31 October 2011

I'm Not Sure How I Ever Got Anywhere Before I Had A Cell Phone

If you're going to go from here to there, and you've never driven that particular loaner car before, it helps to know how the transmission works. There I was on the highway, assuming the car was broken because I was going like 20 MPH at 6000 RPM. It wouldn't go! Oh, turns out I slipped the gear shift sideways from automatic to some kind of half-assed manual mode. Oops. My husband was able to talk me out of that crisis, by telephone. (Hands-free, as if you had to ask.)

If you're going to go from here to there in a blinding freak snowstorm, it helps to pay attention because the landscape is not going to look like you know it to look, and you are going to miss your exit. Luckily, my husband has a photographic memory for any road he's ever been on, and he was able to guide me back to where I needed to be, via phone call number two.

If you're going to go from here to there in a car not your own with no EZ Pass, it helps to have money in your wallet for when you have to pay the bridge toll. I remembered this about halfway to the bridge, while I was on the phone with my sister, so I made her google how much the toll was going to cost and then I tossed my wallet into the back seat and made the kid count the change. She announced that I did have six singles and two quarters (and a little change leftover), and I was insanely relieved to know that I wouldn't have to try and find a bankomati in the Bronx.

How did I function without a cell phone?

28 October 2011

Becoming My Mother, Part I

I think I'm becoming my mother. All summer long, all she'd ever eat was salad. All winter long, it was soup. Garbage pail soup, she called it. She'd pull odds and ends out of the freezer, throw it all in a stockpot, and cook. Then she'd eat it every day for a week, and start all over again.

The past two weekends, I've done just that, prompted in part by an ongepotchket batch of CSA vegetables cluttering up the fridge. There's a method in my madness, though, and the soup has been excellent, if I may, you know, say so myself.

Let it be known: this isn't a recipe, this is a manifesto. It almost doesn't matter what you put in it, it matters that you do it. What do you have?

Start with an onion. Everything savory always starts with an onion, chopped, and sweated in a few glugs of olive oil. Red onion, white, no matter. While the onion grows translucent and oh so fragrant, chop a carrot and a stalk of celery. Mince a jalapeno, just one, for a tiny tingle of hotness. How about some squash? A small butternut squash, peeled and seeded and diced, that'll work. When the onion is nice and ready, add a quart of stock - beef, chicken, pork - and all the chopped vegetables. Add some tomatoes - puree from a can, fresh chopped, whatever you've got. If you're incapable of tossing the Parmesan rinds and you have some in the freezer, now's the time to stick one in the soup pot, like you always say you're going to do. Simmer gently until all the vegetables are soft. Fish out the Parm rind (and throw it away). Whir the soup a bit with a hand blender, or use a potato masher - you want to get some of the solid chunks broken down to thicken the soup. Toss in a 1/4 cup of uncooked bulgur, or that dried out leftover rice. Finally, cut up some turnip greens, mustard greens, beet tops, anything green - slice them into ribbons and throw them in the pot. Turn off the heat. Cool it down and plan to eat it tomorrow - it'll be better then.

This will make enough for dinner, with leftovers for lunch for a day or two. Gussy it up at the table with a salad and some bread, and maybe grate a little cheese over the top. Garbage pail soup.

27 October 2011

Mutton Dressed As Lamb

I don't usually do this, but I was so dumbfounded by a casting call email I got in the office that I had to post it.

Did I miss any of the typos?

25 October 2011

Books and Bugs


sandalwood treeA publicist sent me a book last spring, a book that I read, and rather liked, and then I never wrote about it, and now I feel bad because the author is DEAD. Anyway, I did like it, and it's called The Sandalwood Tree, and it's set in India, in two different eras (1947 and 1857) and it's a little bit mystery and a little bit love story and a little bit sub-continent Indian history, and I read it at the same time that I was reading The Secret Garden aloud to my kid, and of course the girl protagonist in The Secret Garden was an orphan who spent her early years in India and there was some odd resonance for me reading them both at the same time. So there you have it. I'm sorry Elle Newmark died before I got around to reading her book.


In a fit of something or another, I signed up to do a Halloween party with glow-in-the-dark Zombie Hexbugs. We've had a huge amount of fun with the Hexbugs; they're a completely silly fun toy (even though they have batteries) and the cats are totally amused by them and I wish I had a better camera because watching the glow-in-the-dark bugs on the glow-in-the-dark track is kind of mesmerizing (and completely impossible to photograph with my iPhone). And when I say "we", I mean kids and grown-ups, friends and family, in addition to cats, have been enjoying them.

