Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Trying to Figure Out the Impenetrable Mystery That Is Me

There are parts of my life with which I am always satisfied: my children, for instance, and living in Town.

There are parts of my life with which I am permanently dissatisfied: my nonexistent sense of smell, and the fact that K lives six hours away.

Then there are things about my life that sometimes seem fine but sometimes seem terrible. I've thought, for a long time, that when those things seem terrible, I am miserable. But I've realized, lately, that it might be the other way around: when I am miserable, those things seem terrible. So lately I've been trying, when I feel miserable, not to obsess about how terrible things are, but rather to simply note that I feel miserable and try not to think about anything meaningful until I feel better. Yesterday, at least, it worked.

Note: I am not talking about truly terrible things. Truly terrible things are self-evidently terrible, and they make you miserable, and you deal with them, if you can, or suffer, if you can't.

Note 2: Thinking more about the things with which I am not satisfied: I actually don't spend a lot of time dwelling on them, that is, on things like my nonexistent sense of smell, or K's absence, or even S's work schedule, which always shocks people, and then they say things like "I don't know how you do it," or "Doesn't that make you crazy?" and I say, "No, it's just the way it is." I think I have a strong sense of my own agency: if something is not working, I should be able to do something about it. But if I can't do something about it, I am good at just letting go and not letting it bother me. Hmm, is that really true? I am incapable of letting go of so many things, which makes this statement seem very uncharacteristic, but it also seems true: I just don't spend a lot of time worrying about my anosmia or S's work schedule. Maybe, though, that's why the things about which I vacillate (sorry, I'm not being specific on purpose, but if you know me, you can probably guess what I'm talking about) are so hard for me: because I can't seem to get to the point where I can let go, but neither do I feel capable of doing something about it.

Edited to add:

Note 3: I struggled with the wording on the first two paragraphs, going back and forth between "satisfied" and "happy with," neither of which were exactly right. Now I'm thinking, perhaps, "like" would be the best way to phrase it.

Note 4: That sense of agency I mention in Note 2 is the thing that most significantly marks me as middle class.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Few Tuesday Morning Thoughts Before Work

(Try and guess my mood!)

Another reason why I am not a very nice person: When my husband gets sick, although I feign sympathy, really I'm mad.

Two things I'm tired of: foodie kids and rocker kids. Or maybe I'm just tired of their braggy (M's word) parents. And no, I'm not interested in delving into the autophobic implications of those statements coming from the mouth (keyboard) of the mother of a foodie kid and two rocker kids.

I'm not sure which of these principles the other people in my household operate on: wherever you put something, there it should stay, OR things put themselves away, so I don't need to worry about it.

Were we to meet in real life, I'm quite certain that Hugh Grant would find me at best uninteresting, at worst appalling. I probably wouldn't like him much either. But the allure of the fantasized persona is nevertheless powerful. [This should link to the Vogue profile of Hugh Grant, but the Vogue website is absolutely incomprehensible, so it doesn't.]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sasaki Colorstone, or How a Problem Begins

When S and I got married, we did a lot of traditional wedding stuff: white dress, huppah, first dance, Hawaii honeymoon. We also did some untraditional wedding stuff: chocolate cheesecake wedding cake, a bevy of girl ushers. And we didn't do some traditional wedding stuff: throwing the bouquet (I gave it to N, K's daughter, who was six at the time), garter (god forbid), NY Times announcement (I think I've blogged about that before), and registering for dishes.

We did register for kitchen equipment, and those pots, pans, and knives remain crucial to our daily life. But I remember thinking that registering for dishes seemed like a total pain. What if you got six of something, or one, or all the plates and none of the bowls? Then you'd just have to buy the rest of it yourself anyway. And besides, we didn't really care if we had fancy plates or expensive glass that would only break, but we did want good pots and pans. The clincher was falling in love with a relatively inexpensive set of dishes at a hip home store on 4th Street in Berkeley. I wish wish wish I could remember the name, but I can't. This was right at the beginning of 4th Street, and right at the beginning of hip home stores, and I visited the dishes several times, and then we decided it was ridiculous to register for them, since they were so inexpensive, but we would buy them for ourselves, and still get to be grown-ups with matching dishes for the first time ever.

Fast forward almost fifteen years (almost fifteen years!) and we still have those dishes, and I still love them. Well, we still have most of the dishes: eight dinner plates, eight salad plates, eight cups and saucers that I believe we have not used more than half a dozen times, if that, and four--no, make that three, as of yesterday--soup bowls. The soup bowls are a problem. I don't know if it's the shape or our misuse or what, but they break. We were down to one or two several years ago, and somehow I ended up at Marshall Fields with my dad and he ordered us a replacement set. But now we are back down and, alas, my beloved dishes have been discontinued.

What are these dishes of which I speak? Why, funny you should ask, they are Sasaki Colorstone Sapphire (and when I bought mine they had a cup and saucer instead of mug, and they were much much cheaper). But you know what? They are all over eBay! Or rather, Sasaki Colorstone is all over eBay, in all colors, as I discovered yesterday morning when, annoyed at the latest bowl to break (which it seemed hopeless to fix, as the two pieces had already been glued together twice, and in such a state it had persisted for quite a while, but now it seemed clearly determined no longer to be part of our kitchen), I started googling.

Well, you can imagine where this went. I--who have only bought one thing ever on eBay: a brown glass doorknob that no one else wanted, but we thought we needed for our old house's old door, though it turned out we didn't--bid on a package of two blue bowls and one hunter green bowl. There were eight hours left. I was outbid. I bid again. My bid held. I refreshed the page again and again as the last minutes ticked down. I won: two blue bowls and one hunter green bowl!

But wait, a hunter green bowl? What am I going to do with that? Aha! I could start buying bowls of all different colors. Plum, for instance. And maybe some more plates, because while we do have some handmedown white dinner plates, they are not Sasaki Colorstone, and wouldn't it be nice to have enough related plates for a dozen people, which happens often enough in this house, and wouldn't it be pretty to have an array of colors? I stopped myself for now, but I can tell there will soon be more Sasaki Colorstone in this house: at least three more soup bowls, and who knows what else. eBay and me: we could be friends.

(And if you're wondering about the no shopping in January resolution? Oh well...)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Good Trade

For days, and I do mean days, I had "Jack and Diane"--yes, John Cougar Mellencamp--stuck in my head. It was grisly. Finally "Jack and Diane" has been replaced by "Fourth of July," Dave Alvin version, though I'll take X too. Life is better when you like the song that's stuck in your head. Let's just hope that in writing this down, I haven't undone it.

Bagels and Michael Pollan

Why on earth would whitefish salad need corn syrup?

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Not the stuff you drink (I wish); the book.

I was so looking forward to starting Poppy Z. Brite's noirish series about two New Orleans boys who open a restaurant. It came highly recommended by an impeccable source, and, come on, it's about a restaurant and New Orleans. In my devious desire, I bought both Liquor and its sequel, Prime, for S for Hanukkah, which of course was not totally selfish, but pretty much so.

I wish this could be a rave. I wish I could say I loved the first book and went on to devour the series.

Alas, not so much.

This time, though, I'm quite certain it's me. Love the characters, Rickey and G-Man, who grew up together in the Ninth Ward, worked restaurants all their lives, drink and smoke with the best of them, and are lovers to boot. Love the over-the-top Emeril character. Love New Orleans, not that I have much knowledge of or relation to the place.

