Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Justine Kurland

I am loving these photos. Naked women in the woods resonate for me, as do large-format American landscapes. I love Bierstadt too. And Sally Mann, despite myself. And Mary Ellen Mark, though now the connection--to Mann--is generational, not imagistic.

Yes, I'm reading the Sunday NY Times, a little late, as usual.

But aren't you glad I managed to write this post without a single parenthesis? Let me tell you, it was a challenge.

My Little Younger Sister of a Pre-Teen

M: Did I tell you about [boy in her class]'s buzz cut?!

E: If you stop talking about boys for a month, I'll be happy, but if you don't stop talking for a month, I'll make you get a buzz cut.

Victoria Beckham Is an Insect From Another Planet

Check out that picture on the right. I tell you, Molly really has made Popsugar viable again, and I'm all over her obsession with Posh and Becks.

And, speaking of Posh, I wonder what on earth she and Katie Holmes-Cruise talk about (I know, I know: famous husbands, celebrity kids, Barneys, Armani...the usual mom talk).

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

If Really You Are a Great Parent, But Sometimes, Just Occasionally, Not Very Often, You Get the Teensiest Bit Tired of Reading Yet Another Book Aloud

You will love this site. We love it: you should have seen S and E mesmerized by When Pigasso Met Mootisse.

(And if you have a glimmer of angst, personal or societal, over the image of a child sitting glued to the computer screen while a movie star reads her a story, get over it. Let's face it, either you read to your kids all the time, in which case the occasional book read on the computer by a movie star will be a nice change of pace, or you never read to your kids [not that that describes anyone who would read this blog], in which case at least they will get read to by a movie star on the computer. I just don't think there's a category of people who will say "Great! Movie stars on the computer reading books! Finally I can stop reading books to my kids!").

The Beginnings of Posts I Decided Not to Write

On the Question of Whether the Capacity to Clean Is Innate

Obviously the answer is no. If I were Ma, and M and E were Mary and Laura, I would have them well-trained in cleaning, regardless of their instincts. But I am not Ma, and I am of the progressive (read lame) tribe of parents that lets their children do largely what they please, and then gets angry at them for not doing what we want.

Sometimes I Just Hit the Wall

Last week I had coffee with a new acquaintance. When she discovered that my husband is a chef, she said what people always say: "That must be great!" With my usual smile, I proffered my usual reply: "The great parts are really great, but the bad parts are really bad." (The other thing people always say is "Wow, you must eat really well," to which I always reply, "When he's home, but he's never home.")

Last week was February vacation. S was home Tuesday and Wednesday, the first time he's had two days off in a row this year (more specifically, the first time since Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). But on Friday, he left the house at 9:30 in the morning and got home at 12:30--in the morning. Saturday he left around 10 and got home around 11. Sunday he left at 10 and got home just before midnight. Did I mention that it was February vacation?

Monday, February 26, 2007

I Told You He'd Show

Manny in Florida. [link from a famous philosopher]

A Few Oscar Notes

Enough already with the beige/blush/gray/silver/white column dress.

Ellen makes me laugh. (When she said "Without Blacks, Jews, and gays, we wouldn't have movies," M asked "Who's Jewish?")

What on earth is Apocalypto?

Interpretive dance? By PILOBOLUS??

And the montages? Why??

I liked her OK in the 80s, but I am so over Melissa Etheridge.

Come on, Al, run already! Save us from this madness! (But maybe lose a little weight and cut back on the make-up?)

Do you think Gwyneth and Nicole planned it that way, or are their stylists totally getting chewed out in the morning?

I wouldn't mind Sherry Lansing's career. Or her dress. Though not her voice.

The one person I know who was up for an Oscar lost.

Does Clint Eastwood really speak Italian?

What's up with the weird J.C. Penney ads?

Helen Mirren rocks the world: expected, but gratifying, and man is she hot. And gracious. (And M likes her because she doesn't try to make herself look 20 years younger.)

Nice speech, Forest.

Why is Jack Nicholson bald? (And M, who woke up and saw the end as well as the beginning, wants to know why Jack Black is short.)

Why do I watch this thing anyway? And am I doing my children a terrible disservice by training them to watch it with me?

Movies to see: Dreamgirls, The Departed, Half Nelson, Pan's Labyrinth. I think I'll skip Apocalypto.

Edited to add: You know, that was totally boring, and this morning I am still grumpy at having lost an entire evening of my life to it, and, yes, I know it's my own damn fault.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sorority Scandal

I'm not much for sororities, but I happen to know a bunch of Delta Zetas (including one of M's favorite babysitters ever) and they are the smartest, most feminist women who've ever overturned my sorority stereotypes. But clearly the Delta Zeta national officers don't appreciate what they've got going for them, and would rather play into those stereotypes. Ugh.

M Gets a Life, E Is Sad

M is four years, seven months, and three days older than E. We didn't plan it that way, but it's worked out well. When E was born, M was old enough to have a life of her own and appreciate a baby sister of her own. There was a reasonable amount of covert sibling torture, but significantly less than I've seen between kids who are closer in age. Mainly there was lots of playing with the baby and ignoring the baby, who of course didn't care if she was ignored, given that she was a baby.

As E became human, they played together all the time. It helped that in No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb, M's best friend was an only child who was very tolerant of E, indeed, considered her an adjunct younger sister. Also, for the last two years we lived there, when M was 7 and 8 and E was 3 and 4, S and E, who were 5/6 and 8/9 respectively, lived two houses down, and the four girls were inseparable, playing together most afternoons and all weekend, in various arrangements of two and four (and occasionally three, when there was a fight, which was usually between M and their E).

