Dec 31, 2006

Between the Years

Between Christmas and New Year's is a magically suspended week. We celebrate with our children and remember our own childhoods. Yet while we revel in the present in light of the past, we also think about the future in a way only possible during this week. There is a spentness to this season; the Christmas tree is getting dryer, wrapping paper and ribbons can be found behind the sofa, and where is that gift certificate, anyway? Our waists are a tad wider. And we think, "Is this all?"

I met with two old friends near the MLA convention this past week. One of them, G., I have always envied. She has children and tenure at a decent school, a published book and another on the way. But. Her marriage is unraveling, destructively. viciously, and it is causing her to despair. And I am afraid for her. Please send your thoughts and prayers out to her . . . . My other friend who I met, H., is still single at 50, and has recently won a coveted short story prize, but is still waiting for her "break." She just learned that she has arthritis in her hips, and that her ex-fiance is married, with a child. Pray and think about her, too.

There is a point, somewhere in midlife, when you can run aground. Your mistakes catch up with you, the narrative of your life is stalled, you dread exposing your fears to anyone. At a certain point the seams in your soul start to show you that things aren't getting better and better, an endless spiral of success and happiness. Then, what do you? You've lost track of your oldest and best friends, or don't forgive them for something you no longer remember. You can't be as vulnerable to new friends as you would have been, because you don't want to appear needy.

Our culture doesn't give us a clear way to transcend our bodies or our fears, or any legitimate way to smash the success myth. We have to claw our way out of this one, full of grit and cussedness. We need to start praying, make art, teach someone to read, write a book, learn to give back, forgive those who have wronged us. We need to seek community, whether it's a church or synogogue or not. We cannot do this on our own.

In less than two years I will be 50. I know that raising children is extremely valuable, but I need something else that adds up to more than carpools, loaves of bread, and a blog. I know that I need to dedicate myself to writing, and I am working on some specific solutions that are too tentative to mention now. (Don't worry, this does not involve running away from home.) Dear readers, help me have the boldness to do this.

And may you face the challenges of the New Year with grit and cussedness.

Dec 18, 2006

Bicycles, Blintzes and Beeswax

Have you ever entered a place where you thought, "This is it. The center of the universe"? One of the first times I ever had this feeling was when I walked into Via Bicycle Shop, in Philly, back when it was on Pine St. To say that they sold used bicycles is to do the place a disservice. They sold magic vintage bicycles, from every decade of the 20th century. The proprietor, Mike, sported a handlebar mustache, and in every conceivable Center City parade rode a turn-of-20th-century bike with huge metals wheels. Naturally, he wore knickers.

Whenever I was in that shop, buying my red Schwinn from the late 1960s, or getting it fixed, I felt like I was part of something great. I was living in the center of my life, and the people who worked there were where they were meant to be. I soaked in the atmosphere, that smell of old metal and bike grease, and admired the elegant forms of the bicycles hanging from the ceiling and parked in rows. Thick fenders, fancy lights, unwieldy baskets, bikes with sidecars or three or four wheels, tandems, styles of all eras in one place-- a monument to innovation, creativity, and sometimes folly.

You have to discover these places by accident. That's one of the criteria. And they are rarely located in suburbs. One day years ago I was waiting for the clothes to dry at the laundromat six blocks from my apartment. (I only did my laundry every three weeks.) Bored and hungry, I wandered next door into what looked like a sandwich shop. It was no sandwich shop. It was the Jewish deli to end all your searching. A Jewish deli bursting with personality and the aroma of pastrami baking. Penn students, faculty and locals would wait in line for up to one hour for a heaping, juicy sandwich from this place. The two brothers who ran it, who have both since died, told creaky old jokes that started with "Did you hear the one about . . ." and passed out free slices of meat and cheese to their willingly captive audience.

This serendipity happens less to me now, maybe because I don't live in the city, which means I'm not wandering around on foot, not vulnerable to miracles. So once in a while I take the train to the city to "do some shopping." My current center of the universe is Reading Terminal Market. I went there last week on the train, and really did do Christmas shopping. I got a funky piece of kitchenware that I can't describe here because of Christmas secrecy, beeswax candles from the Amish beeswax shop, five lbs. of turkey thighs for a batch of chili ($2.59 a lb.!), ancho chili powder, and coffee from Old City Coffee (Balzac Blend, my favorite). And I met my hubby for lunch at 12th St. Cantina.

Above and beyond all that good stuff, I experienced the buzz of the place, where white, black, young, old, wealthy and not, all come together to shop, meet, and to absorb the sights and sounds. It's a place to come in from the cold, or to have your shoes shined. You can buy a fresh goose or a bag of pig's knuckles. You can find African jewelry and almost any cookbook in print. Not to mention the truest of Italian cannoli or the freshest, most buttery hot pretzels ever. Or, of course, the cheap, abundant, fresh flowers/fish/produce of every description.

Most of all, when you're at the Reading Terminal Market, you know that you are present in your own life, all your senses alive. And here you celebrate the richness of the world with perfect strangers. It's a distilled version of the city itself, the essence of its life, hope, and energy.

May you find your center of the universe this season.

Dec 13, 2006

The Dream Kitchen Google Search Award Ceremony

All in yesterday's and today's Google searches:

The Split Personality/Comma Splice Award goes to: "My Greek husband was nice, now he is horrible."

The Same Wavelength as Lauren Award: "scholastic 'book fair' junk."

The Kinky Award: "I put nail polish on him."

And finally, the Who Would Have Thought to Ask Award: "President Millard Fillmore favorite dishes."

Dec 12, 2006

The Newest New Math. Does Not Compute.

When I was a kid we had "New Math." Every September we learned about sets, from elementary up through high school, it seems. Jack's school has started a new curriculum, Everyday Mathematics. The whole school is doing it. The main idea seems to be that they keep spiraling back around to repeat concepts or teach them in a new way, the idea being that if the children don't get it the first time around they may the next time, etc. Jack's teacher, like all of the teachers, is learning the system just a few steps ahead of the kids.

Now Jack loves math. He begs to learn more. John has taught him to carry, but we learned at the teacher conference that in the Everyday Math curriculum the kids don't learn to carry. "They have a new algorithm for that," says the teacher. "I don't know what it is yet, but don't teach Jack to carry. He may get confused." Oops, too late.

Now we are trying to hammer out a Gifted IEP for Jack, and his teacher is too busy learning the new curriculum and making sure most kids get it to meet Jack's needs. At least she was honest, and I really can't blame her. So it looks like we'll be leaning on the Gifted Coordinator to pull him out and give him extra instruction? His teacher doesn't like the idea of Jack missing "the games" and not knowing how to play them in future years. (So what will they do with the new kids?) The Gifted Coordinator told me at our GIEP meeting yesterday that most gifted enrichment is "in the classroom." So--now what?

In my web trolling I found the Education Program for Gifted Youth out of Stanford that kids can do at their schools. His school has a computer lab and he's good at computers, so what's not to like? My plan is to suggest he do that two class periods a week during his regular math class, so he is challenged. I'll volunteer to help monitor. And there must be other gifted kids in 1st or 2nd grades (before the pullout begins) who could use something like this. But how to get in touch with the other parents? The Gifted Coordinator isn't allowed to give me those names, of course. As Pooh says, "Think, think, think."

In my casual conversations with parents, I'm surprised at how little people know about Gifted IEPs. They think have to wait until the end of 2nd grade for testing. Not so! It's your right to have your child tested in any grade, even kindergarten, at least in Pennsylvania. And the school is required to meet the educational needs of your child. The thing is that the school will try to fit the child into the existing curriculum and it's really up to the parent to come up with other ideas/force them to go out of their way for your child. Or take it to mediation. That's just the way it is. I'm memorizing the email and phone number of the Gifted Coordinator, practicing my pushiness, and hardening my soul.

Dec 9, 2006

Armenian Cholesterol Bombs Found in Delaware County

BROOMALL, PA: By the busy intersection of Rte.3 and Rte. 320, in the small suburb of Broomall, a store ironically called "Armenian Delight" (cash only, not enough parking) is quietly producing cheese boureg, tray by tray. Although cheese boureg may be found at various Armenian festivals throughout the country, Armenian Delight's cheese boureg is especially insidious because, says our tipster, "You can get them all year. They're always in the frozen food case, by the kafta and spanikopita. . ." she trailed off, rolling on her kitchen floor and groaning, holding her tummy with her greasy hands, flecks of phyllo around her mouth.

What makes this boureg so dangerous is that each layer of phyllo pastry is brushed with butter, and in the middle lies a generous layer of mozzarella and cheddar, with a little parsley for color. This glistening, melty bomb provided all too tempting for our tipster, who "really wants to lose 14 lbs," but "couldn't stop eating these things." Her five year-old ate several, which won't hurt him as he will burn it off just jumping up and down while brushing his teeth. The seven-year-old prefers Trader Joe's veggie corn dogs. (Go figure!)

It is believed this cholesterol invasion will only hurt residents of Delaware County, PA, mostly the quiet little community of Armenians in Broomall, who comprise most of the store's customer base. Our tipster drives out there for the salads (artichoke, bean, roasted vegetable) if she is having her book group over. She claims. Also, the hummus. The bhaba ghanoush. The "Armenian pizza" which is oddly without cheese. Not to mention the fresh halvah with pistachios, and, of course, all the nut-honey-phyllo bombs.

One solution to this problem would be to have more ethnic restaurants and take-out joints in Delaware County, to make it less likely for people to find the cheese boureg. Our reporters are tracking the rumor that there is a county-wide ban on Indian restaurants, but generous subsidies for hoagie shops.

Dec 7, 2006

Only if You're Southern Baptist

Will is all about winter now. If it's cold and someone says, "Winter has finally started," in that conventional conversation-making way, he will retort with "No it hasn't! It starts December 22!" When his teacher complimented him on his haircut, he clarified "This is my winter haircut." Yesterday I was driving him to school and he asked, "Do we go to church in the winter?" I said yes, and he followed up with "Does church go on forever?"

