31 July 2008

PSA: Respect Women

I saw this poster on the subway stairs yesterday.

Awesome, no?

It's part of a NYS campaign to educate boys so they don't grow up to be abusers. Most public service ads are boring; this one gets the point across with wit.

I think I want a sweatshirt that says "Awaiting Instructions".

30 July 2008

On Marriage

I’ve been thinking about marriage recently.

The other day, I had lunch with my friend the priest – who happens to be the gay Episcopal priest who performed our wedding ceremony using vows that W. and I had written. We adapted the old Book of Common Prayer service, because the basic language is beautiful, but we struck out every reference to God, Jesus, Holy, Church and the like, thereby rendering it completely and absolutely civil. At lunch, my priest told me that he and his partner of 26 years had scampered off to Canada as soon as David Paterson had directed all New York State agencies to recognize same-sex unions from elsewhere.

Jess wrote a post last month about marriage – and about her (and her husband’s) discomfort at marrying when others couldn’t: “Some of our friends do not possess the basic right to marry who they love.”

I had a hard time agreeing to get married. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with him. In fact, by the time we got around to getting married, we’d been living together for eight and a half years (and that was thirteen years ago). We’d started talking about having a child, and W. felt very strongly that a child needed married parents. I didn’t agree, but after a bunch of arm-twisting and discussion (much of which happened at our favorite local bar, to the bemusement of the bartender), I did agree to marry him (and I’m not sorry that I did).

In many ways, marriage qua marriage is unfair to those who can’t be married, or don’t want those legal ties. Marriage provides a construct for many valuable spousal rights – including social security benefits, exemptions on estate taxes, access to health insurance policies, visiting privileges in jail, etc. (For an exhaustive list contained in a 75 page document written by the General Counsel of the General Accounting Office, in 1997 while Clinton was still President, go here.)

The tide seems to be turning, what with Massachusetts about to reverse “a 1913 law that prevented Massachusetts from marrying out-of-state couples if their marriages would not be legal in their home states”, and California having legalized same-sex marriages last month, and New York having agreed to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. All well and good.

But, "if you are in a same-sex marriage in Massachusetts or a domestic partnership or civil union in any of the states that offer those relationship options, many of the benefits of marriage won't apply to you, because the federal government does not recognize these same-sex relationships".

In 1967, then Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote (in a ruling ending race-based prohibitions against marriage):

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.
Black people can marry white people. How do we get the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages?

The Original Perfect Post Awards 07.08

29 July 2008


I took last week off of work so I could putter around my house and put away all of Miss M.'s accumulated artwork.

They'd done a unit studying the human body, drawing pictures and learning songs about the various organs, like:

Kidneys clean and filter blood,
Filter blood,
Filter blood,
If one fails and is a dud,
The other one does the job.*

Well, one of the things I put into the permanent archive was a life size cut-out of Miss M.'s traced body, with d├ęcoupage organs and crayon enhancement.

She did a reasonable job of getting the organs in the right places (kidneys on the back, even). The belly button - that spot with the radiating purple lines - is kind of where the belly button belongs, even though it's north of the large intestine (and let's not discuss why the liver is vertical). But the most intriguing thing to me is that walnut-sized brown spot to the right of the belly button.

That's the egg what I was born out of.

Apparently, she's figured out that there are eggs inside her mama, even though her daycare teachers swore up and down that the reproductive system was not on the human body agenda.

Maybe she'll be a reproductive endocrinologist. After all, she is a test tube baby. And she seems to have an innate sense of anatomy.

*To the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb. It slays me every single time she sings it.

28 July 2008

Pink Wine

Two of my appointed tasks in the care of my mother are the replenishing of the coffers (so we can pay the ladies) and the replenishing of the wine supplies (so that the caretaker offspring are well-lubricated).

The other day, on the way to my mother's house, I stopped into the liquor store to pick up another case of wine. I knew there was plenty of red (1.5 liter bottles of the fat bastard), so I was only looking for white, and pink because my sister, Pinky, asked specifically for pink wine. It's summer, after all.

