Dec 7, 2004

Tchaikovsky's Head

Montessori is so great! The children learn about environmentalism. Monet. And Tchaikovsky. Which makes me feel a lot better about letting Jack check out an Early Reader book about the X-Men, which features superheroes with unnaturally muscular frames, and superheroines with Barbie-esque proportions. Oh yeah, and guns. Guns. I looked at the cover again, yep, it said "Early Reader," clear as day. It is "disappearing" from the house today. You can't let your guard down anywhere, even in the "Early Reader" section of your local library. Oh, and isn't it strange that unnaturally large boobs and guns are always in the same story?

But thank goodness for Montessori. In the car yesterday, Jack burst out with "Do you know what Peter Tchaikovsky did when he was a boy? In school one day, his teacher told him the top button on his shirt was unbuttoned, and he fell on the floor and screamed, "It's all my fault." In the next breath Jack asked, "Do you know who his favorite composer was?" "No, who?" (I really did not know.) "Mozart." "Wow. Really?" I looked it up and he was right!!! The Mozart part, anyway. Although Tchaikovsky was a bit foggy on his Beethoven.

The unbuttoned shirt incident is more elusive. I do notice in every photograph of Tchaikovsky that his shirt is fastidiously buttoned indeed. In a Tchaikovsky admirer's website it claimed, referring to T's wife, that "Antonina Ivanovana Milyukoff hurled herself at his head, declaring in a letter her love for him." Ouch. She was quite the multitasker. I assume she missed his head, unless she was airborne. Or maybe he was lying on the floor, having noticed his shirt was unbuttoned. Or maybe his hair was uncombed. That must be it.

Dec 6, 2004

High, Higher, Highest Education

"Are there any good museums in New York?" You would say that's a good question coming from a five-year-old. When you hear it was from an eighteen-year-old, then you would say, "Kids are so ignorant these days." Then when you hear it came from an art student, you . . . don't know what to say. (I work at an art college.) No, she wasn't being ironic. Trust me.

I know. I know. It's incredible. In the past, with fellow graduate students and then other faculty, I have made many a joke about student gaffes, errors, and bizarre (to us) gaps in knowledge. My first year as a teaching assistant at Temple I made a list of amusingly (to me, at the time) error-ridden sentences. No doubt I could have sold the list to Reader's Digest for an easy hundred bucks.

No more. Not that I don't still laugh--I photocopied a whole essay the other week for John to see--it's just that I could make one of those lists every month. Which would be very weird, verging on cruel. Now that I work in academic support and am not teaching in the classroom, the thing is this: I know the backstory.

This young woman of the art museum question, I'll call her Sarah, was on the upswing from a depressive episode at the time, voluble, chatty, and ready for anything, this after holing up at home for a few days, AWOL from classes and ashamed of her absence. Given the circumstances, I was heartened by her question, because it showed that she was looking forward to the next day's class trip to New York, ready to welcome the chaos and beauty of the world.

A few weeks ago, a student told me what she thought about the other women on her floor in the dorm: "They're all cretins." This from a girl with spikes sticking out of her nostrils? Ha ha ha. But I know more about this girl, whom I'll call Annie. Annie has two brothers, one dead and one disabled. She is not on speaking terms with her mother. And her father can't afford the $2700 to get her tested for the learning differences that she most surely has. If she could get her ADD documented, then our college is legally required to give her extensions on assignments.

So . . . Annie stays up all night working up to 14 hours on projects that "should" take only three hours. Well, I'd be bitchy too, wouldn't you?

Dec 2, 2004

Turkey Lurkey

We knew a farmer in Virginia who tried to raise free-range turkeys, but they just ran away. Da dum. No, it's true.

Our organic turkey, brined by John and Jack, turned out great! And it's still going, of course. . . . a lot more slowly now, though. The simple, dramatic turkey-as-turkey, on a platter, limbs intact, sprigs of rosemary and sage on the side, has given way to turkey chopped up, mixed with stuff (including the herbs), and baked.