But here's the thing: Restaurants? I live them. And they're not such a thrill any more. Getting behind the scenes? I'm behind the scenes every day. I know what 86 means. I know what "in the weeds" means. I know managers and line cooks and prep lists. In fact, a lot of the time I just wish restaurants would go away. So reading about one? Not so much fun.

And then there's the mystery part. I thought this was a mystery going in, but it's not so much. There are devious deeds, but they're pretty up front, and I pretty much knew where things were going, even though the denouement was still surprising. Still, here's the other thing: I don't really like mysteries, even when they're not quite mysteries. I read Agatha Christies as a kid, and I liked Jane Langton's mysteries back in the day, and Robert Parker's Spenser (maybe you can connect the dots on those two), but that was a long time ago. More recently, I've enjoyed a handful of historical novel cum mysteries, and I read most of Ayelet Waldman's Mommy-Track mysteries, but with both of those it was the non-mystery parts that compelled me. Indeed, I found Ayelet's plots boring and predictable--I couldn't figure them out, because I didn't care enough, but I wasn't surprised. What I liked was Juliet and her life.

I enjoyed reading Liquor but, engaged neither by the mystery aspects nor the restaurant background, I did not fall in love with it as I expected. And I'm kind of sad about that.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Good Time

It's been a long time since I was the girl dancing right in front of the stage, sucking up every guitar lick and toe tap, a long time since I was the girl the bass player flirted with. And, you know what? It's still great to be that girl.

(Especially when the bass player is as middle-aged as you are, and the club is tiny and divey, and the band is the best bar band around, and they are as smoking on fire as the night outside is cold.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Resolving Not To

I used to make the same New Year's resolutions every year: to lose weight and not say mean things about people. Then I stopped making them, because it seemed silly to make the same resolutions, and because I no longer particularly wanted to lose weight, and because trying not to say mean things about people has become part of my regular life practice (emphasis on trying). Then for a while I didn't make New Year's resolutions.

This year I surprised myself by making two resolutions: not to get on a scale for a year, and not to buy anything for a month.

I haven't owned a scale in maybe 15 years, and that's been good. But it does mean that whenever I encounter a scale, I get on it. Which has led to my parroting kids getting on every scale they see--though for them the impetus, I think, is somewhat different, in that we never know how much they weigh, except for the day they go to the pediatrician, so it is a matter of curiosity, not concern, but they are American females heading for adolescence, so I'm not so thrilled with this habit in any of us.

The main place I get on the scale is the gym, and if I'm going to the gym a lot, I get on the scale a lot, and I get distressed if the number stays the same (because, after all, I'm going to the gym a lot), and I get distressed if the number is above a certain point, even if I feel fine, and I'd rather not get distressed about numbers. Hence the resolution not to get on a scale for a year.

I did a lot of shopping in December. There were boatloads of gifts (two birthdays and the endless extravaganza of Hanukkah), and then for some reason I decided it was time to deal with some shopping that really needed to be dealt with: like lamps for the living room so that we would no longer live in a cave, and socks, and such. In the first week of January, as I walked out of Target for the second time in a week, I was suddenly totally sick of shopping. So I decided I just wouldn't. Nothing but necessities: groceries, soap, etc.

So far I've kept my resolutions, except that I did buy a music stand on-line, because with three musicians in the family now (E is taking guitar lessons), I was getting a little sick of the music everywhere, and the chairs being lugged around the living room, and music being propped on the chairs, and the chairs abandoned where they were holding the music, even when the music is long gone. So I think we can call that something of a necessity.

E does keep saying, whenever I say I am not going to buy something, that it was my decision, so I can change it, but I don't want to. The other day I walked by a clothing store that I always think I should like but don't so much once I get in there. It's going out of business and having a sale. I almost went in, but then I remembered that I'm not buying anything, so I saved myself spending money I don't need to spend on clothes I don't need, and probably wouldn't end up liking.

Maybe I'll become a zealot and write a book. Oh yeah, that's been done (actually, that is the kind of book I have no interest in reading, plus my sister says it's not very good). Or maybe I'll just wait till February 1, and then go buy some new tights.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thank Goodness

Looks like Kerry is out. Honestly, at this point I'm leaning toward Edwards. I like his focus on poverty and class. I voted for him last time too. I wish Obama would wait. The JFK comparison is not apt: Kennedy had been in the House for many years before he was elected to the Senate. State legislature and then two years in the Senate does not seem like sufficient experience. I think I could get pretty excited if Al Gore ran, though I wasn't excited about him last time. Now that he has relaxed into himself and returned to his passions, he seems like a real person, not an automaton, and a real person who is very smart and has good ideas. I'll vote for Hillary if I have to. She seems to be a great senator, and she's been a big hit in New York. I wish she'd be satisfied with that.

All sentiments subject to change.

Except for my complete and utter loathing of Mitt Romney.

Trying to Be More Serious

If you are expecting a comment on the State of the Union address, here you go:

It was thrilling to see Nancy Pelosi introduce the president. History with a capital H. Then I left the room.

Perhaps the Most Superficial Post Ever

I have this ridiculous Popsugar addiction. I don't even care about the celebrities they track, or know who half of them are (Rachel Bilson?), and there is way too much Paris, but they have lots of pictures, and they do good Kate and Pete, and I swear I'm not going to click on the bookmark, and then I always do. (Get rid of the bookmark? Perish the thought!)

Recently, though, even as I kept clicking at least daily (why? I don't know! I wish I knew, so I could stop! but I don't, so I don't!), I was getting quite disgusted. For one thing, they do way too much product placement, especially posts about stupid parties thrown by stupid companies attended by starlets you've never heard of. For another thing, they are way too sycophantic, going on and on about how cute Katie and Reese are and blah blah blah. I decided they must be getting paid off by publicists. Not that there's anything wrong with that (god knows, I have no illusions about the purity of celebrity gossip), but it makes for boring copy. Then again, I'm not so crazy about the straight nastiness of, say, Dlisted.

But then the craziest thing happened. Popsugar went and hired Molly from Mollygood. Molly is not sweet and sycophantic; she's pretty acidic. The tone shift is obvious--Molly; Popsugar--and being the addict I am, I noticed it right away. It makes for some surreal serial reading.

Does Popsugar know they were veering too close to the saccharine? Are they trying to purchase some street cred? Do they want to hold onto readers like me, who were starting to see through them? Inquiring minds want to know, but not enough to try and find out. Whatever the intention, it's working.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oscar Nominations


“Babel,” “The Departed,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Queen.”

I've seen the last two, don't think either is best picture worthy. Would like to see Babel and The Departed. Not interested in WWII movies.


Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond”; Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson”; Peter O'Toole, “Venus”; Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happyness”; Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland.”

Haven't seen any of them; doubt I will (I saw the preview of Venus and it looked like another cheesy Brit pic, and then I found out it was a Hanif Kureishi film and I was shocked! My beloved Ty Burr gave it a pretty good review, but I'm still not particularly interested).


Penelope Cruz, “Volver”; Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal”; Helen Mirren, “The Queen”; Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”; Kate Winslet, “Little Children.”

