Thursday, July 31, 2008

Four Posts In One

Hasta La Vista, Manny

I have to say, I was a "Manny being Manny" girl for a really long time.  I was even unfazed when he pushed the guy down.  But this week I hit the wall.  Playing games in the Green Monster is one thing, and, yeah, I liked that part, and I liked the hits too, but this week, we got down to pure greed and bad sportsmanships.  Look dude, you've made $160 million with the Sox, you're 36 years old, you should be fucking grateful for your fabulous life, not pissed off because they won't talk contract till the end of the season.  And, you should be playing your ass off, so that you either convince them they still want you, or you make everyone else salivate for your free agency.

We may be even worse without him, but he had to go.

(Sorry about the lack of links, but either you know what I'm talking about, or you don't care.  Take my word for it.)

Whence Coffee Yogurt?

Am I the only person who wonders what happened to coffee yogurt?  Does everyone else already know?  Or does nobody else miss it?  I'm not much of a yogurt person, but I go through phases.  I remember when I used to eat a Dannon coffee yogurt for lunch every day.  Yum.   When I get a yogurt craving, it's always for a coffee yogurt, and today I got the craving, and there I was in Whole Foods, facing a wall of yogurt: fruit yogurt, chocolate yogurt, caramel yogurt, yogurt this, yogurt that, a half dozen brands of yogurt, and not a single coffee yogurt, not even cappuccino.  I got maple.  It was not the same.

However, just last week we got some coffee syrup.  We've been having coffee milk.  Yum.  I'm thinking maybe plain yogurt and coffee syrup?

The Game of Life

I can't tell you how much I hate that game.  My kids love it, but I can usually wriggle my way out of it, but today I have been in good-game-playing Mommy mode.  I played Whatever's Next (great game!) and SmartMouth (also a great game!) with E this afternoon, and then we were about to play Life, because I was in good-game-playing Mommy mode, but M came home, and we decided to go swimming, so I was saved, but then after dinner they decided to play, and they wanted me to play too, so being good-game-playing Mommy, I agreed, but I hate that game.  First of all, it's incredibly boring.  Second of all, it seems to always involve fighting (along with, I must admit, great and fairly cute enthusiasm).  Third of all, it's all about the money.  Even when you go to the Grand Canyon and get a Life card, you ultimately trade it in for money.  Great lesson.  Yuck.  (M: Just pretend you're a nine-year-old girl and you don't care that it's teaching kids about venture capitalism.)

A Few Other Things

E has impetigo.  You have never seen such medicine-taking drama in your life!  (The impetigo, or rather the medicine, is why we played so many games today: She's taking Bactrim and it's making her sick, plus she's supposed to stay out of the sun, which we've been lax about, and we think that's making her sicker, so today we stayed home and out of the sun, and she was indeed less sick.)

M had her first real paid babysitting job today!  She also made dinner: croque monsieurs and French potato salad.  It was delicious.  I think if she can support herself and feed herself, I may be out of a job.

OK, that was just two other things.  Nothing much else is worth blogging.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oh Dear, There Goes My Indie Cred

Just discovered that E's name has been steadily rising in popularity since about three years before she was born. It still hasn't cracked the top 100, but looks like it's on its way. (Why did I look this up? Because someone told me recently, I think, that it was something like in the top 10, which I knew wasn't true, but I was still curious.) We've hardly met any child Es, as yet.

We wanted an E name to name her after my grandmothers, and we considered and discarded what is now a very popular name (which actually isn't an E name, but still would have named her after one of my grandmothers), because while I was pregnant a few movie stars grabbed it (and thank goodness for that, because it has become wildly popular, though of course that's probably why). We also considered a radically unpopular and quite pretentious name that I still kind of love, but decided it wouldn't fly in No Longer Red State (it remains radically unpopular, not even cracking the top 1000 in the last 50 years).

I decided, when she was a toddler, that she shouldn't have been E at all, she should have been Allegra and called Ally. This had something to do with her blond curls at the time, as well as her sunny personality. I know: weird. (No, duh, of course not weird, totally Longfellow! How could I never have realized that till this moment? Except I was conflating two of them!) Now I have accepted her E-ness. But I do hope we are not in for a major influx of Es. At least if there is one, ours will be obviously in the vanguard (and at least she's not Violet...) (no offense to our beloved and barely vanguardy--or at least pre-Ben and Jen--Violet).

Edited to add: Link for this site here. And looks like M peaked the year she was born (!) and has been falling since--not that it got very high at all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oh God, Here We Go Again

Except I don't know where we're going. Is this (see esp. L10) the beginning of another pathetic collapse, or are they going to dramatically turn it around and kick everyone's butts, or is it going to be an ugly struggle to eke out that wild card spot and then drag themselves through to the end? And will I be able to bear it? Or should I just surf the internet for more shoes?