Last night it devolved to the next lower level, which I call "re-presenting." Along the lines of "re-gifting" (giving people gifts that you received as gifts but don't want) and "re-designing" (moving your currently owned furnishings to new places in your house), "re-presenting" is a thrifty way to deal constructively with what you seem to be stuck with.

In this case, we had already had turkey casserole (brown rice, red peppers, edamame, carrots, lowfat faux white sauce, curry powder). But very small amounts of this tasty dish were consumed due to various people not liking various ingredients. Hmmm . . . what to do? Too much to throw out. Don't have a dog. Kato the cat would eat it and then vomit. Not good. So here's what I did.

Re-Presented Casserole McKinney

Half or more of a previous meal's casserole
4 to 6 slices of cheddar cheese
1/2 to 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put casserole in a casserole dish that is a different shape than the one used on the previous night. Cover the casserole with slices of cheese. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over cheese. Sprinkle paprika over breadcrumbs. Bake approximately 20 minutes covered with foil and 10 minutes uncovered. Voila!

If anyone asks "What is it?" in that suspicious way they have, call it cheese casserole and stick to your story.

Dec 1, 2004

Virulent Contagious Disease Still Rampant on Playgrounds

Last night John and I learned that five-year-old boys still , after all these years, get cooties from girls who kiss them. Jack asked me how long cooties stay on someone, and I didn't really know, so I told him "less than a second." I can find no information about cooties from the Centers for Disease Control. What have those people been doing?

So, left to our own folk remedies, I suppose we must continue to contain the menace with those low-tech devices made out of notebook paper, folded in such a way that the forefingers and thumbs can be inserted and moved inside the device to "catch" the vermin without having to touch them. Generally, I believe children in the upper elementary grades are proficient in making these and passing the knowledge down, usually during math class.

Nov 29, 2004

Firehouse Rock

On Nov. 20, we all spent some time at the Swarthmore Firehouse. For a three-year-old boy and a five-year-old boy, a birthday party in the firehouse is nirvana. As the mother of one of the guests said, "It doesn't get any better than that, does it? " The table was in the bay where the ambulance truck normally sits, between the vintage firetrucks (1923 and 1928) and the new $800,000 ladder truck. No party decorations necessary.

Swarthmore has volunteer firefighters, and three of them were on hand. One put on his whole outfit in front of the kids, so they would know not to be afraid if they ever need to be rescued from a burning house. Lessons in survival skills at a birthday party. "It doesn't get any better than that."--me.

The chief took them on a tour of the firehouse. ("They have a television upstairs. Cool.") Then they rode in the truck, in two batches. Very bumpy, and they got to ride backwards. Will, Jack, and their friends Christopher and Alex spent most of the time arguing about what state the firetruck was driving to, New Jersey, Texas, or New Mexico.

Although I do love to bake birthday cakes and make primitive-looking smudged pictorial representations of fierce creatures and powerful vehicles on the top, this year's cake was from Terstappen's, with a beautiful firetruck picture, no visible crumbs, and a highly legible "Happy Birthday Will and Jack."

Anyway. (That word, serving as one sentence, reminds me of a great Roddy Doyle story in the Nov. 29 New Yorker, of the I-really-hope-this-doesn't-happen-to-our-marriage-but-oh-god-it-just-might sort.) There we all were, a small bunch of parents who (wonderful people!) decided to stay with their children instead of hurriedly dumping them off and then returning to collect them one minute shy of the official end time. And eight wired little boys and two very civilized little girls.

"I'm ready for pizza!!!" announced Christopher in a very loud voice. "We don't have pizza, but we have some yummy snacks!" I chirped gamely. "Is apple cider all there is to drink?" he bellowed. No wonder his father had left to "run some errands." Christopher proceeded to dislike the ice cream (Jack's choice, cherry chocolate chip) and his favor, a kazoo. "You can't win them all," as my mother in law said. I think he had a good time anyway, not that I care, the ungrateful little wretch. He did give Will and Jack really loud plastic toys that they love, and that Will sleeps with, so it's a wash.