Dec 6, 2006

In Which I Accidentally Buy Steel Cut Oats

I don't know about you, but I'm unwilling to wait 30 minutes for a bowl of oatmeal. Many years ago I decided that five minutes was just right, and "quick" oatmeal is cheating. We all walk that fine line between perfection and pragmatism, right? So now I'm stuck with this cannister of teensy tough oatmeal pellets. I put some in the bread, which is now cooling. So we'll see whether we chip our teeth on these tough little Irish nuggets. The recipe for cooked oatmeal on the box is for four servings, because it really isn't worth the cooking time for any fewer. However, in our house we do not have four people willing to eat oatmeal for breakfast, alas. And the box admonishes us, "Steel cut oats are best prepared on the stovetop." And they know what we're thinking, and so they add, "Microwaving steel cut oats is not recommended." You just have to cook a mess o' these suckers, for a long time, no way around it.

Let me slice a piece of this bread. Wait right there. -Brief musical interlude- OK, I've had a few bites of steaming, crusty bread. It's chewy, and a little nutty and crunchy--it's a thumbs-up. It's going to be a good day.

Dec 4, 2006

Notes from the Overly Analytical Parenting Department

We sometimes read too much into what our children say. We analyze their words, turn them over, scrutinize their intentions. At least I think I hope that's what I'm doing when I contemplate what Will said to me at the playground a couple of weeks ago. Will had been balking at one of those poles you slide down from the top of the play apparatus, and I said "That Mommy over there said her daughter also has trouble sliding down the pole." Whereupon Will said, "Don't listen to what brown people say." I closed in on him in panic, "What do you mean? Why did you say that?" "They're from another country," he explained, and added "Let's go on the swings!" I persisted with "That lady is American, and even if she wasn't, we listen to everyone. No matter where they are from or what color they are. Because we're all in this together. Okay?" "Okay. Let's go on that thing that makes us dizzy."

I doubt he has ever heard anyone say anything like that, and I finally came to the conclusion that his comment was more related to his own insecurity about sliding down the pole. But isn't insecurity is where much racism comes from?

Yesterday the boys and I were taking our coats off in a little coatroom at church. The choir started to file by in their red robes (including John), and Will asked, in a loud voice,to everyone within earshot, "Where's the black guy?" Argh. I pulled him over. "Please don't refer to people that way." "Why not?" he asked. I really couldn't think of a reason, as it's a simple descriptive phrase. He clarified, "You know, the guy who wears black." He meant the choir director.

I'm tired.

Dec 1, 2006

The Scrap

Since my last post, our boys have turned five and seven. We've feasted and partied. The boys have spread their Hotwheels and Zoobs and Legos and new puzzles about the living room. Which, as you can tell, we actually live in. No wasted space around here.

For months I have had a scrap of paper stuck to the magnet board above my desk. It's a corner off an old typed letter, a thin gray clue to the past. I had found it last year among my grandmother's photographs, and thought it compelling enough to keep near me. I will copy each line here, exactly as it reads.

n had a
still bandaged.
because it was haeling
she has grown terribly
's a teaful bon voyage.
ve to all,

I left the two typos in. It was hard to make corrections on manual typewriters, and it seems that the writer was upset herself. I believe this letter was from my mother's grandmother, who died in 1956. I don't know who she can be writing about--a child? After her husband died, she lived with my grandmother's brother Fred and his wife in Seattle until her own death,so it's likely she would have written letters to my mother, in Pennsylvania. Now why did my Nana have this scrap, though? My mother lived with Nana and Papa for a few years in the 1950s before meeting my father, so maybe the letter just stayed with the house. Was it torn by accident? My instinct is that it wasn't, because it's a nicely rectangular shape for a tear. It looks like it was torn in half, the halves torn in half, the quarters torn in half, with this being one quarter of a quarter, or 1/16 of the original letter. But why? Were the words hurtful, accusing, or damaging in any way? Was the recipient(my mother?) ashamed by what she read?

I will never know, and now no one will know, because I'm the only person left with these dusty things and and half-memories and conjectures. I return the scrap to the bulletin board, which it shares with pictures of our friends' three adopted Asian daughters, a leaf print made by one of the boys, a sign that says "If I were the Mom I would wear blue-green nail polish.--Will," and a picture of Jack and Will at Dutch Wonderland riding a little yellow car.

Nov 21, 2006

Thanksgiving: What We're Having

Contributed by my brother:

Turkey (organic, brined by him)

Chestnut Stuffing--yes, he will score and peel the chestnuts, boil them and all that, because he is a little crazed, but in the nicest possible way

Gravy, in the insulated gravy boat I gave him last year (I'm so prescient!)

Contributed by my Dad, but he's not allowed to have any:

One bottle of white Burgundy and one bottle of red Burgundy (a pleasantly parallel coupling suggested by the wine guru at Epicurious)

And provided by yours truly:

Cranberry Sauce

This is my latest recipe, and the best, because it's simple and delicious. You just can't argue with that. I have discovered that leftover homemade cranberry sauce is wonderful heated up and served over vanilla ice cream. Try it.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

I don't really use a recipe, but here is one I roughly follow.

Green Salad with Apples and Cider Dressing
Hubby loves blue cheese so that gets sprinkled on top. Dang, I forgot to buy it, though.

Daikon Radish Salad

Remember how our CSA went tragically bankrupt? They have rallied enough to make a delivery! The arugula got lost in the fruit drawer and is now unsalvageable, but I now have responsibility for two hairy mammoth Daikons. Based on a comment someone made on Epicurious (can you tell I use Epicurious?), I'm going to grate these suckers, after peeling the heck out of them, and mix them with Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, olive oil, and a little lime juice.

Pumpkin Spice Pie

I have made this every year. It's super.

Sweet Potato Pecan Pie, Only with Walnuts Because I Have Tons of Them and No Pecans

This recipe (with pecans) is from my wonderful late friend Richard Sax. I never met him but I love him. It's from the FIRST edition of Classic Home Desserts. They came up with a posthumous second edition, but I have the FIRST, thank you very much. I'm making this because we also got a load of sweet potatoes from the tragically bankrupt CSA. I picture Scarlet holding up the dirt of Tara in her hand and saying "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

Speaking of which,I'm asking our guests to donate food which we will take to the local food bank after the holiday. Oh, and my brother is also bringing his girlfriend and her three children. But we won't eat them until they've fattened up a bit.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, dear readers.

Nov 20, 2006

Suburban Family Hosts Sucessful Capt. Underpants Birthday Party

Swarthmore, PA: Jack and Will, two brothers about to turn seven and five, reported that their parents gave a Capt. Underpants birthday party on Saturday. "It was great!" they shouted, chocolate cake crumbs on their faces, a trail of popcorn indicating their recent whereabouts. "Everyone we invited came!" reported the dazed mother. There were unconfirmed reports that one attendee out of eleven (including Jack and Will) was a girl. Whatever she was, her basketball and football skills were noteworthy, as was her ability to join in a pickup soccer game with seven-year-olds. Mr. S, the father of Jack and Will, said that his wife forgot whether Talking Toilets were evil or not, leading to confusion regarding the Talking Toilets game. "How could you forget they're evil?" he asked rhetorically. "But 70 percent of U.S. residents think there were weapons of mass destruction, so I guess it's no wonder."

"Thank goodness the weather was fine and they could send them outside to play in the leaves," murmured one mother who stayed to help. "It was getting very loud in their house." One child, reportedly named Fluffy Diaperbrain, hadn't been feeling well and came just in time to eat the cake. He didn't want any, moped around and would not wear his extremely fun nametag or prance about wearing personalized underpants on his head. He said nobody would play with him. The other four-year-old, Slimy Picklebuns, was also out of sorts once the crowd had been banished to the backyard wilderness, but after his mother gave him a pep talk by the shed, where he was hiding, he was decidedly more cheerful. He and Fluffy were completely recovered by the time they received their party favors.

All departed at the prescribed 4:00 ending time, after which point there was rumored to be a late fee of a dollar per minute. No damage worse than cake and popcorn on the floor has been reported as of this time. The Sea Monkeys(TM), a birthday gift from the young Slimy Picklebuns, have yet to hatch.

Nov 14, 2006

Unusual Etiquette Dilemma. Please Do Help.

Thanks to Amishlaw for the no-knead bread link. They are taking Brother Peter's slow rise method about as far as it can go. Sounds great if you want a big round loaf.

Anyway, the other things that have been happening around here, in addition to a spate of weekend guests (which was lovely), is that Will is finishing up, today, his last "loop" of Tomatis therapy, which is intense sensory integration work. From what I hear from the therapists it has made a huge difference in his motor planning and coordination. I don't want to explain it all here, but if you Google "A Total Approach" you will learn about it. Will's teacher thought he had a few "sensory issues," so they directed us to A Total Approach. Some of the kids who do it have pretty significant autism, and one girl I think has a brain injury. That makes me wonder if Will really needed it. But it's good to catch this stuff early I guess.

Instead of waiting in the cramped windowless waiting room with the other parents, which makes me feel claustrophobic, I dash off to Borders and come back just in time to chat with the therapist about how it went. This enforced reading/coffee drinking time is really nice but I can't really afford it, as laundry piles up and dinner is cobbled together from food that's a day away from becoming garbage. But give me credit for not getting take-out from Foodsource, a very pricy store in the shopping center next to A Total Approach.

Now for the birthday party situation, ta-da. Because I know you all have been waiting to hear! Jack and Will want to share a party. Again! Still! And the theme is, I think you know, Captain Underpants. So I'll make some kind of semblance of C.U. on the cake. And the plan is to buy about ten cheap pairs of boys' underpants at Target, write the kids' names in them, and their C.U. names as per this website. With said garments we will have underpants-slinging contests, and kids will wear said underpants on their head during the whole cake-eating stage. And I really hope the other parents won't hate us forever.

Now here's the awkward part: I, of course, thought it would be an all-boy party, but a couple of days ago Will said he really wants Lydia to come. Lydia's parents are very religious, and out of the pop culture loop so much so that the mother never heard of Captain Underpants and got him mixed up with Sponge Bob. Please! Actually, she has no boys, so I guess she gets off the hook. Question for y'all: It seems weird to give Lydia boy's underpants for the games, but then giving her girl's underpants calls attention to anatomical differences, which seems awkward. My thought is to just pretend she's an honorary boy, and the less said the better. Her mom wants to know what Captain Underpants is. I'm supposed to call her. So I have to figure out a way to describe it honestly without using the word "irreverent," although C. U. is not irreverent toward God, it's irreverent towards authority. I should just stop thinking of this as a big dilemma. I'll just use as much Wedgie Woman Power as I can summon, and go forth boldly with no apologies. Unless I hear otherwise from my dear readers.

And please do share your Captain Underpants name if you bothered to look up the link, which I totally know you did.

Nov 12, 2006

Birthday Time Yet Again!

Oh, poor dear blog. It's your birthday. Today. And I've neglected you most sadly for two weeks. That's what comes of having two weekends in a row with house guests. I worked my b*** off cleaning out the guest room, let me tell you. Now I'm going to start some bread, and watch Desparate Housewives (eight minutes after it starts so I can TiVo through the commercials), but here's one for the readers. If there is anyone still out there.

Question from Jack: "Why do they call it an iPod if it's on your ears?"

Oct 30, 2006

The Invasion of the Bank Mystery, by Will

Will dictated this to me a couple weeks ago. I love the irrepressible optimism of these two guys. Possibly at the beginning/end of Ch. 2 they are are a bit discouraged, but they'll rally. You can tell how Will feels about the possibilities presented by commuter trains

Once upon a time, there were two mysterious kids named Afeymus and Sam. And they were looking for this weird guy who was pretending to be Ron Roy. The boys went to him and said,"I think there's someone who's pretending to be you. Let's tell the police that."
"OK," said Sam and Afeymus.
They went to the Swarthmore Police Station. The police said, "That's easy. Check Room 305 at the Media Inn."
The Media lobby owner said, "Check Room 6010. He's eating lunch right now."
"That's easy," said Sam and Afeymus. They went to the lunchroom, but when they went there, there were no people there.
"Let's go back to the lobby to see if this is the right inn," said Sam.
"Great idea," said Afeymus.
When they went there, they looked at the sign that said what inn it was. It said "Elwyn Inn."
"Oh, no! We're at the wrong inn! Let's dash on the train to go to Media."
"What train?" said Afeymus.
"The R3 train," said Sam.
"You mean the one that goes all the way to New Jersey?" said Afeymus.
"Yes," said Sam.
"That's easy to get on the R3 train. We can just go all the way to New Jersey," said Afeymus.
"Actually, we have to go to Media," said Sam.
Afeymus said, "Actually, we could go to Wallingford."
"Good plan," said Sam.
"Let's grab the R3 train, quick," said Afeymus.
"Zoom to the Elwyn stop in your fire car," said Sam.
"OK," said Afeymus.
They zoomed in the fire car all the way to New Jersey. They went to the New Jersey stop. When they got off they said,"Hey! This looks familiar. Oh, no, we're in Swarthmore."

Chapter Two

"We've got to go back on the R3 train to go to Wallingford."
"That takes a long time," said Afeymus.

Oct 27, 2006

Rules to Live By

We have been having "Family Meetings" the last two Sundays, and we hope to make this a routine. The kids get to request some meals and activities, and everyone suggests new habits to get into, or old habits to break.

This past week have been working on a habit from last week which has not seen much improvement:

Don't put it down, put it away.

This week the emphasis is on:

When Mommy or Daddy tells you to do something, do it the FIRST time they say it. So now instead of repeating it, we say "I'm not going to repeat that" over and over.

And from Will, derived from recent experience:

Ask permission before doing experiments.

Don't lick syrup off the plate.

Oct 25, 2006

The Story of the First Thanksgiving, and a Few Others

I just wrote this for the Delaware County Mothers & More newsletter.

Thanksgiving is a big holiday in our family. This year, Jack’s birthday falls on it, and Will’s a week later. After Jack’s birth, Thanksgiving dinner was the first solid meal I had after my C-section. And, in case you had any doubt, a holiday dinner in the hospital is about as solid as it gets. That gluey stuffing made almost made me yearn again for broth and Jell-O.

For our family, Thanksgiving and birthdays are the same extended holiday, a festival of thanks. So far the boys have always agreed to share a birthday celebration, to consolidate the party spirit and save Mommy and Daddy’s wits. One year my brother Dan cooked and brought the turkey, and will do it again this year. Dan and I are both control freaks in the kitchen so I have learned to delegate a dish completely to him and have him cook it at his own house.

We pull out all the stops and polish my grandmother’s silver and rinse off my mother’s china. I get out a delicate ivory linen tablecloth that my grandmother used. Instead of ironing the tablecloth like Nana did, I spritz it all over with water and put it in the dryer for ten minutes. This was my own idea and I’m sure it’s heresy, but only Martha Stewart’s staff would ever iron a large linen tablecloth these days.

One year, I made up a binder and labeled it “Holidays.” I felt sort of silly doing it, but I was tired of reinventing the wheel every year. I save my to-do lists from the previous year and the notes I have added, as well as recipes that have been successful and new ones I want to try. Breaking open that binder in November every year is strangely rewarding. It makes it so much easier to get started. Last year my in-laws were here and they love to be put to work, so together we washed china and linens, polished silver, vacuumed, and shopped. The hum of activity was somehow rejuvenating, as was the scent of cranberry sauce cooking and pumpkin pie baking. I leave you with the recipe for my family’s favorite cranberry sauce, simple and delicious. Let us give thanks.

Cranberry Sauce

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
12-oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries (3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
Bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add cranberries and simmer, stirring occasionally, until berries just pop, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in zest, then cool.
Cooks’ note:
• Cranberry sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Oct 24, 2006

Where Does a Blog Go When It is Deleted?

Such was the metaphysical question I was asking myself yesterday when I realized that, instead of deleting a test blog that I decided not to use, I had deleted Dream Kitchen, my baby. Since I had always heard that deleting computer files doesn't really delete them,I figured there was some way the Blogger Powers That Be could help me. And they did, or in this case someone named Danish (DA-nish? Da-NISH?) from "The Blogger Team." Thank you Danish! And within an hour, too.

Apparently while my blog was . . . wherever blogs go when they are deleted. . . the URL was redirecting readers to some p*rn site. Some of my friends were amused. Guess these dastardly denizens of the internet squat in newly abandoned URLs, rubbing their hands with glee and beckoning to the innocent. Another strange thing is that Sitemeter was reporting, during this same span of time, that several people found my blog, or I guess the p*rn site, through a Google search for "Lauren Dream Kitchen," or "Dream Kitchen Lauren," etc. I ask you, what does it mean?

Anyway, whatever it means, three cheers for Danish, my new friend, and the resurrection of Dream Kitchen from . . . limbo? Death? A black hole?

Oct 20, 2006

Special Halloween Update! Ha.

(First: Thanks for the birthday wishes. There was no wait at ALL at PennDOT, and the lady was extremely nice. I seem to be the one with the poor attitude!)

I've been really busy lately sewing up some original, durable, wholesome costumes for the boys. . . . Come on. Do you really think I would do that? Do you really think I could do that? Back in what we used to call "Junior High" I took sewing and made a white, yellow, and pink striped wraparound miniskirt that I was ashamed to be seen in. Think about the precariousness of a wraparound miniskirt for just a second. Oh well, it looked good on an adolescent Susan Dey on the pattern envelope. After that and a "Stretch-N-Sew" class that my Nana took me to when I was 14, my sewing ventures were over.

And without sewing, it's hard to make a decent costume that holds up well through not just trick-or-treating but also a grade school parade. This parade is a longstanding tradition at Jack's school. Most first grade boys, and Jack is no exception, don't want to be wearing some loser homemade costume. He wants to fit in. He wants his friends to recognize his "character." Today he will go in to school and proudly announce that he will be a Scorpion Ninja. He has never seen whatever show or movie actually has Scorpion Ninjas, but no matter. It's some sort of cultural icon that has currency amongst boys. And Will? He would probably be fine wearing the women's dress-up clothes that Grammy got him last year for his birthday, but he is even more fine, and much more "awesome," not to say mobile, in his Green Power Ranger costume.

Since Halloween is Halloween, and not a secularization of any Christian holiday that means much to us at this point in history, why not let the kids run around in the costumes they like, and gather some candy to be meted out over the months as rewards until they forget about it? Of course Mom gets her cut: as many Reese's Cups as she can get away with, and a few Snickers too. Then we let the boys wear the costumes the rest of the year when they're in dress-up mode.

And a bonus for local readers: Does anyone want a size 6 Batman or a size 4 Darth Vader?

Oct 16, 2006

Whew. What a Week.

Last week was just one of those weeks in which many obligations converged. But I did everything. Here the things I did:

-Went with Will to the Franklin Institute
-Baked butterscotch brownies for my church fair
-Worked at the church fair
-Wrote an article for a Montessori newsletter on "21st Century Skills"
-Researched Verizon grants for the local literacy center
-Skimmed a chapter of Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation for my Friday book group
-Went to book group
-Turned in a Gifted IEP request for Jack
-Volunteered in Jack's class for "Word Rings"
-Met with Will's teachers
-Cooked dinner, did laundry, made lunches, bla bla bla

Everything went very well. I will be glad to discourse at length about almost all of the above on request.

Meanwhile, on to more important topics . . . . Today. Is. My. BIRTHDAY!!!! And I need to go, right now, and I mean right now, to get the new picture on my license, because if I don't then I'll be an illegal driver tomorrow. And I read in PennDOT's literature that "PennDOT recently enhanced its policies . . . to reduce identity fraud." In the next paragraph, and this is the part that causes me to tremble, "Because these requirements have changed, you may at times experience additional wait times at our Driver License Centers." Translation: You will wait longer than you already had to, believe it or not, only this time the employees will be even more crabby. Happy birthday to me.

Oct 8, 2006

A Song about Church, by Will and Jack

The boys jointly made up this song and sang it over and over, holding hands, walking to church today.

Church, church,we're on our way.
We're not too sleepy and we're not too evil
To help Mr. God and save the day.

Yay, God.

Oct 5, 2006

Divide and Conquer: A Strategy for Taking Boys to Museums

The public schools had off for Yom Kippur, so I took Jack on Monday to the Please Touch Museum, at his request. He has been begging to go, although I thought he was a little old for it. And yes, he was a little old for it. Little planes moving slowly on a track in the air? Bo-ring. Playing with plastic boats in water while wearing a too-small smock? Please. At least we got to ride the trolley and subway, which we enjoyed. We took that instead of regional rail, because we could park near Will's school and easily pick him up later in the afternoon, and take him to an appointment. Jack and I waited for him in the local Borders. I had forgotten to bring my book, Devil in the White City, so I got Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, which I have been meaning to read ever since she died in 1992. I bought two more Captain Underpants tomes for Jack. I drank coffee and he had water and we sat there quietly reading. For an hour.

This Monday, Will has Columbus Day off (These dueling holidays do get annoying!) and he wants to go to the Franklin Institute, a more appropriate place. Plus, we're members, thank you. They have a new exhibit called "Animal Grossology," which he should find appealing. Despite grousing about different holidays, I find it quite wonderful to have this time with each boy separately. We get to have such great conversations. And one boy is about ten times easier to manage than two. Nobody yells. No competition. A minimum of whining. Separate holidays? Bring 'em on.

Sep 30, 2006

A Virtuoso Performance

We are SO all about Captain Underpants now. I just have to share this video with you all. I love it!!! Will just said, "Another exclamation mark, for me too." So here it is: "!"

Enjoy. (By the way, we're trying to counteract the influence of Captain Underpants with a copy of Munro Leaf's Manners Can Be Fun.)

Sep 29, 2006

Time For Another Baby?

If I were ten years younger, and hadn't had A Certain Procedure done after the last C-section, I'd be tempted to go for Number Three. I saw two little boys riding in one of those truck supermarket carts at the local warehouse store yesterday. A tear actually formed in my eye as I realized that my boys will never ride together in that again. OK, one reason is because I vowed NEVER to take both of them grocery shopping again. Anyway,I just never know when the passing of time will hit me in my gut. I guess the next one in our family to need a diaper will be me.

On a lighter note, I love those new Rubbermaid containers that crunch up flat like an accordian. Then you can snap on the color-coordinated lid and hang it on a hook if you want. Mine are in a mess like the rest of my plastic containers, but in my ideal future (before I need diapers) I picture them hanging pleasantly together in order of size. Domesticity does stave off thoughts of death quite nicely, doesn't it?

Sep 28, 2006


Wednesdays are John's long days. He drives to Villanova, takes the R5 to the city, returns to Villanova on the R5 after work, sits through a marketing class,and drives back home. He doesn't see the boys until the next day. He is a bit shagged out after all that. We sat last night and had a wee bit of Scotch together. Most of his salary increase is being eaten up by city wage tax (a little over 3.6 percent), increased health insurance costs, and trainfare. And he has much less vacation time now. So we sighed and sipped. But he does get to go for some nice walks at lunchtime. And the train beats driving any day.

He feels very old in his marketing class. They seem to talk about jeans a lot, from what I can gather, I suppose because most of the students are in the target market. These are the expensive jeans that people in their 20s buy. He never knows what they are talking about. John endures this class.

News on the book club front. I finished Case Histories. Addictive, clever writing and intriguing characters. Sex and murder and a vicar and cups of tea here and there, plus the usual class anxiety. Every British novel is about class. Will that ever change? Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the actual book group last night because I couldn't find a sitter. (Dang that Wednesday marketing class.) I called three, and calling any more sitters is trying too hard for just a book group. But I did scout around at Borders yesterday for a list of possibilities for them to consider next, and this is what I suggested, two novels and two nonfiction works:
-Small Island, by Andrea Levy
-Liars and Saints, by Maile Meloy (I read a story of hers in the New Yorker last year that made me want to read more)
--Nancy Drew, Girl Sleuth, and the Women Who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak
--Don't Get Too Comfortable, by David Rakoff

Sep 25, 2006

Scholastic Books: What's the Deal?

Jack has already brought home a book order from Scholastic. Memories of last year's book fair at his old Montessori came rushing back to me as I tossed the order into the recycling. Displays of trinkets. "Books" based on movies. Sponge Bob and other TV-show "books." I hadn't anticipated my having to say "no" every 30 seconds to my children at a book fair. At their school. I asked my sister in law, who is a school librarian in Pittsburgh, about her opinions of Scholastic. She said they have a near monopoly. She didn't like their extensive selling of licensed products and junk, either. But she really liked the particular sales rep who works with her school. Not a battle to pick in an inner city school, anyway.

The other day I browsed for information about Scholastic and stumbled upon the story, a few weeks old, about how Scholastic books had teamed up with ABC to present 9/11 propaganda. This was a study guide to the 9/11 docudrama (!), aimed at high schoolers. Scholastic did pull the study guide and replace it with material on critical reading and critical thinking. That's all very well, but . . .

Now I'm concerned all over again about Scholastic and their influence. Do they deserve near-universal patronage? I found this article in the Denver Post (from almost two years ago) in which lots of parents think exactly the way I do about the company's book fairs. But because Scholastic can cover losses due to error and theft, and smaller companies can't, there are few other options.I did find Jabberwocky, a local company in the Philadelphia area that holds book fairs. They claim to carry lots of award-winning titles and "virtually no fluff." What would it take for the Montessori (which Will still attends) to change? Half the yearly library budget comes from the book fair. I'm not ready to tackle the public school yet.

I'd be curious to get reader input on this . . . Does anyone else out there feel the way I do?

Sep 20, 2006

Important Update on the Breadcrust Situation

Remember last week? When I tried cutting off the boys' crusts? Jack still left the edges of the bread. I asked him why, and he gazed at them a couple of seconds and said "Uh . . . I dunno. I'm gonna play basketball now." Will ate slightly more but still left an edge or two.

So I consulted Brother Juniper's Bread Book again.Whenever you open a really good cookbook for "reference" then it ushers you into a world of possibilities. All the while you protest saying, "I don't have TIME. Thanks for the invitation, gotta run." But the book calls you. In this case it compelled me to make "White Bread Loaf." (I am out of whole wheat flour, because Trader Joe doesn't sell it any more, because apparently I was the only one buying it.) Anyway, I made some white bread from scratch. Three nice slow rises, and it is delicious. When I clean out their lunchboxes, there's nary a crust to be found.

Sep 17, 2006

How Many Book Groups is Too Many?

I'm capping it at three. Each group serves a distinct purpose:

1. The weekly spiritual-reading group. We are reading Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation. Ch.1 for this Friday.

2. The wine-drinking book group that rarely discusses the book. We are reading Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, for Sept. 27.

3. My new-ish friend Emilie's hand-picked group from all over the Philly metro area. No, make that just Montco, Delco, and northwest Phila. One member has stipulated no religious or political themes (How amusing!). So it's a good thing I'm in Book Group No. 1. Anyway, we are reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and will discuss it Oct. 21.

My method is to read a little of Armstrong every morning before the boys are up, because that one takes the most concentration. Case Histories is an afternoon book. I'll read Devil in the White City in October. The Armstrong book is really absorbing. She writes about the "Axial Age," which was approximately 1500 BC to 200 BC, when most of our religious traditions began. She then goes on to claim that the religious thought of the Axial Age, whether it was rabbinical, Buddhist, Confucian, Greek, or Islamic, was a deeply humane model for us to learn from. Over the centuries their precepts were degraded and narrowed, especially by fear-based theology and aggressive societies seeking divine permission. It's clear that she is writing to the post-9/11 West, translating, if you will, wisdom from an earlier age and showing us its power and relevance. Amstrong warns us that "Unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that can keep abreast of our technological genius, it is unlikely that we will save our planet." (Intro., xi)

Domestic Anecdote (because I hate to end with downer prophetic warnings):

Jack crept into bed with us this morning and murmured, "Mommy, I love you and Daddy and Will and Kato more than anything else in the world." Kato? That would be our cat, the one who this very morning vomited into the frying pan.

Sep 14, 2006

A Meditation on Bread Crusts

Lately I have been trying to solve The Breadcrust Problem, and if you are a parent of young 'uns you know the one I mean. We want our children to eat the crusts. But they rarely do. What kind of pragmatic intervention does this require on our part? And what should our moral stance be on this wholesale rejection of perfectly good food?

First off, since I make Jack and Will's sandwiches with bread I have made (albeit by bread machine), I feel extra perturbed by the waste. So I was intrigued when I read in Parent Hacks of a mother named Krista who has revisited the controversial crust-cutting solution. In a virtuous way, though, because she actually uses the crusts. So today I cut the crusts off the sandwich bread. I'll freeze them for bread pudding or croutons. The theory is that the boys will eat more of the non-crust this way,too. No crust, therefore no danger zone near the crust.

With all this cogitation upon bread crusts, I thought, "Let me consult a man of the crust." You see, in the spring I bought Brother Juniper's Bread Book: Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor at the used book sale at our local library. The title alone is delectable. He writes, "One of my earliest goals in baking was to make a crust so good that kids would not eat around it and leave it on the plate. I now know how to do this." Before you rush to find a copy, please know that his method does involve five rises, spritzing with water, and several other ablutions. And yes, he is talking about a crust that crackles and crunches, a French bread, not a crust from a prosaic bread machine. But even the commonest crust is elevated when we read the following:

The sound of crust is like an icon, not painted but baked, in which a window is briefly opened onto greater understanding. As beauty evokes beauty, the sound of crust evokes the intuition of perfection. When that intuition is sparked by something in this world, even crust, it can rightly be called religious, which might rightly be called "connectedness."

You don't have to be an aesthete or an ascetic to value bread crusts, though. We even learn from science that they may have extra life-giving powers, as well.

So how to prevent all this crusty goodness from being thrown into the cafeteria trash? The pressure on children to eat bread crusts in the absence of their parents' supervision has created a wealth of folklore. Beth, from I Used to Believe, tell us:

When I was in first grade, I brought peanut butter sandwiches to school everyday, but I never ate the crusts. One day when we were throwing away our trash, another little girl saw the leftover crusts in my baggy and she (who had apparently just taken her first communion), yelled "don't throw that away! That's Jesus's skin!" I was a little hesitant to throw away my savior's skin, but I decided it didn't make much sense and went ahead to the trash.

Other reasons parents have given their children are that crusts have the most vitamins (possibly true?), they'll make your hair curly (back when every girl wanted that),improve your whistling skills, and encourage breast development (only in girls, I guess?).

In the end, science, religion, grown-ups and children concur on the subject of bread crusts: Disguise as needed and eat with gratitude.

Mess-Free Art Project

While working on another post, I discovered this amazingly cool way to spend a couple minutes.
And a great way to let Will "paint" when we only have a little time.

See what happens when you click your mouse.

Sep 13, 2006

Any Blogging Experts Out There?

Tee hee. Now that I've really jazzed up this blog with an actual, if dinky, blogroll, I'm having a problem. My links don't go to the most recent entry. Take Stories from the Red Tent, a new blog from my friend Amy. It links to her Sept. 8 entry, but my feed on Bloglines tells me she has two more entries. I don't get it. When I check the URL that my blogroll links to, it's just the main page, so that should work, right? Am I missing something?

I also added Sitemeter, and I'm addicted to checking my stats now. It's awful. I'm going to have to put the (wireless) mouse under my pillow or something.

Sep 12, 2006

What Do You Think I Am, a Martyr?

Man, I hate The Giving Tree. My friend Alice gave me a copy of the book twenty-two years ago. We were both grown up, barely. I thought it was a cute story, great illustrations. I still love the illustrations. But I read it last night to Will and fought back tears the whole time. About the boys someday leaving us and only coming back to ask us for money. And things. And us being so desparate for connection that we give them whatever they want. Now it's cheese sticks and trips to the New Jersey Aquarium, and later it will be down payments and tuition for the grandkids, our limbs, our trunks, and then "We have to be going now. See you at Christmas."

Later John and I were talking and I cried, "We're going to be stumps. Stumps.But we'll be happy, right?" It's like Ham in End Game, the legless guy who lives in the trash can. So here I present:

The Sometimes Giving Tree

Boy: Hey, do you have any money?

Tree: Do you think money grows on trees? I'll let you sell half my apples in the city, if you make apple butter and apple pies with the rest and split it with me.

Years later

Boy: I need to build a house. I need lots more money now.

Tree: You didn't get the memo about me having no money? What, didn't you invest ANY of that apple money? Can't you get a job making apple butter and pies?

Years later

Boy: I need to get far away from everything. Can I have money for a plane ticket?

Tree: Sigh. I feel like a broken record! As if you know what a record is. Just go back to your wife and tell her you're sorry.

Years later

Boy: I'm tired. What can you do for me?

Tree: Why don't you take that blanket and lie under my shade.

Boy: Thanks, that's perfect.

Tree: It is.

Sep 11, 2006

Me on My Trike

Let me tell you about the new profile picture. My Nana took it. It's one of about two hundred pictures of my brothers and me that she took when we were small, and developed herself in her darkened kitchen. The vast majority of the pictures are of me, because I was born first, and was the only girl. And it was more culturally acceptable to dress girls up in silly frills.

That's our yard, at Ft. Sill, in Lawton, Oklahoma. My father was stationed there in the early 1960s because that was the U.S. Army's training base for field artillery. I'm pretty sure the car behind me is Nana and Papa's Oldsmobile, a Delta 88. I think it was a 1958 vintage, like me. Always, Nana picked green cars. You know the shade, right? Nana Green. The tricycle? Red. Of course.

John says I look just the same as I did then. My sartorial choices are a bit different, these days, however.

Sep 8, 2006

Failure, Unspun

Yesterday I went to pick up our box of veggies from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and our neighbor's garage was locked. Weird. After leaving a bunch of phone and email messages, I figured I'd get a call about some mixup. But no. Turns out that the CSA, Covered Bridge Farm, is in the throes of spectacular failure. Do read the owner's explanation, because it's rare to find this kind of confessional rhetoric these days. I hope things are not as bad as they sound, but they probably are.

What if the White House decided to unspin this way?

"As your President, I'm no longer able to deliver what I promised. We have exhausted our funds and our military. The final blow came this year when we realized we are really losing the Iraq war. Yes, I know I said 'Mission accomplished' three years ago while wearing a flak jacket, but that was just a lot of hooey, we all know now."

"Anyway, we have had to borrow a lot of funds because we ran out of money. I'm not a fiscal conservative, after all, and I apologize for leading anyone on. We are refinancing the country, but won't have any cash available for months, so we'll have to stop Social Security checks for a while."

"Not only that, but our workers are becoming dispirited, not just soldiers, but even some head honchos and some generals. My repeating "Stay the course" just does not seem to mean anything to these people. They want reasons and justifications and exit strategies. I guess I've learned that you can't run the country on slogans."


"I am still astonished by our failure. I have always been surrounded by people who agree with me on everything, so no one told me we would fail. Except for a few who aren't around any more. I suspect the nature of the interaction between me and our crew this year is what did us in. My management style results in a White House that is long on conservative ideology and short on dialogue or challenges. In past administrations, the crew would be frustrated, but sooner or later various individuals would fill the vacuum and challenge presidential assumptions. In my administration, no one stepped forward and little errors began to compound. Like more and more limitations on individual rights in the interest of security. Oops. No one called me on that. Except some judge in Michigan."

"I still have faith in the neoconservative model. Having lost the confidence in myself and the confidence of the nation that is needed to run the country, though, I am calling it a day.
I have created a mess on so many different levels that I'm beginning to think that another person may do a far better job of making us a solid and successful nation."


"Can you imagine breaking a promise to almost 300 million people? That is what I am doing as I type these words. I promised to deliver freedom and security for eight years and I can’t do it. I am very sorry to have taken your votes and not returned fair value for them. After I have done what I can to resume a sane and peaceful nation and refunded some of your tax money used for the war, I will still have done you a disservice. Please know that I am truly sorry to have failed to deliver a good eight years' worth of leadership."

Sep 7, 2006

John's Excellent Adventure

An era in our family shall come to an end soon. On Friday, September 22, John shall venture forth to The Big City on the commuter train. He shall then proceed, in "casual business" raiments and somber briefcase in hand, to the 22nd floor of a moderately-sized skyscraper. Whereupon he shall make his home, for 40 hours a week, in a cubicle.

After ten years, he won't be a telecommuter any more. He won't be working upstairs, asking the boys to stop yelling and stop showing him things and stop giving Mommy a hard time. He won't be here to say, "I guess the dishwasher could be run now" and "Where are you off to?" and "What did Jane want?" He won't be here to bail me out when I lock myself out of the car, won't be here to watch Will when I go with Jack to the bus stop, won't be here to chat at odd times during the day, won't be here to explain things to electricians, contractors, and plumbers.

I'm very happy for him, though, because this is a good job with a growing company, and because this company recognizes his worth. Also I want him to have new challenges and work with different people. I love Philadelphia dearly and spent 13 years living in Center City. I'm glad he will get to know it a little, too. And--frankly, I will also be glad to have the house to myself for most of the day. There is just something innately irritating about one's spouse being around all day, every day. We need to have goodbyes and reunions like most married couples, for once.

The boys are dying to ride the elevator in his new building and look out the windows. We've ordered the "business casual" clothes and await their arrival. We embrace the new era.

Sep 6, 2006

Day One: So Far So Good

Jack's first day of school lasted an eternity. I worried obsurely all day about whether they were going to catch on to his nickname and was Jack going to be assertive enough to correct them when they called him John and would he feel lonely and were the other kids going to talk to him and would the cafeteria be scary and how was the school going to get him on the correct bus and how would he know when to get off. I waited for the bus in the drizzle with some other moms. It was 10 long minutes late. It stopped. He got off first. He was wearing a cheery bus sticker on his T-shirt saying "John, Bus 5" with "Jack" written on the side and a smiley face drawn on. His rain jacket still packed in the backpack, he grabbed my damp hand and looked up at me, smiling. "Hi, Mommy! It was FUN!"

He had a snack and talked about his day. He brought home some "homework," which involved drawing a picture that showed his favorite part of the day, and writing a sentence about it. He picked the bus ride, it being the most recent and the most adrenalin-producing, I guess. He wrote a simple declarative sentence that won't reveal his astonishing brilliance to his teacher, but it was grammatically correct, with no misspellings, anyway.

John and I got much more homework than Jack did, what with the forms they sent us to fill out, duplicating or even triplicating information we already have given them . . . . lots of recycling fodder, too, like the whole piece of paper dedicated to how the school uses Integrated Pest Management and another whole page dedicated to a statement saying that the school has contained asbestos successfully (the building was renovated last year). We also received a thick wad of Helpful Information and All Kinds of Volunteer Opportunities from the Home and School Association. The association is run by the usual suspects, the stay-at-home moms, the same ones I see at the pool, driving their kids to soccer camp, and at the book clubs. (There are other people in my town, including fathers and working moms. They must be the strangers I see on the weekends.)

Thank you, dear readers, for stopping by during the lull. Blogging season has resumed, so I'll be visiting you soon at your blog! Save a place for me.

Aug 13, 2006

The Long, Last Days of Summer

Jack got his class assignment yesterday for first grade at our local public school. It came in a packet with the September cafeteria menus, and the schedule for Home and School meetings. This is real. Jack will be in grade school. He will ride a bus and go through a cafeteria line. Are we ready for this? He asked me to drive him the first day of school, but then he wants to ride the bus. They have a "bus buddy" system if the first graders want it, but Jack told me he didn't. We're hoping to convince him to use one.

We suspect Jack is a little afraid of older kids at the moment. You see, a few days ago Jack awoke from a nightmare screaming "I don't want to go back to camp!" (He has been at a half day camp at my health club ever since we returned from Indiana, mainly so he has something to do while I take Will to his "sound therapy.") John asked why, and after a while Jack admitted that an older boy had said something to him while he was changing to go swimming. He couldn't or wouldn't tell us what. He had just asked me the day before if he could just wear his swim trunks all morning and not change. He was adamant, and wouldn't give me a reason, so I agreed that he could. Neither Jack nor Will are circumcised, and maybe the boy had commented on that. We'll probably never know. I talked to the counselor, and he's not allowed to be with the boys while they're changing, so he can't really supervise. I hadn't realized that Jack would be in such close quarters with older boys. At least it's only one more week, and Jack is fine as long as he keeps the swim trunks on. The counselor told me Jack could change in a stall, but he doesn't want to. I think because he doesn't want to attract attention to himself. We have told him, "You can tell us anything that is bothering you." But the only way we learned anything is through the nightmare. Thank you, subconsconscious.

On a lighter note, Jack has been asking John and me to make up tests for him, that we then are asked to grade, usually at highly inconvenient moments. We put addition problems and simple multiplication problems on the tests. He loves these things! He wants to talk about and play school a lot now. He no doubt has a little anxiety about going to grade school, because his behavior has not been stellar since we got back, yelling and not cooperating to a more annoying level than usual. He will go to a birthday party of a friend from Montessori soon, which will remind him that he's not going back . . .

These August days are long, full of gazing back and looking ahead. Like that week between Christmas and New Year's, we are neither here nor there, floating between the past and the future. The sun creeps slowly across the wide sky each day as time slows down. The town is almost deserted, with most folks at the shore, collecting their energy for the year ahead. We swim, play, and dream of the next chapter.

Aug 6, 2006

I'm Back

We're a little crabby and dehydrated, but we're glad to be back. Kato the kitty is happy to be released from the basement, and possibly relieved to see us? He has an understated style.
We have eaten far too many pieces of pie and various and sundry other all-American foods in the past week and a half, and my daily four-mile walks did not undo the effects. Mountains of things to unpack and laundry to wash and plants to water and groceries to buy--and we need to get ready for a new routine tomorrow.

Sigh. It is good to be home. Highlights of the trip soon, I promise, dear readers. Thanks for posting, Susan, Anjali, and Amishlaw.

Jul 25, 2006

All in a Summer's Morning

The blog is very sparse this summer, but stay tuned, dear readers. I have not forgotten you. My boys are only in morning camp, and I'm very committed to exercise, volunteering, pool time, and napping when needed. Two weeks ago I FINALLY finished reading Barack Obama's autobiography. High five. What an important story, reflective, sensitive, funny in places, lyrical at times. A really nuanced discussion of race in a personal context. I started The Bookseller of Kabul the other day.

Anyways, here is what I did yesterday. Some of my numeral keys don't work because I spilled red wine on them, so I'm not putting in times.

Early morning: get up to go running at the local track. Run a little until heels bleed (gotta wear real socks, not footies) and walk until the self-imposed limit of thirty minutes is over.

Before I drink my ritual coffee, Jack wants me to read his "book" that he wrote. More specifically he waves it two inches in front of my face yelling, "I finished it, I finished it!" "STOP THAT!" I yell back. He cries. We cuddle.

Will doesn't want to wear his denim shorts, he wants something "cool." So cargo shorts it is. Olive green shorts with an electric blue T-shirt is painful to see, but he's dressed, hallelujah.

I drive Will to the local preschool day camp while John walks Jack to the grade-school camp.

I pack lunches to take to the pool, which we eat after the boys' 12:00 swim class. We do this every weekday, this week and next. One turkey sandwich, one PBJ sandwich, two cheese sticks, two yogurts in tubes, one fruit salad from the local market for us all to share, bottle of filtered water from our tap.

From 10 to 11 AM on Tues. and Thurs. I help welfare-to-work folks to study for their GEDs. At least, the "Language Arts and Writing" section, which, along with the math, are the most difficult for most students to pass. This all takes place at the Delaware County Literacy Council, in Chester. I make a "lesson plan," which means putting bookmarks in my copy of the study guide and hoping that the ESL teacher isn't hogging the photocopier like last time.

Only Demary shows up, and she's very attentive. I walk her through a sample essay topic, which asks about the effects of advertising in "modern times." I prompt her to think of where she sees advertising, and it's not easy for her to think of it at first. Meanwhile, as I look at her I read the text that's all over her: Her name tattooed on her arm, a T-shirt that says "I don't make mistakes--I date them," a keychain with big plastic photos of her toddler. We struggle to develop a thesis for her essay. She'll write a draft at home and time it.

Back on the road--time to go pick up the boys for swim lessons at the pool.


Now we're getting ready to go to Indiana for our biannual pilgrimage. No cooking for eleven days, hooray!

Jul 5, 2006

Red, White, and Bleary-Eyed

(No, we didn't get drunk yesterday or stay up all night, but I couldn't think of any appropriate word beginning with bl--. ) The fourth of July in my town is a huge exuberant bash, a lovefest, an outdoor sweat-athon. We had races, parades, fire, and water, and don't forget the free doughnuts. Once a year the townsfolk forget their alarm about our nation's arrogance to the rest of the world, and throw themselves into an unapologetic if self-c0ncious celebration of Americana, simplicity, and good old innocent fun.

To get ready, Will and I decorated his bike for the parade, and Jack and Will "practiced" for their respective bike races. You can't really "practice" for an actual race in a driveway, but no matter. Will's bike looked quite patriotic, streamers woven in the spokes, ribbon tied to the handlebars, and various miscellaneous lengths of streamers taped in random places, looking chaotic. Jack came in third for the six-year-old boys' race. Will came in sixth, as he will tell anyone within earshot, but what he doesn't know is--there were only six children racing in his four-year-old category.

The parade, well, that was another story. Let me just say that a little boy yelled a lot and withdrew at the last second, and then changed his mind when it was almost over, then his mom flung the bike back in the dang street for him to ride, and the boy had a tantrum in front of the whole town when he learned they were giving prizes. "You can't have prizes for a PARADE!" Meltdown in the summer heat. Time to go home. We just learned today, officially, that Will is very sensitive to sound and visual stimulus, and also has difficulty with some gross motor skills. So, a bike race and a parade in a crowded town center with an oompah band playing was not the ideal occasion for him to exhibit his considerable charm and ability to cooperate.

Oh yeah, and later John took the boys to this huge water fight with fire hoses, which the boys, especially Will, totally loved. Then we had my brother and his girlfriend and her two older children and my Dad for a cookout and then I was really beat after that. At the end of the evening John tripped over a laundry basket in the dark and yelled, and then, in a completely independent accident, broke an antique mirror. But those two events were past my10:00 PM deadline for reacting, and anyhow he knows where the Band-Aids are.

Then I got up at 5:15 and went running. Because I'm doing that now. OK, maybe I AM bleary-eyed.

Jun 29, 2006


I was awakened at 3:30 this morning by a distant clap of thunder. Every couple of minutes another clap or rumble, louder each time. I lay there thinking of how every night, while we sleep in our beds, the clouds move over us, traversing the fields, crossing rivers, looming over houses and malls and parks. I was reminded of Genesis 1:2, before there was light or dry land, when"The Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters." An unmarked, unpeopled world without reference points and yet full of promise.

Finally, the thunder crashed around us and lightning flashed every couple of seconds, while the rains descended in sheets. We crept about the house closing windows, to keep a few drops out of a well-waterproofed house. I thought about a woman I had read about, a 40-year-old widow in Namibia whose late husband's family had taken her few posessions, some pots and pans and a cow and chickens. She is left with no rights, sixteen children and a patch of worn-out land. I send out a prayer for her into the darkness. Will my prayer be pulled upward against the rain, or will it splatter downward, disregarded? I curl up in bed with my husband, dry and comfortable and cosy while the rain falls, and drift into an uneasy sleep.

Jun 19, 2006

Indiana Inlaws Invade

They're here. My salt-of-the-earth inlaws arrived around 7 PM yesterday. Mervin and Marilyn disembarked from the car in their Sunday finest, Mervin in his white tailored shirt and tie, Marilyn in a crisp beige short-sleeved summer suit. Will and Jack greeted them fresh-bathed, in their Buzz Lightyear jammies, new almost-buzz haircuts, fresh-scrubbed faces. I was still cleaning the guest bathroom, so was not such a state of freshness. Oh well. John made popcorn, the Sunday night supper of choice in their family (and ours) and we sipped homemade iced tea. The boys proudly showed Grammy their latest Captain Underpants books. I was quick to say that their daughter Aunt Julie (a school librarian) got them started on that. So don't pin that one on us! Jack can write some passages down from memory, so revered has Captain Underpants become in our household.

We'll give Mervin some work to do, because he is one of those people who is most happy with a practical task to accomplish. So we'll have him put in a storm door and figure out what to do about the mailbox, which will need to be moved. And there are always some more plant hooks to hang up, should he run out of projects.

Jack starts a week of UK Elite morning soccer camp today, so Grammy will enjoy some Will time. This afternoon, if it's not too sweltering, Jack and Will plan to sell fresh-squeezed lemonade at a local playground, and give the money to the Delaware County Literacy Council. I'm mostly making the lemonade, but the will and determination belong to the boys.

Jun 13, 2006

Attack of the Alpha Robin, And an Unwanted Question at the Bowling Alley

He was at it again yesterday morning, that red-breasted robin, pecking away at the sunroom window. Because the house is L-shaped, I could get a good view from a kitchen window. He flies from a nearby fencepost about five feet away, gets a good peck in, and returns to the fencepost and does it again without resting. He'll do this a good dozen times. Whenever I see him, I go into the sunroom and he flies away. Now about four panes of the bay window in the sunroom are scored with gray marks from his beak.

What does he want? I've heard that birds sometimes attack their own reflections, so perhaps he's threatened by himself. He only does this in the morning before about eight, so maybe that's when the reflection is strongest. He is persistent, and never seems to hurt himself or the window.

All right, enough about the robin. Here's what happened to me last week. The high-school-age attendant at the local bowling alley, upon my ordering another game with Jack, asked me if I wanted a senior discount. It took them a while to peel me off the ceiling. But since then I have:

-jumped on a trampoline with the boys, giggling the whole time

-discovered Weyerbacher Simcoe Double IPA

-bicycled for miles around the local state park, pulling Will behind me (on that bike extension thing that seems to have no name)

-tasted honeysuckle gelato

So despite a young man at Sproul Lanes hurling cruel barbs at my unsuspecting, silver-haired, matronly, OLD OLD OLD self, things are definitely looking up.

Jun 6, 2006

Readin' and 'Ritin' (But Not So Much 'Rithmatic)

Last night was my first night of tutor training with the Delaware County Literacy Council. After the training I'll be assigned an adult to tutor once a week for about an hour and a half. I've actually done this before, more than 20 years ago. In Philadelphia I tutored Mildred, a 45-year-old lady who worked at the Sears distribution center in the Northeast (it's since been demolished, I believe). She wanted to be promoted to supervisor, but couldn't because of her third grade reading level. So we read the newspaper together, looked at forms from her job, and went through some of the program's upper level workbooks. And she progressed two grade levels. She worked hard, arriving in Center City after a long bus ride from work, and before her next subway ride home to North Philadelphia.

Best of all, we became friends. I was not brimming with cultural sensitivity at the time, asking her dumb-ass questions like who was the father of her children, but Mildred was very patient with me. When I read about Proliteracy Worldwide a couple of months ago in a magazine, I remembered Mildred and knew I had to take up tutoring again.

On another front, plans for me to teach a 7th and 8th grade writing elective next spring at my sons' Montessori are firming up. I taught this year's class a mini-unit on autobiographical writing. First I had them read out loud a couple of pages from Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. In this passage he relates a schoolyard incident from his childhood, and deftly reveals the racial politics of the playground, and his own choice for survival at the expense of the only other black child in his class. The kids seemed to appreciate the story. Then their assignment was to write a short essay on a time when they learned something important about themselves. They wrote about the following subjects:

  • A girl finally got the courage to dive from the diving board.
  • A boy used a bow and arrow on vacation with some friends and learned that he is a good marksman.
  • A girl got her hair cut short in second grade and enjoyed being different from the other girls.
  • On a dare, a boy threw water balloons at people driving by. He claims he learned not to do it again.
  • A girl recalled her first day at preschool, at which she cried, even though she had really been looking forward to it.

Okay, so not much has happened to them yet. But at least I got some writing samples and got to see what 7th and 8th graders are like. It's a very small school, and this class had only 12 students. I'll only teach about 4 at a time, and only once a week, so classroom management will not be a huge issue. And neither will the tax implications arising from my huge paycheck. But it should be fun.

May 24, 2006

Rhymes with Spring

Jack and Will, along with their classmates and the rest of their preschool/kindergarten, gave a concert yesterday under the trees in their schoolyard. The kindergarteners sang their own song, "Here Comes the Sun," but they were all together for the rest, including "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."Jack looked like he was being tortured, staring down grimly, barely opening his mouth, and sometimes chewing his cuticles. Will, on the other hand, smiled broadly when he sang, belting it out. Many of the girls bounced up and down wildly and gestured while singing, and some of the smallest children looked like they weren't sure where they were or what was expected of them. Others were hopelessly distracted by the crowd of families waving, videotaping and taking pictures. Then there are always a couple of inconsolable tots who need to be held by the teacher. Apparently, every child has their very own special Singing at the School Concert Personality. And the parents just watch helplessly as little Tyler picks his nose or Madison lifts her dress up over her tummy, again and again.

At the end, massive applause. The music teacher announced he was tired. You could hear the parents proclaiming "Great job!" to their children countless times. Because it was a great job, all things considered. And singing with your friends and looking out at a sea of admiring parents is the ultimate love feast. And then? Ice cream for all, much running around, indiscriminate yelling, and staying up a little past bedtime. In short, a perfect evening.

May 23, 2006

Tiggers Bounce

On Saturday we got to have our "Special Members' Preview" of Big Cat Falls, the new habitat at the Philadelphia Zoo. It's not quite all populated yet, but the lions, Amur tiger, and Amur leopard are there. The lions and Amur leopard have an uneasy relationship at this point, involving much pacing on the part of the leopard and stalking on the part of the lions. In one area, only a one-and-a-half-inch plexiglass window separates the people from the lions. It's not often that you get to see a 400-lb. lion ambling within inches of a toddler's chubby toes.The Amur tiger was sleeping, so we didn't get to see him much. They can weigh up to 650 lbs, and to cushion their jumping, their paws have very thick pads. We looked at a mold made from a huge paw, and were suitably impressed.

The elephants were agitated that day, as was the rhino. The elephants were spraying mud and hollering, and one picked up a log with its trunk. I was afraid it would throw it at the rhino and that it would hit us. The boys were squealing with excitement. The rhino kept hauling his bulk in and and out of his little pond over and over, with the elephant looking on and bellowing. It's as if the rhino was on a vigorous workout program, the elephant his relentless trainer.

The zoo was very crowded, though. We normally get there when they open at 9:30. This time we had to go to remote parking, a dusty uneven lot in Fairmount Park. Will immediately took a header, thereby covering himself in dirt with amazing efficiency. Usually it takes a few hours to get that dirty.

At the end we pedaled on the swan boats, Jack and me in one and John and Will in the other. We jostled with the other riders in the crowded lake, but could sometimes find a still, quiet inlet in which to watch the the laughing boaters, the begging geese, and the clear blue sky.

May 19, 2006

The Switched Cart Incident: A Morality Tale

Yesterday I was drifting through Target with a shopping list, accumulating a modest pile in my cart. Near the end of my perambulations I looked down to toss a nail brush in my cart. But the paper towels weren't my brand. I didn't need that many bars of soap. Hey! That's not my cart! If I had someone else's cart, then where was mine? I had just had it a minute earlier. I looked around me. Woman on a cell phone. Red-shirted Target employee taking inventory. Child demanding something loudly. All appeared innocent. I walked up and down the nearby aisles, nothing.

"This is really strange, but my cart disappeared. Someone must have taken mine and left theirs. . . . " I said to the Target lady, feeling a bit discombobulated and confused.

"I'll look for it," she said amiably. "What was in it?"

I paused. "What was in it?" I repeated dumbly, stalling. Glancing at my list, I saw "foaming hand soap."

"Um, foaming hand soap . . . ?" I murmured, lacking conviction. Other than the foaming hand soap, the truth was more like "Several miscellaneous cleaning products and plastic containers that weren't on my list, but that promised to make my life easier, my summer more bearable, and my demeanor more cheerful. But I have only a vague sense of what they were."

She said she'd look for my cart. I made a little show of looking some more, went back and just picked up the foaming hand soap to buy along with the nail brush. So, brave guerilla shoppers, the next time you stray from your list, ask yourself, "If my cart were lost, what would I run back and purchase?" And just get that.

May 18, 2006

Postcards from Exurbia

I just finished reading Rattled, a newly published satirical novel by Debra Galant. It's about the perils of living in a McMansion in the exurbs of Gloucester County, New Jersey. Ms. Galant wrote a column about New Jersey suburban life for the NYT for a few years, so many of the sociological details are excellent. The main character, Heather, is straight out of Desparate Housewives, a cross between Bree and Gabby. I wish she were portrayed a bit more sympathetically, but then I guess it wouldn't be straightforward satire. If you love to hate aquisitive SUV-owning McMansion dwellers and the developers who cater to their "needs" and cut every environmental corner, you'll find it delightful.

Delaware County, where I live, is so densely populated that we don't have room for exurbs, except for way out in the far west reaches, around the amorphouse area called Glen Mills. Somewhere around there, you hit Chester County, which is more known for McMansionitis and its accompanying Porsche and Mercedes dealerships. When we first moved here three years ago, I was innocently driving along Baltimore Pike way out in the country way past Media, into Concordville and it's little country inns and rolling hills and suddenly--wha . . . ?-- Williams-Sonoma, Talbot's, Eddie Bauer, Chico's, Pottery Parn, Pier One, Zagara's (now Foodsource), all in one shopping strip. But why?

Because somewhere out there, nestled in cul-de-sacs well hidden beyond the bustle of Baltimore Pike, crouch insatiable gigantic "homes" (they're never "houses") demanding to be filled with new stuff from these stores. I've never actually seen these places, mind you. I've just extrapolated their existence from the high-end stores and the slim women with fabulous highlighting jobs, designer track suits, deluxe strollers and immaculately dressed toddlers who frequent the stores. Some of Jack and Will's classmates live out there, but their birthday parties are, of course, never held at home.

Rattled is full of brand names, which seems to be a trend lately among a certain kind of satirical fiction. In these days of viral marketing and product placement, that sort of bothers me, even though the mention is only meant as a social indicator. Anyway, let's just say you'll not want to drool over that Restoration Hardware catalog after reading this book.