I saw The Queen and The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl Streep should have been nominated (and won) for best supporting. Helen Mirren is excellent and deserving. I actually want to see all these movies. Are my gender preferences showing?


Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine”; Jackie Earle Haley, “Little Children”; Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond”; Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls”; Mark Wahlberg, “The Departed.”

I'd like to see Dreamgirls. Alan Arkin was pretty funny, though I liked the uncle too.


Adriana Barraza, “Babel”; Cate Blanchett, “Notes on a Scandal”; Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”; Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”; Rinko Kikuchi, “Babel.”

No real opinions here. I've only seen Little Miss Sunshine. Would like to see the others (surprise).

Matchmaking in the 21st Century

I set up two friends yesterday. I've known them both forever and it's never occurred to me to set them up, but I saw one of them this weekend and suddenly it struck me that they had sufficient similarities to make it worth trying: they are essentially the same age, they have the same profession, they share some interests, and (I didn't realize this one until I was almost done with the set-up, but I think it was at the heart of it) they are both very cool people and I am a very uncool person, and they both like me, which suggests some kind of shared sensibility (no need to tell me that I'm cool, because 1) I'm not, and 2) if you met the three of us, you would know exactly what I mean) (let's just say tattoos, to start).

Anyway, that's all I'm going to say about them, because at least one of them is reading this, and maybe both, but what was interesting to me was HOW I set them up. I emailed her blog URL to him, with the subject line "Does she have any appeal?" and I emailed his blog URL, professional webpage, and Friendster page to her, with the subject line "Does this guy interest you at all?" (why the different subject lines? I have no idea). They both responded with interest but trepidation, I quelled the trepidation with much "I don't know if this will work" honesty, they both did some googling, they both said they were interested, I sent an email to the two of them that said "X meet Y. Y meet X. You're on your own, kids. Love, Becca" and that was that.

I know internet dating and googling prospective dates and all that is totally old news, but this was such a different way of setting people up (though, now that I think of it, I'm not sure I've done very much matchmaking at all, which is just crazy, because I am such the matchmaking type, am I not? I mean, I know tons of people, I am a hopeless networker [hopeless in that I can't not network, not in that I'm bad at it--I'm very good at it], and people always tell me their stories and woes and interests, which all seems to make me a prime candidate for matchmaker...but it's just not something I've done--the only one I can even think of is when K and I set up M and A a million years ago, and that one was totally old school: we sat them next to each other at a seder and then asked each if they liked the other [they did, but it only lasted a month or so, for the best of everyone]).

Anyway, I don't have anything creative or persuasive or conclusive to say about this; I just found it interesting.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rise and Shine

I'm a late night person. I stay up late reading, working, wasting time on the computer. Then I have trouble falling asleep, not always, but often, and especially when I stay up late. There's also the problem of waking up in the night and being unable to fall back asleep. This problem waxes and wanes; alas, at the moment it seems to be waxing. I've probably blogged about all this before, but the point of this litany today is to explain why I loathe the idea of getting up early.

Last night I was exhausted. I got into bed soon after 9, turned off the light soon after 10, and fell asleep relatively quickly, I think. So far so good. Then I awoke at 3:30: wide awake, worrying about things, trying to relax and fall back asleep, using all my positions and techniques and...nothing. Finally, just before 5, I got up, figuring that even if I did fall asleep, having to wake up at 7 on an hour or two of sleep would be more painful than just powering through.

I caught up on my email (people must have been shocked by that 5:29 AM timestamp), paid the bills, put together a package, emptied the dishwasher, made lunches, took a shower, and was a cheerful adept mother by the time I woke up the girls at 7:10.

Maybe they're right, those people who get up at 5 every day to have time to themselves, or to work, or to work out. I could get into bed at 9 every night, read for an hour, get seven hours of sleep, and then get something done before the hubbub of the day begins.

I'm sure I've written a post like this before, because one of my schticks is about how beautiful the sunrise is--and how its beauty is enhanced by the fact that I see it so rarely. But now I'm wondering if I might convince myself to try the early morning thing. Because I could definitely use a difference around here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tolstoy Lied

This one is my mother's fault. She asked if I'd read it, said she thought it was the kind of book I would read, maybe even know the author (I don't). I saw it in the bookstore, read a few pages, and it seemed fine. I saw it on the shelf during a ten-minute dash to the library and grabbed it.

Big mistake.

This is a romance/academia novel. Both the romance (Tracy has sworn off men, meets perfect man, loses perfect man after discovering he's not perfect, gets back together with perfect man resolving to work on imperfection issues, and sets off to live happily ever after) and the academia (will Tracy get tenure? why is her mean colleague so mean? what about the crazy graduate student? how many bon mots can her urbane gay colleague toss off) are completely predictable (OK, not completely: I wasn't sure what would happen with the mean colleague and the crazy graduate student, which is why I skimmed to the end instead of quitting, but what happened was both predictable and inadequate). Literary observations are sprinkled throughout, and the romance and academia are sutured together with a thesis about the value of literature about happiness (i.e. "Tolstoy lied"), but that's not so convincing either.

The Washington Post characterizes Tolstoy Lied as, essentially, chick lit with a veneer of big ideas. The San Francisco Chronicle thought it was a beautifully-written contemporary love story. I'm afraid I have to align myself with the Post. The worst part? This book was just boring.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Friday Night Movies

E: Pollyworld. The Polly Pocket movie. M found it for E in the movie store and then was disdainful of it and then was as mesmerized as E. I thought I had nothing to say about it, except then I caught the last few minutes, and the one thing I have to say is Josie and the Pussycats.

M and I: Groundhog Day. When we picked my dad up last night, there was nowhere to pull up, so we drove around the block three times before he came out. The third time around, as we came up to the side of the building, M squealed: "Mom! See those people coming out of the building? They came out the exact same door last time we drove by!" We both found this hilarious, and I immediately thought of Groundhog Day. "M," I said, "there's a movie about that! Let's rent it!" (I am quick to the draw when it comes to my long-term project of expanding M's cinematic horizons.)

How great is Groundhog Day? So great. All I remembered was him stepping in the puddle, and that eventually he became good and made it to the next day. So I was discovering the movie again too. E vacillated between totally into it and "this is boring," M loved it except for when he kept killing himself, and they both thought the puddle was hilarious. I completely enjoyed it, especially the Bill Murrayness of Bill Murray. I thought about 50 Great Dates and It's a Wonderful Life. I noticed how back in the 90s, movies had a lot less product placement. But mainly I enjoyed it. And I so enjoyed enjoying a real movie with my kids!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Some Thoughts on Parenting That Might Connect

Katrina came up in conversation recently, and now E is worried about hurricanes again. The worry surfaces at bedtime, when she can't stop thinking about bad things. I say she needs to tell me about the bad things. She says she is thinking about Katrina, and she is worried there will be a hurricane here. I say there won't be a hurricane here, because, remember, M learned that hurricanes are worst where there is warm water, and here the water is cold. Plus, Katrina flooded New Orleans because New Orleans is low, and we are not low, so there would not be such a flood.

I am confident in what I tell her, because it is largely true (I don't lie to my kids, though I sometimes soften). Then I think of the kids from New Orleans and Mississippi, and how their parents cannot tell them there won't be a hurricane.

