31 March 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Learning to Read

The child climbed into my bed with a book and asked "Could you read me this book about karaoke indians"?

30 March 2010

Ooh, A Giveaway!

Do you want to rock the socks off of your nearest 11 year old? Easy. But you'll have to jump over to my review site, Magpie Housekeeping, to see how. And you might want to check out that link even if you don't have an 11 year old 'cause it's that cool.

29 March 2010

Eleven Into Fifty Minus Two Equals NINE

Oh, the failings of me. I can only report on three of the ten things left on my list of things to do before I turn fifty.

1. Every week or so, I read another few pages of Gödel, Escher, Bach - at this rate, I am never going to finish it. Note to self: Stop reading everything else.

4. I bought sneakers! And then I got pneumonia! So I've accomplished nothing! Unless the sneakers count. They count, right? Note to self: get off your ass.

11. The first quarterly potluck party was at the beginning of the month, and it was a whole lot of fun. In some miracle, no brownies were ground into the carpet! However, the various children in attendance ate every last piece of the gooey butter cake. I'm thinking the next one is going to be a potluck 15th wedding anniversary. Note to self: set the date.

And onwards.

26 March 2010

Let's Review: Crest Neat Squeeze

It's harder than it should be to buy toothpaste for the kid; she's very picky about the flavors. Mint? No. Cinnamon? Hell no. Watermelon? No. Orange-Mango? No. The only flavor she accepts is blue bubblegum, thanks to a free sample of Crest "Sparkle Fun" that came home from the dentist one day (ah, insidious marketing).

Figuring that brushing teeth is better than not brushing teeth, I caved and bought a full-sized "tube" of the Crest. It comes in a new-fangled container, not the usual tube that you squeeze and roll and squeeze and roll. Nope, this is the "Neat Squeeze" container, for fastidious types that don't care to have their toothpaste tubes squeezed in the middle by careless six year olds. Note, if you will, the flat bottom, rendering the container more like a bottle than a tube. I supposed that appeals to the tidy people who abhor their tubes lying down. Because it is new-fangled, it has informative copy on the back of the container:

In case you can't read that fine print, it says:

The Neat Squeeze dispenser has a unique inner bag that empties itself as you squeeze in the middle. When the package gets lighter and is harder to squeeze, it’s time to buy more Crest.

Yeah, right.

The toothpaste stopped coming out of the tube. I squeezed the hell out of it, I banged it on the sink, I stood it upside down, all because I knew there was a lot of toothpaste in there. Finally, I got a pair of scissors, and carefully cut off the bottom of the tube, revealing the silver plastic bag within.

Can I tell you how annoying it was to find that there was at least a third of the product still in there, no longer willing to be squeezed out by itself? And Crest wanted me to throw that tube out and buy more? You can just imagine the people at Proctor & Gamble sitting around inventing a dispenser that contains six ounces, but only spits out four. "Ha, ha", they think, "we'll sell more units that way".

Feh. I think I'd rather her teeth rot that buy that stuff again.

Disclosure: In case you're wondering, I bought this toothpaste with my own money and no one paid me for this review.

25 March 2010

Once upon A Time

All good stories start with "once upon a time", right?

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was kind of a tomboy, given to jeans and polo shirts on the weekends, and dowdy skirt suits for work, but when it came time for her wedding, she went all out.

Because she was very attached to her grandparents, she elected to honor them by getting married on their wedding anniversary. Alas, that year, their wedding anniversary fell on the Friday before Labor Day – not a time when anyone wants to be traveling, but no matter, she was the bride and it was her decision.

The wedding was scheduled for six o’clock on that late summer afternoon. In order to get there in time, guests had to take all or part of the day off, traveling alongside all of the merry folk heading for end-of-summer beach weekends.

The church service – a Catholic mass – went off without incident, though it was an hour and a half long, in a un-air-conditioned church, the air heavy with incense. The bride wore a gown, beaded, seeded and encrusted with lace. Her hair, usually hanging limply at her shoulders, was swept into an up-do, and her face had so much pancake make-up that you could have scratched lines in its thickness, revealing the skin below. In short, she was transformed into a “Bride”, wearing a costume unrevealing of her ordinary self.

After the ceremony, the guests left the church for the reception hall, and the wedding party decamped by limousine to who knows where to have their pictures taken. And taken. And taken. The guests ate all of the hors d'œuvres, and drank to abandon, wondering where oh where the bride and groom had gotten to.

At last the happy couple made their appearance. The guests were ushered into the dining room, at 10:30 pm. Appetizers were served. Appetizers were eaten. The band played hoky wedding staples, and the DJ narrated the entrance of every last member of the wedding, “and here’s the lovely sister of the bride”. The main course finally arrived. The Chicken Dance was danced. At least one guest passed out in her plate, felled by a combination of the late hour and the copious amounts of alcohol. Sometime after midnight, the cake was cut, and the couple squished it into one another’s faces, and all the guests were released from the hell of the worst wedding that I have ever been to.

Is it any surprise that they aren’t married anymore?

If you're wondering why I felt compelled to tell you this excruciating tale, it's because Mayberry Mom asked "What’s the story you end up telling and retelling about your wedding, or one you attended?" and it was too long for a comment. And no, it was a stranger at our table who passed out in her plate.

24 March 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Kid with Kid

We signed the girl up for a most excellent after-school program at a local farm - where, in the first three weeks, they've tapped trees and made maple syrup, made and eaten goat's milk fudge, milked a goat, collected eggs from under chickens, dug in the garden, made waffles, and eaten goat's milk yogurt smoothies.

I'm only sorry she didn't get to bring home any goat's milk fudge for me.

21 March 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Is this a freckle? A friend told me it was a pingle.

20 March 2010

Thinking about Health Insurance, as one does when one is SICK

Howdy. I'm still sick.

Those expensive antibiotics? I'm halfway through the seven day script, and I dunno, they haven't kicked in the way I thought they were going to.

I should clarify something about their cost. If I'd walked into the drugstore and bought the seven pills without any insurance, they would have cost me $233.99 - or $33.43 each. I do have insurance, but since this was the first non-generic prescription I'd filled this year, I hadn't yet met my deductible. So, I had to pay $100 deductible PLUS the $30 co-pay that I'll have to pay on any future scripts, for an outlay of $130 for the seven pills.

One of the things that the scare-mongers use in lobbying against nationalized single payer health care is that it would limit choice, that you won't be able to see the doctor that you want to see. Well, in point of fact, that's already happened. Managed care, with networks of doctors, has pretty much limited one's doctor choice to a doctor who is in your network - unless one has the resources to pay out of pocket for care.

And there's a problem with that.

A couple of years ago, I had some growthy thing on my forehead. I went to the in-network dermatologist THREE times, it came back THREE times. I gave up and went to the fancy Fifth Avenue no-insurance-at-all doctor and he fixed it - it's never come back and the scar is invisible. And you know? That kind of pisses me off, because - in that case anyway - the fancy expensive doctor actually WAS better than the insurance paid hack.

A friend, a new real-life friend who happens to have a blog, who I met last month at the birthday party of a very old friend (who also happens to have a blog), recently had a health issue that wouldn't go away. She called it "the itis", and it hung around for five months. She finally found another doctor, out-of-network this time, and guess what? Cured! Again, the out-of-network turned out to be a better doctor.

My sister-in-law asked me for a recommendation for a doctor because she's got terrible bunions. As it happens, I know who the foot doctor is - three different people that I know have had him operate on their feet - he's the best, period, end of story. She called up - yes, ma'am, a consult will be $450 and we don't take any insurance.

I don't know what the moral of these stories is. But they're just indicative of another way that the system is broken. I hope it gets fixed.

17 March 2010

Murder, Syphilis, Piggostat

So, after lying around listlessly since Saturday afternoon, I decided to go to the doctor, where I learned all sorts of interesting things.

I have no idea whether my doctor is actually any good, but he makes me laugh - and there's something to be said for that. And he chats. A few years ago, it came up in conversation that his wife was a reproductive endocrinologist and had worked at RMA in New Jersey. This was shortly after the murder scandal where an RMA nurse had her husband cut up and tossed in the Chesapeake so she could run away with her lover, an RMA doctor. So, you know me, on the way out I asked him if his wife knew them. He looked at me wide-eyed, closed the door, and proceeded to tell me that his wife had joined the practice after the doctor left with his tail between his legs, so no, she didn't know them, BUT, that she was thoroughly skeeved out to learn that the doctor had been having it on with the nurse on what was now her desk.

Today, he felt the lymph nodes in my neck and then in my elbows. Elbows! I've never had anyone feel my elbows before. He said that enlarged lymph nodes in the elbows could be a sign of untreated syphilis and launched into a possibly apocryphal story he'd learned in med school about a doctor who always shook his daughter's boyfriends hands with his left hand on the boy's right elbow.

Then he listened to my lungs, decreed them "junky" and sent me downstairs for an x-ray.