Since we moved, though, and especially this year, M has been leaving E behind. They can still play together very happily, but E now has a mind of her own, which leads to much conflict over "the game," and while M still loves to play, she gets bored long before E does. In addition, M's social life is ramping up considerably. She has just become serious about her email and she and her gang of friends (there are about eight of them, give or take the day's conflicts, which are actually remarkably minimal) email every day, making plans for sleepovers, sledding and the like (never one to be left behind, E has also become serious about her email, but her correspondence is limited to grandparents and her cousin--Aunt M, let me know if you want her email address!!). Then there are the slumber parties, the dashing up to me after school and asking if she can go to X's house, the invitations for expeditions with friends and their families. Which is all very well and good and age-appropriate.

But poor E is not so happy. She misses M. She wants M to play with her. She gets lots of Mama time, which is all very well and good, but, let's face it, I don't play so much, and consolation prizes are never as good as the real thing. She has started having sleepovers with her best friend, and I occasionally manage a playdate, usually at the behest of a more organized mother (I think she's had two in the last month), but the bottom line is: she's six, not ten; her best friend lives twenty minutes away, not across the street; she has lots of friends in her new school, but none that she or I have clicked with to the point that making an effort is effortless. In other words, she's the tag-along second child with the neglected social life.

I'm not worried. E will find her friends, and eventually she'll get older and dash off to her friends' houses after school. But I think it's going to be a lot harder to be the big kid younger sister of an early adolescent, than it was to be the little kid younger sister of a big kid.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Five for Five: Notes on a Scandal

This afternoon the big one took care of the little one, the medium ones took care of each other, and Lucy and I saw Notes on a Scandal, which means, for those of you who haven't been keeping score at home, that I have now seen all the Best Actress nominees. And, along with everyone else, I still think Helen Mirren has it in the bag.

But Judi Dench is awesome, as is Cate Blanchett, who is fully deserving of Best Supporting Actress, even though I don't know who the other nominees are (all I know is the Little Miss Sunshine girl, and Cate Blanchett has it all over her). I also see that the movie is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, which it fully deserves as well, and Best Original Score, but more about that later.

Seriously, though, of the THREE MOVIES I SAW IN THE THEATER THIS WEEK (can you even believe it?!), Notes on a Scandal was hands-down the best. Interestingly enough, it has some of the same issues as Little Children: origins in a book I've read (albeit a much better book), a powerful voiceover, and infidelity (not to mention pedophilia, though very differently).

But it all worked for me this time. I didn't think for a moment about the inadequacy of film adaptation, or the fact that I knew what was going to happen, because the movie itself was totally gripping. The voiceover is an integral part of the film: it is Barbara's voice in her diary, revealing her delusions, not an omniscient force telling us what we should know. And the motivation for infidelity is ambiguous and complex, not predictable.

Indeed, compared with Little Children, Notes on a Scandal is an excellent brief for British vs. American cultural preoccupations. In America we have glossy suburbs, glossy compulsive moms, and glossy cinematography. In Britain we have class difference, urban grit, and the lunatic loneliness of the repressed lesbian schoolteacher (did you say Miss Jean Brodie gone mad?).

The only thing I didn't like about the movie was the music which, Philip Glass and all, and probably very good and all, felt intrusive (though Lucy didn't even notice it, so maybe it was just me). And the last thing I loved was Cate Blanchett's clothes, for which I would happily swap my wardrobe, though I would have no hope of looking as fabulous as she does, given that she is tall and slim, and I am not.

Edited to add: The reviews on this one are good: Ty Burr and I are one, once again, and David Denby is right on the mark, though Manohla Dargis seems to be protesting too much, I'm not sure about what.

Joyce Hatto

I know nothing about classical music and even less about music technology, but I am fascinated by the story of the plagiarizing pianist.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Rebecca Traister Nails It Again

This is kind of what I've been thinking about Britney all week, only she says it so much better (and yes, yes, yes on Little Dorrit and Luke and Laura).

The Game

I don't understand why my children spend as much time negotiating the game as actually playing it, but I have come to accept that the negotiation is part of the pleasure of the game. These days, however, part of the negotiation is over who gets to be better ("I'm better at gymnastics, but you're the better dancer." "No, I want to be the better dancer."), and this I simply cannot stand.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Coolest Lunchbox Ever

M lost her lunchbox. A lot of time has been spent searching for a cool new lunch box. She wants metal. Unfortunately, this one is too small. This one is the coolest ever, but, alas, inappropriate for fifth grade in public school (would it be appropriate for fifth grade at private school? I doubt it). We'll probably go with this one, which is pretty darn hip, even if it's not the coolest ever.

Notes on Current Events Including, But Not Limited To, Baseball, Best Actresses, and Boots

I'm not one for fetishizing dead bodies, especially when the body in question figures as a metonym for the money (see: James Brown). But I do think that Anna Nicole should be buried in the Bahamas, because one thing that seems true about her is that she loved her son, and I'm sure that he loved her, so it seems only right that she be buried next to somebody who actually loved her. Although I thus agree with Howard K. Stern's position on the matter, I hold to my formerly-expressed opinion that he is scum. In fact, I'd amend that to total scum (see TMZ for details).

I'm against the war, but I'm even more against the contemporary American way of waging war, which involves elites arguing and poor people fighting. So I say kudos to Prince Harry for going to Iraq.

This morning I was thinking that I am not in love with this Red Sox team like I was with last year's. But that, of course, will change, because the nature of being a Red Sox fan is that you can't help falling in love. And you know, Kevin Youkilis hasn't crossed my mind all winter, but just the thought of him makes me happy. David Ortiz reporting to camp? Great day. Nevertheless, I am happy to go on record saying that if we'd paid Johnny Damon 50 million last year, we would not need to pay J.D. Drew 70 million this year. That's all I'm saying.

Did I ever say anything nice about Dan Shaughnessy? Why, yes I did. Well, I take it back. The boys are right.

Just chill: Manny will show, and he'll hit, and he'll catch, and that's all that matters.