Lately, I've been having lots of conversations with parents who are worried about their kids: they are thinking about switching to private school because their kid already knows how to read and isn't learning enough in kindergarten; their kid isn't progressing in school music lessons; there are so many things the school doesn't provide and they have to supplement. They are very anxious and concerned, and they want to talk to me at great length about how much the schools aren't doing, and how much their kids need.

Town strikes me as an ideal place to raise children (that's a big reason we moved here). It is leafy and safe, there is lots to do, kids can go off on their own to the park or the corner store, you can reach urban civilization by public transportation so teenagers do not have to languish in parking lots and malls. Our schools? Our schools are fine. Beleaguered urban districts hail us as an example of a school system that has no problems. We don't have all the resources of wealthy suburbs, but neither do we have the pressure and competition. My kids have art and music weekly. They love their gym teacher. Their teachers know their strengths and weaknesses and help them to learn. Our superintendent's motto is "Going from good to great." That seems right to me.

I am so tired of the phrase "I know my kid." As a friend of mine whose son was just hospitalized for several weeks with depression says, parents of kids who have real problems do not broadcast it. "I know my kid" almost always prefaces a long disquisition about how conventional circumstances are not adequate to the needs of said kid. And almost always, I don't buy it. Kids are a lot more resilient and adaptable than most of their parents seem to think--at least, they are if their parents let them be.

Not ten miles from Town, three middle school kids have been shot and killed in the last three weeks.

I don't think my kids need to clear their plates because children are starving in Afghanistan. I don't believe in guilt. I know that in nice towns like Town, there are children who are hungry and abused and depressed and disabled. I know that everyone has their own troubles, and a hierarchy of troubles is not useful. But it does seem to me that there are situations in which it is much easier to be a parent, and sometimes I wish some of the parents around me would keep that in mind.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Corporate Control of the Supermarket Shelves

Am I fantasizing a lost Eden that never existed, or did supermarkets once place all the chocolate chip cookies together, the oatmeal cookies together, the crackers together, etc.? So, you know, if you, like, wanted some chocolate chip cookies, you could look at all the chocolate chip cookies at once and decide which kind you wanted?

Instead of having to look at all the Keebler cookies and crackers jumbled together, then all the Nabisco cookies and crackers, then all the Pepperidge Farm cookies and crackers (and if you've got a downscale supermarket, like our closest one, that's about it--we're probably lucky to have Pepperidge Farm)? And if you want Mallomars, and have no idea what brand they are, you have to walk back and forth in front of the shelves, with not a clue as to where you should even begin to look? And if all you want is some generic ginger snaps for a crust, forget it?

I know it's because the Big Food Corporations pay Big Bucks to get their product on the shelves, and they want their product all together so that we'll just go straight from their cookies to their crackers, because we're so tired of shopping already.

Still, it's annoying.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bad Company, Not

Often, when I get in the car in a bad mood, I turn on Songs You Grew Up With, one of our local classic hits stations, and five times out of six, some song I grew up with comes on and makes me happy. Yesterday when I got in the car in a bad mood, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was playing, and though I did grow up with it, it did nothing for me. Then I heard that familiar "duh duh DUH duh duh DUH," and felt that surge of I-love-this-song feeling, and turned it up.

Yes, it was Bad Company, "Feel Like Makin' Love," and I drove along, basking in that I-love-this-song feeling. But then I realized that it wasn't Bad Company I loved; it was a cover, an indie cover, an indie medley cover, and I lost that loving-the-song feeling and shifted into a racking-my-brains feeling that wasn't quite as pleasurable, but was still kind of exciting, because I knew that once I remembered, I would be even happier.

Does anybody out there know where this is going?

On the way home (I was picking up M from religious school), I remembered. Two Nice Girls! Two Nice Girls were four dykes from Austin, perhaps most famous for the memorable lines:

I spent my last ten dollars on birth control and beer
Life was so much simpler when I was sober and queer
But the love of a strong hairy man has turned my head I fear
And made me spend my last ten bucks on birth control and beer

They recorded a medley of "Feel Like Makin' Love" and "Love to Love You Baby" (yes, Donna Summers) that is just a great thing.

Right before I got married, in June 1992, I freaked out, as people about to get married tend to do. I ran away to LA--we were living in Berkeley--and went to Disneyland with an old friend from India (oh my god, I just cannot escape Disney), and I came back and went to see Two Nice Girls in San Francisco, I think perhaps at the Great American Music Hall, and decided that if I could still go see dyke bar bands from Texas, I could get married, and then I got married.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Down-Home Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Mocha Butter Cream

Returning to blogging is kind of like getting back on a bicycle, and pretty soon I felt the urge to make a chocolate cake. But there were no birthdays, no dinner parties, no occasions of any kind (it is JANUARY after all). Then yesterday we were home, and it was cold and raining, and that seemed reason enough. By the time Lucy called and it was decided that she and the young 'un would come over, a cake for a tea party seemed inevitable.

So I hit the cookbooks to come up with something simple that I could make without leaving the house (i.e. for which I had all the ingredients) and settled upon Rose Beranbaum's (who knew she was K's husband's best friend's aunt?!) Down-Home Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake (who knew recipes could be plagiarized so easily over the internet? actually, I did, because I frequently look for recipes on the internet and find the same ones over and over, with no attribution) (I'm a bit bogged down in Mrs. Beeton these days, as Hughes just spent an entire chapter detailing instance after instance of Mrs. Beeton's plagiarism, with much quotation and long summaries of every book she plagiarized from--but I think we're about to get back to syphilis, which should be more exciting).

The cake was very easy: eight ingredients: mix the wet, mix the dry, add the wet to the dry, mix some more, bake. I love Beranbaum's recipes because she is so specific and explanatory: "beat for one minute to aerate and develop cake's structure."

Then I had to go and make things complicated and decide to ice it with a mocha buttercream. A real buttercream. The kind I've always been scared to make and thus avoided. But this cake was so easy, that I guess I figured I might as well challenge myself. Real buttercream involves sugar syrup and a candy thermometer and an awful lot of eggs and butter. Waiting for the sugar syrup to get to the right temperature (238--soft ball stage) involves patience. It actually turned out fine, with no problems except the anxiety that the candy thermometer had broken because it took about two minutes to hit 200 and then 10 more minutes to inch past 200. And then there's the problem that I realized I don't particularly like buttercream. My god, that stuff is sweet. But the cake shore did look purty.

And how did it taste? Well, there was some divergence in opinion on that one. I thought it was delicious. S and Lucy's daughter liked it. Lucy thought it tasted odd, but ate quite a lot of it in her quest to figure out why it tasted odd, and it seemed to me that she ultimately came around to liking it. M hated it. She said it tasted "rotten." This was not a high point of mother-daughter relations.

To get objective: it has an absolutely perfect texture: moist, light, soft. And it was deliciously chocolatey. And then there was this...taste. You can call it bitterness; you can call it harshness; I suppose, if you are M, you can call it "rotten." Beranbaum says "The extra baking soda also creates the slightly dipped center and the coarse, dark reddish crumb with a deliciously bitter edge," and I guess some people just don't like the bitter edge. But I do.

Monday, January 15, 2007

I Have a Dream

I asked the girls if they wanted to read Martin Luther Kings* "I Have a Dream" speech. E said we should read it and write our own "I Have a Dream" speeches. We found this site, where you can both read and watch it. E read the first three "I have a dream" paragraphs to me, and then we watched the beginning of the video and the end. Don't think this story is too idyllic: she thought it was boring, though she did listen intently when freedom started ringing. Then she wrote her speech. I think I'll leave it at that.