They also sent along some Hexbug Larvae - cunning little bugs with sensors that make them run away from things. Really, it's kind of amazing to think about the technology that goes into a TOY. You'd think we'd have figured out wireless electricity by now.

Next up, Banks.

Disclosure: We received all the above mentioned stuff from various different publicists. No one paid me to write about any of it; guilt, though, forced me to.

20 October 2011

Mix Match

When it comes to clothes for my kid, I'm pretty laissez-faire - to a point. I won't buy clothes with writing, I don't let any branded characters into the house, and pajamas have to be 100% cotton. If she wants to wear tights with holes and a purple skirt and several shirts layered together with a fake fur vest over the whole thing? So be it. She has a certain panache, and clothing is - to my mind - one of those battles not worth fighting.

It goes further: we talk about what's appropriate. You'll break your ankle in high heels, Ugg boots are too friggin' expensive for a kid whose feet are growing so fast (not to mention the fact that they're fugly). Belly buttons need to be covered up, unless you're on the beach in a two piece bathing suit. No, you cannot dress like a pop star; it's age-inappropriate.

In short, she can wear whatever she wants, within a fairly generous set of parameters.

* * * * * * * * *

Last month, the girl and I, along with a handful of other bloggers and tweenish girls, were invited to spend the afternoon in the showroom/offices of Little Miss Matched. The girls were sent off to "raid" the closets, while the moms heard about design development and the philosophy behind the brand. I confess that I was susceptible - it's why I accepted the invitation in the first place - because I really like their punchy bright mismatched products and I've been buying them for years.

We weren't disappointed. The girl had a great time trying on clothes, and I was kind of fascinated by the creative process. Sitting in a room with fabric swatches and magazine clips pinned everywhere was energizing. And the ethos of the company feels right - colorful clothes that foster individuality - what more could you want?

* * * * * * * * *

Little Miss Matched has decreed tomorrow - Friday 10/21 - to be Rock Your Socks day. And the best part about that? All this month, they are donating funds to support creative projects in schools via Donors Choose - with their gift card, I helped an elementary school teacher buy 15 ukuleles for her classroom.

* * * * * * * * *

Raising girls is hard. Navigating through issues like body image and peer pressure and pretty vs. smart is tricky. Having fun products out there like the mix and match 3 packs of colorful socks makes it a little easier. Besides, how awesome is she, all mixed and matched?

Little Miss Matched fed us popcorn, and gave us some socks and other tchotchkes, as well as a $5 gift card to spend at Donors Choose. No one paid me to write this, and all the opinions are mine.

19 October 2011

In Which I Declare Bankruptcy

Sputter, sputter, sputter.

Cranky, cranky, cranky.

Yeah, I haven’t posted in a whole week. Life got in the way. I’m out of the house for almost 11 hours a day, the girl needs to be read to every night, the laundry has to get done, the volunteer obligations seem to be increasing geometrically, and though I steal time for Twitter and Facebook and Klout-mockery while I’m eating my lukewarm (because I don’t have the patience to give the microwave more than a minute) soup, blog posts don’t always get written.

Not that they aren’t running through my head, oh no, they do that, all the time – like when I’m walking down the sidewalk between my office and the subway station, or lying in bed wishing I were asleep. It’s just that they don’t write themselves – the device that sucks the words out of the grey matter and magically spits them, correctly punctuated, out into the intertubular wilderness, that device has not yet been made.

It’s compounded, this lack of blog posts, because most of the posts that are rattling around in my skull want some thought, some attention, some care. I don’t want to come off half-cocked; I want my ideas presented as polished, tidy, neat little unassailable packages. Because, they deserve that, whether it’s embryos or not-for-profit governance or the goddam PTA or factory farmed pork or Bon’s eloquent post about social media.

Then, see, there’s a whole other category of posts that I feel I should write, about things that are sitting around in my house because I directly or indirectly willed them to be there, and I have guilt about the fact that I haven’t turned my thoughts to said objects.

And let’s go on, while we’re at it, because there are a slew of posts in draft – where I actually got as far as opening up a NEW POST window in Blogger and dumping in a sentence or a link for later. We’ll pretend I never mentioned them, shall we?