S was home last night! We got a sitter! We went to see Notes on a Scandal! Except the projector was broken in that theater, so we saw Volver instead. Which means I'm still up to four on Best Actress nominees. Liked the movie, didn't love it, am really wanting to LOVE a movie, but it hasn't happened in a while. Penelope Cruz, like Kate Winslet, was great, but no Helen Mirren. Nevertheless, she certainly wins Most Beautiful Actress.

Finally, my great achievement of yesterday, besides another Best Actress and coaching my friend on her contract negotiations, was boots. OK, so they are my fifth pair of black boots, but unlike the battered granny boots, the flat ankle boots, the stiletto calf-high boots, and the suede knee-highs, these are slightly-higher-than-calf-yet-lower-than knee! Pointy-toed! Goretex! Waterproof! On sale for half price! Boots. In my boots and my coat, I am just the most put together bad weather professional woman you know.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hair Triumph

This morning I gave E a choice of wearing her hair down, with the front ends pulled back in a barrette (sp?), or in braids. She chose braids.

(I am the unsentimental mother who never grew her daughters' hair because it would be too much of a pain. I love the long locks of other little girls from afar--sort of. I mean, they are often pretty, but either those little girls are much more docile than my children, or those mothers are a lot more patient with combs, brushes, snarls, and screams. But, I am also the empowering mother who lets her daughters do what they want, and E now wants long hair, so long it is, along with snarls and screams. Recently, though, I've instituted braids, which are very cute, and apparently they've taken. Thank goodness.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Little Children

For weeks now, all I've wanted is to see a movie in a movie theater. I'm not quite sure why it hasn't happened. There are tons of movies I want to see, and several of them were playing around the corner. My dad stayed with us for two weeks, which means that theoretically I was free in the evenings. But kids were sick, S was at work, I had work, it was cold, I was tired: somehow my desire was endlessly thwarted, becoming, in the process, as desires do, that much larger, until, truly, all I wanted in the world was to see a movie in a movie theater (world peace would be nice too, but one's vision narrows in the depths of winter).

Last night I finally made it (sorry, Lucy, S got home at the last minute and pushed me out the door). Borat and The Departed are no longer playing around the corner, and I realized that if I could manage to see three movies this week (ha!) I would at least have seen all the Best Actress nominees, so I went to Little Children.

My main reaction at first was that I either need to give up reading, or give up seeing movie adaptations of books I've read (this doesn't bode well for Notes on a Scandal which I am absolutely determined to see by Sunday--don't know if I'll make it to Volver, though). The movie was fine, but knowing exactly what was going to happen made the whole thing a little slow. It's a pretty faithful adaptation, as far as I can recall. The only significant (and unnecessary) addition was the documentary about the kid whose dad died in Iraq; the only significant omission was the paring down of Sarah's back story and her husband's role (though the absence of the back story, at least, may have made Sarah's character not make so much sense, for those who haven't read the book).

Eventually, though, I got into it and, really, I think I liked the movie better than the book (didn't like the book that much, liked the movie a lot more than I thought I would). The book is pretty frothy, but the movie convincingly, if direly, plumbs the dark side of the suburbs, albeit with a conservatively redemptive ending. The acting, from the playground ladies to the child molester, is excellent, and the cinematography appropriately dark and garish (yes, it can be both). The one thing that didn't work, really didn't work, to the point of making the movie significantly less good than it could have been, was the intrusive voiceover. Isn't the point of film to show, rather than tell? Shouldn't the filmmaking be sufficient to reveal how the characters feel and what they think? Isn't that why we go to the movie, instead of reading the novel?

As for the Best Actress issue, Kate Winslet is great. Physically and emotionally, she fully inhabits Sarah, the ill-fitting suburban mom who doesn't like her child and finds herself in the arms of Brad, the Prom King dad. But the part isn't a full-scale unrecognizable transformation, a la The Queen, so I'd still say the conventional wisdom (i.e. Helen Mirren) is right.

(The weirdest thing about watching the movie was that both Sarah and Brad, the Prom King, reminded me acutely of actual people I know--people who don't know each other, and would never have an affair, though the Brad doppelganger may be on his way to an affair with someone else. Even as I watched the characters on the screen, I couldn't stop thinking about the real people.)

Edited to add: The NY Times review is excellently on the mark (not sure whether it's available without Times Select).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tiny Houses and the Challenge of Visibility

The media has once again discovered tiny houses, but what strikes me this time is how so many of these people claim an environmental motivation for their tiny houses--see "ecologically sensitive," "express purposes of conservation," and "no lasting impact on the land"--yet if you look at the slide show, you'll see that the houses are positioned in the landscape so as to visually blight it for anyone outside of the house. "We live in our view rather than look at it," says one couple, but everyone else has to look at them living in it. A paradox that epitomizes the American way of doing good.

(I actually love the idea of tiny houses, but I like them nestled into trees or against a cliff or something--my favorite is the one with the steps down to the water. Then again, I don't like big houses that just stick out of the ground either. Except, of course, The Glass House, but it's surrounded by trees, not invading the prairie--and, of course, it isn't so big).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Every Night Movie

Grease is the word, is the word that you heard
It's got groove it's got meaning
Grease is the time, is the place is the motion
Grease is the way we are feeling

Grease is in heavy rotation over here. I actually tried it on the girls a year or so ago, but M nixed it pretty quickly. Then Other E got her into the soundtrack. Then she went to a slumber party a few weeks ago where they watched it, and she came home hooked. We rented it the other night as a family movie (our membership allows us three movies at a time, which translates into an E movie, an M movie, and either a Mommy movie or a family movie, depending on how into my book I am). Now E is completely enamoured as well. Plus E has a fever (again), which means all screen time rules go out the window, and we watch Grease over and over.

Summer lovin' had me a blast
Summer lovin', happened so fast
I met a girl crazy for me
I met a boy, cute as can be

E made me print out the lyrics for "Summer Nights," and she walks around reading/singing them. She holds auditions and she gets the part of Sandy; then she has rehearsals (M is currently in two plays; E is suggestible). Both girls are amazed that I know every word to every song.

