27 August 2009

Her Name Is Kate

What happens when Cash For Clunkers meets Mid-Life Crisis?

red mini clubman
You trade in the sad 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which had been racking up the repair bills, including a radiator replacement at the end of July when the radiator disintegrated spectacularly during that traffic jam caused by the wrong-way drunk stoned woman on the Taconic, and get the Six-Speed! Heated Seats! Chili Red! Mini! Clubman!

And you get your sister-in-law to dye another blue streak in your hair.

Kate's going to be put through her paces this weekend. We're heading off to Maine, a last-gasp-of-summer what-to-do-between-the-end-of-camp-and-the-beginning-of-first-grade. Salt air, lobster rolls, adventure - here we come.

26 August 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Graffiti in Cambridge

Q: What's going on here?

A: Unsuspecting people & informed participants (like yourself) are inspiring a choreographer.

25 August 2009

Tunes for Tuesday, Times Two

I'm the guest DJ over at Music Savvy Mom today. Go check it out - see and hear the not-kid music that I'm listening to. And consider participating yourself - it's fun.

The other day we unearthed a couple of boxes of CDs that haven't been touched since we moved FIVE years ago. So, in the spirit of Tunes for Tuesday, I'm giving away two discs. Leave a comment (before Thursday) and tell me whether you want

Loreena McKennitt: The Visit


The soundtrack to Marie Christine, featuring Audra McDonald.

I'm happy we dug out that box of CDs - we found the Broadway shows that we'll need for our road trip at the end of the week. I'm looking forward to singing along to Hair and A Chorus Line as we sail down the highway on the way to Maine.

24 August 2009

Sword Fighting

The child, she is a natural at the Wii Sports Resort sword fighting.

However, I don't think she's going to win any Olympic medals in fencing. Her style is a little, shall we say, violent? All she does is bash her opponent on the head, and make Daddy fear for the safety of the television.

In unrelated news, Painted Maypole was the random winner of my Pay It Forward. A small package is on its way to her.

21 August 2009

Let's Review: Scented Pencils

Last year, the PTA at my sister's kids' school decided to be all environmentally correct in their fundraiser - the fundraiser where the parents have to guilt their friends and neighbors into buying stuff no one really wants. Our father signed up to buy five-packs of cunning rip-stop nylon shopping bags for everyone in the family, and there wasn't really anything else we needed, but, to be supportive, I bought some colored pencils for the kid. Smencils, to be precise, colored pencils made of recycled newspaper and soaked in scent to become smelly pencils. Wouldn't "scencils" have been a better name? Scented pencils. I digress.

Yesterday, I decided we should tackle some of the over-the-summer homework that the girlie has - you know, bone up on kindergarten skills in preparation for first grade. So, out came the Smencils.

The packaging made me apeshit. It's all well and good to make pencils out of newspaper; I like that, you even see the rings of paper when you sharpen the pencil. But every single pencil is encased in its own hard plastic "corn-based biodegradable Freshness Tube" and all the pencil tubes are in a zippered vinyl tote - so there's more packaging than pencils. Why, I ask you, does a pencil need a Freshness Tube? Especially when the company says "we guarantee Smencils will maintain their scent for 2 years - in or out of their Freshness Tubes". When was the last time a kid's pencil in general use lasted for 2 years? And if it keeps its scent for two years without a tube, why does it need the tube in the first place?

Furthermore, I'm skeptical about the whole corn-based biodegradable business. It's not biodegradable in your backyard (it requires a "controlled composting environment", and according to Smithsonian, there are only 113 such facilities across the US). It has to be kept separated from the recycling of other plastics, the kinds with a number in a triangle, "lest it contaminate the recycling stream". So if you can't compost it, and you can't recycle it, it ends up in the landfill!

There's also the "morality of turning a foodstuff into packaging when so many people in the world are hungry", and the possible environmental impact of using genetically modified corn for making said packaging.

Couldn't the Smencils have been packed in a simple cardboard box like pencils used to be?

Disclosure: I purchased the Smencils, and no one paid me for this review.

19 August 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Wet

in a sprinkler at harvard

(In a fountain at Harvard.)

18 August 2009

Performance Art, Or, Maybe Not

So, a couple of weeks ago, Jean Martha (via Twitter) pointed me to an interview on a Wall Street Journal blog, an interview with a guy named Sam Pocker, who bills himself as a stand-up economist and does performance art in supermarkets.

coupons for free stuffAn idea began forming in my head. I could create a performance art piece, if only for my own enjoyment, by taking all the free coupons I’d gotten recently and going to the supermarket and buying nothing but those items! I’d pay nothing! I’d participate in consumer society! It was genius!

Providently, we needed limes for the pomegranate margaritas (which sort of redeemed the pomegranate juice, by the way, though the tequila may have negated the so-called health benefits of said pomegranate juice), so I gathered my coupons and my sister and off we went. I told her, mysteriously, that I was engaged in a “project” when she asked why I insisted on segregating the strange assemblage of unrelated products that I was purchasing. She cottoned on quickly, “what is this, for your blog?”

There was a little trouble locating the “right” size of one of the items, and the first container of Trop50 that I grabbed was expired, but the real snafu came when I tried to check out. Silly me, I thought six items through the self-checker would be a breeze – until I tried to scan a coupon and found that the self-checker wouldn't take the free coupons. I tried to abort the whole transaction – but instead I unintentionally summoned help, "help is on the way" chirped the robotic attendant, over and over. Some poor bewildered cashier wandered over, and couldn’t help at all because she’d lost her magic swipe card. The people behind me groaned at my breach of supermarket etiquette*. My sister fled to the next aisle, where the manager of the in-house bank branch tried to pick her up ("Nice butterfly" he said, about her temporary tattoo). The supermarket manager came over, and started punching buttons, and asked me “where’d you get all these coupons anyway?” I told him they were from a conference, and though I don’t think he thought I was a fraud, I am sure he thought I was nuts. In fact, I believe I told him I was nuts.

Eventually, he got the machine to accept four of the six coupons, and took the other two and got the cash value of those two coupons from the manager’s desk.

free productsI was disappointed – I wanted a register receipt that had a zero balance on it, or zero plus tax, anyway. Instead, I paid $12.47 and got cash back of $11.48, meaning that I spent $.99 on sales tax for my six items, and now you know I'm nuts, because why did I bother writing this all down?

It seemed like such a nice performance art piece in my head, but it turned into a fiasco. But just wait until I review the Trop 50. And the Ragu? It's going to camp for the end of summer food drive.

* Can you believe there's a whole WikiHow page devoted to supermarket checkout-line etiquette? The mind reels.

17 August 2009

You Want to Know How Much A Colonoscopy Costs?

I’m as confused as the next person about health care reform - but I know we need it; it’s completely bat-shit crazy the way it is now. In my heart of hearts, I think we should have a one-payer socialized system, and I'm disappointed that the “public option” may be dropped from the current attempt at health care reform.

You know that I had two colonoscopies done this summer. Both were done by the same gastroenterologist –but for some scheduling reason unclear to me, the first was done in the hospital, and the second was done in the doctor’s office. Mind you, it’s not a sole practitioner’s office, it’s a big clinic operation with a full scale suite for endoscopies and colonoscopies (and who knows what else). The insurance we have is the kind where you have to stay in-network, and then you pay a small co-pay. In an effort towards transparency, the insurance company sends an Explanation of Benefits out after any claims, showing what the doctor billed, and what insurance paid, and what the patient’s responsibility is.

I compiled the numbers for the two colonoscopies and I’m kind of flabbergasted.

