Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Daughters, Sleeping

I spend a fair amount of time sleeping with one or the other of my daughters: I lie down with a sleep-reluctant child, and soon enough we are both asleep; one or the other--on unfortunate evenings, both--comes into our bed in the middle of the night, less often than they used to, but often enough for it not to be unusual; on my own fractious evenings, when I'm too tired to put a child to bed, I will let her--usually the younger--go to bed with me.

I also, like any mother--or at least like all the fictional and film mothers I have encountered, for I don't, truly, know what any real mother does when she is alone with her children--look in on my children as they sleep alone, whether I am checking to see if sleep has finally come, or making sure they are still alive--yes, I still do this--or gazing at their sleeping beauty.

The point being: I see each of my children asleep frequently, and the sight of one of my children asleep is a familiar one. M still sucks her fingers, whether curled up on her side or splayed out on her back, until she is so deeply asleep that they fall from her mouth. E scratches through the night, tossing and turning as if ever on the verge of awakening, or lies on her back like a solid lump, the only sign of life her bare breathing. Each is, of course, spectacularly beautiful in the solitude of her sleep.

What I rarely see, however, is my children sleeping together, as they are tonight, on the fold-out couch on the other side of the room from my single bed. And what makes me surge with love, and breaks my heart, is the way, sleeping together, which they rarely do, they are almost always touching. Most often, as now, they lie facing each other, bent, knee to knee, heads leaning in, arms reaching for each other, entwined--right now: M's left hand to her mouth, her right hand under E's head; E's left hand under her own head, her right reaching out to M.

And as I write this, M stretches, turns away onto her back, but leaves that hand attached to E.

We have photographs of them in the exact same position at so many ages in so many beds: tiny baby E curled up to her big sister in our big bed in No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb; matching pajamas; two girls in French underpants in the hotel bed in Paris. Clearly they have always done this, and I have always loved it.

M has just turned back to E, and on they sleep.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Recipe for a Restorative Day

1. Aunt M. Need I say more?

2. Free Anusara yoga class in apartment yoga studio on 72nd Street. The kind of mindfulness schtick you usually abhor, but this time it hits the sweet spot, plus the teacher is spot on with the minute physical adjustments that make all the difference. Your partner in double tree pose says you are so steady. Little does she know.

3. Korean baths with sitting and standing showers, hot and cold pools, seven saunas, and outdoor massage/jet pools with steam rising under a dove-gray sky.

4. Alice's Tea Cup, especially the pumpkin scone.

5. Walking in the foggy park at dusk, otherwise known as riding E's unicorn to London, Paris, and Japan.

6. Drinks (short and tall, both delicious, even when mixed up) with Jenny who a) brings books, and b) is at once perfectly sympathetic and perfectly sensible, a rare combination.

7. Knitting while listening to Guys and Dolls (last night it was knitting while listening to Bach) (Guys and Dolls and Bach courtesy of the rarely heralded Uncle J.).

And so to bed (after a bit more knitting and music, and perhaps some book).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

E's Joke

There's a man in a room. The doors and window are locked. All he has is a bagel. How does he get out?

He puts the locks on the bagel!

How good is my husband at gifts?

This good.

Discovery of the Day

The school which at least one of my children has attended for going on four years starts at 8:10, not 8:15. Which would explain why I am so often late.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Looking Back

When it's over, you look back and see it all as a whole.  You know you did what you thought, at the time, was the right thing to do.  You know you did, at the time, all you could do.  Everyone else believes you did the right thing, says you did everything you could, even more.  You don't believe in regrets, and you know, given how it was at the time, it could not have been otherwise.  But looking back, you wonder if it would have gone differently, if you'd done it differently.


I am trying to learn to live with my daughters' boredom.

These days I am almost never bored, except when I am trying to avoid something I need to do, or  when I am struck with existential boredom.  But in the press of daily life, there is always something I want to be doing, along with so much I need to be doing.

I remember, though, being bored as a child.  I can't paint a sensory picture of it, but I recall there being nothing to do and nobody to do it with, or at least nothing I hadn't done a zillion times already.  It's not a painful memory; boredom didn't drive me to despair, but, alas, neither did it drive me to great feats of creativity.  It just was.

When my children sulk around doing nothing, I first try to engage them.  "Why don't you call so-and-so?"  I suggest.  Or "How about reading a book?  Playing a game?  Doing an art project?"  If they resist, sulkily, as often they do, I move from pushy to annoyed.  It's less the boredom that annoys me and more the attitude that accompanies it, the whininess, the negativity, the morose faces.  

The fact of the matter is: I am not a very fun mom.  I do not want to interrupt what I'm doing to entertain them; I just want them to be entertained (plus, I do not believe it is the job of mothers to entertain their children).

But the other fact of the matter is: it's fine for them to be bored.  Indeed, if they ignore my suggestions, and I give up on them, they usually eventually find something to do (at least the younger one does; for the older one, boredom crosses with teen attitude, and usually leads us into big fights, which then eventually lead to apologies, positive interaction, and something to do).  Even if they don't find something to do, what happens?  They're bored.  End of the world?  I think not.  I survived it.  And, who knows, maybe they will surpass their mother, as they do in so many ways, and be driven to great feats of creativity!

The real problem here, as always, and the real thing I can control, is not their boredom, but my attitude and approach.  If I let their boredom annoy me, we end up in catastrophe, but if I just let them do their bored thing, and go on my merry way, eventually they find their merry ways, or they don't.  Which is fine too.

Thinking About Bernie Madoff

My dad thinks that his sons were in on it, but Madoff knew he was going down, so he told the sons to turn him in, so they could get off.  In other words, though he is the epitome of evil scum, he's a good Jewish dad (I took it to that conclusion, not my dad).

It makes me furious to think that right this minute he is lounging in his Park Ave apartment, eating sable on his bagel, reading the NY Times, with his bracelet around his ankle, and his private security guards in his lobby, when kids who do so much less--and have so much less--languish in jail (we were discussing him at breakfast this morning, and decided it was sable).

You can only get so upset about rich people losing lots of money, but the foundations?  He took money from charitable foundations, which only enhances his position on the evil scumometer.  An organization I'm involved with had a site visit from one of those foundations the week before he was arrested.  I guess that's one grant that's not going to be funded.  Along with a lot more.  At a moment when foundations are so important, and so under siege.

I just have no truck with greed.  Especially the greed of people who already have more than enough.

And I just have to say, naive though it sounds, that I so hate it when Jewish people suck, especially in such stereotypical ways.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Bead Explanation

I kept wondering why there were so many Mardi Gras beads. And why they seemed to be proliferating.

Then I realized: it's the bar mitzvahs.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yesterday Afternoon's Texts

To: S
Barely moving in tunnel w tank on empty.

To: S
Accident. Fuck.

To M:
Call me.

To S:
OK M picking up E. Let's hope I don't run out of gas

To: S
This sucks!!!

To: M
Let me know when you have E

To: M
Nowhere. Far Other City.

To: S
Got off freeway to get gas. M on way to E but not there yet. I want to be a stay at home mom

To: S
Home thank god. And thank god I got off the freeway. And now I really know how to get home from Far Other City.

To: S
I tried to put the bookcase together and I messed it up. I'm going to cry now.

(Don't worry Mom, the traffic was not moving, so texting was truly not dangerous.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

For the Record

M attended the following concerts this year: Dropkick Murphys; KT Tunstall; Method Man, De la Soul, Nas, and Tribe; Madonna; and Wilco and Neil Young. I think she picked the right parents.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Post Office: An Allegory

Is there such thing as a dead allegory? If not, there should be, and I nominate the post office. Like a dead metaphor, a dead allegory cannot be a pretty thing, but metaphors die because they are so apt as to be overused, and the post office is so dense in its bureaucratic ineptness, and we are so in thrall to its power, that I must go once more into the breach.