"Did the boys buy this shared birthday party idea?" you ask. I don't know yet. I thought we had explained the concept in excruciating detail many times. But yesterday, when I was explaining to Will that his actual birthday is November 30, he said "That's when I have my police party!"

Nov 14, 2004

Liberal Mennonites Feed Raw Eggs to Children

It was Jay's turn to do children's time at church today, and he was in overachiever mode. He wasn't going to be one of those slackers who mumble a story from a book and hurriedly say "OK, you can go back to your seats now!" before the children can ask any questions.

No. He carried a large plastic tub and wore a white jacket that he appeared to have wrested from a petite woman. The children gathered around and he took bowls of baking powder, flour, chocolate chips, and sugar out of the tub. He started giving out cookie ingredients to the children so they could dump them in a big mixing bowl. Jack and Will got sticks of butter, and Lucas got flour, which he was fine with until Jay started to "help" him stir it. Destiny got to break eggs into the bowl all by herself.

Around this time, I began pretending really hard that this wasn't happening. Had no idea I was going to have to worry about greasy little hands and floury clothes at church. Jay's hands were now covered in flour, butter, and sugar up past his wrists because he realized that stirring cookie dough with a spoon takes too long, and children's time is supposed to take about five minutes. Pastor was waiting to preach. Had been waiting a while. "I washed my hands," Jay assured us unconvincingly.

The point of children's time seems to have been something about cooperating, I was gathering through my dissassociation haze, as Jay cheerfully assigned another person with dirty hands to pass out large lumps of raw cookie dough directly into the hands of the children. The small, trusting souls crammed the blobs into their mouths with delight.

"Thanks, Jay! That was fun!" I lied wildly. Praise should be heaped upon anyone making an effort to be creative with children's time, short of using matches and lighter fluid to demonstrate a burning bush. The cookies got baked during church and we all had some. They were delicious, and no one is sick yet. God is good.

Nov 13, 2004

Good Conductor, Bad Conductor

We train commuters are creatures of habit, taking the same train every morning, and some of us the same train every afternoon, even the same car. When conductors are reassigned, which is every few months, the chemistry changes.

Until about two weeks ago, we on the 4:06 train from Suburban Station enjoyed a conductor who watched us getting off the train without fail, cheerfully admonishing us "All three steps! No skipping steps!" He was always close enough to catch us if we fell. The new conductor stands back far enough to avoid having to help anyone who falls, and maintains a stony silence.

The old conductor teased people who didn't have their Trailpasses out on time, roared goodnaturedly at passengers standing in the middle of the aisle, remembered the "regulars" and knew who could take some ribbing on a Friday, knew how to make an official announcement with just the right undertone of irony and topnote of optimism. The new one doesn't talk except to utter a gloomy "All passes and tickets out at all times," which he told me when I had been busy talking to a friend. It was the first day I had ever forgotten; don't I get ANY CREDIT? It figures that he is also one of those people who frowns momentarily whenever he sniffs.

Small slips of paper left on the seats yesterday informed us that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) is running out of money, again, and the state says they're not going to make up for the shortfall. SEPTA is threatening to cut out all weekend routes and trim back on weekday schedules.

On second thought, give me a grumpy conductor any day.

Nov 12, 2004

Ronald Reagan was right.

Ketchup IS a vegetable. Ketchup IS a vegetable. Ketchup IS a vegetable. Or so I keep telling myself. My almost-three-year-old son Will had four helpings of the stuff last night. He "dipped" his chicken in it, but the chicken was merely a vehicle for the ketchup. Meanwhile, his Democrat vegetables, sauteed spinach with red peppers, garlic, and ginger, lay untouched on his plate, pure and untouched as his small pile of brown basmati rice.

Every night I give him small helpings of healthy vegetables, which go untouched so often that I feel like I'm offering them to the gods. Occasionally, this little god will touch a vegetable and say "sgust" in the most venomous tone of voice. (Only the most forceful sounds in the word "disgusting" will do--never mind the weak prefix and suffix.)

We are joining "Winter Harvest," a winter version of a CSA, in a couple weeks, which promises many more piles of untouched vegetables and "sgust" proclamations.