*Something is screwed up in my Blogger and I cant make an apostophe--every time I hit apostrophe, I get Quick Find--anyone know what I should do?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Money and Marriage

The levels on which I cannot relate to this paragraph (from an article in today's Style Section) are so myriad that I cannot even begin to detail them:

Other husbands adopt a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. A 40-year-old money manager at a hedge fund in the New York area said he travels to Atlantic City with buddies a few times a year and drops up to $10,000 on blackjack, which he never discusses with his wife. The man, the sole earner in the family, suspects that his wife regularly pays cash at SoHo boutiques. “She’ll have six pairs of new shoes, which won’t show up on the credit card bill,” he said. “I don’t discuss it with her because we don’t have an affordability issue. It’s the cost of marriage, and auditing my wife doesn’t make sense as long as it’s under control.”

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Entering the Future

E is away on her first sleepover. I am verklempt.

(For those who are not keeping track, E turned six a few weeks ago. M went on her first sleepover at nine. E and her best friend Other E [not to be confused with M's best friend Other E] have been asking for a sleepover for months. Other E's mom is as lame as I am, so it hasn't happened. This evening we were over at Other E's house and as we were getting ready to leave, E asked once again when they could have a sleepover. One thing led to another, and now they're having a sleepover. I actually think this was a good way to do it, since she didn't have time to get anxious in advance, though I'm not convinced we won't see her till tomorrow. But now I have to adjust so quickly!)

Edited to add: She made it!

One Last Thing About Jump In

I don't think this one is going to be as successful as High School Musical. Eh, sure, it will be a huge success, because the power of the Disney juggernaut is unstoppable, and it will inevitably not be as successful, because of its derivative nature. But there's something else, and it has to do with #4 below, that narrative intrusiveness that I can't quite put my finger on.

The thing about High School Musical is that even though it's inspirational, even though it's platitudinal, even though it's obvious, it's also self-consciously ridiculous. I mean, it's a musical, for goodness sake. Boys break into song on the basketball court. And it's got the whole internal satire on theater kids going on. It's fun and it's funny, and I think that's part of the appeal for kids, and I know that's part of what makes it bearable for parents--this parent, at least.

Jump In is darker, and I'm not just talking about the black people. The lighting of the film is darker, Izzy and Mary meet on their fire escapes at night, the boxing gym is cave-like, and the double dutch finals take place on a darkened stage. There are serious issues--dead parents, poverty. And there are no song-and-dance numbers.

Which is all fine: nothing wrong with dark, and some people go for it, though it's neither my preferred mode for kids nor my kids' preferred mode. But the problem is that this is Disney, and Disney can only cross dark with earnest obviousness, which, despite the double dutch, just isn't as much harebrained fun.

And now, I promise, I am done with Disney and will get back to more appropriate topics like Edna St. Vincent Millay and nuclear proliferation ASAP.

(Then again, E says she likes Jump In as much as High School Musical because she likes to jump rope, so maybe I'm all wrong.)

Friday Night Movie

After all that build-up, now I suppose I must comment upon the premiere of the all-new Disney movie Jump In.

E liked it but wished it went on to show states and then nationals and then worlds.

M liked it and she said something else but I forget what it was.

I was somewhat boggled, as usual, but my reactions, I do believe, fell into the following categories.

1. Athleticism. Double-dutch is super-cool.

2. Race. I was pretty impressed that Disney made a movie with token white people. Seriously, it was just like liberal movies starring white people that have token black people. The hero, the heroine, their friends, their families, the bad guy, the teacher, the wise old guy at the boxing gym, and a ton of background folk: all black. Half the nemesis jump rope team, the girl boxer, the little sister's two friends, and a few more background folk: white. And the crowd of little kids in the next-to-last scene? All black except for one token white. Very cool.

3. Consummation. None (this is DISNEY, people: I'm talking about the kiss). It was clear that the heroine and the hero had a thing for each other, and it was even made explicit at the end that they were a couple, but there was no romantic drama, no clinch, no kissing. I thought that was pretty cool too (in High School Musical, the romance of the hero and heroine is central to the plot).

4. Narrative. Hmm, I don't exactly mean narrative, but I'm not sure of the term for what I mean; what I'm talking about is the way the story unfolds. In a word: didactically. Only I think I might need another word or two: leading, obvious, condescending to any viewer with a modicum of intelligence, let alone readerly (viewerly) capability. There was a lame voiceover that told you everything. To give just one example, and this happens constantly: about ten minutes into it, the voiceover tells you that the bad guy has a hard life. I mean, of course the bad guy has a hard life and eventually becomes good: this is Disney television--we're not talking Cruella De Ville. But given that we know it's going to happen, couldn't they let us figure it out for ourselves? And the soundtrack? Oh my god, could it have been any less subtle? There is absolutely zero room for inference: it's all just laid out in front of you. How are our children going to learn to interpret?

Other than that, basically we're talking High School Musical with boxing instead of basketball and jump rope instead of theater, even down to the boy (basketball player/boxer) who wants to (be in the play/do double dutch) with the girl being coached by his dad who is highly invested in his hereditary masculinity, but eventually sees his son perform and comes around. There's no singing and dancing in this one, though there is the annoying soundtrack and the awesome jump-roping, and there is the cool addition of the white girl boxer who tells the hero to do what he wants to do and not worry about what other people think (I know, cliche, but she's a girl boxer!), and there's a lot less homosexual agenda, in fact, this one goes for homosexual panic (when the bad guy's best friend puts his arm around him and the bad guy flinches) (though now that I think about it, he's still the bad guy then, so maybe the aim is to critique homosexual panic, but, you know, it's all still homosexual panic, even though it is obviously meant to be Bad when he uses pink as part of mocking the hero for jump roping).

Oh and--M's favorite point--Corbin Bleu has great hair.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Condi and Chuck

There is a frightening AP photo of Condoleeza Rice on the cover of today's paper. She's standing with Robert Gates and General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Her arms are folded, her head is slightly tipped down, her mouth is utterly expresionless, and she's staring intently at someone in front of her to her right, presumably a reporter asking a question. But that doesn't begin to describe how scary she looks. I said to S that she looked like the devil's spawn and sparks were going to start shooting out of her eyesockets any minute. S said that she looked like an android and she was about to peel off her face and reveal the hard steel beneath.

What's really scary, of course, is not Rice's face, but the idea of sending more soldiers to Iraq (surge? a surge is a sudden momentary burst of energy that burns out your computer, or a high tide that goes back down; this is not a surge, this is an increase), or refusing to "rule out military actions in Iran" (I'm quoting the article beneath the picture). But somehow Rice's face seems relevant, to me, given my interest in why people do the things they do, because I just can't fathom how Bush and his people could possibly still believe that they are on the right track. Which makes me fantasize explanations like demonic possession or robotic determination.

Meanwhile, my hero of the day is Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel (props also to Gordon Smith and all the other Republicans who are questioning this madness). I don't know any of his other policies, and at this point I'm not really interested, but he is doing a great job of standing up and speaking out. Time for some more Democrats to join him.