(Speaking of important things, can we all regain our outrage over these Monica Goodling findings? She asked people their opinions on same-sex marriage and abortion? She complained about someone who admired Condoleeza Rice because Rice is pro-choice? She asked people about their party affiliations? WHILE HIRING FOR THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT? [The Post article is better, but you need to sign in.] What is wrong with us that we're just sitting here taking this shit? Why aren't we lying down in the street in front of the White House with copies of the Constitution in our arms?!) (I know, I've said this before, and really it's self-disgust at my own failure to do anything but scream silently in righteous outrage, but...but...BUT!!!!!!!!!!)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Birthday Weekend Scoreboard

Presents: two bags (I've been almost as obsessed with bags as with shoes--oh dear, am I becoming an accessory queen?) (and if you make it to the end of the post, maybe I'll tell you about the two pair of shoes I bought today), slippers, earrings, housecleaning, money to do something fun, and...yes, start getting jealous now...Madonna tickets!

Exercise: one hot yoga class, one long run

Work: about four hours, very satisfying

Drinks: one lemon ginger martini (fabulous), two vodka gimlets, two glasses of champagne (remember, this is a birthday WEEKEND)

Food: Cambodian, Turkish, cheese

Sweets: blueberry coffeecake, two delicious chocolate things that weren't quite cake but one had salt on it which is the best

Art: Turner (loved the watercolors)

Celebrants: S, M, and E; Aunt M; a collection of friends from a past life who look great; my oldest friend

Shoes: the new ones, out of vanity, leaving me with completely mangled feet, leaving me no choice but to finally give in to the prevailing motif and buy some nice black flipflops, which do not rub against any of the existing raw spots, and are in fact quite cute and comfortable, and while I was there, I could not help but buy these (in red), even though they have absolutely nothing to do with anything I need

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Today's Swimming News

OK, the melodrama is starting to get a little thick...

Do you think Dara is just trying to stage her own Lifetime biopic?

(I know, the cynicism, it is really inappropriate, but come on...the 41-year-old swimmer, the 15-year-old swimmer, the swimmer with testicular cancer who is putting off treatment till after the games because this is his DREAM, and now this...wonder what's happening on the badminton team these days...)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Thinking About Money

I was walking to work, thinking about a post about mortgages and debt, and then I got to work, and lo and behold, David Brooks and I were on the same wavelength. Except not quite.

I was thinking about how fiscally conservative I am. Not on the $100 shoe front, but on the house/car/debt front. Basically, I am not very good with money, and I don't like making decisions, and I fear making wrong choices, so I make very safe choices and stick with them. Over the last ten years, I missed a lot of growth in my retirement fund, but I also didn't lose a lot. I would never dream of taking out an adjustable rate mortgage, because I (you could put "we" in every time you see "I," because, luckily, S and I are very much on the same page in this arena) buy houses to live in for the long term (see: not liking to make decisions), and it seems quite clear that a too-low-to-be-true interest rate in an adjustable situation is going to become a too-high-to-believe interest rate as soon as it possibly can (I'm sure some economists and mortgage brokers would argue this and blame the economy, but it seems pretty self-evident to me).

The one time we refinanced, we took a shorter loan along with our reduced interest rate, so we ended up with a higher payment, but more equity--like I said, conservative. Home equity loans? Forget it. We have friends who have basically financed a high-end consumer lifestyle with home equity loans and it boggles my mind (of course the fact that I spent the real estate boom in one of the few places that wasn't booming may have something to do with my mindset--we bought our house in 1998 for cheap and sold it in 2005, at the height of the market, for not much more).

Given this mindset, there is a piece of me that says "you go, boy!" to Phil Gramm (OK, it's a really tiny piece). A lot of people who are drowning in debt and losing their homes to foreclosure made really bad choices. And now they're suffering the consequences. Duh.

But then there's all the news that's coming out about chicanery and malfeasance on the part of mortgage and loan companies. I mean, basically, these companies--and a lot of the people running them and working for them--sucked. They were trying to make as much money as they could for themselves, and they were running bad loans all over the place, with no safeguards or checkpoints.

People making bad choices. Companies doing bad things. A collision waiting to happen, as both Brooks and I acknowledge. And then we diverge, and there you've got our politics.

Brooks thinks, as usual, that we've got a cultural problem going on, and people need to change the way they act. (There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about corporations in the second half of his piece.)

I think (and here's the cynical part of me) that people make bad choices and do stupid things and they're going to keep doing stupid things, and there's nothing we can do about that. However, we can do something about companies doing bad things--regulation, punishment, etc. Yup, once again, I'm thinking we've got a Big Capitalism problem going on, and that's the difference between me and David Brooks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Summer Shoes

Take umpteen. (On sale and cheaper than that. Super comfortable.)