So. A manifesto. Or a declaration of bankruptcy.

  • Today, I will delete all of the draft posts.
  • Tomorrow, I will “review” a few things that are gnawing at me. I use “review” lightly – I may not do more than mention them.
  • Friday, I will unsubscribe (as best as possible) from all of the lists wherein people tempt me with things and books.
  • And Saturday, I will turn off all electronic devices, buckle my seat belt, and breathe.
And next week? All bets are off.

12 October 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Photo Shoot

Bash Bish mosaic

I was calling out to her "think about your teacher, think about me, think about your cats" - she hammed it up all the way through.


Later, she got bored.

And why yes, she was out in the woods in a purple skirt, pink tights and hiking boots.

07 October 2011

What Is A Perfect School Anyway?

Despite the fact that I rail about my kid's school a bunch, I should shut up. Really. We have it lucky. Yes, we chose the town we live in because it has a good school system (and chose the house because I can walk to the train station). Yes, we put our child in a daycare program that morphed into a Montessori preschool. Yes, we read to her every single night. I didn't really need to read Peg Tyre's The Good School; I'm already there.

But I did read it, and I liked it a lot - so much so that I reached out to Peg's publicist and asked for a copy to give away. Because I know there are a lot of troubled schools and dysfunctional school systems out there, and this book can help you find a way to make a difference and/or choose the right school for your kid.

Peg isn't preachy, she's not mired in rubrics and jargon. In a conversational and methodical way, she walks through many issues surrounding pre-K through high school education. She skewers standardized testing in a way that non-educators will understand. She advocates for recess, because it helps kids think better. She talks about class sizes, the importance of scientifically based reading instruction, and why good teachers matter. The book is laced with interviews with parents and educators, anecdotes about good and bad school situations, and plenty of hard evidence about best practices. At the end of most of the chapters is a list of "take aways" - bullet points summarizing the main ideas in the chapter. And the last section is a synopsis - what makes a good school and why there are no perfect schools.

If you're interested in reading it, I have that aforementioned copy to give away. Leave me a comment by day's end on Tuesday 10/11 and tell me how you think it could help you. I'll pick a name out of something hat-like and you'll get a copy anon. Oh, and make sure your email address is enabled in your profile OR in the comment.

Disclosure: Nope, no one paid me to tell you any of this. I did get a free copy of the book for my own use, because I offhandly mentioned to the publicist that I was reading a copy from the public library. By sending me a copy, he got the library copy back into circulation - that's a good thing, right? Should I also tell you that my husband went to elementary school AND college with Peg? That's probably irrelevant, and in no way influenced my opinion, but it is part of why the book was on my radar screen.

06 October 2011

Getting Things Done

I'm not sure that I have anything to add, but I need to say it anyway. The first computer I owned was a Macintosh, bought in 1985, for about $2500 – which would be about $5000 in today’s dollars. It had two floppy drives (one of which was an external add-on) and no hard drive, and a tiny 9” black & white monitor. The dot matrix Imagewriter II and an old-fashioned modem – the kind you snuggled your telephone handset into – completed my technology holdings.

I met my now husband shortly thereafter, and he – with the chip still implanted in his brain from the 2 years he’d spent working at IBM – he dissed my Mac as a toy.

Bit by byte, he was won over, and today, our house is thoroughly populated with iMacs and a MacBook and iPods and iPhones and an iPad, and we’re networked to the gills with Apple TVs and Airport Expresses, and iTunes is the soundtrack to our life. Yeah, we’ve swallowed the Kool-Aid.

This morning, I read David Pogue's eulogy of Steve Jobs, and was struck by something. Pogue talks about out how Jobs "refused to go with the flow" and swam upstream "in pursuit of an unshakable vision" - he did what he wanted to do, without pandering to focus groups or politics. And in a way, it's like Robert Moses, who - though never elected to public office - rebuilt the New York City metropolitan area in many ways, through sheer force of personality. Not everything he did was good - in fact, a lot was downright evil - but he built an enduring infrastructure and gave us fabulous public beaches. But the thing is, despite whether your final decision on Moses is good or bad, he got things done.

Singular visionaries are rare birds.

03 October 2011

Greek Myths and Everyday Life

Greek MythsI had a book of Greek myths when I was a kid, and I remember loving it. So not too long ago, we got the girl a copy of the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, and last month I read it to her. I love reading to her, but sometimes it starts to feel like a slog. Not with this; I was as enthusiastic about getting to the next adventure as she was.

For me, it was a great refresher on all of those characters and concepts that are around us every day and in so many books. For her, there was plenty of excitement, and lots of "text to self" connection.

I read wistfully about Niobe, whose 14 children were killed by Apollo and Artemis, breaking her heart - "She wept for so long that the gods at last took pity on her and changed her into unfeeling rock." - and I missed Niobe yet again.

Did you know of the wily nature of Sisyphus? He tricked Hades, twice! When he finally ended up in the underworld for good, he was set to work pushing that boulder up the hill, over and over again, sisyphean - like picking up your messy room again and again and again.

We learned that Achilles was "invulnerable except for his heel by which his mother held him over the fire", and I pointed out that that's why the back of your ankle is called the achilles tendon.

Echo, echo, echo. Punished by Hera for being a chatterbox, Echo couldn't form her own words, but "could only repeat the words of others" - and that's where echoes come from.

And you know how you find piles of rocks in the woods, guiding you along the way? Hermes is inside them. He'd killed a servant of Hera's, and she called all the gods together to judge him - "those who found Hermes guilty of a crime were to throw their pebbles at Hera's feet, those who found him innocent were to throw their pebbles at his feet." He was buried in a heap of pebbles, and even today, stands in all of those cairns we've found in the woods.

Atalanta was abandoned in the wilderness, but "she did not perish, for a she-bear heard her cries and carried her gently to her den, nursed her, and raised her with her cubs". And the girl told me Oh, Mama, that's just like Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god.

The Persphone / Demeter tale was one we knew from an old Disney short called The Goddess of Spring, which is about 10 minutes long and worth watching on YouTube.

Cerberus and centaurs are both present in the Harry Potter books. Pegasus we know well - (s)he's on the ceiling at Grand Central, and on every Mobil station around.

My old phrygian cap even made an appearance - I knew what it was, from art and gall bladders - I hadn't known that it was King Midas's. See, Apollo gave Midas ass's ears, to ridicule him, and ever after, Midas wore a "tall, peaked cap on his head to hide his long ears".

And for me, the once-upon-a-time music major/flute player, I loved remembering all the tales I know from their musical settings, like Orpheus & Eurydice in Monteverdi's Orfeo. (And then I detoured to Dido & Aeneas, and the snicker-out-loud-when-you're-18 aria that starts off "When I am laid". It's actually "when I am laid in earth", but...well, 18 year old college students?)

And speaking of Orpheus, the girl loved learning that there was a muse called Calliope, because her second grade teacher was named Kalliope.

And of course, reading of war victory by Trojan horse sent us to Monty Python:

The moral of my story? Reread your Greek myths; they are more enchanting than you remember.

01 October 2011

True Story

Can you imagine being in a custody dispute with the other parent of your child(ren)? And worse, being broke and on the other side of the country?

I can't. It's just unfathomable.

My parents had one of those old-fashioned divorces, where he paid child support and alimony, and saw his kids a couple of times a year. My mother had custody, period, end of story. My father had another life, another wife. Custody just wasn't an issue, and he never tried to shirk his responsibility to pay what he owed.

In a way, I know we were lucky. Jennifer Schmitt is not so lucky; she's living a nightmare.

You may know Jennifer from her blog A Road with a View, or her old blog Thursday Drive. You may know her work - for example, she designed Emily Rosenbaum's website. Or maybe you saw her on Schmutzie's Five Star Friday.

In August, Jennifer's children's father took their two children from Maryland to Arizona for what was supposed to be a two week visit. He never brought the children back. It is the first time these children, ages 12 and 10, have ever been separated from their mother. And she found out - on the day they were expected back home - via a text message that he had already enrolled them in school.

Before August, he hadn’t seen them for over a year - by choice.

Jennifer and her children are now separated by over 2300 miles and she needs our help — now. She's is stranded in Maryland without steady financial support or income. She needs to move to Arizona and hire an attorney to help her enforce the previously agreed upon court decree that outlines the conditions on custody of the children and financial support.

Please, if you have any money to spare, help reunite Jennifer with her children. If you go to Go Fund Me, you can read the whole story and see where she needs to use the money, and contribute right there.

For Jennifer, I thank you.