But now there's nowhere to hide, since you pushed my love aside
I'm not in my head, hopelessly devoted to you
Hopelessly devoted to you, hopelessly devoted to you

I'd forgotten that Grease is about sex. But you know, it's kind of like Asterix: it operates on different, and bizarrely appropriate, levels for each of us. E knows that it's about a boy and girl who like each other, but are really different. M gets that Rizzo thinks she's pregnant and is worried. I know what Rizzo means when she tells Danny to go flog his log, and I appreciate the complexities of American sociosexual dynamics at play in Danny's implied pasts with Rizzo and Cha-Cha, not to mention Sandy's costume shift from virginal white to skin-tight black with red stilettos.

Because, really, Grease is the meta-text of (white) American culture. It's all there. James Dean meets American Graffiti meets Welcome Back Kotter meets Happy Days meets Frankie and Annette meets 90210 (or perhaps 90210 is really the meta-text, for surely Kelly and Dylan's summer idyll when Brenda is in France derives directly from Sandy and Danny on the beach in the opening sequence to Grease, except, of course, that Kelly has sex, because it's the 90s, not the 70s riffing on the 50s). But Grease is even more than that: It's "The Gift of the Magi," except things work out, because, after all, we're talking Hollywood American meta-text, not the gloom and doom of the literary past. It's the romance of the automobile. It's Rogers and Hammerstein, with Ado Annie backing up Laurie. It's homosocial bonding. (And I always liked Rizzo best, and, overall, I'd take Kenickie.)

But, finally, Grease is John Travolta, for whom the word I keep coming up with is sinuous. The things that guy did with the length of his body? The dimple in the chin? The brilliant salvageable-sanitized-bad-boy trio of Vinnie Barbarino, Tony Manero, and Danny Zuko? When he and Olivia Newton-John dance through that fun house, two long lines of sinuously twisting black, they're the ones that I want.

Next rental? Saturday Night Fever, for sure. But not with the kids.

I got chills.
They're multiplyin'.
And I'm losin' control.
'Cause the power
you're supplyin',
it's electrifyin'!

You better shape up,
'cause I need a man
and my heart is set on you.
You better shape up;
you better understand
to my heart I must be true.

Nothin' left, nothin' left for me to do.

You're the one that I want.
(you are the one i want), o,o, oo, honey.
The one that I want.
(you are the one i want want), o,o,oo, honey.
The one that I want
(you are the one i want want), o,o, ooooo
The one I need.
Oh, yes indeed.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I've been mulling over New York Magazine's piece on the perils of praise all week. If you don't feel like reading it, it can be boiled down into two points:

1) Don't praise kids for who they are; praise them for what they do. As far as I can tell, this is standard teacher/parent advice. Don't say "that's a beautiful picture"; say "I like the way you used lots of colors in your picture"; or, even better, "tell me about your picture."

2) Research shows that kids who are praised for working hard, or who are given the impression that working hard is the reason for their achievement, do better than kids who are praised for being smart, or given the impression that they achieve because they are smart. In other words, the whole self-esteem movement may very well be bunk. Indeed, it may set kids up to fail, because, if they believe their achievement rests on their intelligence, then failing to achieve signals lack of intelligence, and this knowledge (presumably latent) makes them scared to try and fail.

I have to say this resonates for me. I am always worried about not being smart enough, and I definitely fall into the category of people who don't try as hard as they can for fear that their best effort will not be enough and thus will prove that they are not good enough.

Nevertheless, as a parent, I am ambivalent. I already do the politically correct variety of praise, but I hate the idea of not being able to tell my children they are smart, because I think they are, and I want them to know it and believe it. In other words, I want them not to be like me, but this research suggests that the tactic I am taking will turn them into me.

But then there is the fact that they are them, not me.

As I was mulling over this article, E, out of the blue, addressed the issue. "You know how to make yourself good?" she asked me at dinner, in a conversation about school. "Give yourself compliments before you even know if you're good or bad at it." Then she told a story about a boy in her class who said "Oh, I'm so bad at this," before they began a game, and was indeed bad at it, whereas she, E, thought she would be good, and was. Clearly a believer in the power of positive thinking, not to mention self-boosted self-esteem.

That night, I brought the topic up with M. I told her about the article and asked her what she thought. She said the argument doesn't make sense, because you have to work hard to be smart. "Like, some of it is your genes," she said, "but the rest is work." I think her "it" there is achievement, but overall this seems like a more holistic vision of the issues. When I asked her if she thinks she's smart, she said yes. When I asked her if she works hard, she said yes.

Where to go with this? I'm not quite sure. Perhaps I can make a deal with our entwined psyches: I'll work harder AND I'll keep telling them they're smart, and maybe we'll all turn out OK.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chocolate Conundrum

If you have a box of chocolates with quite a lot of chocolates, and they are exceedingly delicious chocolates, do you eat quite a lot of them every day until you are done with the box, because you will eat them all eventually anyway, so you might as well eat them all now, or do you eat one a day, because eating so much chocolate at once can't possibly be good for you, and by stretching the box over time, you will get that much pleasure for that much longer?

Fourth-Grade Slump

I agree with this article that No Child Left Behind deserves blame for what they call the "fourth-grade slump," but I would define the slump more broadly and cast the blame more narrowly. I don't know about other states, but in Blue State, the fourth-grade proficiency tests are the first that really matter. Which means the teachers spend the whole year preparing for the test, because they know they are being judged as much as their kids. Which means the best, most creative teachers avoid fourth grade like the plague. Which means you end up in fourth grade with the worst curriculum and the worst teachers. And everyone slumps. (I'm speaking as the mother of a fifth grader, thank god.)