Monday, July 21, 2008


Can we talk about my hair? (We don't have to, we could keep talking about my feet, which are currently allergy-rash-free, but not yet appropriately summer-shod: the OK brown slides in the bigger size [I turned out not to be allergic to them, and looks like I forgot to mention that I returned them for a bigger size--maybe I had a rare moment of not wanting people to think I am INSANE] stretched in the rain and became barely tolerable, but sufficiently tolerable that they still had to be worn, until my friend with the genuine size 8 feet exclaimed at their beauty, so I gave them to her and bought the turquoise version of my other friend's Croc slides which are OK and luckily were $14.95 on sale, so I can justify buying yet another pair, especially since I'm not the Croc-slides-to-work type, and really they are not that great, so I am still in search of this summer's definitive sandals, which just sucks--wondering if maybe I am being punished for having finally achieved good boots...)

But my hair...there is no way to get around it: my hair is, essentially, more gray than brown. Such that strangers say things like "I love your hair, you're so brave!" or "Wow, I'm thinking of going gray too. Good for you!" which translates to "You're a freak, but I support you in principle." The problem is, the same old reasons still hold: I will not be able to maintain the roots--I can't even maintain my email, for god's sake--and the gray-roots look is, in my opinion, for myself at least, worse than the gray. Plus by now everyone knows me with the gray, and thinks I'm brave, so to get rid of the gray at this point would be a visible concession to...I don't know what. I mean, obviously the hegemony of contemporary youth-based beauty standards. Yeah, I guess that's it. Though I'm still considering a French-old-lady bright red.

At any rate, the age thing is a bit on my mind, given the upcoming birthday. I'm feeling like I've totally missed the boat career-wise and it's too late to get on the train (yeah, mixed transportation metaphors!), but that route (keep it up! keep it up!) will quickly lead to banal pathos, so let's skip it (banal pathos is fancy Greek for boring self-pity). But let's talk about the bus (oh my goodness, that transportation segue was so unplanned--go me!).

These days I sit on the bus and I watch the people and consider whether I would wear what the women are wearing or want the men (OK, with the men it's a little more graphic, but M is back from camp and thus the presumption of her readership must resume). Basically, the answer is no. The men...well, on the bus there seem to be very few attractive men, and the few that are attractive are maybe 25, and for some reason 25 and attractive no longer falls into my want category, even in the hypothetical confines of the bus. But that's fine. I don't need a man.

On the other hand, I do need clothes. OK, I don't need clothes, I have a ridiculously over-stuffed set of drawers and hangers, but I always want clothes, and I always feel (cue sandals) like I never have exactly the right clothes. Only it appears that nobody else does either--at least for me. And, again, the age thing seems pertinent. I am just not going to wear a cleavage-baring, skin-tight, shirred and ruffled sundress to work (not sure there is a garment with all those characteristics, but consider it a composite). On the other hand, I am also not going to wear sneakers and elastic-backed trousers, but neither am I going to wear a power suit and big pearl earrings. So I guess I'll just wear the clothes I've got.

My big fear, though, what with the gray and the chaos of summer hair--though actually I have a quite nice haircut at the moment--and the never-quite-adequate clothes, not to mention the upcoming birthday, is that I'm going to end up looking like one of those frizzled (frizz + frazzled + grizzled) women you see around City, the ones with the straggly gray hair and beaten clothes, who clearly live meaningful lives, but, you know, I don't just want to be meaningful (if I even am that): I want to be cute!

On the other hand, at least I am still awake. I am meeting three old friends to celebrate my birthday, and we are all very excited and have lovely plans. Only Friend #1 says she is done at 8:30, and Friend #2 says she goes to bed at 9:30, and I'm all "HELLO people, we have not all been in the same room since perhaps M's naming, and it's going to be my birthday, and you're going to bed with the sun?!" They do have smaller children than I do, but, come on, one must not succumb to the hegemony of small children. Luckily, Friend #3 has always been a hundred zillion times cooler than me, so I assume she will have great hair, good clothes, and the power to stay awake with me! Of course, she's also three years younger...

Edited to add: My birthday isn't for a few days, so no need to go all wishing me Happy Birthday!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

For Jenny and Phantom: The Bicycle Rant: A Politically Incorrect Post

To begin with, I'm not a bicycle person. I biked as a kid, even biked to high school in East Coast Big City, which involved busy streets and a crowded bike path--and once being hit by a car at one of the busiest intersections in City (one you probably crossed daily for about four years, Jenny and Phantom), though I did get right back on. But then in college my bike was stolen, and though I got a new bike in California, the hills were big, and I had no interest in going up them. By that point, too, traffic scared me, and I was, recreationally, a runner, and, basically, I'm fine with a nice pedal on the bike path, but that's about it. (I'm also faintly scornful of the general gear-tech-loud-tight-shirt cultism of bicycle fanatics, but then again I'm sure I have my own cultish tendencies in my own areas of interest, which is why this is a parenthesis, not a sentence.)

