28 February 2011

A Physics Lesson

Grey day. Rainy, drizzly, damp.

A bit of color sparked up from the sidewalk – a patch of oil shimmering on a puddle.

I took physics in high school. Everyone did, we were nerds. Do non-nerds take physics? Maybe everyone takes physics; I just don’t remember it that way. Our teacher seemed always on the brink of losing control of the class. Notes winged across the classroom, chaos erupted in the corners. He wore coke-bottle thick, black-rimmed glasses, and couldn’t see very well. “Legally blind”, we heard. And, “has tunnel vision”. Ah, tunnel vision – that might account for his inability to see objects tossed blithely from one side of the room to the other.

I remember nearly nothing from high school physics. I can’t remember what I got on the Regents. I’ve internalized some core piece of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, but that could be from having grown up listening to Flanders and Swann singing “heat is work and work is heat”.

You know that song? It’s excellent. Here, have a look:

Back to physics class. I guess I learned something about waves and periodicity. Surely we talked about gravity and velocity. Amps and ohms must have been on the syllabus, along with Planck’s constant.

Picture by John,
from the Wikimedia Commons

But the only thing I really remember? Thin film refraction. That’s what you’re seeing when the rainbow glints off the oily splotches in the road.

I said it to myself this morning – “thin film refraction” – as I walked from the subway to the office, and I thought about Dr. Goutevenier and his thick glasses, and about how you may learn things and you may know things, and how it’s really about the learning, not so much the knowing, because if you know how to learn, you can figure out the knowing.

Because honestly, I don’t really know what’s going on in that pretty oily rainbow – I just know what it’s called. But I can look it up.

25 February 2011

The Table of My Memory

What makes a memory?

When I think about my childhood I remember the beach, the ice-skating, the neighborhood block parties. The day Wally – a grown-up! – dropped the bread peanut-butter side down, and then jumped on it. Sailing. My sixth grade teacher. The children’s librarian at the public library. The annual pig roast, and the day my father brought the suckling pig home on the Long Island Rail Road cradled in his arms and dressed in baby clothes. The long long grass in the backyard of the house we moved into when I was eleven – it hadn’t been mowed in years. Kittens. Our jungle gym. The Christmas party. My fourth grade phonics workbook. Stinky cheese and poison. Going to the ballet, the circus, the Museum of the City of New York.

Trips to the city usually included restaurants – special occasion meals, pre-theater meals, lunch in the city meals - storied places, now largely defunct. Like Sloppy Louie’s and Sweets – fish places down by the Seaport, near my father’s office, where he’d take us to lunch on those rare days when we got to go to work with him. The Auto Pub – a kitschy car-themed restaurant in the basement of the GM building, where the Apple Store now is. Pearl’s – a fancy midtown Chinese restaurant, known for the lemon chicken incongruously flavored with lemon extract. The Xochitl – a cheap Mexican restaurant in the theater district where I remember daring my siblings to dip a toothpick in the little open ramekins of hot sauce that were permanent fixtures on the tables. Luchow’s – the huge German restaurant on 14th Street – we went there for my birthday one year. And Keen’s – the chop house with the clay pipes on the ceiling.

Of them, Keen’s is the only one still around.

Last night, we took the girl to a one-man circus, which she thought was hilarious. We needed to eat beforehand, so in some fit of madness, I suggested Keen’s. It’s on 36th Street, where it’s been forever. We couldn’t get a reservation in the main part of the restaurant, so we took a chance and landed a table in the pub. Dark wood paneling, wood-burning fireplace, framed pictures and handbills tiling the walls – it’s like hasn’t changed in the 125 years since it opened. 125 years! It’s been around since before any of my grandparents were. I had a “mutton” chop with a side of sautéed escarole and it was so good that I picked that bone up and gnawed on it, even though it turns out to be lamb. The girl had a hamburger, most of which came home with us, though she ate the whole bun and drank all of her Shirley Temple and polished off a piece of chocolate cake. Before we left, we traipsed upstairs to the bathroom, through the brass embellished rooms with their oriental rugs, past the portrait of Abraham Lincoln and the entrance to the Lily Langtry room and the display case of novelty pipes. “Look, Mama, that one’s shaped like a lady’s leg!”. And then we left and walked uptown to Times Square, through the crowds, past the lights, under the enormous signs, to the one-man circus in the jewelbox theater.