Disney Is My Life

Because of all the sickness (we--E and I--were sick last week and the week before), there was much lying in bed which entailed much television which around here means much Disney. And I barely hesitate to sound like a shill for Disney, because Disney has so perfected the art of shilling for itself.

As far as I can tell, and I may not be able to tell very well, because much of the time I was in, at best, a semi-stupor, Disney does not really have ads for products. Rather, Disney has endless ads for Disney. And, at the moment, the vast majority of those ads are promotion for tonight's premiere of Jump In, which is clearly being set up as the next High School Musical*, even to the point of starring High School Musical co-star Corbin Bleu, whom M describes as "the guy with the name like the cooking school." Except this one is about jump rope, not musicals. And, you know what? The promotion is working. We are so staying home tonight and watching that movie.

The other thing I've become something of a semi-expert on is Zack and Cody. M and E often watch The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and laugh uproariously. In this, I believe, they are similar to vast hordes of American children. But you know what? Zack and Cody are pretty funny. They are twins who live with their single mom in a hotel. And they've got a kind of Oscar and Felix thing going. And of course, being kids, and twins, and living in a hotel, and on TV, they get into lots of trouble. Plus Zack, or maybe it's Cody, whichever one is the Felix equivalent, has kind of a gay thing going on (yes, I said this about High School Musical too, and I am quite convinced that Disney is under the thumb of the homosexuals who are taking over this country, and more power to them). Then there are these two girls: London and Maddie (who is in High School Musical--the whole Disney thing is totally crossmarketing incestuous, and let's not even talk about That's So Suite Life of Hannah Montana, which is not a joke). I just do not get them at all. London is rich and appears to live at the hotel, and Maddie is poor and appears to work at the hotel, but they appear to have no parents and M and E have never adequately explained their provenance to me, but they are still funny.

And thus I prove, once again, my complete dearth of indie cred, and my subservience to the middlebrow starmaking machine of American popular culture.

*It is very funny to read that old post and see that E was uninterested in High School Musical, because she subsequently spent several months completely obsessed with it, knows it pretty much by heart, and can often be found singing the songs while drawing or playing.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beckham in L.A.

I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea of Beckham playing soccer in America. Honestly, it just seems kind of pathetic.

Then and Now

I'm reading an absolutely fabulous book: Kathryn Hughes's biography of Mrs. Beeton, who is basically the British Betty Crocker, except that she was originally a real person. This paragraph is talking about the 1840s, but in its description of dramatic change, both in the availability of news and in the predominance of new media, both in content and in form, seems strikingly similar to today, suggesting, perhaps, that we are not quite as new as we think we are, at least structurally. (Just substitute "blogs" for "printed news" at the end of the first sentence, and you'll get what I mean.)

More specifically, these young men had seen at first hand just how the social and political changes of the last few years had been lobbied, debated, modified, and publicized through the burgeoning culture of printed news. Greenwood paying to read a paper every morning from nine to ten, or Sam popping into the Dolphin for the latest edition of the Morning Advertiser were part of a new generation of people who expected to get their information quickly and accurately, rather than picking up third-hand gossip days later around the village pump. On top of this, these young men had seen their changing world refracted in the bold new fiction that was pouring off the presses. Mary Barton, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre all burst upon the world during the hectic decade that coincided with their apprenticeships. Nor was it just the content of these books--rough, even raw--that was new. The way they were produced, in cheap cardboard formats, sometimes serialized in magazines, or available in multiple volumes from Mr. Mudie's lending library in New Oxford Street or Mr. Smith's railway stands, announced a revolution in reading habits. No wonder that, years later, when writing to his elder son at prep school, a boy who had never known what it was not to have any text he wanted immediately to hand, Sam counselled sadly, "you do not read books enough."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bathroom Porn

No, not that; this.

We currently live with one small bathroom, perhaps 6 x 7 feet, with pinkish-beige tile, tub, and toilet, though we replaced the pink marble monstrosity of a vanity with the cheapest of white wood from Home Depot.

My friend just bought a McMansion where the guest bathroom, one of four, is as big as my kids' room (the room they share), and I can't even begin to quantify the master bath. M covets the jacuzzis.

In No-Longer-Red State Capital City Suburb, we remodeled our tiny upstairs bathroom into a slightly larger bathroom with fabulous tile and a long marble counter with a sink in the middle. We also had a half-bath downstairs with paisley wallpaper and white wood wainscoting. We left that one intact, aside from hanging an ornate gold-framed mirror which seemed appropriate and is the only antique we own (hmm, wonder where that is...presumably with all our other still-unpacked household goods, somewhere in the attic).

We could use a little more bathroom, I think, but, truly, we hardly suffer. And we're not ones to spend a lot of time in the bathroom, though who is?


I haven't had a winter coat in years. I have a parka, green and cozy, and I have a leather jacket, brown and worn-in, really, I must say, the perfect leather jacket, and I got it in Italy, which cements its perfection, both in theory and in practice, but a leather jacket only gets you so far in winter (not this winter, which will be an issue later in this post, but generically speaking).

In high school I was a thrifty kind of girl (not penurious, but shopping-wise--much of my wardrobe came from thrift stores and Dollar-a-Pound, and I better get out of this parenthesis now, because, well, Dollar-a-Pound leads me back to my main point). It was the late 70s and early 80s, and we were--hmm, Lucy, what were we? Kind of hippies--in our senior class picture, Lucy is wearing Laura Ashley, I do believe, though she will probably disavow this claim, and I am wearing Indian print, and there were lots of Frye boots and vintage dresses, though back then vintage meant 40s and 50s, and I was shocked in London, early this century, to discover that vintage now meant 80s, which is when we started wearing vintage, but I am evading my point. My point is coats. And back then we wore old men's overcoats, loose and buttonless, generally with the sleeves rolled up. I believe mine was brown, and I'm sure it came from Dollar-a-Pound. I suppose, come to think of it, that now we would be called boho (though not C, who definitely leaned punk), but that term didn't exist back then, in the dark ages, when vintage meant the 40s and 50s.

Fast-forward to post-college (I think there were a few of the dilapidated overcoats during college, but maybe it was the same one: memory fails me). Post-college, I am a working young woman, though my job is appropriately boho-hippie. I am home for vacation, it must have been Christmastime, as coats were involved. My dad had had enough. He told me that if I would get rid of the coat, he would take me to Bloomingdales and buy me a new coat. I accepted his offer. And I bought a new coat that was as close to the old overcoats as possible, except new. It was gray, a kind of houndstooth tweedy sort of gray, and loose, almost over-sized, and quite comfortable and warm, and I was happy and my dad was happy. This was 1987. And that's the last coat I owned.

I wore it for years. I moved to California and didn't wear it so much. I moved to No-Longer-Red State and wore it a bit, but by then I was a bit more fashion forward, and it was a bit dilapidated (the lining was positively tattered), and when it was cold I just wore my parka, and the coat hung, unloved, in my closet, and eventually I knew that I would never again wear an oversized, shapeless, tweedy gray overcoat with a tattered lining, and I sent it off to Goodwill.

But buying a new coat was somehow beyond me. Classic and boring? Trendy and short-lived? Long? Short? Loose? Tight? What if I gained weight? What if I lost weight? Every year or so, I ventured into the coat department of some department store, but there were so many coats. How could one ever choose? I would slink away, hunched into my parka.