I had four condolence cards to mail and no stamps. Thursday morning, on the way to work, I went to the terrible post office in City--the one I remind myself never to go to again, each time I enter its doors, but which is so convenient I forget. You could hear post office employees chattering in the back, but there was only one such employee at the counter, and you never saw anyone weigh packages so slowly. With two people and their packages in line in front of me, I left. Did I mention there was no stamp machine? Though I'm sure postal policy is made in some bunker-like HQ in Washington, I couldn't help but think that this particular post office's combination of no machine and glacial employees has something to do with the Communist-leaning politics of City.

Yesterday I went to the main post office in Town, just after it closed, but I knew they had machines. It turns out they have only one machine. Apparently the introduction of the mail-your-own-package machine, the use of which I have certainly enjoyed, has made the stamp machine redundant. Which means that even if you just want a packet of stamps, you must wait while everyone in front of you mails their packages, because there is only one machine. Too many people with too many packages, so I left, as I also left the next post office I happened to drive by.

This morning, at the post office again, I finally found a line with just one person in front of me, finishing up her package. I got to the machine, cash in hand, and discovered it only takes debit and credit cards. Not a huge issue in the scheme of things, especially as I had my wallet with me, not just a few bills stuck in my pocket, as is often the case, but, still, an abrogation of individual choice. I pushed my buttons, slid my card, and received, for my effort, Nutcracker stamps.

I deleted the expletive which initially preceded those Nutcracker stamps, because my expletive habit is unattractive in person and less attractive in print, but surely it is visible behind the brevity of phrase and the abrupt end-stop of paragraph. Do I look like the kind of person who wants Nutcracker stamps? OK, you can't see me. But do I sound like that kind of person? No, I do not. I do not want Nutcracker stamps for condolence cards; I do not want Nutcracker stamps for anything. But I did want to send my condolence cards, so I adorned them with Nutcracker stamps, put them in the slot, and convinced the nice woman who had been in line in front of me, and was still organizing her package, to buy the rest.

Remember those stamp machines with the glass windows? The ones where you put in your cash and chose your stamp, and it only took a moment? They were good. They met my needs. They probably met your needs, unless you were my grandmother, and needed the solidity of human contact for every interaction. Now they are gone, and I am left, if the post office has its way, with Nutcracker stamps.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Today's "You're Kidding!" Award for Obviousness in Academia

“Research shows that the bigger allowance you get from mom and dad,” explained Andrew M. Sum, director of Northeastern’s center, “the less likely you are to work.” [full article here, but you really don't need to read it--I didn't get past the first page] [Sum does a lot of excellent work on some important topics--I wonder if he regrets this particular soundbite]

M has been babysitting at least once a week, so she has her own money to spend on pizza and ice cream, presents, small things she wants, etc. (at 12, one's desires are easily satisfied by $4/hour). We continue to be ridiculously forgetful about allowance, forking over weeks at a time when one or another child remembers, and I believe the allowances are quite low anyway ($1/week for E; $3, or maybe now it's $4, for M). But I see us moving in the same direction as our current de facto situation: we give them money for what they need (bus fare, lunch, clothes), and they earn for what they want.


My knee hurts. It's a precise pain, centered in a spot maybe half an inch in diameter, on the outside of my right knee, where the middle of the kneecap seems to meet the top of the bottom leg bone. That's from feeling around where it hurts. Looking at a bunch of diagrams of the knee, it seems like it's actually where the patella meets the femur (i.e. it's really the bottom of the top leg bone--above that sticking-out piece that makes a bone look like a dog bone), and perhaps involves a ligament (I don't want to write the word tear).

It started yesterday morning. I went to the gym, noticed on the treadmill that my knee felt a bit twisted, thought maybe it was time for new running shoes, and then thought no more about it. Until I was walking up the stairs at work, when suddenly I was in terrible pain. When I'm still, I can't feel it; when I walk, it aches a little; when I go up and down stairs, it's terrible.

S thinks it will go away, because that's the way he is. My mom thinks I should see the doctor immediately, which is not the way she is, but she has a friend with knee pain and is, I believe, a bit battered by the subject.

I cannot tell you how panicked this pain makes me. I don't think of myself as an exercise fiend. I don't run very far or very fast. But I do run pretty often, and when I don't run, I walk, and when I don't run or walk, I go to the gym and do the treadmill and the elliptical (and in case you haven't noticed, all of those activities involve the knee, as does yoga, which is the other thing I do, but I didn't mention it outside the parenthesis, because I haven't been doing it lately). I probably get a significant chunk of exercise at least five or six days a week, if not seven. And the idea of not being able to work out...well, panic is the appropriate word. The potential physical and mental effects of not working out...ok, the idea sends me into such a state of anxiety that I have to stop writing this, and not move my knee, and hope desperately that the pain goes away (though what I really want to do is go to the gym, which demonstrates the strength of my compulsive reliance on exercise to alleviate what ails me) (Monday, Mom, if it still hurts on Monday, I will call, I promise).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Illinois Governor

I have nothing substantive to say, and I have foresworn pointless blog posts, but I just have to say "oh my fucking god" on this one. I mean, not much shocks me these days, but I am dumbfounded.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sometimes I Can't Believe My Life

This was my day:

6:30 Get up
7:00 Leave for first workplace
8:00-10:00 With new client (this is going to be a tough one)
10:00-10:15 Debrief with new client's boss (luckily we're on the same page)
10:30-11:15 Work in cafe down the street
11:15 Drive to second workplace
11:30-12:30 With client (she's doing much better than last week, yay!)
12:30-1:00 Work in client's boss's office, next to her boss, who is also a client and my friend (lots of these people are my friends--I work with a lot of good people)
1:00-2:15 Planning meeting with my friend and another consultant whom I've only met in passing (she's awesome, as is my friend--I love working with awesome people)
2:15 Drive to third workplace
2:30-4:30 Crank out a boatload of work
4:30 Drive home
5:00 Pick up E (new schedule involves more driving but gets me home earlier and works better for E and my mom, who no longer has to pick up E on Mondays)
5:15 Read newspaper
5:30 Make dinner, eat dinner, be completely attentive to M and E as they do homework and create projects, blog (the rest of this is projected, but I know how it will be)
9:00 Put E to bed
9:15 Put away laundry, make up bed for my dad who arrives tomorrow
9:30 Put M to bed
9:45 Work on newsletter for 7 a.m. board meeting tomorrow morning, maybe do a bit more work, perhaps hang out with S if he ever gets home, eventually go to bed

And this is not at all unusual, in fact, it's like this two-three days a week, though two other days I do get to spend the whole day in one place, and one day I try to stay home, aside from early morning board meetings, which happen at least twice a month, and other such sundry activities...

Edited to add: But, you know, it was a really good day.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Musical Notes

I remain convinced that Dave Alvin would be the world's best boyfriend--and the worst. He'd ignore you while he played his guitar, go on the road all the time, sleep with women he met on the road, but he'd be there when it really counted, not necessarily when you needed him, but when you didn't know you needed him. Listen (but don't watch, please, and, really, what you want to hear is the stripped-down acoustic version from King of California) (where you can also hear Dave make "Fourth of July" his own--that version has terrible sound quality, but captures the magic) (I don't know why I even do this anymore--either I've convinced you of Dave Alvin's godliness, or you don't care, but I was listening to King of California this morning and was struck by it once again, as I always am).