I ask you, what kind of a mother am I that I let the four year old pick the wine? Look Mommy, it has a pink lid and a baby on the label!

All things considered, it wasn't half bad. And the children had none of it.

26 July 2008

Square People and Not So Square Meals

I love my child's daycare. Love. I feel enormously lucky that we found it, that she got a spot there, that it's close to the house, that they take really good care of her, that their philosophy is that play is the essential "work" of the pre-schooler.

But sometimes what I love best of all is that they have a full time cook. I'm a little terrified about kindergarten in September, because I'm going to have to start packing a lunch for her. Yikes. We barely get out of the house on time as it is; how will I get lunch organized?

The daycare cook is unbelievable. She's a moody, funny, feisty woman who trained as a chef, at a real cooking school (she's got the framed diploma hanging outside the kitchen). And she spends her days feeding real food to toddlers and pre-schoolers. It's completely obvious that she loves what she does, because, lord knows, they are not an easy audience.

One day last week, when I was picking Miss M. up, I asked "what'd they have for lunch today?" "Pasta with pesto." "What? No way." "Yeah, and they all had like two or three helpings." Not only does she get them to eat green food, they like it.

The next day, I stopped in the kitchen in the morning to commend the cook. There was some of the pasta left over, and without any protest from me, she scooped some into a bowl for me to take home for lunch. While we were chatting, I heard a humming mechanical noise: ice cream. The woman was making homemade ice cream for the kids. "Because it doesn't have all that stuff in it."

From time to time, Miss M. tells us that she doesn't want to go to kindergarten. I think she knows a good thing when she sees it, because there's not going to be homemade ice cream in elementary school.

[The picture has nothing to do with anything. It's just that she's been obsessively drawing square people, day in and day out, always with the square hair, and I wanted to share one (three) of them.]

24 July 2008

My Books, My Books

I've missed my books. For four years, we've lived in this house, and most of the books have lived in the cellar. Oh, there were exceptions - like cookbooks, and kids books, and gardening books - but the vast majority are in countless tidy cardboard boxes in the (dry) cellar.

But soon, very soon, they will be free. The carpenters have finished building the bookcases I've been dreaming of and saving money for, and the painters should be done tomorrow. Sometime next week, after the paint is nice and dry, I can start hauling boxes up from the cellar, and caressing the books, one by one.

We did built-ins in two rooms - the dining rooom and the sun room. We archived a pair of french doors from the dining room, and built bookcases around the wide doorway, up both sides and across the top. The cookbooks will live in the dining room, alongside gardening, and travel, and I don't know what else yet.

In the sun room, we did built-ins on the two inside walls - so there are two walls of books, and two walls of casement windows. The television will live in there, together with all of the fiction and poetry. And music - all the many books on music will need to be in there, because the stereo will be in there as well.

I'm so happy to have finally been able to get this done, because a house without books is like a room without windows.

22 July 2008

Tales from San Francisco: Food

I feel pretty lucky to work near the Union Square Greenmarket, and to belong to a CSA, and to commute through Grand Central where there is a branch of Murray's Cheese, but San Francisco is a pretty good town for eating.

I mentioned to a local friend that I wanted to go check out the Ferry Terminal and its farmer's market; she said she'd take me. Then she called back and said "no, I want to take you to where the locals go". So Saturday morning, we hit two markets.

First up was Alemany - a funky swath of stalls in the shadow of the freeway, complete with fresh tamales, live chickens, and a sea of divine produce. Every fruit seller was offering tastes - each peach was better than the next. There were piles and piles of bitter melon, both smooth bumpy and prickly bumpy. We had tamales for breakfast; my friend bought plums ($1/lb) and tomatoes ($1.50/lb) and basil ($1/bunch) and garlic.

Then we went to the ferry terminal. There was more cheese, more prepared foods, and some of the same produce vendors. But the same glorious peaches? $3 a pound. The tomatoes? $3.50. The ferry terminal is the high rent district.