I told S that I wanted to be surprised for Hanukkah (yes, this is a plot twist, but I'm sure you can connect the dots). He told me that I was going to be very surprised. Honestly, I couldn't imagine what he could get me that would surprise me. I decided he was going to take me away for the weekend. On the first night of Hanukkah, he came home late and I was grumpy and he gave me earrings, which, I have to say, did not surprise me at all, as I'd noticed that he'd written a check to G, my jeweler friend extraordinaire who supplies much of my jewelry these days, and they were nice earrings and I liked them, but, I have to admit, I was rude enough to ask if this was the present that was supposed to surprise me, and, luckily, he answered no.

A few nights later, he was finally home for Hanukkah, and I guessed I was going to get my present, and I still had no idea. When he brought down a large soft present, I still had no idea. It wasn't till I opened it and saw the dark wool that I guessed. And then (really, I'm not a very nice person), I panicked. He bought me a coat?? What if I didn't like it? And then I saw that it was a size 6, and I knew it wouldn't fit, and this just seemed like it was heading for one of those mismatch-of-expectations-and-results, feelings-hurting disasters. I tried it on with deep trepidation, as the girls yelped about me in glee and S smiled sweetly from across the room.

Readers, I loved it. It's a long black coat, beautifully fitted, buttoned up to the neck, with a big geometric collar, deep pockets, and a slit up the back. It's cashmere and wool, soft as can be and warm. It fits perfectly. It makes me feel hip and happening. It's one of the best presents I've ever gotten. And yesterday, finally, I got to wear it!

OK, I've worn it twice before, on a barely cold enough evening and afternoon, but yesterday I wore it to work! Which is what I needed: a nice coat to wear to work! And I felt oh so hip, happening, and warm! So bring on the winter already!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Bit More NY Times

Here you have it: we pessimists are doomed (funny that this article doesn't reference Sunday's). [Edited to add: But wait! I'm over-educated! I will live!]

But really what I'm here to talk about is Lisa Belkin's nanny article, about which I was quite determined to say nothing, but C said--and I quote--she was counting on me to comment, so I feel I must oblige. If you didn't read it, and I'm not sure it's worth reading, the circumstances are thus: Lisa Belkin had a nanny with some red flags; she finally got rid of the nanny after a weird incident; several years later the nanny, now a nurse, was charged with assaulting patients in an Irish nursing home; Belkin went to the trial where the nanny-nurse was found guilty. In the article, Belkin tells the story and describes her feelings, lots of feelings.

Basically I think this is just more narcissistic upper-middle-class liberal white woman nanny guilt, expiated in the pages of the NY Times Magazine. Even though Belkin calls attention to the problematic nature of the mother's desire for the nanny, she still enacts it, and, worse, in my opinion, she turns Noreen's fairly tragic story into a story about herself: how she misjudged Noreen, how Noreen betrayed her, how she angsted about her relationship with the victims' families, how she tried to help Noreen by writing a letter to the judge explaining that Noreen had big problems and needed help not punishment (and then, surprise, Noreen's lawyer refused to use the letter). There's also something...I'm having a hard time finding the word here...tacky? despicable? queasy-making? about the way she reveals Noreen and all her secrets in print (Econo-Girl makes a good point about the nature of trust). In short: standard-issue NY Times nanny-employer (can I saw employatrix?) bullshit.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Sunday Times

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
I had no idea, until I read her obituary, and then this memorial op-ed, that Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's repudiation of feminism occurred in parallel with and was intimately related to her conversion to Catholicism. Makes sense.

No, I haven't read the book (it doesn't even come out till tomorrow, I think), and I don't intend to (I have no objection to it, I'm just kind of bored with the whole genre [the genre being 1) parenting, and 2) parenting by the oh-so-cool]). But I found Elissa Schappell's review annoying. I'm not always so good with subtlety and snark (which do not always come together, though here I think they do). So maybe Schappell's point is totally obvious to everyone else. But for me, the insinuating mockery was just grating, not illuminating, and I like my book reviews--and my books--illuminating.

Happiness 101
I have realized, in recent years, just how negative and pessimistic I truly am (cue laugh track for those to whom it's been perfectly obvious forever). This realization results, first, from living with my genuinely optimistic and positive children, especially E who wakes up happy and has an incredible gift for filling every cup, and, second, from working with my current boss who is a snarky, cynical, complaining...optimist. Actually, C and I work very well together, and this, I think, is because she is what we have termed an optimistic realist, while I am a pessimistic pragmatist, and thus we both try really hard to create change and good stuff.

What does pessimistic pragmatist mean? It means that although I never think anything will work--nobody will come to the party, the program will be a failure, I will never get another job, nobody will want to read my blog, the war will never end--I go ahead and do it anyway, because if you don't take action, then the only option is despair, and that's no way to live (and I should know, as I spend a fair amount of time living there anyway).

Given my congenital negativity (which is not to say that I'm never happy, for I often am, but it always surprises and amazes me), I find the positive psychology movement disturbing. Via research that, like much social science, seems highly questionable (the nuns who smiled biggest in their intake photos lived longest and thus happy people live longer? maybe they were smiling so big because they were trying to hide their anxiety, or because they wanted to look good for the camera [OK, I just checked the article, and I made up that nun thing--I conflated the nuns who wrote positive essays and lived the longest, with the alumnae who had the biggest smiles in their yearbook photos and the happiest marriages, but wouldn't it be great if the nuns with the biggest smiles lived the longest? and don't you think the happily-married smilers might just be the best fakers?]), at any rate, research aside, where I know I shouldn't put it, but go read the article and tell me with a straight face that some of that stuff isn't bogus, the basic point is that if you are a positive and optimistic person, your life is better and you live longer.

Which on the one hand seems self-evident (social science research self-evident???), but on the other hand leaves people like me even more pessimistic than we already are. You're telling me that not only do I have to live like this, which is just the way I am, but I'm not going to get to live as long, even like this?

I would give anything to be an optimistic, positive person. I know such people, and I stand in awe and admiration of them (and of those I don't know). But I already do most of the stuff in this positive psychology regime--accentuating the positive, helping others, yoga, mindfulness--because they are things it is obviously good to do. And I am still me, albeit probably a better-off me than if I didn't. So maybe they're right: maybe I am already a practitioner of positive psychology, and if I wasn't I would be drowning in the sea of despair. Hmm, is this a case where in the writing I convince myself of the opposite of that which I set out to write about? I don't think so, because the fact is: I'm still a pessimist, albeit a highly functioning pessimist, and it thus seems clear that, if these people are right, I'm going to die young, and that just makes me feel worse about everything.

And one more thing: teaching literature via positive psychology, that is, using positive outcomes in literature as lessons in how to live, and considering what positive attributes might have prevented negative outcomes (if Romeo and Juliet had better problem-solving skills they would have lived??) (I made that one up too), is totally bogus (but that's what a $2.8 million Department of Education grant is being used for).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Little Light Knitting

Or should that be A Little Night Knitting? (Not quite sure why, but somehow that needed to be said.)

I am finally catching up with the rest of the knitosphere and assaying Clapotis (for evidence of the internet knitter Clapotis obsession, and my belatedness, see here, here, and my favorite here).