Leaving Europe

The lore of my father's and grandparent's escape from Germany is so powerful it's like an implanted memory. I feel I was there the day my grandmother took my toddler father to their usual playground in Berlin and found that overnight a sign had sprouted saying "No Dogs or Jews Allowed." I can see her standing there reading the sign, the little boy beside her pulling at her hand so that she will take him to the swings, disappointed when they turn around, and then thrilled when they get on the trolley and go out to the country where he can play freely in the woods. I am on the last train out of Berlin in 1941, or perhaps it's the last ship out of Lisbon. I am in Bermuda with my father, clutching the teddy bear someone has given him, the little Jewish boy escaping the Nazis.

My grandparents were prosperous, assimilated Berliners--my grandfather was a lawyer, my grandmother went to lectures by Adler, not Freud, but you get the picture. The rest of his many siblings had long since immigrated, but my grandfather was sure that things would be fine. His daughter left for Palestine with her boyfriend. His older son went to relatives in New York. But he stayed, and then my father was born.

As my grandmother told it, the sign at the playground was a turning point, but of course it must have been more complicated. Another piece of the story, that doesn't quite fit for me chronologically, is that my grandfather's brothers in New York would not sponsor him because he was a Zionist. Some of the elders in their community (what elders? what community? these were assimilated businessmen and doctors, not yeshiva buchers out of the shtetl) called them out on it.

Somebody must have sponsored them at some point, or perhaps they got out some other way. I need to reread the memoir my grandmother wrote. I need to ask my father, though his memories are cloudy, by virtue of youth and personality. But there must have been letters and cables, back and forth from Berlin to New York, as my grandfather finally realized the seriousness of the situation and tried to get the rest of his family out.

I don't think about this much. I'm not a child of Holocaust survivors. I think perhaps my grandmother's mother, and maybe her aunt, died in a camp, perhaps Teresienstadt, but they were already estranged and it doesn't seem to have affected us much (is this right? did I make it up?). But our mythologies are of escape and upward mobility in the new world: from Washington Heights to the Ivy League.

I think of it, though, when I read about Otto Frank trying to get his family out of Holland.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In Which I Try to Be Slightly Intelligent About the War

I am shamefully bad about following the specifics in Iraq. K and I were talking just recently about how embarassed we are to be among the ignorant Americans who simply can't remember the difference between Sunni and Shi'ite, though we do try (I know Saudi Arabia is Sunni, and then I go from there with the notion that those who oppose Saudi Arabia, i.e. Al Quaeda and Iran, are Shi'ite, but I probably should not be saying this in public, as I am in no way certain it is right). At any rate, I skim the headlines, but I'm generally confused.

Nevertheless, I am quite sure that I saw headlines just the other day saying that the intelligence linking Iran to the insurgency* in Iraq is highly problematic, as is the timing of the release of that intelligence. And now I see that the President is saying, emphatically, that Iran is arming the insurgency, and I'm feeling some serious deja vu all over again, and what the hell is wrong with these people?

*Is that the right word? Should I be saying militants? Militia? Something else? Certainly neither freedom fighters nor terrorists, given my general political bent.

Another Recommendation

Instead of a bunch of second-hand links, I'll just give you a reminder that you should be reading Jenny's blog if you want to read the best things (right now I'm refering to Phil Nugent's tribute to Helen Hill, but there I go with the second-hand links, so I'll leave it at that).

Onion Soup, Old School

S made the onion soup from Sunday's NY Times Magazine last night, and M and I had the leftovers for dinner tonight. Consider this a recommendation. It's super delicious, and so easy I think I'll be making it again myself, though it does take a long time.

A Narcissistic Valentine's Post

I don't have issues with Valentine's Day. I quite like chocolates and love notes and pink hearts and oysters and all that, and I have a husband and children, so lonely is not an option. Of course, for the wife of a chef, Valentine's Day is a lot like New Year's Eve: forget romance when your husband is making everyone else's romance possible. But I'm used to that.

This year, though, I'm not really in the mood. I Valentined for the children, because I am a good mother (Valentine-ish socks and pink and red hair ties--yes, we are excessive), but I told S we should skip it. Luckily, he gave the right answer: that's fine, but you'll probably get some chocolate anyway (his pastry chef made chocolate-covered caramels sprinkled with sea salt, I had some on Monday when my mom and I went to the restaurant for lunch, and I'm hoping that's what he means).

Which leaves the blog conundrum. Ignore it and post about my hair (to cut or not to cut)? Post about the hegemony of school Valentines (been there, done that--one of my most popular posts ever--and googling to find it, I came up with this delightful post)? Post about things I love (uh, my kids, my purple hat...BOring)?

Then I came up with an idea: what I love about me.

That one's tough, though, really tough, which of course--never one not to take up a challenge--makes me go for it. There are things I'm proud of--running two marathons, leaving No Longer Red State--but pride and love are different. There are things I love with qualifications--my hair, except when I don't--but that's no good, and neither are the things I don't love, of which I could easily come up with a long list. There are things others love about me--my eyes, for instance, only I never think about my eyes, except to think that they are too small and close together, which obviously means I don't love them.

But enough of this quibbling. Hence and forthwith: a list of things I love about me, with no explanations or qualifiers:

My wrists and ankles.

My (physical) flexibility.

My capacity for friendship.

My instinct for language.

My embrace of Popsugar and George Eliot.

My refusal to embrace jazz.

My lasagna.

Edited to add: There was indeed chocolate, excellent chocolate, though not the caramels, and I relented and sent a bevy of absurdist e-valentines (before the chocolate! I sent them last night, before the chocolate!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tales of the Cold

Perhaps due to global warming, I have not found the climate of Blue State that different from the climate of No Longer Red State. Until the last few weeks. And it's a sense memory, as well as the circumstances, that mark the difference. For the last few weeks, since the thermometer dipped below--often far below--freezing and has not risen, the girls have worn tights under their pants. Sometimes I have worn tights under my pants. Which reminds me of how when I was a little girl, we always wore tights under our pants in winter. M concurs with my recollection that they never wore tights under their pants in No Longer Red State, except when we went ice skating.