The other day I turned on the college radio hippie morning show (yep, I've given up on NPR again) right in the middle of "Up On Cripple Creek." Now that is a great song. When I went to find it on YouTube, to write this post (when did YouTube become the go-to place for music?), the second video that came up was the version from The Last Waltz. Back in the day, we used to see The Last Waltz at the double-feature repertory movie theater, the one with the wicker chairs in the balcony. Now that is a great movie. A few years ago, my sister-in-law decided that the Band was the best band in the world, and all she listened to was the Band, and she collected weird Band CDs and bootlegs and books about the Band, and sent S cryptic letters and emails about the Band. It was Band-o-mania, but, you know, she's right, that is a great band. And, watching that video, I realized that here I've been thinking the lineage of alt-country begins with Gram, takes a dead end with the Eagles, and then jumps to life again with Uncle Tupelo, leading straight on till Wilco (OK, that is totally truncated, but it will have to do for now), but how could I not have been thinking about the Band, starting at Big Pink (and we all know the story of how I snagged a disastrous college boyfriend by asking for The Band when he asked me what I wanted to hear, the first time I went to his room, don't we?)? Anyway, I'm thinking it's time to get hold of a DVD of The Last Waltz.

In completely different automotive musical activity, we've been listening to Santogold again and she is the alt-country-anthithesis bomb. But still, my attraction to her goes back to those 70s musical experiences, because one of the things I just love, besides the beats, energy, and attitude, is the endless string of calypso/reggae/ska/zydeco samples, like "Shanty Town"--when's the last time you heard "Shanty Town"? The Harder They Come was the first album I ever asked for, and with that one, too, movie and music are completely entwined, though it played at the other double-feature repertory movie theater. Or how about "Iko Iko"? Which could lead back to the Grateful Dead (I'm almost certain I was at that show--man, YouTube is awesome!), which might make Santogold not quite so antithetical, or perhaps make Santogold the quintessence of my musical history...

OK, I'll stop now.

This post is a love letter to my husband.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I got my ears pierced when I was 11 (my sister got hers pierced when she was 10, which is part of the overall injustice of being the oldest, which M claims I do not understand, but I do).

I am shocked that I don't remember where I got my ears pierced, because supposedly I remember everything, but I do remember that my mom's friend P did it with me, and I think it was in a jewelry store at the mall, a real one (jewelry store, not mall), and I believe they did both my ears at once, but maybe not. Perhaps my mother remembers, because she was there too, though usually she counts on me to do the remembering.

Those were the first piercings: the neat ones in the proper middle of my lobes.

I started piercing my own ears somewhere around the time I started cutting my own hair, several years later.

Piercing my own ears involved alcohol, a flame, a needle, and an earring. I believe I generally pierced my ears when I was angry; I cut my hair when it got too long. Putting the needle through my ear was easy, as was getting the earring into the front part of the hole; the hard part was getting it out the back. I'll spare you the details.

I don't think my piercings ever got infected, which seems miraculous, given the previous paragraph.

When I was in India in 1990, all the white girls had pierced noses, which I knew would come out as soon as they returned to Oberlin and Birmingham and Sydney, and I refused to go there (though I will admit that I sometimes wore a bindi, but only when my Indian friends put one on me). When body piercing became the thing, a year or two after I returned, I still demurred, thinking of those ridiculous white girls.

The fact that I have five piercings, all in my ears, seems to perfectly sum up my cultural status. To the far mainstream, I am edgy, but given the vast numbers of people I know with piercings every which where, I find myself ridiculously staid.

In the ear with three holes, the top two are silver studs. In the ear with two holes, the top one is a tiny silver ring. I never change those three.

I only wear silver earrings, which is to say I don't wear gold, though I have earrings of plastic, stone, paper, wire, ceramic, fused glass, bead, and many varieties of silver and gemstone.

When M was a baby, I considered piercing her ears, because I think babies with pierced ears are adorable. Then I realized that by piercing her ears, I would deprive myself of an easy yes, so I demurred.

From the age of four months, M sucked the first two fingers on her left hand incessantly. Several years later, I told her that she could get her ears pierced when she was eight, if she stopped sucking her fingers.

M turned eight, avidly sucking her fingers.

In the ensuing years, though we never thought it would happen, M gradually stopped sucking her fingers, except when she is asleep, which is good enough for me. I offered pierced ears several times, but she demurred.

For the last year or two, E has been obsessed with clip-on earrings.

Clip-on earrings hardly exist today. Stick-on earrings do not stay stuck. Last week, E got magnetic earrings, but they pinched, and then she took them to school, with a little box to keep them safe if they pinched and she needed to take them off. When her grandmother arrived to pick her up, she took the earrings out of the box to show her, dropped them, and couldn't find them. She found them a few days later, in the playground, in pieces, magnets gone. How this all happened, we have no idea.

A future of magnetic earrings seemed to bode only heartbreak.

E's birthday is imminent. I suggested pierced ears. E leapt at the chance. M begrudgingly agreed that it was time.

These days, the only piercing options seem to be Claire's and tattoo parlors. We opted for Claire's. We decided that M would go first, because we thought she was more likely to bail. We asked if they could do both ears at once, and they could. We picked out silver balls for M and December birthstones (sparkly and blue) for E.

M sat in the chair, closed her eyes, and they were done. It hurt less than she thought.

E sat in the chair, clutching Fifi, her bear, and cringed. We told her to close her eyes. She kept her eyes open, cringed, shrugged her shoulders up to her ears, and clutched Fifi. She said she didn't want to do it. I told her I wouldn't make her do it, but I knew she wanted to, and she would be sad if she didn't.

It was an odd moment. I don't generally push my children past their comfort levels, and I certainly didn't care if she pierced her ears, and by this point she was weeping and insisting that she didn't want to. But I knew she did.

When she ran across the store, I decided it was time for a break. We went to the food court and had a snack and didn't discuss piercing. When we were done, E said she didn't want to do it. I said that was fine, but if she didn't do it now, she couldn't do it till she turned nine. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment parental rule-making events. She said OK, she'd do it, and we marched back to Claire's.

Back on the chair, sitting in my lap, she started again with the shrugging and cringing and saying she couldn't. I asked if I could hold her and they said yes. So I stood up and held her in my arms, facing me. She buried her face in my face, they counted to three, and it was done.

Written out like this, it sounds totally brutal, but as soon as E realized they were done, she jumped down from my arms, ran to the mirror, and started prancing about, displaying her new earrings. Then she had me take a picture of her with my phone and sent it to S, with a text message saying "I got my ears pierced!"

Now everyone is all about the newly-pierced ears, and the family has almost doubled its piercings, but not quite.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Looks like S and I have only a 3% chance of getting divorced in the next five years. I suppose that's comforting. [link from NY Times, of course--you've probably seen it yourself; if so, and if it's germane, I assume you tried it!] [Libby, I'm thinking you're exactly in our demographic]

Edited to add: After reading the comments in the article, I went back and calculated for S: while 15% of people like me are divorced, and 3% will get divorced in next five years, 14% of people like him are divorced, and 2% will get divorced, which is strikingly similar, to the point of statistically the same, I would think, though it's interesting that he wasn't asked if he had children (which makes me wonder if children raise or lower chances for women--economically, I would think they lower, because of need to maintain them, but practically, they might raise, given how much conflict their maintenance can engender).

Edited again to add: Then again, if my parents had done this calculator in 1983, they probably would have had pretty low odds, as I'm guessing their only negative indicator would have been early marriage, which lots of education, children, and marital longevity would probably have overcome, for the most part.  They got divorced in 1984.  Which could be ascribed to the fact that 3% chance still means that 3 out of 100 WILL get divorced, but could also be ascribed to the historical phenomenon of 1970s and 80s post-feminism/sexual revolution mid-life divorces, which my generation seems to be trying to avoid, surely at least in part as a response to our parents.  And that's why I'm a literary/historical type, not an economist...

(S thinks this post is really hard to read. Sorry about that.) (Uh, he meant in terms of the writing, not the content, in case anyone was worried.)

Don't Die For Me

I am deeply uncomfortable with the incipient martyrization of the Mumbai rabbi and his wife.

Chabad House Lubavitcher rabbis are not harmless builders of community; they are proselytizers--which I consider distinctly un-Jewish--for a form of Judaism which I consider distinctly pernicious.