I did buy some Recchiuti salted caramels for my husband (read, for me.) And we got coffee, plain drip coffee, from a stand that defies logic.

I'd heard about Blue Bottle; they were written up in the Times about six months ago, because of their decadently expensive Japanese coffee siphon. The ferry terminal stand doesn't have the fancy machinery - instead, they're making individual cups of drip coffee. That is, one at a time. They've got an array of tea kettles on burners, six in a row. The coffee person uses the hot water out of the rightmost kettle, and then moves them all over one at a time - and refills the leftmost one. Adjacent to the kettle operation is a rack holding eight ceramic cones. One by one, paper filters are placed in the cones, each filter is dampened with hot water, a prodigious amount of ground coffee is added, and the coffee person begins to pour the boiling water. One cup at a time.

It took rather a while to get our two cups of drip coffee, which was only $2. Given the amount of labor that went into it, $2 was a bargain. The coffee was stronger 'n all get out, but good. Drinkable black good.

The only thing that would have made it all better? Time in a kitchen with all that great stuff.

21 July 2008

Tales from San Francisco: Blogher

Four jet planes
Three nights in a bed alone
Two days of Blogher
One lost jacket

I'm home!

Blogher was fun. Blogher wasn't really what I expected, but it was a good time. It was a little like a college reunion, lots of smart women with a common interest. I got to meet people that I'd only known in the ether, like Sarah and Jen and Julie and Erika and Nora and Christine and too many more to list (and if I didn't list you, I'm sorry). I reconnected with Isabel, who I knew in a past life. I still don't know what the point of Twitter is, but I signed up anyway. I went to a couple of wonderful sessions, and a couple that were all jargon without much practical how-to. I scored some seriously sweet swag (including a bluetooth headset for my phone and a tattoo from the tattoed Cecily). And Susan made me weep.

There were parties. And I know there were "parties" that the little people weren't invited to, but I got to plenty. The closing night party at Macy's was a little peculiar - champagne in bags, wine in shoes, and vodka in lingerie. Alongside the lavender macarons in the lingerie department were samples of KY jelly - um, yuck?

I promised Kelley that I'd take her to BlogHer, and I did. KC took a picture of Sarah and me with Kelley, which I don't have yet, but I got one with some chocolate, her other favorite vice.

Would I go again? I don't know. The fact that it was in San Francisco, where I had a free place to stay and non-bloggy people to hang out with meant that it was lower stakes than it could have been. But the community aspect was great - it made me feel less alone. And that's nice.

Tales from San Francisco: Blogher

Four jet planes
Three nights in a bed alone
Two days of Blogher
One lost jacket

I'm home!

Blogher was fun. Blogher wasn't really what I expected, but it was fun. It was a little like a college reunion, lots of smart women with a common interest. I got to meet people that I'd only known in the ether, like Sarah and Jen and Julie and Erika and too many more to list. I reconnected with Isabel, who I knew in a past life. I still don't know what the point of Twitter is, but I signed up anyway. I went to a couple of wonderful sessions, and a couple that were all jargon without much practical how-to. I scored some seriously sweet swag (a bluetooth headset for my phone and a tattoo from the tattoed Cecily). Susan made me weep.

There were parties. And I know there were "parties" that the little people weren't invited to, but I got to plenty. The closing night party at Macy's was a little peculiar - champagne in bags, wine in shoes, and vodka in lingerie. Alongside the lavender macarons in the lingerie department were samples of KY jelly - um, yuck?

I promised Kelley that I'd take her to BlogHer, and I did. KC took a picture of Sarah and me with Kelley and Boo, which I don't have yet, but I got one of them with some chocolate, Kelley's other favorite vice.

Would I go again? I dunno.

16 July 2008

Leaving, On A Jet Plane

My bag is packed.

I've been reading posts hither and yon, along the lines of "you'll know me by my smile/pump/laugh" or "I'll be the one burping/gesticulating/sweating". And one that scared me - apparently there's a secret handshake.