Speaking of ice skating, yesterday E went to a friend's house after school, so M and I skated without her. M pointed out, tentatively, fearful of being bad, that it was kind of nice to just be able to skate, without having to hang back and wait for E, whose skating capacities increase exponentially each time she's on the ice, yet who is still cursed with the shortest legs in the family, and who is perhaps made even slower by the bulk of tights under leggings under another pair of leggings under snowpants which is her chosen skating garb (the snowpants are forced upon her by parents, but the multiple leggings are her innovation).

I told M that one of my first blog posts (sorry, can't find it) was about how you do some things with your kids because they are fun, and some things because someday you will be glad you did them, and ice skating with a little kid who is learning to skate is something you do because it will be so great when they finally can skate, like M can now.

The wind was fierce when we first got on the pond, and we fought it out to the middle, then turned around, held out our arms, and sailed back to the beach. We did that several times, often holding hands. Then we skated around the cove and looked into the back of my favorite house. Facing the pond, it is all windows. The people in the kitchen waved at us, and we skated away, embarassed (OK, I've typed that five times and still have no idea if I spelled it correctly). Then we skated to the far far side and touched a branch, to prove we'd made it, and on the way back we went around the island, for the first time.

It's supposed to snow tomorrow, but they say it will turn to sleet and rain, and then it's supposed to be cold again. So maybe the skating will continue.

Another Abandoned Book

Heidi Julavits, The Uses of Enchantment (linking to Amazon because I'm relieved to see I'm not the only one).

About 60 pages in, I realized that the characters were unpleasant, the circumstances were unbelievable, the psychiatrist who apparently delivers a significant piece of the narrative was annoying, and the writing was no great shakes either ("abrased"? "wicker-thin"? how thin is a wicker? and woe betide the copy editor who let "Each had a water glass in their laps" slip by).

(Is it possible, after the snark essay, to just say that Heidi Julavits wrote a book I didn't like, and leave it at that?)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Whatever you think about Anna Nicole

there is no question that this guy is scum.

Mrs. Beeton and the Completion Compulsion

The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton has finally returned to the library. Did I finish it? Well, I finished Mrs. Beeton, but I did not finish Mrs. Beeton.

It's a wonderful book, superbly researched and pleasant to read ("pleasant" means that the writing is fine: it does not interfere with the reading or bother the reader in any way, but it also does not provide its own "pleasure"). It's my favorite kind of biography, the kind I've harped on before, like The Peabody Sisters and Claire Tomalin's Pepys biography, that gives you the panorama of life and times and teaches you as much about the times as the life.

But this one also gives you a lot of the book (for those who don't recall, Mrs. Beeton wrote the definitive housekeeping book of Victorian England, sort of Cheryl Mendelson and Betty Crocker combined in one, and, like Betty Crocker, the book has been reprinted and repackaged ever since). Hughes spends entire chapters detailing the texts Isabella Beeton plagiarized from, citing what seems like just about every instance of plagiarism--and since virtually the entire thing was plagiarized, that's a lot.

Then, I must admit, the accumulation of detail begins to oppress, even though I generally adore detail. But when Hughes uses Mrs. Beeton's diaries of trips to France and Ireland to recount everywhere they went and everything they ate, I got--dare I say it?--a little bored. "They spent the next several days climbing mountains in Ireland and drinking copious amounts of beer with each meal" might have sufficed.

So I slowed down. I took breaks for novels and magazines. I felt guilty. There had already been one renewal, and there was not going to be another. Something had to be done. So I took action: first I skimmed the plagiarism and tourism; then I read till Mrs. Beeton's tragic death at a very young age; then I skipped the rest of the book, which was more than 100 pages about the afterlife of Mrs. Beeton and her book that was probably very interesting, but didn't particularly interest me. Then back went Mrs. Beeton and Mrs. Beeton to the library.

I was happy with the book and I was happy to be done with the book, but I did feel a bit guilty, because while I have learned to give up on books that I don't like, choosing to read just part of a book still seems somehow immoral.

My children dance about their books with impunity, skimming and skipping to their hearts' desires. Being particularly sensitive to the "scary," they just skip it: E's first real passion in a chapter book, the first book she has devoured, reading while walking and refusing to get out of the car, she is that engrossed, is Lois Lowry's All About Sam (understandably, as it yokes babies, toddlers, small children, and the oppressiveness of older siblings, all favorite topics), but she skipped the section where Sam becomes enamoured of dropping things in the toilet (actually, she handed the book to me and told me to tell her what happens and show her where that part is over). M doesn't like scary or boring. One of her current favorites is Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees. She read the whole thing once, except some "boring stuff" about Jaffrey's family history; now she reads favorite chapters over and over, which is what she does with all her books.

Is it that they are of the multi-tasking multi-media generation? Where beginning and ending are just postmodern abstractions? Is it that they are as under the influence of their profoundly random father as their strictly linear mother? Are they more in touch with their own desires? Am I psychotically compulsive? Probably yes to all of the above.

But I just took Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel out of the library (I discovered its existence in this review of her new novel, which I haven't decided yet whether I want to read). I had no idea, until I got to the library shelf, how big it was, and I'm not sure I want to read her opinion on every single one of the 100 novels she covers in the second half of the book. But, you know, I don't have to! I can skim and skip. Because I can!

[Can I just say it's a good thing I'm quick with the delete key, because every single time I wrote Mrs. Beeton in this post, I actually typed Mrs. Beetong.]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Great Invention of the 21st Century

Kleenex with lotion.

Reasons Umpteen and Umpteen +1 That We Live in the Right Place (Ice Edition)

When it's 20 degrees and we go out for ice cream, we are never the only people in the ice cream store.