So, basically, I'm biased. But when it comes to bicycles on the street, I get kind of rabid. See, I'm a big walker, and then I'm a driver. Sidewalks for people. Streets for cars. No? (Yeah, yeah, I know the bicycles are...oh god, do I even have to do the counterargument and show my awareness? I mean, this is a rant. So yeah, I know how the bicycles are good for the planet, and I know the bicyclists are discriminated against, and...whatever.)

What makes me really crazy is entitled bicyclists in the streets. You know, the ones who, on narrow country roads bike two abreast? And in crowded city streets bike four feet into the lane? So the cars have to crawl along behind them? Just makes my blood boil to think about it.

But I haven't thought about it lately, because lately I've been all about the walking and the public transportation and the car mainly on freeways (not because of gas, but because that's my life and how I prefer it--I must confess that the gas situation has not affected me that much, which makes me realize that I really do not drive that much--I fill my tank maybe every two weeks when I'm home, and most of my journeys take a little less than a tank, so I fill before I go, fill on my way back, and then don't have to fill again for another week, which means I'm spending maybe ten dollars more a week, though I am appalled in the abstract).

At any rate, the other day was kind of complicated: I had to water my mother's garden in the morning before work, and we were leaving for the country as soon as I was done with work, and basically what made sense was to drive the car to my mother's house, park it there, water the garden, and then take my usual public transportation to work, and get the car on the way home to get to the country more quickly, which is what had me driving from Town to City during rush hour for the first time since I can remember.

Now, the route I take from Town to City probably has the highest number of vegans per square foot in the country, not to mention yoga studios. And you know where this is going: yes, commuting bicyclists. In the middle of the damn road.

So I'm driving along, vaguely simmering, but trying not to get annoyed, because what could I do, and who wants to start the day annoyed. But then comes the piece de resistance (I wish I had the capacity to insert a drawing into this blog post, but that would involve first the capacity to draw, so given the all-round lack of capacity, you're going to have to visualize off the words).

I'm at another intersection of Jenny and Phantom's past, though this is one they probably rarely crossed, as it's at the edge of their past. I'm driving toward a green light, minding my own business, going the speed limit (more about that later), etc. Perpendicular to me, ON THE SIDEWALK of the cross street, heading for a RED LIGHT, speeds a bicyclist (with no helmet, not that I really care, but it adds to the offensiveness), who CROSSES THE STREET on the crosswalk, not twenty feet in front of me, against the light, and then turns right, directly into my turning-left path, with not a care in the world. Am I communicating effectively how totally outrageous this is? But wait, there's more.

So I, being a bit annoyed, but also a bit frightened, honk. And she, this jaywalking, helmet-less cyclist, yells "What the fuck is your problem?!" Uh, my problem might be that you are a dangerous law-breaking psycho bitch who symbolizes all that is wrong with the entitlement of the be-bicycled class. But I don't say that. I say--ok, I yell--"Choose the sidewalk or the street!" and drive off into the sunshine.

By then I was irate, but, you know, I was a little comforted in my iration by the idea that she was probably totally irate, in that way where you feel self-righteously indignant but also know in your heart of hearts that you were kind of wrong, so it makes you even more indignant, but also a little sick? What? You don't know that feeling? OK...moving right along...

Anyway, I did get over it fairly quickly, and decided not to blog about it, so as not to reinflame my ire, but then, well, if you have a small audience, you better keep them happy, so, Phantom and Jenny, this was for you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Renovation-Inspired Rambling

Modernist though I am, this article on emotional architecture totally resonated with me. Three years ago, when we bought our house (which is really half a house: the second and third floors of an old-school two-family), we hired an architect friend to do some designs for renovating the attic (god, this is one place where I have so totally dropped the ball--he is a childhood friend, and we signed a contract to have him do the plans and maybe even supervise the project--I'm in denial because we have behaved so badly--and then years passed, and we didn't see him, and we found a design-build contractor, and all I need to do is send him an email explaining what happened, and ask if we can pay him a kill fee, but I just feel so guilty about the whole thing that mainly I remember, like this moment, and then forget immediately, until I remember again and feel even more guilty...).

Anyway, we thought we knew what we wanted, and we thought he would just design it, but instead he had us fill out this questionnaire which was all about our lifestyle and aesthetics in a pretty deep way, and then he came up with a design that was totally different from what we had imagined (our idea was very basic and space-focused, not design-focused). There were some elements of the design that totally didn't work for us--like turning the 3000 LPs which are the bane of my existence into a design focal point, when I just want them out of my way!--but overall, he helped us to rethink our house in a way which has generated the renovation we are currently in the middle of.

I had a somewhat similar, though actually, really, quite different experience a few weeks ago buying the bathroom fixtures (look, if you're not interested, just stop reading, but this evening I am indulging my own consumerist emo-banality, just so you know what you're in for). I have a lot of shopping anxiety, and a lot of difficulty making big purchases, but also some very clear aesthetic preferences (back to the modernism thing) which don't really jibe with a lot of contemporary design.

