy time was had by all.