When we go ice skating, we meet half the neighborhood, whether we're at the rink or the pond (hooray for skating on the pond! the best benefit of cold without snow!).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Fashion Update

Today E is dressed all in M's clothes and M is dressed all in E's clothes. Except for tights. This was accomplished behind closed doors with much giggling and exhortation that I not enter.

E: striped pink and white collar short-sleeve shirt over black long-sleeve shirt and black brocade skirt over pale blue trousers (capris on M)

M: openwork cream cardigan over blue t-shirt (big on E) and purple fleece skirt (knee-length on E; mini on M) over brown leggings (leggings seem to fit anyone)

[Whenceforth the copious blogging? I have been working on my computer since seven--OK, kind of on and off since nine--and as life goes on around me--laptop in living room--it has seemed eminently bloggable. But now we're off to the dentist.]

21st-Century Child Encounters 20th-Century Technology

M: Do I put the side of the record that I want to listen to face down?

It's Only Just Begun

After many years of (gently, lovingly) mocking my mother and her friends, then K, then Lucy for holding the menu at arm's length, I am just in the last few weeks finding myself squinting at labels--even holding them at arm's length. Bifocals, here I come.

Friday, February 09, 2007

My Little Future Self

E: Mama, I'm not going to talk to you any more. From now on I'm going to communicate with you by email.

[This one's for you, K.]

Poor Little Rich Orphan Girls

(left behind by troubled mothers)

Is anyone else thinking Athina Onassis with regard to Dannielynn Smith? But at least she had a real father.


I took Jenny's advice and read Prime, the second book in Poppy Z. Brite's Rickey and G-Man New Orleans chef series. She was right: the characters are pretty irresistible, and I think I might have enjoyed this one more than the first.

EXCEPT for the mystery thing. I figured out the plot twist on p. 190 (of 283), and the denouement was, simply, absurd. Way too contorted and coincidental. In fact, it kind of made me want to read some more mysteries, to see if I could find any that aren't too contorted and coincidental, except that I don't like mysteries because they are contorted and coincidental, so that seems a little masochistic. (And don't even talk to me about nineteenth-century novels: they are SUPPOSED to be contorted and coincidental: it's a generic imperative.)

[If you're expecting the definitive Anna Nicole post, I'm afraid it's not going to happen, at least for now. I had some vague and contorted thoughts about the ethics of regarding other people's lives as narratives for your entertainment, and I thought about just noting how sad and pathetic, not to mention alien, it all is, but, really, I don't think either thought adds much to the discourse. The other cheerful topic on my mind is child abuse, which is on the front page around here and elsewhere, but maybe I'll spare you that one as well.]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Hypothetical Situation

Say you had a ten-year-old daughter who was really into fashion. Say she liked high fashion in magazines, but was cultivating a kind of boho punk aesthetic for herself. Think miniskirts over jeans, tank tops over long-sleeved shirts, mis-matched socks, red patent leather ballet flats, and wacky hairstyles.

Say most of the time she was pretty cute, and she was also amenable to reasonable suggestion, which you took as the opportunity for fashion lessons (not that you were qualified for such, but you do have a little more experience). For instance, you could tell her that a tiny t-shirt over a huge long-sleeved shirt looked too bunchy and weird, but a small t-shirt over a large long-sleeved shirt is fine, and she would get the point that proportion matters.

Say your opinion was really important to her, and you knew that and respected it, and were determined to be supportive of her fashion choices, even when you would never choose them yourself (which would be totally reasonable if you were, say, a fortysomething mom).

Say one day your daughter came up with an outfit that you hated. Like, it made your skin crawl. But there was no rational reason for your hatred, just that she looked like a scarecrow. (Say the outfit was a long flounced denim skirt over jeans, and one of her dad's shirts that was 2/3 as long and twice as wide as she was, belted with a crocheted scarf, over a long-sleeved shirt.) Say just looking at her put you in a bad mood.

What would you do?

Britney and Lindsay and Paris, Oh My!

I went into this article in my usual contrarian mood. Here we go again, I thought, with the terrible plight of American girls. Their idols are baring their bikini waxes and partying themselves into rehab, and we're all going to hell in a handbasket.

Only it didn't turn out that way. Sure there's a weird detour into the history of American "bad girls," which certainly does seem to imply (that is, to accept the idea) that if you have sex, you're a bad girl. But overall, Kathleen Deveny (should I know who that is?) makes a lot of the same kinds of points I would make: we like celebrity gossip and were naughty in high school, and we still turned out to be sensible high-achieving women; even as girls are barraged by sex-and-the-media, they are going wild on the soccer field and doing well in school; girls have always been obsessed with their idols, and then they grow out of it; the messages they receive at home matter more, and lots of them are receiving good messages.

She even goes farther than I could--which one would hope, given that she is the reporter with the time to research this stuff--and points out that statistics on sexual activity and drug and alcohol use among teens are the lowest they've been in a long time.

So points to Deveny for showing some sense, but serious demerits to Newsweek for the revenue-seeking cover and the sensationalist title and header.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Is Clapotis Doomed?

I know, it's been months. But I'd made such progress: I've dropped like eight stitches (remember, this is Clapotis: dropping stitches = progress). I have at least two feet of Clapotis. But I seem to have lost a needle. Which is to say: the Clapotis is on one needle, and I can't find the other. It must have been at the restaurant. At the Super Bowl party. I know: who knits Clapotis at the restaurant's Super Bowl party? Me. But apparently it was a mistake.

The Cultural Construction of Pre-Adolescence

When I used to read stories of children in dire situations (which, of course, I am obsessively drawn to), I would think that M and E would not be able to handle it. Now, for some reason--age? their demonstrated capacity for so much?--I think they could. If, by circumstances of history, geography, or economy, I had to work and we had no childcare, they would be able to care for themselves, and even for younger children. If, god forbid, by similar circumstances, they were orphaned with nobody to care for them, they would care for each other and manage, however horrifically. (Even my sick imagination refuses to take me any farther than that.)

M has started having tantrums again. Not as bad as last year, and I'm not even sure whether they are actual tantrums. We call them fits. Something will set her off, and there will be wails and tears and stomping and door-slamming and much screaming of "NO!" and "You hate me!" and the like (interesting, I suppose, that she rarely, if ever, says "I hate you!"; rather she triangulates, in what might be a somewhat ominous way--any child psychiatrists out there?).

I was thinking, last night, as her fit went on and on--and, unfortunately, there were many comical moments, so S and I were not doing a very good job of hiding our amusement, which surely did not help matters--that if she were responsible for five younger sisters, or if she had to pick garbage to make money for food for herself and E, she probably would not have such fits.

It was just an observation--no judgement, no analysis--but it was kind of interesting. And I suppose, perversely, it makes me happy that she has the kind of life where she can have fits.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Few Cultural Notes

I had no idea we owned Tacky the Penguin until E pulled it out of the bookshelf a few weeks ago. In fact, I'd never even heard of it. But I am now quite certain that it is the origin of Happy Feet: the oddball penguin saves the good penguins from the evil humans--and the penguins sing!

Call me a self-hating Jew, or just call me a Jewish mother who sits in the dark, but I think this is hilarious. [link from Phantom]

Come on, admit it, you're loving the astronaut love triangle story.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Party in the Key of Life

We went to a great party this weekend. It was a party with lots of old friends, and it was the kind of party where anyone who wasn't your old friend felt like she was by the end of the evening (and the end of the evening arrived long after the beginning: the invitation said 3-6, we ordered Chinese for everyone at 7, and the last guests left at 10!).

One notable thing about this party was that the guests included seven decades of girls and women: a seven month old, a six year old (E), two ten year olds (including M), a high school student, a few college students, some twentysomethings, a thirtysomething newlywed and another newly pregnant, moms from the late 30s to early 50s (that was me in the 40s), and two 60ish grandmothers.

The only person who didn't have such a great time was the sad recent college graduate. She was quite forthright about her plight. She graduated in June from a precious liberal arts college where she had been told for years that she was the best. Then she set out for the big city to make her fortune (OK, given her artistic aspirations, fortune is not likely, so perhaps I should say fame), discovered that she was a dime a dozen, and ended up in a menial service job that I can't name because it is just too bizarre and specific, but suffice to say it is something out of a Douglas Coupland novel. Now, of course, she is depressed (tears in her eyes when she talks to you kind of depressed), trying to figure out what to do with her life, and disbelieving that things will ever get better.

Well, of course things will get better. We took turns giving her pep talks, the twentysomethings from their own recent experience, me transposing my own not-so-recent experience with the dozens--nay hundreds--of recent college graduates I have known, all of whom at some point in that first year after graduation believed they would never have a life, all of whom ended up with quite satisfactory lives. The recent college graduate listened to us and nodded, but the tears stayed in her eyes, and you could tell she didn't quite believe us.

It made me think about how we see our own lives as individual, our own crises as insurmountable, when so often it's all just developmental. And it made me think about how much easier it is to see someone else's life clearly than it is to cast a clear eye upon one's own.

Well, Duh (Yoga)

I unlatched the door to the dog's crate. It sprang open. The dog stretched her paws out in front of her and lifted her rump into the air. Of course: downward facing dog.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Chips Off the Old Bookcase

M, E, and I are going on a plane this afternoon. Along with Teddy, Samantha, colored pencils, journals, Sudoku books, math workbooks, gameboy, and iPods (M has Cousin T's handmedown Shuffle, and E doesn't know I'm bringing S's along for her), M has four books (a Childhood of Famous Americans biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, two volumes of Royal Ballet School Diaries, and Calvin Trillin's The Tummy Trilogy) and E has three (Winter Days in the Big Woods, By The Shores of Plum Creek, and Three-Minute Stories: Fairy Tales). I have two: Prime and The Inheritance of Love.

I would love my kids just as much if they were vastly different from me; in fact, it would probably be kind of exciting. But I do love the ways they are like me.

I'll be back when we're back.

[Note: Those aren't just supplies for the plane! They're for the weekend in a house that no longer has much in the way of toys, though it does have lots of games and a very devoted teenager. Still, it's always good to be prepared.]

London Maps

If I were going to be in London this month, I would be heading straight to this exhibit. (I'm almost certain I discovered this in the TLS, but for the second time this week I am stymied by a print publication's website.)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

It Was a Joke, Stupid

Am I the only one who thinks the Boston terrorist scare/marketing prank is ridiculous? Why would terrorists place bombs so visibly, and mark them with cartoon figures in lights? Yes, it was a dumb prank, as pranks go, but it seems to me that the Boston brass should also be feeling a little dumb, for shutting down the city when bloggers and college students immediately knew what was up.

My favorite quote:

Assistant Attorney General John Grossman called the light boards "bomblike" devices and said that if they had been explosive they could have damaged infrastructure and transportation in the city.

Yeah, but they weren't explosive, and maybe you could have figured that out a little more quickly?

Alternative comeback: Just because subway trains and buses are transportation-like devices, do you want to claim that if the T was transporting nuclear weapons, Boston could be annihilated?

How to End the War

Every day, on the front page of every newspaper, at the top of every news site homepage, and at the head of every newscast, place the obituary of one American soldier and one Iraqi civilian.

This week I read an article about the nineteen-year-old pregnant widow of a soldier. He called on Tuesday to tell her how excited he was to receive pictures of her, pregnant. He was looking forward to coming home in April for the birth. He died on Saturday.

I read the obituary of a 23-year-old veteran. He was resuscitated after an accident. He told his sister he was at peace in those few moments when his heart stopped. He was blinded in one eye and plates were put in his head. When he came home, he started getting migraines. The doctors told him the migraines were only going to get worse, and there was nothing they could do. He committed suicide.

For a start, pay attention to them. Then bring them home.

For Molly Ivins.