First I went to Big Luxe Home Store (I do know what it's called, I'm not being coy, I just forget and don't feel like looking it up--the high end Home Depot, I think), and got completely overwhelmed and was not helped at all by the one surly salesman--there's more to the story: I did pick a tub, out of a catalog, and decided to go with the matching toilet, and then happened to see the toilet, when I was in the back trying to find faucets, and it was hideous, and I just had to leave the store.

At that point, I decided to go to the plumbing supply store up north that several people had mentioned, and there I achieved emo-design-plumbing nirvana. I walked in, and you needed to sign up with the receptionist, and I said "I'm hopeless, and I need someone really patient," and she smiled and brought out the perfect salesperson. (There's a connection here to emotional architecture, I know there is!). Basically, she was perfect because she was really patient, but also because she got really quickly who I was and what I was looking for--who I was, because there were issues like cost and convenience at stake as well as aesthetics. I told her vaguely what I was looking for, and she pointed out a few things, and I told her if I liked them or not, and from then on, basically everything she pointed out was something I liked, and she even helped me make the hard choices between different things I liked.

Hmm, this post may be even more banal than I think it is. Let's switch gears, though we'll stay on the same bike (oh man, maybe I should be writing my anti-bicycle rant instead...).

One of the things I'm thinking about, as this renovation emerges above our heads, is how it's going to change our family life. For the last three years, we have lived, essentially, in five rooms. There were two other rooms which mainly functioned as storage, and I'm fudging slightly in considering the living room and sunroom one room--they open onto each other with glass doors, but the sunroom is separate enough for a TV and for guests to have an iota of space for themselves. But basically there has been the living room/sunroom, dining room, kitchen, girls' room, our room, and one bathroom. This means a lot of playing in the living room, and my desk in the dining room, and hearing S grind his coffee while I lie half-awake in bed in the morning, and girls coming from their beds to ours without even waking up, and guitars all over the living room--no, that's a renovation consequence, which I am determined not to let drive me insane, as one point of the renovation is that the sunroom will become a music room and, as god is my witness, I will never stumble over a guitar again! But, you know, even though the clutter and the lack of space for me to work has driven me crazy, I also like how close we are, and the way everyone is right there and you always know what they're up to. It's been small, but it's worked for us.

Once we renovate, the bedrooms will all be upstairs, and the girls will each have their own bedroom. M is very much becoming a teenager, and while she likes to be with us, I suspect she may take to spending more time in her room, if not now, soon enough, given that that's what all the teenagers I know seem to be doing. We'll have a playroom, and I'm envisioning a wall-length desk in the new office cum TV room cum guest room. And then there's that music room. So where it used to be S in the dining room on the guitar (and the dining room also opens to the living room), me and M in the living room on the laptops, and E at the dining room table drawing, maybe we'll all be in separate rooms? And the renovation will be the death of family togetherness? And I'll long for the guitars on the living room floor?

My friend S emailed me today and said, at the end of her email, "Hope the renovation is going well--it will change the way you live and you will LOVE it." Ah, maybe we're back with the same old problem of my eternal pessimism, but she cheered me, so maybe I'll just end with that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dead Bodies and Murderers

Unlike my dad, I'm pretty much for any kind of conciliatory gesture from anyone in the Middle East: anything that gets people talking, negotiating, working together. But we completely agree that releasing Samir Kuntar in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers is nuts. I realize that the politics of this have nothing to do with peace, and everything to do with militarism (we bring our boys home, no matter what). And maybe I just don't have the right militaristic and/or spiritual viewpoint. I mean, clearly I don't. The fetishization of the corpse does nothing for me, spiritually or militarily, and I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that murderers, especially unrepentant ones, belong in jail. Really, this just boggles the mind. And bodes ill in so many directions. Not that anything in the Middle East bodes well.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pets, Kayaks, and Isadora Wing

I am exceedingly not an animal person, so the NY Times Magazine article on pet psychopharmaceuticals left me cold, but for some reason I kept reading it, which is odd, because I am usually quick to abandon NY Times Magazine articles that don't interest me, even though I always feel guilty about it (case in point: the Mexican drugs article) (what's with the drugs this weekend?) (and the pets--East Coast Big City Newspaper Magazine was all about the pets too, and I quickly abandoned it). But I'm glad I stuck with the NY Times Magazine pets, though really the pets interested me not at all, because there was payoff in the very final paragraphs:

At end of the day that I visited Dodman, we sat watching video clips of dogs repetitively pacing, chasing shadows and snapping at nonexistent flies. Dodman, leaning back in his chair, launched into a story about a human obsessive-compulsive-disorder sufferer he had met — a man who repeatedly tugged at his beard. Dodman asked him if he had ever stopped, and the man said he did during a hitchhiking trip across Canada. Dodman thought he knew why: “He went back to being a human being. He was watching out for real dangers. He was trying to go to real places. He was concerned about his next meal. He was thinking about where he was going to sleep. And he wasn’t concerned about the stupid beard pulling, because now he had a real life. When did the problem start again? The minute he sat back in front of a flickering computer screen.”