The Aussie Chick is ready to go. I've got my cards (they match my new header). I know where I'm staying (not at the Westin). I think I know how to get to the conference. My iPod is loaded, and I've got stuff to read on the plane(s).

I am, however, a bundle of nerves. What possessed me to do this? Why on earth am I going to a conference about blogging? Do I really have to worry about my shoes? Oy.

And, even though it's a blogging conference, I think I'm going to leave my laptop home. So, see you on Monday, unless I start emailing posts under the influence.

Gone to BlogHer 08

15 July 2008

Wise Margaret Brown

Not so long ago, I read a column by Libby Gruner about books for babies. She wrote eloquently about picking books as a gift for a friend's new baby, and about the deeply ingrained memories that each fondled book recalls. When you've read something over and over to your own child, the words sear themselves into your brain, while your hands recall the very shape and heft and texture of the book itself.

At the grand old age of four and two-thirds, Miss M. is largely past the board book stage, though a few creep out from time to time. Her bookshelves were overflowing and it was time for a culling, time to make room for new books. For lack of a better way to begin, I took out all the baby board books and put them aside. But while I was doing it, I had to make a separate pile for the Margaret Wise Brown books were talking to me.

We've got six. Some are new copies, given to Miss M. over the past few years. A couple are "Little Golden Book" editions from my childhood. Another came from eBay. I could read them all, each and every night.

There's a calm poetry to her books, with idiosyncratic repetition and alliteration amid the prose. Phrases like "wild green world" and "purple as violets / purple as plums / purple as shadows on late afternoons" and "the sun went down beyond the river / the sky grew wild and red" and "and in all that brown, the sun went down" get repeated or paralleled. The words demand a soothing tone of voice, a slow cadence, just right for the wind-down before bed, "in the big red barn / in the dark night sky".

I can't bear to put them away. It would be too sharp a sign that my baby's no longer a baby.

14 July 2008

You Say Potato, I Say...

When Noble Pig decides to host a potato Ho-Down, and I have potatoes in the kitchen and herbs coming out my ears, all begging to be made into herby, tangy potato salad, I can't help but climb on the potato Ho wagon, even though my Ho name is so not a good Ho name. Whatever. This is the best potato salad ever.

The thing is, you can use whatever fresh herbs you have, and whatever onion/garlic family member floats your boat. I had parsley, basil and scallions from the CSA (on the right), a bag of freshly dug new potatoes from a farm stand, and thyme, sage, tarragon and oregano in my garden (on the left). I also had some cilantro from the CSA - but I was making this to eat with my mother, who is in the cilantro-tastes-like-soap camp, so I left it out.

I washed enough potatoes for two people, and cut them in half, mostly so they'd cook a little quicker. I dropped them into nicely salted boiling water. When they were done (stick 'em with a fork), I drained them and dumped a bowl of ice cubes on top of the cooling potatoes, still in the colander. Then I sliced the scallions and minced up all the herbs together. All the greenery went into a bowl. I then whacked the now room-temperature potatoes up into cubes and dumped them in the bowl. Everything got dressed with salt, pepper, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Bang zoom, you're done.

Yes, Virginia, there is no mayonnaise. If you wanted to be fancy, you could whip up a nice emulsified vinaigrette instead of just splashing in the oil and vinegar. If you have no tarragon, so what? If you have red onion in lieu of scallions, sure - use some. Really, it's the easiest thing ever, and probably the most forgiving. And, did I mention that it has no mayonnaise?

I keep mentioning the mayonnaise because I loathe mayonnaise (even though I think I should like it, and I keep trying it because I think I should like it). But mainly because the lack of mayonnaise means that it's a good potato salad to make in enormous quantities for a big summer party, like W. and I did for our wedding thirteen years ago.

Do you really want to know my (first pet/middle name) Ho name? Schwartz Catherine. It's a good thing I'm not walking the streets.

There'll be a Potato Ho-Down round-up at Noble Pig on July 16th...plan to go visit!

13 July 2008

Catching Fireflies

Is there anything better than watching your kid run around at dusk catching fireflies? Oh maybe if she's wearing a pair of sailor suit pajamas that were her uncle's some forty years ago.