Have you ever noticed those 19th-century-looking restraining devices that they use to immobilize little kids who need x-rays? There's always one parked in the hall at our doctor's office, and I wonder at them every time. Well, this time, I was in luck - there was a photocopied sign taped to the wall in the x-ray room - it's a PIGGOSTAT. Can you believe that? What a wonderful word.

I told my doctor about the Piggostat when I went back upstairs for the verdict. He was non-plussed, and didn't quite understand why I was so tickled about the Piggostat. Oh and the verdict? PNEUMONIA. Can you believe that? I can't, though I feel less guilty for being out of work for the third day in a row, and maybe tomorrow too.

I'm on antibiotics for a week (which "cost" $234 for seven pills), and I have to go back in a month for another x-ray. On my way out, my doctor told me that he'd tell them to use the Piggostat on me for the repeat x-ray. I told him that the thing was only for kids under 3 1/2; he said "you read that sign?"

Hey. I always read the signs. If I hadn't read the sign, I wouldn't have learned anything about the Piggostat.

16 March 2010

2009 Just Posts

The Just Posts is a monthly roundtable of posts that "lift up our planet and all that inhabit it" begun by the inimitable Jen and Mad , and later handed over to Holly and Alejna. The latter two took it upon themselves to re-read all of the 2009 Just Posts, culled it down to a bunch of semi-finalists with the help of volunteer readers, and then put together a list of finalists in twelve different categories.

I'm thrilled to have been chosen as a finalist in the "SOCIAL JUSTICE as advocacy/service : Posts related to INFORMATION AND ADVOCACY" category, and of course, I hope you'll go vote for me. But even better would be for you to go over to either Holly's post or Alejna's and read through some or all of the great posts. They are moving, and shocking, and funny, and informative.

15 March 2010

The News From My Bed

What's in my bed right now:

  • Two books that I'm reading (Naming Day in Eden and Absolute Beginners).
  • The New Yorker that came today.
  • A box of Kleenex.
  • The arts section of the Times, in case I want to do the crossword puzzle.
  • A pen.
  • My cell phone and the house phone.
  • A rather large stuffed dolphin (or porpoise - I supposed I should know the difference?).
  • A new game for the Wii, called Endless Ocean (which came with the dolphin/porpoise).
  • A microwavable heat wrap, now cold.
  • Me.
What's on the floor right now:
What's downstairs right now:
  • The Robitussin.
  • The jello.
  • The aspirin.
  • The Sudafed.
  • The hot lemonade.
Yeah. I'm sick.

[Post title adapted from that catchy little Bishop Allen tune.]

12 March 2010

Undercover Photography

I'm generally not a lawbreaker - I don't swim in the reservoirs, I signal when changing lanes - and I don't generally hang out with bankers, but I got invited to a party on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and you better believe I went, because in all my born days, I'd never been there.

The invitation said "photo opportunity", so I packed my camera, picked up my walker and headed downtown. We had a ball, me and my snarky friend. Open bar, passed hors d'œuvres, and the chance to wonder at the vast yet intimate space - a collision of old (marble stairs, coffered ceilings) and new (screen after screen after screen). We talked to a woman with great glasses, an art dealer, a lady of a certain age - all of them said the same thing: "I've never been here before".

On the way in, there were several big NO PHOTOS signs. It turned out that the "photo op" was actually a chance to have someone else take your picture up on the balcony where the bell gets rung. We did, everyone did, and got a souvenir to take home, but I really wanted some pictures of the floor. I wanted the odd little details, like the Purell dispensers and the 1940s vinyl fold-down chairs and the newspaper clipping collage and the empty soda bottle suspended gaily in the middle of one of the pods. It's so clearly a workplace, not a museum, and despite all the high-tech, there's a distinctly human quality about it.

So I played spy-girl and took vague photos from the hip while holding my scotch in the other hand, but they're all terrible because I was trying too hard to be discreet. Oh well. I wasn't supposed to be taking pictures anyway.

11 March 2010

The Sexist Olympics

I know, I know. The Olympics are over. But there was a really interesting article in the New Yorker this week, about skiing - and moguls and freestyle and and cross country and aerials and ski jumping. I've gone skiing a dozen times, as an adult, and I hung up my poles when I broke my thumb one day. And the only ski jumping I've done is on the Wii, and honestly, how many people do you know that have ever ski jumped, like for real?

Anyway, I wasn't reading it because of my deep love and understanding of skiing, but because it was one of those echt New Yorker articles - the kind that you read with fascination despite not really caring about the subject, like when John McPhee writes about plate tectonics or shad fishing. I was carrying along merrily, until I sat bolt upright on the train and dog-eared the page: ski jumping is the ONLY male-only sport in the winter Olympics. That in and of itself is bad enough, but there's a theory advanced by a German professor that the reason is that ski jumping is ideally suited to the small and lean - a theory supported by a New York Times article about anorexia in ski jumpers. In other words, women ought to be winning - and by banning women from it, it protects the "virile self-image" of the men who do jump.

Sputter, sputter, sputter.

09 March 2010

That Awkward Conversation

My parenting style is fairly laissez faire. I don’t own many how-to books, although Ferber and Weissbluth live under my bed, talismatically, as magical thinking tells me that bedtime will be shot to hell if I get rid of either one.

But the other day, I had one of those bath-time conversations with the kid that I really wasn’t prepared for: “Mommy, I can feel my vagina!”. It went on from there, and though I’ll spare you the details, it wasn’t her vagina she was talking about. At that moment, I felt a need for reinforcement, and I was damned glad that I had a glass of wine in the bathroom with me.

As one does these days, I put out a plea for help on Twitter/Facebook. I got a mess of good responses, and so armed, I headed off to the library.

The book I came home with was perfect. It’s straight-forward, and not at all cloying, with a bird and a bee acting as a sort of Greek chorus. It works for boys and for girls, it’s got all stripes of families, it offers IVF and c-section and bottle-feeding as alternatives to the old-fashioned less technological processes, and it points out the similarities between the sexes, as well as their differences.

It’s called It’s NOT the Stork! and I’d recommend it if you’re looking to impart some dispassionate information to a six year old on what it’s all about.

Because I’m all about sharing, here’s the complete list from the Twitterati and Friends – in case you too are looking for resources. No guarantees - I've only read the first one.

Oh, and in case the FTC is reading over your shoulder? No one paid me to chatter about any of these books, and no one gave them to me either. In fact, you could say that I bought It's NOT the Stork indirectly via my library taxes, thank you very much.

08 March 2010

Four Deaths

Last week, in the issue dated today, and I wish they would just date the issue with the date it appears, but I digress, there was a little front-of-the-book piece in the New Yorker, about MoMA's acquisition of a bunch of Wiseman films.

"A startled secretary looks on."

Just that little sentence, and bang – I was thinking about the several people in my office building who’ve died since I started working here.

That secretary? I knew her. I’ve seen the Wiseman documentary, too, and I tell you, she wasn’t startled. Waiting to get a word in edgewise, and rolling her eyes, but not startled - she'd seen it all. She was a tiny little thing, warm and feisty, with outrageously decorated fingernails, and she’d been around forever, serving a revolving cast of Executive Directors – until she died of uterine cancer, caused by the Tamoxifen that successfully treated her breast cancer.

The elevator operator was one of the crustiest guys I’ve ever known. The story ‘round the building was that the happiest anyone had ever seen him was was when his union was on strike and he got to hang out in front of the building, picketing and kibbutzing and not running the elevator. He’d had a congenital heart defect, repaired once, and then again, and he used to show his open heart surgery scars to anyone who'd ask. One day the repair failed, and he lingered in the hospital for months – a young man – and crusty as he was, we all missed him when he was gone.

The security guard was a tall, elegant, graceful man – with a girlfriend here and a kid there and maybe another girlfriend somewhere else. He was soft spoken, and wore his well-cut black suit beautifully, and one day he didn’t show up. It turned out that he’d been murdered in Brooklyn. Murdered and stuffed into a black plastic garbage bag and left on a curb. Shocking, and sad, and perplexing too – what kind of a life was he leading outside of our security desk that he could have been murdered in cold blood like that? As far as I know, his murder was never solved.

And the hat man. He made hats the old fashioned way, by hand. His studio was lined with shelves and shelves of wooden hat blocks, and he listened to jazz all day long, shaping, sewing, blocking, inventing. But he smoked like a chimney, and even though he quit finally, it got him, lung cancer. He was in and out of the hospital for about a year, and, knowing that he was often alone, no immediate family, I’d go visit and bring him a slice of pizza – it’s what he always requested when I asked if I could get him anything – anything other than hospital food. Around the time that my daughter was born, he moved into hospice, and I never did get to see him again.

"A startled secretary looks on."
So few words, so many memories.

04 March 2010


My sister's kid had a birthday recently, and because they live a good two hours away, the girlie and I spent the night. Some bed sharing and shuffling meant that the girlie slept with her cousin, and I got a night to myself - in a single bed, but alone, and no one woke me up. It was kind of heavenly.

While I was lying there in the morning, I was thinking about the curtains in the room. My mother made them back when my sister was pregnant with her first child - pale yellow plaid (harvested from a set of sheets), with a border trim of multicolored 1" patchwork squares. After we moved into our house, my mother made curtains for my daughter's room - white with tiny blue polka dots (Ruth Bogen's sheets), trimmed with a 1" strip of blue flowered calico.

I realized that I was kind of writing a blog post in my head - the curtains, my mother, the babies - and I remembered that David Pogue had written about an iPhone dictation app. So I downloaded Dragon then and there, and tried it out, rambling on about the curtains.

Oh yeah.

Online at Macy's we can relate to this history test I created his industry can usually tell trophies the floor focused on the couldn't make it

That's what I said about the curtains, sure.

I think I was speaking in some uncaffeinated, throaty morning voice, because I've tried Dragon again and had it work stunningly well. But that first try? Wow.

03 March 2010


In one of those moments of synchronicity, there were two fascinating articles about depression within a week in the two publications I read regularly - one, called "Depression's Upside" in the New York Times Magazine, and the other a sort of book review in the New Yorker.

They left me perplexed, for what I came away with was: my 50mg of Zoloft every day is a placebo, and depression is "a sane response to a crazy world".

From The New Yorker:

There is "little agreement about what causes depression and no consensus about what cures it". The "drug companies and the psychiatric establishment...have...invented a disease so that they could sell the cure". "Is psychopharmacology evil, or is it useless?"

From the Times Magazine:
"Depression has a secret purpose and our medical interventions are making a bad situation even worse." "If depression didn't exist - if we didn't react to stress and trauma with endless ruminations - then we would be less likely to solve our predicaments." "Depressed affect made people think better."

It's a paradox, one that I'm not equipped to untangle. But it makes me wonder about that 50mg of Zoloft. I've been on it, on and off, for a long time - maybe 10 years. Persistent weepiness and ineffable sadness landed me in a shrink's office, and on Zoloft. Biology? External stressors? I don't know. It wasn't, isn't, the kind of major depression that Andrew Solomon or William Styron have written well about, but more of a chronic low-level dysthymia - which occasionally seems endemic in my cohort. After all, it sometimes seems like everyone I know is on one SSRI or another.

Feeling better, I've gone off several times, but eventually the friability creeps back and I start taking it again. It's a low dose, I know that, but still, taking it makes me less weepy, less fragile. But is that merely a placebo effect? Would I be better off learning to cope without my little crutch? Would I think more clearly, more easily sort out complexity? I don't know. Do I want to find out? I don't know.

Did you read one or both of those articles? Were you as unsettled as I am?

02 March 2010


My mother, she floats around in my head. I found myself sorting a drawer of thread yesterday, arranging it by color, because I'd gone looking for a spool of white thread and thought there wasn't any, because the five spools of white thread had disappeared in the hodgepodge. My mother had her thread organized by color. Why do I have so much brown thread? I hate brown.

She was clever and thrifty, my mother. When I was cleaning out my closet last month, I came across a straight blue dress that I'd loved and worn well. I remembered that its back slit had once torn at the seam, as they are wont to do. I checked to see if the seam had been repaired, and found that my mother had fixed it, using a bit of ribbon from a box of fancy chocolates in lieu of ordinary, purchased, twill tape.

I put the dress back in my closet. How could I not?

Moky had a basement full of stuff. Tools and oddments and broken telephones and a plethora of picture frames and fourteen kinds of glue. What you needed could always be found down there in the cellar. She had several old dissecting pins - a straight pin with a wooden handle, in case you missed the joys of a fetal pig in high school biology - because they were excellent for those times when you need to put the tiniest drop of Elmer's glue in a little hole. At some point after she was limited to the first floor of the house and no longer gluing things back together, I rummaged up a dissecting pin, needing it for something. She told me I could borrow it - but that I had to bring it back. I never did. In fact, even then, I knew I never would, because she was past dissecting pins and I need them now.

01 March 2010

Vulpine Entertainment

I don’t go to the movies much. I just, well, I’d rather read a book. But occasionally something comes along that I really do want to see, for some eccentric reason or another. Usually, because of the hassle and expense of actually going to the movies and sitting there in sprung seats with your feet sticking to the floor, we wait for the home release. But a couple of months ago, after Fantastic Mr. Fox came out, my husband and child went to a matinee while I was at work and I was seriously bent out of shape – because (READ MORE and you want to because there's a giveaway...)