The zealotry of this particular Chabad House Lubavitcher rabbi and his wife is visible in the fact that they had left a child ill with Tay-Sachs in a hospital in Israel, while they pursued their calling, not to mention the fact that, after giving birth to at least two children with Tay-Sachs, one of whom has already died, she was pregnant again, which I consider hugely irresponsible.

Beyond my personal disgust, the danger of their martyrization lies in the support it offers to the belief held by many Jews (of a certain persuasion) that Islamist terrorism is a consequence of the essential bloodthirstiness of all Islam which is bent on destroying Israel and the Jews. I do not think that this belief is as much of a problem as Islamist terrorism, but I do believe it a serious problem in itself.

There, I said it. And I'm not even going to qualify it with disclaimers about them surely being nice, intelligent, beloved people who will be sorely missed, which surely they were, but nice, intelligent, beloved, and missed have nothing to do with it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Yes, I Still Count the Women

And the people of color. But this time my count is celebratory rather than condemnatory: three white men, two white women, two Black men, one Black woman, and no mention of race or gender anywhere in the article, which in this case I call progress. It's a new day, people.

Worst Modern Love EVER?

I had given up on the critiquing-Modern-Love blog feature because it was becoming too much like shooting fish in a barrel. But who can resist shooting a whale in a barrel? I do believe that yesterday Lauren Slater took the column to its nadir. Could it really get any worse than this? (Or, as S says: they're just going to have to give up the whole thing after that one.) Then again, we're talking about Lauren Slater...

Let's go numerical on this one.

1) Her poor husband. I mean, it's one thing to dis on your ex, but to write at length, in the NY Times, about your dislike for sex and the misery of your loving marriage? Can you say cringe? Can you say toasters thrown across the kitchen table? Well, you probably can't say toasters thrown across the kitchen table, because he is married to her, so presumably he knew, both about her feelings, and about her imminent public disclosure of those feelings, but let's just say that I wouldn't want to be his cubicle mate this morning (that's a JOKE, because surely Lauren Slater is married to someone so cool and brilliant that he has never entered a cubicle, but instead works at his marble-topped workplace, alone with a view of the sea, which is why she is able to write such things about him, knowing he will not get a single awkward glance at the water cooler).

2) Anyone else read the sentence "This is so stupid, it pains me to write about it." and respond, "Then DON'T!"

3) How about the generalizing from one's own pathetic experience? I don't like sex, ergo nobody likes sex!!


5) Did I mention her husband?

6) And then there's the gratuitous shift, in the last quarter, to the house she is apparently building single-handedly, which has approximately zero narrative connection to her dislike of sex, but, I would predict, everything to do with a how-I-built-a-house-singled-handedly book that will slip onto bookshelves everywhere sometime around next Christmas. Anyone wanna bet?


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

First Photos, Then a Meme?!

What is happening to this blog?!

Saw this one at Ericka's, like Libby.

Things I've done are bolded.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars

3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis

10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill

24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight

46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater (I can’t believe I haven’t done this)
55. Been in a movie (but I’ve been on TV)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check

68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar

72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square

74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job (I always quit before they can fire me)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London

77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car

83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
(several times, but once with Geraldine Ferraro!)
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club (no, no, a thousand times no)
93. Lost a loved one

94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake (but I have swum in the Dead Sea)
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day.

61 (tied with Ericka)

Of the items I haven’t done, I’d actively like to do four; I’d be fine if another five happened; and I couldn’t care less about the rest.

Edited to add: You know, I must have held a lamb, but I can't say for sure...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Email Etiquette Questions

I am currently on two cancer email update lists, neither one a close friend. Am I supposed to respond to these updates which arrive every week or so? Always? Occasionally? Am I a boor if I never do? One person I see once a year; the other person I run into fairly regularly, and it is generally easy to tell, in person, whether I should say something or not (though I'm not quite sure why).

A dear old friend who lives across the country and whom I see every few years sent a mass email today announcing that her father died last night. He lived on the other side of the world, but I have very fond memories of a good chunk of time I spent with them, long ago. I responded immediately to her email, with some of those memories, my sorrow, my regards to her mother. Do I still send a note (i.e. on paper)?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I just went

UPSTAIRS to tell the children to behave in the (filled-to-their-necks) tub.

[Yes, that should probably be a Twitter or a Facebook update, but this is the only place where I know everyone will understand the implications of what I'm saying.]

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Behind the Times, as Usual

I know this SNL skit is so last week, but I only caught up with it tonight, thanks to M.  I don't know what's the best part: the always excellent Paul Rudd, Beyonce with a feminist consciousness and a soft heart, or Justin Timberlake in leotard and heels.  (Stay tuned for my analysis of "If I Were a Boy," if I can figure it out.)

The New Julia Glass Novel

This review of I See You Everywhere is spot on, so I do not need to write the long post I was going to write. I will simply say, in agreement, that the unpleasantness of the characters makes the book essentially unpleasant, despite some lovely writing (along with some real clunkers). Similarly, I did not like the way the characters have no women in their lives besides each other, and their narratives progress largely from man to man, but I realized eventually that those were character flaws, not writing flaws, though on the other hand I'm not quite sure of the interest-value of writing such characters, at least for me. Finally, and here I am definitely speaking for myself, the animal thing does nothing for me as a reader, and in fact turns me off. Glass's novels are increasingly full of animals, and I am persistently uninterested in animals, even bear cubs undergoing cardiac surgery, after long discussion of whether it is the right thing to perform cardiac surgery on bear cubs.

Edited to add: OK, I guess I do have more to say, which may be a positive comment, in that it is a thought-provoking book, except that the thoughts it provokes have to do less with its content, than with questions over the success of its form. Anyway, perhaps it is that I read it this week, but I felt that there was a fundamental narrative dishonesty in the book's treatment of suicide, not on the part of the one left behind, whose response was thoroughly convincing, but in having a first-person narrator (the book has two) commit suicide with barely any foreshadowing. Oh god, I can't explain what's wrong with that--I mean, I know, but I really don't feel like writing about this book, so I'll just leave it at the fact that I found it to be a problem.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Outlier

Or, perhaps: The Limits of (Generalized) Data

I do not think of myself as particularly happy, but I watch hardly any television.

Renovation Update: Done

For Dawn.

Looking up the stairs:

Looking down the stairs:

Hall (from the other end, i.e looking toward the top of the stairs) (alcove for records on left):

M's room is L-shaped. From the door:

From the window:
E's room from the door (with the last of the flotsam and jetsam):
E's room w/ colors and closet:
Our room (note skylightS):MY closet:
Long, deep rectangular tub:

Much obsessed-over vanity (now appreciated for pharmaceutical vibe):

Sink (most excellently rectangular, in my opinion) (marble not what we originally planned, but also now appreciated, i.e. along the pharmaceutical lines):
Skylight to look up at while I shower:

And now what you've all been waiting for: the doorknobs!


M's little door to the eaves:

Door to E's room (note decorative base):
E's closet door:
Our room:
And last, but not least, the fabulous bathroom knob:The end.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What I Could Write About

The Eternal Smallness of East Coast Big City

Everyone knew everyone in the corner of East Coast Big City where I grew up--and if you didn't know them yourself, they went to high school with your brother, or you went to high school with their brother, or your brothers went to high school together. Since we moved back, even though we live in Town, not City, we still move in those circles, but S and I now both work in East Coast Big City proper, and we are discovering circles we had no idea existed, in which everyone knows everyone. So the smallness persists, even as our circles expand.

The Dilemmas of Facebook

When to unfriend? What to do, practically and emotionally, about the ex-boyfriends you are actively not friending, but who are apparently just as actively not friending you? Whether and why to update how often? How much you feel like a ridiculous high school student, except that the high school students don't think twice about any of this, because it's just like breathing for them?