And I wonder, what will she remember?

24 February 2011

Eggs + Rice + Panko = Breakfast

I like to cook, and my husband likes to cook, and we both do a reasonable good job of it. Because he’s the stay-at-home parent and I’m the commuter, he does far more of the cooking than I do, but I do a lot of the inventing. I’ve dubbed myself the “executive chef” – I invent a dish, he makes it happen.

Somehow this morning the cupboards were bare of our usual breakfast fare. No bread, no Cheerios, no “snap, crackle, pop with brown sugar on top”. We could have had oatmeal, good real oatmeal (and I digress but if you haven’t read Mark Bittman’s piece about McDonald’s oatmeal go read it now) but I found a cup of cooked rice in the fridge – leftover from last night’s dinner – and the little wheels in my head turned 'round.

"How about little pan-fried rice and egg cakes?"

My husband looked at me sort of skeptically, but got out the rice and two eggs and beat them together. He paused, and added a handful of panko because the “batter” looked too thin. Then he melted some butter in a skillet and fried up two perfect little cakes using the silly little round silicone rings that he'd bought one day.

They were soft and crunchy and salty and delectable – a perfect little breakfast, for two. Alas, there were three of us, so I had to content myself with a half a grapefruit and some stolen forkfuls of goodness.

The moral of the story? We may need three of those silicone rings.

19 February 2011

"I feel left out."

It’s the saddest thing she’s ever said to us: "I feel left out".

Everyone else has pierced ears.

I know that isn’t true, but they were making earrings in her after-school jewelry class and one of her friends is in the class and has pierced ears and wore her new earrings to school the next day. So of course she felt left out – because she doesn’t have pierced ears and we don’t think that 7 year olds should have pierced ears so it isn’t even on the table as a discussion point.

Everyone else buys their lunch.

Again, I don’t think that’s true. We let her buy lunch once a week, occasionally twice, but mostly she brings her lunch. And she brings good things, like risotto and spaetzle and meatballs and gnocchi, things she likes. Furthermore, the day she brought the meatballs, she said everyone else thought they smelled yummy.

All the girls want to do girly things like play hopscotch.

I don’t know what to make of this. Until the "I feel left out because everyone else has pierced ears" bit came up and was then elaborated on, I’d never had an inkling that she felt left out on the playground at school. I kind of think she’s making this up.

All the other girls have twenty American Girl dolls.

Yeah, right. In our materialistic town, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a kid with twenty, but the kids we know and that she plays with have one each, or maybe two.

All the other girls wear lipstick (said while peering in the bathroom mirror instead of brushing her teeth and simultaneously telling me she’s a tomboy).

Gah. This child-rearing thing is hard.

18 February 2011


You know what? I hate that you can't email members of Congress anymore. Nope, unless you're in their district, you can't just fire off an email. If you're in the district, you have to fill out an on-line form, which is bad enough, but if you aren't in the district, you need to call or write an old-fashioned letter.

I'm all cranky about this because of the Pence amendment business. My representatives in Congress aren't people I need to worry about - I voted for them, I mostly like how they represent me - but the doctor in the district next door was on the fence. But for a few miles - hell, my zip code is split between two districts - that doctor would be my Congresswoman. The medical practice she came from is the one my family uses.

I'm seething about this because I feel powerless. So I'm telling you - maybe you can make a phone call, send an email, jump up and down.

Separately, you could sign a petition on behalf of Planned Parenthood:

Did you hear? The House voted to bar Planned Parenthood from federal funding. They cut funding for HIV tests, cancer screenings, birth control, and more, putting millions of women and families at risk. We can't let it go unanswered. It's time for you and me to stand with Planned Parenthood. Sign the open letter to the reps who voted for this bill — and to the senators who still have a chance to stop it.

This still has to get through the Senate, which looks unlikely, but that's not the point. I feel hopeless because there are elected officials out there who are trying to dismantle programs that save lives and there are unnecessary barriers to communication.*

You don't believe in abortion? Fine. Don't get one. But don't take Planned Parenthood down too.

*According to a congressional website, the "Write Your Representative ... Reduces the heavy burden placed on the House mail servers by the high volume of emails sent to Congressional offices every day - over 15 million emails per month."  Maybe they could get beefier mail servers, so people could talk to them.

16 February 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Coneheads

Yeah. This is what I find on the coffee table. The Pollys got new hats.

15 February 2011

That Cannibalistic Princess Book

I just finished reading Peggy Orenstein's new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

There's been a lot of good reviews of the book*, and I don't really need to add anything to the discussion, except to say that it's really interesting - and I think it's equally useful for parents of girls AND boys. Orenstein writes a lot about the marketing of toys to children, using the Disney Princess phenomenon as a launching pad for a broad and didactic exploration of gender differences, shopping as a stand-in for intimacy, kids getting older younger, and grown-ups staying younger longer.

She touches on the series of "Daring and Dangerous" books - questioning why some activities are in the girls' books and others in the boys' books - who's to say that girls can't juggle? She points out that while the American Girl dolls have a veneer of wholesomeness, they also foster a consumerist culture - buy more expensive stuff for your doll! Orenstein dives into film and TV as well, dissecting everything from Mulan and Mulan II to the Wizards of Waverly Place to Lindsay Lohen. 

Incidentally, the book has as terrific index: you want to see what she's got to say about the Twilight series or Toddlers and Tiaras? Look it up.

Orenstein's style is thoroughly engaging - she writes like she's thinking out loud, or having a conversation in a coffee shop. She frequently shows you her vacillations through an issue, weighing heavy handed marketing against natural developmental stages.

In short, it's an admirable book, well-researched and not screechy.

    * Three reviews that I went back and re-read after reading the book were the Times Book Review, She Started It, and Slate.

    PS: No one asked me to review this, in case you were wondering. I just wanted to tell you what I thought. Also, maybe my post title is misleading - it sort of sounds like I don't like the book? But Cinderella eating children is kind of cannibalistic, no? Or wait, Cinderella eating Barbie would be cannibalism, because they're the same species. But are girls and dolls the same species? I guess not. So it's not cannibalism. Too bad; the title stands.

    14 February 2011

    Happy Valentine's Day

    (I'd had grandiose plans for homemade valentines, made from scraps of this and bits of that, but they didn't happen. Instead, you get this charming vintage valentine found at Hearts Atwirl, via Alpha Mom, but it doesn't mean I love you any less.)

    12 February 2011

    This is why my shoulder hurts and why my hair is messy

    Heide kind of challenged me to dump out my handbag and inventory its contents. So I did.

    • Wallet
    • iPhone & cable & charger
    • iPad & cable & charger (and duh, I really don't need two cables)
    • iPod headphones
    • Purple bandanna
    • A reusable shopping bag wadded up in its integrated stuff sack
    • Dental insurance files, so I can call and find out when I'm getting a few cents back for the root canal and 2 crowns
    • A folder full of odd bits of paper and recipes printed off the intertubes
    • Office keys
    • Cinderella Ate My Daughter (library book)
    • A paystub
    • A check from my MIL because they're on our AT&T Family Plan
    • 2 metro cards
    • Teeth cleaners (free samples that've been in my bag forever)
    • A cello-wrapped toothbrush with embedded toothpaste, filched from the dentist's office
    • Toothpicks
    • 2 lip balms
    • Ibuprofen, Sudafed and Tums
    • A moist towelette
    • 2 packs of tissues
    • A green penlight flashlight, which seems to need batteries
    • Index cards
    • 2 pens and a highlighter
    • Checkbook (with a ironic sticker: Reagan taught us deficits don't matter)
    • Business cards for work
    • Business cards for the blog
    • The glow necklace my daughter made me.

    And ... no hairbrush. I wonder where it went. The swiss army knife is also missing, but that's because I took it out before I went to California last month.

    What's in your bag?

    11 February 2011

    Grace in Small Things: The Winter Edition

    #28 - A pair of plain wool gloves in the pockets of every coat I might want to wear, so they’re at the ready when and if I want or need them.

    #29 - Capacious pockets, well-deployed, for the afore-mentioned gloves and because I hate carrying a purse and as long as you're wearing a coat, you might as well have good pockets.

    #30 - Waterproof boots, for tromping through snow and stepping carelessly in the inevitable slush puddles that form in the gutter on every NYC corner.

    #31 - Hot apple cider at the Union Square Greenmarket.

    #32 - Electric mattress pads, because there is nothing so glorious as climbing into a pre-heated bed.

    09 February 2011

    Blue Sky

    Blue skies
    Smiling at me
    Nothing but blue skies
    Do I see...*

    I love looking out the window. I especially like being up high, so I can look out and down. I was waiting in a swank 40th floor bank's reception area, taking pictures out the window of a gorgeous copper-clad roof below. The copper had patinated to just that shade of green. Alas, the roof got blown out - perils of cellphone photography - but oh, the sky. It really was that blue.

    *Lyrics from "Blue Skies", by Irving Berlin

    Chat with The Motherhood Later?

    Not my usual kind of post, but rules are made to be broken.

    At 1:00 EST - today - Wednesday the 9th - I'll be participating in an on-line chat at The Motherhood. Stop by and join in. It's a text only chat, no need for speakers and microphones.

    Here's the blurb from The Motherhood site:

    Just in time for Valentine's Day, join us for a discussion about how you spend quality time with the people you care about, and how to manage your time to maintain strong relationships! Thanks to Dr. Oetker Pizza Ristorante for sponsoring this Talk, and for offering four prize packs to give away!!! Don't miss out!

    07 February 2011

    Be My Valentine!

    I could grumble about the silly "shoebox snack" project that the second grader has to do for Valentine's Day, but instead I have a gift for you. Your kid is probably expected to bring in valentines for the whole class, right? And if you're like me, you have zero interest in buying some ugly branded character cards at the drugstore, right? You could do what we did when I was a kid, and glue cut-out hearts on a doily, or you could be more twenty-first century crafty clever.

    I'd seen cute cellphone valentines in two places - a folding one on Family Fun, and a flat one on Dandee (which I found through The Crafty Crow). We could have cobbled something together based on the sketchy instructions given in those two sources, but instead, my husband made a template that let us print out four on a two-sided sheet, with the only trimming to be done on the ends and the corners. Snip, trim, cut and glue, and we had 24 valentines done in a jiffy.

    If you'd like to make up a mess of cell phone valentines, download the pdf I put up on Scribd, get yourself some card stock and find some candy buttons - the little sugar blobs on a strip of adding machine tape. The pdf includes a fill-in box for your kid's name, and each of the four valentines has different text. Experiment with your printer to figure out how to get page 1 and page 2 properly back to back. You'll probably need to make a couple of test runs - do that on plain paper so you don't waste card stock - and then you'll want to run out several copies of page 1 and then run them through again for page 2. We used yellow card stock because we had it; silver would be more cell-phone-like. Once they're all printed, you'll just need to trim the ends, cut the phones apart, fold, and round off the corners. Then get to work with a glue stick and add the candy keypad. Some of this is work you'll have to do, but some of it is certainly kid-appropriate - depending on the kid's age.

    Have fun!

    05 February 2011


    I love Freecycle. You list stuff, people come and take it away. I've gotten rid of all sorts of weird things that way - like the chain link dog run that came with our house which some kind people are now using for greyhound rescue. And sometimes I actually get stuff - just recently I got a perfectly lovely vintage Mirro cookie press. I totally don't need it, but I love having it and one day we'll squeeze out some little poodle-shaped cookies.

    But maybe the best part of Freecyle (or Freeshare, same concept, different people) is just reading the email digests with the OFFER and WANTED posts. Like this one:

    I mean, what's Betty going to do with it? My sister - yes, we forward these back and forth - said "She's trying to cheat in the car pool lane."

    What do you think Betty's going to do with the torso?

    03 February 2011

    Books Books and More Books*

    I read a lot. And I like making lists. I started using LibraryThing a few years ago, because it had a nice little what I’m reading now widget that I once had in the blog’s sidebar, but I switched to Goodreads because it’s more gemütlich. The interface is easier, and the social aspect – who’s reading what, who likes what – is appealing to me.**

    If you asked me last week, I’d probably have said that I read more fiction than non-fiction. But, out of curiosity, I looked at the Goodreads list of all the books that I read in 2010 – books I finished, that is, and not including the ones that I read aloud to my daughter – and was kind of stunned to find a precisely equal split between fiction and non-fiction - 18 of each. Furthermore, of the fiction that I read, only one of them really knocked my socks off – most of the others I can barely remember. On the other hand, a full handful of the non-fiction books were real keepers – books that have stuck with me, that I’ve thought back to or referenced or recommended any number of times since I read them.

    So, without further ado, here’s my thoroughly idiosyncratic best of list for 2010, only a few of which were published in 2010:

    Room (Emma Donoghue)

    The Blood of Strangers (Frank Huyler)
    The Tender Bar (J.R. Moehringer)
    Grave Matters (Mark Harris)
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
    The Secret Life of Lobsters (Trevor Corson)

    What's the best book you read last year?

    *Did the post title make you sing?
    ** Are you on Goodreads?

    02 February 2011


    It's a snow day. No, it's an ice day. It's below freezing, and it's raining, so the trees are slowly becoming encased in a deadly glittery sheath. We have never before had so many icicles on the house, and they are growing as you watch. (And yes, the Christmas lights are still hung outside - there's been too much snow to get them down safely, and besides, they look pretty.) The driveway is thickly coated with ice; we sent the girl up it this morning - hey, she's the one that wanted to go to work with me - but she got about a third of the way up and slid back down on her back (and then cried because we laughed at her). So we're trapped in the house until we can fabricate some crampons, or the temperature rises, whichever comes first.

    On the agenda? Baking bread, as much work as I can manage by email and/or phone, and an indoor winter Wii Olympics later this afternoon. Ski jumping, here I come!

    01 February 2011

    Matters Domestic

    I walk a funny line. I’m the person in the household who gets up and goes to work every day; my husband stays home and puts the girl on the bus. And gets her off the bus and makes her lunch and takes her to swimming and picks her up from after school activities and organizes play dates. And he does the lion’s share of the cooking, and has even taken over what used to be my purview: the baking. Just this morning I had apple pie for breakfast, the last of the apple pie he made on Sunday.

    I take the paper, head for the train, talk to grown-ups all day long, and head home to dinner and spelling and reading and bath time and bed.

    But then, this morning, before I left, I asked my husband to make sure the generator works and that we have enough extension cords and that we can run the electrical controls of the gas furnace with the generator – all because there’s this storm raging that’s supposed to dump 50 hours of snow, ice, rain and snow. I packed a couple of oranges and some clean socks, in case I don’t make it home, and got on the train.

    If it had been the other way round, if we had an old-style traditional marriage where I was the stay-at-home wife, would he have asked me to check the generator? I doubt it. I tend to believe that electricity jumps out of the wall and I am sorely deficient in understanding how internal combustion works. So, while I kind of long for a sabbatical – I’ve had my nose to the salaried grindstone for nearly a quarter century – it’s probably just as well because I’m clearly lacking in some practical domesticity (not to mention the fact that I am a slovenly housekeeper).

    At least I know how to balance the checkbook.