#1 in the hospital

Charges billed by doctors and hospital $9,142.84
Amount paid by insurance$5,742.67
Co-pay due from me$125.00

#2 in the doctor’s office
Charges billed by doctors and lab $5,322.76
Amount paid by insurance$2,922.63
Co-pay due from me$30.00

The submitted charges for the procedure in the hospital were 72% higher than the charges for the scope in the doctor’s office. And the insurance company paid out 96% more for the hospital procedure. At the end of the day, my doctor got reimbursed just about the same amount – so why did he schedule one of the scopes into the hospital? It wasn't for convenience; the hospital is about a half mile from his office. Why isn’t the insurance company protesting? They had to pre-approve the procedure – why didn’t they require that the first scope be done in the office – which would have saved them nearly $3,000? Why did the insurance company pay a bigger percentage of the first scope (63%) and less for the second scope (55%)?

The thing that strikes me about all of this is the irrationality – there’s seemingly no rhyme or reason to either the pricing or the reimbursement. Why is the system so broken?

An article in the September Atlantic suggests that the way out of the mess is to put decision making back into the hands of the consumer – also known as the patients. I don't know that consumer driven health care is the answer, but if I’d known how much the colonoscopy was going to cost in the hospital as compared to in the office, I’d have chosen the office both times - even though the bulk of the cost wasn't coming (directly) out of my pocket. And I’d have saved myself nearly $100 on the co-pay in the process.

Again, I have no idea what the answer is, or how to achieve it, but there is a problem and it needs to be solved. Further, it seems clear that a solution lies in the systems in place in other first world countries. "Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken." That's a quote from Paul Krugman, in today's Times. Go read the whole piece. He ends thusly:

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.
I don't know where this will end.


14 August 2009

Let's Review: Swag, Part 2

It's been a couple of weeks since I got home from BlogHer, and all of the swag has been unpacked and consumed, stored, used, donated, or gifted. I know I already did this once, but there were a few more products that I wanted to mention. Again, no one paid me to do this, I didn’t buy any of these products, and none of them cost more than a token amount of money. But I know that you want to know what I think.


I'm a little conflicted about this stuff. On the one hand, it's just fruit - organic smashed fruit a/k/a applesauce - on the other hand, it's packaged to a fair-thee-well. Yes, it's convenient to toss in the kid's lunchbox, or my handbag if we're heading off on an outing. And she loved the two I brought home from BlogHer. But, I send her off to school with a lunch-box, which she brings home at the end of the day, and it's a lot cheaper and more ecologically correct to send a whole apple, or to portion out some applesauce from a big jar into a small plastic container that we'll use over and over. Basically, it's a totally unnecessary product.
Prima Princessa Presents Swan Lake
I confess that I was completely skeptical about this DVD. I've been going to the ballet since I was a kid, I've studied ballet, and I work in the field. My kid saw the New York City Ballet Nutcracker when she was three, has been to other dance performances, has watched ballet class, watches dancing on YouTube, and has a mess of age appropriate books about ballet. The DVD sounded irritating and altogether too cute. But, in an effort to give it a fair hearing, I put it on. The kid watched it twice in a row, mesmerized, and has asked for it repeatedly since then. To be sure, it's got a whole lot of corny going on - including an animated fairy as narrator. But overall, it's pretty charming. There's footage of the Paris Opera Ballet's Swan Lake, with a voice over telling you who's who and what's what. There are medium-sized kids in ballet class at the School of American Ballet, intercut with a flock of four year old girls in tutus on a lawn. It's gently didactic, showing and naming a few ballet steps. For a small child, it's a nice introduction to the world of ballet.
One of the parties I went to was a low-key, no-swag-bag cocktail party thrown by Johnson & Johnson and Hasbro and Mom Central. There weren't any bandaids, or OB tampons, but Hasbro had card games around, if you wanted one. I brought Pictureka home because the packaging said it was appropriate for age six and up. And the 5 and 3/4 year old likes it! The game is pretty simple without being dumb - it's got loose rules with a lot of room for interpretation - and I think we'll play it often.

One last thought about this swag business. I thoroughly understand why BlogHer needs sponsors, and I thoroughly understand why sponsors want to get product samples into the hands of the attendees. But indiscriminate stuffing of product into bags isn't the way to go, unless it's genuinely something that everyone needs (not everyone needs baby food, which was in the Walmart bag). Further, there's the schleppage factor - the sponsor has to get the stuff to the conference, the attendees have to get the stuff home. One win-win solution is coupons. I came home with a bunch of coupons for free product. I'll redeem the ones I want to try (thanks Method, Tide, Gap) and I'll probably pass along the coupon for a free jar of Ragu to someone who needs it more than we do (remember, I live with an Italian grandmother). My husband already ate the free McDonald's hamburger. Another solution would be for the sponsor to collect names and addresses, and ship the product to the interested blogger. That's what Hasbro did. Yeah, they handed out some games at their cocktail party, but they also handed out cards on which you could choose up to five games (out of maybe 15 choices). They haven't come yet, but I think we'll be getting a bunch of games to play.

About BlogHer 2009? That's all she wrote. Until next year.

12 August 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Another Polar Bear

Different zoo, different polar bear, same iPhone camera.

11 August 2009

That Tooth Of Mine

After some people asked me what had happened to that tooth of mine in 1969, I started to wonder. Why was I sorry?

Merry-Go-Round Photo from 1000 Awesome ThingsIt occurred to me that it could be from the time I chipped my front tooth on one of those merry-go-round things that used to be in playgrounds and backyards. Dangerous whirling metal objects causing childhood trauma and trips to the dentist! No wonder they've been banned.

But I didn't open up the little folded up piece of paper to see if it was merely a chip. Anyway, it probably isn't that at all - wouldn't the chip have gone flying?

Photo found at 1000 Awesome Things.

10 August 2009

Belkin, Mommyblogging and Balance

So, Lisa Belkin commented on my BlogHer recap:

"not nearly as annoying as I thought it was going to be.." Thanks. I think, : )

I've been mulling this over, that is, why I was anticipating that that particular panel would be annoying.

In every given time slot during the BlogHer conference day, there are multiple things going on, different "tracks" they call them. If you're lucky, you want to go to one and only one. If you're less lucky, you have to make a choice. The worst scenario is when you want to go to one panel, and end up next door because the first one was too crowded.

The Belkin panel was at the same time as the "Brands and Bloggers" panel. I kind of wanted to go to that one because it was going to be run by Jory Des Jardins, and the panelists included Liz Gumbinner (of Mom-101 and Cool Mom Picks) and other women on "both sides of the Brand/Blogger border". It sounded potentially interesting and provocative, and while I'm really not a review blogger, I follow the discussions about commercialism and transparency with some curiousity.

But it was full! Standing room only, not a seat in the room. So I went next door to the panel titled "MommyBlogging: 'Balance' is a Big, Fat, Lying, McLiar LIE for Moms who Blog (and the rest of us too)", the panel that Lisa Belkin was moderating.

Belkin has written for my local paper, the New York Times, for years. Not so long ago, she started writing a parenting blog on the Times website - in addition to continuing to appear in print. Her blog, to my mind, tends to be intentionally polarizing. She seems to pick topics that are going to engender a big pile-on of comments on both sides of an issue - breastfeeding, IVF, drinking, potty-training, college tuition - and frequently ends posts with a question to prompt comments. I dip into her blog from time to time, but it's not on my daily reads. In any case, it wasn't Belkin that I found potentially annoying; it was the combination of "mommyblogging" and "balance".

First, I'm not a mommyblogger. Yes, I have a child who calls me Mama. I also have a sister, but having a sister doesn't make me a sisterblogger. Nor does having a husband make me a wifeblogger.

I don't even particularly identify as a "mom". I'm someone's mother, but I'm also someone's wife, someone's sister, aunt, cousin, child, niece, in-law and step-sister. I'm also someone's employee, boss to several people, and friend hither and yon.

In short, I'm me. I am a blogger - I write about what moves me, I write about what interests me, I write about things that irritate me no end. In short, I write about whatever the hell I feel like writing about, which does include my kid from time to time.

Second, "balance" is overrated. Either you're coping or you're not coping. I get up, go to work, come home. My house is messy, our meals are unplanned, the kid needs her fingernails cut. But she's fed and shod, the bills get paid, important things don't (usually) fall by the wayside. We just deal and accept a degree of chaos. It seems to me that complaining about balance is an instance of whining for the sake of whining.

With that said, heading into a panel about "balance" under the "mommyblogging" label was like expecting that all of my buttons were going to be pushed. And happily, they weren't. Belkin was an engaging moderator, the panelists (Angela Tseng, Pauline Karwowski and Rita Arens) were spirited and articulate, and the audience piped up too.

So, I wasn't annoyed, but I don't think I learned anything.

How about you? Do you struggle with "balance", or do you just put your head down and get things done? And what does "balance" mean, anyway?

07 August 2009

Let's Review: Pomegranate Juice

A month or so ago, I got an email from someone at Pom Wonderful, wondering if I'd like to try a case of their pomegranate juice. Sure, why not? I'd been vaguely curious about their product ever since a 2008 New Yorker profile of Lynda Resnick, the owner of the company, which focused on her creation of the pomegranate juice market beginning in 2002.

A box of eight cute little 8-ounce bottles showed up, packed on ice because it's fresh juice and needs to be refrigerated. I cracked one open and winced. Man, that stuff is astringent - to the point that it makes your tongue all weird. And it's awfully high in calories - 8 ounces has 160 calories - in contrast, a 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola has only 140 calories. Ounce for ounce, the pomegranate juice has 71% more calories than Coke.

The box came with some promotional material about the "health benefits" of pomegranate juice, but because I'm a natural skeptic, I figured I should poke around a little and see what other people had to say.

Consumer Reports does say that "there's some preliminary human evidence that pomegranate juice may yield tangible health benefits. In a small clinical trial published last year in the journal Clinical Nutrition, for example, drinking a glass of pomegranate juice each day for one year reduced blood pressure, decreased the oxidation that causes “bad” LDL cholesterol to stick to artery walls, and reduced clogging of arteries in the neck (a risk factor for stroke)."

However, and also according to Consumer Reports, "pomegranate juice may offer some health benefits, but it can also interact with some medications, including ACE inhibitors and antihypertensive drugs".

Pom Wonderful claims to be the "antioxidant superpower". But what does that mean? What's the point of antioxidants anyway?

According to the Times, there is "no evidence that [antioxidant supplements] prolong life, and strong evidence that they might shorten it." Furthermore, Barry Popkin, quoted elsewhere in the Times, says that "drinking a glass of fruit juice a day...has been linked...to increased calorie intake and higher risks of diabetes and heart disease".

I think the Pom Wonderful people are selling a bill of goods. It's not great juice, it's high in calories, and its health benefits are dubious.

I'm too cheap to throw the stuff away, so I've been slipping it in my morning smoothies: one banana, a half cup of plain yogurt, and 4 ounces of the pomegranate juice. It comes out a nice shade of pink, but even banana and yogurt don't mask the astringency. I also have been making pink lemonade by adding a couple of tablespoons to a half gallon of plain lemonade, and some of the pomegranate juice made its way into my eggplant caponata.

But will I be buying it any time soon? Nope.

Disclosure: The pomegranate juice was provided to me by the manufacturer, at no cost to me. And they did not pay me for this review.

06 August 2009

Pay It Forward, Heathen

Don't you love getting things in the mail? I don't mean bills, I don't mean the new clothes you ordered for the kid, I don't even mean the monthly shipment of coffee that keeps your household from spiraling into a cranky uncaffeinated disaster.

No, I'm talking about things you're sort of expecting, but you don't know what they're going to be - like birthday cards and giveaways from far-flung bloggers.

Kelly, of Heathen Family Revival, recently sent me a great package - a set of notecards using her own photo of asparagus, and a handmade fabric roll-up case for crayons - something for me, and something for the kid.

It's now incumbent on me to send something to one of you. I don't know what it'll be, I don't know if it'll be handmade, I don't know whether you'll like it, but I'll send it by ordinary US mail to help keep the post office in business.

Leave me a comment on this post by Thursday 8/13, and tell me one banal thing about your kitchen. I'll pick a winner at random on Friday 8/14. Sometime after that, sooner than later, I'll send you your gift, and then you'll Pay It Forward on your own blog and give someone else something cool.

05 August 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Swimming

At the beginning of the summer, she wouldn't put her head underwater. By the time camp is over in a couple weeks, she will probably have completed Level 2 of the Red Cross Learn to Swim program. I'm kind of proud of her.

04 August 2009

I Know What I'm Doing In 2014

As much fun as it was to have a colonoscopy in June and another one in July, it’s much nicer to be told that all’s well and I don’t need another one for FIVE years.

Don’t let me stop you from having one of your own though. The procedure is a piece of cake, and the prep really isn’t that bad. My two cents? The orange flavor packet for the Trilyte is better than the lemon-lime, and drinking it at room temperature is easier than drinking it cold. Mind you, “better” and “easier” are incremental improvements, but improvements none-the-less.

You know you ought to, so just do it.

03 August 2009

Mock Caponata

The thing about the CSA is that you end up with vegetables that you might not actually have bought if you saw them at the market. Like eggplant. I don’t love eggplant, but one came home the other day, along with a couple of zucchini and three different kinds of peppers and a mess of parsley and some other stuff.

But the eggplant. It sat there balefully in the fridge while I wondered what to make of it. Ha, I said, caponata – it would go well with the cold leftover steak we were going to have for dinner. I picked up the Campagna cookbook at 6:00 and instead of being dissuaded by the admonition that this "isn't one of those speedy weeknight dishes you can start cooking at 7:00 pm and have on the table at 7:30", I forged onward. Cookbooks, to me, are for inspiration - not for line by line instructions and specific measurements.

Guerrilla Mock Caponata

Dice an onion and toss it in a hot saucepan with some olive oil. Whack up a couple of peppers and toss them in – I used a sweet banana pepper, and a slightly spicy Mariachi pepper. Stir ‘em around a bit, then add a chopped eggplant and a chopped zucchini. Don’t bother salting the eggplant – who has time for that? Add a little tangy liquid – I used a couple of ounces of pomegranate juice – and slam a lid on the pot. Let it cook for a bit. Give it a stir, toss in a mess of chopped garlic, and add some more sweet and sour stuff. I used a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses, a splash of red wine vinegar and a dash of orange olive oil – along with a teaspoon of capers and a couple of tablespoons of chopped raisins. Cook, covered for a while longer, and then let cool to room temperature. Stir in some chopped parsley and serve. It’s a nice cross between a vegetable side dish and a condiment.

If I may say so myself, it was awfully tasty.

Most recipes for caponata will likely have celery and tomato and olives, and no zucchini – but to me, it's all about the sweet and tangy. I got there by using what I had around, but other things would work too - I thought of tossing in a blob of ketchup, or orange juice, or wine.

Oh, and start to finish? It took an hour, including 15 minutes on the stove unattended, and 15 minutes to cool.

01 August 2009

Tooth Fairy

fEB. 17, [1969]

Dear, Tooth Fairy,

I am sorry this

happened, but

please take it.


Yes, there's a tooth of mine folded up in a little piece of paper and taped to the typed note. It's a terrible image, but it's hard to scan a three dimensional object.

I've been hanging onto this for months - waiting to post it until the girlie lost her first tooth - which happened yesterday, at camp. Alas, instead of writing a note to the tooth fairy, she had a temper tantrum, and went to bed without even slipping the tooth under her pillow. Don't worry, the tooth fairy came anyway.