What I'm Not Writing About

How A's suicide threads through the East Coast Big City circles S and I now seem to be part of. How I worked with her; and my friend S, who I work with somewhere else, grew up with her; and S's ex-girlfriend used to babysit her; and she lived in the new building down the street from the restaurant, upstairs from the new restaurant; and the main investor in the new restaurant was the one who found her, cut her down, and tried to do CPR; and he spent that afternoon drinking at the bar, but S didn't know why until later; and my friend S knows him too, because she knows absolutely everyone; and the teenagers, my god, I can't even talk about the teenagers.

How a Facebook page becomes a memorial as bereft friends pour out their grief into notes on the wall.

How unfathomable the unexpected, unexplained suicide is.

How banal it feels to write those words.

How presumptuous it is to appropriate the ragged grief of others, and how determined I am not to do so.

How I can't sleep at night.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


S is obsessed with the GM situation, and he's sucking me in. My instincts are absolutely two-fold. On the one hand, I feel like they've screwed it up, so let them fold (i.e. the free market should do its thing). On the other hand, I feel like the ripple effect--jobs that will be lost, peripheral businesses that will fold, communities that will be slammed--is untenable, both ethically and economically. I'm not being original here: that's the dilemma the government faces. And it makes me really glad I'm not in the government, so I can just stew over it, rather than having to make a decision.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

California Dreaming

I don't think about California for months at a time, and then suddenly the desire hits me, like a punch in the stomach (sorry for the cliche, but that's really what it's like).  The yearning is palpable, physical.  I see whatever place I miss in front of my eyes, and I'm desperate to be there. This time, again, it's the road from San Rafael to Point Reyes, the climbing green meadows, before you enter the woods.  I feel just desperate to be there.

(This evening, a clear cause: a California scene in Julia Glass's new novel through which I am diligently plodding, but, oh, California...)

(Can you tell, from the three posts today, that yesterday I once again decided I might as well give up the blog?)

Chocolate-Pumpkin Layer Cake

Do I dare?

Getting Closer

The school secretary's husband was laid off a few weeks ago. A girl in E's grade's dad was laid off last week. E's best friend's father escaped his company's big layoffs this week, but he warned that another round was rumored for January, and, sure enough, the front page of today's paper confirms the rumor. He thinks he's going to be OK, but his wife lies awake at night worrying.

I parse our situation every single day. So far, aside from the same hit as everyone else on retirement funds we won't need for a long time (that is, the same hit as everyone else who even has a retirement fund), we're OK.

I think S will be fine. His boss owns three restaurants and the other two are tanking, so he is the golden child at the moment (and likely will continue to be, due to structural characteristics of his restaurant and the fact that he is really good at his job) (KNOCK WOOD).

I am fine till June 30, when my two big contracts end. One, which is in good financial shape, has assured me that there will be work for me next year; the other, which has already laid off one person and decided not to replace a second, has pointedly assured me that they will not try to alter the terms of my contract this year. I know a coded warning when I see it.

I can't say I lie awake--mainly because I am again completely exhausted and fall asleep most nights before I even get to bed--but I do think about it every single day, always appreciative of how lucky we are at the moment, always anxious of what the future will bring.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Valerie Jarrett

I don't know about the rest of you, but I never heard of Valerie Jarrett till last week. Since then, she's been everywhere, and she sounds pretty cool, and it seems like she'll be an asset to the Obama administration. But I'm particularly impressed with what she did during the campaign. According to the Times:

In his presidential campaign, Ms. Jarrett served as a top aide, giving personal counsel to the Obamas, consulting on all major decisions, and serving as an emissary to the external world.

I wonder who served as emissary to the internal world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

You know

sometimes I still can't believe Barack Obama is really going to be our president. (The dress looks better a week later.) (And I love the way she sits with her knees and toes pointed in--like a real person!) (And call me a white girl, and, yes, you've heard me say it before, but I just love the Bidens.)

[link from Sandra]

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Idea of Order at Our House

[I feel that I have used this title before.]

I did not go on the computer from Friday evening to late Sunday afternoon.  

Friday evening I was frantically finishing up some work, because it was the first weekend since I can remember that--if I frantically finished the work at hand on Friday night--I did not have any work to do.  I finished the work, and told various people that I would be unavailable over the weekend.  Then I thought, why not really be unavailable?  There's no work that needs to be done, nobody I need to be in touch with who's not in my phone/in-person vicinity...why don't I see what it's like to stay off the computer?

It was awesome.  On Saturday, there were a few moments of down time here and there where I felt the urge to check my email.  But I didn't.  There were moments of wanting to look something up or tell someone something, but I figured either I'd remember to do it later, or it didn't matter.  By Sunday it was a non-issue.

What did I do instead of work or be on the computer?  I'm not quite sure.  Let's see...

Friday night I watched a movie (stupid) and a Friends episode (funny, but especially funny in concert with how funny E found it) with the girls, then read my book for three seconds and fell asleep.

Saturday I cleaned the house, went for a run, took M and E on a shoes/tights/purse-shopping expedition, went to a bar mitzvah, drank vodka gimlets, convinced my friends to drink vodka gimlets, told hitchhiking stories while drinking vodka gimlets, watched children play silly bar mitvah games, came home and fell asleep.

Today I went for a run, had coffee with Lucy, went to E's last soccer game of the season, started cleaning the sunroom, threw out two big trash bags of destroyed games and art projects, packed a big box of outgrown games for the homeless shelter, read the NY Times, helped M with her geography project, and watched another Friends episode.

It was the most relaxing weekend I've had since I can remember.  Now the question is: how much of this was the absence of work, and how much the absence of computer?  I'm not quite sure, but I will say that it was awesome to not be on the computer, and I'm hoping that a weekend of cold turkey will help me generally decrease the computer time--not the productive time, but the poking around, reading things I don't need to read, playing games I don't need to play, based on the subterranean fantasy that I will somehow find the thing I didn't even know I was looking for that will finally satisfy me (you know, Lacan and all that).

We also, at dinner this evening, renegotiated the girls' screen time rules, because we have once again fallen into the them-heading-for-screens-all-the-time-and-me-being-made-crazy-by-them-heading-for-screens rut, which is as much a problem of my craziness as their screen obsessions (we had the same old discussions too, E pointing out that they are well-balanced children, M pointing out that we always have this problem in winter), but something had to be done.  So we came to a new policy, which is not that different from the old policy, but shaped a little more specifically to current circumstances (we have now differentiated between productive or playful activities that just happen to take place on the computer--like checking email, reading, writing, or dancing to YouTube videos--and activities that are valuable only as mindless leisure--like dressing up supermodels or staring at Zack and Cody--not that there's anything wrong with mindless leisure, which is why there is some time allotted to it, but it's a limited amount of time).  It was a very cheerful, agreeable conversation, and we are generally good at sticking to our policies for some time, until we all forget that we need them, so I am optimistic that the screen situation will become more copacetic on all fronts.

Cleaning the sunroom (go back three paragraphs, if you've forgotten) is part of the slow but steady effort to prepare for moving half the downstairs upstairs, which is just ten doorknobs, eight cabinet knobs, four light fixtures, and some bathroom accessories away.  But the irony is that, through the preparation effort, the downstairs has become so much more livable that I almost feel like we don't need the upstairs, and that renovating has been a ridiculous act of financial and cultural hubris!  

Hmm, it's more complicated than that, though, because of course the hope inspired by the renovation has inspired some of the changes--like finally cleaning off my desk in the corner of the dining room so I can actually work at it, which means I no longer feel desperate for the office I will have any day now.  But of course the desk was a disaster because the apartment is so small that there is no place to put anything which is what the new office will remedy.  Ah, it's late and I'm starting to go in circles.

But what I really wanted to write about was the living room, which has practically nothing to do with anything said above.  Our living room has always been wrong, but I've never had any idea of how to fix it.  Basically, the layout of doors and furniture made the living room as much a hallway as anything else, and about as not cozy as could be.  I felt this especially a few weeks ago, when I had some friends over, and we were sitting in the living room after dinner, and I just thought: this is not right.  It just so happened that that weekend I was taking in our downstairs' neighbor's mail, so the next morning I walked into her living room, which is just below ours, and almost identically laid out, and realized how I could rearrange the furniture!  So I went upstairs and rearranged it that very day (basically by myself--S was out of town, and I wanted to surprise him, and for some reason it was easier to move heavy furniture by myself than with two children), and it was transformed!  It's cozier, it's happier, it's less prone to chaos, and it makes me like the whole apartment better!

So really, we didn't need to renovate after all.  We just needed to stop spending so much time on screens and rearrange the living room.  Now I wonder if I can return all those doorknobs...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Can We Talk About Eliot Spitzer?

I know: he's so last year. Now it's a new day in America. We have a Black president. Who cares about a disgraced former governor? Uh, me?

Spitzer is not going to be charged "for his role in a prostitution scandal," according to the AP. Go read the article. You don't even have to read the whole thing, just the first two paragraphs.

Did you see it? The money quote? In case you missed it, here you go: "federal prosecutors typically do not prosecute clients of prostitution rings."

Does that bother anyone else the way it bothers me?

The NY Times provides a bit more detail on the rationale:

The policy [of the Department of Justice with respect to prostitution offenses], detailed in the Justice Department’s manual for United States attorneys on how to carry out their duties, advises that unless minors are victims, prosecutions “should generally be limited to persons engaged in commercial prostitution activities.”

Hmm. Here the money word seems to be "commercial," and I'm guessing we're supposed to interpret that line as meaning that if you're making money from prostitution, you get prosecuted. Which means that if you're paying money for prostitution, you're off the hook?

Am I missing something here? Isn't prostitution itself a crime (whether or not you think it should be, currently it is--unless you're in Nevada)? In which case, shouldn't all participants be prosecuted, i.e. those who sell and those who buy? What's wrong with this picture?

Oh yeah, silly me...I forgot all about entrenched racism, sexism, and class privilege! What a goofball I am! I wasn't even thinking about the fact that the people who pay prostitutes HAVE money, and the people who are prostitutes NEED money. Which means, you know, the people who pay tend to be, like, men of means. And the people who get paid tend to be...women of no means.

Oh no! Does this mean that the practice of law is biased against...the underprivileged!? Well, shoot me with a watergun. Maybe this does all lead back to Barack Obama. And maybe it's a great thing to weep and celebrate when a Black man gets elected president. But maybe we've still got work to do.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Will Miracles Never Cease?

My god, even Maureen Dowd abandons the snark for the heartfelt. It's a new day in America. (As I try to wean myself of my political/news junkie habits.) (Though we are all about Malia and Sasha over here, being a two-girl family ourselves, with a similarly responsible older and goofball younger.) (Love the dresses. Curious about the school. Jealous of the puppy--some of us, at least.)


My friends have been hassling me about not listening to NPR (it is, perhaps, my greatest point of deviation from my demographic). So I decided to give it a shot.

Yesterday it was all election rehash, nothing I hadn't read in the newspaper, plus I listened three times (driving in c. 7 a.m.; driving from one place to another c. 2 p.m.; driving home c. 4:30 p.m.), and basically they said the same thing each time. This morning I listened driving in. First I heard Norman Ornstein, then I heard Bob Kagan, both talking about how people's high expectations for Obama are going to be dashed (talk about the media driving the story) then I heard John Weaver (scroll down) talking about where the McCain campaign went wrong. Later, driving from one place to another, I turned it on again, and I heard some woman whose identification I missed talking about how race doesn't matter because we are colorblind and if we're not we should be, and she just voted for Sarah Palin because she identified with her. This is our liberal radio? This I need? I put on Smile and gave up on NPR once again.

Now before you go all "Don't make judgements on so little evidence" and "But what about Terry Gross?" and "You didn't listen to the right shows" on me, I know all that. I know why I'm supposed to like NPR, but seriously, every single time I turn on the radio, determined to give NPR a chance, it's either offensive or boring (OK, the last time I gave it a chance was 1987, when I tried listening in the mornings while getting dressed, but the time at which I got dressed was apparently the Reviews of Pretentious Cultural Events Across the Country a word: boring).

What I realized, though, as I switched to the CD of my choice, is that my dislike of NPR is more about my...hmm, what's the word...aesthetic? sensory? I think sensory and aesthetic proclivities.

#1: I'm just not an aural person. About the only thing I like to listen to on the radio is baseball. Listening to music is fine, but I rarely put it on myself unless I'm in the car and most of the time, frankly, I end up spacing out. Same thing with books on tape. If they're great, I can engage, but listening just isn't my preferred way of taking in information. I'd much rather read. Which leads to #2: I think, I realized this morning, that I like to control my information too much for radio. I'm totally down with serendipitous discovery, and I'm always reading things I didn't expect to read, but I like the way that, with text or the internet, I can survey what's out there and choose what I want to consume. Whereas with radio, you're a captive audience. It goes where it wants to go, for as long as it wants to go, and you can't go away and find something else (I mean, obviously you can turn it off, like I did, but you can't skip to another page).

Oddly, this preference, I believe, puts me firmly out of my demographic and into the entitled media demographic, which is generally, I think, considered to be younger than me. So maybe that's why I don't like NPR: because I am such a fashion-forward media consumer!

Monday, November 03, 2008

E in a Rage

"I hate you! I hate everyone in this room! I hate you all! I hate you, Alice! I hate you, Mad Hatter! I hate you Laura, and I hate you Mary! I hate you, Meg! I hate you, Jo! I hate you, Beth! I hate you, Amy! I hate you, Mrs. Roosevelt!"

First Election Results

M's school: John McCain (175), Barack Obama (853).

May it be a harbinger of everything to come.

Temperature Update

We've given up on 62; E was weeping from the cold. We're trying 65.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

La Vida Chez Moi

My kids are playing--and I quote--"pirates in Hawaii who steal clothes from the Queen of England."

OK, then.

(This post makes me think that maybe I should be twittering...)

Edited to add: I was working in the living room, and then they started to play in the living room, so I moved to their bedroom, specifically to M's bed, but somehow their game moved to their bedroom, and came to involve much checking in with me as to the realism of various costume options. It's really time for this renovation to be finished and me to have a place to work. Not that that would necessarily help. (I believe the game now involves teenagers in LA on Halloween--not sure what happened to the Hawaiian pirates.) (E: "Mommy! M just called me snobby.")

(Perhaps twitter is not for me after all...)


Last night, we were listening to The Seeger Sessions as my dad, the girls, and I drove back from Country Town. "We Shall Overcome" came up, and I said to my dad, "Listening to this, I just can't believe* we might elect a black president on Tuesday." "Me too," he said. "It makes me want to cry," I said. "Me too," he said.

I love my family.

*This is really what I said, but what I meant, which may not be adequately conveyed in the plain type of print, was that I am overwhelmed by the idea, especially in light of the last half century, not that I don't believe it will happen.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Postscript to Previous Post

What it comes down to is that E and Z were intellectually engaged with every aspect of the task, from doing the academic work, to addressing challenges, to engaging with other people.

Now, I could argue that a different kind of classroom--one devoted to inquiry and exploration in a holistic way (i.e. the endpoint is as open as the process, not just a worksheet)--would engage some of these other kids more intensely, and I'm sure it would. C (different C from previous post) and A would be on fire in an inquiry-based classroom, and so would little Y who never said a word in kindergarten. But, E and Z would be positively explosive, and I'm guessing R would still be lost and C (a third C) would still space out.

So differences, albeit different differences, would remain, though more kids could very well be served...

An Analysis, Not a Brag (I Hope)

In our house, we pretty much take E's capacities for granted. On the soccer field or singing Hannah Montana songs, she totally blends in with her peers, so we just figure she's a normal second grader, and we don't really think about the fact that she also does things like have conversations about genetics and multiply fractions and write chapter books (with a problem and a resolution).

Yesterday I was in E's class for their "Harvest" (i.e. NOT Halloween) party. In kindergarten, I was in E's class every other week, so I really knew the kids and their work. In kindergarten, E was a total outlier: she could read, she could behave, she was writing five-page books when most kids were still drawing pictures. We didn't think much about that either, though, because she was older and doing her second year of kindergarten (for birthday/preschool availability reasons that you either remember or don't care about). In first grade, the other kids started catching up with her, plus she made a best friend who is a lot like her, so we figured the maturing thing was happening (differences are largest in younger grades, when the kids are, in fact, farther apart in age, relatively, plus boys and girls have significant developmental differences). But I wasn't around much in first grade.

It was quite exciting to see, yesterday, how far all the kids have come since kindergarten. Their writing is awesome, and they are just a super-nice group of kids (for the most part--let's say 95%). But I also saw, in just an hour, how truly different E is. Unlike kindergarten, she's not alone: there is one boy like her, and there are another boy and girl who are similar, but a little different. But, wow, what a span in a single classroom.

Digression on teacher: E has a fabulous teacher. The kids love her, she has total control of the classroom, they are doing a lot of content, and they have fun. But she is definitely of the new breed of all academics all the time, even though she also makes it fun. So yesterday they had Halloween all day (aside from the party which was HARVEST, in case you don't recall). In the morning they drew haunted houses and wrote poems about them. Then they listened to scary music and chose from scary writing prompts to write stories. The party was all about the orange food: canteloupe, clementines, cupcakes, candy corn (ooh, orange C-food, though we didn't go there), and, uh, Munchkins and juice boxes. Then there were four stations--math (which was also science), science, literacy, and fun pack--through which the kids circulated in small groups. They were totally into it, but, you know, it might have been fun to make pumpkin pies or leaf collages or our own witches' brooms...only it's not that kind of school...

Back to the kids: I was momming the math (science) table where we had a scale, a small pumpkin, and a big pumpkin. The task was to weigh ourselves (themselves), estimate the weight of the pumpkins (one at a time), weigh the pumpkins, and figure out the difference between the estimate and the actual weight. All the kids loved the estimating and the weighing (though most of their estimates were off by a factor of about 40). Not all of them could follow the directions--they were writing their numbers down all over the page, when there was a specific place and sequence for each number. And the math? It wasn't that they didn't love it--the kids who got it were totally into it--but that some of them just drew a total blank. The teacher said they knew the concept of difference, but for most of them, it sure didn't seem like it. I'd ask the question in several different ways and get dreamy stares. Then there were a few who got it, but didn't know how they got it (these were usually kids who guessed things like 118, when the big pumpkin actually weighed 18, so it was easy to get to 100).

The other issue was the small pumpkin which turned out to not weigh enough to register on the scale. In the first group, we figured out how to solve this problem: weigh the kids holding the pumpkin, which everyone loved. Luckily the pumpkin weighed one pound, so almost every kid could figure out that if I weigh 56 pounds by myself, and 57 holding the pumpkin, the pumpkin weighs one pound. But some couldn't even figure that out: one thought the pumpkin weighed 57 pounds.

So what was the difference with E and her friend Z? Well, they read the directions, were a step ahead on the tasks, understood the difference concept, and did the math. Not only that, but when I asked their group how we were going to figure out the weight of the small pumpkin, E immediately suggested weighing ourselves holding the pumpkin (I had to coax that solution out of every other group). And not only that, but when I asked them to help the other kids in their group with the math, Z came up and said to me "we haven't learned borrowing yet, what should I do?" He knew how to borrow, but he knew that the other kid didn't, and he wanted to help him appropriately, not just do the math for him. In other words, what E and Z are is academically capable, creative (i.e. problem solving), and meta-cognitive. S, a boy who shares their skill level, completely lacks the meta-cognitive piece, and C, a girl who did some creative thinking (she compared the weight of the big pumpkin to her little brother's weight) is not quite there in skills.

So I guess E is different, but she's not a total outlier. I'm glad she has Z, and S and C, and, frankly, all the other kids in her class, because that's life: a whole lot of different people who need to negotiate the world, individually and together. And I am in total awe of her teacher for teaching all these kids at once: I only did it for an hour, and I was exhausted.

Friday, October 31, 2008

On Not Having Faith

I made a Chocolate Banana Cake tonight, and it took forever to set up (that would mean bake, to you non-bakers, or maybe just to everyone else in the world). I'm thinking maybe I used too much banana (did not measure, just mashed four); maybe the bananas were not ripe enough (usually I use brown ones from the fruit bowl, but I bought these today, at Whole Food [so I could also get Valrhona chocolate], and apparently at Whole Food bananas do not go brown]); maybe I didn't mash them enough. Or rather, I believe I did all those things--too much banana, not ripe enough, insufficiently mashed--and perhaps they are the reason the cake did not set, but combined with the cake not setting (OK, finally it set, but I don't know if it set enough, or if the 20 extra minutes of baking ruined it), they make me very anxious about the cake, which really needs to be a good cake, given its audience.

I have made one bad cake in my life (a Guinness Chocolate, where somehow the baking soda clumped, creating these nasty little nuggets of bitter saltiness, though everyone else who ate it insisted it was delicious, but surely they were just being polite). My neighbor said tonight that the only desserts she likes are my cakes and I am the best baker she knows. Yet every single time I make a cake, I am convinced it is going to be a disaster.

I had lunch with my interns this week, all recent college graduates, trying to find real jobs in fields they want to enter. They pumped me for information and insight: my career trajectory, my advice, my thoughts about them and their prospects. I had lots to say, of course--by now I'm something of a professional jobseeker--but one thing I said, that I used to say, but haven't said in a while, but realized is still true, is that just about every single meaningful job I've ever had has come to me. I would say that I've had nine meaningful jobs in my adult life (along with my fair share of meaningless jobs). In seven of the nine, someone approached me (rather than me applying, or otherwise making the approach). I have been unwillingly out of work for maybe four months of my adult life. Yet I am convinced that I will never find another job, even when I am fully and gainfully employed.

I don't get this attitude--it's more than an attitude: this deepseated conviction--I really don't, and I wish I could make it go away.

(This is completely different from election anxiety which is a combination of superstition and disbelief, based on heritage [Jewish] and recent experience [2004, 2008]. The thing about these convictions, as I've just tried to show, is that not only do they have no basis in experience, but experience shows them to be completely wrong. You would think that I would be able to play my reality principle here--pretend that objective reality is correct, even when you don't believe it--but I seem to be completely incapable of doing so. I know that my life would be immeasurably improved if I could--have faith, that is--and yet, I just can't.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Most Depressing Thing I've Seen on the Internet Today

the Cody's on Shattuck is now a Spirit Halloween Superstore. [from Facebook, so I can't link]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Giving In to the Imminence of Winter

We went over to Grownup E's house this evening and picked up the suitcase with the boots, the suitcase with the gloves and hats, and the suitcase with the parkas.

Speaking of winter, I really don't know if we're going to be able to maintain the 62 degrees thing. It's damn cold in here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tearing Up

I never used to cry. I mean, I cried in my life all the time--way too much. But movies? Books? The whole sentimentality thing? Or public grief? Not me. I didn't cry when Deborah Winger died in that movie--or was it Shirley Maclaine who died? I didn't even cry at real-life funerals. If you were supposed to cry, I didn't.

But lately? I think I'm getting old. I'm becoming a machine o' tears. I cried when my friend told me about her friend who died. I have cried at the last two bat mitzvahs I've gone to. I even got wet eyes (yes, Dawn, I'm outing myself to the world) during Gabriella and Troy's final duet in HSM 3. I KNOW. Pathetic.