She was actually really good at it.

12 July 2008

Evidence that the World is Small

The newsletter from my CSA this week included a recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs.

And the Times ran a front page story about community supported agriculture.

And while my CSA wasn't in the Times article, my sister's was. And the farmer at her CSA is married to the daughter of my high school flute teacher.

It's a small world.

11 July 2008

Waders and Crab Parts

As part of my strategy to regain my equilibrium and lose some of my crabbiness, I'm taking some time off in dribs and drabs this summer. By early September, it'll amount to nearly 30 days off work, in a bunch of three day weeks, and a couple of whole weeks off. It's all accrued vacation time, though it feels like mental health days.

Yesterday, on one of those days off, I went on a field trip with Miss M.'s class. It was a glorious day spent mucking around in the Hudson River. The kids got to put on waders (tiny little kid-sized waders) and seine for critters. They pulled up shrimp and crabs, anchovies and jellyfish, rocks and mud, and one tiny striped bass.

When they weren't in the river handling the net, the kids were ostensibly conducting a scavenger hunt. Mostly this took the form of "look Mommy, I found (another) feather" or "is this old glass?" (I'd made the mistake of telling them that well worn beach glass was okay to pick up - instead they just picked it all up and then asked.) The scavenger list provides good evidence that we aren't all that far from a major urban area: two of the items to "find" are the George Washington Bridge and garbage. I also quite like that crab parts is another item to find, but then I guess I'm a little perverse.

Best of all? I got to take a nap when I got home.

10 July 2008

Nana Star

A package! Is it for me?

We open the big box that was left on the front porch and find Nana Star, her Moonman, and the first two Nana Star books. I extract the dolls from their packaging, and hand them over to my four year old.

I love her! I love her braided hair! I love the Moonman but he's sort of for Tiny. I want to give him to Tiny.

The doll, Nana Star, is sweet - a soft doll with hidden wires for structure. Her hair is braided, and tied with a bow, and she wears a blue dress and blue ballet slippers.

She has a heart on her hand and she has a tree sun - she's going to shoot something. She's shooting a poison flower! Look, I put the star in her hair.

Nana Star comes with a branch and baby star, both attached to her arms by elastic bands, so they're removable, and easily repurposed to hair ornaments. Or poison-flower-shooting weapons, as the case may be. [After a couple of weeks, the branch split open at the seam - I think it may have been chewed on by my co-reviewer.]

Her name is Nana Star? I want it to be Princess Lucy. Can we take her clothes off? Look, she doesn't have underwear!

Sure enough, her dress comes off, revealing a feature-less figure with no belly button. Her white gloves (white gloves!) also come off - they have long since disappeared. We read the first book, Nana Star. The book is about a girl who finds a lost baby star. She realizes that she needs to help him find his way back to the sky, and becomes his Nana Star. The branch turns out to be a plot device - an olive branch to help lift up the star.

I want to read the next one!

The second book is Nana Star and the Moonman. It continues the travels of Nana Star and the baby star, and introduces the Moonman, who watches over her even when she can't see him.

I like his pajamas. I turned him off!

When you push the right button on the Moonman doll, his head lights up and he plays a little music. It isn't like one of those baby sleep aids that plays lullabies or heart sounds for 20 or 30 minutes - it only plays a little folk rock fragment. [I did have a little trouble figuring out how to turn it on - it helped when I actually looked at the packaging which said "press center star for lights and music".]

The moon's watching over her by his singing. She has to fall asleep on him.

All in all, it's a pretty charming package. The doll is sweet and perfect for my four year old. An unexpected benefit is that she's the same size as the Groovy Girls - so their clothes fit Nana Star. Miss M. was pretty adamant that the Moonman was a "baby toy" which she wanted to give to her three year old cousin Tiny. But that didn't stop her from playing with it, and turning it on over and over and over, until its batteries ran down. The books are a little sappy, but gently impart reasonable lessons. The illustrations are lovely, and have a slightly vintage feel about them. Each book comes with a two-track CD: the story narrated, and a related song. While the CD is nice enough, it seems extraneous - if the child can't read the book, shouldn't an adult be reading it to the child?