Dodman’s theory, essentially, is that the causes of mood disorders and obsessions in humans and our pets aren’t so different — faulty genetics, dreary environments. Whether cubicle- or cage-bound, we get too little exercise; we don’t hunt, run or play enough to produce naturally mood-elevating neurochemicals.

What's interesting (coincidental, useful, obvious) is that just last night, I was trying to construct a blog post about this very topic.

I spend my life, work and leisure, in two very different ways. Sometimes I am a one-woman hub of activity: there are lots of people, and I am on my feet and moving around, and the action is non-stop, and you never know what's going to happen next. And then sometimes I am a one-woman...mmm, how can I describe this positively? Sometimes I am a one-woman vale of contemplation: it's me and my computer and maybe some books, and things to write and read, and I know that what will happen next is that I will procrastinate and agonize, and eventually do the things that need to get done, and finally close the book or get off the computer.

In case it isn't clear to those of you who read this blog--and it must be clear to those of you who know me in person--I spend a fair amount of time agonizing and angsting. Really it's an amount of time completely disproportionate to any causes for agony and angst (at least I hope it is) (at least I've spent a lot of time over the past decade or so convincing myself that it is). And most, if not all, of that agony and angst occurs when I am hanging out in the vale of contemplation.

OK, that is a candidate for most obvious sentence I've ever written in my life. Really I should delete it and come up with a more fortuitous phrasing for what I mean, because of course contemplation would be linked to agony and angst. Or maybe not, maybe there are some sunny contemplators, yes, like Laurie Colwin, who looked about and saw sweetness and light and delicious food, and then she died (and once I met her daughter, which was odd, because it was in a completely irrelevant context, but within minutes she had brought up the fact that she was Laurie Colwin's daughter and her mother had died). But of course I am not Laurie Colwin. Still, what I meant to focus on was, I think, the opposite of what I said: when I am in the maelstrom of activity, I do not agonize or angst, I simply am, and it's a much better state in which to be. Except that I quite love the vale of contemplation in its own way, only not its emotional consequences.

We went to the country this weekend, and on Saturday afternoon we went out in boats. We needed boats, not a boat, because there were six of us: the regular four of us, plus the nine-year-old twins whom we'll just call T1 and T2. S, T1, and E went in a canoe. M and T2 went in a two-person kayak. I went in a solo kayak--aaah. It was glassy as we canoed down the lake, and we kayakers stopped in the middle for M to slip out of her kayak and swim, which made T2 a bit nervous, but I specialize in reassuring the twins, so it was OK (and in case you were wondering, forward somersaults in a lifejacket are quite entertaining, whether you're doing them or watching them, but backwards somersaults are impossible) (or maybe it was the other way around).

When we turned back to go home--after ending our mid-lake sojourn and joining the canoers at the far end of the lake--the wind had come up, against us, and M and T2 started to get discouraged. There was no choice, though, they had to make it back to where we started. I couldn't complain, of course, and it felt like a good challenge to get my kayak back up the lake with my own two arms. But the girls needed help, so I coached them along, cheering them, telling them how many strokes to paddle on the left to get themselves headed back into the wind, then cheering them some more. So I paddled and coached, and we all got back up the lake, and there was not an iota of agony or angst (except maybe M was a little agonized, especially around the arms).

(And while we're talking about crosswords, which we're not of course, but one NY Times Magazine topic leads to another: it is not Erica Jong who has the putative phobia, it's Isadora Wing.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Rich Are Different

In her divorce settlement, Christie Brinkley got to keep all 18 of the properties in the Hamptons. I can't even imagine what I could keep 18 of in a divorce settlement. I guess books. What does one do with 18 properties in the Hamptons? (I know, I know, one rents them and gets even richer, which presumably has something to do with why I don't have 18 of anything valuable.)

Another Brief for the Continued Existence of Childhood

The main things E seems to be learning at Farm Camp are Cat's Cradle and an arsenal of clapping games. She is delighted that I know Cat's Cradle and can teach her what to do with every configuration of string (though, alas, I seem to have forgotten the solo version where you end up with the witch's hat). And, in the absence of other children at home, S and I must spend hours every evening playing all varieties of clapping games with all varieties of rhymes (including the one about "I don't care" and "your stinky underwear," which she only whispered once, because it isn't nice).

This is folklore come to life, people, and it's happening unaided and unassisted amongst a random bunch of seven year olds, brought together only by Farm Camp. The girls do it, the boys do it, E does it in the backseat during carpool, with a slightly older boy and girl. Then I drop her off and within moments she's under a tree with her gang, you guessed it, playing Cat's Cradle or clapping games. Every day there's a new version or variation, and Disney has nothing to do with it (though the newly discovered Disney Radio is often playing in the background, at least during carpool).

As always, I do wonder if we are self-selecting for communities where children are children. Certainly sending your kids to Farm Camp is the province of an upper-middle-class progressive (white, as I mentioned before) echelon, but it's not just the ex-hippies (that would be us). There are also clearly lots of rich business types, as evidenced by the cars and clothes (fascinating disjunction between the moms in their tank tops and capris and floaty skirts--that would be me--and the moms in full-out country club gear--that would be the other ones--though S and I did decide on Family Night that probably 90% of the Farm Camp moms do yoga--that would be me and them--albeit for the diverse reasons that constitute yoga's current popularity amongst our echelon). At any rate, those rich business types? Take my word for it, because I know them: their houses are full of WIIs, and their cars full of DVD players, and their kids are overscheduled--and they still play Cat's Cradle and clapping games.

I tell you: childhood lives.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Suze Rotolo

It's just a book marathon around here tonight, so I'll make this one brief. As everyone knows, I'm a sucker for rock chick memoirs, and Suze Rotolo would just HATE that description of her book, A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties. Rotolo was Bob Dylan's girlfriend from around when he came to New York till he got big (and dumped her for Joan Baez). She's the one walking down the street with him on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Anyway, we all also know that I'm a sucker for memoir as cultural history, as well as the 60s, and that's really what this book is all about. It's not the best-written book ever, but it's a great window onto a moment of possibility and cultural ferment. Rotolo, a red-diaper baby from Queens, was right there as the 50s became the 60s became the SIXTIES, and she's both immediate in her recollections and intelligent in her reflections, especially about the pre-consumerist moment and her refusal to become a rock chick. One of the most fascinating things here is her articulation of a nascent feminist sensibility, before there was a language for it, and you know I'm all about the feminism. Jackie, read this one! And the rest of you too, if any of these motifs ring your bells (can motifs ring bells? must go to bed now).

The Dinner Diaries

My friend Betsy's book, The Dinner Diaries: Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World, was published today, and I am going to venture briefly out from behind the curtain of my anonymity schtick to recommend it highly. Betsy, Andy, Zack, and Maya are some of our favorite eating companions. Maya is as picky and adorable as E. Zack is as gourmet and tween as M. Andy is as nice as S, maybe even nicer. And Betsy, well, she's a neurotic mom like me, albeit maybe a little (a lot) more neurotic on the food front. Truly, they are great, and one of the great things about the book is how Betsy brings her family totally to life--I promise, you'll want to hang out with them too!

Betsy is a great food writer with an awesome (if slightly less than prolific due to recent book writing) blog. When Algonquin contacted her to see if she would write a book for them, she grabbed the opportunity to attempt a food makeover for her family. The book is her account of trying to find healthy food that everyone would like, which turns out to be quite a task, but Betsy's great writing and most excellent sense of humor make it a great read. I have to say I bogged down in the fish chapter--and then felt really guilty about the bluefish we'd had for dinner--but really, there's just tons of information and entertainment here, and I'm not just saying that because she's my friend and she quotes my husband and, I'm pretty sure, includes the rest of us in an anonymous kind of way. And the rest of you won't enjoy seeing half the people we know immortalized in print, but, hey, you can't all be me.

(On a slightly more serious note, one thing I did realize when reading this book was that, when it comes to food, I care a lot more about sustainability than I do about my family's health. I mean, my family eats pretty well and we're all pretty healthy and fit--I might feel differently if it were otherwise--so I just can't bestir myself to worry about the mercury in the bluefish--most of the time. But the killing off of all the fish in the ocean? That gets me worked up.)

James Taylor in Contemporary Fiction

I'm not quite sure why the last two novels I read featured James Taylor, but they both did, though they have very little else in common.

Genevieve, you were right: the first James-Taylor-featuring novel was Marisa De Los Santos' Belong to Me. I was having a bad reading period, either abandoning books or reading them and regretting it. The best thing to do when having a bad reading period is to obey Jenny. Actually, the best thing to do in general is probably to obey Jenny, but it is a particularly good idea to obey Jenny when it comes to matters literary, especially when she knows you and your tastes. At any rate, Jenny suggested Marisa De Los Santos and Joshilyn Jackson. I did not love the Jackson novel I started of the three I took out of the library, and then it was time to return the books, so maybe some other time. But I completely enjoyed Belong to Me: it was really an ideal read of the...what is it that I love? Ah yes, contemporary women's literary realism. Engaging characters, plot, location; good writing; a bit of maudlin melodrama, but not so much as to turn one off: really, I fear that I will damn this novel with faint praise, because it's hard to put my finger on why it was so enjoyable, I think perhaps because it was just so competent in the best sense of the word, which sounds like faint praise, but really isn't at all. (If you need a plot summary to decide whether you want to read it, you can go for the link, because I fear plot summary will sound like more faint praise! A woman and her husband move to the suburbs and meet a lot of neighbors, including the teen genius and his out-there mom, and the Queen Bee and her dying best friend, and their lives all get intertwined. Truly, the Queen Bee is the absolute best character, quite fabulous, though the teen genius is also quite great.)