As of this evening, post M's homework, I am entering my second round of straight rows, which means I have completed 12 rounds of increase and dropped once, and of all my readers (whatever readers there may still be out there), I'm guessing only Libby has a clue as to what I'm talking about.

Let me just say, however, and I think you only need to be able to read to appreciate my pain, that I started the Clapotis eight times. Yes: 8. That was after going to three knitting stores before I found yarn of the proper weight and variegation. While several of the re-starts took place after just a few rows, because conceptualizing the thing was well-nigh impossible until I'd done it many times, I started over once after four inches, which was profoundly demoralizing. Even now I have traumatic moments of miscounted stitches, though I have reached the point where I can recover from just about anything, though I still don't believe that mine is going to look anything like the beauties in the pictures. If I ever finish it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Friday Night Movies

E: Samantha: An American Girl Holiday. Yes, we've already seen it. Yes, she knows it so well she can close her eyes before the scary parts even start, and she makes us watch the last scene, her favorite, when it's time for bed, even though we're only halfway through. But it takes on new import at this, her first viewing with her very own Samantha by her side, courtesy of last month's birthday and her adoring Grammy.

M: Life-Size. Disaster. When Lindsay Lohan (old school Disney Lindsay Lohan) stole the book of spells to try and bring her mother back from the dead, we were out of there. We'd lasted maybe six minutes.

Me: The 40 Year Old Virgin (I hate to be a pedant, but shouldn't that be The 40-Year-Old Virgin?). I'm going out on a limb here. I was kind of dreading this movie. In fact, I've rented it at least twice already and not watched it. Because it's one of those movies that everyone loves and thinks is hilarious. And I have a tendency to dislike those movies, though I did like that movie about the joke, even though I didn't so much like Sarah Silverman. And, you know, I liked this one. And I thought it was funny. I definitely would have thought it was funnier if I'd been in a movie theater full of people, rather than alone in front of my TV, but I laughed out loud, and the "You know how I know your gay?" schtick was hilarious. But mainly (limb, here I come, or maybe not, maybe this is totally obvious), I thought this movie was totally sweet. And of course I love Catherine Keener. And the Hair medley at the end? Up there in the pantheon of best things ever. So put me down as a believer.

On Crime

I'm a hard-core liberal on crime, as on most things. I firmly believe that if we abolished poverty, abuse, and neglect (and abolishing the first would go a long way toward eliminating the rest), crime rates would plummet. Sure there would still be psychopaths--and I do believe there are psychopaths--and crimes of passion and stupid shit, but kids wouldn't go around shooting each other, and drug addicts wouldn't break into houses, and, well, a lot of bad stuff would not happen.

And yet, even though I so firmly believe this (and it's not just belief; there's proof), and even though I know the answer to my question, sometimes I just want to scream WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?! You people being not any particular group, but the specific individuals who perpetrate unspeakable acts of violence. Like this one. And like the idiot girls who threatened to kill one of S's cooks, an eighteen-year-old girl who lives on one of the worst streets in East Coast Big City, and has two brothers in jail, and has managed to finish high school and get herself a full-time job in which she excels, yet needs to face this stupid jealousy and rage, which might once have netted her a nasty note, or maybe even a catfight at a party, but now had the police coming to the restaurant and everyone on guard, because kids are killing kids all over East Coast Big City, and it is just so sad. And so wrong.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Global Warming, Much?

Magnolia tree budding on Main Street. Of course everyone is telling the same story. Except Sandra.

(My insane children? Played outside this afternoon in shorts and t-shirts, then sprayed each other with the hose before they came in--for warm footbaths and sweatshirts.)

I Am the Zeitgeist

With the rest of America, I went online in 1994, got a cellphone in 2000, and started a blog in 2004. Most recently, once again proving my utter average Americanness (or perhaps, in this case, my utter average American momness), I started texting in 2006. In other words, I'm a tipping point kind of gal. And let me tell you: I am loving it.

I'm not simply a lemming: I tried IMing (ooh, I should put the rest of this in rhyme, except I'm not going to). I don't get IM at all. I can have a conversation almost as fast in email, and I do quite often, especially late at night, but in email I have room to see what I'm writing, and I don't have to hover at my computer waiting for the person to answer, or anxiously type away, knowing they are hovering at their computer, waiting for me to answer. In other words, IM, the few times I did it, in no way enhanced my life.

But texting? Oh yeah, baby. I received my first text at a baseball game. It said, simply but powerfully, "You suck." And I laughed, because I knew P had called me at home, S had told her where I was, and she was wicked jealous. So all summer, whenever one of us was at a game, where it is just too loud to hear someone on a cellphone, we'd send "Wish you were here" and "You suck" texts, along with updates on the score, of course.

I've texted little enough to date, that I could probably go on with explanations of all the different kinds of texts I've sent, but I won't because, you know, it would be totally boring. However, I do have to say that my absolute favorite thing about texting is that I can now reach S all evening. S works four or five nights a week, and when he is on the line (i.e. while you are out eating dinner at a restaurant, which also happens to overlap with such home front events as dinner, homework, and bedtime), I can't reach him.

I mean, if someone died or the Red Sox won the World Series, I could call him, but I am a good chef's wife and I know not to call him during service, unless someone dies or the Red Sox win the World Series. But now I can reach him when he is on the line! Some texts I have sent: "Kids are horrible. Shoot me now." "We need milk." "Your brother is coming in for dinner." Stupid, I know. Not even necessary. But when you're home alone with your kids most nights of the week and you can't even talk to your husband, it's kind of nice to be able to text.

My Little Future Little Old Lady

E: These shoes with velcro would be much easier.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Postmodern Dreaming

I was sick for the last two days, and Tuesday night, after lying in a daze on the bed for most of the afternoon and evening with equally sick E, I slept for almost 12 hours, not quite straight, as I woke up and looked at the clock occasionally, but, still, as close as I ever get. Then last night, I got into bed at 9:30, read till 10:30, lay awake till S came to bed at 11:30, woke up at 4 and could not get back to sleep. At some point in my awakeness, E came into our bed. Then I left and went to her bed. Then she came back to her bed in tears, having awakened in our bed and been unable to find me. She was awake for a bit, and then I was awake some more, thinking and worrying, and a bit annoyed because now that she was back in her bed with me, and clearly perturbed, I could not give up bed altogether and go to the living room and read (perhaps, I thought, there had just been too much bed in the last 48 hours, even though I clearly needed to sleep).

The last time I remember checking the clock, it was some time after 6, and then I woke up and got up and went into the living room and discovered that our house had been robbed. Actually, first I went into the bathroom and saw that the wall had crumbled. Then I went into the living room, where the disarray suggested burglary and the absence of television and stereo from the living room confirmed it. My laptop was gone too, though my cellphone and wallet were still in my orange bag which was sitting right on my desk chair where I usually leave it. I woke S up and he was as shocked and confused as I was. He went down to check the door, which we leave unlocked all day but usually lock at night, and neither of us could be sure whether we had locked it the night before. He said from now on we need to lock it. I realized we should be calling the police, but the whole thing suddenly seemed a little dubious, so I asked S if I was dreaming, and he said no, and I went to call the police.

Then I woke myself up, because of course I was dreaming. Our TV and stereo aren't even in the living room to begin with. And we don't live in a loft. And our bathroom has tile on the wall, so the plaster and lath couldn't crumble away.