I want to bring the Moonman and the girl to my school.

The kid liked it. What more could you want?

[I reviewed this for Mother Talk; the books and the dolls were provided by the publisher.]

09 July 2008

The New Hyde Park Lily

My paternal grandfather is probably the only person I will have ever known who was born and died in the same house. In the house. He was born in 1900, at home, as happened in those days. He died there too, after having moved into a hospital bed in the living room. And except for time away from home for college and law school, and a few years living in a nearby house when he was newly married, he lived out his whole life in the same house.

It was a farm house, built in the late 1800s, added onto once or twice. It had a front porch and a sun-room, one indoor bathroom and one unheated powder room accessible only from the back porch. It had a bit of land around it, with a sour cherry tree, a huge copper beech, and a grape arbor. There was a garage (once a stable), with an attic loft and a root cellar. Grandpa would buy a bushel of oysters every winter and keep them in the root cellar 'til they were gone.

After he died in 1988, my grandmother continued to live there, though in a much diminished state - it was as though she had just checked out. And when she died, the house was sold.

There was a moment when one of my cousins was going to buy the house, but she was unable to pull it off. Over the course of about nine months, the children and the grandchildren gradually cleaned out the house. We found homemade liquor put away during prohibition, and baby clothes from the turn of the century. There were quilts and lace curtains, huck towels and glassware. The cellar was full of books and jars and tools, and a stunning glass vase, five feet high. There were metal film canisters with home movies from the 40s and 50s. My grandfather's pipes were awaiting another smoker. His handmade ankle boots were snapped up by a cousin with the same sized feet.

One day, I was poking around and found a lily coming up in the rose garden. I dug it up and stuck it in a hideous turquoise plastic wastebasket, and planted it at my mother's house. It turned out to be a dark orange-red, which clashed with everything in her garden, but she tolerated it. When we moved into our house four years ago, she said "you're going to take that lily, right?" And so I did.

The first couple of years, it sent up a flower stalk, but the buds were summarily eaten by some nefarious creature. This year, it bloomed.

I can't imagine how old it is. I dug it up in 1992, and there hadn't been any gardening going on there for some time. But it seems happy, it's got babies coming up around it, and this year, it thwarted the wildlife.

My grandfather's house is still standing, but three tiny crappy houses now surround it - two to one side, and one to the other. The house is in terrible condition, an antique falling into desuetude. We drive by once in a while, but it's increasingly sad to see what's happening. But that little piece of it lives on - the lily in my backyard.

08 July 2008

Ups and Downs

I've been downloading updates all day long because my office computer took the kind of turn for the worse yesterday that required a complete clean reinstall of everything. No fun. But, Downloading Updates. Doesn't that always sound inherently contradictory?

Speaking of down, why do people "put the baby down"? When you put the dog down, you're euthanizing the poor pup. I find it a tad off-putting when I hear someone talking about putting the baby down.

When my child asks to be picked up, is she saying "uppy" as in guppy, or "uppie" as in yuppie? It's one of the few bits of baby-talk remaining in her vocabulary as she has, sadly, given up saying "lellow" and has "yellow" down pat.

P.S. Do rock bands upload downbeats?

07 July 2008


Besides the fact that we need cats once again just because we need cats, we need cats so that when I make reference to things that make me "want to drink gin straight from the cat bowl", there's an actual cat bowl to hand.

Today, I could have used that cat bowl. I stuck to sauvignon blanc out of a proper glass, but...

03 July 2008

Pink White and Blue

Ooh, a pink popsicle from the queen of pink!

I'm going away for the weekend as soon as I can tear myself away from the computer and toss some stuff in the car.

But in the spirit of independence day, I coughed up a whole $10 for my own domain name. So, if you'd be so kind, change your bookmarks and bloglines and google readers, and point yourself to: