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.