May 17, 2006

Retreat of the Laurens

Well, it's finally happened. The year 2005 was the first year since 1984 that "Lauren" was not one of the top twenty baby names in the U.S. I'm relieved, I suppose, but the damage has been done. It's funny because when I was a child, I was the only Lauren in every school I went to, without fail. And I attended nine different schools. People had difficulty remembering it and spelling it, so very often I was called Laura, Laureen, or Lorna. Few people complemented me on the name, either; it was just too unusual. For my birth year, 1958, there were lots of Lindas, Susans, Karens, and Barbaras. Only weird people gave their kids weird names.

Then in college there was a girl whose name was "Lauryn," like Lauryn Hill. Her mother had wanted her to be named Lauren, and the father wanted her to be named Katharine, so they "compromised" with "Lauryn." Not much of a compromise. Anyway, she was in my History of the English Language class, and having another student with my name was unsettling. I couldn't be completely sure, sometimes, who people were talking to. It used to be so easy.

Then the field was blown wide open in the 1980s. Vice President Bush's granddaughter was named Lauren and then it seemed that every few weeks in a supermarket I could hear a mother calling out, "Lauren, don't touch that!" "Come here this minute, Lauren!" It was years before I stopped jumping at these commands. Around this time people started telling me I had a beautiful name, and thus began a decade or so when I really loved my name because people loved my name. They were learning how to spell it, too, and now I hardly ever have to spell it for people.

Another thing has happened, though. Now it's not interesting to meet a Lauren. No spark of recognition, no conversation of "How did your parents come to name you Lauren?" No instantaneous bond forming. My name isn't special any more. Sure, it's a fine name, but, like Caitlyn and Jessica it's been beaten to death. My mother was looking for an unusual name on purpose, and she just happened to like the way it sounded. She got the idea, of course, from Lauren Bacall, but would get her knickers all in a twist every time my Dad would say, as a joke, that I was named "after" Lauren Bacall. "I did not name my daughter after a movie star," she would say, getting all snobby and huffy, the full Katharine Hepburn act.

Anyway, this means also that a number of people have both my first and last name. Thank goodness my middle name is so weird that only dead people have it.

May 16, 2006

Hey, Mommy Dude

On Saturday (not actually on Mother's Day) I found two cards propped outside the bathroom door, both addressing me as "Dude." As the Felicity Huffman character says to her son in Transamerica, "Stop calling me 'dude.'" Only I don't have the same reason to be sensitive about it. I remember that Anne Lamott's son called her "dude," too, so I'm in good company.

For Mother's Day, all I wanted was to plant my herb garden. So it's in, and bordered by all the stones I found in the back garden that must have been discarded when previous owners were installing the patio years ago. I have one each of the following: marjoram, dwarf gray sage, purple sage, French thyme, French tarragon, basil, cilantro, oregano, "hot and spicy" oregano, dill, catnip, parsley, and arugula. It rained buckets yesterday, not just water but hail as well, so I haven't planted any seeds yet. As far as seeds go, we've got sunflowers, scarlet runner beans, polar bear zinnias, nasturtiums, and marigolds.

We are now the proud owners of a rain barrel made from a whisky barrel. The flowers smell drunken, but we are conserving a teensy bit of water, anyway. It's more high maintenance than I thought. The filter gets clogged constantly with various tree droppings via the gutters, and I think it will need to be treated so the barrel doesn't fall apart in a few years. It fills up after about an hour of rain. But it's a conversation piece. Just remember, if you're a recovering alcoholic, no smelling my rain barrel.

May 11, 2006

Gender Bender at Preschool

Occasionally, I decide to polish my nails. Last week was one of those weeks, and Will begged to have his nails done, too.

Will: "I want red!"
Me: "I don't have red."
Will: What color is that?"
Me: "Teak rose."
Will: "I want teak rose!"
Jack asked, truly puzzled, "Why do you want to wear nail polish? Only girls wear that."
Will cried, "I want to! I want to!"
So I said, "Look, I'll give you a racing stripe on one nail." That will give him an acceptable explanation for the boys, should he need one.

So, that's what he's got, on his right index fingernail. Waiting for it to dry was more dramatic than one would think, with lots of "Oh, when will it be dry? It's not dry! Can I touch anything yet? What about now? Can I touch anything now?"

When asked later if anyone noticed his nail polish, Will replied that his friend Isaiah was "shocked."

May 10, 2006

What Could be Better Than Pancakes for Dinner?

Last night John had an accounting final. He stoked up for it by eating some blueberry pancakes that Will helped me make. After John left, the rest of us gobbled up the remaining ones. Pancakes are tricky. The heat on the griddle needs to be fairly high but not too high because you don't want raw insides. Inevitably the first pancake or two looks a little "special." But eventually I get it and they start looking browned and circular. I added a half cup of Trader Joe's frozen wild blueberries this time. We put pure maple syrup on them, which I suppose is decadent, but we do get it from a warehouse store, and don't use that much of it. Plus, life is short.

This recipe is my Nana's. She always made them in a low cast-iron griddle. I gave the griddle to my brother Dan because I couldn't use it on an electric range; it has a raised rim, so most of the pan doesn't touch the cooking surface. Her pancakes are the best, with their buttermilk tang. Will said, "I love Nana's pancakes! If she was alive, I would say '"I love your pancakes SO much.'"

Nana's Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 2/3 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Combine buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter in a smaller bowl and beat. Stir into dry ingredients, mixing enough to moisten.

Drop by large spoonfuls onto preheated, fairly hot pan or griddle (a drop of batter should sizzle). Flip over when small bubbles appear, and edges start to look dry.

May 9, 2006

Caitlin Flanagan on Reality TV

Caitlin Flanagan has been getting lots of press for her new book The Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, about how mothers should stay home with their children. Not just that, but how they should joyfully keep house. Ms. Flanagan has been accused, for good reason, of hypocrisy. You see, she writes all day, while her children are in school. She has had domestic help, for years, including a full-time nanny when her twins were babies. But she still claims the right to be called a "stay-at-home mom." I guess because she is mostly at home, and a mom. Ms. Flanagan freely admits, right in the book, that she has never changed a sheet. Let me repeat that. She has never changed a sheet. Was she never a 22-year-old living in a railroad apartment, maidless and husbandless? Was she never a college student? Plainly, this statement is hyperbole, no? . . . . Okay, maybe not.

At any rate, I believe she is perfectly aware that her idealization of the 1950s housewife can only be sustained at a distance, either through a mist of nostalgia or through intellectualizing the concept of "The Housewife."Ms. Flanagan is begging for a reality check. So I say she gets her own TV show, American Housewife. In it, she lives in her own house, but all her domestic help have been relieved of their jobs temporarily so they can create the laugh track. See Caitlin scrub the toilets, rotate a mattress, wash the windows, scrub vomit from the carpet. Can she singlehandedly prevent entropy from conquering her universe? She must do all this while working under a non-negotiable deadline for an article for The New Yorker, cooking from scratch every day, helping the children with their homework, and "putting out" for her husband several times a week (as Stephen Colbert so delicately puts her insistence that wives need to be more available) .Oh, and Martha Stewart and Cheryl Mendelsohn are coming over for dinner in a week.

Then, Ms. Flanagan, I'd be glad to hear what you have to say.

May 5, 2006

Rhubarb Days

It just isn't spring without rhubarb. I make two or three rhubarb pies or crisps every year at this time. Last year I also made a rhubarb coffee cake. This year I made two pies, one to take to my friend Jane's for dinner and one just for us. I didn't have quite enough rhubarb so I threw in some strawberries and blueberries. I use the recipe from the old Joy of Cooking for fresh berry pie, simplify and cheat a little and add tapioca. This is it:

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
juice of a lemon
2 tsp quick-cooking tapioca
two Pillsbury pie crusts (ha!)

Mix all this together gently with your hands (because I love to mix stuff with my hands!) until it all seems quite damp and well-mixed. Let it sit 15 minutes. Meantime, preheat oven to 450. Take out two Pillsbury pie crusts (ha!) and let them come to room temperature. Lay out the bottom crust and put filling in. Cut the other crust for the top into strips, and make a fake-out lattice crust by simply laying them on one way and then perpendicular to that. None of this business of actually weaving them. If you don't know what I mean, then just prick a bunch of holes in the crust and slap the thing on, smoothing out the sides or fluting them to make the crust look endearingly homemade. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes and then lower heat to 350 for 35-40 minutes.

There, you have one mighty fine rhubarb pie. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Looks lovely on a blue plate.

May 4, 2006

No Home in the World

Yesterday WHYY, our local public radio station, aired its morning call-in show, Radio Times, on the topic of homelessness. A man and a woman were being interviewed by the host, Marty Moss-Coane. They had both been drug addicts for years. By the grace of God and the perstistent intervention of relatives, they've been clean for a few years, and are now living on their own, and giving their time back to help the homeless.

While they talked, I scrubbed my kitchen floor. I thought about my brother David, who lost his life on the streets, despite all the advantages he started out with. Drugs and mental illness took over at several points, and homelessness struck three times. I've got to call in to that show, I thought. Where's a pencil? There was never a pencil to be found quite at the time Marty said the number, plus it was almost twelve, when the show would be over. She said, "We can take one more call. Here's Dan from Center Valley."

It was my other brother. He said, "I had a brother who went to college, trained for a career, and yet somehow ended up on the streets. When you see a homeless person, you have to realize that that person is someone's son or daughter, sister or brother, mom or dad." Later I emailed Dan to say how glad I was that he called in. He said, "I was on my way to Dad's when I called. I didn't expect to get through - just squeaked in under the wire! Needless to say, I needed a few minutes in the car to compose myself before I could go in to lunch, but I am so glad I got through."

Next time you are rushing down the street, whether it's to work, to lunch, or to run an errand, stop and say hello to the ones who live life on the margins. And--please--smile and look them in the eyes.