But you know when I'm pretty sure I'm going to cry, and be proud of it. When I vote for Obama. Even though I haven't been his biggest fan. Even though I don't think he's going to save the world and make us live happily ever after.

The idea that I am going to vote for a liberal Black man for president--and that he might very well win--I mean, just typing the words makes me almost start to cry.

Jews and Blacks: Together Again

Go us!

Gender and the Musical (and Halloween)

At M's dance on Friday night, they played two songs from Grease. Apparently all the girls went wild, and the boys had no idea what they were hearing. One asked, "Is this Hannah Montana?"

That tells you something, though I'm not sure what (M's friend A is going to be a Pink Lady for Halloween, though she doesn't know which) (M is going as Desperately Seeking Susan-era Madonna, and E will be....Hannah Montana!) (and one of the wacky neighborhood boys is going to be Sarah Palin, which we're all looking forward to).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Notes on HSM 3

I miss Sharpay's nose.

Zac Efron is way past his expiration date.

Those new kids are quite funny.

I totally called the winner of the Juilliard scholarship.

The last 20 minutes--the show and graduation--totally redeem the whole thing, which up till then is completely ridiculous, though not in any kind of franchise-divergent way.

I mean, let's face it, musicals are ridiculous--can you say Busby Berkeley? Singing in the Rain?

And, really, the choreography is pretty great, in a ridiculous musical kind of way. Especially when it involves basketballs or graduation robes.

Gabriella does not have enough to do.

Shouldn't Gabriella and Troy be having sex by now?

The true talents of that gang are Corbin Bleu and the guy who plays Ryan. We like Sharpay and Gabriella too. But Zac Efron? I just do not get it. The guy is lame.

That gay subplot from HSM? Gone, gone, gone with the wind, steamrolled by the purely opportunistic Ryan-Kelsi hook-up (Vote No on 8!).

E: It was GREAT!

M: It was stupid.

Can you say target audience?

(And, if you're wondering, the target audience for this post is Dawn and Landismom--and maybe C? But if you know what I'm talking about, more power to you, and all my empathy!)

My Little Classical Music Afficionado

E: Is Yo Ma Ma a classical musician?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Renovation Dilemma

We are so close. And yet, of course, so far. I have made so many decisions. I have chosen doorknobs and light fixtures and towel racks and finishes for the floor (satin, in case you're interested). The last hurdle was the sink. Not the kitchen sink, though I wish for the sake of poetic justice that it was. The bathroom sink, and technically not the sink, which I picked out months ago (it's square--I love that it's square), but the vanity.

Our contractor, whom I still love, but whom I'd like to have out of my life, has a friend who sells vanities. A plain white vanity, with drawers, is all I wanted. So he showed me the picture of the vanity, and I wasn't so crazy about the doors, but the last thing I want to do is go out and find a vanity, so I said fine. Then the vanity got delivered, yesterday, and we went up to look at it this morning.

It's fine. Sturdy. Lots of well-built drawers. A big cabinet below the sink. A completely innocuous white. And then there's the doors. Remember what a modernist I am? Well, we actually abandoned the modernism on the fixtures, which are kind of old-fashionedy, but I quite fell in love with them, so I thought, fine, no modernism in the bathroom, or, rather, a nice eclecticism in the bathroom, what with the square sink and tub (OK, the tub's a rectangle, but the point is that it is not rounded), and the marbley tiles, and the old-fashionedy fixtures. Which is the rationale I went with for accepting the vanity. The doors have, oh I do not know how to describe them, the doors have ridges on them--ridges just like the doors on the bottom floor of the house, which I tried to replicate, but couldn't exactly, for the attic, old-fashionedy, almost slightly fussy ridges. So I tried to get ridges for the doors to rooms, but now I'm having problems with them on doors to drawers and cabinets?

The thing is, really, I just don't care anymore. I love the doorknobs, I love the paint, I love my skylights and the tiles. Do I need to love the vanity? Do I need to love it enough that I would go find another one that I love more? Would I be able to find one that I loved more? Can one even love a vanity? I suppose if one can love doorknobs, one can love a vanity. But the time for loving doorknobs was August; now it is October, and my boots and all the hats and scarves and winter coats are still over at Grownup E's. I think love is not the answer; I think we must just finish this damn project. And yet, I am waffling. No, I won't waffle. I will go on, I must go on. The vanity will stay. Right?

[Just thought everyone needed to remember how truly superficial I am, despite the occasional dive into deep waters.]

Open Season on Moms

It's breast cancer time again. Last week one of the moms in my outer circle was diagnosed. She's more than an acquaintance, less than a friend, someone I'll cook dinner for but won't visit in the hospital. Still, it reverberates in our community--her son is in M's class; my good friend L is her good friend--and most of all it is terrible for them.

Yesterday a mom in City died after ten years of breast cancer. I don't know her, never even heard of her till yesterday when she died, but she was the oldest friend of someone I work with, who told me, and then it turns out that my old friend T is her rabbi, which means she must know R and R, and she lives on R and E's street, and her kids go to school with A's kids, and it feels like I must have come this close to knowing her.

But the closeness of unknown ties doesn't matter. What matters is the story that makes me cry every time I think about it: her 12-year-old daughter's bat mitzvah was supposed to be this Saturday, but she didn't think she would make it, and she could no longer leave the house, so they had it at home last Saturday. I saw pictures--of the beautiful, dressed-up daughter holding the torah, of her standing by her daughter, gaunt, hatted, beaming with with love and joy. She died yesterday morning. They have cancelled tomorrow's bat mitzvah events. The funeral is Sunday.

Tomorrow M will go to J's bat mitzvah. It's a morning service. I'll go with her, because I like J's mother C (and I'm so grateful to her for not inviting us all to the party!). I'll watch C on the bima, beaming with love and joy. In the evening, M will go with A to J's fancy hotel party, her first bat mitzvah party on her own. A's mom, L, will drive them there; I will pick them up.

We are all--mothers, daughters--so incredibly lucky to have what we have.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You know, the clothes look good

and she looks good in them. (Can anyone out there tell I'm having a lazy day at work? And I deserve it, as you would agree if you looked at my datebook and to-do list for the last two weeks!)

My Favorite Recent Anti-Obama Insanities

To: Senator Obama or any of your supporters:

Why have you not provided the following info?

Why is the media giving you a "free pass" on this?

1. Occidental College records — Not released

2. Columbia College records — Not released

3. Columbia Thesis paper — ‘Not available’

4. Harvard College records — Not released

5. Selective Service Registration — Not released

6. Medical records — Not released

7. Illinois State Senate schedule — Not available

8. Your Illinois State Senate records — Not available

9. Law practice client list — Not released

10. Certified Copy of original Birth certificate — Not released

11. Embossed, signed paper Certification of Live Birth — Not released

12. Record of your baptism — Not available [link]

Uh, you think maybe he wasn't born alive?

[Commenter #1:]If Senator Obama has addressed the anti Christ accusations, I would be greatly interested to hear what he had to say. Have any articles/ quotes?

[Commenter #2]: Senator Obama will never address any accusations he is the Anti-Christ anymore than he would address being the messiah, Easter Bunny, or Santa Clause. Can you imagine the news headlines if a guy named Hussein started to talk about whether or not he was the Anti-Christ? I can, and they would be the lead ins on every news show and the headline on ever newspaper and John McCain would instantly rise at least 10 points in the polls because lending that kind of legitimacy to such a ridiculous notion would be the worst job of campaigning in presidental election history.

I don't think you have any information to say that Obama is the Anti-Christ. I'm not sure what you would identify in Senator Obama that you associate with the Anti-Christ and I really don't know what else to say about this. I'm kinda floored. [link]

Yeah, I'm not sure the Anti-Christ accusation has a lot of traction beyond...well, let's just call it the base...