The other novel with James Taylor in it is Sophie Dahl's Playing With the Grown-ups, and I have to say first off, that I have great difficulty telling the Freud girls and the Dahl girls apart. There are the imposing grandfathers, to begin with, and then they all seem to appear in British Vogue and design hats and write novels all at the same time, and maybe some of them are even artists--and oh my gosh, my mid-blogging googling has just proved that Sophie Dahl's new book is basically the same thing as Esther Freud's old book, so I am clearly onto something with the Dahls and Freuds (and what would Sigmund say about that giant peach?!). At any rate, this book was quite ridiculous: it was a coming-of-age novel, and basically had no plot except the heroine's mother being wack and the child heroine becoming a teenager heroine and getting bad, and then clearly getting good, because there is also a part set in the present when she is pregnant and married and obviously good, but you never see how she got from bad back to good, because she was quite good as a child, only adolescence and her terrible mother were the problem, and this is striking a bit close to home (not me, but my recent teenager), and really this book is not worth talking about much more. It wasn't BAD; it just wasn't very good, and really there was not much of a reason for it to exist, except perhaps for me to have my Freud/Dahl insight. But it did have James Taylor.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Family Night at Farm Camp

Q: How many families brought their picnics in Whole Foods shopping bags?

A: Lots. Including us.

Upscale white people aside (and, truly, this is the whitest camp ever, aside from the Chinese girls with white parents, really to the point of it being a fairly dramatic failing on the part of what is otherwise a lovely camp with great values, because you have to work really hard to be a progressive sort of camp and not make at least a marginal effort to recruit some of the legions of children of color just a few short miles away), anyway, upscale white people (including us, of course) aside, I remain a huge camp fan (to nobody's surprise, I'm sure), and Family Night at Farm Camp was no exception: goofy counselors, adorable children, camp songs, nonsensical skits, and proud, excited E guiding us around the barnyard. Mmm, summer.

The Email I Send Most Frequently

great, thanks

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Present Meets Past, or The Hegemony of HSM

It finally seems like summer.

Last week was delightful, but sort of scattered. S and I alternated between staying home with E and taking her to work, and we still were settling in after the Great Camp Departure. Over the weekend we both had to work, plus juggle crisis (I spent all day Saturday leading a training with cellphone in hand). Not exactly relaxing.

Then Sunday afternoon I went out to the farm store for the first time in months and was overwhelmed by the cornucopia of summerness. I went hog-wild (no, I did not buy a hog, though stay tuned for a post about my friend Betsy's new book in which a hog is indeed bought--and eaten). I bought watermelon, nectarines, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and figs. I was a little worried we wouldn't eat it all--our fruit desire/consumption ratio is not always the greatest--but we are making excellent progress.

This week E has started farm camp (different farm) and all of a sudden we are fully grounded in summer. Farm camp is three towns out, and it feels like you're in the middle of the country. You drive by the pond at its most peaceful, and there are green-gold fields and dark-green woods in the distance. Then you get to the farm and the camp is camp: happy campers all around, surrounded by more of those fields and woods.

After camp on Monday, E and I went up to Town Pond for the first time this summer (E: "This is the best evening ever after the best first day of camp ever!"). Since we were in the country all last summer, I don't think we went once to Town Pond, and I'd forgotten how peaceful and pretty it is up there, especially if you take a picnic and go at dinnertime when it's quiet. Plus, it's always ten degrees cooler.

Yesterday morning I drove the camp carpool. The three kids were sitting in the back, and we were listening to E's friend L's birthday CD (another trend I wasn't aware of: make a CD of the kid's favorite songs for a birthday party favor--E has gotten two in the last month). The CD is heavy on the High School Musical and the kids were so excited, talking about which DVDs they have and which songs they like. At one point I looked back, and the three of them were all singing along, nodding their heads gently to the music (and I was slightly surprised at the general enthusiasm, because one of them is a boy, but then again Noah loves High School Musical, so maybe it is a pre-teen boy thing too).

I remembered, right then, that my first encounter with real pop music--not Beatles or Jefferson Airplane, the music we had on records, but radio hits--was in a camp carpool in the early 70s when every single day we heard "Billy Don't Be a Hero" and "The Night Chicago Died" on the Top 40 radio station. And I thought of E.B. White (yes, I really did) and "Once More to the Lake," which is not just one of the best essays ever, but the quintessential (middle-class, east coast white people) summer essay, and how at the end...oh, let's just get the, actually, it's really the theme to the whole essay, and I can't give you the essential last line without the whole essay, but basically as his son has the experiences he once had, the past and present blur, and he becomes his son, except not, and that's kind of what it was like driving the carpool to camp, though the beautiful country morning, now that it's finally summer (except luckily I got to skip the "chill of death" part).